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Gangs, guns and Toronto: A primer on this summer’s shootings and the stories behind them

The latest

  • Ontario’s Community Safety Minister is facing allegations of racism after he said he wore a bulletproof vest on a tour of Jane and Finch, a predominantly black Toronto neighbourhood. Michael Tibollo, who is also head of Ontario’s anti-racism directorate, made the remark when asked in the legislature about street checks by an opposition MPP. “Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario’s anti-racism directorate,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.
  • The controversy came a week after Toronto’s mayor and police chief announced a $15-million plan to curb gun violence, which will deploy 200 more front-line officers on evening shifts and press Ottawa to help fund programs for at-risk youth.
  • Twenty-seven people have been killed in the city's wave of shootings this year. The killings has renewed efforts by researchers and advocates to treat gun violence as a problem of public health, urban design and economics, not simply a criminal-justice problem. Here's a deeper look at how the debate about root causes is unfolding.

July 2, 2018: Candles and a framed photograph of slain rapper Jahvante Smart, known as Smoke Dawg, are placed in Toronto’s Metropolitan Church park during a vigil.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

The killings so far

Twenty-seven people have been killed and many more injured by gun violence in Toronto this year, which is up from the year before. By this time in 2017, only 16 people had been killed by gun violence and 70 recorded as injured.

TORONTO YEAR-TO-DATE SHOOTINGS

As of July 1, 2018

Shooting

Police division boundary

Police division

Neighbourhood boundary

41

STEELES AVE. E.

FINCH AVE. E.

42

VICTORIA PARK AVE.

33

SHEPPARD AVE. E.

LESLIE ST.

43

LAWRENCE AVE. E.

KINGSTON RD.

41

54

55

Detail

TORONTO

Lake

Ontario

STEELES AVE. W.

FINCH AVE. W.

31

32

23

WILSON AVE.

YONGE ST.

KIPLING AVE.

12

13

53

ST. CLAIR AVE.

JANE ST.

22

11

14

52

THE QUEENSWAY

51

Detail

TORONTO

Lake

Ontario

North St. James

Town

BLOOR ST.

SPADINA AVE.

BAY ST.

CARLTON ST.

Moss

Park

Kensington-

Chinatown

UNIVERSITY AVE.

Regent

Park

YONGE ST.

FRONT ST. E.

Waterfront

Communities-

The Island

Lake Ontario

MURAT YÜKSELIR, MICHAEL PEREIRA, CHEN WANG

/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TORONTO POLICE

SERVICE; TORONTO OPEN DATA

TORONTO YEAR-TO-DATE SHOOTINGS

As of July 1, 2018

Shooting

Police division boundary

Police division

Neighbourhood boundary

41

STEELES AVE. E.

FINCH AVE. E.

42

VICTORIA PARK AVE.

33

SHEPPARD AVE. E.

LESLIE ST.

43

LAWRENCE AVE. E.

KINGSTON RD.

41

54

55

Detail

Lake Ontario

TORONTO

STEELES AVE. W.

FINCH AVE. W.

31

32

23

WILSON AVE.

YONGE ST.

KIPLING AVE.

12

13

53

ST. CLAIR AVE.

JANE ST.

22

11

14

52

THE QUEENSWAY

51

Detail

Lake Ontario

TORONTO

North St. James

Town

BLOOR ST.

SPADINA AVE.

BAY ST.

CARLTON ST.

Moss

Park

Kensington-

Chinatown

UNIVERSITY AVE.

Regent

Park

YONGE ST.

FRONT ST. E.

Waterfront

Communities-

The Island

Lake Ontario

MURAT YÜKSELIR, MICHAEL PEREIRA, CHEN WANG

/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TORONTO POLICE SERVICE;

TORONTO OPEN DATA

TORONTO YEAR-TO-DATE SHOOTINGS

As of July 1, 2018

Shooting

Police division boundary

Police division

Neighbourhood boundary

41

STEELES AVE. E.

FINCH AVE. E.

42

33

SHEPPARD AVE. E.

VICTORIA PARK AVE.

LESLIE ST.

43

LAWRENCE AVE. E.

KINGSTON RD.

41

54

55

Detail

Lake Ontario

TORONTO

STEELES AVE. W.

