Toronto schools in need of enhanced youth programming and mental-health initiatives will be prioritized for support, the city’s mayor said Monday as advocates emphasized the need for better social aids to prevent violence among students.
Several city high schools have seen violent incidents recently, including a shooting that left one dead and another injured and a stabbing that left one student in critical condition – with youths facing charges in both cases.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Monday that he met with representatives from the Toronto District School Board as well as police and city staff to discuss what he called troubling violence involving young people.
The city will be working with the board to prioritize schools that need enhanced youth programming, mental health supports and food security initiatives, he said.
The city also committed to increased co-operation with the TDSB in responding to violent incidents, as well as increased partnerships with community-based organizations, Tory said.
"We all agree that violence in schools is unacceptable and we must do everything we can to stop it," he said.
The city and the TDSB will also work together to secure and deploy targeted funding from other governments to help address violence in schools, Tory said.
It will take a co-ordinated effort between school boards, police, community organizations and residents to end school violence, he said.
"Beyond the direct impact on victims and their families, these incidents create tensions and insecurities among students, teachers, and parents which simply shouldn't be prevalent in our schools or in our communities," Tory said.
The TDSB said Monday that it will take additional steps to ensure safety at its schools including creating a student engagement and safety team at every secondary school and an audit team to work with schools to ensure safety policies and procedures are being followed.
"While the TDSB plays an important role in our communities, we cannot do this alone," it wrote in a statement.
"We look forward to increased co-operation between the school board and the City of Toronto as we believe it is critical that other levels of government and community partners work collaboratively with us to address this growing concern."
A stabbing inside Birchmount Park Collegiate on Nov. 14, as students were being dismissed for the day, left a 17-year-old student with life-threatening injuries. On Monday, police said they had charged two 14-year-olds and one 17-year-old with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon in the stabbing.
An Oct. 31 shooting outside Woburn Collegiate Institute left one student dead and another injured. Toronto police have since charged a 17-year-old suspect with second-degree murder.
Advocates say the recent violence in Toronto schools shows a need for stronger social supports.
Stephen Mensah, the executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet – the city's official youth advisory body – said there is a need to address worsening socio-economic conditions and systemic barriers faced by many young people, such as poverty, lack of access to social programs and inadequate housing.
"All these inequities that were previously there have just been exacerbated (by the pandemic)," he said.
Rising poverty and youth unemployment are pushing many young people to criminal activities, he said.
"When we talk about carjackings, when we talk about pharmacy robberies and so on and so forth, all this has happened due to the fact that young people need money," he said. "It's not oftentimes they need money for themselves, but they need money to support their parents."
Boosting investments in youth programs as well as helping young people find employment would keep many from getting involved in crime, he said.
"We're seeing the worsening of the cycle of violence due to the lack of investment and support for our young people," he said. "There is a need to improve the socio-economic conditions of our youth to have better results.
Aretha McCarthy, the founder of Development Youth Centre, an organization that provide workshops and programs for young people in the Greater Toronto Area, said it's important to include those who are affected by violence and those who are supporting them in discussions on how to address the issue.
"What we're not doing is having the right people at the table to speak on what the underlining issues are," she said.
She said mental health support should be available for young people and their parents.
"We've realized that within a lot of the neighborhoods that we go into, there's a lot of mental health issues and there's no resources available to provide (help) to the parents who need the support," she said.
"We talk about supporting the youth, but to support the youth, you also have to support the family members. You have to support the fathers. You have to support the mothers."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press