In public. With people around. Why Toronto’s weekend gun violence points to a worrying pattern

Canada’s largest and busiest transit hub in downtown Toronto was shut down for several hours Saturday evening due to a fatal shooting that caused a chaotic evacuation and left thousands of commuters stranded.

Hours later and a couple of kilometres away, another shooting inside a popular nightclub sent two people to hospital with gunshot wounds. Police later reported that a male victim had died in hospital, while a female was treated and released.

A third shooting incident of the weekend occurred Sunday evening in a parking lot near Danforth Avenue and Main Street, disrupting traffic and public transit and injuring a male in his 40s.

While police have released few details about the suspects in these shootings, the incidents have brought heightened safety concerns about violence happening in public places around crowds of people — something that community organizers and safety advocates say it’s been a worrying trend in recent years.

“This brazen violence needs to stop. I don’t know how many people have to die before we say enough is enough,” said Sureya Ibrahim, a downtown resident and founder of Mothers for Peace, a grassroots organization helping mothers who have lost children to gun violence.

Guns ringing out in public places is especially concerning over the summer months when many outdoor group activities take place, she said. However, she said she was not surprised to see the weekend rash of gun violence — “we ignored it so much for so long it has become normalized.”

The major root causes of violence — such as mental health problems, the traumatic experiences of parents and children, poverty and economic disparity among other things — don’t get enough attention from governments, she added.

Addressing the weekend shootings, Toronto mayor John Tory said the incidents were “extremely upsetting and unsettling,” adding he would be advocating for stronger penalties and tougher gun laws.

“Any gun violence in our city is unacceptable,” Tory said in a statement Sunday.

“My thoughts are with those mourning a loved one today in the wake of one shooting and the family and friends praying for the recovery of those injured.”

Police have identified 24-year-old Stephon Little-McClacken as the victim of the Saturday shooting at Union Station. Pardeep Brar, 26, has been identified as the man fatally shot at the King West nightclub on Sunday.

In recent years, several other shootings have taken place in daylight in public places, also often involving relatively young people.

Examples include a 2018 shooting that left two young girls shot at a Scarborough playground; the May 2020 shooting of 21-year-old rap star Dimarjio Jenkins, who performed as Houdini, in downtown Toronto’s Entertainment District, also injuring a 15-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman; a June 2021 shooting at a toddler’s birthday party that sent three children and a man to hospital; and the gunfire that put Yorkdale Mall in lockdown in August 2021.

Longtime community safety advocate Louis March said something fundamental has changed in how gun crimes are committed. Many criminals used to have “a code” that firing guns in public spaces full of innocent people was a no-go, primarily because it attracted unwanted attention from police.

“The young ones today have no code and the brazenness of the shootings seem to inspire them,” he said, adding that the trend is primarily driven by easy access to illegal guns and the willingness of the young people to use them.

The founder of Zero Gun Violence movement, March said investing in under-served communities and establishing adequate gun control measures should be the priority in fighting against gun violence.

“The three government levels need to get together and develop a realistic anti-gun and gang violence plan that takes into consideration the changing and scary new gun culture that was evidenced by the recent shootings,” he said.