Crime in Toronto
Crime in Toronto has been relatively low for a very long period of time; the low crime rate in Toronto has resulted in the city having a reputation as one of the safest large cities in North America. Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that crime has been falling steadily in Toronto's census metropolitan area since 1998, a total drop of 33% for all crimes reported between the period of 1998–2008.
For comparisons to various cities in North America, in 2012 for example, the homicide rate for the city of Toronto was 2.0 per 100,000 people, yet for Atlanta (19.0), Chicago (18.5), Boston (9.0), San Francisco (8.6), New York City (5.1), and San Jose (4.6) it was higher, while it was significantly lower in Vancouver (1.2). Toronto's murder rate is on par with Portland's (2.3 in 2013) and higher than the homicide rate in U.S. states such as Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. In 2007, Toronto's robbery rate also ranked low, with 207.1 robberies per 100,000 people, compared to Detroit (675.1), Chicago (588.6), Los Angeles (348.5), Vancouver (266.2), New York City (265.9), Montreal (235.3), San Diego (158.8), and Portland (150.5).
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Large criminal organizations have been operating in the Toronto region since at least the mid-19th century, beginning with the homegrown, yet short-lived Markham Gang. Since that time, large-scale organized crime in Toronto has mostly been the domain of international or foreign-based crime syndicates.
By the early 1900s, the infamous Black Hand had followed Italian immigrants to Toronto as it had in most major North American cities of the time. Italian organized crime remains prevalent to this day, with the Sicilian Mafia, Campanian Camorra, and Calabrian 'Ndrangheta all active at various times and to various degrees within the city. During prohibition, Toronto became a major centre for bootlegging operations into the United States, which also saw an increased presence of Italian-American organized crime — specifically the Buffalo crime family.
Today, the multicultural face of Toronto is well reflected in the city's underworld, which includes everything from Jamaican posses to Eastern European bratvas to American biker gangs. The genesis of many foreign criminal organizations in Toronto has often been linked to the drug trade, as with the large influx of heroin and various Asian triads during the 1970s, or cocaine and South American cartels in the 1980s. These criminal groups, however, occasionally have a political bent as well, as with the Tamil organized crime groups and gangs such as the VVT and rival AK Kannan gangs, which warred with each other in the city's streets during the 1990s and early 2000s over the brown heroin trade. In recent decades Toronto has also seen an infiltration of major American street gangs such as the Bloods, Crips, and Mara Salvatrucha.
Critics have argued that organized crime has been allowed to flourish in Canadian cities such as Toronto due to the difficulty and cost of prosecuting organized crime cases compared with individual cases, and the flexible minimum sentencing and the double time served stipulations that the judicial system utilizes to unburden the penal system. Today, Toronto has become a centre for a wide array of organized and transnational criminal activities, including the counterfeiting of currency, bank cards, and digital entertainment products, together with telemarketing fraud and the production of marijuana and synthetic drugs. Toronto also has a comparable rate of car theft to various U.S. cities, although this is lower than in some other Canadian cities. Much of this has been attributed to organized crime, with stolen vehicles ending up being shipped overseas for sale.
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Prevalence of youth gangs
Rates of youth gang activity in Toronto can be challenging to measure due to conflicting definitions of gangs, the smaller size of youth gangs, and their looser organization. Some research found 11% of Toronto high school students and 27% of Toronto homeless youth identified as being gang members at some point in their lives. Other research found under 6% of high school students and 16% of street youth identify as current gang members — but that only 4% of students and 15% of street youth were involved in gangs of a criminal (rather than social) nature.
One study has reported that approximately 2,400 high school students in Toronto claim to have carried a gun at least once between 2004 and 2005. Research has found that most youth gang-related crime consists of property offences, drugs sales, drug use, and physical conflicts with other gangs. Social activities are more widely reported amongst self-identified youth gang members than criminal activities. Murder and other more grievous types of crime are uncommon.
