Aaron Vincent Elkaim/ CP Photo
Those among the media looking for reasons for Monday's shooting spree at a Scarborough block party found none at a presser presided over by police Chief Bill Blair at headquarters on Tuesday, July 17.
Was there a gang connection? Is this part of a larger trend? Has gang warfare broken out on Toronto's streets?
"There'll be ample time to reflect on the context of this event," the chief said. "But right now we are dealing with a very specific crime of horrendous violence. And I think it is ab solutely incumbent [on us to] focus our attention on resolving that and bringing those people to justice."
To the larger significance in a moment, but here's what we know for sure about the shooting on Danzig Street in Scarborough: two people are dead, 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Joshua Yasay of Ajax; 23 others were injured after being caught in the crossfire, one of them a man who was seriously wounded and is in critical condition. He was operated on in hospital on Monday. One handgun was seized at the scene.
While in the aftermath of the June 2 Eaton Centre shooting the emphasis was on explaining away the violence ("One idiot with a gun," said Blair's deputy at the time), this time around it's been on reassuring the public.
But on this shooting the cops seem at an embarrassing loss. The Twitterverse was reporting details of the incident (had the name of the 14-year-old deceased, in fact; see sidebar) before Blair summoned the press to police headquarters for the official version of events. There's evidence, too, that the cops were aware of the party and the potential for violence. Uniformed officers, in fact, appeared on the scene in the hours before hell broke loose to investigate noise complaints. The chief made references to "some other investigations that were going on." So what happened?
Photo by Rick Madonik/ CP Photo
As with the Eaton Centre shooting, which police first denied had any connection to violent incidents in the weeks beforehand in the Alexandra Park neighbourhood, the cops are downplaying suggestions that the Scarborough affair is gang-related.
Blair was reluctant to go there during Tuesday's presser, deflecting the suggestion of "gang warfare" even as he was expressing deep concern about scuttlebutt all over social media sites that friends of the deceased were now promising payback.
But what else could he say? Hard to explain away a shooting the chief himself described as "unprecedented" and the worst in North American history, which turns out to be a crock.
Truth is, by the time of this press briefing, cops by the dozen had already been deployed in neighbourhoods across Scarborough and as far west as Rexdale and Jane-Finch to ferret out the culprit or culprits.
Maybe the chief is finally owning up to the fact that there's a problem. It's not of his making entirely, although there have been policing mistakes when it comes to constructive engagement in priority neighbourhoods. Perhaps the strategy of deploying rapid response teams to fight gun violence has to be rethought and the emphasis put back on community policing.
Yes, Toronto remains a safe city. But there's no ignoring the fact that there is a culture in some neighbourhoods in which young people think nothing, or very little, of solving their disputes through gun violence.
Government policy has something to do with that. While the premier and the mayor both proclaimed that what happened in Scarborough won't be tolerated - hopefully that doesn't just mean more cops - it should also be pointed out that for all the mayor's arguments that a job is the best social program for challenged youth, a few weeks back he voted against accepting federal cash to help gang members get back into the workforce. Meanwhile, the province's chief firearms officer only last week announced that Ontario would stop bucking the feds' killing of the long-gun registry and no longer require gun shop owners to keep records of purchases. Gun advocates will scoff, but every crime gun begins as a legal gun, let's not forget.
On Monday, the chief called the now-abolished long gun registry a "valuable" tool in the fight against gun violence. But in the next breath he offered that it's important for police to "respect the will of Parliament."
That stance was similar to that taken by Blair's office post-Eaton Centre shooting and Adam Vaughan's call for a bullet ban. A ban wouldn't help stanch the gun violence, the chief said at the time. But if we're truly concerned about gun violence why not bring all the laws to bear?
The chief signed off Tuesday sounding confident that arrests would be made soon.
"We need additional information to get this thing nailed down. But we believe we have investigative leads and that we are making real progress."
Blair's repeated pleas to the public for help, however, sound anything but hopeful. In fact, it sounded a little desperate. "We're asking those individuals who care not only for themselves but for their families and friends and the safety of their communities to come forward."
What are the chances of that if you're living in terror in neighbourhoods where people are getting shot?