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Toronto shooting
Amon Beckles was gunned down while attending the funeral of his murdered friend in Toronto.

Amon Beckles was gunned down while attending the funeral of his murdered friend in Toronto.

18-year-old Amon Beckles

18-year-old Amon Beckles.

Pastor Al Bowen called on Prime Minister Martin to evoke the 'War Measures Act.'

Pastor Al Bowen called on Prime Minister Martin to evoke the 'War Measures Act.'

7-year-old Tyreik is among many residents who staged a rally calling for an end to violence in their neighbourhood.

7-year-old Tyreik is among many residents who staged a rally calling for an end to violence in their neighbourhood.

Toronto sets a new record for gun-related carnage

Updated: Wed Dec. 28 2005 8:58:34 AM

Ken Regular, CTV.ca News

Toronto has almost doubled its number of gun-related homicides over last year: There were 27 in all of 2004. Going into Boxing Day, there were 77 murders, 51 of which involved firearms.

While there have been plenty of terrible incidents to shock this city of 2.5 million, fate had at least one more up its sleeve.

The Boxing Day shootings on bustling Yonge Street just north of the Eaton Centre sent shoppers ducking for cover, left six people wounded and claimed the life of a 15-year-old girl. A bullet struck the teenager in the head during a shopping expedition with her family.

She became a grim statistic -- the 52nd person killed by gunfire and 78th homicide victim in Toronto's Year of the Gun.

The next day, Det. Sgt. Savas Kyriacou said that the city is experiencing a dramatic change.

"Toronto has finally lost its innocence," he told reporters during a Dec. 27 news conference.

A murderous year

Boxing Day's violent scene is the latest in a string of brazen attacks using firearms.

On Nov. 18, Amon Beckles was gunned down on the steps of a church, while the funeral for his friend Jamal Hemmings -- another shooting victim -- was happening inside.

In the days that followed, the community tried to understand how violence could reach the doorstep of a house of worship.

Beckles' mother summed up what many people were feeling during an interview with CTV Toronto's Desmond Brown.

"This violence has to stop, and I hope and pray it will stop," Nadia Beckles said on Nov. 21.

At various other times, people have been shot in broad daylight, gunned down in drive-by attacks, and murdered in parking lots and secluded alleys.

Many suggestions for peace

Community leaders have not settled on a strategy for peace in the streets, although many solutions for curbing gun violence were proposed in 2005.

In late November, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler tabled legislation to increase minimum sentences for some gun crimes and create tougher parole rules for gun crime offenders. However, the proposed legislation did not become law because the government fell in a non-confidence vote.

Just days before, Prime Minister Paul Martin had met with Toronto's African-Canadian community to discuss solutions and promised a high-level summit for further discussions.

And church minister Al Bowen -- who conducted the funeral service for Amon Beckles -- called on the government to invoke the War Measures Act and send the military to patrol violence-plagued neighbourhoods.

The gun violence issue has also popped up during the federal election. Martin used an appearance in the troubled Jane-Finch neighborhood in northwest Toronto to promise a handgun ban and other measures to fight gun-related crime.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper promises tougher sentencing and some community intervention programs.

NDP Leader Jack Layton has talked about getting tough, but frames the problem mainly as a social issue, saying, "We also need to get tougher -- much tougher -- on poverty, unemployment and social exclusion."

The day after the Yonge Street shootout, a coalition of city youth groups demanded money and co-operation from all levels of government to attack feelings of marginalization and hopelessness among city youth.

The group believes Toronto reached a crisis point in 2005 and are hopeful that an innocent by-stander's death is a turning point towards the co-operation they seek.

However, Toronto police have repeatedly said they have problems getting witnesses to step forward and provide information on those doing the shooting, stymying many homicide investigations.

Statistically still 'Toronto the good'

In 2004, Toronto ranked as one of Canada's safest places to live when compared to other major cities, according to a Statistics Canada report released in July.

The per capita murder rate was 1.8 per 100,000 people. Montreal's per capita rate is 1.7 per 100,000, while the prairie city of Winnipeg comes in at almost five per 100,000.

Nationally, the average is 1.95 per 100,000. Manitoba had the highest provincial rate at 4.3 per 100,000, while Ontario's was 1.51 per 100,000.

And while there are spectacular exceptions, most of the gun-related homicides take place in what have been deemed at-risk neighborhoods, where unemployment is high and social services are in short supply.

Numbers equal real people

However, statistics do not provide comfort to the dozens of families grieving for murdered loved ones. For them, the numbers represent people who are gone forever.

"I raised him for 18 years and some bastard just took him away," Nadia Beckles said shortly after a shooter took her son's life.

Other people fear for their children's safety. Benjamin Osei fled with his family from a violent situation in another country, only to be confronted with what is happening in Toronto. He wanted something better for his daughter.

"We need a better place for her (his daughter) to live and all the children," Osei said during an Oct. 29 rally to end the violence.

Many parents in at-risk neighborhoods are afraid to allow their children to play outside. There have been stories of people killed in their homes by stray bullets.

During that same rally, a boy named Tyreik explained his daily experience in a rap he penned.

"It's hard for you and me living in this society. Late at night or in the middle of the day ... there ain't no place for us kids to stay," rhymed the seven-year-old.


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CTV NEWS VIDEO PLAYER
Viewer
CTV News: Scott Laurie on Toronto's latest shootings
CTV Toronto: Paul Bliss reports from Yonge Street
CTV Newsnet: Denelle Balfour in downtown Toronto
CTV Toronto: Mayor Miller reacts to shootings
CTV Toronto: Desmond Brown with the youth cabinet
CTV Toronto: Marcia MacMillan with the public reaction
CTV Toronto: Martin, McGuinty offer condolences
CTV Newsnet Live: Youth leaders take questions
CTV Newsnet Live: Toronto youth issue 'plea for peace'
CTV Newsnet Live: Toronto Police update situation
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