Toronto Shootings: Harper To Meet With Rob Ford To Discuss Anti-Crime Initiatives

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HARPER ROB FORD GUN VIOLENCE
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leave a campaign rally together in Brampton,Ontario on Friday April 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld | CP

TORONTO - Provincial funding for a police anti-violence initiative was made permanent Monday, as the city grappled with a series of recent public shootings that have left multiple people dead.

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that Ontario will earmark $12.5 million for several initiatives aimed at preventing more violence, with the money coming from existing sources in the provincial budget.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," he said following an hour-long, closed-door meeting with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair at the Ontario legislature.

The majority of the funding — $7.5 million — will go toward the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy. The remaining $5 million will be allocated to the program in Toronto, which has led to nearly 22,000 arrests since its creation in 2006.

The two employ a total of 72 uniformed officers specially trained to prevent and quickly respond to high-risk police calls, including gang-related incidents.

The funding will ensure that the programs will continue into the future, said McGuinty.

He admitted the government was considering putting the money up on the chopping block when it was set to expire this year, because of the $15-billion provincial deficit.

In addition, the premier also announced that $1 million in funding, which had been set aside earlier, will go toward better integration between Toronto-area police forces and the provincial police. The funds will also be used to provide additional supports to local community groups.

"It's a very complicated problem and there's no one, magic solution," he said. "Any effective response will consist of a variety of different initiatives."

McGuinty has also asked two provincial ministers to come up with an action plan within 30 days on what needs to be done to deal with the guns and gangs issue in the city.

"The fact is all of us — government, police and community organizations — have been working hard and we've made a difference," he said. "(But) it has become tragically apparent that there is still work for all of us to do."

The summit was called following last week's mass shooting at a community barbecue in east Toronto that left two dead and 23 wounded. It came on the same day that hundreds of people attended the funeral of Joshua Yasay, one of those killed in the shooting.

The second victim, 14-old Shyanne Charles, will be laid to rest Saturday in Toronto.

Last month, two men died after a gunman opened fire June 2 in the food court of the Toronto Eaton Centre, one of Toronto's most popular shopping destinations.

Ford called the funding a "huge victory" for Toronto taxpayers.

Before the meeting, Ford had said he was going to ask for between $5 million and $10 million for more police officers to fight gun violence in Toronto.

He didn't get it, but said he was happy about what McGuinty was able to offer.

"There was no B.S.," said Ford. "I wasn't going to sit there and listen to it."

The mayor plans on asking for Prime Minister Stephen Harper for more "stable funding" for anti-crime initiatives when the two meet Tuesday in Toronto.

"We can't have any of this gun play continue," he said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to eliminate it."

New Democrat MPP Jonah Schein said a promise for continued funding for police is not enough.

"It's also been clear that community groups, community organizations that work with youth and young people also need stable funding," he said. "They need stable funding from day to day, from week to week, from year to year...to do a job that's really important. We need to make sure that young people never pick up a gun in the first place."

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski called the announcement a "soft strategy" in dealing with the recent violence in the city.

"Part of dealing with this problem in dealing with Toronto and anywhere is making sure you're prepared to face these gangs face on," he said. "We're at war with these gangs."

According to the province, Toronto recorded its lowest murder rate in 25 years last year and violent crime rates have dropped 13 per cent since 2003.

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