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Will Toronto see fewer killings in 2019? A violent year ends with record totals — and questions

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On Dec. 21 at 9 p.m., three men were shot in Etobicoke. Two were found in a bullet-riddled BMW. One, Cimran Farah, 20, died in the hospital six days later.

Farah’s death was the 96th homicide in Toronto in 2018 — the latest, as of Monday afternoon, in a year in which the city surpassed its previous record of 90, from 1991, by mid-November.

July 1: Toronto police block Queen Street W. the morning after a triple shooting that left one woman injured and killed Ernest (Kosi) Modekwe, 28, and Matthew Lidster, 29.
July 1: Toronto police block Queen Street W. the morning after a triple shooting that left one woman injured and killed Ernest (Kosi) Modekwe, 28, and Matthew Lidster, 29.  (Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star)

The youngest victim was a 3-week-old baby girl, one of ten minors killed this year.

The oldest was 94-year-old Betty Forsyth, who was killed in April along with nine others in the Yonge St. van attack.

Forty-six of those killed — just under half — were under the age of 30. Seventy-five were men and boys. Twenty-one were women and girls. By the Star’s count, police have neither arrested nor issued a warrant for arrest in 33 of these killings, excluding one apparent murder-suicide.

In a year-end press conference this week, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders called 2018 a “unique” year marked by increases in gun violence and two exceptional mass casualty events. Looking ahead to the new year, Saunders was optimistic that homicide numbers will decline — a pattern the city has seen before, following the previous record-high year 1991 and another spike between 2005 and 2007.

Read more:

The 96 victims of Toronto’s record year in homicide

What Toronto’s homicide record means — and what we can do about it

Every Toronto homicide in the past 15 years — mapped

But, as criminologist Scot Wortley notes, without better understanding why shooting and gang-related violence has increased, it is difficult to know if this year was an outlier or a sign of a larger trend.

The year began with the Jan. 29 arrest of an alleged serial killer who is accused of targeting men connected to Toronto’s Gay Village since 2010. Bruce McArthur now faces eight charges of first-degree murder.

Then came the April van attack that left 10 dead and 16 injured and in July the Danforth shooting in which 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon were killed and 13 injured.

Even without the 12 deaths from these two tragedies, Toronto’s homicide numbers for 2018 are high — significantly higher than in 2017, which saw 65 homicides, 2016, which was 75 and 2015, which saw 59.

March 18: An officer with the Toronto police Forensic Identification Services works at the scene of a double shooting at a crowded North York bowling alley. The shooting killed Thanh Tien Ngo, 32, and Ruma Amar, 29, a bystander.
March 18: An officer with the Toronto police Forensic Identification Services works at the scene of a double shooting at a crowded North York bowling alley. The shooting killed Thanh Tien Ngo, 32, and Ruma Amar, 29, a bystander.  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)
June 15: The Scarborough playground where two girls, ages 5 and 9, were seriously injured while playing after a gunman opened fire at another man.
June 15: The Scarborough playground where two girls, ages 5 and 9, were seriously injured while playing after a gunman opened fire at another man.  (Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star)
July 25: People gather for a vigil on the Danforth three days after a gunman opened fire in the neighbourhood, shooting 15, killing 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Juliana Kozis.
July 25: People gather for a vigil on the Danforth three days after a gunman opened fire in the neighbourhood, shooting 15, killing 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Juliana Kozis.  (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star)

More than half of Toronto homicides this year, 51, were fatal shootings, just two less than 2005, the city’s infamous “Year of the Gun.”

The victims include 22-year-old Yohannes Brhanu, found dead after a gun battle on a residential street in a car surrounded by bullet casings and shattered glass; 29-year-old Ruma Amar, shot in the back of the head in a hail of gunfire meant for someone else as she, her husband and sister were leaving a North York bowling alley; and 31-year old Jenas Nyarko, a shelter worker killed in a drive-by shooting while sitting in a car outside her apartment with friends after attending a funeral.

The number of shootings in the city this year also appears to have broken a record: In the latest police numbers published Monday, 2018 had seen 424 shootings, more than 2016’s year-end total of 407, which is the largest tally in any year since 2004, according to police data.

