GTA mayors and police chiefs call for smarter investment on ‘unacceptable’ youth gun violence

Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks about efforts to combat gun violence with, from left, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown; and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie.

Amid rising gun violence, mayors and police chiefs from across the Greater Toronto Area are calling for changes to border security, “tougher” bail laws and smarter investments in programming for families and at-risk youth.

Mayor John Tory called Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall — which included mayors from Brampton, Mississauga, Pickering and Markham and regional chairs from Peel, Durham and York — to address solutions to combat the “unacceptable” level of shootings across the GTA.

The closed-door gathering began with a presentation by police, which gave sobering new statistics about those victimized and allegedly causing the rising violence.

“One of the conclusions that’s clear across the region is that the people who are perpetrators and victims have been getting younger in recent years,” Tory said.

Tory said the meeting is the beginning of a concerted approach among municipal, provincial and federal governments to reduce the violence that last year saw Toronto reach record-levels of shootings:

292 people were killed or injured in shootings in 2019, the highest number in at least 15 years. This, despite recent investments in policing aimed at combating violent crime.

Of the six people killed in the first weeks of 2020, four were shot and were in their 20s or younger. According to the most recent Toronto police statistics, there have been 23 shootings so far, including the four fatal shootings.

Among the problems identified is the source of guns. According to Tory, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, alongside police leaders from York, Durham and Peel regions, reported that about 80 per cent of seized and traced guns have come across the U.S. border.

“There’s a real job to do at the border,” Tory said, adding that local police services will be arranging a meeting with the Canadian Border Service Authority.

Among the other commitments discussed Tuesday include increased investments in youth, community and family programming — as well as a review of what Tory called the “return on investment” on such initiatives, to ensure money is going towards programming that works.

The mayors are also calling for “tougher” sentencing and bail laws, with Tory saying far too many people who are let out on bail for firearms charges are later re-arrested.

“We heard facts today that said there are dozens of people getting re-arrested on firearms offences,” Tory said.

Criminal lawyers and some justice experts have pushed back on Tory and others’ recent contention alleged gun criminals are getting easy bail and that this is a significant factor in rising gun violence.

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In general, Crown attorneys must seek detention at a bail hearing for anyone charged with a firearm offence unless there are exceptional circumstances.

More to come.

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