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Toronto Star
  • Deadly dozen: Toronto grapples with 12 murders in bloodiest September since 1990

    Beatings on the street after closing time, a stabbing in a high school hallway and a slew of shootings: these are the ways police say 12 people have been murdered in Toronto since Sept. 5.

    That’s a dozen homicides in less than a month, making this the deadliest September the city has seen since at least 1990 — the earliest year included in the data analyzed by the Star.

    Interactive: Toronto homicides since 1990

    The Star went through these murder statistics and spoke to experts to unpack what this spike in killings means for Torontonians.

    How bad is 12 murders in one month?

    Though certainly among the worst months for homicides in recent years, the spate of murders this September isn’t entirely unprecedented. Going back to January 1990, there were more than 20 instances in which 10 or more people were murdered in a single month, most recently in July 2010.

    Even so, for Toronto police Staff Insp. Greg McLane, this homicide spike is nothing to shrug off. “That’s almost one homicide every two days, so it’s concerning for me,” he said.

    The murder rate fluctuates in “peaks and valleys,” McLane added, though “this is something a little bit beyond what we normally see.”

    The worst month for homicides in the past quarter century, according to the Star’s analysis, was November 2003, when 14 people were murdered in the city.

    How does this stack up with previous Septembers?

    The ninth month of the year isn’t typically this murder-heavy. Since 1990, there have been 5.9 murders on average each September. Normally, July sees the most homicides in Toronto, with an average of 6.9 each year since 1990.

    McLane said police expect summertime spikes in crime, because more people are outside and there’s more late-night revelry. But this year, cops didn’t notice an increase in summertime homicides —there were three murders in July and four in August.

    “We had a lull coming up to the mid-part of the summer, and it appears that in the month of September here we’ve had a peak,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. . . . It looks like we’re catching up.”

    This month’s 12 murders beats out September 1994, 2002 and 2005 (the so-called Summer of the Gun), each of which had 11 homicides.

    What does this mean?

    It’s hard to glean anything from the recent surge of homicides, said McLane. He sees the murders as a statistical blip rather than an alarming phenomenon. “I wouldn’t want to rationalize why this is occurring because I just don’t have the answers.”

    Police are approaching these murders just like they do all killings in Toronto, and there’s no reason to think these homicides are linked as gang slayings or the work of a serial killer, McLane added.

    “There’s no evidence to suggest that any of these murders are connected in any way shape or form,” he said.

    Jane Sprott, a Ryerson University criminologist, explained that, “although peculiar” to have this many murders in a given month, it’s difficult to parse meaning from such a short-term surge.

    “It may or may not mean anything. One really needs to see what the murder rate is for the entire year, not try to draw inferences from one month,” she said in an email.

    How does this affect the big picture?

    Even after September’s spate of killing, the number of homicides in Toronto this year is on par with recent trends.

    By this time last year, for instance, there were 42 homicides, compared with 41 so far in 2014, said McLane. There were 41 murders in 2012 by the end of September, and 46 by that time in 2011, according to stats gathered by the Star.

    Moreover, with three months left before the new year, Toronto is more than 20 murders shy of the annual average since 1990 (62.3 homicides per year).

    The murder rate — annual homicides each year, per 100,000 people — changes every year, but has dropped overall over the past few decades. The highest this has been in Toronto since 1990 was 3.79 in 1991, while the lowest was 1.77 in 2011. The rate last year was 2.06 murders per 100,000 people in Toronto.

    “The rate may go up slightly and then come back down the following year — one needs to look at the overall pattern over years in order to make sense of trends,” said Sprott.

    What’s next?

    McLane said it’s difficult to predict whether the glut of killings in September will carry over through the fall, though he’s cautiously confident the surge is nothing more than coincidence.

    “This is something I would expect would tail off. I would hope that it would tail off,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict.”

  • Victim's boyfriend tells Luka Magnotta trial of panic after Jun Lin went missing

    MONTREAL — Half a world away in China, Feng Lin started fretting about his former lover in the spring of 2012.

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    From Montreal, Jun Lin had sent Feng Lin the last of what was up to 50 daily text messages at about midnight on May 24 that year.

    “He was saying good morning to me because it was the time when I had just woken up,” Feng Lin testified in the first-degree murder trial of Luka Rocco Magnotta on Wednesday.

    It was 11 days after the trim, well-dressed manager for a Chinese software company had returned to China for the summer to visit family. Before the trip, the two had ended their two-year relationship because, at 33 years old, Jun Lin was under pressure from his family back in China to meet a girl and get married. They did not know that he was gay, Feng Lin testified.

    Feng Lin replied to Jun Lin's message, he told the court through an interpreter.

    “I saw that he did open and read it, but he never returned the message.”

    More messages in the coming days also went unanswered. Concern turned to worry, worry turned to panic.

    Feng Lin sent messages to mutual friends back in Montreal. A notice went out about the missing exchange student at Concordia University on the website of the Chinese consulate stating some of the facts that Feng Lin knew intimately.

    “How tall was he?” asked Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier.

    “He measured 175 centimetres,” Feng Lin replied.

