Concerned about the escalating number of robberies at illegal marijuana storefront dispensaries, Acting Staff Superintendent Bryce Evans reiterated that owners have a duty to report the thefts and violence in order to protect the public.
He assured the public that these robberies, some that have turned particularly violent, will be fully investigated by police.
At a news conference at police headquarters on January 23, Evans said the Service is aware of four storefront dispensary robberies since the start of the year.
In two of the robberies, the suspects were armed with firearms; in another one the suspects had knives. The violence includes a shot being fired in a store, two employees stabbed and a customer pistol-whipped. Witnesses reported two of the four robberies.
Since last June, Evans said the Service is aware of 13 robberies at illegal marijuana storefront dispensaries.
He said suspects were armed with firearms at 10 of the robberies and the suspects also had pepper spray at one robbery.
“In one robbery, the suspects were armed with knives, at another they had just pepper spray and, in two of the robberies, a shot was fired in the store,” he added.
In only two of the 13 robberies were the owners charged by the Drug Squad with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.
A non-reporting robbery occurred on December 21, 2016, at Canna Clinic at 213 Ossington Ave., where four-to-five masked men armed with firearms stormed the storefront and ordered the employees and customers to the ground as they removed cash and drugs.
A customer in the store at the time of the robbery reported the incident to police.
Evans said employees denied that a robbery took place at the store.
“Toronto Police 14 Division then went to the clinic where the employees were not forthcoming,” said Evans. “They refused to answer any questions and advised the officers that their board would be in contact with the police. We know they have several video cameras in their store and they refused the police access to them.”
Evans, who has not heard from the board, said nearby businesses video capture four males carrying what appear to be full garbage bags running away from the scene.
Through their action and, in some instances, lack of action, Evans said illegal storefront operators are setting up their employees and customers to be victimized.
“I realize there are no legal requirements to report a crime, but where is your moral sense of obligation,” he asked. “When will you step up to the plate to protect your employees and customers who you know already suffer health issues and the community members who reside and are employed within your storefronts from being victimized. I am looking forward to having an open, meaningful and honest dialogue with you and your board or boards. We, the Toronto Police Service, have stepped up to the plate. Now it’s your turn.”
Last May, Toronto Police launched Project Claudia and executed multiple search warrants while serving letters of notice.
“This project commenced because Toronto Police and the City of Toronto had concerns due to the rapidly increasing opening of illegal dispensaries and the lack of quality controls of their product which may affect the health and safety of individuals,” Evans added.
Acting Inspector Steve Watts of the Drug Squad said warrants were executed at 33 storefronts since June.
“Right now, in Toronto, there are 44 dispensaries that are operating,” he said. “Our primary focus, today, is on the victimization and public safety aspect. You are at risk when there is a takeover-style robbery and that’s the reality.”
Victim Services Toronto Associate Executive Director Bobbie McMurrich said her organization has met with a few of the victims of the dispensary robberies.
VST provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours a day. Any victims of crime can reach out to the organization at 416-808-7066.
Last year, VST served 20,279 people affected by crime and sudden tragedies. Crisis counsellors and case co-coordinators offered services to victims at location and on scene a total of 2,248 times during the year.
“You don’t need to suffer in silence,” she noted. “If it does go untreated, it is certainly possible for those reactions to turn into post-traumatic stress which is really a horrible effect. We are there to support the community in the aftermath of crime.”