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Canadian officials take notice of spike in Toronto gun violence

Andrew Lahodynskyj
The Canadian Press via AP
Toronto Police secure the scene after a shots were fired during the Toronto Raptors NBA basketball championship parade in Toronto in June.

Toronto is once again grappling with gun violence. There were 30 shootings in August alone, and authorities blame street gangs. As Dan Karpenchuk reports, governments at higher than municipal levels are taking notice and ponying up funding to help.

The gun violence that’s gripped Toronto recently would come as no surprise in many American cities, where it’s almost become part of daily life. But to Canadians, it’s a shock – even more so for Torontonians who believed their neighborhoods were relatively safe, and that this was a problem only experienced south of the border.

But the trend is up according to Toronto police statistics. 244 shootings this year surpasses the previous five years, and there are still several months to go.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said there’s a pattern to the violence. The vast majority of the shootings, he says, have occurred in a U-shaped section of the city – what he calls neighborhood improvement areas.

Over a recent long weekend at the beginning of August, 17 people were wounded in 14 separate shooting incidents. That gun violence continued.

Saunders said it all points to gang activity.

“I know that people are concerned and I completely understand that. I do want to underline that this recent gun activity, these shootings that have happened over the past 10 days, by and large have street gang connotations to them or are street gang related. And the vast majority of them we cannot exclude street gang subculture activity to it,” Saunders said.

Saunders adds arrests have been made in several of the incidents, with more on the way. But he said while arrests are positive, he’s concerned that changes need to be made to the court system.

“There are approximately 326 people that are charged with firearms offenses that are out on bail right now,” said Saunders. “What we are hoping to do is establish a stronger relationship with our courts to let them know the impact that these types of offenses are having within our communities.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory has been calling for tougher gun laws, including a ban on handguns. But Tory said his city needs help.

“We have to address the root causes of gun violence and get much tougher with criminals who often laugh at things – literally laugh at things – like bail and sentencing practices, both the laws and the way in which they are implemented,” said Tory.

Tory also said there is an urgent need to invest in children, families, and neighborhoods.

At a news conference in Toronto, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about efforts to prevent cross-border smuggling of illegal guns and to reduce gun and gang violence. And most recently, his government, the city, and the province of Ontario came together to provide $4.5 million directly to the Toronto Police Service.

“Those measures alone, won’t do it,” said Trudeau. “We need to take a holistic approach if we want to stop the gun violence that’s shaken this city. One way our government can help is by providing funding to build more safe community spaces where young people can spend time.”

Saunders has unveiled what he plans to do with the extra money. Project Community Space begins this week and will include officers across the city under the command of the Guns and Gangs Task Force. It will focus on street gangs, reducing violent crime and firearms offenses. It will also include monitoring bail compliance, more engagement with communities and community programs and increased police presence and visibility in neighborhoods where street gangs and gun violence have been prevalent.

In the fall there will be at least 30 gang prevention town halls aimed at educating and supporting families who live in neighborhoods affected by gang activity and where children may be at risk of recruitment by gangs.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.
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