Canada Grieving mother holds vigil, as gun violence mushrooms in Toronto

16:21  14 april  2017
16:21  14 april  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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Kelly Whetter knows the pain of losing a child to gun violence. She doesn’t want any other mother to go through what she did.

Whetter held a vigil Thursday evening at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, the same spot where just one year ago her 18-year-old son Gabriel Nikov was shot to death.

More than 50 family members, friends and supporters gathered to remember Gabriel, sing songs and have a conversation about the need to curb gun violence in Toronto.

“The first year is the toughest,” said Whetter, wearing a bright red shirt bearing her son’s photo. “He’s smiling that big beautiful smile. He’d be so proud of me that I’m not lying on the couch crying and that I’m out here in his honour and memory.”

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Whetter was joined by three other mothers at the vigil, each of whom had lost a child of their own to shootings.

“I want something to be done about this violence in this city,” said Brenda MacIntyre, whose 29-year-old son Quinn Taylor was killed in January 2016, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter.

“He was at the prime of his life. He had turned his life around,” McIntyre recalled.

“He didn’t have the easiest life. The last five years of his life he was happy; he had gone to university for music. He was having such an amazing life and then I remember he came to me probably only a couple weeks before he was killed and said ‘everything’s going so amazing for me, mom, I’m afraid something’s going to go wrong.’”

Shootings increased by about 41 per cent between 2015 and 2016, when there were 407 across the city, according to Toronto Police. Just two year before that, there were 177 shootings in Toronto.

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Forty people were killed last year due to shootings, compared to 26 and 27 the two previous years, respectively.

About three months ago, Wetter discovered the Zero Gun Violence Movement, a volunteer collaboration of organizations and agencies wanting to solve gun violence.

Inspired to make a difference, she emailed the group.

“I said I feel like I need to get involved with you because I have such anger and I don’t know where to put it,” said Wetter.

Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, said the main reason shootings have gone up is because politicians and others aren’t addressing its root causes.

“We know which communities are struggling. We know which communities (where) there’s potential for violence,” March said. “We need to parachute resources into those communities. We’re not reactionary. We want to get in there and deal with this issue before it simmers and explodes in guns.”

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March said he wants to hold a gun violence forum to help address the issue with all key players at the table.

Kelly Whetter, right, and Brenda MacIntyre were among about 50 people calling for an end to gun violence during a vigil Thursday at Yonge and Bloor for Whetter's late son Gabriel Nikov, who was killed last year at 18 years old. © Sammy Hudes Kelly Whetter, right, and Brenda MacIntyre were among about 50 people calling for an end to gun violence during a vigil Thursday at Yonge and Bloor for Whetter's late son Gabriel Nikov, who was killed last year at 18 years old.

That means not just police, parents and federal and municipal politicians, but also those most affected by gun violence: youths themselves.

“None of these kids are born with a gun in their hand,” he said. “We engage the people who have been perpetuators of violence, but we also work with the mothers who have lost to gun violence.

“We speak to them and we try and bring them to a table so that they can use their experience to stop future incidents of gun violence in the city.”

Wetter said it’s important for her to honour Gabriel by making sure Toronto learns from her son’s death.

“What can we do to start building permanent memorials?” she said. “What can we do to stop that?”

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