|Scene of Eaton centre Shooting where 8 people were injured and one killed. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
ST. CATHARINES, ONT. - Closing the illegal gun pipeline that runs through Niagara to Toronto is only part of the solution to ending the horrifying violence witnessed in recent weeks, said the head of the Niagara Regional Police intelligence unit.
Staff Sgt. Joe Maggiolo lauded the so-called "Summit of the Gun" that took place between politicians and police brass in Toronto on Monday.
But Maggiolo, who oversees the service's units that investigate guns, gangs and drug crimes, said enforcement is just one item they should discuss. The appeal of firearms and the gangster lifestyle must be dispelled for disenfranchised youths, he said.
"It's nice that they're having this summit," he said. "But there are a lot of deeper problems. What do we do with the youth? Do we have programs where we can start educating these people?"
But Maggiolo cautioned Niagara residents who think recent shootings in Toronto are restricted to that city.
He said there are gangs and illegal weapons in this community, too.
"It's not just a Toronto problem, it's a national problem," he said.
"Guns are a concern. With what has happened in the last week, with what has happened in Colorado, as well as the incident in Toronto."
To that end, Niagara police have several units that directly address the issue, he said, including the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (PAVIS) and the service's guns, gangs and grows unit.
But it can be hard to keep up, Maggiolo said.
"Unfortunately, there is so much that goes on at times, we're probably doing 10% of dealing with the issues," he said.
Maggiolo said the service works with Canadian Border Services agents seizing weapons coming across the border, but they're not coming across in large trucks packed full of weapons.
Often, he said, they're arriving in much smaller numbers, packed to someone's body two or three at a time.
"These guns are being smuggled into the country and they can go from $500 to $1,000 on the streets," he said. "We're hearing stories that some of the guns are for rent. Borrow the gun for the weekend and it will cost you so much, so long as you return it."
Niagara Falls MP and federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government has taken steps to crack down on gang activity since it took office in 2006, including enacting stiffer penalties for gang-related offences.
"We're also going after gangs' primary source of income and that's, of course, the illicit drug trade," he said.
"The law that we just got passed in Parliament over the past few months makes it very clear -- you bring drugs into Canada, you're going to jail."
Nicholson said the government has passed legislation making gang-related killings automatically first-degree murder charges. It also created a specific offence in the Criminal Code for drive-by shootings, which did not exist before.
But Nicholson said the government is also spending $40 million a year on anti-gang social programs.
"I appreciate it has to be a comprehensive approach," he said. "That's what we will continue to do."
At Monday's Summit of the Gun meeting, Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged $12.5 million in permanent funding for specialized police teams that target criminal gangs, drugs and weapons. The funding comes after two high-profile shootings in Toronto and the shooting in a Colorado movie theatre Friday that left 12 dead and 58 others injured.
-- with files from QMI Agency