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Goldlist and Zero-Gun Violence Movement connect to find solutions

Toronto criminal lawyer Jordana Goldlist is drawing on her experience as trial counsel and firearms owner to work with a group trying to end the city’s gun violence.

The Zero Gun Violence Movement, which includes parents of shooting victims, contacted Goldlist, the principal of JHG Criminal Law, after reading AdvocateDaily.com articles about her work defending people charged in shootings.

“They reached out to me and said, ‘We want to better understand the court process, and we want insight from someone who’s in it,'” says Goldlist.

For her part, Goldlist was keen to talk to family members of gun violence victims — people she rarely interacts with while defending those charged with such crimes.

“It’s funny that they're on one side of the equation and often I'm on the other side, and we actually agree that that's where the solution lies,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

She recently attended one of the movement’s weekly meetings at a Toronto community centre, exchanging views with mothers of shooting victims and the group’s founder, Louis March.

“Their approach is really phenomenal,” Goldlist says. “And that's what sets them apart from other groups. They're not just like a lobby group that's simply trying to accomplish something for political reasons. They're just a group of concerned citizens who want to fix a very serious problem that is just getting worse year after year,” she says.

The Zero Gun Violence Movement describes itself as a city-wide collaboration of community organizations and programs committed to reducing gun violence. It focuses on education and awareness, advocacy and engagement.

“They aren’t out to necessarily point fingers in one direction and say, ‘This has to stop by this means.’ It’s, ‘How do we stop this, how do we improve the situation in Toronto right now,’” Goldlist says.

Significantly, the group realizes the answer isn’t a complete handgun ban, she says.

Its members appreciate that responsible gun owners, such as herself, are not the problem, Goldlist says.

“This group also realizes that taking a lawful activity away from law-abiding citizens is not going to prevent people who are already breaking the law from continuing to do that by carrying illegal handguns.”

The group agrees with Goldlist that the solution lies instead in anti-gang initiatives, poverty alleviation, education and better race relations.

“It’s about focusing on the people who are committing gun crimes and figuring out a way to intervene early on,” she adds.

At its meeting, the group asked Goldlist to explain the court process, especially the seemingly long delays.

“The purpose really was, ‘Explain to us the system. Explain to us how this is working. Explain to us where things are going wrong. And let's have a discussion, a meaningful debate, on what we all together, collectively, can do to fix it,'” she says.

March is quoted on the group’s website as saying: "There is a story behind every gunshot fired — are we ready to listen to the full story? Because that is where you will find the solution to gun violence."

This quote strikes Goldlist as "brilliant." She has learned that one of the keys to helping her clients is understanding their stories, she says.

“It’s often a situation where you have youth who are being raised in situations where they feel they're at a disadvantage. They feel like in order for them to get ahead in life they need to enter the drug trade, sex trafficking or gang-related activities,” she says. “That lifestyle, as a necessity, has young individuals carrying guns.”

Even otherwise law-abiding citizens, like one of her recent clients, can get caught up, she says. He was charged with possessing an illegal gun, which he had obtained solely for his own protection.

Goldlist says she plans to keep working with the group and hopes to connect its members with programs — such as those offered through Toronto’s downtown youth court, 311 Jarvis St. — so they can reach out to more young people.

“Many clients who come to me in their 20s don’t necessarily appreciate the repercussions. They see guns as cool. They don’t appreciate in a meaningful way the damage they cause.”

Ultimately, Goldlist says her goals and those of Zero Gun Violence are the same. “People just don’t want to see people get shot and killed needlessly, senselessly.”

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