What's up with the guys selling anti-gun t-shirts in Toronto?
Have you ever walked by those guys who wear t-shirts with big, red and black red "no guns" symbols across their chest?
They hang out in busy public spaces downtown, usually on sidewalks where there's lots of foot traffic like Yonge-Dundas Square, University Avenue and in front of other tourist attractions.
You can buy their t-shirts for $25, they don't have a website but do take debit, and one of the finely-dressed men always seems to be wearing a bluetooth headset.
What's up with these guys?
Like some others in the city, I wanted to learn more. So, when I spotted them recently I decided to ask them what they're up to.
This is what I found out.
You can see this brand name written on everything they sell, from mugs and silicon bracelets to the shirts they're known for.
The gentlemen selling these items have shirts that say "VOLUNTEER" atop of a giant "no" symbol with the silhouette of either a gun or the worlds "female violence" inside. Customers can buy the exact same shirts, but with the words "I SUPPORT" on them instead of volunteer.
Signs set up next to their anti-gun wares say "How can you help reduce youth gangs and gun violence? Education and mentorship. Buy our items to make a difference!"
When asked how buying the shirts will help youth, they told me the group is an NGO formed in 2011 to prevent at-risk youth from being recruited into gangs.
They told me they cannot issue tax receipts for purchases or donations, however, because they are an NGO, not a charity.
Under Canadian law, an NGO is only defined as an "organization that is independent from any government," including for-profit companies.
The anti-violence initiative is actually run by an organization called Learning About Publications, which also distributes booklets about black heroes, Canadian history, sports and more in downtown Toronto, according to its Facebook page.
This month is Caribana history and Ultimate fighters editions! pic.twitter.com/WXvvDyAw2f— LABH online (@labhonline) August 1, 2017
The page explains that while LAP is a for-profit company, "part of your contribution will be allocated to the Silence the Violence and Shun the Guns initiative."
Representatives from LAP, which also appears around the web as LACH (Learning About Canadian Heroes) and LABH (Learning About Black History), also appear to participate in community initiatives and local activism, as evidenced by the group's petition to see complete and accurate black and aboriginal history taught in all schools.
A number of posts on Reddit warn others to stay away from the anti-gun shirt sellers, calling their business a "scam."
"If you see someone wearing a t-shirt with a pistol and a circle/red mark across the centre, just stay away. Its not for a good cause, it's just the same scam with a new flag," wrote someone in a thread called "PSA: Black History scammers have a new look (Anti Gun Violence)."
LAP's exclusive sponsor, Negotiate on Demand, has a message posted on Facebook explicitly to let consumers know they are not associated with other Black History publications sold downtown.
"We at N.O.D. would like to take this opportunity to correct those who may mistake N.O.D. to be associated with other men who have been distributing for many years their version of a Black History publication in Toronto," it reads. "We are not associated with any of these organizations in any way. We operate independently."
One of the men I spoke to told me that this is because their anti-violence initiative is "in the final stages of branding."
A more detailed explanation of how the program intends to be working when all is up and running can be found on Facebook.
"We plan to recruit all at-risk youth into mentorship before they get recruited into gangs therefore, methodically reducing the gang population," the company's overview page explains.
"By purchasing every month one or several of the 40+ editions from our growing catalogue, you are supporting a winnable cause."
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