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Toronto in ‘wilful denial’ over local gangs

TORONTO - Gang violence may be here to stay in Toronto, though some residents of the city are in "wilful denial" about the problem, said the author of a new book.

TORONTO - Gang violence may be here to stay in Toronto, though some residents of the city are in "wilful denial" about the problem, said the author of a new book.

"Bad Seeds: The True Story of Toronto's Galloway Boys Street Gang" by veteran reporter Betsy Powell focuses on the story of a fatal drive-by shooting in Toronto in 2004.

Brenton Charlton was killed and his friend Leonard Bell seriously wounded by gang members in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Powell, who has been reporting for the Toronto Star since 1997 and for The Canadian Press for 10 years before that, said the case illustrates the larger problem of gang violence and how it can go ignored.

She covered the case and the trial, and felt it never got the attention it deserved because the innocent victims just happened to be driving through a crime-ridden neighbourhood — gang turf.

"Unless it affects us we tend to put it out of our minds," Powell said of the "wilful denial" she sees in many Torontonians.

"One of the lawyers said to me, 'If this had happened ... at Yonge and Summerhill (an affluent area of the city) this would be front-page news.'"

The story of the Galloway Boys and the gang's leader, Tyshan Riley, did not get much attention during the trial, which is why Powell said she felt compelled to write about it.

Talk about gun violence in Toronto and the name Jane Creba will likely come up. The 15-year-old was killed in 2005 when she was caught in the crossfire as a shootout erupted among Boxing Day shoppers on Yonge Street.

The shooters were not gang members, strictly speaking, but the whole city reacted so strongly to it because it brought that subculture, that "violent underclass" to a shared space of the city, Powell said.

"The reaction people had was because (they thought), 'That could be me,'" she said.

For too long, the people of Toronto and the rest of Canada have lived in "blissful ignorance" that American gang violence didn't exist here, writes Ken Becker in the book's foreword.

The boldest headlines came from brief spurts of violence that broke free of stereotypically violent neighbourhoods and disrupted the peace of "Toronto the Good," writes Becker, Powell's editor at The Canadian Press in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"But this book takes a look at Toronto the Bad, the separate society that exists across an unmarked border, where poverty, drugs and guns create an explosive mix," Becker says in the foreword.

Even despite best efforts it's not likely a problem that will be resolved any time soon, Powell said.

"I'm sadly of the view that I don't know that it will ever go away," she said.

Improved housing conditions and more jobs for young people would be a start, she suggested.

"When ... they don't have access to jobs they're going to turn to selling drugs, crack because it's lucrative and it's more glamorous than working at McDonalds," Powell said.

"There's way too much emphasis on what police can do. These gang sweeps are wildly expensive and that's not going to make the problem go away, and the police don't say it is, either ... it'll rear its ugly head again."

 
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