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Police investigate a shooting near College Ave. and Spadina Ave. in Toronto on Jan. 31.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A downtown Toronto shooting that left two people dead and sent three to hospital is tied to gangs and should not raise the anxieties of city residents, said Mayor John Tory in a statement Sunday.

"It is important that Toronto residents understand what's going on here," he said. "There is some gang activity and these acts are largely targeted. I have spoken to Chief [Mark] Saunders … who assured me that Toronto Police is working to gather evidence and bring the people involved in gang activity into custody as soon as possible."

The shooting happened just after 3 a.m. on Sunday on the west corner of Spadina Avenue and Nassau Street, on the border of Kensington Market.

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A police investigation shut down Spadina between Dundas and College streets until about 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, leaving traffic snarled and residents and visitors uneasy.

Earlier in the day, police union chief Mike McCormack said a halt to the practice of carding, which allowed police officers to identify and talk to people not suspected of a crime, is playing a role in this month's violence. Shootings have doubled versus last January.

Officers, Mr. McCormack said, have stopped doing street checks while the province consults on legislation that would tightly regulate the practice.

"The province has said we will give you direction, and our officers are saying, 'Okay, what is that direction?'" Mr. McCormack said.

"Our people are saying 'Look, we're not investigating people like we used to,'" he said. "Arrests are down dramatically, violence is up dramatically, and I think the paralysis is one of the issues that is driving those numbers."

A draft of provincial regulations is currently making its way through the consultation and legislative process.

The city has already had six homicides in 2016. In 2015 over all, there was one fewer homicide than in the year prior, in keeping with a decade-long decline in murders.

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However, a spike of 70 per cent in the number of shootings has had experts puzzled over what is to blame, from a porous border to social issues.

It's not the first time the union president has blamed the impact of the coming legislation on carding for the rise in shootings. He made a similar argument in December after a spate of violence, incidents that Chief Saunders referred to as a "blip."

By Sunday evening, police had not released the names of any suspects in the Kensington Market violence and were appealing to witnesses to come forward. No names of victims will be released until police notify the next of kin.

Residents on both sides of Spadina heard the shots around 3:15 a.m. They said the neighbourhood can often be noisy on weekend nights with drunk revellers. Some thought the shots were firecrackers.

"I heard them and I thought they sounded like gunshots, but by the time I went back to sleep I think I had decided they were firecrackers," said Celeste, a grandmother who was visiting her daughter and grandchild on Nassau Street.

Still, the Peterborough resident, who did not want to share her last name, said she has come to love the neighbourhood she has visited often in the past decade.

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"I've always felt very comfortable here. This is a very tight community and this is disconnected from us. It's people coming down on the weekend," she said.

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