Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Unreal Toronto!

We sit around a lot. We wait for unfortunate events to take place. We videotape them and they air on the news. That is a simple explanation and it’s not always like that, but that covers ninety percent of the work I do. When a car crashes and someone dies, it is my job to go there. When a fire starts in the middle of the night, I show up. When a gangbanger takes a bullet in the hood, I try to get there fast enough to videotape him going into the ambulance or being covered with a sheet.

We have these intense moments of adrenalin pumping action followed by long hours of waiting. So naturally, we make friends with other night shift workers, camera ops from other stations, tow truck drivers, cops and ambulance attendants. Conversation often turns to social issues and even after twenty years in the business, I still find myself asking why some people choose to live the way thy do. What makes a man choose to carry a gun? What kind of person can pull the trigger? What comes first, poverty or crime? Will we always have people who choose not to take part in what we call a normal way of life? Will we always have those who just take what they need and don’t care how they get it or who gets hurt in the process?

Some of the most crime-ridden areas of the city are government housing projects. Each project has its own hustlers, dealers and gangbangers. Look no further than to get a look at life in the projects. You will find postings from all the troubles areas, Jane and Finch, Driftwood, Scarlettwood, Shoreham, The Grassways etc. etc.

This is what I found when I search This is no joke. This is life in the hood.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It has been a very busy week. Guns are back in the headlines after we had a real spree of shootings and murders this past week. Seems that the young kid who got shot at school was actually not such an innocent victim after all. In fact, he and his friends were robbing another kid when that kid grabbed for the gun. A struggle led to shots being fired and a bullet struck him, from his own friend’s gun. They should charge them all as adults and send them off to the big house for a few years. The amount of guns in the city is a joke. The only way you will even put a dent in this is to allow drastic measures. I agree with a newspaper writer who says we should give huge rewards for snitches. Money talks with most people. Then anyone who carries an illegal gun should be jailed for a long time. Lastly, allow police more power stop and search vehicles, people and homes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Running on Empty

It was a quiet night. I already knew that gas prices were about to take a major spike. The word was they would rise 13 cents at midnight. This would happen simultaneously at every gas station in Toronto and across the province. How this was possible without price fixing is beyond me but that it another story.

People were already lined up when I got going for the night. The station on Dundas in Mississauga had cars right out onto the road. I clipped a young man who had filled his car and now was topping off a gas can. He told me he was a student who needed to watch every penny he spent. A few more clips and I’m on my way. On the cruise and listening to the scanners.

It was a fairly quiet night. A street robbery had sent a young man to hospital with stab wounds. I tried to shoot over to Sunnybrook to grab a shot of him arriving in the ambulance but they beat me there by a minute or two. City-tv was there so I say my hellos to Burt and head to the scene to shoot some yellow tape. The cops have sprinkled a liberal does of tape around a driveway on Bathurst south of Steeles, in the north end of the city. A young copper tells me that it’s nothing serious, so I head across the street to Mickey Dee’s for some grub. My damn bank card says I’ve reached my limit for the day. It scares the hell out of me as I haven’t bought a thing today and I know how many people get ripped off by skimmers and identity thieves. I try to sign on to the bank site on my Blackberry. I screw up the password on that little keyboard and lock myself out of my own account. I’ll deal with that in the morning.

I had just dropped off my tapes from the gas station and exited the station parking lot when the call comes across. A wrong way driver on the 403 near Cawthra in Mississauga has hit head on with an oncoming car. As I head down to the Gardiner Expressway I hear the first units arrive. “It’s confirmed dispatcher, we have two code fives on scene. Shut down the highway as soon as we can.” Code five is OPP and Ambulance talk for deceased. A quiet night just got busy, but no need to hurry as I already know by the time I get on scene it will be locked down. I’ll be parking at the on ramp and waiting for permission to enter the scene. That’s how it works. You either get there quickly or you are often at the mercy of others for access. Just as well on this one. I hear later that a City-TV cameraman arrived on scene in minutes, on his way in for the morning shift. He was asked to leave and refused. The cops are all pissed now. Things are sensitive when you have such a serious crash. Everyone is on edge and they don’t need cameras shooting dead bodies.

I sit at the Eglinton on ramp for over an hour. Dave Woodford arrives on scene. He looks after the media. He smoothes things over with the Sergeant, gives us all the mandatory speech about how we need to respect the wishes of on scene Sergeants and then says, He will take us down to the first cruiser on the scene, no closer than that. The victims are covered with a tarp. They will have to be moved with the vehicle and cut out at another location. The car is demolished and also caught fire. It’s a bad one.

