Ontario Tackles Guns And Gangs In Toronto



    McGuinty Government Renews Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy

    TORONTO, June 24 /CNW/ -

    NEWS

    Ontario is investing an additional $5 million to help combat guns, gangs,
organized crime and drugs on Toronto's streets, as part of the highly
successful Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS).
    The Toronto Police Service will use the funding to maintain four
anti-violence response teams, including one focused on criminal activity in
Toronto's entertainment district. As of December 2007, the strategy has
resulted in getting more than 400 guns off the streets and in more than
10,000 arrests.
    The Ontario government has invested in TAVIS for three consecutive years.
The government provided $5 million in 2006 to establish the strategy and again
in 2007 to continue and to expand it.

    QUOTES

    "The results are clear - the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy
is working. We're continuing to invest in this strategy to fight guns, gangs
and organized crime on Toronto's streets," said Community Safety and
Correctional Services Minister Rick Bartolucci
(http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about_min/bio.html).

    "In a few short years, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy
has taken hundreds of guns off Toronto's streets. Stronger enforcement is a
key part of our comprehensive plan to fight gun violence in Toronto," said
Attorney General Chris Bentley
(http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/ag/agbio.asp).

    "TAVIS is a Toronto approach that combines high-profile law enforcement,
targeting those who choose violence, with community mobilization, working with
local people to make their communities safer," said Toronto Chief of Police
Bill Blair (http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/bios/blair.php).

    QUICK FACTS

    
    -   Toronto Police seized 1,463 firearms in 2007, up 11 per cent from
        2006.

    -   The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy is the Toronto Police
        Service's comprehensive strategy to address gun and gang crime in the
        Toronto area.

    -   The McGuinty government has invested a total of $17 million in the
        strategy since January 2006.

    LEARN MORE

    Read more about the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy
(http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/tavis/).

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                                                      ontario.ca/safety-news
                                                      Disponible en français


    BACKGROUNDER
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          MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT'S COMPREHENSIVE GUN VIOLENCE STRATEGY
    

    The McGuinty government has made great strides in combating gun and gang
violence. Since 2005, the government has invested over $68 million in new
initiatives to fight gun crime.
    The government has expanded the Guns and Gangs Task Force, hired more
police officers, more Crown attorneys, more victim services staff, and more
probation and parole officers. Ontario has opened the Operations Centre to
provide coordinated investigation and prosecution of gun and gang crimes,
opened two major crimes courts and expanded the OPP-led Provincial Weapons
Enforcement Unit. The government is also creating healthy neighbourhoods by
targeting investments in better housing, safe schools, after-school
activities, and programs for underserved youths and adults.
    The government also included a comprehensive four-point plan to stop the
proliferation of gun-related crime
(www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/news/2008/20080527-gun-bg.asp).
    Fighting gun violence requires being tough on crime, using strong
enforcement and effective prevention, and taking aim at the causes of crime.
The government is doing everything in its power to get guns off our streets
and make our communities safer, and has continued to call on the federal
government to do its part in this fight.

    BEING TOUGH ON CRIME

    Expanded Guns and Gangs Task Force - The task force includes police
officers, Crown prosecutors, probation and parole officers, corrections
officers and staff from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program who work
together from the first day of an investigation.
    Since 2005, the McGuinty government has expanded the task force to
include a total of 72 Crown prosecutors working with police to investigate and
prosecute gun violence at street level. This includes specially trained Crown
prosecutors deployed to the province's six regions to work full-time as a
resource to police and prosecutors on gun violence matters.
    These specialized Crown prosecutors provide early legal advice to police,
especially on search warrants or other issues arising in an investigation.
They also, where appropriate, get legal authorization for the police to
conduct wiretaps. After charges are laid by police, Crown prosecutors prepare
and conduct the prosecutions.
    In addition, the government has added six new anti-gun smuggling Crowns
to work with police for better coordination and collaboration in investigating
and prosecuting gun-runners, smugglers and thieves.
    Ontario and federal officials will also continue discussions with a view
to creating teams of dedicated provincial and federal prosecutors working
together to take action on gun and related drug crimes.

