Canada

Five years on, Danforth shooting vivid for those affected, gun control key issue


The passage of time can feel disjointed for Ali Demircan.

It may have been five years since a gunman went on a shooting rampage through Toronto’s Greektown, but the horror of what Demircan saw after being grazed by a bullet that night still hits hard.

“The images are still fresh and, time to time when I close my eyes, what I see is just carnage,” he says.

“I don’t feel like it’s going to go away one day. I don’t believe that I’m going to forget this.”

Demircan coped with the trauma of what happened during the Danforth Avenue shooting, in part, by getting involved in the advocacy community formed in the aftermath of the violence.

Being part of a movement pushing for gun control has helped to heal, he says.

“When you share your experiences, it’s relieving,” he says.

Demircan was with a group of friends at a parkette along Danforth Avenue on the night of July 22, 2018 when a man drew a semi-automatic handgun and opened fire.

Over the course of 10 minutes, the 29-year-old gunman fired into restaurants and on pedestrians as he walked west along the popular street, killing 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis while injuring 13 others before he turned the gun on himself.

Demircan isn’t the only one whose sense of time has been warped by the shooting.

The violence itself can feel like it happened just yesterday, says Ken Price, whose daughter was shot alongside her friend Fallon.

But it seems like he and others affected by the shooting have been advocating for gun policy reform for a lot longer than the five years since the attack, Price says.

“I think for us, the reason we wanted to speak out is because to some degree it’s preventable,” Price says

Price and Demircan are two prominent members of Danforth Families for Safe Communities, an advocacy group formed by those directly affected by the shooting.

The group has spent the past years campaigning for stronger gun control laws and a public health approach to gun violence, testifying in front of parliamentary committees and petitioning ministers.

Price and his daughter are also partway through the process of a proposed class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used in the shooting.

Members of the Danforth Families group will be among those who gather on Saturday to mark five years since the shooting took place. The commemoration will take place in a city park, near two trees planted as memorials to Kozis and Fallon.

Through their advocacy efforts, the Danforth Families group helped draw support for a strengthened piece of gun reform legislation currently before the Senate.

Bill C-21 has been framed by the federal government as the most comprehensive suite of gun control reforms in a generation. If passed, it would legislate, among other provisions, a national freeze on handgun sales, a crackdown on homemade and untraceable so-called “ghost guns” and a technical definition of assault-style firearms intended to establish a permanent ban on future models.

“Now, let’s see if this works,” says Price.

People light candles and leave photos of 18-year-old victim Reese Fallon at a memorial remembering the victims of a shooting on Sunday evening on Danforth, Ave. in Toronto on Monday, July 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Mark Blinch

Countrywide trends over the past decade show firearm-related violent crimes are on the rise, especially in the rural north.

While Toronto is on pace for its fewest reported shootings over the past five years, gun violence still sends shockwaves through the city, such as when a woman was killed by a stray bullet earlier this month just blocks south from where the Danforth shooting took place.

For years, Price says the Danforth Families group has focused on what he calls the “skeleton” of the issue, such as gun control measures.

But now he is redoubling his focus on a public health approach to gun violence, which accounts for what he calls the “soft tissue” of the matter. It considers what role health care, education, housing and economic justice can play in preventing gun violence.

“They’re certainly contributing factors,” he says. “Some of us certainly recognize that the next frontier is the soft tissue.”

Dr. Najma Ahmed had long thought gun violence requires a sustained public health response.

After a harrowing night of operating on Danforth shooting victims at St. Michael’s Hospital, where Price’s daughter was among those treated, Ahmed moved to bring together a group of like-minded physicians to form a national advocacy group: Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns.

Whether it’s a mass shooting, suicide, domestic violence or an accidental discharge, Ahmed says each variation of gun violence is its own type of disease, with its own epidemiology, its own risk factors and treatments.

“The most important thing is to decrease the proliferation of these lethal weapons in our society, in our communities,” says Ahmed, chief of surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital and the advocacy group’s co-chair.

“Because they’re designed to kill and they’re very effective in killing people.”

On a recent afternoon, Price looks over at the parkette where Fallon was killed and his daughter was injured along with several others. As people sit on the edge of a fountain and others converse on benches, there’s nothing to indicate the horror of what took place five years earlier.

Pictures of Kozis and Fallon, which had graced nearby light poles in the shooting’s aftermath, are gone. But their spirit has not left, he says.

“Those pictures, whether they are there or not, will always be there, because there will always be a memory for us,” he says. “For us, there is no moving on.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2023.


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