Voters in Toronto's upcoming mayoral byelection should not support anyone who wants to cut police budgets, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday in the wake of an apparently unprovoked fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old at a city subway station.
Ford has previously said he is staying out of the race to replace former mayor John Tory, but addressed it Tuesday when asked about violence in Toronto's transit system.
He said there needs to be a three-pronged approach to address the issue: mental health supports, more police, and federal bail reform. On the first two points, Ford did not indicate that any additional funding would be coming from the province to either help Toronto hire more officers or boost his government's 10-year, $3.8-billion mental health strategy.
Ford did, however, have advice for voters in Toronto's mayoral byelection in June.
"Everyone and their cousin, their brother, their uncle and their aunt are running to be mayor of Toronto, but there's only maybe one or two people that I think could actually run the city," Ford said, without naming names, at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga, Ont.
"We're seeing stabbings in the subway, car thefts coming out of our gazoo and just enough's enough. We've got to put more money into policing. There's a couple of candidates that are running, they're sitting councillors, that voted to defund the police. The people that voted for defund the police, don't vote for them, simple as that. We can't have anarchy in our cities."
Ford said Toronto's next mayor should be a candidate who understands policing.
Former police chief Mark Saunders, who also unsuccessfully ran for Ford's Progressive Conservatives in last year's provincial election, has said he is running to be mayor.
Gabriel Magalhaes, 16, was sitting on a bench at a Toronto subway station Saturday night when he was approached and fatally stabbed in an apparently unprovoked attack, police have said. Jordan O'Brien-Tobin, 22, of no fixed address is facing one count of first-degree murder.
Court documents from Newfoundland and Labrador provincial court show a man with O'Brien-Tobin's name and date of birth is wanted on an outstanding warrant for breaching probation conditions.
Magalhaes' mother has said in media interviews that she wants to see more mental health and social supports. Ford said Tuesday he doesn't disagree with her comments and cited the money his government is already spending on mental health.
"My heart breaks for them," he said. "I will be making a call to their family this afternoon ... and we'll do everything we possibly can to make sure this tragedy, (this) senseless murder never happens again."
Ford also said there should be full-time police officers in the Toronto Transit Commission.
Toronto police put more than 80 officers working overtime on patrol in the TTC in late January in response to a spate of violence in the system, but ended those shifts two weeks ago. Police said they were returning to deploying on-duty officers on the TTC for regular, proactive patrols.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said as a mother whose now-grown children took the subway to school, she is heartbroken by the tragedy.
"I would love the premier to actually listen to that mother, because that is what the people of this city are saying," she said Tuesday at the legislature.
"They're saying, 'You've put the cops in there, it hasn't solved the problem.' The solution is to address the root cause. We have a homelessness crisis. We have a mental health and addiction crisis in this city. I want him to put the resources into supporting those folks ... That that mother could stand up and speak in such an effective way about what needs to happen, I mean, I hope he listens."
TTC Chair Jon Burnside said police arrested 314 people and referred 220 people to social services during the six week period of increased police presence on the transit system.
More efforts are clearly needed, he said, to address "a general sense of disorder on the TTC, whether it's open drug use... or loitering."
"All that obviously got a lot worse with the pandemic and was essentially allowed to happen," Burnside said.
He added that the TTC was working with Toronto police on new initiatives to improve safety, with additional measures set to be announced in the coming days.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.
Liam Casey and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press