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Peter Worthington Headshot

Guns Don't Kill People -- Bad Policing Does

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Depending on who you listen to, last weekend's shooting spree at Toronto's Eaton Centre was a sign of gun violence getting out of control, or an isolated "incident" in North America's safest large city.

Take your pick.

Certainly shootings are up, even if the murder rate is down -- or in the statistically "normal" range over the past years.

Some worry that what police are the shooting calling a personal dispute rather than a gang related shooting -- killing one and wounding six -- signals a repeat of the Jane Creba killing at the same Eaton Centre.

The Creba killing was in 2006 -- nearly six years ago. She was an innocent victim caught in the crossfire of a gang feud. This most recent outrage is quite different. Or so we are told.

What's strange, even ominous, is that the alleged shooter was under house arrest and qualifies as a low-life, while the dead victim had a record and was no boy scout.

It's hardly reassuring when police say this shooting isn't gang-related, just personal. There are a bunch of people with bullet wounds, including a 13 year old from Port Hope, who will have difficulty distinguishing the difference.

On CFRB yesterday, Christie Blatchford tended to support the police view that gun violence is not out of control in Toronto, "the safest big city in North America." She disputed the findings of the Sun's Joe Warmington that shooting occurrences this year are some 40.5 per cent higher than this time last year, with 134 shot, according to police statistics.

Christie scathingly dismisses her friend Joe as "Detective Warmington."

A city where gun violence is under control or out of control is academic to someone who is shot while minding his own business. And it should concern all of us.

A soldier who is shot in an ambush in a brush war is just as dead, or injured, as a soldier shot during a famous battle in a big war.

When murders (as opposed to random shootings) in Toronto run at a ratio from 1 to 1.5 a week, it indicates a city more secure and safe than most.

But who are the main victims of shootings in Toronto?

We aren't supposed to know. Police are not supposed to profile those who commit shooting crimes. A few years ago a respected detective was demoted for speaking out about Vietnamese crime in Toronto.

Every year, newspapers run photographs of shooting victims. Every year a high proportion seem to be from minorities in, arguably, one of the most ethnically and racially mixed cities in the world.

A problem is, that if we cannot diagnose where the problem is, how can we affect a cure? In this case, determining which group (if any) is doing the shooting and which group (if any) is mostly being shot at.

We do know that much of the shootings are gang and drug related.

But the victims of shootings are often reluctant to cooperate with the police, whose job becomes increasingly frustrating and difficult.

This is hardly a new problem.

Back in 1964 I covered the trial of Jack Ruby, accused of shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of president Kennedy. The trial was held in Dallas, that year dubbed murder capital of America.

In an attempt to show the differences between Dallas and Toronto, I wanted to compare murder statistics of the cities. In those days Toronto had roughly one murder a week. I interviewed assistant district attorney Bill (The Burner) Alexander about murders in Dallas and he said there were something like 60 a year.

I forget the number, but it was so close to Toronto's rate that I felt my comparison story falling apart. As I was about to leave, I asked how many of those murders were white and how many were black. He looked puzzled, and said they only counted white killings, but if I wanted the number of African-Americans killed (he didn't use that term) the numbers shot into the hundreds. I took out my pen again; the story was revived.

In Toronto there are a disproportionate number of Jamaicans murdered or shot every year, and a disproportionate number of the shooters are Jamaican. They profile one another, and only when big mistakes are made, does the city get uneasy.

Until we openly acknowledge the origins of gun violence, and try to protect victims by curbing the violators, gun statistics are going to keep rising, until the penalty for even carrying a gun becomes too risky for even Jamaicans.