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The Globe and Mail

Ontario unveils $20-million plan to get guns off the street

Police investigate a fatal shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre on June 3, 2012.

brett gundlock The Globe and Mail

Ontario's government is chipping in another $20-million to fund a slew of expanded social programs in the wake of mass shootings in Toronto that left four dead and nearly 30 wounded.

The move comes a month after the government said that $12.5-million in annual funding for anti-gang policing, money that had had to be renewed periodically, would be made permanent.

Called the Youth Action Plan, the government strategy announced Wednesday acknowledges the province's limitations, pledging to push Ottawa to commit more resources to gangs and gun-smuggling.

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But it also promises to help Crime Stoppers double rewards for getting firearms off the street and features new funding for outreach workers, summer jobs for youth and community programs. These are the sorts of initiatives often sneered at by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who once argued that "when we had the most murders in the city, it was the same time that we had the most grants."

The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But the deputy mayor, city councillor Doug Holyday, said it was worth considering any measures that would help "steer people" in the right direction.

"I think anything that would help deal with the problem is welcome," he said by phone.

The problem was thrown into stark relief with a pair of high-profile shootings this summer. Gunfire in the food court of the Eaton Centre in early June left two dead and a half-dozen injured. Shooting at a block party in Scarborough in mid-July killed two, including a 14-year-old girl, and injured more than 20.

The shootings sparked heated debate, both about whether they were anomalies or symptoms of a deeper problem and how best to tackle the issue.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has spoken in favour of social programs as part of the solution, arguing that law enforcement alone won't make the problems go away. And police spokesman Mark Pugash said Wednesday that the province's announcement, along with last month's decision to make anti-gang funding permanent, was evidence Queen's Park was taking a broad-based approach.

"The province has gone to great lengths to fund both sides of the equation and that's very important," Mr. Pugash said.

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The latest provincial plan follows a month of consultation and the government claims it will help 13,000 young people annually through 20 initiatives.

The plan is based around the principles of early intervention, increased youth opportunities, safer communities, tackling violence and better governance. Among the numerous specifics are commitments to:

- add 320 part-time jobs for troubled youth during the school year, rising to 440 next year, on top of the 1,100 already in place in Toronto as part of the government's Youth Opportunities Strategy;

- expand a school-based program known as Parenting and Family Literacy Centres from 155 sites to 172 province-wide;

- increase the number of youth outreach workers in Ontario from 62 to 97.

"The youth action plan recognizes that it is on the ground, at the community level, that we can make the biggest difference," Madeleine Meilleur, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said in a statement.

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