The predawn raids on the Dixon City Bloods – a gang alleged to have committed shootings and robberies in its bid to control a stretch of Toronto's Little Mogadishu – were one year in the making.
Police Chief Bill Blair held a news conference Thursday to release details on Project Traveller, an investigation that started last June with the goal of cracking down on firearms and drug trafficking, but grew to include allegations of murder and attempted murder.
The chief spent much of the roughly 40-minute news conference swatting aside questions on whether Mayor Rob Ford was linked to the investigation. But he also spoke about the harm the group known as the Dixon City Bloods, or the Dixon Goonies, had done, and the relief their dismantling would bring to those in the community.
"We know many families that have lost their sons to violence and we are endeavouring to bring justice to those people and reassurance to all families who live in fear of losing their sons to similar violent events," he told the dozens of journalists at Toronto Police headquarters.
"And we will do everything in our power to remove those guns from our streets and dismantle the organizations that are responsible for bringing those drugs and guns into our community."
Specific details on the investigation, however, were few, with the chief saying some of that information will come out Friday, while the rest will surface in the courts.
"I must advise you that we are not able to disclose [today] either the investigative methodologies that we have deployed over the course of this investigation, or the evidence that has been obtained," he warned.
Deputy Chief Mark Saunders said the Dixon City Bloods tried to control Dixon Road between Kipling and Islington Avenues, where some of the co-ordinated early morning raids occurred.
Chief Blair said the gang allegedly imported guns from the U.S., noting that more than 70 per cent of the guns seized in crimes in Toronto are obtained south of the border, both legally and illegally.
"I think we cut off that pipeline, that supply of guns, and that's going to make the city of Toronto a safer place," he said.
When asked if the investigation had anything to do with the murder of Anthony Smith, Chief Blair said the motive would come out in court. Mr. Smith, a 21-year-old man killed in Toronto in March, was photographed with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in a picture distributed by drug dealers who were trying to sell the alleged crack-cocaine video.
Arrests were also made Thursday in Windsor and Edmonton. In Windsor, police executed 11 search warrants and arrested nine suspects; in Edmonton, police made one raid but did not specify how many arrests were made.
By the numbers
Number of tactical teams involved: 42
Number of warrants executed: 39
Number of people arrested Thursday – 19 in Toronto, 9 in Windsor: 28
Number of people arrested in investigation to date – and police say more are expected: 43
Number of firearms seized during the investigation: 40
Value of narcotics seized, including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana: $3-million
Amount of cash seized: $572,000
The Dixon City Bloods
The massive police bust targeted a loosely organized gang whose turf encompasses a one-kilometre stretch of Dixon Road in North Etobicoke.
The area, known locally as Little Mogadishu for the prevalence of recent Somali immigrants, is largely the domain of the Dixon City Bloods, who go by so many names and tags that many people along the Dixon corridor regard them as disorganized and relatively harmless group of friends.
But in an afternoon press conference on Thursday, Toronto Police singled out the group as a violent drug-running organization that has been the target of an intense one-year investigation.
By Thursday afternoon, Project Traveller had resulted in the arrests of 43 people affiliated with a group known around the Dixon residential towers as "the DCs." Nineteen of those arrests took place on Wednesday in Toronto with another nine taking place in Windsor.
"This gang has been networking with associates from Windsor and Edmonton since 2006, where members have been responsible and involved in shootings, robberies, possession and trafficking of drugs and firearms," said Deputy Chief Mark Saunders.
By late Thursday, self-identifying Dixon Bloods were taking to Twitter under the hashtag #freethehood.
One man arrested during the mass police raids will seem familiar to Toronto city hall watchers.
Mohammed Khattak, 19, is one of the men who posed alongside Mayor Rob Ford and homicide victim Anthony Smith in a photograph that emerged with media reports about an alleged video showing Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The photo shows Mr. Ford with his arm around 23-year-old Anthony Smith, who was murdered in a downtown shooting on March 28. Mr. Khattak escaped the same shooting with serious gunshot wounds to his hand and leg. His face appears blurred in the photo published by the Toronto Star and Gawker.com, but his mother confirmed to The Globe and Mail that it's her son. She added that he's been scared for his life since the shooting, which left him with a severe limp and a severely injured arm that remains a source of intense pain.
Police raided the home of Mr. Khattak's parents early Thursday morning, leaving behind smashed glass and a bent door frame. Officers emerged carrying a large file folder and several plastic bags, according to neighbours.
Mr. Khattak faces charges of participating in a criminal organization and trafficking in a substance passed off as marijuana.
He knew Mr. Smith well, according to his mother, referring to him on his Facebook page as "My Big Bro," but their connection to the mayor remains unclear.
The scene of the photo is believed to be 15 Windsor Rd., a suburban bungalow situated 300 metres from the Dixon apartments where the brunt of the police raids took place.
Employees of the Dixon apartments said that Mr. Khattak and Mr. Smith frequented the area before the shooting and appeared on good terms with known Dixon City Bloods.
The tense day of police raids, busted doors and arrests spilled into the basement party room of a rundown condo tower on Dixon Road on Thursday evening.
About four dozen residents attended a hastily organized meeting to hear a briefing on the day's events from City of Toronto community development officer Saleha Nahdi. Several crisis and health workers from the neighbourhood were also on hand.
The mood in the musty room was combative. The police raids have divided the community. Many residents said they feel safer now, but others contended the police action was heavy-handed, saying some bystanders were unnecessarily handcuffed and alleging an elderly woman was hurt in the raid.
Fatima Mukhtar was concerned about her 20-year-old son, who she said was arrested in the raids. She said she doesn't know what Monir Kasim has been charged with and said parents were not allowed to see their children at the north Toronto courthouse Thursday. She plans to visit him at the detention centre Friday.
"I want my son to see his mom was there," said a frustrated Ms. Mukhtar. "They won't tell me nothing."
Concerns about crime and safety in this cluster of condo towers stretch back years and grew deeper after a court-appointed administrator took over management of the three buildings in 2006.
A condo board was reinstated last year and a new property management company has been on site since January.
There are plans to install about 300 surveillance cameras at 320, 330 and 340 Dixon Rd., but managers have already encountered challenges: Unknown culprits keep cutting the wires in a bid to thwart the needed safety measure. Residents were told a police officer may soon be stationed at the condo towers on a regular basis.
John Beechy, whose family has owned a condo at 330 Dixon Rd. since the 1960s, welcomes the surveillance cameras, but believes they should have been installed months ago.
Mr. Beechy said he had petitioned to have cameras placed in the buildings and asked security companies to tour the condos this past January, but said the board of directors wouldn't go forward with the proposal.
"It took something like this to happen," he noted outside the condo's party room, as the meeting neared an end.
Mr. Beechy insisted most of the condo-tower community is safe. "It's maybe 5 to 10 per cent of the people that are the problem," he said.
Longtime condo owner Mohammad Din hopes the police raids and security cameras are the start of a new chapter for the Dixon condo towers. A radical change is needed to improve safety and rid the community of gangs, guns and drugs, he said.
Renata D'Alieiso, Kaleigh Rogers