FINCH AVE. W.

31

32

SHEPPARD AVE. W.

23

BAYVIEW AVE.

WILSON AVE.

YONGE ST.

BATHURST ST.

KIPLING AVE.

12

13

ROYAL YORK RD.

53

ST. CLAIR AVE.

JANE ST.

22

11

14

52

THE QUEENSWAY

51

Detail

Lake Ontario

TORONTO

North St. James

Town

BLOOR ST.

SPADINA AVE.

BAY ST.

CARLTON ST.

UNIVERSITY AVE.

Kensington-

Chinatown

Regent Park

YONGE ST.

Moss Park

FRONT ST. E.

Waterfront

Communities-

The Island

Lake Ontario

MURAT YÜKSELIR, MICHAEL PEREIRA, CHEN WANG / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: TORONTO POLICE SERVICE; TORONTO OPEN DATA

The dead come from all over Toronto and all walks of life. They range in age from 17 to 45. They were killed at home, in their cars, on the street, in Kensington Market and outside nightclubs. Two were young rappers who were mourned by Toronto’s music scene. These are their names, and the dates they were shot:

  • Shaquille Wallace, 22 (Jan. 9)
  • Nasurdin Nasir, 26 (Jan. 19)
  • Terrell Carr, 24 (Jan. 19)
  • Isahaq Omar, 36: (Feb. 8)
  • Anik Stewart, 21: (Feb. 15)
  • Shaun Kinghorn, 44 (March 2)
  • Dwayne Vidal, 31 (March 10)
  • Nnamdi Ogba, 26 (March 16)
  • Thanh Ngo, 32 (March 17)
  • Ruma Amar, 29 (March 17)
  • Bryan Thomas, 32 (April 6)
  • Christopher Reid, 38 (May 7)
  • Mohammed Gharda, 17 (May 20)
  • Jaiden Jackson, 28 (May 20)
  • Venojan Suthesan, 21 (May 27)
  • Matthew Staikos, 37 (May 28)
  • Israel Edwards, 18 (May 30)
  • Rodney Rizun, 45 (June 5)
  • Jenas Nyarko, 31 (June 24)
  • Patrick McKenna, 20 (June 24)
  • Dalbert Allison, 40 (June 24)
  • Brent Young, 41 (June 25)
  • Jahvante Smart a.k.a. Smoke Dawg, 21 (June 30)
  • Ernest (Kosi) Modekwe, a.k.a. Koba Prime, 28 (June 30)
  • Marcel Teme, 19 (July 1)
  • Karim Hirani, 25 (July 8)
  • Jibri James, 39 (July 9)

Some of the victims of Toronto's gun violence. At left, Jahvante Smart, who went by the rap name Smoke Dawg, and Ernest (Kosi) Modekwe, a.k.a. Koba Prime. Middle: Jenas Nyarko. Right: Nnamdi Ogba and Dwayne Vidal.

Family handouts, The Canadian Press

Why is this happening?

The city’s mayor and police chief have linked many of the killings to gang activity, though police have offered few details on what is driving the violence between those gangs. In June, officers in Toronto and surrounding jurisdictions laid more than 1,000 charges against 75 alleged members and associates of the Five Point Generalz, which police said were “significantly disrupted” by the sweep, though they acknowledged that gang activity would persist.

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In a July 3 radio interview, Mayor John Tory spoke in general terms about shootings in recent years, saying police have told him, “It’s a combination of turf wars that they have over drugs and other kinds of things like that.” He also clarified that he was not suggesting the victims were connected with gangs, but rather the people who shot them.

Neighbourhood rivalries do play a role in gang violence, Paulos Gebreyesus, executive director of the Regent Park Community Health Centre, told The Globe and Mail. But they are conflicts that successive generations have inherited for years, he says. “It can be a very difficult and complex situation. That’s why, for me, this notion of ‘good guys and bad guys’ really needs to be put away.”

There are also complex reasons why young men may affiliate themselves with gangs, many having to do with economics and racial discrimination – meaning the criminal justice system is not enough to dig out the root causes, experts say. “We believe that nothing short of long-term, sustained investments in neighbourhoods, in young people, will get us through this long-term, sustained income inequality gap that we are seeing,” says Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO of United Way Greater Toronto.

