After upsurge in violence over Canada Day weekend, police chief says more arrests 'is not the solution'

In the wake of a string of homicides and shootings in Toronto, police Chief Mark Saunders says making more arrests is not the answer to the apparent upsurge in “gun play.”

5 people, including a 17-year-old boy, were killed between Thursday and Sunday

Police Chief Mark Saunders responded Tuesday to a rash of violence in the city. (CBC)

In the wake of a string of homicides and shootings in Toronto, police Chief Mark Saunders says making more arrests is not the answer to the apparent upsurge in "gun play."

Saunders spoke with members of the media on Tuesday following a wave of violence, which began Thursday when a 61-year-old man was stabbed to death at a North York residential building. Later that same day, 17-year-old Jaydin Simpson, who had just graduated from high school, was gunned down outside a housing complex on Danzig Street.

The violence continued in the early hours of Saturday morning when three men were shot at apartment building in the city's Mount Dennis neighbourhood. Two of them — Christopher Teape, 25, and Ahmed Mohamud, 32 — were killed.

"We're making those arrests. That is not the solution," the police chief said.

"When you look at the hundreds of guns that we're seizing and the thousands of people that we're apprehending, surely arresting our way out of this is not the solution."

Asked what the solutions are, Saunders said prevention is the best approach. He also said closer attention must be paid to the people who get incarcerated.

"They come back out, 90 per cent are coming back out again," he said. "There has to be a holistic approach if we're going to get it right. So, the focus should be right across the bandwidth to make sure that it's front end, back end and, of course, the enforcement piece that we've got to do."

The string of shootings continued early Sunday morning with another homicide at a nightclub in the Entertainment District.

Police said that the victim — Jordan Armstrong, 33, of Markham — was found by staff shortly after last call. He was rushed to hospital with an apparent gunshot wound but was pronounced dead a short time later.

But Saunders also assured Torontonians that the city remains safe

"For an urban city of 2.8 million [if we do the comparison] to other urban cities . . . we will see that this is the safest urban city in North America," he said.

Three men were shot at an apartment building in the city's Mount Dennis neighbourhood on Saturday, two of them fatally. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

More gunplay during the summer

So far in 2019, Toronto has recorded a total of 32 homicides. There were 96 homicides in all of 2018, a record for the city.

On Monday, Toronto Police Association head Mike McCormack said Toronto had kicked off summer with the second year of a bloody Canada Day weekend. "Looking forward to @TorontoPolice plans to address summer violence," he said in a tweet.

McCormack told CBC News on Tuesday he was very concerned about the shootings, adding that police lack the resources needed to fight crime.

"We don't have the resources. We don't have the proactive policing that we can do more investigations ...that we think are going to have an impact on people who are walking around anywhere in the city any given day carrying firearms," he said.

"The ability for people to carry guns is out of control in the city."

McCormack said what's missing from the current narrative is a plan to deal with crime, which he says people have been talking about for several years.

But while the police chief agrees that there's usually "more gun play" in the summer, he said the force has "a lot of resources in the right places."

In recent years McCormack has warned of "a crisis in staffing levels" within the Toronto Police Service, adding that officers, particularly those on the frontline, are burned out and under stress.

Mike McCormack, the head of Toronto's police union, says police do not have the resources needed to carry out investigations and put a dent in crime. (CBC)

On Canada Day, Mayor John Tory said he spoke with Saunders in the wake of the upsurge in violence.

"I have spoken with Chief Saunders . . . and I have been in touch with him over the last few days on a fairly continuous basis," Tory said.

"I can just say that the police are working very hard on these," Tory said, adding there is nothing to suggest that the recent homicides are "connected incidents."

The mayor said the recent shootings underscore the fact that there are people in the city who carry firearms and are prepared to act in a senseless manner.