A photo taken outside Cube nightclub on Queen Street West on June 30, 2018, shows Toronto rapper Jahvante Smart, back, in the Blue Jays cap, moments before a shoot-out with Abdulkadir Handule, standing in white shorts with ski goggles. A jury on Thursday convicted Handule of two counts of second-degree murder.
By Betsy PowellCourts Reporter
Thu., Feb. 24, 2022timer6 min. read
updateArticle was updated 4 mins ago
Jahvante Smart was having the time of his young life in early 2017 appearing as the opening act for hip-hop superstar Drake, a fellow Torontonian.
“Blessed to say I’m touring Europe,” Smart posted on his Twitter account under his rapper name, Smoke Dawg.
A year later, on June 30, 2018, the 21-year-old was lying dead on Queen Street West, killed in a daylight shootout in full view of terrified bystanders and numerous surveillance cameras. Also fatally shot was Smart’s friend, Ernest Modekwe, 28, a university business school graduate and hip-hop brand manager. A woman was hit in the leg by gunfire as she tried to scramble to safety inside a clothing store.
After a day of deliberations, a Toronto jury Thursday convicted Abdulkadir Handule, 26, of two counts of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for between 10 and 25 years.
The second alleged shooter, identified during the trial as a man in a black hoodie, is still being sought by Toronto police. At the time of the killings, he was under 18 and cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The Crown alleged Handule shot Smart intending to kill him but did not seek to prove that the bullets fired from his gun killed Modekwe. Prosecutors Anna Tenhouse and Andrew Gibbons argued that even if the teen killed Modekwe, Handule was still guilty of his murder as a “co-principal.”
The verdicts mean the jury rejected Handule’s defence of “provocation,” which would have reduced the charge to manslaughter. The defence argued the killing was not targeted, but a stupid, “adolescent feud” that escalated into violence and that it was Smart — who fired the first six shots — who “set into motion” his own death. Defence lawyer Dirk Derstine argued Handule had no intent to kill Smart before the rapper unloaded his firearm.
When the case began in November, Handule was facing two first-degree murder charges. The prosecution alleged Handule and the teen told an Uber driver to return to the Queen Street nightclub after receiving a call. When they arrived, Smart was there hanging outside, and Handule began taunting him, prosecutors said. The nightclub, hosting a Canada Day party, was then located on the north side of Queen west of Peter Street.
But after the prosecution closed its case and prior to jury deliberations that began early Wednesday afternoon, the judge discharged Handule of first-degree murder after agreeing with Derstine that there was an absence of evidence the killing was planned and deliberate.
Motive was never raised at the trial, nor did the jury hear how Handule, also an underground rapper, might have known Smart. (Motive is not an essential element for the Crown to prove either murder or manslaughter.) There was also no mention of street gangs, inter-neighbourhood feuds, nor any explanation why Handule and the youth would want to kill Smart. (Handule wasn’t arrested until July 2019 in British Columbia.)
Handule didn’t deny that he was at the scene after leaving plenty of evidence behind in the Uber he and the youth took to Queen Street that day, including his driver’s licence, along with his DNA and fingerprints on a Gatorade bottle. Video surveillance capturing his movements — and the expensive ski goggles he wore strapped across his head — left little doubt about his identity.
Video taken outside Cube nightclub shows the moments before and after rapper Jahvante Smart and brand manager Ernest Modekwe were shot dead on June 30, 2018. Abdulkadir Handule is facing two charges of first-degree murder.
What happened that early summer evening on one of Toronto’s busiest retail strips may provide context to some of the gun violence that has plagued our city since — much of it retaliatory in nature and stoked by social media.
At the time of his death, Smart was poised to become the next big star to come out of Toronto. He grew up in Regent Park, the country’s oldest public housing project, which remains one of the city’s most marginalized communities despite a decade-and-a-half-long revitalization.