Demographics of youth gang members
Although most youth gang members are male, mixed-gender and female youth gangs also exist. Youth from lower-income families are more likely to self-identify as gang members, but membership cuts across lower, middle and upper income categories. One study found that although Black and Hispanic youth in Toronto are more likely to report gang activity than youth of other ethnicities, 36% of criminal youth gang members self-identify as white (followed by 26% Black, 11% Aboriginal, 10% South Asian, 10% Asian and 7% Hispanic). A correlation has not been found between youth gang membership and immigration status. Gang-involved youth commonly report a history of abuse and/or neglect, poverty, dysfunctional families, isolation, school failure, and other psychosocial issues.
Community and police response
Late 1980s and early 1990s
In the late 1980s, gangs in Toronto were becoming increasingly violent. This coincided with the arrival of crack cocaine in the city, which caused more gun violence to occur in low-income neighbourhoods. At the same time, Toronto police were under scrutiny for a series of shootings of unarmed Black men, beginning in 1988. In 1991, Toronto experienced its most violent year with 89 murders, 16 of which were linked to drug wars involving rival gangs.
On May 4, 1992, there were riots on Yonge Street, which followed peaceful protesting of a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by Toronto police (the eighth such shooting in the last four years, and fourth fatal one). Later that year, local activist Dudley Laws claimed that police bias against blacks was worse in Toronto than in Los Angeles.
2005–present: "Year of the Gun", shootings and the falling murder rate
In 2005, Toronto media coined the term "Year of the Gun" because the number of gun-related homicides reached a record 52 out of 80 murders in total; almost double the 27 gun deaths recorded the previous year. On December 26, 2005, 15-year-old Jane Creba was shot and killed in the Boxing Day shooting while shopping on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. After this incident, many people called for the federal government to ban handguns in Canada; this also became an issue in the 2006 federal election, but the number of homicides dropped to 70 in 2006. However, 2007 saw another, smaller wave of gun violence starting in May with the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at his school, C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute. A couple months later, on July 22, 2007, 11-year-old Ephraim Brown was killed after being shot in the neck by a stray bullet, during a gang shooting in the city's north end at Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue. These events raised calls for a ban on handguns once again. Of the 84 murders in 2007, roughly half were via firearm, thus, Toronto had a murder rate of about 3.3 per 100,000 – slightly less than the peak rate of 3.9 in 1991. There was a drop in murders again in 2008 with 70 (a total of 105 murders in the Greater Toronto Area – including a record high 27 occruing in neighbouring Peel Region, but statistically this was an anomalous year there). The falling murder totals have continued, in 2009 with 65, followed by 63 in 2010, then the lowest total in recent times with only 51 (75 total in the GTA) in 2011, the lowest homicide total since 1986 and even a lower rate of 2.0 per 100,000, close to the national average, representing a further dramatic decline in the city's murder rate for the fourth consecutive year. Overall shooting incidents have also declined from 335 occurrences in 2010 to 255 reported in 2013.
- Police layoffs? Not in this town
- TPS Crime Statistics, Toronto Police Service, 2014.
- New York City Murder Rate In 2013 Reaches Historic Low, Huffington Post, December 20, 2013.
- Detroit police chief nixing 12-hour shifts as homicide rate soars, Detroit Free Press, September 17, 2013.
- FBI statistics 2008
- "The Etobicoke-based VVT gang was made up of Tamil refugees who came to Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while the AK Kannon group were based in Scarborough and most members were raised in Canada"http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/04/27/attack_hits_new_low_for_gangs.html
- Gang leaders, Jordan Manners' sister netted in raids, www.cbc.ca, Published June 15, 2007
- Betsy Powell, "Gang life allure: Drugs, fast money, easy sex", Toronto Star, September 5, 2010.
- K.K. Campbell, "LAWS CHARGES METRO POLICE BIAS AGAINST BLACKS `WORSE THAN L.A.'" Eye Weekly, October 1, 1992
- "GunControl.ca" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- Raghu Krishnan, "Remembering Anti-Racism", This Magazine, January 2003.
- CTV.ca | Despite rise, police say T.O. murder rate 'low'
- CTV Toronto - Toronto sets a new record for gun-related carnage - CTV News, Shows and Sports - Canadian Television