UPDATE: 'Legal SWAT teams' part of Premier's $25 million plan to fight gun crime
Police and courts in Toronto will receive $25 million from the Ontario government to help fight guns and gangs, Doug Ford announced Thursday, as critics said the funding failed to address the root causes of violent crime.
Ford said the money, set to roll out over four years, will equip authorities with the tools needed to address a rise in gun violence in the city this year.
“It’s time to get serious about fighting guns and gangs,” he said. “No more talk. No more grandstanding. It’s time for action. It’s time to put public safety first.”
The government has earmarked $18 million for Toronto police, saying the money will provide digital, investigative and other resources to help deal with drug gangs and gun crime. Ford noted, however, that the province did not plan to bring back the controversial practice of police street checks known as carding.
Toronto Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray says the funding will improve the service's analytical capabilities and lead to more intelligence-led policing to deal with gun violence.
The premier called on both the federal government and the City of Toronto to match the province’s investment, adding that the funds will make a difference across the province.
“Organized crime that starts in Toronto ends up spilling into Ottawa and other centres,” Ford said. “Fighting guns and gangs will remain a top priority for our government.”
The mayor says the city has the authority to match provincial dollars for the rest of the year. Anything beyond that would need the blessing of the council formed after the municipal election this fall.
$7.6 million in provincial funds will go to establishing teams at courthouses in the city that will be dedicated to prosecuting gun crime cases. They will consist of an experienced Crown attorney with additional staff to focus on gangs and guns, Ford said.
“Each team will have only one mission,” he said. “Keeping violent gun criminals behind bars and away from bail.”
For NEWSTALK 1010 legal analyst and criminal lawyer Ed Prutschi, that approach is puzzling.
"That sounds very reminiscent to me of what already exists in courthouses across Ontario, namely the guns and gangs project, which is an integrated team of Crown attorneys working with staff and working directly with police," Prutschi said Thursday.
NEWSTALK 1010 has reached out the office of the Attorney General to clarify whether the promised SWAT teams would operate differently.
Prutschi adds that granting bail is not really the Crown's call and he doesn't believe Crown attorneys are dismissive or blasé about releasing gun offenders.
The province is pledging more money by bail compliance officers who will monitor those who’ve been convicted of a gun crime and are out on bail.
The opposition parties said the funding announced Thursday did little to deal with what caused people to turn to guns and gangs in the first place.
“We need to take a look at the issues of poverty,” said NDP legislator Gilles Bisson. “Why is it that people pick up guns? Why do people join gangs? … If you really want to deal effectively with guns, you’ve got to look at everything.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford’s announcement indicates the premier is putting his own ideology over evidence.
“The Premier spoke of ‘gangsters, thugs and bad guys,’ showing his one-dimensional understanding of the root causes of violence and poverty,” he said.
“Making our streets safer is not simply a matter of ‘hunting down the bad guys’ as Premier Ford seems to think. Instead of working hand-in-hand to help affected communities, this government is focused on locking people up.”
with files from Siobhan Morris