'Confidence is shaken': How will Toronto respond to gun violence?
Sunday night’s deadly shooting has some Torontonians wondering about the safety of Canada’s largest city and whether more could be done to prevent similar attacks.
Three people, including the suspected gunman, were killed as a result of the shooting. Another 13 people were injured.
Premier Doug Ford described the attack as “the most brazen shooting” of a year full of gun violence in a city full of people who are used to feeling confident that they are safe.
“Today, for too many, this confidence is shaken,” he said.
Prior to Sunday, there had been 56 homicides in Toronto in 2018. Twenty-four of them had been shootings. Police data shows that as of the end of June, the city had seen a 15 per cent increase in shootings and a 44 per cent increase in fatal shootings over one year earlier.
The increase has been blamed largely on gang activity. The city’s police chief announced earlier this month that an additional 200 frontline officers would be added to the night shift for the summer in an effort to curb the violence.
The problem, experts say, is that no amount of police officers can account for every possibility.
“Even if you put 2,000 extra officers in the city … something’s still going to happen somewhere,” CTV public safety analyst and former OPP commissioner Chris Lewis told CTV’s Your Morning.
“That’s the tragic reality of life. You just can’t stop everything.”
Attempting to stop as many violent outbursts as possible, the extra police resources are being deployed to what Lewis calls “problem areas” – pockets of the city where criminal activity is more common.
Danforth Avenue, the site of Sunday’s shooting, would not be high on that list. Home to an assortment of popular restaurants and shops, it’s considered one of the most family-friendly and safe parts of Toronto.
“This isn’t a neighbourhood where we expect, on the weekend, that there may be gun violence,” CP24 safety specialist Cam Woolley, a longtime police officer, said Monday.
Woolley said early indications did not give him any reason to believe Sunday’s shooting was gang-related.
Howard Lichtman, a spokesperson for the Greektown on the Danforth BIA, said the organization would review its security plan for the upcoming Taste of the Danforth event, which is one of Toronto’s largest summer festivals.
“If you had to pick a place where it wasn’t going to happen, it’s the Danforth,” he told reporters at the scene. “To have it happen here adds another dimension to the tragedy.”
Lichtman compared the bustling, popular Danforth to the Yonge and Sheppard area, where he lives and where a similar sense of shock was expressed following April’s van attack. Ten people were killed when a van deliberately jumped a curb and targeted pedestrians.
To many Torontonians, attacks like that one may seem like the sort of thing that happens in faraway places, not in their own city. While the two high-profile attacks have grabbed headlines, Lewis argues that they are not evidence of a decline in Toronto’s overall safety.
“The City of Toronto is a safe city. It’s one of the largest cities in North America, and it’s a safe one,” he said.
Toronto is about three-quarters the size of Los Angeles, which has seen 598 murders in the past 12 months. In Chicago, which has a similar population to Toronto, there have been 260 fatal shootings and 52 other murders thus far in 2018. Montreal, the second-biggest Canadian city, has reported 15 murders year-to-date.
“Toronto’s really behind a lot of major cities in the U.S. in terms of the violence – eons behind – but at the same time, no level of injury and death is acceptable,” Lewis said.
Political leaders appear poised to carry the same message, and prepared to look for solutions outside increases to policing levels.
In addition to adding overnight officers, the city has already announced a plan to address the spike in shootings by providing at-risk youth with more social services and job opportunities, as well as boosting funding to anti-gang programs.
Mayor John Tory said Monday that he would lobby the provincial and federal governments for help tightening gun control regulations. He said he didn’t understand why current laws permit Canadians to own large numbers of firearms.
“Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?” he said.
Ford also suggested, via remarks made at Queen’s Park, that he hopes for action to curb violence.
“What happened last night is tragic, and it should be a cause for anger. It reminds us that the status quo is not good enough,” he said.
The federal government has said it is open to discussions on the issue as well.
Security cameras have also been touted as a measure worth considering. Toronto’s police board asked the city last week to nearly double the number of closed-circuit police cameras in the city, bringing it to about 80, and install microphones capable of detecting gunfire and immediately notifying police.
Closed-circuit cameras are much more common in the United Kingdom, where studies have found that they typically have a small but measurable impact on crime rates.
According to Lewis, the cameras are particularly valuable as an investigative tool, as they allow police to identify everything from vehicles’ paths to the movement of individual people in large crowds.
However, he said, they won’t deter all potential criminals from committing their crimes – just as being in a busy area didn’t deter Sunday’s shooter.
“[The shooter] had to know that there were cameras in peoples’ hands and stores and businesses that were going to capture footage of him,” Lewis said.
“He either didn’t intend on living the night, or just didn’t care.”