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John Tory calls for action to counter spike in Toronto gun violence

Toronto Mayor John Tory is pictured on March 3, 2016.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A mother who found her 17-year-old son on the street outside their home dying from a gunshot pleaded Wednesday for witnesses to come forward as the city grapples with a spike in gun violence.

Ana Pavao talked about her son's January death at a police news conference, held a day after Mayor John Tory asked the federal and provincial governments for help curbing the violence.

In the letter to federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and his Ontario counterpart Yasir Naqvi, Tory linked the rise in gun violence to firearms from the United States, saying about half of illegal guns seized by police have been smuggled across the border.

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"Americans can set whatever gun policies they want, but that doesn't mean we have to suffer as a result," Tory said. "We must act now to strengthen enforcement at the border, as the numbers suggest such action would have the greatest and most immediate impact."

Tory also asked the federal and provincial governments to discuss how they can partner with the city to provide more resources for community-engagement programs.

Goodale's spokesman said Canada Border Services Agency seized more than 7,400 prohibited weapons and firearms last year. The minister would be working with his provincial, territorial and municipal counterparts in the coming year to develop a strategy on how the federal government can best support communities and law enforcement, the spokesman said.

Pavao's son, Joseph Petit, was Toronto's first homicide of 2016 — a year in which shootings, along with gun-related deaths and injuries, have risen sharply. To date this year, 21 people have been shot dead in Toronto, up from the nine recorded in the first five months of 2015.

Details of what happened leading up to Petit's killing are hazy.

Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux said Petit was walking his dog, spoke with two young males he knew, and some sort of physical struggle ensued before he was shot.

Soon after, his mother, returning home from work, saw someone on the ground. She thought the person had fallen, and didn't immediately recognize it was her son.

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"I came upon my son," Pavao said. "Shot in the street, I came upon my son. I called 911, and had I not been there, my son would have died alone."

When asked what she thought of all the talk about reducing gun violence, Pavao said: "We want to make our city safe, we want to make our streets safer. And to do that, communities need to come forward and they need to do their part. Everybody needs to do their part."

Police are offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of Petit's killers.

Naqvi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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