Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Volume 1, Chapter 2:

How We Conducted our Review


Premier McGuinty launched our review in June 2007 because he felt that “no parent should ever have to worry about losing their child to violence” and that we all have a responsibility to do everything we can “to make children, schools and communities safer … and help young people make good choices” (Premier’s announcement, June 11, 2007). The Premier initially requested that we provide him with a report in May 2008, but the scope of the work and the number of people wanting to meet with us necessitated a short extension to September.

Over the summer of 2007, we worked with the Ontario government to establish a Roots of Youth Violence Secretariat to support our work. Based in the government’s Cabinet Office and headed by an assistant deputy minister, the secretariat brought together a small, diverse and dedicated team from several parts of the Ontario Public Service. The secretariat, in turn, retained University of Toronto professor and criminologist Scot Wortley as a research consultant. A Toronto high school co-op student and a student intern also joined the team for a term each and helped bring a youth perspective to the review.

Following this and other preparatory work in July and the first part of August 2007, including meetings with deputy ministers from the most affected ministries, we met in late August with our secretariat for an intensive, facilitated project planning session. This session produced a national and international research plan and a provincewide consultation agenda to guide our work.

With this initial attention to the entire province, we also began to implement the direction in our mandate to work closely with the City of Toronto and the United Way, both significant service deliverers and community builders with substantial expertise in the issues facing us. The City and the United Way Toronto became key partners in our review, and their expertise, experience and research in many relevant areas, including youth violence, social exclusion, disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and youth and community development, were invaluable.

By early September, we were well on our journey towards the daunting objectives the Premier set for us. He asked us to do two very challenging things. First, he asked us to examine violence involving youth and understand where it is coming from (its roots). And second, he asked us to recommend how the Province can move forward to create opportunities for youth to maximize their potential and make schools and neighbourhoods safer and healthier places for youth to flourish. Our full Terms of Reference can be found in Appendix 1. To carry out this assignment, he asked us specifically to:

As we began to come to grips with this broad assignment, it was quickly apparent to us that inequality, disadvantage and racism are tightly interwoven into many of the roots of violence involving youth. Our interest in finding responses to these systemic issues did not start with the Premier's request to us, nor will it end with this report. We agreed to undertake this work precisely because of our long involvement in and concern about these kinds of issues, and because, as we set out in Chapter 5, we believe that Ontario is now at a crossroads from which things could get very much worse if the right action is not taken now.

How the Review Was Conducted

To carry out our mandate and obtain the necessary advice and expertise on a wide range of issues in the very short time available, we adopted a five-part strategy:

  1. involve youth and obtain their perspectives and advice
  2. hold facilitated Neighbourhood Insight Sessions, organized primarily by local youth, to hear neighbourhood perspectives on violence involving youth
  3. conduct research in a number of areas related to violence involving youth
  4. engage in focused consultations with as many key informants and groups as possible within the time available to us, and
  5. provide provincewide access to our work through a website, an online survey and a toll-free telephone line.

1. Involving Youth

We could not hope to understand violence involving youth without talking with and, most importantly, listening to youth. Particularly important was hearing from the most affected youth not only about their experiences with violence, but also about how they are dealing with — and sometimes overcoming — violence in their communities.

To that end, we met with a substantial number of youth and, as discussed below, ensured that their voice was front and centre in our Neighbourhood Insight Sessions. We also consulted with youth workers and other experts in youth engagement, and benefited from youth participation in our daily work at the secretariat. In these ways, we had the ongoing opportunity to hear from youth about the impact of violence on them and their communities. We also got their input on ways to address it at the local and provincial levels.

To add to these strategies to hear the youth voice, we commissioned the Grassroots Youth Collaborative (GYC), a culturally and racially diverse collective of youth-led organizations, to help reach youth we might not otherwise hear from. Specifically, we asked the GYC to:

The perspectives of diverse youth on violence and youth issues brought together by the GYC have been particularly valuable in understanding the lived experiences of many young people, and their important insights into solutions as well as problems. The results of the GYC’s work are published in Volume 3.

Although the Neighbourhood Insight Sessions we discuss below included Aboriginal youth, we also wanted to make sure that we heard the voice of Aboriginal youth in an Aboriginal-specific context, with a focus on youth between the ages of 17 and 24 living in a variety of urban settings. To that end, we retained the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC) to conduct consultations to obtain opinions and recommendations from Aboriginal youth about violence involving youth. Friendship centres, located throughout the province, are not-for-profit corporations providing culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people in urban communities.

