TORONTO—The predawn sting operation last week that resulted in more than 100 arrests of individuals associated with Toronto’s Jamestown gang, is being hailed as the city’s largest anti-gang sweep ever. The raid netted a substantial cache of guns, cocaine, marijuana, and stolen cars, and more than 1,000 criminal charges were levied.
“The community is talking to us a lot more and providing us with crucial information since more officers started doing foot patrol late last year,” says Toronto’s deputy police chief, Tony Warr, who heads the city police’s guns and gangs unit. “People . . . seem relieved that gun-crime legislation is getting tougher,” he adds.
Both the sting operation and the recent legislation are part of a larger crackdown on handguns and gang violence in Canada, particularly in Toronto where handgun murders and injuries doubled between 2004 and 2005.
But while police and the public applaud the hard-line approach, social pundits and criminology professors are skeptical that the approach is getting at the roots of the problem: poverty, illiteracy, dysfunctional families, and racism in a diverse ethnic population. They cite US cities such as Boston, where a similar initiative led to an 80 percent drop in homicide rates by 1999—a success dubbed the “Boston miracle.” But fatal shootings have more than doubled since.
In Canada, guns and gangs are a relatively new phenomenon, particularly in Toronto, known as “Toronto the Good” for its traditionally safe streets and low homicide rates. There were 52 deadly handgun shootings in the city in 2005, compared with 12 in 1995. Police and social workers alike attribute the acts largely to young black males—many of whom are the children of West Indian immigrants—who feel marginalized and drop out of school early to join the “gangsta” culture where they make quick money through drugs, guns, or prostitution.