Some closure for the Ogba family.

Readers may remember the brutal, random killing of Brampton electrical engineer Nnamdi Ogba after he visited a friend from his soccer team in Scarlettwood Court back in March 2018. Mr. Ogba had a fiancée and was about to be married. His murder was carried out by three men who decided that someone from the public housing neighbourhood should die because of gang rivalry. In other words it was a cold-blooded act designed to intimidate and repress a community. Mr Ogba’s killing was one in a series that had plagued the people of Scarlettwood Court.

This Toronto Star article outlines the process by which Toronto Police tracked down the three killers (two gunmen and a driver) and brought them to justice. It demonstrates the value of good surveillance video along with determined and expert detective work as well as support from the community.

Yesterday, an automatic sentence of 25 years with no parole eligibility was rendered for the three who were found guilty by a jury last month. Sentencing was done via video link. The judge had harsh words for the killers, calling people who engage in gang rivalries, ‘fools’.

Only one of the three murderers expressed remorse.

Mayor Tory speaks to Nnamdi Ogba’s parents, Margaret Nwsou and Sylva Okzie at a memorial held in Scarlettwood Court in March 2018. (file)

Nothing can bring back Mr. Ogba, however his killing triggered widespread outrage in Toronto. Mayor John Tory attended a memorial held at Scarlettwood in the days after the murder, putting the full weight of his office behind bringing the killers to justice and ending the terror that such crimes inflict on public housing communities.

Let’s hope that Mr. Ogba’s family can take one small shred of comfort that the reaction to Nnamdi’s death may have been a turning point that will prevent the senseless deaths of others.

Parks: leash free, play and exercise areas closed.

As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip, Mayor Tory has acted to discourage groups of people hanging out together in Toronto’s parks.

From the city’s site:

“All City-owned playgrounds, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, off-leash dog parks, skateboard and BMX parks, picnic areas, outdoor exercise equipment and other parks amenities, as well as parking lots attached to its parks system, are closed.”

This may be in response to reports of people not maintaining a sufficient distance.

Read more about affected city services here.

In New York, they are considering similar measures but to compensate, will close some streets to (already greatly reduced) traffic so that people will have more places to get some fresh air.

Where are our police?

Drivers have seen it for years; the steady decline in courtesy and good driving on our roads. Pedestrians and cyclists have noticed it too – yes, sometimes from our fellow pedestrians and cyclists. We’re at the stage now where drivers routinely blow through stale yellow and even red lights. People who think their time is more important than everyone else’s safety weave in and out, cutting people off and travelling at dangerous speeds. Many vehicle plates are covered with dark plastic to avoid detection and window glass is tinted far beyond legal limits. Police officers on our streets are a rare sight – unless on paid duty at a construction or road work site. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage going on there.

Despite the wild west type driving experiences of recent years and the increasing number of deaths and injuries on our roads, there has been a steep decline in the number of traffic violations in our city. Police issued 140,000 fewer tickets in 2019 than they did in 2009. Careless driving charges dropped by 44%.

Are the police focussing their efforts elsewhere? It doesn’t look like it. The City’s homicide rate rose from 2.1 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 3.1 in 2018. Our murder rate was higher in 2018 than that of New York City.

So what’s going on? We have 5400 uniform and non-uniform police officers in Toronto – where are they all? How do they spend their time? If they’re not on the roads, where else could they be? Since tickets are down, they can’t all be in court or doing paperwork. They also respond to fewer types of complaints. Noise issues for example now go to a city by-law department.

Is it a morale problem? Are police having a giant snit because their numbers are down? Why is Mayor Tory not doing something? The failure of Vision Zero was not properly addressed and a name change to Vision Zero 2.0 was seen as the answer. What about Chief Saunders? The whole point of a police force is to protect lives and property by enforcing the law. Effective policing acts as a deterrent to further criminal behaviour. Visibility is part of that deterrence aspect.

In the U.K. beefed up road policing is seen to be effective in combatting other crimes. After all, criminals use the roads and they’re often driving badly. More enforcement on our roads would uncover more criminal behaviour.

In the meantime, we need answers from Mayor Tory and Chief Saunders. The solution belongs with them but neither one seem to be owning the problem.

Possible flooding solution rejected in 2017.

A man walks under Weston’s Lawrence Avenue bridge the day after the floods of July 2013 (file).

One of the problems of living in a big city is that much of the surface is paved over. When it rains, water drains quickly and can raise river and stream levels as well as create flooding in low lying areas. The solution is well known. Plant trees, build green roofs and where possible create temporary holding tanks for sudden water flows. To pay for this, staff last year proposed charging homeowners for the amount of non-absorbing roof and parking surface on their property. These are the people creating the problem so it’s fair that they should help pay for the solution. When Toronto’s Executive Committee considered the matter, following the Mayor’s direction, they recommended voting against the charges.

Councillor Nunziata voted with the mayor when the matter came to a full meeting of council but today has issued a helpful email itemizing what to do if your basement floods. That will be of small comfort to the many people whose lives have been disrupted yet again.

Running a big city costs money. Without a mayor and council with the courage to do the right thing, ordinary people are left to suffer the consequences. Charging people for the runoff they create would encourage a reduction in stormwater runoff and help pay for larger-scale flood prevention measures.

Instead of following staff recommendations, Mayor Tory and Councillors Mammoliti, Nunziata and others seemed place their trust in the short memory of voters, believing their re-election chances are more important than flooded basements. Kindred spirit Giorgio Mammoliti framed the charge as a ‘roof tax’ that would not play well in the suburbs.

