Ontario is beefing up two teams of Crown attorneys who will specialize in large gang-related prosecutions and handle bail hearings for people accused of using guns, as well as offering funds to police forces across the province to team up and bring down street gangs.
As Toronto emerged from another summer weekend of shootings that left one man dead and six people injured, the province unveiled its plans on Monday for $54-million in federal money for anti-gang initiatives, which will be spread over the next three years.
The cash is Ontario’s share of a $214-million, five-year fund Ottawa is giving provinces and territories and which the federal Liberal government first unveiled in the fall of 2017. Ottawa had already handed over $11-million to Ontario earlier this year for various gun-and-gang investigations and youth programs.
Despite recent feuds between the Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government at Queen’s Park and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa, ministers from both governments said political rivalries played no role as they looked for ways to counter rising gang violence and officials negotiated the handing over of the cash.
Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones denied there was any undue delay in getting the federal anti-gang money, promised almost two years ago, flowing: “We wanted to make sure that programs that we were offering were frankly what the [police] chiefs and the municipalities wanted. And I think we have accomplished that.”
At Peel Regional Police headquarters in Mississauga, west of Toronto, Ms. Jones and the province’s Attorney-General, Doug Downey, joined Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, to officially announce the cash.
Mr. Blair – who was Toronto’s police chief in 2005 amid what has been called the Summer of the Gun, when the number of shootings skyrocketed – said he could not recall during his decade as chief when the federal government committed as much money to battle gangs.
He did not say whether his government would heed calls from Toronto Mayor John Tory and others to ban handguns, saying they were looking at a variety of measures. Mr. Blair also said he did not believe that the federal legislation around granting bail needed to be strengthened, noting that he had already successfully helped push for changes to make it harder for those accused of gun crimes to get bail back when he was chief.
Mr. Blair said shootings in Canada’s largest cities had doubled over the past five years. Asked about the Sunday shooting death of a North York man in which police say up to 100 potential witnesses had so far failed to come forward, Mr. Blair said he faced the same issues as chief. He said police and governments need to keep reaching out to their communities.
“Working in communities, building trust, building confidence and a greater sense of safety and security in those neighbourhoods helps people find the courage to come forward and co-operate with investigations,” Mr. Blair said.
Ontario will use the latest federal funding for a range of programs across the province, including for prosecutors on a new “intensive firearms bail team” based in Peel Region, but which will serve the entire Greater Toronto Area. The province had already brought in a similar team for Toronto, which ensures specialized Crowns are on hand for gun-related bail hearings.
Both Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders and Mr. Tory have criticized what they call lax bail practices that let some arrested for gun crimes back out too quickly.
Ontario will also use the new money to set up a “gun and gang fund” in the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Golden Horseshoe, which extends from Niagara to Peterborough, to fund joint police investigations into gangs, which often operate across jurisdictions.
In Eastern Ontario, a new guns-and-gangs team will be made up of four assistant Crown attorneys who will work with the Ottawa Police Service and “provide prosecutorial support for complex investigative projects and an intensive firearms and gang-specific bail strategy.”
In addition, Ontario will use the money to support victims of human trafficking and to fund “dedicated prosecution resources” for those offences.
The federal money follows word from Queen’s Park last week that it would provide $3-million for new police surveillance cameras in Toronto – cameras Toronto Police first requested a year ago. And just two weeks ago, Mr. Trudeau announced $1.5-million in funding for Toronto to combat guns and gangs.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.