Following more than 20 shooting incidents across Toronto over the past 10 days, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is calling for a stronger relationship between officers and community members within a “u-shaped area of the city.”

“There are social issues that are related to this,” Saunders said while addressing reporters at a news conference held at Toronto Police Headquarters on Friday morning.

“The vast majority of gun violence that has occurred in the city, the patterns are identical. It’s that u-shaped area of the city where it is neighbourhood-improvement areas and there are a lot of things that need to be put in play.”

Mark Saunders
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders delivers remarks and takes questions from reporters at a press conference on Aug. 9, 2019. (The Canadian Press / Christopher Katsarov)

Saunders said “people are not born to be street gang members, they become.”

Street gang members are what the city’s police chief believes is the root cause behind a recent spate of shootings that peaked over the August long weekend and continued over the following days.

“I know that people are concerned and I completely understand that,” he said. “I do want to underline that this recent gun activity, these shootings that have happened over the past 10 days, by in large have street gang connotations to them or are street gang related and the vast majority of them we cannot exclude street gang sub-culture activity.”

Over the recent long weekend, 17 people were injured in 14 separate shooting incidents, including five people sustaining injuries as gunfire rang out at a nightclub in the city’s York University Heights area. Gun violence then continued into the work week, including three separate shooting incidents in one Scarborough neighbourhood since Tuesday.

Arrests made in three recent shootings

On Friday, Saunders updated the investigations into some of the recent shootings.

He said one arrest has been made after sounds of gunshots were heard on in the city’s Yorkville neighbourhood on Aug. 5. An arrest was made after a shooting took place on The Bridle Path on Aug. 4 and two suspects are outstanding in the case. As well, after sounds of gunshots were heard near Church and Adelaide streets three arrests have been made and one suspect is outstanding. Two people were injured in the downtown shooting.

Bridle Path Shooting
Yellow police tape cordons off a home following a shooting on The Bridle Path on Aug. 4, 2019. (CP24 / Brandon Gonez )

Those arrested and sought are believed to be members of a street gang, Saunders said.

“We have recovered guns and made arrests and we are optimistic about some of the other ongoing investigations,” he said. “We will definitely be making more arrests with respect to these recent shootings and others in the past.”

More than 300 people facing firearm charges out on bail

Saunders said while arrests are a positive, concern within the court system needs to be addressed.

According to the police chief, approximately 326 people who have been charged with firearm related offences are currently out on bail in Toronto.

Saunders echoed his desire for a “multi-prong approach” on Friday.

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Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders arrives at a press conference where he delivered remarks and took questions from reporters on Aug. 9, 2019. (The Canadian Press / Christopher Katsarov)

“What we are hoping to do is establish a stronger relationship with our courts to let them know that the impacts of these types of offences are having within our communities,” he said. “We are still feeding the same machine that is disconnected and there has to be that alignment from all aspects.”

It is safe to say that there are more people carrying firearms in the city now compared to recent years and street gang violence has increased, Saunders said as he voiced his aspiration to have judges in Toronto alter guidelines surrounding bail in these cases.

“If we have some sort of amendment or understanding in the courts – because you can be sitting court in Toronto, but your benchmark is on what’s going on in Canada – so it’s hard for a judge to say ‘this is Toronto, so I have to do this’ because that judge is measured across what all of Canada is doing,” he said.

Help from community members and all levels of government

Along with seeking assistance from community members in the “u-shaped area” Saunders was referring to during the news conference, he also said he will be speaking with “all levels of government.”

Saunders is urging members of the community to report any suspicious activity in their area to police immediately so additional officers can be dispatched to areas deemed to be “high-risk.”

While recent gun violence has occurred in various areas of the city, Saunders did not specifically pinpoint where the "u-shape" is.

Furthermore, he said he will be speaking with government officials on a municipal, provincial and federal level.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during a meeting with Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, right, and Toronto Mayor John Tory to discuss gun violence in Toronto on July 23, 2018. (The Canadian Press / Nick Kozak)

In response to Saunders addressing the recent spike in gun violence, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he wants to thank police for “their ongoing efforts to find each and every person responsible for these shootings and bring them to justice.”

“Over the last several days, I have been in discussions with federal and provincial leaders about how our governments can work together to further address gun violence,” Tory said. “Those discussions have been positive and I hope that will lead to expanded partnerships between the city, the government of Ontario and the government of Canada on a number of fronts, including investing in addressing the root causes of gun violence.”

“It is my hope and expectation that we can turn these discussions to further action in the very near future.”

As well, Tory said he is backing Saunders’ calls for changes to the city’s current bail and court system.

“Repeat gun crime offenders should be dealt with placing community safety first,” he said. “There should be no bail on a repeat charge.”

“There should be no leniency on sentencing or parole for repeat offenders convicted of gun crimes.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he has “all the confidence” in Toronto police officers to apprehend those responsible.

“My heart breaks for those communities that have been affected and the family members and we are doing everything we can as a province to make sure we support the Toronto police,” he said while speaking to reporters at an unrelated news conference in Kitchener, Ont. on Friday morning.

“We support the mayor – I have talked to the mayor on numerous occasions over the last little while and we are going to be talking about that in the days to come and we’ll be making an announcement.”

Ford said it’s “all hands on deck.”