No place like home

Gerry Phelan
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Boy, we’ve got it good, and you don’t have to travel far to realize that.

I was recently in the Big Smoke, the centre of the universe; a place of residence (not home) to thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I’m talking about Toronto, the city that seems to have become something of a shooting gallery.

Ah, Toronto in summer. I arrived and survived, perhaps even loved, a sweltering heatwave. The weather was one story but there were so many others.

A Toronto Sun article had firefighters sounding the alarm over staffing. Budgets have apparently limited their ability to call people back to work overtime.

In the Toronto Star, I read that Toronto’s public school board has been contemplating selling chunks of schoolyards to bring in some badly needed cash.

What else was news? Officials had launched an investigation after video footage showed a female transit driver apparently applying cosmetics while driving a streetcar. It began with lipstick and then graduated to her being seen holding a large mirror while applying even more makeup.

Perhaps the most eye-popping story involved some panhandlers allegedly using a baby as bait to help their cause. A man and woman accompanied by a child in a stroller begging for cash in the scorching heat. Real or scam, the only word that can describe the picture is pathetic. What have we come to?  

Yes, a lot happens in T’ronna but these days the front pages of the newspapers scream about shooting after shooting. During my visit, there was an assassin-like attack at a sidewalk café. Witnesses said the suspect was dressed as a construction worker, with a hard hat and safety vest, and killed a man in broad daylight in a public place.

This was just weeks after the Eaton Centre shooting. Since then, it has been one incident after another.

As columnist Joe Fiorito put it in the Star last month, “We are all wounded now. Our town feels unsafe. It may not be unsafe. It sure as hell feels that way.”

A day later, a block from my downtown Toronto hotel, a gang of young men robbed and terrorized six people in four different attacks. It hasn’t gotten any better since.

Official statistics from the Toronto Police Service tell the story in black and white. Up to last weekend, year-to-date shootings involving injury or death were up more than 50 per cent over last year.

I can’t help but feel bad for embattled Mayor Rob Ford, who has been touting Toronto as “the safest city in the world.” The most recent incidents have him pushing for drastic action.

His most pointed comments were on Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010, when he said: “If people are caught, I don’t care if you’re white, pink or purple, I don’t care what country you’re from, I don’t care if you’re a Canadian citizen or not, all I’m saying is if you’re caught with a gun and convicted of a gun crime, I want you out of this city.”

Point taken, but it won’t happen. This is Canada, and after you do your time for the crime, you are free.

Ford isn’t the first or last politician to want to expel undesirables. Toronto had best begin renovating and repairing the things that have allowed its gang and crime problems to get out of hand.

The Colorado movie theatre massacre reminds us such violence can happen anywhere, but it’s not difficult to understand why some — including tourists — express fear about shootings in Toronto malls and outdoor restaurants, at block parties and other areas frequented by residents and visitors.

You have to be safe to feel safe.  Toronto seems to have turned the corner the other way.

In this province, we do have stories of crime and often if it bleeds, it leads. Still, it’s a different life.

Flying into St. John’s, the scenery is breathtaking, and there are oohs and aahs from airplane passengers. Some are beginning a vacation, others attending conventions.

For me, it’s just good to be home.  

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at

Organizations: Big Smoke, Toronto Sun, Eaton Centre Toronto hotel Toronto Police Service

Geographic location: Toronto, Canada, Colorado

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