Advocates call for more long-term support, months after Vaughan condo shooting

Advocates say coordinated, long-term and stable support needs to be given to victims of traumatic events like the Vaughan condo mass shooting. But while workers in the space may be keen to provide it, they're limited by a lack of resources and funding.

Victim services point to 'insufficient' resources to respond to major incidents

A man looks into the camera for a photo.
Jack Rozdilsky says he still has trouble recovering from the trauma he experienced. He adds that it is all the more difficult to forget that it happened where he still lives. (Anne-Marie Trickey/Radio-Canada)

It's been more than four months since a shooter rampaged his condo building, and Jack Rozdilsky is still having a difficult time recovering from what happened.

On Dec. 18, a resident of Bellaria Residences in Vaughan, Ont., carried out a mass shooting that left five people dead, one person injured, and hundreds of others irrevocably changed. The shooter, a 73-year-old man who lived in one of the condominium towers, was shot dead by police.

Rozdilsky, a resident, was there that night. "I saw some things that I cannot unsee," he said.

He says while he's done the best with what resources he could find and were given to victims in the hours, days and even weeks following the shooting, it hasn't been enough.

"Victim Services was not in a situation where they were able to return, to keep providing services on a consistent basis," said Rozdilsky, who's also a professor of disaster and emergency management at York University.

"I'm hoping at least for this situation it's not too little too late, because the initial circumstance of underestimating what was needed to support the community in the aftermath of a mass shooting can potentially lead to other, longer term mental health problems."

A drone shot of three condo buildings.
The Bellaria Residences building in Vaughan where the shooting took place on Dec. 18, 2022. (Radio-Canada)

Advocates like Rozdilsky say coordinated, long-term and stable support needs to be given to victims of traumatic events like the Vaughan condo mass shooting. But while workers in the space may be keen to provide it, they're limited by a lack of resources and funding.

"Our resources to respond to such major incidents is insufficient," reads a statement from non-profit Victim Services of York Region. It adds they were asked to "stand down" on providing resources while the Special investigations Unit probed the shooting.

"We have not seen an increase in funding despite an increase in demand for service and increase in cost of living for several years now. As our region grows so too does the demand for services."

The organization says it's particularly underfunded compared to its counterparts in Peel, Durham and Toronto.

The City of Vaughan says it's committed to helping contribute to the long-term recovery from "the unspeakable tragedy" at Bellaria Residences.

In a statement to CBC News the city outlined some of the actions it has taken to support residents in the aftermath of the tragedy.

These include a candlelight vigil at city hall, submission a joint members' resolution for a memorial to the victims to be created, two meetings for residents of the condo building, and a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoing calls by Canada's premiers and territorial leaders and Ontario's big city mayors to modernize bail reform so dangerous offenders are kept off the streets.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says its investing in community services that support survivors, specifically pointing to the Victim Crisis Assistance Ontario and Victim Quick Response Program+, alongside several helplines.

"Our government is working on preventing and addressing violence in all forms for safer communities across the province," said ministry spokesperson Patrick Bissett in an email.

CBC Toronto has also reached out to York Region for comment.

Effects of a mass shooting are 'incredibly debilitating'

Wendy Cukier, the president of Canada's Coalition for Gun Control, says the effects of a mass shooting on victims is "incredibly debilitating."

In the case, since the mass shooting took place where hundreds of people live, the association with the event can be hard to break, particularly for the people who live there.

"The ripple effects of violence are often not really considered to the extent that they need to be," said Cukier.

"The sorts of mental health supports and other kinds of counselling and and community building that you really need after something like this is very, very important to think about."

Clinical psychologist Pierre Faubert said the trauma may be more extreme because of the location of the shooting. 

"It's a safe haven, we say the home is our castle," he said. "We don't expect it to happen within our own community."

He said victims can experience long-term psychological issues and could exhibit symptoms like extreme anger, continuous fear, unresolved grief, feelings of helplessness and guilt. The symptoms can come in clusters.

He said parents who are experiencing trauma may even pass it down to their children through some of these behaviours.

Rozdilsky says it took 11 days after the shooting for Victim Services of York Region to meet with residents and begin discussing the types of support it could offer. But the supports were time-limited. Tony Cutrone, a member of the condo board, says he was surprised to hear that access to counselling was only given for about a month after it was offered.

"I'm like, really, like there's a time limit on this?" said Cutrone, whose mother still lives in the building.

"We're still waiting for more support ... We need professionals."

Cutrone says while his mother has thankfully leaned on her support system within the condo to move on, things haven't been the same. He said they avoid the common areas and take to their rooms, waiting until the weather is nice enough to venture outside.

"It's like a ghost in the area," said Cutrone. 

With files from Anne-Marie Trickey