    Operations Centre - The government has established a world class,
state-of-the-art operations centre that better allows for highly coordinated
investigations and prosecutions of gun and gang-related offences. The centre
houses the expanded Guns and Gangs Task Force, which includes several police
services including the Toronto Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police, a
team of specialized Crown prosecutors, support staff, probation and parole
officers, and a victims unit.

    Major Crimes Courts - The province has established major crimes courts
designed to increase the criminal justice system's capacity to respond to
large-scale, gun and gang-related prosecutions. The first major crimes
courtroom, located at 361 University Avenue in Toronto, opened in
December 2006. The second, located at 2201 Finch Avenue West in Toronto,
opened in October 2007. These courts are equipped with higher levels of
security and are capable of dealing with complex cases involving multiple
defendants. Three new judges were appointed to deal with the anticipated
increase in the volume of work.

    No Deals for Gun Offenders - Ontario Crown prosecutors are instructed not
to withdraw or plea-bargain firearms-related offences unless there are
exceptional circumstances. The Crown must also seek appropriate sentences that
will act as a deterrent and, in appropriate cases, consider seeking sentences
higher than the mandatory minimum.

    Community Impact Evidence - The Ministry of the Attorney General is
implementing new and innovative ways for Crown prosecutors to seek tougher
sentences by developing and presenting evidence to the court about the
devastating impact of gun violence on individuals and communities.

    Calling on Federal Government - Ontario led the charge for tougher gun
laws, including increased mandatory minimums and reverse onus bail for gun
crimes. Now that the federal parliament has responded with the passage of
Bill C-2, Ontario is calling on the federal government to get more involved in
fighting gun crime through:

    
    -   Tougher laws including a handgun ban
    -   Full federal funding of the 2,500 additional police officers promised
        nationwide
    -   Increased anti-gun smuggling security at the Canada-U.S. border.
    

    Ontario's Witness Protection Program - The program has been improved to
encourage more community members to come forward when they have witnessed a
serious crime. The Ministry of the Attorney General has improved short-term
protection, and reduced the red tape involved in obtaining admission to the
program and receiving a new identity. The Attorney General will continue to
work with his federal counterpart to improve the federal witness protection
plan so that it can work in a coordinated manner with Ontario's program.

    STRONG ENFORCEMENT

    The Safer Communities - 1,000 Officers Partnership Program - This
$37.1-million program is a key part of the government's plan to foster safer
and stronger communities in Ontario. Half of the 1,000 new police officers are
assigned to community policing, including school visits, street patrols and
increased traffic enforcement. The remaining 500 new officers are assigned
duties related to six priority areas:

    
    -   Guns and gangs
    -   Youth crime
    -   Organized crime and marijuana grow operations
    -   Dangerous offenders
    -   Domestic violence
    -   Protecting children from Internet luring and child pornography.
    

    All 1,000 officers have been hired, trained and placed in communities
across Ontario, including 250 in Toronto. Furthermore, the government is
continuing to fund the $31.1-million Community Policing Partnerships Program,
which provides an additional 1,000 officers. Between these two programs, the
government is investing over $68 million in over 2,000 additional officers in
communities across Ontario.
    On July 27, 2007, the government built on its strong anti-crime strategy
by:

    
    -   Increasing the complement of OPP officers by 200 - This is the
        largest increase in OPP officer strength in well over a decade. The
        additional officers will be assigned to a number of priority areas to
        target criminal activity and protect Ontario citizens. The creation
        of the Provincial Organized Crime Enforcement Team, comprising
        33 officers, arises out of this increase.
    -   Expanding the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit - The addition of
        50 officers in a three-phase implementation will expand the unit's
        ability to target domestic and international firearms trafficking, as
        well as to develop and coordinate intelligence-led, joint forces
        investigations targeting street gangs and other criminal groups with
        municipal, federal and American law enforcement partners. This will
        bring the total number of officers in the unit to 117 by September
        2008.
    -   Enhancing the Chief Firearms Office - This initiative will add three
        officers to the Chief Firearms Office to conduct investigations into
        the eligibility/suitability of certain individuals to possess
        firearms or a firearms license.
    

