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Recent shootings leave cities across Canada reeling

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse:

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Police are investigating an incident where two young girls were shot at a playground in Scarborough, Ont. The two girls are in stable condition. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • A shooting that injured two girls in a Toronto playground is the latest incident of gun violence in cities across Canada.
  • A Hungarian court has sentenced the four men most responsible for the deaths of 71 migrants in 2015 to 25 years each in prison, but those sentences pale next to a Greek case where four migrant smugglers were given 1,400 years in jail as well as fines of €4 million.
  • Former tennis champion Boris Becker is trying to quash bankruptcy proceedings against him by saying he has diplomatic immunity as a representative of the Central African Republic.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Ending gun violence no easy task

Toronto has agun problem.

And even if residents of the country's biggest city wished to pretend otherwise, events like Thursday's wounding of two young girls when a gunman opened fire on another man at a crowded playground make it impossible to ignore.

(The girls, aged five and nine, hit in the stomach and ankle respectively, underwent surgery and are expected to recover. Nine other children were at play on the slides and monkey bars when the shots rang out.)

Mayor John Tory is vowing to do something about the "totally unacceptable act."

"I cannot imagine the anguish the family and friends of the two girls shot while playing in a park are experiencing," he said in a statement. "This entire city wants these girls to make a full recovery and this entire city wants justice for them."

Two of several bullet holes in a wooden fence at the playground where the two young sisters were shot and wounded in Toronto. (Sebastien St-Francois/CBC)

But the numbers suggest that bringing an end to the gun violence is no easy task.

By the end of May, there had already been 162 shootings and 215 victims in the city in 2018. A pace at which, if continued, would ensure a fourth straight year of increased gun crime. In 2015, Toronto had 429 shooting victims, rising to 581 in 2016 and then 594 last year.

In 2005, when Toronto experienced its so-called "Summer of the Gun," there were 359 shooting victims and 52 deaths.

Gun violence is an issue in other Canadian cities as well.

Ottawa has seen a sharp uptick in shootings and gun killings since 2015, many of them gang-related. Last year, the city had 74 shootings. And there have been almost three dozen more so far in 2018, including a fatal shooting at the end of May and an attack on a crowded pizzeria last weekend, where several shots were fired but no one was injured. Earlier this week, the police department made an emergency request for funds to hire 10 new officers to tackle gun crime.

And the Vancouver area is reeling from a recent series of shootings, like the targeted killings of two teenage boys in Surrey at the beginning of June and a brazen attack on a man and a pregnant woman in East Vancouver that resulted in the loss of the women's unborn child.

Sixteen-year-old Jaskarn Singh Jhutty and 17-year-old Jaskaran Singh Bhangal, both residents of Surrey, were fatally shot. (IHIT)

Over the past quarter century, Canada has averaged around 1,300 firearm deaths each year — the vast majority of them suicides.

But the number of gun crimes has been rising, with 2,465 criminal firearms violations reported in 2016, a 30 per cent increase from 2013. That same year, police reported 141 gang-related homicides across the country, 112 of them via guns.

Last November, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced $328 million in funding over five years for new efforts to reduce gun crime. And in March, he hosted a Criminal Guns and Gangs Summit with the aim of trying to get all levels of government on the same page.

Overall, however, Canada is actually getting safer, with both the homicide rate and the number of gun killings having fallen by half since the early 1990s.

Cold comfort though if it happens to be your kid that gets caught in the crossfire.

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Prison terms for human traffickers

The four men who were most responsible for the deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated to death in the back of an airtight refrigerator truck in the summer of 2015 have been sentenced to 25 years each in prison by a Hungarian court.

The corpses of the migrants — 58 men, eight women and four children, including a baby — were found in a heap in the back of a truck by police after they discovered the vehicle abandoned along the side of an Austrian highway. It later emerged that the victims, who hailed from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, had died shortly after they were packed into the vehicle, two days earlier, in Hungary.

Prime suspect L.S. of Afghanistan attends a court hearing at Kecskemet Court of Justice in Kecskemet, Hungary, on June 14, 2018. The Hungarian court sentenced four human traffickers to 25 years in prison each for their roles in the 2015 case in which 71 migrants suffocated to death in the back of a refrigerated truck found on an Austrian highway. (Sandor Ujvari/Associated Press)

The four men on trial — leaders of a people-smuggling ring that moved more than 1,100 people through Hungary and into Austria and Germany, charging more than $2,200 a head — were convicted on charges of "aggravated murder with particular cruelty."

And the year-long proceedings were filled with horrifying revelations, including wiretap evidence that the ringleader, a 31-year-old Afghan national, ordered the truck's driver to ignore the pleas of those choking to death in the back, telling him to "let them die" and then "dump the bodies in a forest in Germany."

Ten other suspects have been found guilty of lesser crimes in connection with the gang's operations and handed prison terms ranging from three to 12 years.

Forensic police officers inspect a parked truck in which 71 migrants were found dead on an Austrian motorway on Aug. 27, 2015. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

The Hungarian sentences, however, pale next to a recent Greek case where a judge sentenced four other migrant smugglers to a total of 1,400 years in jail as well as €4 million in fines.

An international investigation resulted in the rescue of 112 migrants from a cave and farm buildings in southern Crete in March 2017. The convicted ringleaders, two Afghan men, a Syrian and an Iraqi, had been charging them between $3,000 and $6,000 each for the trip through Greece and then the dangerous sea crossing to Italy. Another seven members of the group, and six locals on Crete, including a corrupt police officer, received sentences of between one and 12 years.

