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
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.