In public. With people around. Why weekend gun violence in Toronto points to a disturbing trend

Canada’s largest and busiest transit hub in downtown Toronto was closed for several hours Saturday night due to a fatal shooting that prompted a chaotic evacuation and left thousands of commuters stranded.

Hours later and a few miles away, another shooting at a popular nightclub sent two people to hospital with gunshot wounds. Police later reported that a male victim died in hospital, while a female was treated and released.

A third shooting incident of the weekend occurred Sunday evening in a parking lot near Danforth Avenue and Main Street, disrupting traffic and public transport and injuring a man in his 40s.

Although police have released few details about the suspects in these shootings, the incidents have raised heightened safety concerns about violence occurring in public places around crowds of people – something community organizers and Security advocates say it has been a worrying trend in recent years.

“This brazen violence must stop. I don’t know how many people have to die before I say enough is enough,” said Sureya Ibrahim, a downtown resident and founder of Mothers for Peace, a grassroots organization that helps mothers who have lost children to armed violence.

Guns ringing in public places are of particular concern during the summer months, when many outdoor group activities take place, she said. However, she said she was not surprised to see the eruption of gun violence over the weekend – « we ignored it so much for so long that it normalized ».

The main root causes of violence – such as mental health problems, traumatic experiences of parents and children, poverty and economic disparities, among others – do not receive enough attention from governments, a- she added.

Addressing the weekend shootings, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the incidents were « extremely upsetting and disturbing », adding that he would advocate for tougher penalties and tougher gun laws.

« Any gun violence in our city is unacceptable, » Tory said in a statement on Sunday.

« My heart goes out to those who mourn a loved one today following a shooting and to the family and friends who pray for the recovery of the injured. »

Police have identified Stephon Little-McClacken, 24, as the victim of Saturday’s shooting at Union Station. Pardeep Brar, 26, has been identified as the man shot dead at King West nightclub on Sunday.

In recent years, several other shootings have taken place in broad daylight in public places, often also involving relatively young people.

Examples include a 2018 shooting that left two young girls gunned down in a Scarborough playground; the May 2020 shooting of 21-year-old rap star Dimarjio Jenkins, who played Houdini, in Toronto’s downtown entertainment district, also injuring a 15-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman; a June 2021 shooting at a toddler’s birthday party that sent three children and a man to hospital; and the shootings that quarantined Yorkdale Mall in August 2021.

Longtime community safety advocate Louis March said something fundamental has changed in the way gun crimes are committed. Many criminals had a « code » that prohibited firing guns in public spaces filled with innocent people, mainly because it drew unwanted attention from the police.

« Today’s youth have no code and the brazenness of shootings seems to inspire them, » he said, adding that the trend is mainly driven by easy access to illegal weapons and the will of young people to use them.

Zero Gun Violence movement founder March said investing in underserved communities and establishing adequate gun control measures should be the priority in the fight against gun violence.

« All three levels of government must come together and develop a realistic plan against gun and gang violence that takes into consideration the changing and frightening new gun culture that has been highlighted by the recent shootings, » did he declare.


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