Streeters in the Six: Toronto residents point fingers to U.S on guns as police unveil new plan to curb shootings

As Toronto tries to deal with a recent surge of gun violence, residents say Toronto is still a safe city.

“There has been an increase,” Toronto resident Victoria MacSween told Yahoo Canada on Monday. “I’ve been living here since ’85. There is a difference.”

Lucy Popvassilev immigrated to the city from Bulgaria in the 1990s and admitted she’s also concerned.

“From what we hear on the news, there is lots of shootings, which is really alarming,” Popvassilev said. “Maybe it’s the police, maybe they don’t have enough people to take care of all that.”

But Murdock MacSween said the answer is not putting more police officers on the street, which is what top officials are planning to do as a temporary measure to potentially tackle the number of shootings. Instead, he wants to see more outreach and effective community-based programs, which is also part of the city’s new approach.

Toronto’s “gun violence reduction plan,” which was unveiled Thursday morning, will include approximately 200 additional officers dispatched between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., CBC News reported.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory are seen here on April 24, 2018. The two leaders have committed to add more police officers to city streets as part of a temporary measure to combat gun violence in Toronto.

The operations will focus on “major players when it comes to gun play,” Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters. Toronto Mayor John Tory added the city will immediately invest in more city programs in an attempt to keep youth away from criminal activities.

The number of shootings appears to have skyrocketed in recent weeks. During a one-week period this summer, 11 people were shot in the city of Toronto.

Two weeks ago, blogTO published a story claiming Toronto’s homicide rate was slightly higher than New York City’s, according to University of Toronto associate professor Scot Wortley, who is an expert in analyzing crime data.

On July 2, Toronto’s mayor said the amount of gun violence in recent weeks has been “unacceptable.” Tory admitted he’s “incredibly angry” about the bloodshed and added public safety is his top priority.

“I believe that I’m doing everything I possibly can as the mayor,” Tory told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Monday.

Saunders has also come out publicly to address the violence, which has happened in some of the city’s most popular public spaces, such as Kensington Market of Queen Street West.

People should feel safe downtown and I will stand by that,” Saunders told reporters on July 2, CBC News reported. Speaking with CP24, the police chief admitted he was concerned by the “brazenness” in which these incidents were happening, blaming gangs for the “vast majority” of gun-related incidents.

“This is not the norm,” the chief told CP24. “Right in broad daylight on some of the busiest intersections of our city where there is gunplay.”

Despite the rash of violence, Tory declared Toronto as still being one of the safest cities in the world, despite the challenges it is currently facing.

“But do we have a grave concern about some of the things that have been happening in recent weeks and months? Yes, we do,” Tory told The Canadian Press earlier this month.

Citing the police chief, Tory said 90 per cent of the shootings taking place in Canada’s largest city “are connected in some way or another to gangsters or their affiliates.”

Last month, Tory went so far as to call the men who opened fire in a playground as being “profoundly anti-social” and “sewer rats” after two girls were wounded in the incident. Toronto activist Desmond Cole called on the mayor to apologize for using the language to describe black people.

Tory maintained he did not know who the suspects were when he made the comments and accused others of playing the “race card,” according to CBC News, who reported the three suspects are young, black men.

‘Very difficult summer’

Saunders compared the increase in shootings this year to 2016 when 407 people were shot in the city, according to police.

Toronto police has reported 212 shootings in the city this year, as of July 9. Toronto had 395 shootings in 2017, according to police.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, has also noticed a difference in the number of shootings this year in Toronto, calling it a “very difficult summer in our city” on July 2.

“We need action,” Ford acknowledged.

While it’s not entirely clear where the guns are coming from, the fingers are being pointed at the Canada-U.S. border.

“They’re not being produced here, I think, I hope,” Popvassilev said. “The only border we have with somebody is the States so it’s logic to think that it comes from there.”

But if you ask Murdock MacSween, there’s no reason to be overly concerned “as long as Canada has gun laws, which it does.”