It was not something residents expected at their high-end condo building in a trendy downtown Toronto neighbourhood: Dozens of heavily armed police officers knocking down doors and arresting suspects with alleged gang ties.
In predawn mass raids on Wednesday, officers from around the province arrested more than 50 people throughout the Greater Toronto Area allegedly linked to two rival gangs.
Some of the suspects lived in a new 30-storey condo tower in Liberty Village, a bustling downtown neighbourhood dominated by young couples.
“I heard a lot of noises, like people knocking at the door and then people screaming for help,” said Guilherme Blanco, a 30-year-old IT manager who was awakened at 5 a.m. when officers raided his neighbours’ unit.
Mr. Blanco looked out his door’s peephole and saw that police were on scene and then tried, unsuccessfully, to go back to sleep. He said his neighbours, who have lived in the Western Battery Road building near King Street West and Shaw Street for the past three or four months, held parties every weekend and appeared to smoke marijuana.
A 23-year-old woman, who moved into the condo tower in September from Ottawa, said she was surprised to find out her building had been raided.
“It was shocking, just because it’s a new building and you don’t think that that would happen in Liberty Village. But there’s actually always a lot of police officers around here and we always used to be like, it seems like such a safe area and we don’t get why there’s so many police. Now it kind of makes sense.”
Many people who own units in the building – where two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments are listed for sale at close to $600,000 – rent out their condos, leading to questions about security in large buildings where 24-hour concierge services don’t protect against transient residents with ties to organized crime.
“The criminal activity of these alleged gang members who live in condos is basically hidden – number one, because you don’t expect it to be rooted in very affluent communities and, number two, the individuals engaging in this activity could be really, really smart about how they hide their activity,” said Mark Totten, a professor of criminal justice at Humber College who studies gangs.
In addition, the extra security in condos is attractive to drug dealers and other criminals, who are often subject to attacks by rivals. “I think you could argue that a condo-like atmosphere does provide some kind of protection,” Prof. Totten said.
Wednesday’s takedowns were the culmination of months-long, multiagency investigations targeting two rival gangs – the Asian Assassins and Sick Thugz – which acting Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders described as sophisticated organizations with “a much bigger footprint than normal gangs.”
“Crime occurs with any crowd, so it doesn’t have to be low-income. It can be any income and we’ve seen that,” he said.
Led by Toronto police, officers from a host of law-enforcement agencies across the province executed 53 search warrants, mostly in the city of Toronto. In addition to the more than 50 arrests, officers seized about 10 guns, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, two cocaine presses and large quantities of cash, acting chief Saunders said, adding that police would release more details on Thursday.
Police said the suspects would face a variety of charges, including belonging to a criminal organization, firearm trafficking, firearm possession, drug trafficking, human trafficking, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Acting chief Saunders said members of the gangs “have been involved in a series of shootings that have occurred within the city of Toronto.” Last year, Michael Nguyen, 23, was shot dead execution-style at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Police said Mr. Nguyen and a man injured in the shooting were affiliated with the Asian Assassins.
With a report from Melissa Whetstone
Follow us on Twitter: