Ontario will spend $25M to combat gun violence in Toronto, Premier Doug Ford says

Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed $25 million in new funding Thursday to combat gun violence in Toronto, money that will in part be used to create what he calls "legal SWAT teams" dedicated to stopping those charged with firearms offences from getting bail.

Premier challenging other governments to match spending

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a morning news conference that he does not support a handgun ban in Toronto despite calls from city council for Ottawa to consider the measure. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed $25 million in new funding Thursday to combat gun violence in Toronto, money that will in part be used to create what he calls "legal SWAT teams" dedicated to stopping those charged with firearms offences from getting bail. 

Some $7.6 million will go to the creation of the legal teams that will operate at all of Toronto's provincial court houses. The teams will be led by experienced Crown attorneys, Ford said, and will focus solely on "ensuring violent gun criminals are denied bail and remain behind bars," according to a government news release. 

Additional bail compliance officers will also be assigned to make sure individuals out on bail are not violating the terms of their release. 

Another $18 million will go to "digital, investigative and analytical resources" for policing gang activity.

"No more talk, no more grandstanding, it's time for action," Ford said alongside Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Michael Tibollo, the minister of community safety and correctional services.

The allocation of the new funding comes after consultations with Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who will ultimately decide how the money going directly the police force will be spent.

"I'm from the old school. I love boots on the ground, I love having police in neighbourhoods, but again, that's not up to the premier to decide, that's up to the police chief to decide," Ford said of how the money will be used. 

The funding will be distributed in two phases over four years, Ford added. 

Toronto mayor has also sought bail changes

Mayor John Tory has repeatedly asked the provincial and federal governments to increase cash flows to the city to help combat gun and gang-related violence.

He's also been a vocal advocate of bail reforms. In an Aug. 3 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tory called on Ottawa to revoke bail opportunities for repeat gun offenders, asking that they be held until the charges against them are "disposed of by the judicial system."

In a statement, Tory welcomed the new funding.

"For months, I have been urging my federal and provincial counterparts to toughen up bail for gun offenders and so this move today by the provincial government is particularly gratifying," Tory said. 

He added that he has already spoken with city staff and determined that council will likely be able to match whatever funds come from the province this year. Tory also promised to continue pushing for matching municipal funding in future years if he's re-elected in October.

Some criminal defence lawyers questioned whether the "legal SWAT teams" focused on bail hearings would ever be feasible.

"No one type of offender is supposed to be treated differently at bail hearings solely because of the offence they've been charged with," said Toronto criminal defence lawyer Shane Martinez.

The federal government, guided by the Supreme Court of Canada, sets the parameters for bail hearings, he said.

"Provincial governments have no authority to change that to score political points," Martinez said.

In addition, Crown lawyers already have a directive to seek a detention order in firearms cases, except in except​ional circumstances, so it's not entirely clear what will change with the province's announcement on Thursday. 

"That basically means that this will likely end up being rhetorical fluff that doesn't amount to much when [Justices of the Peace] and judges apply the necessary tests" to determine if a person will be granted release, Martinez said. 

Ford against hand gun ban

For his part, Tory has also pushed a ban on hand guns within the city. Asked if he would support such an initiative, Ford said Thursday he would not because it would unfairly punish responsible gun owners. 

"There's a lot of legal, responsible handgun owners," he said.

"So we have to refocus all our resources on going after the bad guys, not the good guys, but the bad guys."

Last month, Tory asked for more than $32 million from Ottawa for firearms-related programs, while also allocating $12 million from the city's budget for programs targeted at young people as part of the city's "gun violence reduction plan."

That effort also includes additional police officers on patrol during the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 3 a.m., when police say most shootings occur.

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