Jordan: I hate a lot of things about today’s episode. I realize that’s not how an episode should start, but I hate that this episode is about numbers. I hate that it’s only the numbers that get the money. I hate that the money only goes to quick fixes and not really solutions. I hate that I’ve been having the same conversation on a nearly annual basis for more than 15 years now.
News Clip: 14 shootings, 17 victims. Those are the unnerving numbers that mark the past three days of gun violence in our city. Around 1:15 this morning, a 26 year old man was shot while hanging out with a group of people in a basketball court area, the all too familiar sound of gunshots in Toronto. Frustrations boiling over after a brazen daylight shooting in East York. It’s the cities 20th gun related incident in the last seven days. We have to address the root causes of gun violence and get much tougher with criminals who often laugh at things, literally laugh at things like bail and sentencing practices.
Jordan: Most of all, though, I hate that this time is a little bit different, because this time it feels like the federal government’s response for real problem of gun violence in real Toronto communities has a lot to do with political timing.
News Clip: We made serious commitments in 2015 to move forward on stronger common sense gun legislation. It is a parenthesis of concern that Andrew Sheer and the Conservatives have committed to rolling back a number of those stronger protections we brought in, and we know that there is more to do.
Jordan: So great, the prime minister is in town, he wants to help, and he and the mayor didn’t invite the premier to their meeting but okay, fine. Help is good, Toronto needs it. What’s the plan? I mean, yes, what is the immediate plan to find those responsible and get guns off the street and try to actually address the problem? But what’s the real plan when the prime minister shows up for a meeting with the mayor, and he says some nice sounding things about a commitment to handling this, but also take some not so nice shots and Andrew Sheer and Doug Ford, what’s he really trying to accomplish? Is this about solutions, or is it about putting pressure on political opponents two months before an election? And will the new police initiative, which is called Project Community Space, actually create that space, or will it fill existing space with a lot of cops and hope for the best? And why do I feel like I’m gonna do this again almost one year from today.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Cynthia Mulligan is the Queen’s Park reporter for Citynews, she’s also been a reporter on the ground in Toronto for a very long time. Hi Cynthia.
Cynthia: Hello, good morning.
Jordan: Can you describe this recent spate of gun violence in Toronto compared to normal levels or normal years.
Cynthia: Well, we’ve definitely seen a very disturbing spike. July in Toronto had the highest number of shootings ever recorded for any month ever, as long as the Toronto Police Services has been keeping the data. That in itself is very disturbing. You know, in the August long weekend we had 14 victims, 17 shootings, another very disturbing weekend. So we see more victims, we have fewer deaths though. I guess the targets aren’t as accurate right now, but there’s always the carnage that’s left behind. We hear people have survived, but how have they survived? What has happened to them? Will they ever be physically sound again? Not to mention mentally. We don’t know the extent of their injuries.
Jordan: I feel like we have this conversation, maybe not me and you, but as members of the Toronto media once a year when there is a particular spike, how often have you seen this? Obviously, that July a historically bad month but how often have you seen this pattern?
Cynthia: Honestly, it seems to spike every few years, three, four years, and it takes a really big turn; Of course summer’s are always worse, they’re the worst time of the year, but every few years, like 2005 the summer of the gun where it seems especially bad. Remember that year? That was the year that somebody was even shot attending a funeral for another person who had been shot and people were horrified. Last year, of course, the Danforth shooting, but this year it seems like there are so many guns out there and perhaps we’re more sensitive to it because of the spike in shootings in the US, those two massive shootings that we just saw.
Jordan: Right around the same time…
Cynthia: Right around the same time. So I think that we are; There’s an added sensitivity to it as well but there’s no doubt we have more guns on the street, we have more gang members on the street and we have more shootings and more victims.
Jordan: Can we talk a little bit about where and when these shootings are happening? And if maybe that drives mainstream coverage, or at least people’s concern about it?
Cynthia: Well, I think the media is covering it, I really do. Are people paying attention if they’re not involved in it? And we know that a lot of people feel more comfortable when it’s not on the Danforth, right? And it is in certain neighborhoods that we know have challenges.
