In the aftermath of the largest mass shooting in Toronto’s history, Mayor Rob Ford is calling in reinforcements, going so far as to appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and demand more money from Queen’s Park to fund a crackdown against street gangs.
"I’m going to hopefully meet with the Prime Minister to see if we can toughen our gun laws," Mayor Rob Ford told radio station AM640 Wednesday night. "Once they’re charged and they go to jail the most important thing is when they get out of jail, I don’t want them living in this city. They can go anywhere else, but I don’t want them in the city.”
Asked how he planned to force gangsters out of Toronto, Mr. Ford said: “I don’t know and that’s what I’m going to sit down with the prime minister and find out: how our immigration laws work. Obviously I have an idea. But whatever I can do to get them out of the city I’m going to, regardless of whether they have family or friends, I don’t want these people, if they’re convicted of a gun crime, to have anything to do with the City of Toronto.”
Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson said he hadn't heard about the mayor's comments regarding immigration law, when he spoke to reporters outside of Thursday's meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, of which he is vice chair.
"I don't understand the concept or the principle associated with that," he said, "because that would presuppose that simply that only those who are immigrants... are committing crimes and that's a position I do not share."
He said he wasn't sure why the statement was made. "I don't understand conceptually, at all, because it really speaks to perhaps some who may not be fully cognisant as to what some of the real challenges are," he said. "I would think that either the mayor has spoken in a moment of just emotion but I would think that the notion of immigration or immigrants being the problem is the wrong notion."
Shortly before at the police board meeting, Mr. Thompson asked the board to pass a motion to ask the premier that the chair of the board be included in any meetings seeking a solution to violence in Toronto. His motion passed after the board had a moment of silence for the victims of the Danzig Avenue shooting Monday night, where two people were killed and 23 wounded.
Mr. Thompson said he wants the board to also be included with any meetings the mayor is seeking with the prime minister. "I hadn't been made aware that discussions were going to take place federally," Mr. Thompson said. "When that meeting is called, I would be speaking to the mayor to ensure that he invites the chair of the police services board since we're in a position of actually setting policy and governance."
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed it was working to schedule a sit-down between Mr. Harper and the mayor.
Police Chief Bill Blair, for his part, has acknowledged that it’s been hard for the force to reach out to the neighbourhood where the shootings took place Monday night, as his officers struggled to overcome the wall of silence and gather tips from witnesses.
In an interview on television station CP24 Wednesday, Mr. Ford walked a fine line between talking tough and reassuring residents. He argued Toronto is still safe – saying that he coaches football in one of the toughest parts of town without fear – but asserted that he wanted tougher laws on gun crime.
“I want meetings,” he said. “It’s affecting our city more than anyone else in Canada.”
In a meeting with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m., Mr. Ford said he will push for a cash injection for the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, which sends police into priority neighbourhoods to seize guns, make arrests and build connections with locals.
Mr. McGuinty said Thursday that it would be a mistake for government leaders and police to respond to the largest mass shooting in Toronto’s history by dividing into two camps - those calling exclusively for tougher laws versus those saying the answer is more community supports.
“I think we need to come to the table not so much with demands of each other, but rather questions for ourselves that we need to ask,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters in Ottawa. “What is it we can bring to the table as part of the solution?”
Mr. McGuinty said Monday's meeting with Mr. Ford and Chief Blair will be the first in a series of sessions to discuss what measures are needed to bolster community safety. All three levels of government as well as law enforcement officials and community members must be involved in the talks.
“The provincial government is not the sole repository of any ultimate solution in this matter,” he said. “I don’t pretend to have a quick and easy answer. I don’t think anybody does.”
Minutes after he spoke, Attorney General John Gerretsen renewed the province’s call for the federal government to ban handguns.
“The more that we can do collectively to get guns out of our system, the better it is for everybody,” Mr. Gerretsen told television station CP24.
The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) has been one of Chief Blair’s marquee programs and, on Wednesday, he pointed to steady declines in violent crime over the past seven years, including the lowest homicide tally in three decades in 2011.
But there have been more shootings this year than last. Out of the 284 handguns seized by Toronto police this year up to June 30, 158 belonged to gang members, compared with 146 at the same time last year.
Among police successes in the past decade were a trio of big operations that jailed scores of players from the streets of Scarborough and quieted neighbourhoods like the one where the shooting took place.
Recently, some of those imprisoned have gotten out and a younger generation is picking up the baton, Chief Blair said. Some police intelligence suggests Monday’s violence may have been related to a re-emergence of the rival Galloway Boys and the Malvern Crew, the gangs primarily targeted in the big sweeps.
Yet in the two days since, amid up to 200 potential witnesses, only a small number of tips have trickled in.
“In the immediate aftermath of such a traumatic event, it’s very difficult to go out and engage with people, but we’re there,” the police chief acknowledged. “If there are rivalries being renewed, I’ve got to be concerned. I’m not trying to create an atmosphere of fear, but I want those who might be witnesses to what took place on Monday to understand the urgency of coming forward.”
On Danzig Street, where the shootings took place, Daryl Kennedy suggested one reason residents don’t trust police. Officers are ever-present in the area, driving around in their cruisers, he said, but don’t stop to talk to people and develop ties.
“I’m not talking about being friends, but getting to know the community,” said Mr. Kennedy, who was preparing to wash blood off his truck that came from a shooting victim who fled via his front yard. “You think we’re really comfortable with them?”
Defence lawyer Courtney Betty argues police must spend more time with neighbourhood residents in order to build rapport and gather local intelligence, rather than only showing up to enforce the law. And despite the rhetoric, politicians have also failed to take action, he said.
After Jordan Manners was shot dead in a Toronto school, the province commissioned a report on youth violence. But Mr. Betty said Queen’s Park failed to empower someone to put its recommendations in place and oversee a coordinated response to the problem.
“It’s been sitting on a shelf and none of those things have been implemented,” he said.
But for all the fears of violence, the father of one shooting victim says the neighbourhood is much safer than it used to be. Robert Athanas, whose 19-year-old daughter was shot twice but survived, has lived in the area 30 years.
“I remember Danzig 20, 25 years ago and I used to tell her, this was a place I wouldn’t hang out because it was bad then,” he said. “But people grow up, people move out and Danzig became stable again.”
With files from Carys Mills, Kelly Grant and Karen Howlett