Gun activity is so prevalent in Toronto that it’s hardly mentioned anymore

Amid the chaos of Victory Day weekend in Woodbine Beach, two people were shot. There was also a home invasion on the north end of town where one occupant was shot and another was hit by a stray bullet.

Like long weekends in Toronto, stupid beach craziness aside, the city actually came out relatively light on gun violence.

Which can also be said, historically, of those charged with crimes involving a firearm, whether they actually used the gun or “just” had it, at the time of arrest, which cycles through the system bail and they’re back on the streets fast. divided to continue terrorizing certain neighborhoods.

Sometimes they go to prison and come out even more hardened, more likely to settle scores at the end of the barrel of a gun.

Gun activity has become so prevalent in the city that it’s hardly worth mentioning unless someone has died. Or, say, when a Toronto Maple Leaf is stolen at gunpoint.

“The severity of gun violence, the arbitrariness of many of these events, coupled with the retaliatory nature of gang rivalries, leaves the broader communities feeling unsafe and vulnerable,” says a report prepared by the Toronto Police and presented to the police board at its most recent meeting.

Toronto is awash in guns, mostly illegal firearms, thus a scourge that would be unaffected by a nationwide gun ban, which many are calling on the federal government to mandate.

The escalation of the crisis has so many dimensions that it is difficult to concentrate on a specific facet. However, the report presented to the board effectively did that by specifically addressing the bail angle and show cause hearings conducted almost entirely by justices of the peace, not judges.

This 13-page report, with its distilled data, goes to great lengths to acknowledge the complexities of reducing gun violence, addressing prevention and intervention strategies that are far beyond the reach of law enforcement.

These are ills of urban society that require a collective response within communities, the municipal government, mental health and social support agencies to divert the armed “upstream”, before they fire bullets at a neighborhood party. , a dance club, a food court, or at a Running Gunfight on Blue Jays Way.

As it stands, the report argues, with evidence to back it up, there are too many accused and convicted felons out on bail with conditions they simply ignore, only to reoffend.

Despite pandemic lockdowns and restrictions imposed under the Civil Protection and Emergency Measures Act, there were 297 reported shootings in public areas of Toronto in 2021 and 60 during the first three months of 2022. (Public Areas or ” congregated” refer to bars and restaurants, parking lots, streets, bike paths, commercial buildings (shopping malls, for example) and other open spaces).

Shootings and discharges of firearms increased 41% between 2015 and 2021; murders soared by 77 percent. Of the 85 murders last year, 46 were shooting homicides. As of April 22 of this year, 15 of the 20 murders in the city were shooting homicides: 75 percent.

The numbers are confusing and blinding because they do not really convey the traumatizing impact of bloodshed by guns on victims, families and communities.

But here are some crucial facts to ponder: Of 764 people charged with illegal firearms possession in 2019, 485 were granted bail, 213 reoffended after their bail date, 66 reoffended on new firearms charges fire. For 2020: 733 charged, 488 bonded, 148 repeat offenders after bond date, 31 firearms charges. For 2021: 705 were collected; 412 on bail; 79 reoffended; 21 were charged with firearms, 10 while out on bail.

As of March 31, 190 people were charged with firearms-related crimes; 81 were granted bail and three have been re-arrested.

Of course, anyone charged with a crime and not yet convicted is presumed innocent. The Charter guarantees everyone the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause, guided by legal precedent.

But it’s too easy.

And “just cause” has become an awfully high barrier to overcome.

Certainly the possession, much less the use of a firearm during the commission of a crime, even before a trial or guilty plea, must be taken into account more meaningfully, and the bail process must operate more fairly, not only for the accused, but for the community. .

A pilot “bail support team” program now in operation is designed to support Crown lawyers assigned to firearms cases in Toronto, so that they can be fully informed of the circumstances relevant to a firearms case. of detention versus release, including the risk of reoffending. .

Anyone who has attended a bond hearing knows how superficial that information can be when presented before a justice of the peace.

And habitual criminals know it.

The Toronto Police report urges the board to push for legislative changes, these would have to be at the federal level, amendments to the Penal Code, so that bail hearings for the most serious firearms offenses are heard by the Superior Court or Ontario Court judges, not by Superior Court judges. JPs, as is routinely done for murder charges.

A dozen felony firearms offenses are proposed to change bail decisions. They include arms trafficking, manslaughter, criminal negligence resulting in death, attempted murder, sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, robbery, and extortion.

Of the 157 most serious firearms felony charges filed last year, 80 percent were for robbery with a firearm, and 42 defendants charged with firearms offenses were released on bail.

There has to be a parallel and equally weighted consideration for a defendant and the public.

Recidivism data for violent offenders across Canada is woefully out of date. The most recent I could find dates back to 2012, pegged at 12 percent within two years of launch. That hardly means in relation to Toronto specifically.

I’m not a law and order thug; I am well versed in contributing factors. But the pervasive gun violence in this city where I was born and raised makes me sick.

Just look at some of this year’s homicides: an 18-year-old; a 13-year-old boy charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy; the apparent random murder of a 21-year-old Indian student outside Sherbourne tube station.

Victims and would-be killers so painfully young.

Let me tell you about one murder in particular, a heinous criminal, because it shows, I think, how gun violence has become normalized for some people, as natural as a wallet in your back pocket.

In 2011, Jordan Mendez was arrested for the murder of a young father with two shots to the back and one to the head. Mendez was 18 years old. His first-degree murder conviction was overturned when the Court of Appeals found that he (and a co-defendant) had not received a fair trial due to errors in the judge’s charging of the jury.

In a retrial in 2019, Mendez was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years, less credit for pre-trial custody of more than 12 years, leaving him two years and four months to serve.

In April, while he was on probation, the Repeat Offender Parole Enforcement (ROPE) squad requested the public’s assistance in their search for Mendez, who is wanted on a national arrest warrant for allegedly violating the terms of his release.

In July, the Toronto Police Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force arrested Mendez in a vehicle with two other wanted men and charged him with 11 firearms offences, including discharging a firearm with intent to injure .

On January 19 of this year, Mendez was charged by Durham police with first-degree murder in a shooting six months earlier.

From an 18 year old with a gun to a 29 year old with a gun.

From boy to man.

He didn’t pay bail.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist who covers sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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