December 28, 2005

Teen shooting shows Toronto’s sinister side

By Frank Pingue

TORONTO (Reuters) - The downtown site where a Canadian
teenager was shot dead on one of the busiest shopping days of
the year turned into a memorial of candles, flowers and notes
on Wednesday, highlighting a sinister side of what is still one
of the safest cities in the world.

Police say the 15-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet
in a gunfight on Monday between two groups of young men on a
central section of Yonge Street, Toronto's main north-south

Six others were injured. Police have arrested two people
and are looking for up to 15 suspects.

"The investigation is very active and we're making very
significant progress," police chief Bill Blair told CBC
Television. "I'm very confident we'll get to the bottom of this
and bring the people responsible to justice."

He added: "For those who are already engaged in gang
activity who are armed, we need to get them off the streets, we
need to put them in jail and we need to keep them there."

Toronto has fretted anxiously about gun violence all year
after a series of high-profile shootings, most of them in
high-crime areas in the north or east of the city.

But Monday's brazen shoot-out shocked the city -- the area
was packed with holiday season bargain-hunters, including many

"When an innocent person can't go shopping on one of the
busiest shopping days of the year without the risk of being
shot and killed, what does that say about our city," said local
resident Bill Rankin as he placed a bouquet of flowers at the
makeshift memorial.

"This is not an isolated incident...and if we let it go
undetected much longer it's going to become a cancer."

The number of homicides in Toronto still lags other major
cities in Canada, but the total number of shooting deaths
nearly doubled to 52 in 2005 from last year. It's a lot for
Toronto, but low compared to U.S. cities of similar size.

Police responded with increased numbers of patrols around
Toronto, a city of 2.5 million people. Politicians, fighting an
as-yet lackluster campaign for a January 23 federal election,
described it as senseless violence.

"Like all Canadians, I was horrified by the Boxing Day
shootings in Toronto," Prime Minister Paul Martin said in a
statement released on Tuesday.

"The taking of innocent young life is always an outrage,
but doubly so when it occurs during a season which is dedicated
to celebrating the joys of family and peace."

Martin has proposed a ban on all handguns to address
escalating gun violence, while opposition leader Stephen Harper
wants punitive jail sentences for gun-related crimes.

Toronto's reputation as a clean and safe city has been one
factor drawing millions of tourists to the city each year. But
visitor Nikki Zawadzki, from central New York state, said the
latest shooting might have an impact on whether she came back.

"We'll probably second guess where we stay during our next
visit," she said after stopping to look at the memorial. "I
don't know if it will make us not come back, but it will
definitely make us remember and be more aware of what