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‘Gun summit’ nets Toronto extended TAVIS funding

The province guaranteed permanent funding for a key anti-guns-and-gangs initiative Monday during a so-called gun summit with Mayor Rob Ford and police chief Bill Blair.
The province had been funding the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) program since 2006 and the most recent two-year agreement was set to expire.
“We won’t let that happen. We will find the money within existing budgets,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said after the Queen’s Park meeting Monday.

Ford had asked McGuinty for between $5 million to $10 million so he can hire more police officers to fight gun violence in Toronto.

Instead, McGuinty renewed TAVIS funding, which is $5 million a year. In addition to the TAVIS funding, McGuinty pledged $500,000, which would come from the proceeds of crime program, to allow Toronto police, other GTA police and Ontario Provincial Police to work together to get gangs and guns off the streets.

McGuinty also promised to fast-track $500,000 in funding for community groups in Toronto.

“I got a commitment that he’s going to continue the TAVIS funding,” Ford said at the news conference.

“I feel that was a huge accomplishment as the TAVIS funding runs out next year.”

TAVIS was created in 2006, when 42 of Toronto’s 80 murders were fatal shootings.

Blair praised McGuinty’s announcement, saying the province had been “steadfast” in supporting TAVIS.

“I’ve been working with the province on TAVIS for several years and they have been steadfast in their support. Every year, they’ve renewed that funding.”

However, Blair said, there are still challenges.

“Toronto is generally a very safe city relative to others. But we’ve experienced a fair bit of violence just this past week.

“My first responsibility is to apprehend and hold accountable those individuals responsible for that violence,” he said.

Ford had previously told Toronto talk radio station AM640 that he wanted to keep his expectations for the meeting “realistic.”

“I can’t go in there asking for 20 or 25 [million dollars], because obviously I know they don’t have it and it’s just not realistic. But I think $5 million would hire a lot of officers and it would make this city a lot safer and we would get these guns and gangs off our streets.”

Ontario’s Attorney General John Gerretsen, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur and Minister of Children and Youth Services Eric Hoskins were all at the meeting.

The summit was called following last Monday’s brazen gun fight at a community barbecue in east Toronto that left two dead and 23 wounded.

Ford will be meeting separately on Tuesday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had already planned to attend an announcement in Oshawa, east of Toronto. But Harper may not be receptive to another one of Ford’s crime-fighting suggestions.

The mayor talked last week of kicking people convicted of gun crimes out of Toronto, but the prime minister’s spokesman is distancing his office from that suggestion.

Andrew MacDougall made it clear Monday that is the mayor’s proposal and Harper looks forward to discussing the federal government’s own anti-crime policies with Ford.

MacDougall said the prime minister is always happy to meet with elected officials to discuss crime and what government could do to tackle it.

So far this year, there have been more than 200 shootings in Toronto.

Ford said the provincial funds he is requesting would go toward hiring more officers for the force’s anti-gang unit.

“Money talks and B.S. walks,” he told the radio host.

McGuinty has warned that there is no quick and easy solution to the city’s gun problem.

McGuinty agrees that more police resources would help, but says there must also be more programs to steer youth away from guns and gangs.

Ford has said he doesn’t want more money spent on “hug-a-thug” programs for youth in at-risk neighbourhoods.

McGuinty has called that short-sighted, and said it shows a lack of understanding of just how complex the problem really is.

“I think the question for all of us in government right now to ask ourselves is what can we bring to the table,” said McGuinty.

The premier also wants the federal government to ban handguns.

“(It) sends the appropriate signal to society as a whole that we are going to … develop a different gun culture here in Canada than they have in other parts of the world, including just south of the border,” he said.

Ford has said wants to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask for a federal law to keep convicted criminals out of Toronto.

“I’m going to find out if there’s some way that if anyone is caught with a gun and they come out of jail, they’re not allowed to live in the city,” he said.

Monday’s meeting comes the same day hundreds of people attended the funeral of 23-year-old Joshua Yasay, one of the two victims from last week’s barbecue shooting.

The second victim, 14-old Shyanne Charles, will be laid to rest Saturday in Toronto.

The premier met with community leaders in Scarborough Friday to prepare for today’s meeting, which will also include Ontario’s attorney general and community safety minister and police Chief Bill Blair.

Margaret Parsons of the African-Canadian Legal Clinic said the community doesn’t want “cool down money” that won’t have a lasting impact on the problem.

“We don’t want stop gap measures,” said Parsons.

“We want long-term approaches to dealing with youth violence and youth crime that have proven to work.”

With files from Linda Nguyen, The Canadian Press