Toronto gun violence

Toronto to revoke liquor licences from bars where shootings have occurred

In an effort to help curb Toronto's mounting gun violence problem, city council just voted to revoke the liquor licenses of bars and restaurants that have been the scenes of shootings.

A motion put forward by Councillor Mike Colle at City Hall on Wednesday recommended that Toronto ask the AGCO to suspend or revoke serving privileges from establishments that have "been the scene of gun violence, or where patrons have been in the possession of handguns, or where the police have found handguns on the premises of the licensed establishment."

The motion passed in a 19-4 vote, but not without some debate.

A few councillors argued that the rule could unfairly penalize people who own restaurants where shootings randomly break out.

Colle and several others were quick to note that the motion is intended only to crack down on "problem bars" or "booze cans" where multiple shootings have occured—places where "dangerous gunplay" regularly threatens the safety and well-being of neighbouring residents.

"If you ask the police, they know these local outliers—this small minority of bars," said Colle when presenting his motion.

"The real challenge is that people think Toronto Police can close these places down," he continued. "Well they can't—and they keep going back, over and over again, and they're endangering themselves."

Because the city has so little power in controlling problematic bars, Colle wants the provincial body that regulates alcohol licencing, the AGCO, to pay more attention to places that are flagged by local police as hotbeds of gun activity—places where shootings have happened "not once, not twice, but maybe four or five times."

Councillors Gord Perks, Paula Fletcher, Josh Matlow and Frances Nunziata all stood up to speak passionately in support of the motion, sharing their own stories of establishments in their wards where chronic violence is a problem and expressing frustration over a lack of ability to do anything about it.

"I happen to know in my ward where the difficult ones are," said Fletcher. "So do the police, by the way... they know where they are."

Nunziata said that, despite the constant complaints of residents in her ward, the most the AGCO ever does to penalize a place is suspend their liquor license for a week or two.

"They're open all night, it turns into a booze can or after hours club, and they party on the streets," she said of establishments with ongoing violence in her area.

"And the next thing you know there's guns and gun violence... people are afraid to walk down the street when they have that amount of violence."

Matlow reiterated Colle's concerns about how police can't shut down problematic establishments even after years of repeat gun violence and fighting.

"We're not talking about any random small business," said Matlow.  "The people in the community know which business we're talking about, but we don't have the proper tools to be able to deal with the situation."

Should the AGCO agree to the city's request, police will have another tool to use in their fight against gun violence in Toronto. 

"It is important to focus on effective policing to help stop and prevent these senseless crimes in our City," states Colle's motion. "The increase in action from the Province of Ontario will lead to help prevent these senseless crimes in our City."

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert

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