Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday his government will invest $75.1 million over the next three years to combat gun violence and crime across the province at a campaign-style announcement in Toronto.
The move, which comes not long after calls to defund the police made headlines, was included in the recent fall economic statement.
“Gun and gang violence will not be allowed to thrive in Ontario,” Ford said at a news conference Tuesday, ahead of the June election. “There can be no mercy when it comes down to cracking down on these crimes.”
The province says the move is aimed to dismantle criminal activity, enhance investigative supports, increase collaboration throughout the justice sector and stop the flow of illegal guns across the border.
The money will go toward establishing the Office of Illicit Drug Intelligence, disrupting drugs coming into Ontario and towards helping with firearms analysis and tracing enforcement in an effort to stop gun traffickers, it says.
The province is also creating a mobile prosecution team that will specialize in guns and gangs.
Move criticized as ‘shortsighted and reactionary’
Tuesday’s announcement comes one year after federal lawyers were asked to avoid prosecuting simple drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are at play, amid a push on the government to reconsider decriminalization.
Meanwhile, a CBC analysis in September found that more than 85 per cent of drug possession charges in Ontario were dropped before trial in the past year, a more than 40 per cent increase compared to 2019.
University of Toronto sociology associate professor Jooyoung Lee called the move “shortsighted.”
“Imagine if more gun violence solutions were truly aimed at upstream causes? Instead, leaders here and elsewhere keep waiting until young people are injured or killed to get tough on crime,” Lee said in a tweet.
“It’s such a shortsighted and reactionary way of dealing with gun violence.”
When asked how spending millions more dollars on fighting the gun and gang violence will help, Ford said this money will make a “huge difference.”
Police budgets ‘always being chopped,’ says Ford
“We need boots on the ground, we need more police officers on the ground. They’ve been stressed out, their budgets are always under review, always being chopped,” Ford said.
“We need to put money back in there to have the women and men in uniform out there going after these gangs and guns. It’s very simple.”
In 2019, Ontario cut about $46 million from the provincial police budget of approximately $1.1 billion.
Last year, the province announced that it will spend $25 million to hire 200 more Ontario Provincial Police officers, a move that was largely criticized.
Toronto’s police budget alone has increased by 19.4 per cent since 2013, growing steadily over the past several years and outpacing investments in areas that critics say would be more effective at reducing crime and improving quality of life, such as community outreach or grassroots organizations.
At this moment, Premier Ford should rather invest in finally addressing the roots of youth violence, creating affordable housing options, providing emotion-focused long-term care along with opportunities to age in place and fix the broken mental healthcare system, as a start.
Attorney General Doug Downey said the financial support is necessary because gun, gang and human trafficking investigations are becoming “increasingly complex.”
“Mobilizing expert experienced Crown prosecutors, the new Gun and Gang Mobile Prosecution Unit will address complex cases in priority regions across Ontario,” Downey said.
Approximately $187 million, including this investment, will have gone to combating gun and gang violence in the province since 2018.
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