10 steps to fight violent crime in Toronto

Toronto's violent crime problem is caused by gangs. Not guns.

Toronto has been witness to 22 fatal shootings so far this year – just less than half of the city’s 51 murders in 2018 thus far. A number of those shootings happened this Canada Day weekend. What’s to do about this spike in violence? Here’s what.

1. Don’t over blow the situation. At this point, we don’t know if this is a trend or a statistical spike in violence. Time will tell.

2. Focus on the real problem. People want politicians to take action. Politicians – especially in an election year as we are currently – want to be seen to act. So, they often focus on the easiest explanation which is very often not the real problem. In this case, politicians including Toronto Mayor John Tory have called for “improved gun control.” But, guns are not the problem. Gangs are the problem.

Gun control laws in Canada already prevent law-abiding citizens from using their lawful guns for criminal purposes. They will never prevent criminals from committing crimes.

3. Gangs are the real problem.According to Mayor John Tory, speaking on NEWSTALK1010 Tuesday morning, 75 per cent of shootings in Toronto are gang-related. The city’s police chief told CP24 the same morning that more than 90 per cent of gun violence in Toronto is linked to gangs. Statistics Canada data show that more than half of all violent crime in Canada is gang-related.

Gangs use guns as a tool to commit crimes. But, shootings are just the tip of the criminal gang iceberg. Gangs are organized criminal enterprises and they’re involved in all manner of heinous crimes in our cities. They’re responsible for the majority of drug trafficking – including the manufacture, distribution and sale of fentanyl-laced drugs that have directly contributed to the massive rise in fatal opioid overdoses across Canada. Gangs traffic women and children for sex, rape and slavery. They run protection rackets that prey on small businesses. If it’s illegal and it makes money, gangs are involved.

Gangs are territorial – and feudal. They fight each other for turf, and they punish each other and themselves for failure, disloyalty and disobedience. And, for all their criminal activities, gangs use guns as tools to make their endeavours easier.

Guns are not the problem. Gangs are the problem. Eliminate the gangs – eliminate the crimes.

4. We know who the gang members are. Immediately following the Danzig St. shootings in Toronto in 2013, I arranged a meeting between the Mayor and the Prime Minister to discuss possible measures to prevent future tragedies. While in the Toronto Police Division hosting the meeting, I noticed a large poster on the wall with hundreds of photographs on it, arranged like a “rogues gallery.” When I asked what it was, I was told it was a listing of every gang member in Scarborough. There were, the police said, about 400 active gang members in Toronto and police know who they are. They have their names. They have their pictures.

5. Prosecute gang members. Simply belonging to a criminal organization, recruiting others into a criminal organization, and supporting/facilitating/furthering the activities of a criminal organization are crimes in Canada punishable by up to five years in prison – which must be served consecutively to any other offences for which a person may be convicted. Police and Attorneys General across Canada have been reluctant to lay charges under this section (s. 467.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada) because the cases are complicated to prove.

It’s time to start enforcing this law. We know who the gang members are. It’s a crime to be a gang member. Arrest them. Prosecute them.

6. Setup special “Gang Courts.” Criminal justice in Canada takes far too long, in large part because our justice system is under-resourced: we don’t have enough judges, prosecutors, investigators, court staff or court rooms to move faster.

As a result, violent offenders are too-often released on bail rather than being held in lengthy pre-trial custody. Prosecutors routinely negotiate plea deals to avoid long delays and lengthy trials. The result: gang members don’t receive the sentences they should and are back on the streets too soon, to continue their criminal activities and seek revenge on those who crossed them. Violence often ensues.

To address this, the provincial and federal governments should immediately fund the setup of special courts dedicated to gang crimes. Appoint more judges, hire more prosecutors, investigators and court staff dedicated to fighting gang crime. Establish more court rooms exclusively for gang crime trials. And, expedite the trial process. Prosecute more aggressively; seek harsher sentences.

7. Send gang members to jail. Prosecute and convict gang members under the criminal organization section of the criminal code – in addition to the other crimes they’ve committed. Don’t write off these offences as part of plea deals. Once the courts have established that “XYZ Boyz” is a criminal organization – aggressively pursue anyone and everyone associated with the gang.

If you’re wearing a gang bandana, tattooed with a gang icon or showing a gang sign – you should be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced under 467.1. If you’re caught defacing property with a gang tag – go to jail. If you let a known gang member sleep in your house – go to jail.

Spread convicted gang members across the country – don’t send them to the same prisons. Break them up. Ship them all over the country. Destabilize their networks.

8. Evict gangs from social housing. Toronto’s social housing complexes are rife with gang activities – they are hotspots of violence at the epicentre of most gun-related crimes. Social housing should be a sanctuary from violence. There are thousands of good, law-abiding citizens waiting to for the privilege of living in social housing. Gang members should not be welcome there. Anyone convicted of a violent crime should be ineligible for social housing. Those already resident in social housing should be evicted on conviction. Anyone caught using social housing as a base for criminal activity – e.g. drug distribution, gun trafficking, prostitution, gambling – should be evicted and banned for life. Anyone allowing a known gang member to “crash” in their social housing unit should be evicted.

Long-term social housing residents should be moved to different units in different complexes around the city every few years to break up criminal networks.

9. Emasculate gang culture. Encourage cultural icons including actors, writers, producers, rappers, DJs and other artists to disown gang culture, to create art that paints gang members as petty losers who can’t get girls. Establish awards to recognize art that emasculates gang membership.

10. Measure youth programs. There are root causes that motivate young men to join gangs. We must address these, but we won’t succeed just by throwing more money at the problem. There’s already more money than you can imagine. The City of Toronto alone spends over $120 million on various “youth employment” strategies and “community engagement” programs. Few of these programs are measured in any way. Those that are measured, are measured poorly. For example, one of the largest programs can tell you how many youth participated in resume-writing workshops, or job interview training, or began a co-op job placement. But, it doesn’t measure how many youth are employed as a result of its youth employment program.

If we knew which programs achieved their objectives or performed better than others, we could focus public dollars to fund more of the programs that work best and less of the programs that don’t work at all.

Eliminate the Gangs – Eliminate the Crimes

Gangs are the root cause of most violent crime in Canada, in Ontario and in Toronto. It’s time for governments to take action: eradicate gangs from our cities the way we seek to rid restaurants of cockroaches. It’s a never-ending battle and they’ll always return, but if we attack them consistently and mercilessly we can keep them from spoiling the food. Gangs are the same, though worse.