Are voters really that stupid?

Action is needed on gun control.

Last night’s senseless and tragic shootings on the Danforth are more evidence of Toronto’s gun problem. More ruined lives and shattered families at the hands of a (probably disturbed) young man with a gun.

I agree with Mayor Tory when he asks, “Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?”.  There is no good reason for anyone in this city to own a handgun. If you are a target shooter or collector, sorry; you should realize that the safety of the public must come before your hobby.

For those who believe that owning a gun will protect you and your loved ones, think again. The numbers show that guns don’t work for self defence. Statistics from our neighbours to the south amply demonstrate that the person most likely to be shot by a gun is its owner. About one child per week in the U.S. is accidentally shot by a family member’s gun.

A person pulling the trigger on a gun is most likely to be shooting themselves, then their family, then commit a felony, then way, way, way down the line, if they’re lucky, they hit a bad guy.   – Psychology Today

Until recently, most guns used in criminal acts came from the U.S. Now, the majority are supplied domestically from legal and illegal sources or from burgled gun collectors.

The Harper government weakened gun laws in this country in 2012. At the time they insisted that it was the right thing to do, emulating their Republican and NRA friends. Unfortunately, we are seeing the results of that misguided legislation.

Firearms flooded into Canada after Stephen Harper’s Conservative government dismantled the federal long gun registry in 2012 — nearly two million rifles, shotguns and handguns were imported for retail sale across the country over just five years, federal records show. iPolitics.ca 

The Trudeau government has proposed legislation that will tighten gun purchasing requirements. The legislation has been criticized for being too weak. This Liberal platform promise has languished for too long and needs urgent action.

One thing is clear in all the (legitimate) studies; gun control works. What then needs to be done?

There should be:

Guns are far too readily available to far too many people – Mayor Tory

Scarlettwood Court shootings cause for concern

Inside Scarlettwood Court.

Scarlettwood Court is a TCHC housing complex in Greater Weston™, just off Scarlett road, on the opposite side of the Humber. The development was built in the 1960s and is home to hundreds of families from a wide variety of backgrounds. Planners (as they did back then) created an isolated enclave in a beautiful setting overlooking Raymore Park with two main entrances; one from busy Scarlett Road and the other from Waterton. There is a little used pathway that leads down to Raymore Park.

The main entrance to Scarlettwood off Scarlett Road.

In recent years, several shootings have left residents on edge and fearful. These are the major incidents I have been able to track down.

September 1989 double murder – solved

August 2005: Sarfaraz Shah murdered – unsolved cold case*

January 2014: Colin Mohamed murdered – unsolved cold case

September 2015: three men shot – unsolved cold case

February 2016: Bryan Agyei murdered – unsolved

March 2016: gunfire reported – teen arrested

August 2016: a man was shot in the legs in a drive-by shooting – unsolved

April 2017: car found with windows shot out – unsolved

January 2018: Shaquille Wallace shot dead – unsolved

March 2018: Nnamdi Ogba, 26, of Toronto shot dead. – unsolved

*Cold cases are unsolved crimes older than three years.

Toronto Police claim a ‘clearance’ or solving rate for murders of 80%. Clearly 21st Century murders at Scarlettwood have a clearance rate of 0%.

Scarlettwood’s other entrance from Waterton.

The reason behind the spate of shootings is unclear but the story goes that Scarlettwood is the home of the ‘All Crips Gang‘ which apparently has territorial claims stretching down to Dundas Street. Presumably they deal in drugs and other contraband. There may have been a truce between the various gangs at one time but that seems to have ended. According to police, the latest shooting of Mr Ogba, an electrical engineer, seems to have been entirely by chance; criminals from outside Scarlettwood appear to have selected him randomly.

The local councillor for Scarlettwood (in Ward 2) is Mike Ford who responded to my email on March 19 to say,

“I thank you for bringing this concern to my attention and I do sincerely sympathize with you.
I want to assure you that the safety of Etobicoke is at my highest priority and any violence especially criminal violence is a serious concern.

I have spoken with Mayor Tory and Toronto Police Chief in the past and I will be doing the same for this incident. Although there is no easy answer to this problem I will be following up with yourself and the community for their input on this matter.”

I replied to the councillor that if anyone needs sympathy and help, it’s the law-abiding people trying to raise their families, trapped in the confines of Scarlettwood Court.

Residents told me that dozens of police responded on the night of the murder. Cruisers were parked all along Scarlett Road. Today when I walked through Scarlettwood, there was no police presence and residents confirmed that the police are a rare sight.

What’s to be done?

  1. The Mayor should bring his travelling podium show and together with Councillor Mike Ford visit Scarlettwood to meet with residents and listen to concerns. This would show solidarity with residents.
  2. Toronto Police need to get out of their cars and make meaningful and lasting contact with residents. The Community Safety Unit run by TCHC does not absolve police of their ongoing responsibilities. Police also need to avoid showing up in large numbers rather than in ones and twos.
  3. Community groups and social justice warriors should make this their fight too. They need to contact residents and help organize some kind of community association (if none exists) and start a ‘take back Scarlettwood’ movement.
  4. Politicians, police and the community should make and implement a plan of action to support residents.
  5. Because of the limited entrances to Scarlettwood Court, in addition to the existing cameras, it would seem logical to have good quality cameras set up to monitor who comes and goes; cameras with the ability to see images clearly. In 2016, 100 cameras were installed.

Incidentally, the fight for gun control in the U.S. is our fight too. The majority of guns used in Toronto crimes originate in the U.S.