The Ontario government is pledging millions of dollars to combat a recent spate of gun violence in Toronto, but none of the new funding is earmarked for more police officers.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said on Monday that if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford thinks the answer to getting guns and gangs off the street is hiring more police, then the city can “dig a little deeper” and foot the bill.
The province is making funding permanent for two programs that were slated to end this year. The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), which sends police into priority neighbourhoods to seize guns, make arrests and build connections with locals, will continue to receive $5-million a year. A similar provincewide program will receive $7.5-million a year.
Last Monday’s brazen shooting at a community barbecue in Toronto’s east end that left two people dead and 23 injured has prompted the cash-strapped government to continue funding the two programs, even though Mr. McGuinty said he is not sure where he will find the money.
“When communities have their confidence shaken, when children and young people are victims of violence, I think we’ve got to give these kinds of things a rethink,” he told reporters following a meeting with Mr. Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair.
The meeting took place the same day as the funeral for one of the victims killed by crossfire at the Danzig Street barbecue in Scarborough, the largest mass shooting in Toronto’s history. Joshua Yasay, 23, had recently graduated from York University with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and aspired to be a police officer. He spent much of his spare time coaching basketball for at-risk youth, trying to stem the kind of violence that led to his own death.
The shooting has prompted Mr. McGuinty to call on all three levels of government to examine whether growing population density in many Canadian cities is creating a breeding ground for guns and gangs. He plans to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday, when the two will be in Oshawa for an auto event. Mr. Ford also plans to meet separately with Mr. Harper on Tuesday at a police station in Scarborough.
Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Ford went into their meeting with competing visions on how best to address a spate of fatal shootings that have rocked Toronto this summer. Mr. Ford spent much of last week calling on Mr. McGuinty to hire more police officers. Mr. McGuinty criticized the mayor for not embracing more social programs that reach out to young people.
Mr. McGuinty said the province needs effective measures to tackle gun violence. His government is also providing funding of $500,000 for community programs that reach out to young people – money that will be redirected from other areas.
Mr. Ford has said he does not believe what he called “hug-a-thug” programs curb gun crime. Earlier this month, Mr. Ford cast the lone vote at council against more than 300 grants worth $16-million, some which flow to priority neighbourhoods. In June, he was the only member of council to vote against accepting $350,000 in federal money for an anti-gang program.
Even though he did not get everything he asked for at the meeting, Mr. Ford emerged smiling, saying the funding for TAVIS is a “huge victory.” The program, which has four teams with 18 officers each, is doing a “fantastic job” of getting guns and gangs off the street, he told reporters.
“The Premier said he is going to continue funding TAVIS. That is exactly what I asked for and that is what I got,” he said.
Mr. Ford did not have an opportunity to respond to Mr. McGuinty’s assertion that the city should pay for new police officers. An adviser to Mr. Ford said the city is already spending $1.2-billion annually on policing.
Mr. Ford and Mr. McGuinty both plan to press Mr. Harper for additional funding.
“Perhaps the federal government will decide they’re going to have to dig a little bit deeper on behalf of all Canadian taxpayers,” Mr. McGuinty said. “It seems to me the mayor of the City of Toronto and the council itself, in fairness, should dig a little deeper and bring something to the table.”
New Democratic Party MPP Jonah Schein and Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan said the TAVIS program is only part of the solution.
“This doesn’t put a single new police officer on the streets,” said Mr. Vaughan, a critic of the mayor and former member of the police board. “The mayor claiming victory today is a joke.”