Clearance rate stays under 60 percent
Elaine Marshall, The National Post (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Just 75 minutes into the new year, shots rang out at a party in the
Weston Road and Sheppard Avenue West area. The 16-year-old victim was
hit twice in the back and was transported to Sunnybrook and Women's
College Hospital, where she is expected to recover.
Had she died, the statistics suggest her murderer would have gotten
away with it.
A National Post survey of the 65 homicides committed in Toronto
during 2003 shows that guns were used in 31 of them, or 48%. And of
those 31, arrests were made in only five, or just 16%.
Other forms of homicide produce a much greater rate of crimes solved
-- 82%. Of the 12 stabbing deaths, for example, all are listed as
cleared. But overall, killers who use guns got away with murder, at
least so far, almost half the time -- 49%.
Though the number of gun homicides solved in the previous year, 2002,
was not available, the overall rate of homicides solved was better;
of the 60 murders, arrests were made in 70% by the end of that year.
However, a clearance rate of under 60% has been the norm for the four
years since the turn of the new century.
Inspector Brian Raybold of Toronto Police Services homicide unit said
one reason for low clearance, especially where a firearm is involved,
has to do with the culture surrounding the crimes.
"It's the gangs and guns and drug culture," Insp. Raybold said.
"That's what it is. [It is] very, very, very difficult to investigate
In many of the killings, such as the Dec. 22 unsolved murder of Kirk
Sweeney at the G-Spot nightclub in Toronto's club district, victims
were gunned down in public places before large numbers of potential
witnesses. Despite this, few people came forward to report what they
saw. Insp. Raybold said that in gang-related crimes, eyewitnesses are
too afraid to come forward to tell their stories. The lack of witness
information makes it hard for homicide detectives to make arrests.
"The people are the police and the police are the people. When half
of that breaks down, this is the result," he said. "If you don't have
the people coming forward to assist the police, you're not going to
have the kind of results that we're used to in this city."
Insp. Raybold also put some of the blame on the justice system. With
accused murderers often getting out on bail or serving relatively
short sentences, people have lost faith in the system's ability to
protect them, he said. Even if they escape retribution from a gang,
they may one day have to face a killer.
"If people believe that they cannot or will not be protected because
those people who they may testify against will be out on bail ...
then they will not come forward," he said. "People have to believe in
the system, that criminals will be arrested, prosecuted and put away."
Among other findings taken from the 2003 murder statistics:
- Women were victims in just 17% of homicides in 2003;
- Almost half of shooting murder victims were under the age of 25 (15
of 31), though in overall killings young people make up just 23% of
- Black males in Toronto are far more likely to be the victims of gun
violence than other groups -- they make up 74% of such victims.
According to Staff Inspector Gary Ellis, who heads Toronto's homicide
department, by far the majority of murders by firearm in the city are
Community activists say the continued high rate of violence among
young black men is an urgent concern. Audette Shephard, chair of
United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere (UMOVE), lost her
19-year-old son to a shooting. More than two years after his death,
Mrs. Shephard has little hope the situation will improve .
"It's going to continue because it seems like [killers] can get away
with it," she said. "The community's not talking about it, the police
are not making any arrests, so they're getting bolder and braver.
It's going to get worse, which is so troubling."
Mrs. Shephard's son, Justin, was killed on June 23, 2001. Police
found him on the Rosedale footbridge, which leads from the south side
of Bloor Street East to Howard Street, shot twice in the head. The
crime remains unsolved.
"We have a generation of vipers here," Mrs. Shephard said.
Lincoln Alexander, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and current
chairman of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, agrees that these
homicides go unsolved because of fear in the community.
"People are scared. And I don't blame them," Mr. Alexander said .
"I'd like them to stand up and be counted, but that's easy for me to
say. But if you're sitting around in that community, and they know
who you are, and you can't trust anybody ... it's not an easy thing."
Alvin Curling, Speaker of the House and Liberal MPP for Scarborough
Rouge River, said the violence is cause for grave concern.
"There must be some drastic reason why it is focused on blacks," he
said. "There has to be something there that has to be looked at."
Mr. Alexander said issues such as high unemployment in the black
community, the breakdown of families and poor prospects for black
youth all contribute to the high homicide rates.
"They don't have as much hope," he said. "So they turn to gangs.
"How would you like the offer of a job at $150 a week, when you can
go out and sell crack for $1,000 a week?"
Murders in other ethnic groups were even less likely to be solved,
though the shooting rate is lower. Of non-black murder victims, none
of eight shootings has been solved (as compared to five of 23
involving black victims).
Calling the situation a crisis, Mr. Alexander said it is time for all
levels of government to take action before things get any worse.
"The Soliciter-General, the Attorney-General in Ontario, I think they
should be very concerned about this because it makes their job a lot
tougher," he said. "I think the feds should be in it too, everybody
should be in it neck-deep. This is not something that is going to go
Insp. Raybold said the problem will not be solved until the
sentencing laws get tougher.
In many of these crimes, both the victim and suspects are already
known to police. One example, Insp. Raybold said, was the Dec. 27
killing of 21-year-old Adrian Baptiste, in Etobicoke. Mr. Baptiste
had himself once been charged with murder.
"He's acquitted of second-degree murder in Hamilton. He walks out of
the courthouse a free man. Ten days later, he's gunned down in
Toronto," Insp. Raybold said. "When you want an example of gang
violence or people who are involved in violent activity, there's a
Mr. Baptiste's murder, Toronto's 64th homicide of the year, also
remains unsolved. "The police cannot solve this on their own," Mr.
Curling said. "The community has to come together much stronger [to]
resolve this awful situation. We've got to have a new strategy, a new
way of looking after each other in our community."
For homicide's Gary Ellis, the solution lies in increased sentences.
"A large number of people who are victims, and those we are
arresting, are already on releases before the courts on other gun
charges so they're getting out of jail on bail," he said. "What we
have to do is get serious with the ones we're catching with guns to
start with, and keep them in custody."
Mrs. Shephard now spends much of her time looking after a community
of mothers who have lost their sons to gang violence. She worries
that as violence becomes more commonplace, society will become more
desensitized to the cost.
"That's some mother's son," she said. "Somebody's brother, or
somebody's nephew. It's a real person."