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Police Association ads warn of growing 'gun problem' in Toronto

CITYNEWS/JOHN HANLEY

On the heels of the tragic shooting death of a pregnant woman in Etobicoke, the Toronto Police Association (TPA) has taken out full page ads in several prominent newspapers calling on public support in the face of a “significant increase in violent crime.”

Titled “Shouldn’t Public Safety be a Public Matter,” TPA president Mike McCormack writes about a “growing disconnect between the police and the community” and an alarming spate of recent gun crimes.

“The safest city in North America has a gun violence problem,” the letter states. “Compared to a year ago, shootings have increased 61 per cent. Shooting deaths have increased 217 per cent. And typically gun violence only gets worse in the summer,” he warned.

The surge of violence comes, McCormack notes, in the face of budgetary restraints and pressure from politicians and community groups to rein in police spending.

Prominent Toronto attorney, Selwyn Pieters called the letter out-of-touch and “inflammatory.”

“Toronto is a relatively safe city,” Pieters maintains. “The police know that. Whether it’s for their own budgetary purposes or whether it’s for gamesmanship or whether it’s for some political upper hand, the press release simply is inflammatory. (It) simply does not bear true, it does not comport with reality.”

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McCormack was quick to fire back at those who feel he’s using news of recent shootings for political gain. He says he’s simply trying to wrest the conversation from the backroom politicians, and put it into the hands of the public.

“It’s time that we heard from the public on this matter…the public narrative has not been heard,” he added. “All we’ve heard from politicians and other people is the criticism of policing. The villainization of policing. And it’s time to stop that.”

“If people want to vilify me or call my motives that’s fine,” he stressed. “That’s not what we’re about. What we’re about is getting a solution and stopping this carnage.”

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, police chief Mark Saunders called Toronto the safest urban city in North America, but admitted that there’s a problem with guns and gangs in some communities. He says police have seized over 250 handguns this year and stressed the need for more community cooperation when it comes to solving crimes.

“Make that phone call,” he urged those who have information on gun crimes. “That phone call is the difference between safe communities and communities that aren’t safe right now.”

Jamestown, where 35-year-old pregnant woman Candice Rochelle Bobb was gunned down, is one of the communities Saunders pointed out as problematic.

Fifty per cent of shootings in Jamestown are street gang related, he noted, adding that he had no new information on the probe into her death.

When asked about the TPA letter, Saunders had little to say.

“I read the letter and I didn’t think much of it,” he said dismissively. “My responsibility is to make sure we do what it takes … to keep this city safe.”