Jordan: There’s a not my community…
Cynthia: It’s not my community, so…
Jordan: It’s someone else’s problem.
Cynthia: But I do think people care. I really do and I don’t want to dismiss the response, I think that there is a response to this, I think people care, I think there’s a huge concern when a 16 year old boy is leaving, you know, an apartment; just in his own apartment building and he was shot to death after playing video games. I think people are horrified across the city by that.
Jordan: What has the response being maybe back to that awful weekend that Toronto had a couple of weeks ago? What has been the response from the police, do they acknowledge that this is an escalating problem? And then, I guess, from how government has gotten involved.
Cynthia: Well, we know just on Monday earlier this week that Mayor John Tory appealed to the feds and to the province and asked for more money, and they made $4.5000,000 available, all levels of government. Its new money from the city and the feds, it’s not new money from the province, but they are freeing up past money that they’ve given, 25,000,000 over four years for Toronto police. So they freed that up so it could flow right away, another $1.5,000,000. So in total, $4.5,000,000. The chief announced a plan on how he’s going to spend that money.
News Clip: The funding will be immediately channeled into a new 11 week initiative called Project Community Space. We will roll out tomorrow and we’ll be in full swing come this Monday. Project Community Space is about preventing and enforcement. It will focus on street gangs, reducing violent crime and firearms related offenses.
Jordan: Tell me about that press conference. You were there, you asked the first question.
Cynthia: I did, and I looked at the chief and I just said, maybe I’ve just been doing this too long, but there’s a cycle here and every few years there’s a spike in violence and we hear the politicians jumping up and down, and he actually sort of smiled and laughed a little bit or chuckled at that because it’s true, and yet, you know, here we go again and why; my question to him was, why didn’t we put these measures in place prior? So we’re being proactive instead of reactive.
Jordan: Right, and what measures are those that he’s talking about and is it different from what we did the last time we had this conversation?
Cynthia: I don’t know if it’s different. It’s been framed a little bit differently. I would say that this is the first time I’ve seen this kind of money instantly thrown at this. Um, he’s relying on intelligence, so he’s bringing officers in and my sense from what he was saying because he didn’t want to get into too many specifics because he doesn’t want to let everybody know what the plan is. But there’s going to be a lot of undercover work, and there’s going to be a lot of intelligence gathering and analysis so that they can pinpoint where the troubled spots are, and be there as they’re happening or before they’re happening.
News Clip: Year after year it’s the same thing, you know police go arrest people. We’ve said this year after year, but now other people are starting to understand there is a social piece to this that is critical if we’re gonna get this right. The apprehension is not going to be how we’re going to solve this, it has to be collective, it has to be holistic.
Jordan: What other factors may be outside of straight police work has the chief Mark Saunders, identified as playing into what’s going on right now.
News Clip: Well social structure, you know, they all talk about the root cause. When you have a spike in violence, do the math, take a look at the age of the young men in gangs and go backwards and see what was happening then. What resources did they have? What community centers do they have? What mentoring did they have? As the chief said today no little kid is born wanting to be a gang member.
Jordan: And yet this $4.5,000,000 is dedicated strictly for police work.
Cynthia: Right. So now the levels of government have to come up and here’s what happens there’s so much attention paid to this right now, but it’s going to die down in a month, two months, you know, as soon as fall comes, it’s going to die down. The key is to keep the pressure on so that the resources and the community centers and mentoring, and the extra, you know, help for kids and education and social services programs, they have to be sustained or in a few years we’re just gonna have yet; two years, maybe next year we’ll see another spike.
Jordan: What’s been the conversation around this at the city hall level? Are they acknowledging those kind of problems? Is there any plans to do anything?
Cynthia: Well I think the mayor was talking about it and put Prime Minister Trudeau a little bit on the spot and said in front of him, I told him that not enough has been done and we have to get to the root causes and address social services and help for people. You know, I hate to say it, though I can’t count on how many fingers, and hands and toes, how many times I’ve heard that over the years. It’s not new.