Hasn’t this happened before?

Toronto is still living with the legacy of another deadly summer of gang-related crime. In 2005, the “Year of the Gun” ended with the highly publicized death of a 15-year-old girl, Jane Creba, in the crossfire of a Boxing Day shootout on Yonge Street. In all, 52 people were killed and 359 shot that year, prompting dramatic changes in police tactics for fighting gang crime.

The Globe and Mail's front page from Dec. 27, 2005, details the deadly gun violence on Yonge Street that killed Jane Creba.

The Globe and Mail

In 2006, police created the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), which deployed more police to neighbourhoods that had seen escalating crime. The plan was meant to be temporary, but in 2012, then-mayor Rob Ford pressed for more funding as the city saw another deadly attack, this time on a Scarborough block party. Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government made TAVIS’s funding permanent, though that funding was nearly cut in half in 2015 under his successor, Kathleen Wynne, who planned to eventually phase out the task force. The unit was disbanded in 2017, but this year, Ms. Wynne was replaced as premier by Doug Ford, the former Toronto mayor’s brother, who has proposed to revive TAVIS.

TAVIS and strategies like it have been divisive in Toronto communities who say they’re being over-policed. The task force was criticized for stopping black and Indigenous people for street checks in disproportionate numbers, collecting information from people not suspected of any crime. That practice, widely known as carding, put the city and province under pressure from civil-rights advocates who said the policy was racially discriminatory. Early last year, the Wynne government passed legislation that required police to explain to people they stop that they have a right not to answer, and officers must explain their reasons for stopping people and give receipts of the interactions.

But amid 2018's gun violence, one Toronto-area police chief suggested that carding's demise was to blame. Chief Jennifer Evans of Peel Regional Police told local politicians that the force has been hamstrung by last year’s legislation against street checks. “This has empowered criminals, who think officers won’t stop them, they now are more confident that they will get away with carrying guns and knives,” Chief Evans said in a statement to The Globe. But experts caution that there is no easy way to link changes in police practices to specific rises in crime.

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From the archives: Watch The Globe and Mail's Hannah Sung explain what carding actually means and why people are upset by the practice. Globe and Mail Update

The community response

The latest gun violence has brought uncomfortable déjà vu to neighbourhoods like Regent Park, which has seen a decade of revitalization and social-housing initiatives to repair its reputation for poverty and crime. Regent Park was where rapper Smoke Dawg, one of this summer’s shooting victims, grew up.

Sureya Ibrahim, founder of the support group Regent Park Mothers for Peace, told The Globe that an ongoing cycle of violence has left those in the neighbourhood reeling from trauma. “Communities are getting overwhelmed by this,” Ms. Ibrahim said. “This needs to stop.”

At Jane and Finch, a deadly shooting on July 18 was the first for the neighbourhood since last February. Local leaders have sought to help the community overcome its reputation for gun violence, though they saw a setback in July, when Ontario’s new Community Safety Minister, Michael Tibollo, said he toured the area in a police-issued bulletproof vest. Shawn Burgess, acting community director for the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club, said it was “disappointing” to hear such comments from someone of Mr. Tibollo’s stature, and that they “feed into the stereotyping and stigma” of Jane and Finch. Opposition MPPs accused Mr. Tibollo, who is also head of the provincial anti-racism directorate, of racism.


The government's response

Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Here’s a list of the things the City of Toronto and police forces have done, or suggested doing, to curb the violence so far:

  • Deploying 200 more officers on night duty, at a cost of $3-million to be paid for by the city
  • Asking for $12-million in funding for existing social programs for at-risk youth and communities
  • Pressing the province to tighten bail conditions for people convicted of previous gun offences

Commentary and analysis

Andray Domise: More police are not the solution to Toronto’s gun violence

Editorial: A summer of the gun, a decade of failed policies

Marcus Gee: What Toronto can learn from New York about fighting violent crime

Gary Mason: Toronto can look to Vancouver area to see what’s sadly coming next in gun violence



Compiled by Globe staff

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From reports by Molly Hayes, Jeff Gray, Nadine Yousif, Jack Hauen and The Canadian Press

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