In June 2008, consultation sessions were held in each of seven northern cities (Kenora, Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay). Additionally, a session was held in Toronto on June 12, 2008, involving youth from Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Niagara/Fort Erie and Barrie. We attended part of that session, where we heard a report on the northern consultations as well as the views of those involved in the Toronto session. We are grateful to OFIFC for organizing these consultations, inviting the young people who participated, arranging for facilitators and summarizing for us the views and recommendations expressed at each session. The 143 youth from 13 communities who gave of their time to take part provided us with an important viewpoint to take into account. A summary of the results of this consultation may be found in Volume 3 of the report.

It was also important for us to talk with youth who have been incarcerated so that we could better understand their perspectives on violence and the barriers they face as a result of their situations. In early 2008, we visited the Brookside Youth Centre in Cobourg. It is a province-run secure residential facility and secondary school for young men who have come into conflict with the law. At the centre, eight young men from different backgrounds spent a day sharing with us their life experiences and hopes for the future. These young men reminded us that those already impacted by violence can still have hope, insights and wisdom.

Throughout the review, it has been encouraging and inspiring to meet so many youth who are striving to make this a safer and better province. These young people, including the youth workers we talked with, deeply impressed us with their insights and ideas. We were often astounded by their courage, achievements and generosity in helping youth survive extraordinarily difficult circumstances and persevere to realize their potential and improve the quality of life in their communities.

2. Neighbourhood Insight Sessions

With the assistance of consultants, we engaged local youth leaders in eight Ontario neighbourhoods to plan and prepare sessions in which we would hear directly from community members, leaders and youth about the impact of violence on their neighbourhoods and the ways they are working to address this issue at the local level. The neighbourhoods we visited were located in Ottawa (Pinecrest-Queensway), Thunder Bay, Kitchener-Waterloo (Downtown Market), Hamilton (McQueston), northwest Toronto (Jane and Finch, and Jamestown), and southeast and northeast Toronto (Kingston-Galloway and L’Amoreaux).

We chose these particular neighbourhoods because, in the short time available, they would give us a sense of how communities in different parts of the province, with different experiences of violence involving youth, at different stages and using different approaches, are responding to this extremely serious issue. We also looked for areas with youth facilitators who had the necessary credibility, knowledge and networks to plan and organize sessions that would allow us to hear true community voices.

The Neighbourhood Insight Sessions were designed to give community groups time with a paid facilitator to consider the issues our report must address, and to prepare a session in which they could effectively share information, ideas and impressions on youth violence in their neighbourhoods. In particular, we sought to gain a better understanding of:

In each neighbourhood, the local youth our consultants retained worked for several weeks with community groups and individuals to collect information and perspectives on the impacts and challenges of violence involving youth. They also collected the neighbourhood’s perceptions of what is or is not working locally to address the root causes of that violence. When this preparation, with necessarily abbreviated timelines, was complete, we then visited each neighbourhood to meet with the representatives the neighbourhood had selected.

The facilitators who prepared and led the discussion in each neighbourhood, on average, connected with about 50 people to obtain feedback and advice. In total, more than 400 participants who live and/or work in the eight neighbourhoods were involved in the Neighbourhood Insight Sessions, with about half of them taking part in the sessions with us. Youth participants were diverse in their life experiences: some were in school, out of school, single parents, homeless, involved in gangs, employed, unemployed, and/or with experience in the criminal justice system. The adults who participated included parents, teachers, parole officers, police, elected officials, social service staff and volunteers.

These sessions were a rich and deep source of ideas and inspiration for us. We commend to our readers the summary of them published in Volume 3. We are deeply grateful to the participants for the trust they placed in us in giving yet again of their time and knowledge. We very much hope that they will see that trust repaid through the extent to which they have influenced our work and findings.

We also benefited greatly from more informal visits we made to Windsor, Etobicoke and Peel Region, and from numerous informal contacts with individuals from many walks of life throughout the duration of our review. We thank all of those we met for their helpful advice.

3. Research

Violence involving youth is a challenge for many Ontario municipalities and rural areas. It is anything but a Toronto-only issue. To help ensure a provincewide lens on available youth programs and services, we asked ministries most impacted by violence involving youth for an inventory of relevant programs and services they deliver or fund. We were particularly interested in programs and services that do one or more of the following: target youth violence; are directed to youth more generally; attempt to deal with root causes of violence and other negative behaviour at the family level; or are of general application but, in the view of the ministries, help address the roots of youth violence. We further asked ministries, through transfer payment agencies or community groups that operate relevant programs, to identify such programs in the eight neighbourhoods we visited in our Neighbourhood Insight Sessions.