Jordan: No and it’s something we love to say when violence spikes to the point where everybody becomes aware of it is that we have to address the root causes, we have to build community centers and keep programs open.
Cynthia: Lawrence Heights, where nine of the recent shootings have occurred, we know that is an area that needs help and support. It doesn’t have a community center, and you know, the liberals had 15 years to build a community center there and in the dying days before the election Kathleen Wynne promised to put a community center in there and now there’s this huge outcry because the Ford government hasn’t; they’re being accused; Trudeau is accusing the Ford government of stalling on it, but there was never any money earmarked for it.
Jordan: Really? I didn’t know that.
Cynthia: That’s what the Ford government tells me. It was a promise made by Kathleen Wynne a few days before the election, but no money earmarked for it.
Jordan: And that’s really interesting, because what I also wanted to talk to you about is the way politics plays into this. So Justin Trudeau came to Toronto this week. Tell me about what he was there to do and what kind of image he was trying to project.
Cynthia: Well, he was coming in first on Monday or Tuesday, I’m sorry, Tuesday, came in, and he made a Legal Aid for Refugees announcement in response to the Ford government cutting off legal aid for refugees and the Fords government’s stance is that this is a federal issue, it should not be solely on our shoulders. So Trudeau came in and saying, I’m giving $26.8,000,000.
Jordan: Right, what are you guys doing?
Cynthia: Right, and he was turning it into absolutely a campaign slam Doug Ford, try and tie into to Andrew Sheer, and we’re seeing that pattern, and I suspect we’ll see it more and more. He’s trying to tie an unpopular premier to his federal cousin. Yesterday, the same thing I counted in his news conference, Trudeau slammed the Ford government nine times.
Jordan: I won’t ask you for your opinion on this because you’re there reporting it, but it strikes me as someone who comments on things, and I want to know if that air has been taken up by anybody else, that it’s a little unseemly to be there in the middle of what is supposedly a crisis press conference to address a spate of gun violence and turn it around into an election issue. Were their questions asked about that, was there any of that bothering you?
Cynthia: Actually, I asked Trudeau if he was campaigning against Andrew Sheer or Doug Ford, and he said, in essence, that the Conservatives you know don’t keep their promises and what I was just telling you. So his answer was basically slamming conservatives as a whole.
Jordan: Do you think we would be seeing this level of involvement from the federal government if there wasn’t an election in October?
Cynthia: No, I don’t think we would be seeing that. And to be fair Trudeau was invited by the mayor, not solely to discuss gun violence. It was to discuss a number of issues; I suspect it had been arranged prior, and the mayor said yesterday, because I asked why the premier, premier Ford wasn’t there if they’re talking about gun issues, and he said, this is actually a series of requests by each federal leader to talk about issues before the upcoming election, so in fairness, we should make that clear. But I will say, you know, Trudeau didn’t answer questions clearly on a gun ban. His government has been studying one. Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who’s an MP, has been crossing the country, talking to people about it, listening to people about it. So something I believe, a stronger gun control measure will be in the liberal platform for the upcoming election, but he just doesn’t want to release it yet.
Jordan: What do we know about that kind of proposal from a Toronto point of view or in general, just based on its effectiveness? I believe, and you would know better than me, this is something that Mayor Tory has supported in the past.
Cynthia: Mayor John Tory started calling for a gun ban just over a year ago, and you know, it was after those two little girls were shot in a playground, caught in crossfire. After the Danforth shooting, where two young women, a teenage girl and a young girl were killed Toronto City Council passed a resolution asking for a gun ban, and they reconfirmed that a few months later. So the mayor has come out very strongly asking for a gun ban. Toronto police chief Mark Saunders recently said that 20% of the guns used were legal guns, and he was asked specifically about whether or not he would support one or what he thought about it and he chuckled and said, oh, I’m not getting involved in the politics behind it, but he did add anything that gets any guns off the streets is a good thing.
Jordan: About Chief Saunders then, just because he was the person in front of the media at the press conference yesterday. What does he say is needed outside of straight policing and the support that police need from other levels of government or the system. What is he looking for?
