Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Executive Summary

Understanding the Roots

Ontario is at this crossroads in large measure because the roots of violence involving youth have not been comprehensively understood, articulated or addressed.

As we set out in Chapter 3, in seeking to understand those roots we did not start from the assumption that circumstances such as poverty were necessarily the roots of violence involving youth. If they were, we would be a far more violent society than we are now given the extent of these conditions and circumstances.

Instead, we felt that we first needed to understand the mindset of the youth who are at the core of the public’s concern: the ones who walk our streets and enter our schools with guns or other weapons and seem to place no value on human life. Our analysis accordingly reasoned back from the state of mind that puts no value on human life and leads to vicious assaults or killings, and to shootings in public places that also senselessly endanger far more people than the intended victim. We believe it is only if we find and address the conditions that give rise to that state of mind that we will be able to stop the growing number of youth who think that way.

It takes a certain desperation for a young person to walk our streets with a gun. The sense of nothing to lose and no way out that roils within such youth creates an ever-present danger. That danger arises from the impulsiveness of youth and the lack of foresight with which they often act. The unfortunate — and often tragic — reality is that it often takes very little provocation or incentive to trigger that latent violence once we have let the immediate risk factors develop. This most often puts other youth in danger’s way, but can do the same for any of us, because it creates a reality in which violence is unpredictable — unpredictable in location, unpredictable in cause and unpredictable in consequences.

This is what lies at the heart of what often seems like inexplicable violence and of the devastating community impacts we set out in Chapter 5. It is why we need to be deeply concerned about the present state of affairs in Ontario. It is why we must identify the immediate risk factors for violence that exist within some youth, and then identify and address the conditions that give rise to them.

What then are the immediate risk factors — the ones that create that state of desperation and put a youth in the immediate path of violence? While no set of factors can explain all violence, we are persuaded that youth are most likely to be at immediate risk of involvement in serious violence if they:

Our experience and our work on this review make it clear to us that most youth who feel connected to and engaged with the broader society, and who feel valued and safe and see a positive future for themselves in it, will not experience these conditions and will not commit serious violence. Indeed, many of the youth who meet the above descriptors will also not do so, because no triggering event or circumstance will occur to unleash their feelings, or because society manages to intervene in time. But when such a trigger does manifest itself before that intervention, as it all too often does, it is they who are far more likely to explode in a very harmful way.

We believe that starting from this understanding is important because it allows us to move from identifying the immediate risk factors for involvement in serious violence to analyzing the conditions in which they arise. And once we identify these conditions — the roots — strategies to address them can be put in place.

For us, it is the roots — the conditions in which the immediate risk factors can grow and flourish — that require the urgent attention of the Premier and his government because the costs of failing to identify and address them will be ongoing, tragic and high.