    Funding for Policing in High-Priority Areas - In January 2006, the
McGuinty government provided $5 million to the Toronto Police Service to
support its offensive against gangs in high-priority areas of the city. This
effort included the establishment of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention
Strategy (TAVIS) - three rapid response teams each consisting of 18 highly
trained police officers, specializing in drugs and guns interdiction to work
on the strategy.
    In June 2007, the government announced a one-time payment of $5 million
to the Toronto Police Service to continue and expand the TAVIS program to the
Entertainment District with a fourth rapid response team. The McGuinty
government recognizes that the program has shown positive results.
    As of December 31, 2007, Toronto Police Service had seen tremendous
results following the implementation of this program, including more than
10,000 arrests and the seizure of 436 firearms.

    Closed Circuit Television Initiative - The government provided $2 million
to the Toronto Police Service to support the acquisition of 15 redeployable
camera systems to monitor high-risk crime areas.

    Expanded Guns and Gangs and Anti-Violence Intervention Program - On
June 6, 2007, the premier announced the government's $12-million investment to
further combat guns and gangs, organized crime and illegal drugs in Ontario,
including: $6.3 million to expand the guns and gangs anti-violence
intervention program to Brantford, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Essex County,
Durham, Kenora, London, Ottawa, Peel, Thunder Bay, Waterloo and York Region.

    Crime Stoppers - The province has made funding for the Ontario
Association of Crime Stoppers permanent by investing $200,000 annually to
maintain the Crime Stoppers 24-hour, toll-free telephone tip line. In 2006,
the Ontario Association of Crime Stoppers received over 19,000 tips. This
resulted in 3,297 arrests, the recovery of more than $11 million in property
and the seizure of close to $200 million in illegal drugs.

    Task Force on Marijuana Grow Operations - The community safety hazards of
marijuana grow operations call for dedicated resources. The new advisory group
will develop methods to reduce the risks to public safety from marijuana grow
operations. Through additional resources, the Office of the Fire Marshal will
provide increased training to help reduce the risks to health and safety for
police and fire services arising from marijuana grow operations.

    Crystal Methamphetamine Labs - Illicit methamphetamine (crystal meth)
labs pose health and safety risks to Ontario citizens. Since June 2006, six
super labs have been dismantled in Ontario (Durham, Peel, Sault Ste. Marie
area, Stokes Bay and Haliburton). A new team of 10 specially trained officers
will supplement the Ontario Provincial Police Drug Enforcement Section by
providing expertise in dismantling crystal meth labs and targeting the
criminal organizations that operate them. The Office of the Fire Marshal is
also being given additional resources to meet the increasing demands for fire
and explosion investigations and for the training and education of police and
fire services that is needed because of the spread of crystal meth labs.
    One million dollars was provided for a pilot project in Stratford to
target producers and traffickers of methamphetamine (crystal meth) and
dismantle their labs. This project will take a three-pronged approach that
will include:

    
    -   Enforcement - providing funding enhancement to Stratford Police to
        supplement its drug enforcement activities
    -   Community awareness - education campaign to address the crystal meth
        issue
    -   Treatment - resources to supplement Stratford health services in
        addressing crystal meth.
    

    Expanded Ontario Provincial Police Asset Forfeiture Unit - This will
enhance the capacity of the Ontario Provincial Police working with municipal
police to identify, locate and seize the illegal gains from criminal
organizations, and seek their forfeiture through the courts.

    EFFECTIVE PREVENTION

    Additional Probation and Parole Officers - The government has hired a
manager, two support staff and 12 new probation and parole officers working at
the Operations Centre conducting risk assessments on individuals accused of
offences related to guns and gangs and providing enhanced supervision and
enforcement of court ordered conditions (probation and conditional sentences)
for identified guns and gang members in the city of Toronto.

    Correctional Institutions - A new Intelligence Unit operating within the
correctional system will help identify gang members and reduce the potential
for criminal activity in Ontario.

    Gun Amnesty - The government's $270,000 investment in Project PEACE
(Public Education And Crime Eradication), a prevention, education and
enforcement initiative of the Toronto Police Service allowed police officers
to work closely with communities, schools and young Torontonians to keep guns
out of the hands of youth and youth out of the reach of gangs.
    A Project PEACE gun amnesty was implemented by the Toronto Police Service
and supported by the Ministry of the Attorney General from November 7-30,
2005. A total of 261 guns and 1,554 rounds of ammunition were collected.

