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Southern Ontario police see surge in carjackings, chases and more

Police and residents from Hamilton to Peel Region, Toronto and as far north as Wasaga Beach have been raising concerns about a recent uptick in armed carjackings, high-speed chases through city streets, stunt driving and general disregard of some modified-vehicle enthusiasts for restrictions on gathering sizes, forcing Ontario’s premier to threaten throwing the book at rule breakers in recent weeks.

Peel Regional Police, York Regional Police, Toronto Police Service and the OPP are joining forces to address the disconcerting trend. During Friday’s Peel police board meeting, Chief Nishan Duraiappah said recent driving fatalities, speeding and street racing “is a significant problem.”

The joint operation was announced just two days after a 20-year-old man from Brampton was charged with allegedly stealing a luxury vehicle and taking police on a high-speed chase through Vaughan and Peel Region.

“On top of that are these violent robberies (organized carjackings) and theft of vehicles that we’ve seen,” Duraiappah said at Friday’s meeting. “There has been a significant increase, particularly during the pandemic, right across the GTA, for these types of thefts.”

According to Peel police, since March there has been a large increase of high-end vehicle thefts, with suspects often using weapons and threatening violence.

Jotvinder Sodhi and other members of the Homeowners Welfare Association and Concerned Residents of Brampton raised concerns about armed carjackings, deadly collisions, speeding and stunt driving in a deputation to the Peel board.

“People are being killed and injured every day on our roads,” Sodhi told the Star Monday. “This is a problem for the entire GTA.”

Sodhi said public concern has been elevated since the horrific death of elementary teacher Karolina Ciasullo and her three young daughters.

“We need better response and police presence on the roads,” Sodhi said. “Youth engagement is also something that we have to work on.”

Brady Robertson, 20, of Caledon, has since been charged with four counts of dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death in connection with the collision that killed Ciasullo.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said Sodhi raised some legitimate concerns, adding that whether it’s street racing or brazen car thefts, “we have to stem that.”

As of Sept. 14, Toronto police have laid 714 charges for stunt driving, which includes excessive speeding. 

Nicole Saltz, a 34-year-old writer, has lived on the third floor of a highrise overlooking the Don Valley Parkway at Broadview and Danforth Aves. for eight years has never had a problem with traffic noise from the DVP before. However, this year there have been loud motorcycles and cars speeding by every night into the early morning. 

“If they stop at 4 a.m., that’s a good night,” she said.

Saltz has tracked down people involved in racing events on social media and says the late-night DVP speeding is organized. She and her neighbours have started a Facebook group to track the incidents and have complained to the police, but she said the force told her officers have limited ability to catch the offenders in part because police are prohibited from engaging in high-speed chases for safety reasons. 

“Someone’s not doing their job. And it’s to the detriment” of law-abiding residents, she said. “Not to be a drama queen, but it really is ruining my life in a lot of ways. It’s horrible.”

Ontario Provincial Police were on the scene on the weekend in Wasaga Beach where hundreds of modified cars descended this weekend for stunt driving, racing and more at an unsanctioned car rally. Dangerous driving, lack of physical distancing and disregard for public-gathering limits led the OPP to start turning motorists away from the beach town on Saturday night.

The OPP said in a statement Monday that “all available resources” were needed to maintain public safety during what the police service called “an unsanctioned car take-over event.” In all, police issued 172 provincial offence notices and laid charged including stunt and careless driving and speeding.

Some vehicles were seized and 11 tickets were issued the Reopening Ontario Act, which limits outdoor gathering sizes.

The event follows on the heels of a car rally in Ancaster drawing hundreds of people, who had to be dispersed with the help of police forces from across the GTA.

Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star

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