In wake of Toronto mass shooting, does Liberal gun reform bill strike the right balance?
When Parliament returns from summer break this fall, one of the big items on its plate will be the Liberal gun reform bill.
But in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in Toronto that killed two people and injured 13 others, the tragedy appears to be an example of the challenges in trying to regulate gun activities when the number of guns obtained illegally from within Canada appears to be rising in contrast with those that can be reasonably intercepted from smugglers at the border.
A police source indicated to Global News that the gun used in the shooting had previously been stolen from a Saskatchewan gun store two years ago.
Not all cases of gun violence involve an illegal weapon. In fact, many — including the Quebec City mosque shooting — involve legally-owned firearms. Already, though, the attack has been raising questions about what more can or should be done to crack down.
So what can actually be done to regulate guns used by people who seem to operate largely outside of the legal system targeted by proposed reforms?
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That’s a question that seems set to dominate discussions around C-71, the Liberal gun reform bill, in the coming months.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in response to Toronto Mayor John Tory‘s call for a ban on handguns in the city that the government is prepared to consider tightening existing rules on handguns.
It’s not clear yet what form that might take, but a spokesperson for the minister hinted that more details will be coming this fall.
“The federal government has heard representations on this suggestion during the hearings on Bill C-71,” said Hilary Pierce, a spokesperson for Goodale, noting the minister is willing to explore the ideas put forward.
“We are also considering additional measures to minimize firearms-related violence and expect to discuss then with provincial and territorial counterparts, particularly relating to mental illness and safe storage of firearms, this fall.”
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The gun reform bill currently awaiting Third Reading in the House of Commons does a number of things, among them allowing officials assessing a gun license application to go back through an applicant’s entire lifetime to assess risk factors such as domestic violence, mental illness and criminality.
Right now, they can only go back five years.
Yet there are challenges, given the onus is on the applicant to be forthcoming about mental illness diagnoses unless someone else flags it to the evaluating officials, and there is no obligation for physicians who treat an individual with mental illness to provide an assessment of whether they are likely to cause harm as part of their gun license application.
C-71, the Liberal gun bill, would not change that specific issue.
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As well, nothing in the bill as it stands now addresses the question raised by Tory, which is whether there should be a ban on handguns in urban areas.
When the bill comes before the Senate this fall, it is expected to face questions over whether it should be amended to reduce the amount of paperwork critics say it will impose on legal gun owners and take clearer aim specifically at concerns around illegal gun trafficking.
Global News reached out to all the members of the Senate national security committee, which will be tasked with studying the bill.
Only two responded saying they were considering amendments to strengthen the bill.
“In the midst of these tragedies, we are waking up to the human costs of demolishing Canada’s gun control laws,” said Senator Marilou McPhedran, a member of the Independent Senators Group who sits on the Senate’s national security committee, when asked whether she is considering proposing such an amendment.
“Local leaders like Mayor Tory are alerting us to the terrible cost to pay if we don’t take action as lawmakers. I was drafting some amendments and now will wait to see what Minister Goodale is prepared to do, but I have no doubt that the current version of Bill C-71 needs to have stronger protections. “
Another said the concerns not only of gun owners but also police and other stakeholders will need to be taken into account.
“I cannot speak for my colleagues. However, it is clear to me that the federal government needs to take more concrete steps to address the root causes of gun violence. We need to not only focus on gangs, crime and the trafficking of guns, but commit to reducing existing poverty and inequality, which are contributing factors to the widespread gun violence we are experiencing today,” said Conservative Senator Victor Oh.
“Although some of the proposed changes introduced through this legislation are positive, including stronger background checks for those seeking a license, more needs to be done to balance the concerns of not only law-abiding firearm owners, but also police, victims groups and public safety experts.”
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Opposition critics have argued since the bill was introduced in March 2018 that those provisions will only impact those who engage with the legal gun control system, and not those who operate illegally outside of it.
“Nothing in Bill C-71 will fix the gang violence and the gun violence on our streets, whether it is in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, or Vancouver. It will do nothing to stop it,” said James Bezan, Conservative defence critic, while debating the bill on June 19, 2018.
“We know criminals do not register their firearms. We know criminals do not buy their firearms from Cabela’s or any other store that sells firearms. It is a ridiculous idea and an asinine policy to burden legal firearms owners, to burden our retail outlets that sell firearms with extra red tape and extra bureaucracy.”
Bill Blair, the government’s new minister for organized crime and border security, cautioned against looking at a handgun ban as a be-all-end-all when it comes to tackling illegal weapons and street violence.
“I think we really need to focus on those guns that are getting into the hands of criminals and people who commit violent crimes in our city,” said Blair, who is also the former chief of the Toronto Police Service.
“The causes and solutions to violence are varied and I think it’s really important that we be open to looking at every avenue that we can take.”