Toronto

A new ranking lists Toronto as North America's safest city. It doesn't feel that way in Dixon

Inside Toronto's Dixon neighbourhood, a new index ranking the city as the safest in North America is difficult to square with the reality of seemingly relentless violence that cut short two young lives this week alone.

After a deadly week, community members turn to one another to share grief and search for answers

For those touched by a spate of recent shootings in the city's largely Somali community, a string of funerals and hospital visits casts a dark shadow over 2017 Safe Cities Index finding released this week by The Economist. (Google Maps)

In Toronto's Dixon neighbourhood, a new index ranking the city as the safest in North America is difficult to square with the reality of seemingly relentless violence that cut short two young lives this week alone. 

For those touched by a spate of recent shootings in the city's largest Somali community, the funerals and hospital visits cast a dark shadow over 2017 Safe Cities Index finding released this week by The Economist.

Toronto is in fact the only Canadian city to make the list, outranked only by Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka, Japan, making it the fourth-safest out of all 60 cities in the report based on 49 indicators spanning health, infrastructure, digital and personal security.

But just try convincing Adar Osoble of that. 

In the past week alone, the community has lost two young men. Adar Osoble knew both of them. (YanJun Li/CBC)

'I never think my kids will get out alive'

"I never think my kids will get out alive of this country," the youth soccer coach told CBC Toronto from the community where a cloud of despair and hopelessness hang around him. 

In the past week alone, the community has lost two young men. Osoble knew both of them. 

The first was 29-year-old Abdulkadir Bihi — a newlywed and soon-to-be father brazenly shot in broad daylight while, according to his family, in a car visiting his mother. And just yesterday, family and friends of Zakariye Ali gathered to lay the 16-year-old to rest. 

Zakariye Ali, 16, of Toronto, died in hospital after he was shot in an Etobicoke school parking lot on Sunday. (Toronto Police Service)

But not before Ali's own father found himself running from bullets. Too afraid to speak on camera, the young shooting victim's father told CBC Toronto he narrowly escaped gunfire just hours before his son's funeral.

Then just last night, a 24-year-old was critically injured in the nearby Lawrence Heights neighbourhood — the fourth confirmed shooting in the area this week. He was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries and friends and family spent much of Saturday by his bedside awaiting further news about his condition. 

No evidence shootings are linked, say police

His neighbour was one of them — also too afraid to be identified, like many of those CBC Toronto spoke with throughout the week. 

Toronto police aren't yet connecting the shooting to any others in the area recently or to the Somali community. Nor have they confirmed Ali was among those shot at Friday morning, or if there is any link between that incident and his son's death.

The lack of answers has many, including the neighbour of the 24-year-old shot Saturday, fearful. 

"It's scary for everybody … We don't have the means and resources to figure out exactly what is going on but we need an answer."

And for those who assume the shootings are necessarily drug or gang-related, he poses this question: 

"People have this conception that these guys are dying because they're involved in something. But the parents? What are they involved in?"

'Assuming that young men deserve to die'

On CBC Radio's Metro Morning this week, community leader Munira Abukar said she is frustrated by how some people in other parts of the city are reacting to the shootings. 

"No one wants to give you the benefit of the doubt and say, 'Maybe someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time.'"

It's possible of course that drugs and gangs have a role in some of the deaths — the community knows it isn't immune. In Bihi's case, a cousin who spoke to CBC Toronto described a checkered past. In his youth, the cousin said, Bihi "fell in with the wrong crowd" but had since grown up and "didn't want that lifestyle anymore."

The last two years of his life were a complete about-face, the cousin said. Bihi had moved to Peel, gotten a job and his wife was eight months pregnant when he was murdered, his future snatched away. 

Abdulkadir Bihi, 29, was shot to death in a vehicle outside a building at the intersection of Dixon Road and Islington Roads just days earlier. (Toronto Police Service )

But even in cases where the victim has a criminal background, Abukar said, "assuming that young men deserve to die and do not even have the chance to fix their lives is also something that doesn't sit well with me." 

For his part, the neighbour of the 24-year-old wants to see police do more to communicate with the community about their investigations and dig deeper in to what he says are the root causes of violence, including a lack of opportunities for youth and isolation. On Friday, Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Couteau echoed that sentiment, saying
"the root cause, without any question, is poverty, it's isolation, marginalization," and committed to meeting with youth from the community. 

'Like we came to the wrong place'

But the neighbour also wants to see the community look inward for some of the answers. 

"As the Somali community we bear some responsibility for what is going on—especially the fathers," the man said. "I believe that all of these children are nice children when you talk to them but they are lost … A lot of fathers are really really out of the picture."

Farhia Warsame said the Dixon road and Islington Avenue area is an 'underserved' and 'marginalized' community and called on the Somali-Canadian community to come together for a meeting Saturday. (Martin Trainor/CBC News )

With their grief still raw, many from the community gathered Saturday at a grassroots meeting to share their pain and try to make sense of the what seems like senseless violence.

Osoble too wants to make sense of the deaths, but on Saturday, the pain of losing two young men he knew just days apart left him despondent. 

"Our community has lost big time," he said. "Sometimes I feel like we came to the wrong place."

With files from Adrian Cheung

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