Highly publicized 2005 gang sweep nets few convictions
Almost three years after police said they had "smashed" a Toronto gang responsible for terrorizing neighbourhoods in the city's northwest, more than half of those arrested have been set free.
The sweep made headlines across the country following what was called 'the summer of the gun' in Toronto. At the time of the joint police operation in September 2005, 37 people had been shot dead in the city.
In the early morning hours on Sept. 15, about 300 officers from Toronto, York and Peel region carried out dozens of raids in what was called Project Flicker.
Police seized 15 guns including a Mac-11 semiautomatic machine gun, handguns, air guns, Tasers and knives. Police also found drugs and laid 1,350 charges, including attempted murder, firearms and drug trafficking, armed robbery and participating in a criminal organization.
But documents obtained by CBC News show that the vast majority of those charges have been dropped — and that many of those arrested in Project Flicker have never been convicted of a crime.
At the time, police declared they'd dismantled a gang called the Ardwick Blood Crew. Deputy Chief Tony Warr was quoted saying, "We've taken one of the gangs out of service."
According to documents obtained by CBC News, 20 of the 50 accused were either found not guilty or had all charges dropped. Another eight got conditional discharges, probation or suspended sentences. Only nine have spent more than a year in jail.
Public relations exercise, lawyer says
"They lay like five charges, and maybe one might stick," said defence lawyer Ernest Guiste.
Guiste, who represents one of the accused whose case is still in the system, said police exaggerated the threat from the Ardwick Blood Crew.
"It's all a matter of evidence, and I haven't seen anything yet that has suggested that they are a gang. A gang or a criminal organization just doesn't come up all of a sudden," he said.
Guiste said he plans to seek a stay of proceedings in the case against his client.
He says the raids were a public relations operation, "to appease and to satisfy the tourist industry and others in Toronto in and around the time of the operation that Toronto was safe for business and that tourists could feel safe."
The head of communications for the Toronto Police Service, Mark Pugash, disagrees and defends how the force portrayed the raid.
"In the aftermath of a number of our major investigations, we have seen significant decreases in violence. Our job is to arrest and charge people and put them before the courts. It's then a matter for the courts to decide on the evidence that has been put before them."
Pugash said he can't talk about the few cases that remain before the courts.