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Majority of recent Toronto shootings related to street gangs: Chief Saunders

Last Updated Aug 9, 2019 at 4:21 pm EDT

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders says street gangs are to blame for the vast majority of shootings that have taken place in the city over recent days.

Saunders says that doesn’t mean innocent people weren’t affected, and says police are going to be placing a stronger focus on dealing with gangs.

“I know that people are concerned and I completely understand that,” Saunders said Friday morning from police headquarters. “I do want to underline that this recent gun activity, these shootings that have happened over the past ten days, by and large have street gang connotations to them…”

“It does not mean, at times, that innocent people are not impacted. A lot of people do have concerns.”

But he says the issue requires a multi-faceted approach to ensure people don’t take up guns in the first place and those charged with firearms offences don’t get involved in shootings again once they leave jail.

“People are not born to be street gang members, they become (them). So it takes a multi-pronged approach to get this right,” he said.

Police have said 17 people were injured in 14 separate shootings across Toronto over the August long weekend, including five hurt in a shooting at a crowded nightclub.

Saunders says multiple arrests have been made in those incidents.

Police had recorded 244 shootings with 365 victims as of Sunday night. That compares to 238 shootings with 324 victims at the same time last year.

Saunders expressed frustration with the revolving door of the justice system that often sees people charged with gun crimes back out on the streets in a short time frame.

“Right now there approximately 326 people that are charged with firearms offences that are out on bail right now…”

“We have seized 536 guns to date we are continuing to make arrests, we’ve laid thousands of charges, we’ve arrested hundreds of people. The street gang issue is alive and well. I’ve said in the past if the expectations are that we are going to arrest ourselves out of this, we simply are not … there are social issues that are related to this,” he stressed.

Toronto mayor John Tory addressed Saunders’ statements on Friday, echoing concerns that the justice system is too lenient.

“While I continue to believe even stricter gun control domestically along with tightening our border to smuggled guns is necessary and will make a positive difference in fighting gun violence, it is also high time we saw some further co-operation from within the Justice system,” Tory said in a statement.

“Repeat gun offenders simply shouldn’t be out on bail. We have seen what happens when they are. While each case is different, sentences simply must fit the extreme gravity of these gun crimes. And right now, they often don’t.

“We should make whatever changes to the law that are required to give Judges the tools they need to address this problem and they in turn must focus a keener eye on community safety.”

Former Toronto police chief and current Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, Bill Blair, agrees with Saunders that we cannot “arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

In a statement to CityNews, Blair said: “Rather, we need to continue to support prevention, gang exit and enforcement initiatives, while addressing social and economic issues like housing and employment to create opportunities for young Canadians.

“With regards to bail, there is a reverse onus for a number of serious firearms offences. That means the accused must stay in jail unless they can demonstrate to a judge they should allowed back into the community while awaiting trial. As well, where an individual is released on bail the releasing judge is required to impose a condition preventing possession of a firearm. If the accused person breaches that term, the Crown can seek to revoke bail, and as always, individual determinations of bail are left to the court.

“We have been clear: there is no option that we will not consider, and if we are to take additional measures to address the threats posed by these weapons we will need a mandate to do so.”