Faisal Hussain will forever be known as the Danforth shooter. Because he was. It is a fact that Hussain’s shooting rampage in Toronto’s gentrified Greektown neighbourhood injured 12 people and killed two more – a 10-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman. But even when there is no doubt about so many of the facts there are still questions to be answered.
What motivated Hussain to gun down innocent people? How could this have happened? Could it have been prevented? But there will be no criminal court process to help shed light on these questions – Hussain shot himself in the head that night following an exchange of gunfire with the police.
So, it will fall to our elected officials to act reasonable and rationally. Unfortunately, time and time again, political rationality has proven to be an impossibility following high profile incidents. And it seems that the fallout from this tragedy will be no different.
In response to the shooting the federal government made it known that they were taking a serious look at banning all handguns. Although banning handguns may be a reasonable objective, the Liberal’s public musings are likely driven by politics, not reason. In reality, there is a 0 per cent chance that there will be any meaningful federal legislation banning handguns passed before the next election. Gun policy is, however, a delicious wedge issue for an upcoming election – the calculation here is political not factual. Don’t expect any federal quick fixes.
And so, Ontario is left looking toward Doug Ford and the provincial Conservative government for leadership.
There is mounting evidence that Hussain was driven by mental health issues. His family issued a statement calling their son’s actions “horrific” and expressing their “deepest condolences” to the victims. Hussain’s family also said that he had “severe mental health challenges.” It was also reported that Hussain was known to police for having a history of mental health concerns and had previously been apprehended under the Mental Health Act.
Perhaps if there were more robust mental health supports tragedy could have been averted. But the Progressive Conservative response in the aftermath of the shooting the was to cut $335 million a year in planned mental health funding.
If mental health was a factor in the shooting, and it seems that it was, cutting mental health supports is worse than counterproductive – it’s potentially deadly.
And then Doug Ford made things worse.
Ford told City News that part of the remaining mental health funding would be diverted to the “police side of mental health.” Ford seemed to go on to suggest that the diverted funds would be used to assist police officers with their mental health. This clearly misses the mark and does little to keep the streets safe. It certainly would not have prevented the Danforth tragedy.
Maybe Ford was just unclear. Maybe he meant that the diverted money would be used to enhance police training on how to deal with people in mental health crisis. This would be less bad. It is an unfortunate reality that front-line officers are often de-facto mental health workers. To be clear, a majority of people with mental issues do not commit criminal acts, but as detailed by the Canadian Mental Health Association they do often come into contact more often with police. And it seems that most people killed by the Toronto Police have some kind of mental health or substance abuse issue. Perhaps the police could use more training.
But police officers are not mental health workers and nor do the ones I’ve spoken with want to be. They are forced into the role due to a lack of community supports – supports that could have used the very funding Ford chose to cut. It would benefit both individuals with mental health issues, their families, and community safety to double down on treatment instead of doubling down on police. As the brilliant Vicky Mochama wrote last month – “Toronto’s vulnerable communities need better services not more police.”
But leadership from Ford on firearms and mental health seems to be too much to ask. In that same City News interview Ford echoed the ill-informed position of his Attorney General, Caroline Mulroney, saying that part of the problem is that “when someone gets arrested on Friday night with a gun and they are out on parole on Wednesday morning.” This is an absurd claim that packs three factual errors into a succinct 19-word sentence.
There is no evidence that the few people who are released on firearm charges are responsible for shootings, or that people charged with firearms offence are being granted bail inappropriately. And parole has nothing to do with bail.
At the end of the day we are left with shaken communities that are desperate for solutions and political reactions that are partisan, unrealistic, ill-informed and counterproductive.
But this is the way it has always been and the horror on the Danforth seems to have done little to change things.
Originally Published in Canadian Lawyer Magazine