    His weight? “65 kilos.”

    “Was he fit?” Bouthillier asked.

    “He was.”

    “Why?”

    “He always went to the fitness centre.”

    He testified also that Jun Lin also had burn marks on his lower back and hand from an accident he suffered as a child. More intimate still was the barely perceptible line along the back of Jun Lin's head, the mark of a hair transplant procedure to deal with a receding hairline.

    “Were you faithful to him?” Bouthillier asked.

    “I was.”

    “Was he faithful to you?”

    “Yes, he was.”

    What he didn't know at the time was that Jun Lin, shortly after sending that text message to his faraway former lover, fell into the clutches of Magnotta, who is accused of killing and dismembering his victim between the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 2012.

    Feng Lin did become aware of the horrific news out of Montreal over the next few days about a headless torso that was discovered in the trash outside of an apartment building.

    “I did see on the internet that there was discovery of a dead body but it didn’t cross my mind that it was his,” he told the court.

    Still, he was sufficiently concerned that he cut short a trip to Bangkok, Thailand to return to his family home in Shanghai.

    From there, he caught a flight to Montreal.

    During a stopover in Doha, Qatar, however, Feng Lin received a telephone call from another friend in Montreal who delivered the horrid news.

    “The friend told me that the body belongs to (Jun Lin),” he said.

    It wasn't until he was back in Montreal that Feng Lin worked up the courage to view the first minute or so of the infamous murder video.

    “I saw a man tied to a bed,” Feng testified. “After that I came to the conclusion it wasn’t him.”

    Later segments of the video show the dismemberment and various other indignities committed against the dead body, including a clear image of the victim's head, which would have been identifiable to anyone who knew Jun Lin.

    Magnotta had admitted to having killed his victim but is arguing that he is not criminally responsible for the acts because of a pre-existing and long-standing psychological condition, notably schizophrenia and a personality disorder.

    Yet Bouthillier, the Crown prosecutor, asked Feng Lin about his and Jun Lin's sexual habits, including whether they consumed pornography or engaged in more extreme sexual practices like bondage.

    Feng Lin replied that the two had an “ordinary sexual relationship” but replied with a firm “absolutely not” about engaging in bondage. They didn't do it and they didn't discuss it either, he said.

    The trial resumes Wednesday afternoon.

  • Retailers, delivery companies ramping up for strong online sales

    After record-breaking holiday shopping last year, attributed to the rise in online purchases, some transportation companies are preparing for the Thanksgiving through Christmas surge by boosting their number of seasonal hires.

    “Last year we hired 2,000, this year we’re forecast to hire anywhere between 2,200 to 2,500,” said UPS Canada vice-president of marketing Jim Bena. The company has recently added three new facilities and expanded a fourth in B.C., resulting in 36,000 more square feet of sorting capacity and 80 more jobs.

    “In 2011, only 13 per cent of Canadians purchased something from a U.S. retailer on Black Friday; last year it was 24 per cent,” said Bena. “If you look at the e-commerce trends, it’s double digit growth year-over-year for the foreseeable future. We’re definitely expecting positive growth this year.”

    Globally, UPS has spent over $175 million (U.S.) on technology and additional store capacity. Last Dec. 23 the company peaked internationally with 31 million packages, one of 10 days during the holiday season that saw delivery volume higher than any previous high in UPS history, said Bena.

    Canadian retailers, however, seem to be staying the course for the period which accounts for 20 per cent of the retail industry’s annual sales.

    Walmart Canada is hiring 2,500 associates, consistent with the number of holiday jobs they’ve added over the past several years. And Sears Canada is down slightly from 1,400 with plans to hire 1,300 seasonal workers in its stores.

    “While we have had larger counts in the past, this year we are trying to maximize the hours available for our current associates, as they have expressed an interest in taking advantage of the opportunity for extra hours as we enter the holiday season,” said Sears Canada spokesman Vincent Power.

    “As a result, some of the hours previously gone to seasonal associates will be used by associates who are with us throughout the year.”

    In the U.S., where UPS and FedEx are both boosting their numbers an additional 10,000 jobs over last year, some department stores have also announced sharp increases in the hiring of temporary workers.

    Plans by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest private employer, to staff up by 60,000 represents a nearly 10 per cent increase over last year. And Kohl’s 67,000 additional bodies is a 15 per cent bump.

    Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., a global outplacement consultancy, predicts American retailers will add more than 800,000 seasonal workers for the October-through-December period. Such hiring last topped that figure in 1999, when stores added 849,500 temporary workers. It credits brightening confidence among consumers.

    “The last two years saw holiday hiring return to pre-recession levels,” said John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based firm. “This year, we could see hiring return to levels not seen since the height of the dot.com boom... There are more people who are surer about their spending.”

    Last year’s U.S. holiday sales, including online business, rose 3.8 per cent to $601.8 billion (U.S.), from 2012. But stores were unprepared for a stronger-than-expected last-minute online sales surge. Online sales jumped 10 per cent to $46.5 billion for November and December, according to comScore, a research firm.

    With files from The Associated Press

Arts & Letters
Trudy
Sunday, 12 August 2007