Nadine Spencer

Staying Inside the Lines

At two a.m. on Saturday morning, I got a call from my daughter saying there had been a shooting incident at Yonge and Dundas Square, close to the upscale restaurant where she works. She and all the restaurant patrons were fine, but I didn’t even want to think of what could have happened if she had been going to her car, or if the incident had happened 10 feet closer to her restaurant.

As the lead host at her restaurant, she went into shutdown mode, closing all the patio windows and reassuring the patrons. Ultimately, the restaurant was shutdown for the night.

This drove home to me how very important the Just Think 1st campaign is. The issue of violence and how quickly individuals are drawing their weapons now is one that we need to take very seriously, because not only does it affect the young people who are involved in the violence (leading to their injury, death, or imprisonment), but also the innocent bystanders who just happen to be in the area. This culture of violence is a downward spiral that leads nowhere good—and that includes both gun- and knife-related incidences, as well as any other form of violence.

The violent crime rate in Canada is a little over one percent. While that might not seem like too high of a number—and admittedly it could be a lot worse—the reality is that this number is still quite heartbreaking. A large proportion of those violent crimes involve young people, so the violent crime rate in youth is probably a lot closer to five percent, or 1 in 20. All of us know 20 kids, so to think that at least one of them will likely commit a violent crime in the next year, and that perhaps a number of them will be either injured, killed, emotionally impacted, or imprisoned due to a violent crime—well, that’s not something that sits well with me.

I think back to the message of the Just Think 1st campaign, and how important it is that we are asking young people to stop and think about the lives that will be affected as a result of violence—not only their own lives, but those of their families and friends, and the families and friends of the victims. When a violent crime occurs, the protocol is for the police to draw a line around the body, and also a line around the area. If our young people can begin to think first about all of the lines that are being drawn, maybe they can start to see the bigger picture. When they were young and learning to color, we taught them to stay within the lines—an order that was hard to follow for our young, curious children who were keen to explore the world.

But if we as a community can’t teach them to also think first, they may end up stuck inside of chalk lines outside a restaurant in central Toronto—or inside of a prison for the rest of their lives—and never get a chance to experience the world that is waiting for them. Never get to contribute to their communities, grow to their full potential, and have children of their own who will want to color outside of the lines. And personally, I don’t want to see that happen to anyone.