'No magic solution' to gun violence in Toronto, police chief says

"There is no magic solution" to gun violence in Toronto, police Chief Mark Saunders said Thursday, as public concern mounts amid a spike in shootings across the city.

11-week, $4.5-million effort to curb shootings starts today

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said his main focus is on the people who are motivated to have a gun and shoot at others. (Canadian Press)

"There is no magic solution" to gun violence in Toronto, police Chief Mark Saunders said Thursday, as public concern mounts amid a spike in shootings across the city.

The chief's comments coincide with the launch of Project Community Space — a $4.5-million strategy to curb gun violence that will include beefing up the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force.

It comes in the wake of a rash of shootings in city in recent weeks, including several over a violent Simcoe Day long weekend that left more than a dozen people with gunshot injuries from 14 separate shootings.

Saunders sat down with CBC Radio's Metro Morning to discuss the difficult task ahead of him and the force.

The police chief would not say if he agrees with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which recently said it would not support a call for a nation-wide ban on handguns.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has lobbied the federal government in favour of a ban, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been coy about whether such a measure will be pursued by Ottawa.

Saunders did say however that while there is no one solution to gun violence, he would support any initiative that reduces the number of illegal guns on the streets of Toronto.

"If there are less people that are going to have access to guns in any way, shape or form, that's a good day," Saunders said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"But you have to look at the investment. How much value it will have is the next question that needs to be asked and discussed," he said of a ban. 

Majority of illegal weapons come from U.S., Saunders says

Saunders said the majority of guns in the hands of gang members — an estimated 80 per cent — are coming from the United States illegally. 

He noted that the current situation is a stark departure from the recent past, when about 50 per cent of illegal firearms were obtained through "straw purchases," in which a person who bought a gun lawfully would then sell it at a significant mark up.

While every community views gun violence through a different lens, Saunders said, his perspective is rather straightforward. 

"I'm interested in the people that are motivated to have a gun and shoot at other people," Saunders said.

"There are people that are motivated to shoot people. Those are the people that my organization is focused on to make the apprehensions."

More investment in youth needed

Sean Mauricette runs a program in Scarborough that teaches young people multimedia skills.

He said that gun violence is a nebulous problem and reducing it will be a tremendous challenge. The most effective strategy, Mauricette said, is to invest more in the city's young people. 

"[Saunders] has no easy task ahead of him. It's extremely difficult," Mauricette said on Metro Morning.

"When I see money being put to more boots on the ground, while that may be part of the solution, I believe it's a reaction. It's not necessarily being preventative," he said.

"As you invest in police and you invest in boots on the ground and those security measures, let's invest in our youth."

The Toronto Police Association (TPA), an officers' union that has been critical of Saunders' leadership, described Project Community Space as an interim step in combating gun and gang violence.

"A sustainable solution includes a properly resourced police service and neighbourhood policing model, where officers have the time, tools and opportunity to do more than just answer calls for service," a TPA statement said. 

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning


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