Earlier this week, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a global analysis of people smuggling that estimated that the crime rings moved more than 2.5 million migrants in 2016, extracting $7 billion to $9 billion in payments. The report says that the strict border control measures instituted by many European countries have proven to be counterproductive, driving migrants into the arms of professional smuggling rings and forcing the travellers to take ever more dangerous routes.

Perhaps that's why the UN Security Council took the unprecedented step of imposing sanctions, including a global travel ban and freeze of assets, on six major traffickers at the beginning of June. The men are all connected to major migrant smuggling rings operating out of Libya.

Migrants who tried to flee to Europe travel in a dinghy after they were stopped by the Libyan Coast Guard and made to head to Tripoli on Sept. 29, 2015. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

One of the men is a regional leader of the European Union-funded Libyan Coast Guard, which has been tasked with stopping the migrant boats. At least two others are believed to be beneficiaries of deals struck with the Italian government last year that have seen of the flow of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean slow dramatically.

Last December, the African Union estimated there are 400,000 to 700,000 people being held in more than 40 detention camps scattered across the North African country, many in intolerable conditions.

More than 3,100 migrants died  attempting to make the sea crossing to Europe last year. So far this year, there have been 792 deaths.

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Another court battle for Becker

Former tennis champion Boris Becker is trying to quash bankruptcy proceedings against him by claiming that he has diplomatic immunity as a representative of the Central African Republic.

The German-born, three-time Wimbledon winner was declared bankrupt by a London court a year ago over an unpaid $9-million debt to a firm of private bankers. But the German media later obtained a report on his finances that showed he owed more than $94 million to his creditors and was being threatened with repossession of his homes and personal property.

Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera, left, shakes hands with retired German tennis star Boris Becker in Brussels after it was announced in April that Becker was appointed by the Central African Republic as its attache for sports, humanitarian and cultural affairs in the European Union. (Irle Moser Rechtsanwalte PartG/Associated Press)

A number of mementos from Becker's playing days are up for sale via an online auction, including the Renshaw Cup he won as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon in 1985, a replica trophy from his 1989 U.S. Open triumph, rackets, running shoes and several luxury watches.

But in documents filed by lawyers in the High Court in London Friday, the six-time Grand Slam tournament winner argues all actions against his assets should be halted as he enjoys immunity as the Central African Republic's sports attaché to the European Union.

"The decision to commence bankruptcy proceedings against me was both unjustified and unjust," Becker says in the filing. "A bunch of anonymous bankers and bureaucrats pushed me into a completely unnecessary declaration of bankruptcy, which has inflicted a whole heap of damage on me."

He is seeking an order recognizing his diplomatic status — which would mean that he couldn't be pursued in U.K. courts without the permission of the foreign ministers of both Britain and the U.K. — a ruling that Becker contends will help "bring this farce to an end, so that I can start to rebuild my life."

Becker earned close to $280 million in prize money and endorsements during his tennis career. But he has since gone through two expensive divorces and paid a multimillion-dollar settlement to a Russian model whom he impregnated during a tryst in a broom closet at an expensive London restaurant. And his net worth reportedly plummeted after a series of disastrous investment decisions.

The former tennis ace also has a long history of tax troubles and unpaid debts, having twice faced foreclosure on his $9-million villa in Mallorca, Spain, over hefty bills from builders and gardeners.

The judge who put Becker into bankruptcy last June said he gave "the impression of a man with his head in the sand."

Becker, who now spends about half the year at his luxury home near Wimbledon, worked as commentator for the BBC during last year's tournament. It's not clear if he will be invited back.

Quote of the moment

"In today's era, launching a trade war is not in the global interest. We call on all countries to take joint action, resolutely put an end to this outdated and regressive behavior, and firmly defend the common interests of mankind."

- The Chinese government responds to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision Friday morning to impose a 25 per cent tariff on more than 1,110 imports from China worth $50 billion a year.

Trader Gregory Rowe wipes his brow as he works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. U.S. stocks fell with other markets around the world after the Trump administration stepped up the trade dispute between the world's two biggest economies by announcing tariffs on $50 billion of imports from China. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Pakistan militant believed to be behind the Malala attack killed in U.S. strike (CBC)

  • Oxfam to axe jobs, aid programmes in wake of sex scandal (Guardian)

  • Workers flee and thieves loot Venezuela's oil giant (NY Times)

  • Police release photos of getaway car in Toronto shooting of two young girls (CBC)

  • Putin raises pension age, sales tax, amid World Cup celebrations (Telegraph)

  • Australian artist buries himself under road for three days (CNN)

  • Dalhousie scientists take on a big job: composting dead whales (CBC)

  • No, that viral photo is not just like a Renaissance painting (The Outline)

Today in history

June 15, 1965: Reporter Lloyd Robertson tries 'skurfing' - a.k.a. skateboarding

What better way to illustrate the latest "teenage fad" of "sidewalk surfing" than a free-form, two-minute montage set to a Vince Guaraldi-esque soundtrack? Still, there are dangers associated with the primitive four-wheel boards. In one weekend alone in Ottawa, they sent 40 kids to the emergency room with fractures and police in Toronto were cracking down and seizing kids' rides. "Will this be obsolete in time, like the hula hoop?" CBC's Lloyd Robertson asks an enthusiast, before giving it a try himself — in his suit, tie and shiny dress shoes.

'Skurfing' the streets in '65

3 years ago
Duration 4:45
Police are cracking down on sidewalk surfers.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.