Saunders reveals 300+ accused on firearms charges free on bail in Toronto
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com
Published Friday, August 9, 2019 9:56AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 9, 2019 1:31PM EDT
Three-hundred and twenty six people charged with firearms offences are free on bail in Toronto today, Chief Mark Saunders revealed Friday as he seeks to redistribute blame for the sudden increase in gun violence in the city over the last seven days.
Since Aug. 2, there have been 20 shooting incidents in the city, injuring more than 20 people, with charges laid so far in three of the incidents.
Saunders said that as his service works to investigate each incident, they’ve been paying particular attention to the number of people free on bail after being charged with at least one firearm offence.
On Friday morning, that number was 326.
“What we’re hoping to do is establish a stronger relationship with our courts,” Saunders said, strongly suggesting the people charged and freed on bail following a shooting incident are at higher risk of shooting again.
“We need that deterrent factor because a lot of people are in possession of firearms right now,” he said.
Saunders said Friday that “it’s safe to say” there are more people carrying firearms in the city today than in recent years, and that street gang activity has increased.
He said he wants to see if judges in Toronto can change their guidelines around bail given the spike in gun crime, saying Toronto is in a unique circumstance given its size.
“So if we have some sort of amendment or understanding in the courts because you can be sitting court in Toronto, but your benchmark is on what’s going on in Canada, so it’s hard for a judge to say ‘this is Toronto, so I have to do this,’ because that judge is measured across what all of Canada is doing.”
But he conceded that bail adjustments aren’t the only thing that will stem the tide of shootings.
He asked for continued cooperation from residents in areas impacted by shootings, and distanced himself from calls for a handgun ban, something Toronto Mayor John Tory supports.
“In the years before – with straw purchasers – about 50 per cent of our crime guns were people able to make lawful purchases and farming (guns) out into the community. But in recent years we have seen that 80 per cent of the firearms are coming in from the border,” he said.
Speaking in Kitchener at the same time as Saunders, Premier Doug Ford again said he did not support a handgun ban, saying it was “not a solution.”
Gang activity fueling violence
Saunders also offered updates on some of the incidents that occurred during the long weekend, saying five people had been arrested in relation to three of the incidents and more were sought.
Saunders said evidence from that scene indicated the two people struck by gunfire were armed themselves and returned fire.
Saunders said the victim in that incident was visiting Toronto from outside of Canada. A firearm was also located. He described that incident as an attempted robbery gone wrong.
In the majority of the incidents, Saunders said there is evidence emerging that they arise out of a continuing cycle of provocation and retaliation by rival street gangs.
For instance, he said that in a recent brazen daylight shooting in Flemingdon Park, where two men in a blue Hyundai were shot multiple times at close range in a parking lot, both had been released from custody this summer after serving time for firearms offences.
“By and large they have street gang connotations to them or are street gang related. It doesn’t mean that at various times innocent people are not impacted,” he said.
Meanwhile, the union representing Toronto police officers has complained to the provincial ministry of labour, saying they are short officers and the shortage represents a workplace safety issue.
Premier Ford and Mayor John Tory are scheduled to meet and discuss what else can be done to curb gun violence.
In a statement issued Friday morning, Tory said he supports Saunders' comments about bail.
"While I continue to believe even stricter gun control domestically along with tightening our border to smuggled guns is necessary and will make a positive difference in fighting gun violence, it is also high time we saw some further co-operation from within the justice system," he said. "Repeat gun offenders simply shouldn't be out on bail. We have seen what happens when they are. While each case is different, sentences simply must fit the extreme gravity of these gun crimes. And right now, they often don't."
"We should make whatever changes to the law that are required to give judges the tools they need to address this problem and they in turn must focus a keener eye on community safety."
As of Friday, the city has had 35 homicides. At this point last year, 59 people had been murdered.