In Toronto, a public official was faced with controversy after he decided to wear a bulletproof vest to Jane and Finch, an area with a known reputation for gun violence. Michael Tibollo, the MPP for Vaughan-Woodbridge (who is also in charge of Ontario's anti-racism directorate) was accused of making racist comments regarding the situation.
"I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest, and spent 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night," he said.
While Tibollo did not specifically call out a particular race, some believe his name-drop of a predominantly black community implied an intent to associate the gun violence problem with their race. It doesn't help Tibollo's case that Jane and Finch has been unfairly appointed as the city's poster child for crime and is constantly being replicated as such.
But the truth of the matter is, gun violence isn't restricted to only certain areas of the city. If you take race out of the issue, you'll realize that gun violence is not simply localized — it's everywhere, and no neighbourhood is immune to it.
Mackay Taggart, the News Director at Global News Toronto, points out that wearing a bulletproof vest is standard procedure for ride-alongs in any neighbourhood.
"I remember having to wear a bulletproof vest while touring Riverdale on a police ride-along," he said. "The practice is common, if not compulsory, when shadowing Toronto Police, regardless of the neighbourhood."
That being said, in light of the recent shootings that have plagued Toronto, some civilians have begun to ponder the use of bulletproof clothing for purposes beyond ride-alongs and instead as a legitimate answer to the growing gun violence. Are they, like Tibollo, wrong for doing so?
The companies who manufacture such products don't think so. For them, it's always been simply an issue of safety, not race. Surely the two can exist separately from each other.
Body Armour, a Canadian bulletproof clothing outfitter, has been creating products for both industries and civilians for several years. Their sole motivation is to keep people safe, whether they are in a high risk profession or simply concerned about their everyday safety.
"I believe that we all have the right to protect our loved ones while at the same time being protected ourselves," says Body Armour owner Bill Geraghty. "We wear a seat belt not with the belief that we will be in an accident yet we acknowledge such an event could occur. The same holds true for bullet resistant products."
Body Armour's line-up of bulletproof casual wear includes fashionable leather and jean jackets to longline winter coats, all selling at the $999 price range.
It's easy to dismiss gun violence as an American problem. The demand for bulletproof clothing in the U.S. has been on an expeditious rise as of late, with several companies producing ballistic-resistant products for personal use. Items ranging from stylish, kevlar-lined jackets to children's backpacks that can double as body vests have been quickly selling out amid recent security threats.
While the gun violence in Canada is in no way comparable to that in the United States, it definitely still exists, and to enough of a degree that it could cause some people to be genuinely concerned for their safety.
Take Toronto, for example — statistically speaking, the Ontario capital is considered a safe city. A recent report by Statistics Canada reveals that homicide rates in Toronto were below the national average in 2017, and almost two points less of those for other cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg.
However, as multiple senseless shootings continue to occur almost every day with no foreseeable relief in sight, citizens begin to lose faith in their government to fix the problem, and many of them start to romanticize the idea of wearing bulletproof clothing as a way to take matters into their own hands. Statements like "I need to start wearing a bulletproof vest to go out in the city," which are typically passed along as sarcasm, start to bear real traces of fear and desperation.
Manufacturers of bulletproof clothing are not new to Canada — in fact, they've been around for several decades, catering mostly to military, law enforcement and private security sectors. However, in recent years, these companies have started to develop bulletproof clothing for everyday Canadians as well, recognizing that there is indeed a market there for such products, and a quickly growing one too.
"The bullet resistant products we sell help to protect military personnel; law enforcement; security professionals; investigators; business people and tourists traveling to high risk areas; journalists; hunters; recreational firearm users; and the most vulnerable in our society, our children," says Body Armour. "We sell within Ontario, where we are based, and throughout Canada."
Canarmor, another Canadian bulletproof clothing outfitter, posted a statement on its website saying that customers may experience brief delays with some shipments due to a currently high volume of orders. In fact, there are so many orders that a majority of them can only be processed in September. Such indicates that there surely is a demand for bulletproof clothing and products in Canada.
Still, many people believe they shouldn't have to buy bulletproof clothing in order to feel safe. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, thinks the government should be doing more so that civilans don't feel they have to resort to seemingly overly cautious measures.
"We should be asking ourselves if this is truly an effective way to stop injury by gunfire," Watts said. "Not saying that the technology is bad, the real problem is that civilians want these products because lawmakers aren't taking action to curb gun violence."
It seems ridiculous to want to normalize bulletproof clothing in a city that is statistically considered as safe. But until the government steps up, people will continue to seek other ways to protect themselves.