The program inventory exercise was undertaken to determine what programs exist to address violence involving youth and then to assess whether, and if so how, they have been evaluated. We then looked at how program spending overall fits with best practices that high-quality evaluations in Ontario and elsewhere have identified and what, if any, gaps exist in Ontario’s programs. Chapter 8 discusses the outcomes of this inventory exercise.

We also asked ministries to provide literature reviews and research papers on a variety of topics, including youth mental health issues; youth engagement strategies through sports, arts and leadership programs; and gun and gang violence. For a complete list of ministry research papers, please see Appendix 2. These papers helped inform our understanding of a variety of issues surrounding youth and violence, particularly from a provincial point of view. We also held individual meetings with provincial deputy ministers in September 2007 and again in the spring and summer of 2008 to get their input as senior officials on the topic of violence and youth issues more generally.

Our research consultant, Prof. Scot Wortley, prepared extensive literature reviews in two areas of interest to us: the Causes of Youth Violence and Community Crime Prevention. We also retained the services of other academics to undertake specific research projects. Their research examined the impact of enforcement approaches on the incidence of violent crime; critical race perspectives on youth violence; a methodology to identify neighbourhoods across Ontario where there are concentrations of disadvantage; and a comparative analysis of youth justice approaches. This work, and our meetings with the authors of the papers, helped inform and broaden our perspective on many key issues.

In addition, we asked the Institute on Governance, a non-profit organization that promotes effective governance, to look at governance and structural issues and to develop a proposal on how Ontario could ensure a comprehensive, focused and coordinated approach to the roots of violence involving youth. The institute, with the assistance of George Thomson, a former deputy minister at both the provincial and federal levels of government, conducted a review of research and reports relating to governance issues in Canada and internationally. They then prepared a very valuable analysis of certain Canadian and international approaches to coordinating policy and operations within and across governments and with communities and the not-for-profit sector.

As we began to assess the academic and other literature on the roots of youth violence and responses to that violence, it quickly became apparent that other jurisdictions had developed significant approaches to these issues. While there were many it would have been useful to visit, time permitted only one.

Having found a significant number of leading initiatives in the United Kingdom, we visited London in April 2008 to discover firsthand whether and how these initiatives might be applied in Ontario. We obtained exceptionally valuable information on areas of particular interest, including addressing social exclusion, crime prevention and poverty reduction through place-based policy and service delivery strategies; the structural governance initiatives necessary for success in these areas; data collection, particularly in the area of race; targeting and monitoring mechanisms; community engagement; and the United Kingdom’s wide-ranging anti-racism strategy. Our work with the City of Toronto and the United Way led to their representatives asking to join us on this visit, and we were very pleased to have the perspectives of a major funder and a municipal government at our meetings.

Overall, we not only gained valuable insights and strong examples of approaches we are recommending, but the visit also gave us an important lens through which to view what we have learned from our many Canadian sources.

4. Focused Consultations

Another significant source of information and advice was the focused consultations we carried out from September 2007 through to May 2008. Together with our secretariat, we held meetings with over 200 individuals and organizations. Groups we met with included the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, Tropicana Community Services, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the Youth Challenge Fund, and the Space Coalition, to name only a few. A list of those who met with us is included in Appendix 2.

These individuals and organizations are already doing a great deal to address and prevent violence involving youth. They gave generously of their time to provide valuable advice and ideas that helped shape the approach we are recommending to the Premier. Invariably, we were deeply impressed by their commitment, energy and ideas. Regrettably, we could not meet with everyone we would like to have heard from, due to the time constraints of the review. However, we invited those individuals and organizations to make a written submission to the review. Those who did so are also listed in Appendix 2.

Finally, recognizing their important roles in their communities, we also wrote to all Ontario MPPs and the MPs from Ontario ridings to advise them of our review’s work and to invite them to submit their comments. Several MPPs and MPs responded, and we benefited significantly from their insights and advice.

5. Provincewide

To ensure that all Ontarians could be heard on such important matters, we also launched an Internet site: The site includes general information about our mandate, contact information, a discussion guide to help flag some of the key issues for consideration, as well as a survey mechanism for feedback on the review. We received over 5,400 completed surveys via the website. A synopsis of the responses is found in Volume 3. For those who preferred to phone in, we established a toll-free telephone line for comments, although few chose to reach us this way.


We asked for the advice of Ontarians because we believe that our review will lead to sustainable change only if it is built on the shared experiences, insights and wisdom of youth and other Ontarians. We received far more assistance than anyone could have anticipated and hope that we have done justice to it — and to those who so thoughtfully and generously provided it — in our report.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews