by Tony Couto
In the immediate aftermath of the July 16 shootings on Danzig St. in Scarborough, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford took the airwaves on AM640 and in his predictably racist and idiotic style pledged “to find out how our immigration laws work” so he could expel those convicted of gun crimes in Toronto: “I don’t care if you’re an immigrant or not, if you get caught with a gun, I want to find out the legalities of are you allowed to stay here or are you not… I’m sure it falls under some sort of immigration law.”
Ford’s remarks would have been laughable were they not echoing the disturbing trend of the Federal government to link crime (speciously) to immigration. Take for instance Federal Bill C-43, what is being called the “Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act”. If passed, this legislation would allow for the deportation of any non-citizen who has received a sentence of six months or more for any crime carrying a ten-year maximum sentence, beefing up the Conservatives’ anti-immigrant and anti-refugee arsenal of laws.
Ford the anti-tax crusader also seized upon the Danzig incident as an opportunity to express his opposition to social programming: “I don’t believe in these programs – I call them hug-a-thug programs.” So, the users of community arts and sports programs in Toronto’s designated “priority neighbourhoods” are all thugs? Ford continued, “[these programs] haven’t been very productive in the past” – arguing through assertion not reason –“and I don’t know why they are continuing with them.” Ford routinely uses the popular appeal of his anti-tax cause – a major factor that got him elected – to attack social spending and attack unions. But when it comes to police spending, however, Ford’s City Hall has no problems throwing billions into the law-and-order abyss.
The official police budget for 2012 was previously projected at $936 million; but as Ford began demanding of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty extra funding for police as advisor close to Ford revealed that that Toronto is already spending closer to $1.2 billion on policing. On July 23, McGuinty technically declined Ford’s request for $5-10 million to fund new officers, but he did the next best thing for the pro-cop agenda by pledging to permanently fund the so-called Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) to the tune of $5 million a year. McGuinty made himself more palatable to the public than Ford by paying some lip service to social programming and taking a more “balanced approach” to gun violence. But McGuinty’s announcement for the fast tracking of $500,000 through the so-called Safer and Vital Communities Program is not a counter-balance to the more-cops approach: it’s a extension of it.
To receive grants through this program, organizations and agencies must be willing to work with the police. This funding criterion will exclude all those organizations that acknowledge police brutality and profiling/carding in the “priority neighbourhoods” as a serious problem and are unwilling to collaborate with the police as a condition for the provision of social services.
While in Toronto for his July 24 meeting with Mayor Rob Ford at the ‘Gun Summit’, in addition to talking up Bill C-43, Harper defended his general ‘law and order’ agenda: defending elements of his Omnibus Crime Bill that judges have deemed unconstitutional or in violation of the Charter; and promoting a private member’s bill, C-394 (Criminal Organization Recruitment), recently introduced by Conservative MP Parm Gill of Brampton-Springdale. Gill recently said of the proposed legislation that “Criminal organizations today are targeting youth under the age of 12 and as young as 8 years-old to participate in criminal activity… There is a dire need to protect our communities from those who prey on innocent and vulnerable individuals.” What’s objectionable to this bill is not only the provision of the police and the courts with yet another law to criminalize youth; but its emphasis on petty criminal enterprises (would anything but a petty criminal enterprise recruit an 8 year-old?) when there exist much bigger players behind the guns and drugs game.
In a joint public statement from Toronto-based Filipino and Latino community organizations concerning events in the wake of the Danzig shootings, Pablo Vivanco of Barrio Nuevo raised this exact point: “We also need to start asking where these guns are coming from, who is bringing them into this City and why. These youth are not making or smuggling guns, so we need to acknowledge that there are bigger things at play and target the real players in this morbid game.” In this whole debate on gun crime, the giant elephant in the middle of the room that the media, police, and politicians are refusing to acknowledge is the role played by larger criminal syndicates – nothing short of a conspiracy of silence.
The influence of organized crime in Canada has been hitting the headlines in Quebec in recent months with a public inquiry exploring the links between the construction industry, the mafia, and Quebec’s political parties. The assassination of a series of major mob figures in Montreal has also in forced the issue of organized crime back into the mainstream. But are illegal donations to political parties and unfair public contracts the worst of it for the mob these days?
Then there’s the vast network built up by the Hell’s Angels over the last decade. It’s no secret that the Hell’s Angels – on the surface an all-white biker club – fronts for a large criminal network embedded within and around it.
Considering the very existence of large criminal enterprises like these, it isn’t a quantum leap to the arrive at the conclusion that there must be greater forces behind the guns and drugs flooding into and fracturing working-class communities in cities like Toronto. Yet it’s in our communities where the policing and criminalization is concentrated and where the violent scramble for market share plagues youth gang culture.
That impoverished racialized communities end up experiencing the bulk of the violence should come as no surprise when we analyze the socio-economic reality we’re left with: a shrinking pool of jobs for youth and their parents; rising tuition fees of post-secondary education (not to mention the alienating experience of racist curricula and administrators in high schools); rising costs of living; cuts to social programming; and the broad criminalization, profiling, and discrimination of racialized youth that push many out of the job market to begin with. Now throw into this mix of desperate circumstances the prospect of making a quick buck in the petty drug trade made possible by larger criminal syndicates reaching down into “priority neighbourhoods” for candidates to move their product, and what you get is a violent scramble for market share and domination. The big gangsters are getting paid behind the scenes regardless of the violence happening on the ground; and this violence gives the cops a cause for crusade, the politicians an election issue, and big capitalists a sense of security that the armed apparatus of the state is getting stronger and stronger at a time when the masses of people are getting poorer and more desperate.
The tragic shootings on Danzig St. on July 16 should definitely have us asking questions about violence in our communities and searching for solutions. But these questions, and the answers that must follow, are not the ones being posed by Rob Ford, Dalton McGuinty, Bill Blair, and Stephen Harper, these enemies of the people who are exploiting the Danzig tragedy to beef up police forces; peddle their racist, anti-immigrant, anti-people, and anti-social policies. These policies are not solutions to gun violence and crime: they’re desperate measures to stabilize a decaying capitalist society by dividing and containing the people.
The question that remains is how much the law enforcement agencies and politicians actually know about the relationship of larger criminal enterprises to the guns and drugs in our communities. Just for the record, that’s not an appeal to power: it’s an indicment of it.