Community housing chief warns of U.S.-style gun culture
Published Tuesday, July 17, 2012 1:32PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 17, 2012 2:16PM EDT
The new head of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation says the city has an American-style gun problem, blaming the prevalence of handguns for the culture behind a fatal shooting at block party at a Scarborough housing complex.
Gene Jones drew comparisons to his native Detroit after a gunfight broke out at a busy community event at a housing complex on Danzig Street, near Morningside Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East.
“Toronto is no different from Detroit, it is no different from any other city,” Jones told reporters on Tuesday.
“It is just kids that have guns, and shouldn’t have guns, who seize an opportunity because it is powerful to have a gun.
“Then it is us great citizens who are left trying to protect ourselves because we feel so vulnerable. We just gotta get those guns off the street.”
Two people were shot dead and 23 others were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds after a gunfight broke out at a late-night block party Monday night.
A 14-year-old girl and a 23-year-old man were pronounced dead at the scene. Those injured in the shooting included a 22-month-old infant who was grazed by a bullet.
Jones told reporters on Tuesday that the event had not been sanctioned by TCHC and was supposed to end at 9 p.m. – well before the gunfire rang out.
Jones said that drugs and weapons were not welcome in his housing units. He added that anyone caught with a gun at a public housing complex would be turned over to police. Anyone caught housing someone with a gun, he said, would be evicted.
“If I catch them I hope I can put them in jail on the spot. And the resident that they are visiting, I want to evict them,” Jones said. “We have a gun policy that means no guns at all.”
Jones is the former executive director of the Detroit Housing Commission and was named president and CEO of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation last month.
He said he was still getting to understand the issues affecting the TCHC’s building and residents, but told reporters on Tuesday that he has spent a great deal of time touring the properties at night.
He said what he has seen reminds him of the gun nature in Detroit, where gun ownership is legal and those connected to gang life seem less likely to open fire.
“(Canada) has stringent gun laws and they still get guns. In Michigan you can get a gun, you can get a concealed weapon, but they are not shooting like that. You get a pop here and a pop there, but not like it happened last night. I don’t understand it,” he said.
“Strict laws in Canada but kids still have an opportunity to get these guns. It is just amazing.”
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford refuted Jones’ comments on Tuesday, saying the shooting was an “isolated incident” and calling Toronto the safest city in the world.
“I can assure you Toronto is not like Detroit. I am very proud to be the mayor of Toronto,” he said. “I know that Toronto is the safest city in North America. I am very proud to live here. I was born here and I plan to spend the rest of my life here.”
Jones said the key to curbing violence in community housing developments was giving youth an alternative to gang culture. He said “you can never have enough” funding for youth programs or assistance helping teens find meaningful employment.
“We need to find a way in which we can get some of these young kids off the street and talk about gun violence. This story is not going to end here. We are going to continue going through our communities, trying to get them off the streets and get them gainfully employed,” Jones said.