Gun violence a 'crisis' in Toronto, Somali mothers group says

A group of Somali mothers says gun violence has become a "crisis" in Toronto and they say more trust and transparency is needed between their communities and the Toronto police to prevent further deaths.

Group calls for more trust, transparency between communities, Toronto police

Shamso Elmi and Halima Adan, left to right, speak to reporters following a Toronto Police Services Board meeting on Wednesday. Collaboration is needed with police to deal with gun violence in Toronto, they said. (Angelina King/CBC)

A group of Somali mothers says gun violence has become a "crisis" in Toronto and they say more trust and transparency is needed between their communities and the Toronto police to prevent further deaths.

Representatives of the Somali Mothers Movement, a group of mothers who have been meeting every Saturday in Toronto for the past four years to discuss youth violence, spoke to the Toronto Police Services Board on Wednesday, saying collaboration is needed to combat violence and improve neighbourhood safety.

Most of the women in the group have sons who've died violently.

In a presentation entitled "Mending a Crack in the Sky," the mothers called for regular meetings with police to provide feedback on community policing as well as workshops and outreach events to build a better relationship with neighbourhood police officers.

The title comes from a Somali proverb: "If people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky."

The mothers also want support for a position of "mother outreach worker" that the group has created to enable mothers who have lost children to gun violence to provide support to mothers suffering from the same loss.

Halima Adan, a member of the group, told the board that group members are committed 100 per cent to working with the police and bettering their communities.

"But there is only so much we can do on our part," she said. "A huge part of being a police officer is building trust with the communities. As a police officer, a protector of the people, it is your duty to take that first step and help us to mend that crack in our community."

The group noted that the violence is primarily among young men in Somali-Canadian communities in Toronto.

Representatives of the Somali Mothers Movement told the Toronto Police Services Board that police officers need to do their part to prevent further deaths of young people. (Angelina King/CBC)

Shamso Elmi, also a member of the group, told reporters after the meeting that the mothers want to know why their sons are being killed and they want to help find solutions to the problem of violence. 

Also, she said the group wanted to let the board know that their communities are in pain and suffering trauma because of the deaths.

Her son, born in Canada, was killed when he was 25.

"It is a crisis that is not recognized," Elmi said on Wednesday. "We came to this country for peace and justice. That's what we are looking for. And still we are looking for peace and justice and equality too."

Elmi said many members of communities are afraid of the police but working together with the police is the solution.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says the board is listening. (John Grierson/CBC)

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters after the meeting that the board is listening.

"I think they have been heard and they will be heard," he said. "My heart goes out to any grieving parent that feels that they're there is no hope."

Saunders said police need to "get it right" on the concerns presented by the group.

"The board has acknowledged that they're going to work with [the group] as well, which I think is critical. I think between both entities, hopefully, we'll be able to move in the right direction and have the best product that we possibly can under the circumstances."

Group has met with more than 100 mothers in Toronto

According to the presentation made by the mothers, the group has conducted a series of community safety consultations in seven communities, Driftwood, The East Mall, Falstaff, Jamestown, Jane and Finch, Regent Park, and The West Mall. They've met with more than 100 mothers in Toronto.

"There is a real concern with the relationship the community has with the police," the presentation reads.

"Investigations continue to be on hold, unsolved and without closure. Community often feels that their trauma and concerns are unheard and dismissed by law enforcement even when they participate in the processes," it continues.

"Often, individuals are forced to prove their experiences when they report to police. Ongoing violence brings renewed surveillance and harassment of the youth who are not engaging in appropriate behaviour. Youth are stigmatized and vilified, even though they are the ones traumatized by the violence in their communities. There is little to no follow up from the police when community members communicate with them."

The group said its recommendations come from a "community healing initiative" called "Mending a Crack in the Sky" that was developed with the help of Midaynta Community Services, a charitable organization that provides settlement services to refugees and immigrants in Toronto. 

The group added the initiative is a community-led action plan to address the "alarming" rates of primarily youth violence among Somali Canadians.