    Centre of Forensic Sciences - The government has increased funding to the
centre by almost $700,000 to expand its capacity to perform scientific testing
of bullets, cartridge cases and firearms. The centre has established a rapid
investigative support service to crime scene officers for shooting incidents
and a database to identify linkages between firearms and crime scenes.

    "Blitz" Inspections of Gun-Licensed Businesses in Toronto - The
government funded a blitz inspection of 32 gun-licensed businesses in Toronto
in September 2005, to ensure gun storage and safekeeping standards were being
met. The Chief Firearms Office is now incorporating unannounced inspections of
gun-licensed businesses across the province into its regular procedures.
Previously, most inspections were scheduled in advance.

    TAKING AIM AT THE CAUSES OF CRIME

    The Ontario government funds and delivers 29 pre-charge and 40
post-charge diversion programs and has developed an Extrajudicial Measures
Framework for Youth in Ontario that will help communities provide services for
youth to keep them out of the formal court process.

    Youth Justice Committees - The Youth Justice Committee program is an
alternative to the formal court process that holds low-risk young offenders
accountable and addresses issues that may lead to reoffending. The government
has expanded the program three times since 2004, to 54 communities across the
province - one for every court jurisdiction. More than 80 per cent of the
participants have had no further contact with the justice system within one
year of completion.

    Youth Intervention Centres - Since April 2004, the government has
established 32 Youth Intervention Centres across the province. Intervention
centres are an alternative to custody for youth in conflict with the law. The
centres provide structured and closely supervised programs that include: anger
management, anti-violence programs, life skills, counselling, peer
relationships and employment readiness.

    African Canadian Youth Justice Program - In May 2006, the government, in
partnership with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, launched an innovative
program to reduce youth offences and help youth in conflict with the law,
ages 12 to 17, achieve better outcomes through appropriate community-based,
culturally-sensitive services and referrals. Operating out of four
Toronto-area youth court locations, the program offers both court workers and
reintegration social workers to assist youth in accessing community supports
and resources, including counselling and mentorship opportunities.

    Youth Opportunities Strategy
(www.gov.on.ca/children/english/programs/youth/oppotunities/index.html) - The
government is investing just over $11 million in 2008 to help youth in
high-needs neighbourhoods in Toronto, Durham, Windsor, Ottawa, London,
Hamilton, Thunder Bay and communities policed by the Nishnawabe-Aski Police
Service. The strategy was launched in 2006 and expanded in 2007 to help young
people through expanded community-based mentorship, job-readiness, employment
skills and training and programming in schools.
    The strategy includes the following programs:

    
    -   Summer Jobs For Youth Program - This program includes pre-employment
        readiness, employment placements and post-employment supports in a
        variety of fields, including recreation, business and youth
        leadership. In summer 2007, approximately 1,800 youth, 15 to 18 years
        old from high-needs neighbourhoods, completed the program.

    -   Youth in Policing Initiative - This eight-week program strengthens
        relationships between youth in high-needs neighbourhoods and the
        police, gives young people a better understanding of police work, and
        encourages youth to consider policing as a career. Participants ages
        14 to 17 are given jobs in a variety of areas with their local police
        service, including information technology, forensic identification,
        community events, traffic safety and graffiti eradication.

    -   Youth Outreach Worker Program - 62 outreach workers are currently
        working in high-needs neighbourhoods engaging and providing advice to
        youth and connecting hard-to-reach young people to appropriate
        services in their communities.

    -   YouthConnect.ca (http://www.youthconnect.ca/main/english/index.html)
        - YouthConnect.ca is a place for young people to find information,
        services and resources to help them make good choices, achieve
        success and contribute positively to their communities.

    -   School-based Prevention/Diversion Program - This program creates
        partnerships among schools, school boards, community-based agencies
        and police. There are currently 18 programs offered in partnership
        with 22 school boards across the province helping students ages 12 to
        17 who are at risk of becoming involved or are already involved in
        violent and/or offending activity. The program increases their
        chances of school success by providing in-school peer mediation and
        access to support services.

