As part of an original Citytv documentary, VeraCity: The Gun Chase, reporter Cristina Howorun examines the causes behind and source of Toronto’s gun problem and the impact the violence has on victims and their families. Below is the first of five stories in our news series.
The documentary premieres Tuesday, April 27, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT, only on Citytv. Click here to watch the trailer.
Evelyn Fox’s understanding of the world changed dramatically in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2016.
“I heard pounding on my door and the doorbell ringing off,” she recalls more than four years later. “I thought I was dreaming, until I heard the pounding again.”
Fox’s phone was on silent mode but there were dozens of missed calls, from friends, from her daughter-in-law, from her son’s friends. She realized that something was terribly wrong.
“I went downstairs, and I opened the door, and my goddaughter was there. She said, “Evelyn, we have to go to the hospital, Kiesingar has been shot.'”
Kiesingar Gunn was attending a birthday party at a supper club in Toronto’s Liberty Village. The 26-year-old father of four was on his way home with his fiancée, when he saw an argument break out in front of the club. He left the vehicle to try to break it up and get his friend out of there, when he was shot in the head. He wasn’t the intended target. He died in hospital later that day.
“I honestly didn’t think this would be my story, that this would be my life. That it would be my son that would be a victim of someone shooting into a crowd of people,” Fox says.
Gunn was Toronto’s 49th homicide victim of 2016, and one of 223 Canadians killed by guns that year. His murder has never been solved.
In 2016, Toronto police’s homicide clearance rate — whereby an arrest was made, or a warrant issued — stood at just 60 per cent. In 2017, more than half of the murders went unsolved. Last year, just over 77 per cent of homicides were solved.
“They’re shooting in public places that they don’t care because they know that nobody’s going to say anything. They think they’re not going to get caught.”
Part of the problem is the proliferation of guns. Although Canada has some of the strictest gun laws in the Western world, with Bill C-21 poised to make them even stricter, getting a gun has never been easier for some segments of the population, namely criminals.
“It’s not hard. They’re everywhere,” says Dwayne Beckford from behind a glass partition.
Beckford is currently remanded on gun charges at Toronto East Detention Centre. In his late 30s, he has spent most of his adult life behind bars.
“Everybody has them, like I said. It is scary how much there are, how easily accessible they are. Kids have them.”
Convicted of gun-related charges in the past, he recalls getting a gun was as easy as walking a dog. “They’d be cheaply bought, or just handed to you by guys in the neighbourhood.”
“Everybody has a gun these days. You talk to some guys that can easily give you what you want – to borrow, or hold, or buy.”
Marcell Wilson, the founder of the One By One Movement — a think tank aimed at curbing violence and helping people get out of and avoid gangs — agrees with that viewpoint.
“It’s a really big problem,” he says. “There’s everything you can think of from the $80 rental, that may be like a 30-year-old sawed off shotgun that you can buy for as low as $200 to, you know, AK 47’s, AR 15’s, which are more rare.”
In his late teens, Wilson was the head of a Toronto gang. His criminal exploits took him to South America where he continued to work in organized crime. Now he helps people avoid the pitfalls of the criminal underground, while keeping his ear to the ground. He says renting a gun has become common.
“It’s like, ‘Yeah, here’s $80. You go do what you’ve got to do with it and come back.’ So they’re not even worried about getting caught with the weapon with X amount of bodies on it. That doesn’t even matter anymore,” he explains.
“I could find a gun in a couple of hours,” Wilson says, despite years outside of the game.
“We are seeing more firearms in the street, deadlier than we have seen before,” says Inspector Joe Matthews, the head of Toronto Police’s Guns and Gangs Unit.
In 2009, there were 259 shootings in Toronto resulting in 70 injuries and deaths. Last year, that number jumped to 462 shootings and 217 injuries and deaths. For the past five years, Toronto has witnessed more than 400 shootings a year.
Police have made several high-profile, big seizure arrests lately, including the December 2020 arrest of Daniel Dubajic at an Etobicoke home. It was the largest seizure in Toronto police history with 65 firearms and $18-million worth of drugs that police allege was destined for Toronto gangs.
Still, police struggle to keep up with the gun traffic.
“It’s a huge market. As we seize firearms it’s creating a market for more firearms,” explains Matthews.
“We’re doing the best we can to get in front of it and get the guns off the street. But when we take guns off the street that, you know, it just creates a vacuum where more firearms have to come in.”
“There’s no more G code, so to speak. There’s no codes anymore. Anything goes,” adds Beckford.
Wilson agrees, alluding to a broken hierarchy in the gang system.
“There are people who are at the top of the food chain, that can control the violence that’s happening in the streets … what confuses me is that they don’t. They don’t seem to care.”
“The fact that innocent people are getting hit, children are getting hit. These are things we used to care about. There was a moral compass, even though we were extremely violent. There was a method to the madness. I can’t wrap my head around why they would allow it to get to the way that it’s getting, where now, the violence can spill over into their safe communities and zones.”
The end result is broken communities, broken families and lives lived in fear.
“You have people who have been terrified by people in their community, terrorized by people. So they’re afraid,” explains Fox outside the bar where her son was killed. “They’re afraid to say anything … But I mean, it has to stop somewhere. Right?”
A suspect in Gunn’s murder is still being sought by police. If you know this man pictured below or know anything about the events surrounding Gunn’s death, please call Toronto police or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-TIPS.
Coming up in our special news series, The Gun Chase: It is not just what’s happening on the streets but what’s taking place online that is fuelling the gunfire. A look at the surprising role social media plays when it comes to guns and gangs.