Poverty, income inequality and social pathologies: Explaining Toronto’s gun violence epidemic

In 2016, almost a decade after “Summer of the Gun,” Toronto witnessed one of the city’s highest gun-violence incidents with 25 gun-related homicides between January and June of that year alone. By the end of 2016, there were 40 deaths accounted for gun violence.

Despite the city’s effort to curb gun violence, the issue has reared its ugly head this summer again with an alarming spike in gun violence. As of July 22 of this year, Toronto has witnessed 228 shootings and 308 victims of gun violence.

As usual, most of the news coverage is focusing on the issue of guns, gangs, and drugs as the root causes of increased gun violence in Toronto. The police force continues to ask communities impacted by gun violence to cooperate in identifying offenders to make their neighborhoods safer and curb the issue of violent gun homicides in the city. This year, Toronto’s Mayor John Tory has made a commitment to “putting these gangsters in jail.”

The equation seems straightforward— if we remove the bad guys with guns and drugs from the streets gun violence would be reduced dramatically. But it is much more complex than that.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Poverty and social pathologies

In 1987, William J. Wilson released his critically acclaimed book, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. In his book, Wilson asserted that in neighborhoods where there is a high level of poverty and social isolation, social pathologies such as crime become an avoidable reality. This is especially true for countries where the gap between the haves and have-nots is wide. Research has shown countries with high economic inequality experience high rates of violence.

Not surprisingly, Toronto, Canada’s richest city comprising 11% of the nation’s GDP, is deeply divided in terms of the living conditions and life opportunities, especially for children and youth. The city’s 26.8 percent of Children, ages 0 to 17, live below the Low-Income Measure After Tax, their everyday lives navigated by lack of access to decent housing, food, and learning opportunities.

In 1995, Devon C. Jones warned Canadians about the impact of poverty in his article titled “Future society will pay price for youth poverty of today.” If we ignore social problems such as poverty, Jones contended, people who cannot get jobs will turn to crime and drugs as alternatives to navigate their impoverished existence. A decade after Jones’ (1995) forewarning, Toronto witnessed one of the worst gun violence in the city’s history in 2005 dubbed the “Summer of the Gun.”

However, the issue is not “thugs” and “gangsters” but structural inequalities that keep poor people at the margins of society. Despite some efforts from the government to alleviate child poverty in the nation, the issue remains persistent as more and more Canadian youth are disfranchised, alienated and left vulnerable to the cruel disadvantage poverty imposes on their lives.

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