Cynthia: Well, I think he wants to see all levels of government supporting social programs that could help put preventative measures in place before these children grow up without hope and suddenly have a gun in their hand because the gangs are more attractive than anything else they can see in their futures. One thing that I thought was really interesting that Saunders said that I hadn’t heard before is the motivation for the gangs is different. He said, you know, it used to be prestige, it used to be power, it used to be turf wars. Now it’s money.
News Clip: Well, it is for monetary gains. I mean, there has been a transition from just notoriety and belonging to an entity that now makes money, and the money is driven from narcotic distribution and human trafficking as well.
Jordan: Are these the same gangs that Toronto’s been dealing with for years?
Cynthia: I asked him that. I said are these new gangs or these old gangs or these former gang members who have gotten out of jail or are these new kids? And his answer was yes to every single one of those questions Cynthia.
Jordan: What about the court system? How do we take care of people who are young people who are convicted of gun crimes?
Cynthia: That’s a good question. I know Saunders said that they were going to start proactively monitoring people who are out on bail. Uh, and he did strongly say we need more deterrence. So I think that’s his way of saying we need a tougher court system. But then what do you do with somebody when they get out of jail? Presumably they’re still young. You know, there is a push for people with criminal records to get jobs. For companies to hire these people so they can turn their lives around.
Jordan: Has there been, and I’m almost hesitant to ask this because I know where I stand on it, but has there been any mention of carding in this discussion?
Cynthia: The chief was asked about carding, and he said, you know it depends on who you ask in the community, how they feel about it. But he seemed very cognizant in response to my first question to him about here we go again and he said, you know, we can’t come in and take over a neighborhood, otherwise you get too much pushback, and we’ve seen that in the past. So it seems like they’ve learned from past lessons where the community really pushed back and there was an outcry over carding and the people it was specifically targeting. So it seems like he’s trying to walk a fine line between intelligence gathering and respecting the community, and that’s a tough line to walk.
Jordan: Yeah, well that was my next question is given what we’ve seen in Toronto in the past, how likely is it that he’ll be able to pull that off?
Cynthia: Oh, uh, I think it’s Mission Impossible. I think it’s really tough, but you have to respect the community you’re in, and you can’t alienate them to the point where they won’t talk to you and work with you. It has to be a partnership, in an ideal world, and this is far from an ideal world.
Jordan: When Justin Trudeau comes to town and has a press conference with John Tory and invokes Doug Ford and Andrew Sheer by name, what position does that put the Conservatives in? Does Andrew Sheer now need to speak up on what’s going on in Toronto, even though he’s not from Toronto and it’s not really his jurisdiction,
Cynthia: That’s a good question. It certainly puts pressure on him, for sure, but let’s face it, Trudeau’s also in the stomping grounds where he’s going to get a lot of votes. Toronto intends to vote liberal, so he’s in friendly territory. It would be a different reception if this was happening in Alberta, for example, in Calgary.
Jordan: Yeah, it’s an interesting play because Andrew Sheer cannot, really, I assume, come out for a handgun ban. That’s not his base.
Cynthia: No, it’s not. And it’s interesting it puts Doug Ford in a really interesting position where Trudeau is essentially challenging him, right? And Doug Ford; The question is will Doug Ford take the bait at some point and lose his temper, because you know he’s a street fighter. He loves a good spar, and I’m imagining he’s not very happy about being Trudeau’s target right now.
Jordan: And I assume that Andrew Sheer would like him to knock that bait.
Cynthia: I would imagine so. Very much.
Jordan: Thank you Cynthia.
Cynthia: A pleasure.
Jordan: Cynthia Mulligan is the Queen’s Park reporter for City News. That was The Big Story. If you want more, you can actually go back one full year and find our previous episode featuring Andre Demise about how the media covers gun violence when this happens every year. You can reach out to us and tell us how we got this one wrong on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn, and of course you can listen and subscribe for free and rate and review wherever you get your podcasts on Apple, on Google, on Stitcher, or on Spotify. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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