Toronto police address tow truck turf wars, youth violence

In the wake of several high-profile shootings in the city in recent months, Toronto police provided a look at some of the overall trends fuelling gun violence Thursday — saying that incidents involving youth and tow truck turf wars are at least partly responsible.

Both Deputy Chief Rob Johnson and Staff Supt. Joe Matthews spoke at a news conference Thursday, and fielded questions related to recent shootings like the June 2 incident where five men were gunned down in a parking lot at North Albion Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke.

"We know that the recent shooting tragedies across Toronto are continuing to deeply impact our city," Johnson said.

Johnson said "shooting events" in Toronto are up nearly 74 per cent compared to last year — but it's important to note that the bulk of that number includes firearm discharges where no injuries were reported.

Police say there have been 24 shooting deaths in the city so far in 2024, compared to nine in 2023, 24 in 2022, 17 in 2021, and 21 in 2020.

Johnson said when it comes specifically to death and injuries, 2024 is consistent with the last several years of shootings, but is an increase compared to 2023 — though he cautioned that year was an outlier with an "unusually low number of shootings.

"Overall, shooting incidents in Toronto have been decreasing since 2019, with gun violence in our communities reaching a 10-year low in 2023," he said.

Police also said intelligence officers are seeing some "concerning trends" when it comes to gun violence — one of which comes from a segment of the city's tow truck industry.

Matthews said that since the start of the year, there have been 24 tow truck-related shootings and firearm discharges, which account for about 12 per cent of the city's total this year.

"towing conflicts in the GTA have historically been about territorial disputes and rivalries, however it's important to reiterate that this issue involves a very small segment of the towing industry," Matthews said, adding that arsons and mischief have also been an issue.

When asked about the North Albion shooting, where a 14-year-old boy has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder, Johnson said police are seeing younger people involved in gun violence.

"It's terrible," he said. Police are examining possible root causes for that phenomenon, suggesting a lack of resources for young people after the COVID-19 pandemic could be a factor. Whatever the cause, Johnson said, gangs in Toronto are "recruiting and engaging kids.

"The composition of those gangs is getting younger and younger."


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