Under the gun in Toronto

The summer of the gun in Toronto in 2005 left a trail of deadand wounded youth and a posse of government agencies struggling torespond to the crisis.

The street shootouts jarred federal, provincial and municipalofficials into exploring the underlying reasons for the violencethat was spawned directly by illegal guns and the drug trade, SueCorke, deputy city manager in Toronto, told a plenary at the LacCarling Congress.

Working together to deal with the crisis in Canada’s largestcity became a demonstration of how far the three levels ofgovernment have advanced in collaborating on the delivery ofservices to the public – and how much remains to achieve theseamless service they have talked about.

Donna Achimov, assistant deputy minister with Service Canada,said the violence in Toronto highlighted the need for betterco-operation among the three levels of government. Responding tothe crisis “showed we made great progress but that we still have along way to go.”

Ron McKerlie, recently appointed CIO for Ontario, said his shorttime in the post has convinced him that change has to come muchmore quickly. “I struggle with how long it takes to do these things(collaborative projects). This is meaningful work. but it wastalked about 10 years ago. This is not tough stuff to do; it’sabout will, focus and getting it done. We are just in the first ofmany phases.”

The work on Toronto’s gun play kicked into high gear with theBoxing Day shooting of a teenaged girl in the city’s shoppingdistrict, Corke recalled. “That got the senior bureaucrats into theroom.”

What the officials determined during their examination of theescalating violence last year was that young people from 13 highrisk neighbourhoods felt shut out from the economic and social lifeof the city and had turned to guns and drug pushing for anidentity. Fueling their alienation were a lack of activities foryoung people, gaps in social services and a lack of jobs, theofficials concluded. Their answer: New after-school sport programsand other pastimes for young people and greater attention to howgovernment programs can improve the lives of residents in thetroubled areas.

Corke said in a later interview that the programs are intendedto deter younger kids from emulating the criminal behaviour ofolder youth by giving them alternatives. Those already involved incriminal activities are for the police to deal with. “We arereaching for the kids on the edge where our efforts might make adifference. We want to reach them while they are in school so theydon’t fall off the edge.”

Getting governments to work together requires building trustamong the different jurisdictions, she added. What the situation inToronto produced was a framework for government investment introubled neighborhoods. Service Canada is providing more advice ongovernment programs while the Ontario government has set up asummer jobs initiative for the troubled neighbourhoods as have theToronto Police. Next, Corke observed, is finding a way to get theguns out of the city.

“We found we needed more effective programs and faster responsesto problems,” she said.
McKerlie said Ontario’s experience in moving to an electronic birthregistry from a paper-based system provides a clear example of thebenefits of better service delivery. The system is to deliver birthcertificates to the parents of newborns in two to three weeksinstead of four to six months. As well, the electronic system is tocut down on the number of errors that occur in the paper system.Sending the birth information to the federal government triggersthe process for issuing a social insurance number.

McKerlie noted that it took two months to agree on theelectronic system and nine months to get the funding. “Hopefully wewill be better the next time we do this kind of thing. After all itis all about better service.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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