Gunfire rang out in Toronto’s East York area on Friday afternoon, killing a man and leaving another wounded, just hours after city police said they were moving to address a spike in gun violence.
Parent Tina Wadham was in the area picking up her children, who attend a summer camp in a nearby elementary school. She and other parents said they were concerned about gun violence.
“We have young kids in the area,” she said. “There’s a potential for innocent people [being shot].”
It was the 21st shooting incident in the city inside of one week.
Hours earlier, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said the department is changing its strategy to curb gun violence, citing street-gang involvement in many of the week’s shootings. Police confirmed that Friday’s shooting was also gang-related.
More than 390 people have been shot in Toronto this year. Last year, at this time, 329 people had been hit in 242 incidents. Friday’s death was the 37th homicide of the year, according to Toronto police.
Many of the past week’s shooting incidents were gang-related or had “street-gang connotations,” Chief Saunders said.
He said a “multipronged approach” is needed to address the broader social issues around gun violence.
“The vast majority of gun violence that has occurred in the city, the patterns are identical, it is that U-shape area of the city where it’s the neighbourhood improvement areas,” Chief Saunders said, noting that they are neighbourhoods with high levels of poverty, fewer people completing their education and less access to jobs. “People are not born to be street-gang members; they become.”
Chief Saunders did not provide details on how the police were changing their strategy to address mounting firearms and gang violence. He said Toronto police are working with different levels of government to develop a plan.
“There is going to be a change and a shift in what we need to do to have a stronger focus on street gangs,” Chief Saunders said, adding the plan “will take place sooner rather than later.”
“We need to make sure there are mechanisms in place for these young men to not want to take up arms."
Last year, the Ontario government pledged $25-million as part of a plan to combat gun violence. Most of the money went toward policing, but more than $7-million was slated to establish prosecutorial teams whose job is to ensure those accused of gun-related crimes are denied bail, according to the government.
Irvin Waller, a University of Ottawa professor who studies violence prevention across the globe, said the city should be doing more to address gun violence.
“It’s very disappointing to see that the city has not come to grips with the evidence on what actually works to reduce this type of street violence,” he said.
Dr. Waller wrote to Chief Saunders and Toronto Mayor John Tory recently outlining steps he said could reduce street violence in the city.
More social workers reaching out to young men, including victims of gun violence, would help prevent revenge shootings, according to Dr. Waller, adding that life-skills education in schools would also help.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned the violence on Friday. He pledged to support Mr. Tory and Toronto police while teasing at a coming announcement he said would help curb the violence.
A spokesperson for Mr. Tory said the Premier and the mayor spoke on Wednesday and discussed ways to address gun violence in the city. But Mr. Ford on Friday again declared his opposition to a handgun ban, an idea Mr. Tory is promoting as a way to get guns off Toronto streets.
Mr. Ford referenced Chicago as an example of a city where a handgun ban is ineffective.
Seven people were killed and 52 wounded by gunfire in Chicago from Friday evening to Sunday, according to The New York Times.
“[A handgun ban] is not the solution, to be very frank,” Mr. Ford said. “[The solution is] making sure we’re coming down hard and heavy on these gangs.”