Mayor John Tory has announced a $4.5-million boost to help Toronto police fight gun violence, even though the city’s share of the funding can’t be approved before city council meets again in the fall.
In a news release Monday, Tory’s office said the money is being provided by the municipal, provincial and federal governments “to help fund immediate efforts to address the current gun violence.”
The statement did not provide details on how the funds will be used. It included a quote from Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones that the province’s share would come from funding that was announced last year.
The federal government is committing $1.5 million in new spending for policing, a spokesperson for Bill Blair, the minister of border security and organized crime reduction, told the Star on Monday.
Tory’s office acknowledged Monday that the mayor does not have the authority to commit the city to its $1.5-million share. The mayor’s office said a proposal would be made to council at its next meeting in October.
The move comes just three days after Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that policing alone would not be the answer to the ongoing violence, emphasizing the need for young men to be given better opportunities so that they may choose not to pick up a gun.
Saunders said Monday that he welcomed the funding and that the police service will launch its plan “in the coming days.”
The province’s $1.5-million contribution is part of the $25 million that Premier Doug Ford’s government promised in August 2018 for guns and gangs enforcement over four years.
Ford previously said the majority of that money — $18 million — would go to Toronto Police to be spent as the force saw fit. Saunders has previously said that money would be used for guns and gangs initiatives. A spokesperson for the Solicitor General, Hayley Chazan, did not answer questions Monday about whether the province is now dictating how Toronto Police can use $1.5 million of that earlier funding.
As for the city’s share, Tory’s spokesperson said he has “pledged” the funding alongside other governments and that he has “shown leadership by bringing all levels of government together in order to address this urgent funding request to help our police officers combat gang violence right now.
“He is confident a majority of councillors will support this initiative,” said Lawvin Hadisi.
The city’s $1.5-million share is the same amount as was needed to fund eight new dedicated youth hubs at city-run sites, a proposal from Councillor Josh Matlow that was rejected by Tory and a majority of councillors in March.
The city currently runs 20 youth hubs at existing community centres and libraries, which have proven to be popular with their local communities. As part of his 2018 campaign, Matlow proposed that the city could double the number of hubs — which provide mentoring, snacks and safe spaces to hang out and do homework — putting almost every Toronto youth within two kilometres of a site. Staff said the plan was feasible at a cost of $3.25 million. Of that, $1.45 million was needed in this year’s budget.
“The Roots of Youth Violence report, and every study I’m aware of, agrees that simply adding more police will not curb youth gun violence,” Matlow told the Star on Monday. “Chief Saunders is right when he said we can’t arrest our way out of this. Vulnerable young people need safe and supportive spaces that provide a realistic alternative to joining a gang and picking up a gun in the first place. I have reached out to the mayor and look forward to working with him to ensure our limited resources are addressing this serious issue in the best way possible.”
In recent years, funding from all three levels of government related to gun violence has largely focused on policing. Last summer, the city proposed a $50-million plan to combat gun violence plan that relied solely on funding from other levels of government. At budget time this year, council heard just $6.8 million would be provided by the federal government for community programs despite a request for more than $30 million for those initiatives.
After years of austerity measures, the Toronto Police Service budget topped $1 billion again in 2019. It remains the single largest line item in the city’s budget.
The mayor’s news release says Tory is “continuing to speak to his counterparts at the federal and provincial governments about additional resources for investing in communities to address the roots of violence” as well as changes to the legal system.
With files from Wendy Gillis
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Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags