Two men were killed on Canada Day long weekend in Toronto, as gunshots rang out just after 8 p.m. on a hot Saturday night in the city’s busy entertainment district on Queen Street West near Peter Street.
Police have identified the victims as 28-year-old Ernest Modekwe and 21-year-old Jahvante Smart, also known by his rap name Smoke Dawg. Several high-profile rap artists from the city took to social media since Mr. Smart’s death to offer their condolences.
“Smokey is gone, may our prayers follow him to heaven,” artist Mustafa the Poet wrote on Twitter. “I wish peace would wash over our city … Rest up Smoke,” Drake wrote on his Instagram.
Colten Pretty was headed to dinner with a friend on Queen Street West when he said he heard around 11 shots. After calling 9-1-1, Mr. Pretty noticed Mr. Smart bleeding on the ground. He and his friend both attempted to assist Mr. Smart and Mr. Modekwe as they waited for ambulances to arrive.
Mr. Smart lost his vital signs quickly and was pronounced dead at the hospital, Mr. Pretty said. Mr. Modekwe, also known by his rap name Koba Prime, was transported to the hospital with vital signs, but later died. “He was very much fighting ... he wasn’t going to give up,” Mr. Pretty said of Mr. Modekwe.
Lise Robichaud was in a streetcar on Queen Street with a friend when she heard several shots. She said she first thought it was fireworks, but quickly realized it was gunfire after looking out the window.
“I saw [a victim] drop on the ground and then I said ‘Oh my god, it’s a shooting,’” Ms. Robichaud said. Everyone on the crowded streetcar dropped to the ground, she said, and were evacuated around 20 minutes later.
A third female victim suffered injuries that police described on Twitter as “very serious,” but she is expected to survive. Investigators say two suspects were seen running from the area, and may have fled in a black SUV or a white car.
Mr. Smart and Mr. Modekwe’s deaths are the city’s 49th and 50th homicides since January of this year. According to data obtained from Toronto Police, there have been 24 victims shot and killed in 2018 – a year in which gun violence in Toronto appears to be occurring at a higher rate than normal. By this point last year, there were 16 gun-related deaths.
Speaking to media about the incident at a Canada Day event Sunday morning, Mayor John Tory linked the shooting to gang violence, saying people with ties to gangs are “the only ones that pose a threat” to the city. Toronto Police, however, have not confirmed whether the shooting is related to gang activity. Mr. Tory also renewed his call for systemic action to keep people accused of gun crimes off the streets.
Activists from communities directly affected by the surge in gun violence are urging the city and the Toronto Police to do more. Sureya Ibrahim, a resident of Regent Park for more than 20 years, said Mr. Smart grew up in the area and was a close friend of many youth in the community. “There are kids who are impacted by [his death],” Ms. Ibrahim said.
Ms. Ibrahim, who also works as a community relations specialist at the Centre for Community Learning and Development in Regent Park, said these youth need emotional support, and the city and police should do more to connect with them instead of providing “lip service.”
Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, an initiative launched five years ago to combat increasing gun violence in the city, said there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to address the problem. “All these people trying to deal with gun violence are working in silos, they are not working together,” Mr. March said. He said the Toronto Police, the city and community activists must have a joint discussion to come up with better solutions.
“I don’t trust John Tory and his leadership right now to deal with this issue,” Mr. March added, calling the mayor’s current response “simplistic and shallow.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said there had been 16 gun-related deaths in 2017. There had in fact been 16 gun-related deaths by this time last year.