TORONTO — A large portion of a violent street gang responsible for a number of shootings in Toronto has been taken down in a series of early morning raids involving about 800 officers, police said Thursday.
The blitz — code-named Project Patton — resulted in the arrest of 70 people with links to the Five Point Generalz, police Chief Mark Saunders said.
"These are thugs that collectively use firearms to shoot other people," Saunders said at a news conference. "It's a concern because it's lasted a period of time."
The gang is based in Toronto's west end, but its reach extends to other parts of Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, Saunders said.
Thursday morning's raids come as many Torontonians demand action be taken to address gun crime after string of high-profile incidents.
Most recently, two sisters — aged five and nine — were injured by stray bullets in a shooting at an east-end playground.
There have been 194 shooting incidents in the city this year, up from 160 at this point last year, Toronto police statistics indicate.
Saunders said officers are concerned by the number of shootings and are taking steps to reduce it.
"The numbers are indicating that we have five more gun occurrences a month for this year compared to last year," Saunders said. "That's not a tremendous increase, but it is still moving in the wrong direction."
There is no "magic pill" to stemming gun violence, however, and police are only one part of the solution, he added.
"We play one strong element — that's the enforcement piece — but I do think if we're going to get this right, and I've said this before, there has to be more holistic solutions," Saunders said.
The justice system is another, he suggested, adding that 90 per cent of the people police apprehend are being released.
Saunders said police seized numerous guns and drugs while executing more than 50 search warrants in Toronto and in Peel, York and Durham regions as part of Project Patton.
He bristled when asked for more details about the Five Point Generalz.
"When I start talking about the history of them, that gives them credibility," he said. "If I start bigging them up, in the terminology, than I'm doing them a favour and I'm not gong to do that."
Mayor John Tory praised police for their work, but said he expects there will be more arrests.
"I indicated last week I certainly wanted to see aggressive action taken by the police to get these thugs off the streets and so this is a step forward," Tory said Thursday afternoon.
"I'm sure the work is not complete, but I think it is good work on the part of our police service to have conducted this investigation and make these arrests," he said.
Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press