It was a pleasant late-summer evening in Malton, as families, including young children, gathered around an ice cream truck that had pulled up near a parkette in a lowrise rental housing complex on Darcel Ave.
But the tranquil scene was suddenly shattered at around 6:15 p.m. Saturday when a group of seven shooters, dressed in dark clothing, their faces covered by balaclavas, opened fire. A 17-year-old, who friends have identified as Jonathan Davis and who police are calling an innocent bystander, is dead. Five others, including a 13-year-old girl, who one neighbour said was a Syrian refugee recently arrived in Canada, were injured.
The motive for the gunfire?
Police says bad blood was sparked by a rap video recorded earlier in the week at the low-income complex, located in the Hwy. 427 and Morning Star Dr. area.
The intended target of the shooters, police say, was a group of men who had recorded the first video and who were preparing to make another when the bullets started flying.
The children, young people and adults all dove for cover. The shooters, armed with semi-automatic handguns according to police, had arrived on foot and fled the scene on foot, leaving more than 100 shell casings behind.
The men making the video also fled.
No arrests have been made.
Several vehicles parked in the complex were also hit by bullets.
Davis was found suffering from gunshot wounds. The Grade 12 student at Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School was pronounced dead at the scene.
Peel Region police homicide detectives are investigating the incident, the 18th homicide in Peel this year.
One resident, who would only give her first name “Stef” because she is left feeling “paranoid” after the shooting, was out walking her dog Sunday as police combed the parkette looking for casings and other clues.
The long-time resident said that aside from the odd drug bust, she considers the complex safe.
“We’ve never had anything to this scale,” she said.
The shooters had approached the complex covertly. They opened fire “indiscriminately and had “no regard for any of the innocent people gathered here,” Peel Region police interim Chief Chris McCord told reporters during a media briefing at the scene Sunday.
“We have never witnessed anything like this in Mississauga or this neighbourhood,” McCord said. “This brazen act of violence will not be tolerated.”
He said information in the first rap video “challenging other people in the community” is what upset the shooters. He said police hadn’t established if any of those who were recording the video were struck by gunfire.
“Copious” amounts of video captured the incident and police have obtained it and are viewing it, McCord added.
Beside him stood a visibly shaken Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who said she was deeply “saddened and shocked” by the incident and broken-hearted for the family of the young man who was killed.
“My heart goes out to the family of the innocent victim,” the mayor said noting the young man was a student at a local school.
Crombie pleaded for the reopening of a nearby community policing unit, shuttered a few years ago by Peel’s former chief and police services board due to funding considerations, and called for youth programming that provides an alternative to a life of crime.
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The mayor said the weekend shooting also demonstrates how important it is that Mississauga and Peel Region get a fair share of money and resources through Ottawa’s initiative targeting guns and gangs.
Last month, Ontario announced plans to bolster teams of prosecutors who’ll focus on going after gangs in court along with people charged with gun crimes. Police in Ontario will be also getting additional money and banding together to go after street gangs.
That’s what Ontario intends to do with its $54 million portion of $214 million in five-year funding from Ottawa announced in 2017 to fight the war on gangs.
“The province has provided funding for guns and gangs and related initiatives to Toronto, but we know this type of activity has no boundaries. I think it’s time we look at extending similar sorts of funding to other jurisdictions, particularly Peel,” Crombie said.
None of the other victims, including the 13-year-old girl, a 50-year-old woman and three males, one aged 16 and two 17-year-olds were in life-threatening condition as of Sunday afternoon and one of the victims had even been released from hospital, police said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to speak to Crombie about the tragedy Sunday.
Trudeau, as well as the leaders of the Conservatives and NDP offered their condolences to the families of the victims, but all three parties stopped short of making any new promises to address gun violence.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh went little farther. Both said the root causes of the violence need to be addressed, but differed in their views on what those are as they repeated their existing commitments.
“What we do know about some of these shootings that have gone on over the past few months is that they are related to gang activity and that’s why we need better laws to deal with things like bail conditions that known gang members receive,” Scheer told reporters after a campaign announcement in Surrey, B.C.
“That’s why we need greater co-operation with police agencies, that’s exactly what my plan for a safer Canada talks about.”
That plan was mostly released last year. It will form part of the Conservatives’ broader election platform. Among other things, it promises that known gang members won’t be allowed to post bail if arrested (a measure certain to be challenged on constitutional grounds) and bring in longer sentences for gang-related offences.
Singh, campaigning in Quebec, reiterated his party’s promise to allow municipalities to ban handguns, if that’s what they think is the best way to stem violence.
But he said that’s only one step.
“When people don’t have hope they can fall on the wrong path,” Singh said after an event in Sherbrooke. “And we want to make sure we have all the programs in place — affordable housing, good health care, opportunities for work so that young people can find a positive way forward and not end up in a vicious cycle of violence.”