Pubdate: Thu, 29 May 2014
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Page: GT1


Ex-Attorney General Calls on Province to Review Approach

Ten years ago, Ontario's then attorney general Michael Bryant 
announced he was forming an elite "gangbusters" squad of police and 
prosecutors to drive Toronto street gangs out of business and reduce 
gun violence.

"Gangs have become so diabolically sophisticated that we have to do 
things in different ways," Bryant said in early 2004.

Today, Bryant no longer believes in the "fairly radical" gang 
crackdown approach he once advocated around the Liberal cabinet 
table. "I was looking at the prism of good guys and bad guys at the 
time and I didn't have the full picture that I have today," he said.

Back in 2004, Bryant ushered in a decade of gang projects in Canada's 
largest city. The first, Project Impact, occurred in May that year, 
when hundreds of police officers across the GTA swooped down on the 
"known associates" of the Malvern Crew, a street gang operating in 
Toronto's east end.

On Wednesday, though, after watching TV footage of the police raids 
as part of Projects RX and Battery, Bryant said his perspective has shifted.

In 2004, the ex-politician says he pushed for beefed up spending on 
gang suppression as part of needed "emergency measures."

"The main thrust of the guns and gangs effort was to get some 
immediate relief from escalating gun and gang violence," Bryant said.

Toronto's worst year for gang- and gun-related violence remains 2005.

Bryant now believes enough time has passed that the province needs to 
evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the dozen or so 
multi-million-dollar, manpower-intensive wiretap operations that have 
led to the arrest and jailing of hundreds of Toronto residents, 
mainly from impoverished, racialized neighbourhoods.

"It's time for the government to review the decision made then, to 
review what it's done and what we could be doing now," said Bryant, 
who now works with an aboriginal consulting and mediation firm.

"Talk to Legal Aid Ontario, the Criminal Lawyers Association, people 
who work with gangs and live in those neighbourhoods and (find out) 
what happened to the people who got rounded up and locked up," Bryant 
said, adding he has concerns about civil liberties and the criteria 
used to identify gang members.

Chris Williams, an activist and part time university instructor who 
has studied policing in Ontario, says everyone agrees serious gang 
violence can't be ignored. "The question revolves around the matter 
of what approach would be most effective," he wrote in an email.

Williams believes a multi-dimensional response, one that address the 
root causes of gang activity, is needed rather than relying 
"overwhelmingly on the criminal justice system which seems to be 
failing since gangs have been springing from the same economically 
depressed parts of the city." Craig Jones, former executive director 
of the John Howard Society of Canada, says Wednesday's crackdown, 
like all the others, will put a "significant dent into the local 
supply of drugs, and the local criminal class, for a couple of weeks. 
"But it's the nature of the drug business, under prohibition, to show 
the replacement effect. For every potential gangster you round up, 
creates another opening for another person . . . who is willing to 
assume the risk of making a great deal of money and potentially going 
to jail," Jones. Jones, now executive director of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada, says it 
might be more practical to treat gang violence as a publ! ic health 
problem. "When you treat it as a criminal problem, you set up an 'us 
against them scenario,' like an arms race between the cops and the 
bad guys and neither side can back down." Bryant says that a decade 
ago, the jury "was still out" on whether the sweeps would deter young 
men from joining gangs and arming themselves, but now knows that's 
not the case. Some criminologists and gang experts argue that 
crackdowns actually make gangs more entrenched.
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