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Police tape is seen in front of the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 after a shooting in the food court. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Police tape is seen in front of the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 after a shooting in the food court. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Marcus Gee

Gang-motivated or not, anger is palpable on Toronto's streets Add to ...

Police are being parsimonious with the information that they release about the Eaton Centre shooting. We know the name of the alleged shooter: Christopher Husbands, 23. We know he was under house arrest and should not have been at the mall in the first place. We know the name of the dead man: Ahmed Hassan, 24. Like Mr. Husbands, he was “known to police.” We also know that a third man, aged 23, who suffered critical chest and neck wounds in the shooting, was somehow mixed up with the first two.

We can surmise that the three were together in the mall’s food court when some kind of dispute broke out and that Mr. Husbands (again, allegedly) drew a gun and opened fire on the other two, hitting innocent bystanders in the process. Contrary to earlier reports, this was not a “gang-motivated” shooting, Det. Sgt. Brian Borg told reporters on Monday. All three were the members of the same gang — he would not say which — but “there were personal matters involved.” In other words, he seemed to be saying, this was not a dispute between rival gangs over turf or drug money, but a personal dispute among three guys who happened to be gang members.

If that was meant to be reassuring, it was not particularly. Whether the shooting was between gangs or among gang members, it underlines the seriousness of the problem Toronto faces with street violence.

When Adam Vaughan hears officials say that this was an “isolated incident,” he shakes his head. His downtown ward contains the Alexandra Park housing project and he sees the toll. “The anger is palpable,” he says. “And the fear — the fear and frustration that communities that are seeing a rise in gunfire are feeling right now.” He sees that many of his constituents are “at wit’s end,” fearing that their kids will be caught up in the cycle of attack and retaliation that often takes hold of hardened young men. “There is this heightened sense of shoot or be shot right now,” he says.

Often it is not a question of one gang confronting another, he says. It’s more complicated and fluid than that, cutting across old lines of race or gang affiliation. There is “somebody who may have been dealing some drugs or may have beaten somebody up, and he gets into a fight with someone who used to be a friend. And all of a sudden, boom, it takes place in public where these guys hang out — and sometimes they hang out in the Eaton Centre.”

We probably won’t know till Mr. Husbands trial, if then, exactly what happened on Saturday evening. But among the small number of bad actors who cause so much of the trouble on Toronto streets, this is often how things roll. Drug deals gone bad, disputes over money or women, resentment over some perceived slight — any one can be a spark for the sudden eruption like the one at the Eaton Centre.

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