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Police investigate possible links between cases as Toronto sees spike in gun violence

A spike of fatal shootings is forcing Toronto’s already strained police department to reallocate resources, as homicide detectives work to determine whether any of the cases are linked.

“We are certainly in the middle of a spike, and we’re taking steps to deal with that in the best way we can,” Toronto Police Service spokesperson Mark Pugash said Thursday.

Many of the recent shootings have occurred at high-traffic downtown intersections. On Wednesday night, a man was shot and killed in Yonge and Dundas Square. Police have identified him as Israel Edwards, 18, of Pickering, Ont.

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On Monday night, 37-year-old tech CEO Matthew Staikos was gunned down while walking in Yorkville.

Less than 24 hours before that, a 21-year-old York University student, Venojan Suthesan, was shot and killed outside Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. Another four people were killed in shootings in the previous week.

Shootings in Toronto are up 11 per cent over last year, with 162 this year as of Sunday − compared to 145 in the same period last year.

Mr. Pugash said there is no easy explanation for the increase, noting that it is too early in the investigations to say whether any of these cases are linked.

“People want simple answers to complicated issues,” he said, adding that sometimes violence comes in clusters for unknown reasons.

“We can’t get into specifics about what we’re doing [as part of our investigations], but certainly the arrest on Monday night was not a random occurrence,” Mr. Pugash said, referring to a dramatic afternoon takedown near Parliament Street and Dundas Street East.

Four men were arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into gun violence in the Regent Park area. Close to 100 charges were laid, and two loaded guns were seized.

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Though the warm weather is often cited as a factor in spiking violence, Mr. Pugash cautions against that correlation.

“We’ve had Februarys and Januarys where we had a large number of homicides, so I think you have to be careful about making assumptions that the warm weather automatically brings with it certain things,” he said.

On Thursday, as Mr. Staikos’s family prepared for his funeral visitation, Mayor John Tory released a statement condemning the recent violence.

“The incidents of gun violence we have seen in our city in the past few days are shocking and can in no way be accepted or brushed aside,” Mr. Tory said.

“I will be following up with [the chief] and relevant City officials in the days to come to ensure that we are doing everything possible to reduce the number of these incidents and assist with law enforcement.”

“Our family is mourning the sudden loss of our beloved Matthew,” the Staikos family said in a statement to the media. “We ask that you respect the privacy of our family as we cope with this tragedy.”

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Canada’s technology industry was similarly shocked by the 37-year-old’s death.

Mr. Staikos co-founded Torch Mobile Inc., a software company that develops applications for mobile devices, with his brother George Staikos in 2003; the company was acquired in 2009 by Research in Motion Ltd. (now called BlackBerry Ltd.)

After leaving BlackBerry, he went on to found and became CEO of Vleepo Inc. in 2015. Toronto-based Vleepo is described on its website as a “messaging platform that is redefining what group chat should be” and the company has development offices in Greece.

Dimitris Azemopoulos, the ambassador of Greece to Canada, knew Mr. Staikos when he was the Greek consul-general in Toronto from 2009 to 2014, and frequently met Mr. Staikos at events held in the Danforth area, known as Toronto’s Greektown.

“I feel very sad, because what happened was unfair,” he told The Globe and Mail Thursday. “It’s something tragic ... such a tragic loss.”

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