Saunders has attributed the gun violence to increased street gang activity and pointed to similar trends across North America. And while he outlined enforcement challenges for police that come with arresting and charging gang members — including witnesses with justifiable fears of retribution, poor community relationships with police, and a “team sport” mentality in gangs that means individual arrests of gang members have limited impact — he emphasized the need for solutions that go beyond policing at his year-end press conference.

“The enforcement piece plays an important part. I’m not here to say that it’s softer policing. I’m here to say that it’s smarter policing. There have to be agencies at the front end that prevent these young boys from shooting others. There’s a lot of funding that needs to be put in. Not grant funding; core funding, into the communities. Nobody’s ever, that I know of, born saying ‘I want to be a street gang member,’” Saunders said.

“To think we can arrest our way out of this is a falsehood.”

August 22: The Danforth is closed again the morning after another shooting at a sports bar killed Danny Morales, 35.
August 22: The Danforth is closed again the morning after another shooting at a sports bar killed Danny Morales, 35.  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star)
Sept. 8: A sign at the Toronto Weston Flea Market as police investigate the shooting of Rocco Scavetta, 65, who was killed during a robbery attempt, police said.
Sept. 8: A sign at the Toronto Weston Flea Market as police investigate the shooting of Rocco Scavetta, 65, who was killed during a robbery attempt, police said.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

In mid-December, the federal government announced Toronto will get $6.76 million in Public Safety funding over a five-year period for a program called the Community Healing Project. Police will also get up to $400,000 over two years to enhance the Neighbourhood Officers Program in eight priority neighbourhoods. Consultations about a handgun and ammunition ban are ongoing.

In the same month, the province announced cuts to after-school programming for at-risk youth that included part-time employment opportunities and tutoring for struggling elementary school children.

Wortley, who has researched gangs and gang violence in Toronto and Ontario, noted that while Toronto did have a record high number of homicides in 2018, the population of the city and the GTA overall has also grown rapidly since the previous record was set in 1991.

Accounting for population, the city has had a homicide rate of approximately 3.5 per 100,000 in 2018 — a number which does not account for the frequent movement of people into Toronto from the GTA on a daily basis.

In 1991, there were 3.8 killings per 100,000, the highest in city records. It would take 111 homicides in 2018 to reach the same rate. The long-term average in Toronto is about 2.4 homicides per 100,000, though it has risen above 3.0 in recent years.

Wortley said it does appear some of the spike in homicides this year are the result of gang-related activity, as well as neigbourhood conflicts that may be intensified through social media. Gang violence seems to have a “cyclical quality,” he said, but without knowing what’s causing the increase, it’s hard to predict whether it will relent.

One potential short-term cause for the increase may stem from the legalization of marijuana, he said, though it remains to be seen to what extent the violence reflects gangs trying to reposition themselves in a shrinking drug market, and trying to move into meth, opioids or cocaine, or into other crimes such as robberies.

However, a longer-term area of concern lies in “disturbing social patterns” that have emerged in Toronto in part due to affordability, he said.

There has been a decline in the quality and availability of affordable housing, an entrenchment of very poor areas in the city, increasing barriers to social mobility and a growing divide between rich and poor as well as a shrinking middle class, Wortley said. It is also important to consider the psychological impact of frequent shootings and violence on communities.

“To what extent is social inequality contributing to higher rates of violence?” Wortley said.

And if it continues, will Toronto begin to see more violence stemming from hopelessness and alienation?

Wortley agreed with Saunders on the need for long-term investment into non-policing solutions but noted that some of the most effective interventions — like early childhood programs — take a long time to show results which makes political support difficult to maintain.

“Do we have the patience to continue to fund those programs so that we can see the benefits of that investment?” he said.

Sept. 26: A memorial for Mackai Jackson, who was shot dead in Regent Park. The boy had days earlier celebrated his 15th birthday.
Sept. 26: A memorial for Mackai Jackson, who was shot dead in Regent Park. The boy had days earlier celebrated his 15th birthday.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)
Dec. 19: A bullet hole on King St. hours after Edwin (Chris) Humberto Velasquez, 34, was shot dead in a double shooting.
Dec. 19: A bullet hole on King St. hours after Edwin (Chris) Humberto Velasquez, 34, was shot dead in a double shooting.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)

With files from Wendy Gillis, Jim Rankin, May Warren and Star Staff

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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