Families of gun violence victims call for better resources for those healing from trauma
With only a few weeks left of 2021, fatal shootings in Toronto have already surpassed last year's — and families of loved ones killed by gun violence are calling for a public health approach and greater resources for the persisting issue that has left communities reeling from the trauma.
As of Nov. 29, 41 people were killed this year in comparison to 38 deaths from gun violence last year, according to Toronto police data.
In 2020, there were 440 shootings and firearm discharges while there have been 373 so far this year. The figure includes any shooting where a person is injured after a firearm is discharged, which can also include accidental firings or celebratory ones.
Advocates say victims of gun violence are not just those who are struck with a bullet, but also the family members left reeling from the trauma, living in shock and grief — and needing resources that may not be available to them.
Evelyn Fox's son Kiesingar Gunn, was killed by a stray bullet in Liberty Village on Sept. 11, 2016 when he was 26.
"It's been five years, but it's like yesterday for me," Fox said.
"I still wait for my son to walk through the door and ask me what's for dinner … and some days reality is like a slap in the face."
WATCH | Families of loved ones killed from gun violence call for better help:
After Gunn's death, Fox began searching for a peer-led service to help family members of loved ones who had died from gun violence. After not being able to find any, she decided to create her own community organization, Communities for Zero Violence.
Fox said she has been advocating for years for a more grassroots-led approach to gun violence rather than more policing.
'It feels hopeless'
Mitzie Hunter, MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood is pushing for a solution to tackling gun violence in Toronto communities with her new bill to amend the Health Insurance Act and include trauma-informed counselling for survivors and others affected by gun violence.
If passed, Bill 129 would see gun violence treated as a public health issue and allow for counselling services for survivors of gun violence to be covered by OHIP.
"It is actually a public health crisis right now when we think about the fact that we've had 17 more homicides in Toronto than this time last year," Hunter said. "We need to break cycles of violence in our community by allowing the community to heal."
Fox says she's disappointed it took so long to introduce such legislation, but is happy Hunter is bringing it forward.
"If we don't interrupt what's happening on a root level, then this is just going to continue and the police are going to be scrambling chasing the bullets every day ... it has to be grassroots related," she said.
Zohra Rahman, director of equity and community at YouthLink, a Toronto mental health organization for young people and their families, said Hunter's bill will introduce "vital" support that does not currently exist.
YouthLink held a roundtable with Hunter and community members affected by gun violence on Wednesday to discuss the bill.
"It's so important for our city, Toronto has really been expanding and growing and with social media and so many different factors, if we don't get a hold of this and if we're not part of the solution, it's only going to worsen," Rahman said.
Rahman, who used to work as a trauma councillor said the pandemic has only worsened for youth.
"I've lost over 30 young people that had such promising futures, to gun violence," Rahman said.
"It feels hopeless at the moment because there are no resources."
Supporting one another
Shauna Brown met Fox in 2017, about two and a half weeks after Brown's son, Demal Graham was killed.
Brown was inside her Scarborough home on July 23, 2017 when she heard a gunshot. When she went outside, she found her son shot, lying face down on the driveway.
After paramedics and police arrived, they performed life-saving measures on her son but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Brown said nobody has been charged for her son's death.
"You do so much healing and moving forward, never moving on, because I'll never say that I'll move on from the loss of my son," she said.
The two mothers met at a rally walk to remember those who lost their lives to gun violence and have supported one another since.
"We get each other, we understand some of the feelings that we go through that people may not want to talk about or even understand," Brown said.
Fox and Brown are part of a growing coalition looking for more than the do it yourslef approach to healing from trauma and are calling for increased and accessible support that go beyond physical wounds.
Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, says safe zones in the city have been breached.
"There are shootings in all areas of Toronto at all times of the day," March said.
The group of community leaders, parents and advocates are working toward ending gun violence in the Greater Toronto Area.
"The age of people handling the guns and carrying the guns has now declined from mid-20s, mid-30s, to mid-teens," he said.
Hunter is asking for trauma-informed counselling for survivors and others affected by gun violence and to better fund community groups that are on the front lines and introduce hospital-based interventions to intervene early on.
"After an incident, oftentimes the victim is stitched up and sent back out into the same environment they were injured in," Hunter said.
"Maybe that's the time that we can bring some expertise and support for that trauma and we're not just healing the physical wounds, but those that are mental and emotional as well, giving people different pathways and trajectories in their life away from violence."