Mayoral candidates talk gun crime at same time teen shot to death in downtown Toronto

As four Toronto mayoral contenders debated one another on the matter of public safety at a waterfront television studio, a teen was shot to death in Regent Park.

Safety issues take centre stage at 2nd debate of election campaign

John Tory said he's working with other levels of government to curb the gun violence plaguing Toronto this year. (John Rieti/CBC)

As four Toronto mayoral contenders debated one another on the issue of public safety at a waterfront television studio, a 15-year-old boy was shot to death in Regent Park.

The deadly daylight shooting, currently being investigated by Toronto police, comes as the city struggles with a wave of gun violence. The shooting took place around 4:21 p.m., police say. The debate started at 4 p.m.

Told about the shooting moments after leaving the studio, Tory told reporters he's "mad as hell" about what happened. 

His main challenger, Jennifer Keesmaat, called it "heartbreaking news." 

Public safety was a key aspect of Tuesday's debate, the second of this year's election campaign. Hosted by Global News, it featured Tory, Keesmaat, Saron Gebresellassi and Sarah Climenhaga.

Tory touted a three-step plan to curb the rise in violent crime that Toronto's been struggling with in 2018. If re-elected, he said he plans to:

  • Hire 200 police officers this year and next.
  • Try to get the federal government to ban handguns.
  • Invest in programs to help youth in at-risk areas.

Tory also took a swipe at Keesmaat, saying she wouldn't be able to work with the other levels of government on this issue.

"They are helping us," he said of the provincial and federal governments.

Keesmaat accused Tory of lacking leadership on the file, repeating a critique that during the 2014 campaign he called a handgun ban an "empty gesture."

Her public safety plan also calls for a ban on handguns and ammunition, a bolstering of the city's 911 system, and more neighbourhood-level policing. 

After the debate, Keesmaat told reporters the latest shooting "reinforces that we need a new approach."

Meanwhile Gebresellassi condemned Tory's plan and his leadership.

"How can we invest more in police?" she said.

She also said the public has lost faith in Tory's ability to improve relations between the community and police, while calling Keesmaat's condemnation of police brutality "lukewarm." 

Gebresellassi said the only way to stop the violence is to eliminate poverty.

Climenhaga, largely drowned own amid the chaotic debate, urged the other parties to stay away from an "inflammatory" discussion on crime.

Road woes take centre stage

The debate started with the four contenders listing their favourite Toronto street, before getting into a fiery debate about traffic congestion and road safety. 

Tory started by highlighting his efforts to get photo radar into school zones, and the traffic blitzes he's supported to unclog congested streets.

But Jennifer Keesmaat, the city's former chief planner,  said Tory's efforts haven't been enough, before attacking Tory's SmartTrack plan for a second-straight day.

"People are frustrated in this city by long commutes," she said, adding it's a drag on the city's economy.

Tory snapped back, saying SmartTrack is moving forward — going as far as to hold up a fresh approval from the province. 

The current mayor also took a jab at Keesmaat's transit plans, suggesting they're "incredible commitments" that aren't realistic financially.

"You have to know how you're going to pay for it," he said.

Early on, the debate quickly seized on an idea put forward by one for the four candidates, Saron Gebresellassi: free public transit. 

Gebresellassi said she would support it and Sarah Climenhaga, the other lesser-known mayoral hopeful on the stage, praised it as well.

Tory said he supports free TTC trips for youth, something that's started under his time in office, but not free transit for everyone. 

Keesmaat also said free transit is not part of her own plan.

"I think free transit is a dream, it's a wonderful dream," she said.

Scarborough transit debate next

Ahead of the event, Keesmaat criticized Tory for his decision not to attend a transit-focused debate in Scarborough on Wednesday organized by the group TTCriders.

Tory's campaign confirmed he'll instead be attending a fundraising event at the private Lambton Golf and Country Club in west Toronto, and said the scheduling conflict was made clear to the debate organizers.

"We would note that Ms. Keesmaat held a $1,000 a ticket fundraiser at the exclusive Soho House last night," said Tory's spokesperson, Keerthana Kamalavasan, in an email.

In a news release, TTCriders says the event will go ahead as planned.

There are 35 people running to be Toronto's next mayor. You can see a full list of the candidates on the city's MyVote website.

Election day is Oct. 22.