    -   Ontario Public Service Learn and Work Program - The program engages
        youth from high-needs neighbourhoods ages 16 to 19 to the world of
        work by offering meaningful cooperative education work experience in
        the Ontario government and its related agencies. Upon completion of
        this specialized co-operative education program, participants will
        have had the opportunity to earn academic credits toward their high
        school diploma and to obtain up to 21 weeks of meaningful work
        experience, consisting of one co-op placement per semester in the
        Ontario Public Service and its agencies. This program benefits up to
        80 students in four locations across the province.
    

    Down with Guns Program - The government has invested $3 million in this
community-designed initiative that helps youth in Toronto lead lives free of
violence. Led by the African-Canadian Christian Network in partnership with
the Toronto Community Foundation, this youth anti-violence strategy is focused
on four key areas: family, education, employment and crime prevention.

    Youth Challenge Fund - The Youth Challenge Fund is an innovative public
and private sector initiative that invests in community projects that offer
positive opportunities for young people growing up in Toronto's most
under-served neighbourhoods. The fund makes direct, grassroots investments in
youth-based initiatives that are aimed at building great ideas, creating youth
spaces and providing opportunities for education, employment and leadership.
Approximately $15.1 million has been dedicated to 80 youth-led groups across
Toronto since the fund was established in February 2006.

    Safe Schools Strategy - To help ensure that students feel safe at schools
and on school grounds, the Ontario government has a comprehensive Safe Schools
Strategy that includes a Bullying Prevention Strategy. On top of the
$28.7 million already invested, the Ontario government invested a further
$43.7 million for 2007-08 for a variety of programs and supports to not only
help make schools safer, but also reduce incidents of youth violence. In
2008-09, the $10-million Urban and Priority High Schools component is being
introduced to help schools, students, their families, and communities facing
safety issues. The Safe Schools Action Team has also been reengaged to look at
how we can better promote healthy relationships and safe environments in our
schools.

    Amendments to the Education Act - In June 2007, the government passed
amendments to the safe schools provisions of the Education Act that more
effectively combine discipline with opportunities for students to continue
their education. In addition, bullying had been added to the list of
infractions for which suspension must be considered. The amendments came into
effect on February 1, 2008.

    Kids Help Phone - By April 2008, the Ontario government's $3-million
partnership with Kids Help Phone will have helped them provide anonymous
support to over 40,000 bullying victims, bystanders and the bullies
themselves. The partnership is being extended for a further three years.

    Bullying Prevention - To help reduce bullying, the Ontario government has
developed a multi-lingual pamphlet for parents on bullying prevention. The
government also provides a registry of bullying prevention programs on the
Ministry of Education website. School climate surveys have been developed to
help school staff determine their school's needs and make decisions on
bullying prevention programming.

    Gang Awareness Seminars - The government co-sponsored two Gang Awareness
Seminars during the summer of 2007 for over 200 educators and school officers.
This initiative was presented in partnership with The Committee of Youth
Officers for the Province of Ontario and the Ontario Gang Investigators
Association.

    Focus on Youth - In summer 2007, the government provided $4 million to
school boards to create new, or expand existing summer youth programs in
Toronto schools in priority neighbourhoods. In 2008, the Ontario government is
expanding the Focus on Youth program outside of Toronto to priority
neighbourhoods in Hamilton and Ottawa thanks to an additional investment of
$2 million.

    Apprenticeship Training - Over the last three years pre-apprenticeship
projects for at-risk youth total approximately $2.1 million. Approximately
220 at-risk youth will have learned practical skills to help them become
eligible for apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades.

    Community Use of Schools - The Ontario government is investing
$33 million in the Community Use of Schools program for 2008-09, a significant
increase over the previous year's investment, making it more affordable for
youth, seniors and adults to use local schools for meetings, sports and other
activities. The program and its funding will continue to grow over the next
few years, reaching $66 million by 2011-12.

    Leave Out Violence - A special project grant was provided to Leave Out
ViolencE (LOVE) to provide outreach and support to school children and youth
in high-risk neighbourhoods. Youth leaders are being trained to become peer
mentors and will conduct presentations in schools to help empower youth and
children to take a stand against the violence that has penetrated their
communities and prevent re-victimization.

    
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    Anthony Brown, Communications Branch,             ontario.ca/safety-news
    416-314-7772                                      Disponible en français
    





For further information:

For further information: Laura Blondeau, Minister's Office, (416)
325-4973; Anthony Brown, Communications Branch, (416) 314-7772

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