CRIME

Toronto the Bad

Violence soars in Canada’s largest city

RAE CORELLI August 12 1991
CRIME

Toronto the Bad

Violence soars in Canada’s largest city

RAE CORELLI August 12 1991

Toronto the Bad

CRIME

Violence soars in Canada’s largest city

For decades, it was known as Toronto the Good, a stuffy and law-abiding bastion of Tory puritanism on the shores of Lake Ontario. But that era is rapidly receding from memory. Metropolitan Toronto finished the 1980s with the largest increase in violent crime of any major city in Canada, and now, more than a year and a half

into the 1990s, it is lengthening its lead. Last year, there were 55 homicides in Metro Toronto. By the end of July, 1991, there were already 53, and police are predicting that the full-year total may reach 95—fully 30 more than the worst year on record. Said Metro deputy police chief Peter Scott: “I asked the homicide squad if we are going to have murder rates like our cousins to the south, and their blunt assessment was ‘yes.’ ”

Although violent crime is increasing faster in Metro Toronto (population 2.5 million) than anywhere else in the country, the actual number of citizens being murdered, assaulted, robbed or abducted in relation to total population put the city seventh among 10 major cities in 1989, the latest year for which comparative figures are available. Vancouver, with 166 violent crimes for each 10,000 residents, was first, followed by

Halifax (138), Montreal (136), Edmonton (135), Ontario’s Hamilton-Wentworth region (131), Ottawa (129) and Metro Toronto (124). The ranking may soon change: in 1990, crimes of violence in Vancouver actually declined by more than two per cent and, in Montreal, rose less than one per cent during the same period.

By comparison, the Toronto figures have

soared. Between 1986 and 1990, crimes of violence in the Metropolitan Toronto region shot up by nearly 50 per cent. And so far this year, Scott said, the volume is running 48 per cent ahead of 1990. Last year, he said, robbers struck 1,079 small businesses, mostly variety stores and gas bars, and Scott predicted that the total will increase by 20 per cent this year.

Nationally, the incidence of criminal violence in Canada rose by 50 per cent between 1980 and 1990, and police agencies across the country attributed most of the increase to widespread drug use and trafficking and to the greater use of firearms. In Vancouver, which had 22 homicides in 1990 and 21 up to Aug. 1 this year, Sgt. George Barclay of the city police homicide squad said, “There are a lot more guns on the street than there ever have been.”

The Metro Toronto police experience mir-

rored countrywide concern over guns and drugs. Scott said that the use of firearms in crimes had increased by 150 per cent between 1986 and 1990. In the war on drugs, according to Scott, arrests were up by 36 per cent in 1989, and a further 24 per cent in 1990. Said Scott: “Our perception is that over 80 per cent of those arrested for bank and small-business robberies are drug-dependent.”

But Scott said that arrests and prosecution will not solve the problem. “In 1989, we put nearly 100 drug officers on the street,” he said. “We arrested 6,000 traffickers and clogged the courts and about the only result was that drugs became cheaper and more easily available.” He added: “Any police officer who knows what he’s talking about will tell you that enforcement is not the answer to drugs. It has to become socially unacceptable.”

Last month, a Toronto police sergeant ignited a controversy when he appeared before a city council-sponsored crime inquiry and declared that Chinese and Vietnamese refugees were largely responsible for violent crimes against the Chinese-Canadian community. Sgt. Ben Eng said that he felt justified in revealing the statistics in violation of police commission policy, which forbids compiling or disclosing race-related crime statistics. Among Eng’s claims: half of the reported 3,000 crimes in the Asian community in 1990 were committed by Vietnamese refugees who made up only 14 per cent of its population. While Eng, a former Asian crime intelligence officer, received support from a few members of the police commission and the Chinese z community, he drew a public - $ rebuke from chairman Susan

I Eng (no relation). x For his part, Scott said that growing criminal violence unnerves the civilian population and demoralizes the police, who believe that their job is made more difficult by legal restrictions intended to safeguard individual rights. “A sense of futility exists within the police environment,” he said. “Laws are so slanted towards individual rights that community rights—to have a quality of law within which you are not frightened, where you don't have to lock yourself in while criminals roam the streets, to not have to worry about your children—go by the board.” Added Scott: “I am not advocating a police state. But there is frustration among the policemen on the street.” Given the rapid increase in criminal violence, public apprehension and police frustration were likely to grow in Toronto and on the streets of cities across the nation.

RAE CORELLI

MARY JANE CULBERT