Toronto city council considers gun violence strategy in wake of Danforth shooting
The City of Toronto called for stronger gun control laws at city council Tuesday following a deadly shooting in Toronto’s east end.
A gunman opened fire on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue Sunday night, killing 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis, of Markham, as well as injuring another 13 people who were sent to multiple hospitals and treated for injuries ranging from minor to life-altering. The gunman, identified as Faisal Hussain, 29, is also dead.
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth, stressed the importance of addressing gun violence in a statement on Monday.
“Toronto has an unaddressed problem with gun violence,” said Fletcher, who is also an outspoken advocate for reducing gun violence. “We knew that before this tragedy. At Council, we will continue to push for a ban on handguns in the City of Toronto. While we take action on guns, we must also invest in addressing the root causes of violence that lead someone down this path.”
Councillor Mary Fragedakis, who represents Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth, told reporters Monday that tragedies like this could be prevented if there more support was given to mental health.
“We’re failing as a society,” she said. “People need help and they’re not getting the help they need.”
The shooting Sunday night was far from the first incident of violent crime in Toronto this year.
The shooting comes just three months after a van attack in the city killed 10 people and injured 16 others.
According to police records, the city’s homicide rate has jumped to more 58 deaths, half of them by firearms, so far this year. In 2017, the numbers peaked at 66 homicides.
Council outlined immediate steps needed to address gun violence in meeting notes from Tuesday.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said he has never seen anything quite like the Sunday shootings.
“Violent crime is growing,” McCormack said. “Shootings have been on a steady increase, and shooting victims have increased over 140 per cent since 2014.”
The Toronto Police Service’s public data portal shows a 53 per cent increase from the same period in 2017, with the number of shootings rising 13 per cent.
“There are many resources for firearms,”McCormack said. “Stolen fire arms are smuggled in from the United States. There are two issues which are that guns are coming in from the U.S. and the people who will use fire arms has also increased.”
Toronto Police are asking for up to $4 million to introduce a surveillance system called “Shotspotter” that was first introduced and is finding success in Chicago. The technology uses microphones to pinpoint the location of gunshots.
Gun violence is trending
While Fletcher told reporters on Monday the Danforth shooting likely represents a case of “lone gunman violence,” Roderick Brereton, an anti-gun activist, fears that mental health is causing a culture of violence, potentially inspiring shooters in a variety of circumstances.
“Violence is trending right now in the city of Toronto,” said Brereton, co-founder of the youth anti-violence initiative Just Think 1st. “I think this has a lot to do with the recent shootings.”
He said there’s a new culture of gun violence where people are seeing it glorified in music, movies, and even daily news.
“There’s money in sensationalizing or desensitizing violence,”Brereton said.
He said, however, he couldn’t state that there has been an upward trend in violence in Toronto, but that “there are different aspects that can trigger mental health like anger management” which may resort to violence.
According to Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, people of Toronto may not have to start being too concerned over the spike in shootings just yet.
“If we compare our stats to other urban cities, and compare apples to apples, our numbers are good,” Saunders said at a City Council meeting Tuesday morning. “The public doesn’t want to hear that, but what we have to do is calm things down and (focus on) the gun issue, so we can build out from there.”
McCormack highlighted the pressing importance of this issue, addressing having additional officers working overtime Sunday to try to get the right amount of police officers out on Danforth Avenue.
“It’s not a long-term fix. We are chronically short staffed,” he said.
More community input
Advocates are calling on the city to undertake a thorough community consultation on addressing gun violence as a way of attempting to effectively address the growing problem.
“We need to make sure people” in harmful risk environments and areas where they struggle with socio-economic difficulties “have access to the care they need where mental health plays a part as soon as possible,” Brereton said.
The city hosted an emergency meeting on gun violence earlier this month with Toronto Community Housing and Toronto Police, but some believe the city must gives its residents more of a voice at the discussions.
Although Brereton gives Mayor John Tory credit for his involvement and willing to listen to people, he said open discussions could lead to more effective strategies and understanding of how successful programs aimed at mental health can be, ultimately reducing gun violence in Toronto.
“We need to give people opportunities and keep discussions open, so there’s accessibility open to all of those at the table,” he said.