GTA mayors and police chiefs call for smarter investment on ‘unacceptable’ youth gun violence
Jan. 29, 2020
Amid rising gun violence, mayors and police chiefs from across the Greater Toronto Area are calling for changes to border security, “tougher” bail laws and smarter investments in programming for families and at-risk youth.
Mayor John Tory initiated Tuesday’s meeting at city hall -- which included mayors from Brampton, Mississauga, Pickering and Markham, regional chairs from Peel, Durham and York -- to discuss solutions to combat the “unacceptable” level of shootings across the GTA.
The closed-door gathering saw sobering new statistics about those victimized and allegedly causing the rising violence: across the region, perpetrators and victims have been getting younger and younger.
“It doesn’t really matter what the age is -- if these things are happening, by definition, that’s bad,” Tory said. “But it’s…even more disconcerting and more challenging for us to deal with a group of people principally who are much younger.”
Toronto has recently seen record-level violence, with 292 people killed or injured in a total of 492 shootings in 2019, the highest number in at least 15 years. According to the most recent Toronto police statistics, there have been 23 shootings so far this year, four of them fatal.
Of the four people killed, all were in their 20s or younger, including Safiullah Khosrawi, 15, who was shot dead after leaving Scarborough’s Woburn Collegiate Institute last week, allegedly by another 15-year-old.
Tory said Tuesday’s meeting is the beginning of a concerted approach among municipal, provincial and federal governments to reduce the violence spiking across the GTA -- a problem growing, the mayors and chiefs say, in part thanks to gun smuggling over the U.S. border.
“There’s a real job to do at the border,” Tory said.
According to Toronto police statistics, 82 per cent of the handguns they seized in 2019 and traced originated in the U.S., with the remainder coming from Canada. However, of the 453 handguns Toronto police seized, nearly a quarter -- 107 -- were not traced, according to the data.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Ontario Provincial Police figures put the number of traceable illegal guns slightly higher, at 84 per cent coming from the U.S.
Next steps include a meeting between local police services and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Joel Lightbound, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said the federal government is “listening,” and admitted there should be improved intelligence sharing between the border agency and local police to allow them to “collaborate more efficiently.”
Lightbound also referenced the forthcoming $250 million federal dollars earmarked for crime prevention strategies, promised by the Liberals during last year’s election. He said that money is specifically intended for crime prevention.
Tory said the GTA mayors agree that further and more co-ordinated investments are needed in programming for at-risk youth, families, communities, and stressed that federal funds are needed “now.”
“We can’t do this alone,” he said. “Property taxes were never meant to fund what amounts to social programs, and this is very much a shared responsibility.”
Tory has repeatedly called for greater federal funding for youth programs while facing criticism about city money handed to police to combat violence. Last year, municipal, provincial and federal governments each gave $1.5 million to Toronto police to beef up the service’s guns and gangs task force, an initiative that police say led to meaningful gains but did not result in a reduction of shootings.
According to the city budget presented earlier this month, there are few youth violence prevention initiatives set to receive new city funding, though nearly $1 million will be spent on four new, dedicated youth spaces this year. The city wants the federal government to fund another $1.5 million for youth violence prevention and intervention but has promised to backstop those programs with reserve funds this year if those investments don’t come.
The GTA mayors are also calling for “substantially tougher” bail laws, a frequent suggestion made by Tory and Saunders in recent months that has drawn significant pushback from lawyers and other justice experts.
According to Toronto statistics released Tuesday, during a four-month period starting Aug. 1, 2019 Toronto police arrested 97 people who were out on bail for a firearms offence.
Of those 97, 17 were charged with a new firearm offence; four of those 17 were released again on bail, and one of whom was later charged for a third time for a firearm offence.
“It deflates the police officers and community representatives, to have to look people in the eye and say after all the work is done, all the money that’s expended on bringing these people to justice, that then people see them and police officers see them in the community hours later,” Tory said.
“It’s a system that is not working,” he said.
Some legal experts have said, however, that the limited data released by police does not give a full enough picture of whether changes to bail will make a difference in crime reduction. Meanwhile, there is a dearth of provincial data: Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General does not track the number of people who are granted bail for firearm offences and go on to be charged with a new offence, whether its another firearm offence or otherwise.
Irvin Waller, a University of Ottawa criminology professor, told the Star late last year that more data could help the debate between police and defence lawyers regarding bail.
Regardless, he said, while there may be cases of a person living a gang lifestyle reoffending while on bail, “this does not account for the level of homicides that we’re seeing in Toronto for the last three or four years, and for the shootings that are continuing.”
In general, Crown attorneys must seek detention at a bail hearing for anyone charged with a firearm offence unless there are exceptional circumstances.The mayors are also calling for greater use of electronic monitoring bracelets to help people out on bail stay on track. But the system is not functional in part because the bracelets must be paid for by the accused, something those gathering Tuesday said should change, Tory said.