“My music represents exactly where I’m from, my neighbourhood,” Smart said in an interview posted on Noisey, a YouTube music channel owned by Vice. He described himself as “a kid from Toronto that grew up in a hood where he’s seen a lot of his friends die and a lot of his friends get locked up.”
His music gave listeners an unbridled glimpse into his world. “He was the voice of the streets,” a long-time friend and musical collaborator told an interviewer after his death.
Smart’s music was finding a wider audience — particularly after Drake’s recognition — and he was seemingly on a trajectory to a better life for himself and his family.
His growing popularity was also attracting mainstream attention. A running shoe company used his image on a giant electronic billboard overlooking Yonge and Dundas Square, just blocks away from where he grew up.
But there was another consequence of his higher profile and the perceived economic benefits flowing his way: jealousy. Nor did his success mean it was easy to pull away from Regent Park’s conflicts with “opps,” the slang term used to describe an area’s “enemy” neighbourhoods.
Over the last few years, Toronto has developed a reputation of putting a target on the back of its rising rappers.
It keeps them under constant guard.
“You can’t make a mistake, or slip, that’s your ass, that’s my city,” Toronto rapper Pressa said in an interview posted online last fall. It “keeps my head on a swivel,” he said. In that same interview, Pressa, whose real name is Quinton Gardner, remarked how “getting” a rapper had become like earning your “stripes,” adding incredulously: “it doesn’t even make sense.”
Smart’s death was followed by widespread speculation — and social media chatter — that his death might have been linked to the theft of his gold chain, which bore the numbers “416.”
“That chain being stolen from Smoke Dawg was the cause of much death all over the city,” a police source familiar with the fallout from the case told the Star.
Street tensions later escalated after a rapper from Alexandra Park, another hardscrabble neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, flaunted the chain in a YouTube video. Alexandra Park, near Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street, has a long-standing history of conflict with Regent Park. A few days before he died, Smart appeared in a video recorded partly in the rival neighbourhood — interpreted by some as an antagonistic move.
Another rival to Regent Park is Driftwood, in North York, where Gardner is from and where Handule was raised and also rapped under the name 21Neat. (His brother, Farah Handule, 23, a rapper called 22Neat, was killed in Calgary at the end of 2019.) The fact both Smart and Gardner appeared on Drake’s 2017 European Tour inflamed tensions between the two Toronto areas, the police source said.
The violence has continued since Smart’s death.
In May 2020, Dimarjio Jenkins, a 21-year-old rapper called Houdini — originally from Driftwood — was fatally shot just after 4 p.m. in Toronto’s entertainment district, a few blocks from where Smart lost his life. A 15-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman were also injured. Jenkins performed with the same Driftwood-area group as Handule.
Two weeks after Jenkins’ death, a vigil in his honour was interrupted by gunfire from a car stopped on the shoulder of Highway 401.
Only one person has been charged in relation to Jenkins’ killing. That man, CJay Hobbs, is also alleged to be the person who drove Smart’s brother, Jahwayne Smart, and Rashawn Chambers to the Driftwood area, in November 2020, where they allegedly opened fire on a vehicle filled with passengers parked at 25 Stong Court. Several of the occupants were injured and a stray bullet struck and killed 12-year-old Dante Andreatta Marroquin, who had been walking nearby with this mother.
Just what, if any, the connection is to Smart’s death is unclear, and police publicly say they have no evidence of a link. Hobbs is also accused of driving the vehicle used in Jenkins’ killing.
Chambers and Smart were both allegedly carrying loaded firearms when they were eventually arrested outside a downtown Canadian Tire store, a few blocks from the courthouse where Handule was just convicted. Their case remains before the courts.
Handule was also found guilty of aggravated assault against the female bystander, along with the charge of discharge a firearm. After the verdicts were read out, the young man blew kisses to family members seated in the courtroom.
His sentencing hearing is set for May 27, but he first has to travel to British Columbia to face other criminal charges.
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