Could this program help reduce gun violence in Canada’s largest city?

TORONTO -- Canadian film and music video director Julien Christian Lutz, known professionally as Director X, has launched a petition to bring a program credited with significantly reducing gun violence in American cities to Toronto.

The petition, which already has more than 8,700 signatures, wants Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to implement the Advance Peace program in Canada’s largest city.

Toronto has seen a rise in shootings and gang violence in recent years, with 2018 hitting a record number of homicides. There have been 194 shooting and firearm discharge incidents this year, according to the Toronto police data. On Friday, the city saw its 33rd homicide following a brazen daylight shooting that killed a man in his 30s.

“I myself have been a victim of gun crime. I got a bullet in my back. The bullet went through two people and hit me,” Luzt told CTV News Channel.

“So I’m very clear about how random this can be and how it can just literally hit you, doing nothing. And we’ve seen it over and over in our city but now we’ve really come to a crossroads here. We’re at a crisis.”

A vocal advocate against gun violence, Lutz is part of an anti-gun initiative called Operation Prefrontal Cortex, which believes mindfulness is part of the solution to reducing violence. It partners with different organizations with the goal of bringing mindfulness and meditation to where it is most needed -- schools, correctional facilities, the community, streets, and the police.

“Our mission is to reduce violence -- gun, mass and police violence through meditation,” said Lutz.

Bringing mindfulness to the streets, however, is more complicated, and that is where Advance Peace comes in.

Launched over a decade ago, Advance Peace is the brainchild of Devone Boggan, who worked as a director with the city of Richmond, Calif.’s Office of Neighborhood Safety at the time, when it was ranked among the top 12 most dangerous cities in the United States with a homicide rate eight times the national average. Boggan found that much of the city’s shootings were attributed to a small group of individuals.

Part of the Advance Peace program identifies the high-risk offenders and places them into the Peacemaker Fellowship, an 18-month life coaching program that also invests in their mental health and well-being. It provides mentorship, job training and opportunities, substance abuse treatment, a monthly cash stipend based on their progress, in exchange for not committing any firearms offences. Another part of the program involves hiring “Neighbourhood Change Agents” – ex-criminals who have been through the system and know the streets – to do street outreach with at-risk youths and known gun offenders.

The year after the program launched in Richmond, the homicide rate dropped by 40 percent, according to the petition. A study published last November  by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) that looked at 20 years of data found that the program was associated with 55 percent fewer deaths and hospital visits annually and 43 percent fewer crimes.

Sacramento, Calif., which joined the program in January 2018, has not had a juvenile homicide since fall 2018, and the city saved US$29.2 million dollars  on a program cost of US$375,000, Lutz said.

“It’s clear they did something right. We’re in a crisis, let’s do what they did,” he said.

“We’ve seen our entire nation mobilize when there’s an emergency with COVID-19. Well, we’re in an emergency and we need mobilization. And mobilization isn’t more police, more security cameras. That doesn’t work, it’s never worked ... let’s start with things that have worked in other places.”


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