Louise Russo launches anti-violence award
The victim of a drive-by shooting that left her paralyzed started to wage her battle against violence on Monday by announcing a youth awards program.
Louise Russo's life changed in an instant on Apr. 21, 2004 when a bullet crashed through a sandwich shop and shattered her spine.
Police said Russo was an unintended victim of the attack, which they believed was aimed at organized crime figures in the sandwich shop at the time.
After years of painful rehabilitation and pleas for justice to be done, Russo is turning her situation around and offering an award to youth who actively combat violence.
For the mother of three, launching the award at St. Basil the Great College School - the same school her children attend - is an exciting time.
"Really, really excited today," Russo told CTV's Galit Solomon.
"We're launching the youth awards and it's to give back to kids that have shown, that have taken initiatives (for) anti-bullying (and) anti-violence."
The program will give five $2,000 awards to individuals or teams who have taken part in programs to reduce violence in their communities. Students between the ages of 9 and 19 across Canada are eligible to apply.
It is winning praise for Russo who lent her name to the award.
"Louise Russo is an individual that makes things happen," York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge said
But the same cannot be said for the provincial government, according to Opposition Leader John Tory. After the awards were launched, he took aim at Ontario's Liberals, saying the government has not been acting fast enough to combat gun violence.
"I think certainly, in the case of the provincial government, Mr. McGuinty and his counterparts just haven't yet taken the steps necessary to fix the justice system to stop these outrageous plea bargaining and sentencing deals letting people who use guns get on the streets far too fast," Tory said.
An unusual plea deal brought Russo's case to an end in April of 2006, just days short of the second anniversary of the night she was shot.
The deal saw her alleged attackers pay over $2 million to Russo in exchange for reduced sentences. It was an arrangement that sparked controversy in the Ontario legislature. Opposition politicians said it was an attempt to buy lighter sentences.
However, a judge accepted the deal and sentenced three of the accused to nine years in prison. The fourth man who police said actually pulled the trigger was given 10 years behind bars.
Applications for the Louise Russo Youth Awards can be made until Mar. 30. The first awards will be handed out in May.
Russo, who is still dealing with her injuries, is looking ahead to the future.
"Every day provides a different challenge for me. It's not easy, to be honest with you. It's not easy but I make the most of it every day," she said.
With a report from CTV's Galit Solomon