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In Canada, Gun Violence Is A Growing Problem For Toronto


Canada has much stricter gun laws than the United States. But gun violence is a growing problem in the country's biggest city, Toronto. 2019 was Toronto's worst year ever for gun violence. One reason for this rise is firearms coming in across the border illegally from the United States.

We should warn you that as we track this story, you will hear sounds of gunshots.

Here's reporter David McGuffin.

DAVID MCGUFFIN, BYLINE: This June, over 1 million people crowded into the center of Toronto to celebrate the city's first-ever NBA Championship.


MIKE BREEN: Your 2019 NBA champion - Toronto Raptors.

MCGUFFIN: Then, this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Absolute mayhem after shots rang out at the Toronto Raptors' victory parade, triggering a stampede. At least four people were shot. Video shows...

MCGUFFIN: Neither the shooter, nor the weapon has been found. Police believe the shooting was targeted and gang related, like so much of the gun crime here.


MARK SAUNDERS: I know that people are concerned and I completely understand that.

MCGUFFIN: This is Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaking in August after a weekend that saw 17 separate shooting incidents.


SAUNDERS: I do want to underline that this recent gun activity, these shootings, by and large, have street gang connotations to them or are street gang related.

MCGUFFIN: Wendy Cukier is head of the Coalition for Gun Control. She says with Toronto's economy booming and the city becoming more expensive, the growing gap between rich and poor is playing a role.

WENDY CUKIER: Absolute poverty is not necessarily a driver of violence, disparity is, so inequality in terms of opportunities. And we're seeing the divisions in Toronto increasing in recent years. And there's no question that that's driving it.

MCGUFFIN: Since 2014, the number of shooting victims in Toronto has tripled, reaching over 750 in the past year, with 43 fatalities. It's still a relatively small number compared to similar sized U.S. cities like Chicago, where over 2,600 people were shot in 2019. But it's still a shocking development for a city that was once nicknamed Toronto the Good.

A former Toronto police chief has linked the rise in gun violence to the banning of the stop-and-frisk program in 2014, which was ended over complaints that officers were unfairly targeting Toronto's minority communities. Police also point to the problem of firearms smuggled across the U.S. border.

Inspector Joe Matthews is head of the Toronto Police Guns & Gang Task Force.

JOE MATTHEWS: For the guns that we seize, about 75% are coming from the states. And if we look at handguns specifically, it's about 84%.

MCGUFFIN: And Matthews says, stemming that flow is next to impossible.

MATTHEWS: You know, it is a protected border, but it's a border that millions of people and the millions of trucks that cross every year, you know, it's just not reasonable to search every single one.

MCGUFFIN: But the problem isn't just guns smuggled in illegally from the U.S. Guns imported legally are taking their toll as well, like the one used last year to shoot Ken Price's 18-year-old daughter, Samantha, and her friends. They were victims of one of the worst mass shootings in the city's history. It took place on a summer's evening in the upscale Danforth neighborhood.


KEN PRICE: They were sort of standing in a circle and just talking, as teens do. And suddenly, this man who had been sort of lurking a little bit stepped up and pulled out a handgun and started to shoot them.


PRICE: And then, he went from them up the street and had about seven minutes of carnage.

MCGUFFIN: Price's daughter survived the shooting along with 12 other victims. Her best friend was killed, as was a 9-year-old girl. Price and the families of the other victims have filed a $150 million lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, the U.S. manufacturer of the M&P40 semi-automatic pistol used in the shooting.


PRICE: There were two young women killed and another woman, who was studying to be a nurse, who is now a paraplegic as a result of these injuries.

MCGUFFIN: While gun laws are much tighter in Canada than the U.S., those laws were loosened by the Conservative government in power from 2006 to 2015. In that time, the number of legal handguns in the country tripled to around a million. Wendy Cukier says, the change in legislation had an impact.

CUKIER: As we progressively strengthened gun control in Canada, we saw the rates of gun violence, particularly suicide, violence against women and so on, fall. And for the last few years, we've seen an uptick.

MCGUFFIN: Cukier and others are calling for an outright national handgun ban. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has declined to do that. But an assault weapons ban may be in the works. And, as Ken Price says, it would be terrible if nothing changed. For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin in Toronto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David McGuffin
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