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Get smart on public safety

July 31st, 2015 · No Comments

Build stronger cities

By Adam Vaughan

When it comes time to vote in October’s federal election, will this city try to make a point, or will Toronto residents make a difference? It’s an important question.

Recent elections and modern politics are increasingly reduced to ballot questions. The public debate is degraded by attack ads and propaganda masquerading as information. These messages are doing as much damage to our democratic process as policies that are not much more complex than bumper sticker slogans. Nowhere is this clearer than on the topic of public safety.

The world is a dangerous place, but that doesn’t mean Toronto can’t be safe. Much of the debate this year has been about international terrorism and Canada’s response, all the while important public safety issues are ignored. Rail safety, handguns, and the root causes behind the disappearance and deaths of close to 1,200 indigenous women all constitute threats to the safety and lives of Torontonians. We need a reality check.

Too many young people in Toronto are at risk. Instead of focusing on what new theoretical powers CSIS may or may not have, the focus should be on what we are doing to stop young people from falling between the cracks and ending up in jail instead of school. There are no letter-writing campaigns and clever tweets that are going to solve this problem. A government focused on building strong communities will and can create more resilient young people. Housing helps, youth employment programs are a must, but getting the police to act in a preventative manner is also important.

Instead, we often get a tough-on-crime approach offered to us, as if anybody is actually proposing to be “soft on crime”. What we really need is to get smart on public safety and find a responsible way to both protect the public and protect people’s civil liberties. Nowhere is this more obvious than on gun control. Living in a safe community is a right that needs to be protected.

After the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, the Conservative government still cannot get it right on rail safety, and are still not employing enough rail safety inspectors. Moving dangerous freight by train through major cities not only puts people at risk, but ties up the lines that would be better used moving people. Toronto needs a federal partner that provides leadership on this file before the truly unimaginable happens again.

Our city is home to one of Canada’s largest Aboriginal and First Nations populations in the country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified steps cities can take in partnership with First Nation governments and Parliament to correct the injustices that centuries of colonialism and decades of harmful government policies have inflicted. A good first step is a national inquiry on how and why 1,200 indigenous women have disappeared or been killed in Canada. Too many of these missing or murdered indigenous women have been lost to us in big cities like Toronto. Shelters for women trying to escape violence, and housing for students and individuals, families, and seniors, would go a long way towards protecting the vulnerable and giving the next generation a fair start in a challenging city. Together we can reconcile the past by embracing these truths, and facing the future by making this city safer for all of us.

Many of the challenges facing Toronto require a new partnership with Ottawa, but they also require a stronger partnership between government and the communities that elect politicians. This is the real change that’s needed.

It’s amazing to see how many of these challenges fall under the convenient heading of urban infrastructure. Whether it’s rail or housing, transit or jobs, building a stronger Toronto is the best way to create a safe city too.

This election we have to make the choice not to be seduced by slogans. We need to find a way to leave the battleground and embrace our common ground. This election we need to make a difference, not just a point. We need change. Toronto needs it as badly as Canada.

Adam Vaughan is the member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina.

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