City council approves $1.5M in funding for police efforts to curb gun violence

Toronto city council has approved $1.5 million in funding for a police program aimed at curbing gun violence in the city.

Some councillors, however, say money could have be spent on children, youth

Toronto Mayor John Tory says approval by city council on Wednesday of $1.5 million for the police shows the city is focused on the problem of gun violence. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Toronto city council has approved $1.5 million in funding for a police program aimed at curbing gun violence in the city.

The motion to add the funding to the police budget carried 23 to 2 at a council meeting on Wednesday, with only Josh Matlow and Gordon Perks voting against. The money is the city's share of a $4.5 million program entitled Project Community Space. 

An 11-week program designed to increase the safety of communities grappling with gun and gang violence, Project Community Space, was launched by Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders in August after a sharp rise in the number of shootings across the city. 

The federal and provincial governments have already committed $1.5 million each to the program.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the approval shows council is focused on the problem of gun violence in the city, which he admitted during the meeting has led to "extremely elevated levels" of anxiety in neighbourhoods.

"City council sent a strong message today that we support our Toronto police officers as they work to stop gun and gang violence in our city," Tory said in a news release on Wednesday.

"We also continue to urge the federal and provincial governments to invest in kids and families in our communities to address the roots of violence and to advocate for changes to our gun and bail laws to strengthen penalties for those caught engaging in gun violence and gun trafficking."

Project Community Space to end on Oct. 31

During the meeting, Tory said: "I believe one of the most important things we can is try to calm people, in addition to taking specific measures to address the violence, when these kinds of things come about."

The program includes measures such as better monitoring of bail compliance, enhanced community engagement and an increased police presence in areas where there have been several shootings. It is set to end on Oct. 31.

Tory said the program includes resources for increased intelligence gathering and for special investigations on gun and gang violence.

Gord Perks, Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, says he is opposed to the funding approval because the investment in policing is '100 per cent the wrong way to go.' (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Councillors call for investment in young people

Some councillors, however, were not completely in agreement with the motion.

Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, said he is opposed to the funding approval because the investment in policing is "100 per cent the wrong way to go."

He noted a report by the province on the "roots of violence" done more than 10 years ago found that an underclass of people, who feel socially excluded, will turn to violence, and that it said social and community supports are needed to prevent that violence. The report outlined "exactly what we need do," he added. 

"They don't say put more police officers in a neighbourhood. They don't say surveil people more. They don't say provide more money for tracking criminals. They don't say make it harder to get bail. They say none of that. They say invest in young people in low-income and racialized groups in the city of Toronto. Show them a path," Perks said.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, said she was "torn" by the funding motion. She noted that Tory asked Saunders what he needed to prevent gun violence but the mayor didn't consult the local communities themselves.

Wong-Tam said they would have told Tory that the city should hire additional youth outreach workers, expand community centre hours, invest in diversion, after-school and youth programs, expand and double the number of youth hubs. They would have also said they needed apprenticeship programs and pathways to education, she said.

"Depending on who you asked, you are going to get slightly different answers," she said.

Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto St. Paul's, said the key is to invest in children early. It's also important to invest in spaces for young people, he said.

"I believe that every child throughout the city should have the same opportunity as my daughter has, but that's just not the case today," Matlow said.

A Toronto police officer stands behind crime-scene tape after a shooting in the area of Jane and Finch. Two men found in the area with gunshot wounds later died in hospital. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

There have been 342 shootings in Toronto this year to date, resulting in 29 people killed and 165 people injured, according to the Toronto Police Service public safety data portal.

And council's decision comes less than a day after a fatal double shooting south of Jane Street and Finch Avenue West. Two men were pronounced dead in hospital.

Council repeats request to Ottawa for handgun ban

Council also voted to repeat its request to the federal government to "ban the availability, sale, possession and use of handguns across Canada, with the exception of the Canadian Armed Forces, police services or other entity that is authorized to possess firearms with legal obligations imposed by the municipal, provincial and federal governments."

And it approved a motion to express its support for the federal government to increase bail restrictions and toughen sentences for people charged and convicted of gun crimes.

The yellow markers on the ground indicate where police have found shell casings. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)