Toronto city council to debate gun violence strategy in wake of Danforth shooting

Toronto city council is set to vote on a new suite of anti-gun violence initiatives Tuesday, just days after two people were killed and 13 others injured during a shooting in the city's Greektown neighbourhood.

Council to vote on series of new and expanded programs designed to curb gun violence

Toronto Police officers stand watch along Danforth Avenue, where a shooter opened fire late Sunday. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Toronto city council is set to vote on a new suite of anti-gun violence initiatives Tuesday, just days after two people were killed and 13 others injured during a shooting in the city's Greektown neighbourhood.

The motion, announced before Sunday's Danforth shooting, includes new measures, including enhanced surveillance and security, youth programming, as well as community violence prevention strategies.

The various programs would be supported by around $45 million in federal and provincial funding, though none of the money has been secured yet.

The debate will happen just days after a Faisal Hussain, 29, began a deadly shooting rampage along a busy stretch of Danforth Avenue. He was later found dead after exchanging gunfire with police.

Authorities have not yet released a suspected motive, but after Hussain was identified, his family emailed a statement to CBC Toronto saying they are devastated by what happened and that their son was struggling with "severe mental health challenges," including psychosis and depression.

In the wake of the incident and other high-profile shootings, councillors say the city may need to tweak the motion and re-evaluate its approach to gun violence.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, left, and Coun. Mary Fragedakis say the city must do more to reduce gun violence. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

"I think talking about guns is important," said Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth. "It's time to pick that back up again, I feel very strongly and I'm sorry that it got dropped over the last eight years."

"We're failing as a society," added Coun. Mary Fragedakis, who represents Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth. "People need help and they're not getting the help they need."

So far this year, Toronto has seen 228 shootings, 29 of them fatal.

The new strategy

The sweeping motion includes a call for $29 million in funding for community services, including programs for youth violence intervention, employment, trauma recovery and mental health.

There is also a call for $15 million to support enforcement and enhanced surveillance initiatives in 2018 and 2019.

Toronto police are also asking for up to $4 million to introduce a surveillance system known as "ShotSpotter," which uses microphones to pinpoint the location of gunshots.

A video posted on social media captured the shooter opening fire into a restaurant. (Twitter)

'Violence is trending' in Toronto

While Fletcher said the Danforth shooting likely represents a case of "lone gunman violence," anti-gun activists fear that a culture of violence is gaining momentum, potentially inspiring shooters in a variety of circumstances.

"Violence is trending right now in the city of Toronto," said Roderick Brereton, co-founder of the youth anti-violence initiative Just Think 1st. "I think that has a lot to do with the recent shootings."

Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, said he's witnessed a similar change in recent years.

"There's a new culture of gun violence where it's OK to shoot people," he told CBC Toronto. "It's glamorized, it's glorified, and they don't mind dying."

Whether the shootings are of the "lone wolf" variety, or connected to gangs and marginalized communities, activists say smart investments will help prevent further violence.

Louis March is the founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement, which he launched around five years ago in response to a flare up in shootings in the city. (CBC)

"If you look at each one of these shootings, there was an intervention point, where if a service agency had kept its doors open later, or provided a type of service that really addressed the problem, a lot of them could have been prevented," said March.

Fletcher also said early intervention should be a part of Toronto's larger gun violence strategy.

"We have to add in mental health issues and how we're going to be able to get to those a bit earlier," she said.

More community input

Advocates are calling on the city to undertake a thorough community consultation on gun violence, which they see as the only way to effectively address the problem.

While the city hosted an emergency meeting on gun violence earlier this month with Toronto Community Housing and Toronto police, March said the city must give its residents a larger voice during those discussions.

Doing so will lead to more effective strategies and programs, he said, ultimately reducing gun violence in Toronto.

"We've got to reverse that trend," added Brereton. "And we've got to do that, obviously, very quickly."