The Ontario government says it will spend $25 million over the next four years to tackle gun violence and gang activity in Toronto.
Premier Doug Ford, along with Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Michael Tibollo and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, made the announcement in Toronto Thursday morning.
“This is real money, critical funding targeting the areas of greatest need,” Ford said.
Ford said he is also asking the federal and municipal government to match the cash infusion.
“We are calling on them to step up and do their part,” the premier said. “The feds must do more and the city must step forward.”
The funding will include $7.6 million for “legal SWAT teams” to be placed at each of the city’s six provincial courthouses dedicated to prosecuting gun crime cases.
“Each team will be led by an experienced Crown attorney and each team will have only one mission, keeping violent gun criminals behind bars and away from bail,” Ford said.
“These teams will work closely with regular Crown attorneys and our guns and gangs teams to provide additional legal expertise and support.”
The premier said each of the legal SWAT teams will be supported by a new dedicated bail compliance officer who will go into the field and keep an eye on gun criminals who are out on bail.
VIDEO: Toronto residents are ‘sick’ of gun violence in the city, Ford says
Ontario will also spend $18 million to provide additional digital, investigative and analytical tools to Toronto police to help them fight drug gangs and gun crime.
In an interview with Global News, Saunders said the funding is specifically geared towards rooting out gun and gang activity and making sure those arrested, who are released on bail, do not commit another crime.
“It is to be surgical. It is to be intelligence led and by looking at what tools in today’s environment can assist in the reduction of gun violence that is taking place in this city,” he said.
Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has ruled out bringing back the controversial practice of police street checks, known as carding, and the Toronto police’s controversial anti-gang squad called TAVIS, which was set up in 2006 and disbanded in 2017.
“There’s no TAVIS. There’s no carding,” Ford said. “That’s going to be up to police to focus on.”
High-profile shootings in Toronto
Toronto has seen an increase in gun-related violence with more than 240 shootings so far this year.
A recent poll conducted by Ipsos exclusively for Global News found that 81 per cent of Torontonians believe there is a serious gun problem in the city.
Sixty-four per cent of respondents said they avoid certain neighbourhoods because they fear for their safety, however 56 per cent disagree the gun violence in Toronto is contained to only a few neighbourhoods, which suggests residents view the gun violence issue as a more widespread problem.
The calls to combat gun violence comes after a series of high-profile shootings.
VIDEO: Why do so many Torontonians fear gun violence?
The mass shooting on Danforth Avenue last month killed two people and left 13 others injured.
A month prior, two sisters, aged five and nine, were shot at a playground near a residential complex in the city’s north end.
Toronto police statistics reveal there have been 30 shooting deaths so far this year, a 30 per cent increase from 2017.
Toronto city council supports handgun ban, Ford does not
City council voted 41-4 last month to “urge” the federal government to ban handgun sales in Toronto. It also called on the provincial government to ban handgun ammunition sales in the city.
But Ford said Friday he does not support the ban and instead would rather focus on catching criminals.
“I wouldn’t support a ban on handguns. There’s a lot of legal and responsible handgun owners,” he said.
“We have to refocus all of our resources going after the bad guys. Not the good guys, but the bad guys. As I said, we’re coming for them. So tell the bad guys out there heads up, we’re coming to get you.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement on Thursday calling Ford’s refusal to consider a ban on handguns “disturbing.”
“His defense of handguns as having a place in downtown Toronto is wrong,” Horwath said.
“There is an urgent need to address the sale, possession and use of handguns and ammunition within densely populated urban areas and municipalities. There is an urgent need to stop the gun violence from going from bad to worse.”
VIDEO: Doug Ford doesn’t support a ban on handguns in Toronto
Toronto mayor criticized for lack of plan to combat gun violence
A veteran sergeant with the Toronto police sent an email, which was obtained by Global News, to Mayor John Tory last month criticizing his lack of response to gun crime.
Mark Hayward said he wrote the email as a concerned citizen, stands by it and wrote it with public safety at heart.
“It is obvious Chief Saunders is a puppet on strings and you are pulling them. You have zero qualifications to run a police service and should be hands-off, to allow the police to do what they do best,” he wrote in the email.
The letter also focused on community policing programs, which Hayward said have no effect “on the thugs who are killing people, including the innocent bystanders, in record numbers.”
Toronto mayor outlines community investments to tackle gun violence
Tory outlined a number of community intervention and prevention measures to fight gun and gang violence in the city last month.
The initiatives, $12 million in total which will be funded in part by the federal government, offer support to families and victims impacted by violence and target youths most susceptible to entering a life of crime.
Tory said the community programs expansion includes doubling the size of the city’s community crisis response program from four staff to eight to help neighbourhoods and families cope with violence, adding more youth violence prevention staff to work with youth and creating more job opportunities.
The mayor said there will also be more job fairs in marginalized communities, and Toronto Community Housing will hire an additional 50 young people this summer.
VIDEO: Veteran Toronto police officer sends email calling out Mayor Tory
— With a file from Jessica Patton, Caryn Lieberman and The Canadian Press