Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaks to the media at a year-end news conference in Toronto on Thursday, December 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaks to the media at a year-end news conference in Toronto on Thursday, December 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Police chief calls 2018, with 95 homicides so far, a ‘unique’ year for Toronto

TORONTO — A uniquely violent year in Toronto marked by a major surge in gun-related crimes saw police seize an unusually high number of handguns from city streets, the force’s chief said Thursday.

Mark Saunders said officers had recovered 514 handguns so far in 2018 — or 222 more than in 2017 — and the number of homicides caused by shootings had gone up by nearly 30 per cent.

The influx of guns came from a variety of sources, said Saunders, softening previous police statements suggesting domestically sourced firearms were the cause of the majority of gun crimes in the city.

The serge in gun violence remains his highest concern moving into 2019, said Saunders as he reflected on a year that’s seen Toronto grapple with a new homicide record and the aftermath of two mass-casualty attacks.

“Every day, we’re seeing more guns,” Saunders said at a year-end news conference. “So that’s one aspect that has to be looked at. The second piece is what’s motivating people to use a gun to resolve issues.”

Saunders did not provide a detailed breakdown of where the guns were coming from, though he indicated a growing numbers are produced by three-dimensional printers and repeated a regular claim that domestically registered guns were implicated in many crimes.

In the past, both Saunders and senior officers with the force’s guns and gangs unit have said the domestic firearms have eclipsed weapons imported from the United States as those most likely to be used to commit a crime.

Earlier this year, for instance, guns and gangs Det. Rob Di Danieli said about half of all guns used in crimes came from domestic sources, citing 2012 as the year when the trend took root.

Internal police data obtained under a Freedom Of Information request and shared with the Canadian Press, however, paint a different picture.

While the number of guns used in crimes dropped off between 2007 and 2017, guns imported from the U.S. were implicated in those crimes more often than domestically sourced firearms in eight of the past 11 years. Domestically sourced crime guns only surpassed U.S. imports in 2010 and 2015, with the two figures tied in 2016. The data did not include a breakdown of how many guns were sourced from countries outside of the United States or the number whose origins could not be traced.

When asked to comment on the apparent contradiction, a Toronto police spokesman said that over the last five years, there’s been a significant increase in investigations, arrests and successful prosecutions of people who have legally purchased firearms in Canada and then diverted or resold them for profit.

“The majority of crime guns that are handguns seized by the Toronto Police Service are sourced via the U.S.,” Kevin Masterman said in an email to The Canadian Press. “The majority of crime guns that are long guns, which includes sawed-off shotguns, are domestically sourced.”

At Thursday’s news conference, Saunders said he was less concerned with identifying the source of firearms than pinpointing what prompted people to use them, attributing the spike in gun violence to street gang activity.

“If somebody wants a gun, they’re going to get a gun,” he said. “There are more streams to get access to them than ever before, and so dealing with that is one aspect of it, but changing that motivation, or apprehending those that are motivated to shoot I think is more of a primary concern in today’s environment.”

Saunders acknowledged that 2018 was a particularly challenging year for the force that found itself taxed by a series of high-profile incidents.

Vast resources were devoted to the investigation of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, who is accused of killing eight men with ties to the city’s gay community over a seven-year period.

In addition, two large-scale attacks in busy Toronto neighbourhoods added 12 to the city’s overall homicide tally and strained police resources, Saunders said.

A deadly van attack in April saw Alek Minassian allegedly go on a deadly rampage down a stretch of Yonge Street in a rental van, mowing down pedestrians and killing 10 people. Three months later, a gunman opened fire in the bustling Greektown neighbourhood, firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and restaurant patrons and killing two people before turning the gun on himself.

Saunders said those two high-profile events caused public concern about the safety of the city — even more so than the surge in gun violence.

“It’s one thing when you’re dealing with the gun play. It’s another thing when you’re walking down a street and looking over your shoulder or you’re sitting in a restaurant,” he said. “The general public really felt stung by the two mass casualties back to back, and it’s still there.”

Toronto residents, however, have been raising concerns about public safety as the city’s homicide rate steadily climbed throughout the year.

Police have recorded 95 homicides so far in 2018, six more than the previous record high of 89 set in 1991. Force statistics suggest 50 of those homicides were caused by shooting, up 28 per cent from last year.

Mayor John Tory has repeatedly called for a handgun ban in the city.

Saunders said he believes Toronto is still one of the safest cities in North America and expressed hope that 2018 was an outlier rather than the start of a trend towards increased violence.

Just Posted

Red Deer respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie was among the first central Alberta health professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. Since then, nearly 3.4 million doses have been administered and COVID cases are falling rapidly. Photo by Alberta Health Services
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall sharply

Red Deer cases almost into the double digits after topping more than 900 only five weeks ago

(Advocate file photo.)
Red Deer city council discusses strategies to restore integrated emergency dispatching

Red Deer city councillors discussed additional ways on Tuesday to try to… Continue reading

Local developers who are doing building upgrades or new construction will face less land servicing costs and gain some flexibility. (File photo by Advocate staff)
From left: Montana First Nation councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation councillor Shannon Buffalo and Samson Cree Nation chief Vern Saddleback were present during the painting of the Maskwacis Pride crosswalk. (Contributed photo)
Being gay made him contemplate suicide: Councillor in Maskwacis opens up

Maskwacis got a bit mote colourful over the weekend. Volunteers spent Saturday… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) celebrates with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after Rutta scored against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kucherov shines, Lightning beat Islanders 4-2 in Game 2

Lightning 4 Islanders 2 (Series tied 2-2) TAMPA, Fla. — Brayden Point… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Durant’s sensational performance sends Nets to 3-2 lead

Nets 114 Bucks 108 (Brooklyn leads series 3-2) NEW YORK (AP) —… Continue reading

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery throws to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Frazier snaps tie, Yankees come back to beat Blue Jays 6-5

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Clint Frazier snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Pornhub says it has removed all content uploaded by non-verified users. The sex website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The company, which is owned by Montreal-based Mindgeek, says it has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by one of its content partners or members of its Model Program. THE CANADIAN PRESS
International women’s rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2021 file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has drastically slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 1, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, in Baton Rouge, La. The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana. U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
Federal judge blocks Biden’s pause on new oil, gas leases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and… Continue reading

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man during clashes that erupted ahead of a planned march by Jewish ultranationalists through east Jerusalem, outside Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israelis march in east Jerusalem in test for new government

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,”… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) vies for the puck with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vets Pietrangelo, Perry contributing for Vegas, Montreal

LAS VEGAS — Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Perry had very different free… Continue reading

Most Read