On the evening of Friday, May 1, Jarvis St. Remy was standing at a Dundas Street corner outside his best friend's building. He wore a white cap and white shirt, and was waiting for the bus. His midnight curfew was approaching. His mother was strict about these things.
As the bus came into sight, Mr. St. Remy, 18, was shot twice, from behind, while calling his girlfriend. By the time she picked up the phone, she heard only wind. Mr. St. Remy was dying on the other end of the line.
A five-minute ride away, his mother's phone rang. Her son was on his way to St. Michael's hospital, and would die soon after.
"Every day it goes through my head, every day," says Clemee Joseph, his mom. "Since the first day I got a call. I say, when these people came up to Jarvis and shot him, did they know him? What did they say to him? It never gets out of my mind. Did he suffer?"
Mr. St. Remy's death came amidst a spate of west-end gang violence, but parents and police say this Grade 12 student wasn't in a gang. He wasn't wearing any gang colours: blue, red or green. Instead, he was likely caught in a case of mistaken identity.
Three weeks after his death, five-year-old Tanya Reynolds was shot in the chest at a family barbecue by a gunman wielding a pistol in each hand. She survived.
"One of the biggest fears we've always had is that an innocent individual, a bystander, a Jane Creba-type incident would occur," says Superintendent Brody Smollet, head of 12 Division, home to the violence. "And that's what happened. That five-year-old girl, she got caught in the crossfire, so to speak."
In a year of record lows in Toronto crime rates, Supt. Smollet's division sits at the new epicentre of gang activity, a region bound by Lawrence Avenue, Caledonia Road, Dundas Street West and the Humber River. This tiny swath has had nine homicides since January.
In 2008, there were four, and that number was considered high at the time. Strictly speaking, Mr. St. Remy was killed just outside 12 Division's border, and brings the neighbourhood total to 10.
The spike is unprecedented, what Supt. Smollet calls "unheard of." The 10 deaths are one-third of Toronto's total, and twice the number of nearby Jane-Finch, which often earns the distinction of being the city's violent-crime capital. Half of the ten killings are unsolved.
A Globe and Mail investigation has revealed that police have linked six of those murders, as well as Tanya's shooting, to two unsophisticated local gangs, the Gatorz and the Five Point Generalz. Mr. St. Remy's case is still unsolved, but family believe an arrest is close, which may make him the seventh gang victim.
The casualties have caught the eye of Toronto's top cop, Chief Bill Blair, who this summer made Weston the new front in his force's war on gangs. Toronto police conducted a gang and drug sweep, Project Spring Clean, arresting 120 people and dismantling grow-ops. With the help of temporary provincial funding, Chief Blair has also brought in 32 new officers to the division, borrowed from other police stations as part of his Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) initiative.
There hasn't been a homicide since. But those officers are leaving in two months. And many of the people they arrested, including one suspected top gang member, are awaiting a bail hearing and could be released. The prospect leaves residents wondering if police have saved the former City of York or if, come fall, the gangs will be back.
Stuck with the stigma
On Lawrence Avenue, at the northwest corner of 12 Division, a sign welcomes drivers to the "home of the bicycle," the neighbourhood where CCM bikes were once made, while streets are filled with quaint detached homes and small parks. There are houses of worship and schools seemingly on every corner.
Take a step off the main streets and one of the things you'll notice are the beautiful gardens in front of quaint homes. When Terry Di Chicco moved in about a decade ago, her neighbours each brought her a plant.
But the neighbourhood dynamics here have changed. The hard-working, blue-collar region (known altogether as York South - Weston) has moved on, most recently with the 2005 closure of the Kodak plant. Today, you see many ramshackle beauty shops and community-housing buildings. Some tenured businesses have held on, but the violence has scared away customers.