By Jason Menard
The people of Toronto would be well-served by thinking of the yet-unidentified 13-year-old boy, shot in an alleged gang-related gun spree on Friday at the Eaton Centre, as a modern-day Daniel Desrochers.
After all, there are a lot of parallels between these two cases – and, hopefully, the impact they will both have on society at large will also be similar.
On Saturday night, someone entered the Eaton Centre, made his way down to the food court, and opened fire. His apparent target, a 24-year-old male, was killed at the scene. An apparent secondary target was critically injured. It is alleged that the shooting was gang related.
If the story ended there, with a gang on gang killing, there are many who would gladly let these sleeping dogs die. Gang-on-gang violence? Why not let them weed each other out?
There is no one right answer to this question. That’s because, sadly, there are now two answers. The most recent answer is this yet-to-be-named 13 year-old. The first? Daniel Desrochers.
Desrochers’ name is familiar to Quebecers. For a few years, leading up to and including 1995, Montreal and the surrounding areas were in the midst of a biker war. The Hell’s Angels and Rock Machine were fighting for control over the lucrative drug trade, amongst other illegal activities. It was an open secret what the biker clubs actually stood for, and the Hell’s Angels leader, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, became a celebrity in his own right. The gangs were a part of the neighbourhood and residents would talk fondly about how their biker neighbours behaved within the community.
That was until the incident on Aug. 9, 1995. A Jeep exploded in the Hochelaga-Maissoneuve area ofMontreal, a working-class residential neighbourhood. Its driver, Marc Dubé, was killed instantly. An alleged drug runner, Dubé was just another gang-related death amongst a string of back-and-forth killings. And like others killed before them, Montrealers would have been content with one less criminal walking the streets. It was like watching a Hollywood gang film played out in real life.
Except Dubé wasn’t the only victim that day. While Dubé was the target, 11-year-old Daniel Desrochers happened to be riding his bike in the area when the bomb went off. Riddled with shrapnel, Desrocher lay in a coma for four days, eventually passing away from his injuries.
It was then that the attitude towards the Biker War changed. After all, it was one thing when bikers were killing bikers, but here was an innocent victim – a child on top of it – killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The gangster film became all to real for many – and the public outcry led to a crackdown on biker gangs, including the mobilization of the elite Wolverine anti-gang unit.
Over 15 years later, we can only hope we’ve reached the same point in Toronto. Gang violence and drug wars have been tolerated to date, simply because most citizens are only too happy to watch these criminals pick each other off.
Now that’s changed. Now an innocent 13-year-old boy was one of the victims – the most-seriously wounded of all bystanders — suffering from a gunshot wound to the head.
He, along with his family, was on a day trip to Toronto. Like thousands upon thousands of families before them, the Eaton Centre was the place to go. A family, like yours or mine, doing exactly what we would have done; a family that was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Preliminary reports are positive in that the grade eight student is responding well to treatment. Last reports were that he is in critical, but stable condition. Hopefully this boy recovers fully – both physically and mentally – from this senseless attack.
And hopefully for the citizens ofToronto, this is their Daniel Desrochers moment. Hopefully this is the time when the people of Toronto say, “Enough’s enough!” and pressure their elected representatives to get tougher on drug-related crime and gangs.
It’s not an easy job; nor is it without tremendous risk. But something can be done. You may never be able to eradicate crime completely, but you can certainly put a dent in these gangs’ activities. We saw it in Montreal, now it’s time to see it in Toronto.
Sadly, over 15 years ago it took the death of an innocent young boy to galvanize the will of a people against these gangs. Hopefully the price won’t have to be the same in Toronto – and that its citizens won’t require the same motivation to act.