GUEST BLOG: Kallan Lyons is community development coordinator for a Toronto non-profit organization that provides affordable housing and support services for the homeless. In 2013 she spent six months in Ghana as a media trainer at the African University College of Communications. Prior to that she was contributor to the editorial board of the Whig Standard, the daily newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, and a reporter for Queen's Television. She has also blogged for Journalists for Human Rights.
This year The Economist ranked Toronto one of the best places to live in the world, topping the charts in the 2015 Safe Cities Index.
I’ve called Toronto home for the past three years and recently moved to a newly gentrified neighbourhood in the west end. Crime rates have dropped and the local mall and subway station have been revitalized. Dufferin Station commuters now boast about the beautiful glass building and well lit buses that give their neighbourhood the glam it never had.
A 2009 survey revealed that 93 percent of Canadians feel safe from crime, and thus immune to crises in the United States such as the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
Yet in 2012 an armed man opened fire at a downtown Toronto mall killing two people and injuring several others. One woman who escaped was a young American who blogged: "Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I'd experience a violent crime first hand." Tragically she was killed in the Aurora shooting just months later, a fate she almost encountered in Toronto.
In 2013 Toronto again made national headlines. In my own recently gentrified neighborhood police shot to death an 18-year old Syrian man – Sammy Yatim – while he was alone on a streetcar after he drew a knife. What resulted echoed the aftermath surrounding the shooting in Ferguson. Torontonians erupted into a public outcry. Support poured in for the victim as faith in those who safeguard our community dwindled.
The result was a second-degree murder charge for the officer who killed Sammy Yatim.
This all emerged during a controversial "carding" program – contact information cards filed by police after street checks. Many minority community members denounce carding as a racially discriminatory program.
Safety is not just about gentrification. It’s about community and collaboration. There needs to be more community driven action and dialogue. Toronto may be rated one of the safest cities but we have a long way to go before public trust in our police is restored.