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43 arrested in Project Traveller raids

Police from across southern Ontario raided an Etobicoke apartment complex and a Windsor home early Thursday morning, taking dozens of people into custody as part of Project Traveller — a year-long investigation into gang activity spanning from Toronto to Edmonton and across the Canada-U.S. border.

“The group targeted today was allegedly involved in guns coming across the Windsor border,” Toronto police chief Bill Blair said at a news conference.

“We cut off that pipeline.”

Nine people were arrested in Windsor and 19 people were arrested in Toronto when more than 100 officers descended on an apartment complex in the Dixon Road and Islington Avenue area around 5 a.m.

Project Traveller has resulted in 43 arrests to date, including the 28 Thursday morning, Blair announced, and more arrests are anticipated.

During Thursday’s raids, police said they seized 40 firearms, over $3 million in narcotics and $572,000 in cash.

The investigation began in June 2012 and the crimes date back to 2006, police said.

Some of those arrested have been charged with murder or attempted murder, Blair said, but murder charges were not laid Thursday.

The group us known as the Dixon Bloods or the Dixon Goonies, deputy chief Mark Saunders said.

“Their members are primarily responsible for attempting to control the area of Dixon Road between Kipling and Islington,” Saunders said.

“This gang has been networking with associates from Windsor to Edmonton since 2006, where members have been responsible and involved in shootings, robberies, and possession and trafficking of drugs and firearms.”

Meanwhile, the Etobicoke apartment complex – located at 320 Dixon Rd. — is where two Toronto Star reporters claim they viewed a video of what appears to be Mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking drugs that drug dealers were shopping around in early May.

Speaking to reporters at city hall later on Thursday, Ford said he was not contacted before the raids. He said his staff was briefed by police after the raids but didn’t know much more about them. He later praised police for their work in the raids.

Blair wouldn’t comment on a possible connection to Ford, saying all evidence would come out in court.

“[The media’s] interest in this and even the public’s interest in this does not change the law,” he told reporters.

Blair was later asked if police were still “monitoring” events around the video, including a photo that showed Ford with his arm around Anthony Smith, 21, who was shot dead in March in front of a downtown nightclub.

“We were and we are….We know in that photograph one of those young men lost his life in a very violent incident and another one was injured,” Blair said.

“I’m not going to be able to discuss with you whether it had any relevance to today’s raids.”

Officers from the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Ontario Provincial Police, Barrie police, Toronto police, Windsor police, York police, Peel police and Halton police were all involved in the raids.

Police are expected to hold a second news conference about the raids on Friday morning.

CityNews live-blogged Toronto police chief Bill Blair’s news conference on the raids. Click here to read the transcript.

Dixon Road residents react to raids

One woman who lives in the 320 Dixon Rd. building said officers blocked stairwells, knocked down doors and shut down the elevators during the raids.

“I woke up with officers at the downstairs door. Nobody wanted to do anything or knock my door down,” resident Amber Gasla told reporters.

“Twenty minutes later, I was going to take my dog for a walk. I saw officers at my auntie’s apartment…I was going down the stairs [because the elevators weren’t working] and officers chased me and they broke my door down for no reason.”

Sue McHugh owns a condo in a neighbouring building and said she was happy about the raids.

“I’m very pleased to see this and I’m surprised more owners aren’t out this morning to join in,” McHugh told CityNews.

“What this means is a little bit less fear, knowing that a lot of the guns, a lot of the dangerous types are out of the building.”

Social media reaction to raids