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Gun violence in Toronto: A primer on this summer’s shootings and how politicians are responding

The latest

  • A man is dead after a shooting early Wednesday morning on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, exactly one month after a mass shooting in the neighbourhood. Thirty-two people have died from gun violence in Toronto so far this year. 
  • By Labour Day, 34 people had been killed by gun violence in Toronto this year. One high-profile gun crime, the July 22 Danforth shooting, galvanized Toronto and Montreal to press the federal government for a nationwide ban on handguns and military-style assault weapons.
  • The Trudeau government has directed Bill Blair, the minister in charge of organized crime reduction and a former Toronto police chief, to examine a full ban on handguns and assault weapons. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has not supported a handgun ban. Instead, it promises to give $25-million more to police forces and the courts to prosecute offenders.

Photos of victims Julianna Kozis, 10, left, and Reese Fallon, 18, are seen during a vigil for victims of July's mass shooting on Danforth Avenue.

Cole Burston/Getty Images

The government response

  • The Ontario government pledged $25-million over the next four years to support the fight against guns and gangs in Toronto. Ford asked both the federal government and the City of Toronto to match the province’s funding commitment.
  • Toronto city council approved a package of measures on guns in late July including: a request for about $30-million over six years in federal funding for programs aimed at steering young people away from gangs; $1.3-million for a controversial system of computerized microphones to monitor some neighbourhoods for gunshots; doubling the number of police video cameras.
  • The federal government tabled new firearms legislation in March that is still before the House of Commons. If Mr. Trudeau decides to prorogue Parliament and proceed with an agenda-setting Throne Speech in the fall, the firearms bill would be changed to include a handgun ban, a senior official said.
  • Mr. Goodale also plans to raise the issue of a national requirement for health-care and other professionals to report certain mental-health issues to police when he meets with public-safety and justice ministers this fall. The family of Faisal Hussain, the suspect in the Toronto shooting, said he suffered from depression and psychosis.

The community response

Danforth: On July 22, a Toronto neighbourhood known for its Greek restaurants and lively nightlife was shocked by the city’s most brazen killings of the summer so far. Two people, an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl, were killed when a gunman opened fire on restaurants and passersby before he himself died, either by suicide or in a confrontation with police. The neighbourhood mourned in vigils and public memorials, culminating in the annual Taste of the Danforth festival, which the Prime Minister attended on Aug. 10.

Danforth Avenue was filled with hundreds of people Wednesday night to honour the victims of Sunday's mass shooting.

Regent Park: 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.”

The killings so far

Thirty-four 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 24 people had been killed.

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The dead come from all over Toronto and all walks of life. They range in age from 10 to 45. They were killed at home, in their cars, on the street, in Kensington Market and outside nightclubs. Two were victims of the Danforth shooting. 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) 
  • Reese Fallon, 18 (July 22)
  • Julianna Kozis, 10 (July 22)
  • Kevin Boakye, 24 (July 25)
  • Andre Phoenix, 33 (Aug. 15)
  • Jesse Graham-Richter, 22 (Aug. 19)
  • Danny Morales, 35 (Aug. 22)
  • Michael Lewis, 30 (Sept. 2)

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?

It isn’t yet clear what motivated the gunman in the city’s highest-profile killing so far, July’s shooting on the Danforth.

The city’s mayor and police chief have linked many of the other 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.

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.

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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.

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

Commentary and analysis

Denise Balkissoon: All the other answers come after fewer guns

Doug Saunders: Would a ban on guns save lives? Look at places where it did

Globe editorial: Rethinking Canada’s outdated gun-control laws

Robert Muggah and Richard Florida: How Toronto can curb gun violence

Michael Redhill: The Danforth shooting has shattered a community’s illusion



Compiled by Globe staff

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

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