Toronto homicides reach record high not seen since 1991
Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018 5:14PM EST
Police tape is shown in this file photo. (File/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)
Toronto's latest deadly shooting marked a grim milestone for Canada's most populous city on Wednesday as it brought the number of homicides this year to a record high not seen for nearly three decades.
Police said gunshots fired in the city's west end early Wednesday led to the 89th documented homicide of 2018, matching the all-time high for killings recorded in a calendar year that was set in 1991.
Acting Insp. Hank Idsinga, current head of the force's homicide unit, acknowledged that Toronto seems to be on pace to eclipse the previous record as it wrestles with a spike in gun-related deaths and said police share public concern about the figures.
"The goal is to have no homicides, and the goal is to have 100 per cent solve rate if we do have homicides," Idsinga told The Canadian Press. "It's an ongoing battle."
Population growth, some unusual incidents and solve rates, however, have to be taken into account, he said.
Idsinga noted that the homicide rate has remained relatively static in the years since 1991 even as the city's population has grown considerably. Toronto boasted 2.3 million residents in 1991, compared to a population of 2.7 million as of the 2016 census.
Both 1991 and 2018, Idsinga added, were somewhat unusual in that they featured a number of multiple-homicide incidents.
In 1991, the city saw a series of multiple fatalities in and around its Chinatown neighbourhood, Idsinga said, attributing some of the slayings to conflicts between Asian gangs.
Gang warfare appears to have played a role so far in 2018 too, Idsinga said, though two other multiple homicides have done more to drive up the numbers.
Ten people were killed on a single afternoon in April when a man allegedly drove a rental van down a crowded stretch of Yonge Street in the city's north end. Alek Minassian is now facing 10 first-degree murder charges in that case.
In July, police said Faisal Hussain opened fire in the bustling Danforth neighbourhood, killing two people and injuring 13 others before he shot himself and was found dead.
While methods used in homicide cases vary, Idsinga said the manner in which people are killed has little to do with how the force approaches its investigations.
"There's still 89 victims of murder," he said. "There's still 89 cases that have to be investigated."
The city's latest homicide was the latest in what Idsinga described as a noticeable increase in deadly shootings this year.
Police were called to the city's west end after receiving reports of gunshots. Det. Sgt. Mike Carbone said they found 22-year-old Youhannes Brhanu with multiple gunshot wounds in the driver's seat of a vehicle. Brhanu was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Carbone appealed for witnesses, saying between 10 and 20 shots appeared to have been fired from four guns.
Police data tracking fatal gunfire over the past five years shows there have been 46 firearm-related homicides so far in 2018, the highest on record during that time period. Data showed 35 deadly shootings on record last year, 34 the year before, and a low of 20 in 2013.
Figures in Toronto are in keeping with national data Statistics Canada released earlier this year. The agency found gun crime has increased steadily over the past four years with rates in some areas climbing by as much as 47 per cent.
Idsinga said the addition of 200 officers on night shifts has helped address gun violence in the city, noting the homicide solve rate -- a fluid figure that changes day to day -- currently stands at around 70 per cent.
He said police have also been receiving more tips and overall co-operation from the public. He encouraged residents to continue doing so and urged them to view the city they live in as a safe place, noting other urban centres of comparable size often register hundreds of homicides in a given year.
Les Jacobs, York University's Research Chair in Human Rights and Access to Justice, noted that 2018's surge in homicides represents a deviation from a general downward trend recorded over the past several years. Police figures show 53 homicides last year, and 63 in 2016, and 44 in 2015.
He therefore cautioned against viewing the latest numbers as a new trend or jumping to conclusions as to what might have accounted for the spike.
The possibilities, he said, are numerous, complex, and in need of nuanced discussion and exploration.
"Is it a policing problem? Are there other issues in play? Are there questions about broader socio-economic issues, or are there spiking issues around mental health?" he said. "Right now I don't think anybody has a simple, cause-and-effect explanation."