I get it done and a day shift camera arrives to take my place. It’s now almost nine so I’m on overtime. I drive the wrong way on the closed lanes of the 403 to exit the scene. TGIF.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Toronto - Ten Months In

Fast forward 10 months. I’ve landed the job I needed to feed the family. It’s a night shift but that’s fine with me. The way I look at it is this. On the days shift you are one of maybe ten shooters. You may be at City Hall or at a Fundraiser and when the big crime story breaks, you might get assigned if you’re close to the scene. The night is mine. I get all the big stories as long as they happen at night. No traffic hassles and no line-up at the drive-thru. Finding a clean washroom can be a bigger challenge.

I think I’ve proven myself to my new employer. I’ve showed up in the morning with the story that matters. The Queen St. fire was huge. I think it made them realize that it was worth having someone out overnight. When the ETF rounded up the gang members from MS-13 I was there. When the Superior Propane factory exploded I was there. When the truck veered off the 401 and into the bridge I was there. If you look up and see me looking at you through my camera, you might be having a bad night.

I often think about how much the city has changed since I last worked here in 1994. The boonies are now the city. The roads are even more congested. The house prices are ridiculous. A cop told me that Brampton is the new Jane and Finch. I’ve been to Brampton too many times since my return. They are having a record year in Peel for murders, but Toronto seems to be doing a pretty good job of keeping up. Too many guns on the street these days. I covered a teenager who was shot in the chest for his bicycle in Scarborough the other night. It didn’t make the news. Too many more serious things happening and there’s an election don’t you know.

I hear the calls every night. Another robbery just occurred. Three young men with guns just robbed the convenience store clerk. Night cashier must be one of the most dangerous jobs in Toronto. Alaskan crab fishermen have nothing on these guys. If you want to experience crime first hand just get a job in a corner store after dark. These stories don’t even make the news anymore. Nobody cares.

The last few nights have been crazy. Monday I started early and went straight to the scene on a murder at Weston Rd. and Finch. A young woman found stabbed to death in her apartment. We had another one of these last week. That one was a Chinese student who was found tied to a chair in her Talara Dr. apartment. She had placed an ad on-line for a roommate. Where they related? Probably not, just strangely similar from this side of the crime tape.

The weeks not over but I’ve been to a few fires, two shootings and two fatal accidents. The day shift guys have been busy too. First they get a bus stop shooting near Keele and Eglinton and the next day a guy gets tossed from a car on the 401 near Keele. They both lived in the same neighbourhood, now they are both gone. Two more young black men dead at the end of a gun.

Back In The Saddle Again!

I roll back into town worried about the future and looking for a job. It’s November of 2007. I’ve been laid off from my hometown gig and I hope I can make a living back up in Toronto. I’ve been here before. I left back in 1994. Now I am full circle some 13 years later. I’m the new kid on the block again.

I make a visit out to Lakeshore Electronics. Some old familiar faces are still at the counter. A few supplies to get my police radios up and running, and I’m back on the street and back on the beat. The first weekend was exciting. I’m cruising up the Don Valley when the radio crackles, “Shots fired. Rush us an ambulance dispatcher, I’ve just shot the suspect.” My heart races as I plug the address into the GPS. It’s go time for me. I get to the scene and get some video. My old employer already has a camera on scene, but a few phone calls and the tape is sold. I’m back in the saddle again.

A few weeks and a few tapes later I stand at the rear of a Scarborough shopping mall. The dead body of a young black man lies on the pavement just steps away. The police are putting the tape up around me. I’m in the perimeter but I know they will not leave me alone for long. Fire up the camera; shoot all you can before they tell you to move. A few hours pass. No need to rush the tape in to the station. It’s after midnight and the newscasts are all put to bed. I stay to see what else I can shoot and what else I can learn about the young man under the orange sheet.

“He was everything to me … No … Please … He was everything to me.” The tears of a young woman can be heard clearly in the quiet of the night. She has just arrived at the scene. I don’t know if she knew before she got there but it’s obvious now that she knows the victim, and as she’s consoled by friends and family I wonder how she fits into the gruesome picture.

I would learn later she was the victim’s sweetheart. They had been together eight years and he was coming to get her from work in the mall. Life has changes for her and the other family members that have arrived on scene. I try to talk to one of them but the reaction is an angry one. Who can blame them? They say that nobody cares about another dead black man. I wish I could tell them that I care. The sounds of the young girl’s tears stick with me all weekend as I make the trek back to my own family three hours away down the 401.

It’s a strange way to make a living but somebody has to do it. Thank God it’s the weekend. I need time to adjust back to life in Toronto.