Mental health, gun violence factors in Toronto’s second deadliest year in over a decade

An increase in fatal shootings and domestic violence contributed to a significant increase in homicides in Toronto in 2021, where mental health was a factor in more cases than in previous years, according to Toronto police data.

2021 has already been Toronto’s second deadliest year in more than a decade. 29-year-old Jamar Hall, who was shot down on Christmas Day 2, was the city’s 84th homicide this year. His shooting was the city’s third killing in a four-day stretch that covered the Christmas week.

29-year-old Jamar Hall, who was shot down on Christmas Day 2, was the city's 84th homicide this year.

According to the Toronto Police Data Portal, which dates back to 2004, only 2018 (97 homicides) and 2007 (86 homicides) were more fatal.

As in previous years, shooting remains the most important factor in Toronto’s homicide cases. This year, 46 people have died as a result of gun violence. In 2020, shootings cost 38 people their lives in Toronto, 44 ​​in 2019.

According to police spokesman Jenifferjit Sidhu, mental health “plays an increasing role” in the city’s homicide cases. About 32 percent of the killings this year were related to mental health issues. By 2020, 23 percent of the city’s 71 homicides were related to mental health issues. In 2019, mental health was a factor in 19 percent of the city’s 79 killings, Sidhu said.

“In these situations, it’s mostly homicides that involve family members,” she said.

Four women in their sixties were allegedly murdered by their children, in three cases a son, in one case a daughter. Two men, one at 68 and one at 70, were allegedly murdered by their sons. In all but one of the episodes, the accused was arrested on the spot – the home where the parent lived.

There were four murders in Toronto where the suspected perpetrator was identified by police as an intimate partner. They include Kim-Jessica Gagne, 33, whose husband Bronson Lake, 32, is charged with second-degree murder, and Ka Chai Ho, 75, whose wife Pak-lin Pauline Ho, 62, is charged with first-degree murder. Two other cases were convicted of murder-suicide.

The two youngest murder victims of the year were only two and three years old. The two-year-old girl turned out to have suffered from blunt force, and a 28-year-old man, Rodrigo Flores Romero, was charged with second-degree murder in May.

In March, Francis Ngugi, 45, allegedly poisoned three-year-old Bernice Wamala’s breakfast products. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Both Chief of Police James Ramer and Chief of the Homicide Unit Insp. Hank Idsinga said in early November that they were concerned about an increase in violence across the city and its lasting impact on local communities. Gang activities and drugs remain the core of the violence leading to homicide cases, but mental health issues have also become prevalent.

“It may very well be a product of the pandemic,” Chief Ramer said at the November press briefing, while addressing the mental health component in homicide cases.

At the time, police saw a decrease in the total number of shootings compared to last year and hoped to achieve a reduction of at least 20 percent by the end of the year. Today, the total number of shootings and firearms stands at 404, representing a decrease of 12.4 percent from 2020.

As homicide rates rise, police say the murder detectives’ efforts in collaboration with the general public have helped achieve a significant sealing rate – meaning suspects in these homicides are known and being hunted, or they have been arrested and charged.

“We’re about 74 percent relative to our solution rate this year,” said Killing It. Sgt. Terry Browne.

A particularly deadly weekend in October saw eight separate shootings in Toronto, resulting in four deaths – including 73-year-old Christopher Jung, who was killed while working as a taxi driver, a job he had kept for 40 years. The suspect, a 17-year-old teenager, is still wanted on a Canada-wide court order to be charged with first-degree murder.

Another high-profile homicide case this year was that of Thane Murray, the 27-year-old mentor and community leader at Regent Park, back in September. Police found an astonishing 50 grenades at the scene and recovered video footage that captured dozens of shots in about 20 seconds.

Three months later, police arrested Noah Anderson and Jahmal Harvey, both 20 years old. They are each charged with first-degree murder and two charges each with attempted murder. A third man, Jabreel Elmi, 27, is still on the run.

After the two arrests, Idsinga praised the community’s efforts to help solve many of Toronto’s murder cases.

“Our investigators are doing an enormous amount of work every day to resolve these cases and ultimately provide answers to families and relatives,” Idsinga said in December.

With files from Wendy Gillis

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