Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gun violence hits close to home

The Boxing Day shooting in Toronto put a spin on the Christmas holidays that we certainly didn't need around here. But as it turned out, our family was involved in a way we didn't expect.

On Boxing Day, Heather's brother, Rob, and his son, Henrik, arrived in Toronto from Oslo. Henrik and his hockey team were in town to play in the North Toronto Christmas hockey tournament, which was on over the Christmas break.

While the kids were staying with billets, the parents were staying at the Delta Chelsea, which is located about half a block from the scene of the violence at Yonge St and Elm. When Rob's cab arrived at the hotel a couple of hours after the shooting, the street was still closed and they had to enter the hotel through a side door.

Ironically, Rob had been telling the Norwegians how nice Canadians were and how friendly everyone was. But when they arrived to find armoured police staffing the lobby of their hotel and plenty of worried people and rumours flying everywhere you can imagine how they felt.

The next day, we were in Toronto for supper with Rob and we walked past the Future Shop on Yonge, where 15-year-old Jane Creba was killed, and five others injured. The police tape had just been taken down and the street was filled with people again. Many were there to see the spot. You couldn't help but feel strange to be walking past the same spot just a few hours after it all happened.

When we walked by on the way to supper, the site was freshly washed and the sidewalk was clean. But just an hour later, on the way back, a makeshift memorial, with candles, teddy bears and hand-written notes, was already in place on the sidewalk outside the Future Shop. It's a ritual that seems to be all too common these days whenever a young victim dies.

At one level, it seemed unreal. It was just another day on Yonge St. But Creba was the 52nd person killed by a handgun in Toronto this year. And while the murder rate in Toronto is a whole lot lower than most other big cities, the rapid increase in the use of guns is a sobering statistic.

Update -- Jan. 1 -- The bad news continues for Toronto, as the first murder of the year comes just hours after the New Year arrives. And again, a handgun is involved.

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