On Saturday evening, a man entered a crowded food court at the Eaton Centre, pulled a gun and killed someone. Several more shots were fired – seemingly at random – wounding six others. A 13-year-old boy, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, took a bullet to the head. The mall was evacuated, investigations were conducted, and, late Sunday, someone ended up in police custody. We’ve been told this is all gang-related.
This is not something we’re used to seeing in Toronto.
And so there’s not a lot to say in response to this kind of rare, senseless tragedy. There are no profound points to make and few salient conclusions to draw. This isn’t a loss-of-innocence moment for Toronto. As a big city, we said good riddance to our innocence a long time ago. Nor is this an incident to paint as part of a trend toward a more dangerous city. Statistically, Toronto was a safe city before this man drew his gun – it remains a safe city afterwards.
While some may feel trepidation setting foot in the Eaton Centre this week, that will fade. People will go to the mall like they always have.
Similarly, there’s nothing to gain from politicizing the shooting. There are no outreach programs or tough-on-crime policies that can guarantee Toronto won’t see something like this again. Life will always be marked by periodic tragedies – sometimes all we can do is cope.
Besides, the direct aftermath of a high-profile downtown shooting is the wrong time to start making up new policy on guns and gangs. We do ourselves a disservice by only talking about violence when it comes to the doorsteps of people who rarely see it. Violence – especially youth violence – should be something the police and our political leaders deal with proactively and consistently, across all parts of the city.
Setting aside notions of politics, innocence and safety, it’s important to look at what went right on a weekend where so much was wrong. Toronto held together well in the wake of this senselessness. The police acted quickly and responsibly. The media, for the most part, avoided sensational fear-mongering. And average people, whether out on Yonge Street Saturday night or coming together for a candlelight vigil yesterday, stood up for their city in a way we can be proud of.
And then there was Rob Ford, acting more like a mayor than ever before. In the drizzling rain on Saturday, he spoke from the heart about his own profound sense of sadness and shock. His remarks were clipped and stumbling, but he struck the right tone. On Sunday, reading a prepared statement to open his radio show, Ford spoke with exactly the kind of clear-eyed confidence Toronto needed. It was probably the best-delivered speech of his political career.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to each and every one of these innocent victims,” the mayor said. “I’m a father, a football coach, and the mayor of this wonderful city. I have to admit — it’s very hard for me to accept what happened downtown last night.”
It’s hard for all of us to accept. But it’s a testament to the resiliency and character of Toronto that we’re able to see this for what it is: a sudden, senseless tragedy that won’t define us. We mourn but we don’t despair. And life in our city goes on.