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Of the 31 people who died in Toronto shootings last year, 22 were black, according to numbers compiled by The Globe and Mail. Of the 18 cases in that same period where the race of the suspect or the accused is known, 14 involved at least one person who is black.

But more staggering, police said, is that all but two, or 94 per cent, of those shootings are believed to be gang-related.

"The gun murders -- they're virtually all gang murders," said Staff Inspector Gary Ellis, head of the city's homicide squad.

"These are young people who are living outside the law. It's an underworld. They have their own code." Michael Thompson, councillor for Scarborough Centre, said yesterday that he will present a plan to tomorrow's policy and finance committee meeting, which he said he hopes will lead to a solution.

He remarked on the effect on the black community of the gun violence. "The pictures we see of young black men being shot and killed is of great concern to me."

The Globe and Mail used a combination of police reports and victim photographs to determine that 71 per cent of the year's shooting victims were black.

"It tells me there is an economic problem. It tells me there is a social problem. It tells me that some of these people are obviously involved in activities that are certainly counter-productive and activities that get them killed," Mr. Thompson said.

"It also tells me we need to reach out to the people that are in these communities. . . . We as a society need to realize that a lot of these people are turning to criminality because they don't see any other hope. They feel disconnected from society at large. We've got to get them connected."

Figures released this week show that police received 326 shooting reports last year, an increase of more than 53 per cent over those of 2002. Earlier reports suggested that shootings had increased by 35 per cent.

Staff Insp. Ellis said that luck and the quick work of paramedics prevented many victims from being added to the death toll.

Thirty-one of the year's 65 homicides were gun-related. In the late 1990s, shooting deaths hovered around 20 a year.

"A few years ago, many of them [shootings]were one suspect, one victim. The motive was either sex, money, revenge or just a spontaneous incident. Now you've got organized gangs," Staff Insp. Ellis said.

"Now when you look at the types of murders, it's kids killing kids, groups of kids killing kids. And unless they're caught, they only become empowered and become gangsters, and you end up with a cycle of violence."

He said 38 people were arrested in connection with 13 solved Toronto homicides last year, evidence of crimes committed by groups. He added that many accused are under 18. The numbers raise the question of how and where young people obtain the guns.

Staff Inspector Rick Gauthier of the guns and gangs task force said that most handguns come from the United States -- primarily Ohio, Texas and Kentucky. After the firearms cross the border, he said, gang members obtain them without much trouble.

"In the gangs there is a common practice now to rent a gun for a specific time period, just like you would rent a video," he said, adding that he heard guns renting for as little as $100.

He said people who know the system remove registered guns from the official record, then sell them to criminals. Some people simply steal guns in home invasions and other robberies.

Staff Insp. Gauthier said he believes there are 73 gangs in Toronto comprising at least 1,000 members and associates, most of whom appear as suspects or victims in violent crimes.

He said, however, that although arrest rates are high, criminals are free to continue the violence.

"Unfortunately, they are in and out of the system. We hold them in custody on gun charges, and ultimately, they either plead guilty right away and get a short sentence or they make bail. There are very few that stay in custody."

As this select group of violent criminals continues to bounce in and out of the system, many police officials, including Chief Julian Fantino, say the violence grows more brazen.

However, Scot Wortley, a professor at the University of Toronto's Centre of Criminology, said he is increasingly skeptical of such reports.

"Overall, Toronto still has a very low homicide rate for a city of this size and complexity. It's a very large, diverse city with regards to economic standing and ethnicity. Remarkably, we seem to get along okay."

He believes one of the reasons police might overemphasize gang violence is to divert attention from recent allegations of racial profiling.

"It's saying, 'If we do focus on this community, we have good reason to because that's the community that's involved in gang violence.' That's one of the motivations, I think, for perhaps inflating the number of gang-related homicides that are going on in the city."

Staff Insp. Ellis said he did not suggest that crime is out of control but believes gangs are a serious problem. "There are a brazen, small number of people who are doing the crimes."

And with witnesses increasingly afraid of retribution, "[the gang members]are getting away with it."

A closer look at Toronto's gun-related homicides in 2003

2003: An analysis of the 32 cases

22 of 31 homicide victims were black.

Police believe almost all the shootings are gang related........94%

Only six arrests were made, leaving 25 cases outstanding.

A little over one quarter of the cases occurred in or near clubs, bars or parties....26%

Almost half the gun homicides occurred at night, and two fifths in the early morning.

8 a.m. - 6 p.m. - 16%

6 p.m. - 2 a.m. - 45%

2 a.m. - 8 a.m. - 39%

Reports to the police of gun activity increased between 2002 and 2003.

Reports of a shooting...+53.8%

Reports of person with a gun...+19.4%

Reports of sound of gunshots...+35.1%

Homicides, 1991-2003

1991 Total...89

Homicides with guns...38

Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...43%

1992 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...23%

1993 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...42%

1994 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...38%

1995 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...21%

1996 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...38%

1997 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...39%

1998 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...23%

1999 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...37%

2000 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...42%

2001 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...56%

2002 Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...47%

2003 Total...65

Homicides with guns...31

Homicides with guns as a percentage of the total...48%

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