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Calling for Change

On Sunday night when the Golden State Warriors hosted the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, both players and coaching staff alike wore orange tees with ‘End Gun Violence’ on the front, taking an opportunity to use their platform to try and amplify the voice of concern over the lives that are needlessly and repeatedly lost to fatal shootings.

As Americans seek change across the border, the Toronto Raptors as an organization started a petition to call on Canadian legislators to join the United States in observing the first Friday of June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day in Canada. John Wiggins, Vice President of Organizational Culture and Inclusion sees this as a time to recognize that Canada is not immune to this problem and addressing it starts with acknowledging the problem exists.

“The gun violence in Toronto is increasing,” Wiggins said. “I was someone who lived in the U.S., came back and felt it and heard it and saw it and it’s just something that is prevalent. The more we started to hear from our fans and followers, from families, from [people] here within the organization that it’s starting to impact and affect people, that’s where we started to say there’s something we want to look to do about it.”

In his role for almost two years now, Wiggins has heard from organizations such as The Zero Gun Violence Movement as well as Toronto Community Housing Commission (TCHC) about how prevalent the issue is and the urgency the community feels is required in addressing it. Certain groups in certain areas are disproportionately affected and can’t keep fighting a lone battle.

According to a Statistics Canada report two weeks ago, firearm-related homicides have risen by 37 percent over the past 11 years. Though there gaps in information collection, the report also found that, in 2020, handguns were involved in about 75 percent of violent robberies, along with 60 percent of homicides and other violations causing death and attempted murder.

The goal of the petition is to reach more than 100,000 supporters before being able to present it to the House of Commons and have a motion passed to observe the day beginning in 2023.

Having a day of acknowledgement is one thing, action that promotes some type of change is another. One of the ways the organization first looked to set up activities that keep people positively engaged is partnering with TCHC for the Midnight Basketball League, a league that promotes relationship building, teamwork, and basketball skills for those aged 14-18.

There are weekly workshops as well as games, both held at the University of Toronto. The goal is to continue to expand the league so that more people and communities can be involved, as it’s not just about the kids.

“It’s also for the parents, it’s also for the community leaders that are trying to get their messages out,” Wiggins said. “We want this to be a forum, a community forum where the mom or dad or both can come to Midnight Basketball and let’s have conversations while the kids are playing basketball. How can we as a community come together to talk more about this. This isn’t gonna be us running to a gym and then not have to deal with it. There’s a lot of great organizations out there, people, community leaders out there trying to address this issue. I wanna create a haven where we can all come together and talk about it and consolidate it.”

Since the organizational culture and inclusion team was put together, tackling racism and hate crimes have been the main issues at hand and with more time in the role, comes more opportunities to address other issues that need significant attention. Wiggins acknowledges that several initiatives being pursued are only in the beginning stages, as is to be expected only two years in.

Having a gun violence awareness day would present the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the communities that are most deeply affected and what steps need to be taken to better help them. The hope is that this can be the beginning of a better future.