National Newswatch

TORONTO — Three levels of government are jointly offering millions of dollars to help combat gun violence in Toronto, the city's mayor announced Monday.

John Tory said the federal, provincial and municipal governments will be teaming up to provide $4.5 million in immediate funding to Toronto police, who have been grappling with a rising numbers of shootings over the past two years.

The force's efforts to tackle the problem were brought into stark relief over the August long weekend when 17 people were injured in 14 separate shootings across the city. Police said the vast majority of those were gang-related.

Tory said the money announced Monday will be used to curtail local street gang activity, adding that Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders will outline more detailed plans for the funds in the coming days.

"These additional resources for our Toronto Police Service will fund an even more intensive focus on those responsible for inflicting gun violence on our neighbourhoods as well as increasing police presence to keep communities safe," Tory said in a statement.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement saying the province's $1.5-million contribution comes from reallocating money that had previously been earmarked for part of a four-year anti-gang funding effort.

Ford said the government was responding to Saunders' pleas for more urgent support, saying the money would "put boots on the ground where they are needed most to keep people safe." 

The premier also said his Progressive Conservative government is working on a province-wide strategy to "dismantle gangs once and for all."

Tory had announced plans to seek more government support in the days after the long weekend violence. In addition to repeating his frequent calls for a handgun ban in Toronto, the mayor said he would be reaching out to federal and provincial authorities to secure more help.

Saunders welcomed the financial assistance and said a more detailed violence-prevention plan would be unveiled in the coming days.

"We know that most gun violence in Toronto is directly connected to street gang activity," he said in a brief statement. "The Toronto Police Service has a comprehensive plan to address the issues we're facing."

On Friday, Saunders held a news conference in which he spelled out some of what he perceived to be the primary barriers to tackling gun crime. He suggested the justice system was partly to blame, saying roughly 90 per cent of people arrested on firearm offences are later freed on bail.

He also alleged the bulk of Toronto's gun crime could be attributed to gang violence, which he said had its roots in poverty and lack of educational options — issues that needed to be tackled with a multi-faceted approach.

Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair echoed that assessment.

"We will continue to support prevention, gang exit and enforcement initiatives, while addressing social and economic issues like housing and employment to create opportunities for young Canadians," the federal minister said in a statement.

Police data shows that gun crime has been on the rise in Toronto in recent years.

By mid-August of 2014, police had recorded 111 shootings involving 139 victims, which includes people hurt and killed.

That number had surged to 248 shootings involving 336 victims as documented on Aug. 11, 2018. So far this year, police say they've recorded 267 shooting incidents with 401 victims.

But even as the number of overall incidents rises, police have also logged a decrease in the number of fatal shootings this year compared to last year.

Data shows 20 of the city's 37 homicides to date have been caused by a gunshot, compared to 30 in 2018.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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