Ban handgun sales, Toronto board of health tells Ottawa
Toronto’s board of health is asking the federal government for a national ban on handgun sales, building on earlier and repeated calls from council for a Toronto-specific prohibition.
That comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government appears poised to grant cities the option to restrict sales and possession of firearms, a move some say doesn’t go far enough.
The board of health heard Tuesday about what medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said is a “growing public health concern” as part of a comprehensive report on community violence and what other health professionals called a crisis as a record number of people have been killed or injured by gunfire in Toronto this year.
“The vector of the disease is the bullet. It is the gun,” said Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital and co-founder of the Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns. She said the group supports a public health approach to preventing gun violence.
Addressing the “disease,” Ahmed said, includes banning the possession of guns and strengthening community programs.
The board also heard from members of the gun lobby and those who support sport shooting.
Dr. Greg Mosdossy, an emergency physician at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and a founding member of a group called Doctors for Firearm Safety and Responsibility, said he had a unique perspective on the issue.
As a doctor, he responded to the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal and says he also has a “passion” for sport shooting.
“I make a very big distinction between the illegal use of firearms, and the legal use of firearms and the peaceful use of firearms which I advocate for and which my organization advocates for,” said Mosdossy, who believes a ban would “unfairly target” law-abiding gun owners.
Governments, he said, should instead be focusing on issues like mental health and illegal gun sales.
Charles Zach, executive director of Canada’s National Firearms Association, claimed a ban would not result in increased public safety.
“We are not the problem. Gun control is not crime control,” he said.
Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson University professor and president of the Coalition for Gun Control, rejected the argument that legal gun owners would be unjustly penalized by a ban.
“I think losing a child is punishment,” Cukier said. “Finding a new hobby is not.”
Chief Mark Saunders has said police believe most guns used in Toronto crimes come from the U.S..
Gun possession is federally regulated and requires a licence overseen by the RCMP. Handguns are classified as restricted weapons, but licences for them can be obtained for purposes such as target shooting or collecting.
A spokesperson for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair indicated Tuesday that the government is not contemplating a national handgun ban.
“We understand that each city and province has different needs and concerns,” Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux said in a written statement to the Star, “and our plan is to work with provinces and municipalities by empowering them to enact additional requirements to restrict the storage and use of handguns within their jurisdictions.”
It’s not clear how local bans would work. Trudeau has said Ottawa will work with the provinces to let cities ban handguns, but Premier Doug Ford has said he opposes the idea.
“While the federal government has pledged to empower city governments to instate a handgun ban, municipalities will not have the resources including staff to be able to effectively enforce any local ban on handguns,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Mayor John Tory reiterated his support for a handgun ban Tuesday.
“I have asked, ‘Why does anybody in Toronto need a handgun?’ and I think that applies to other cities as well,” he said. “I think we have to wait now for the federal government to spell out what they meant and see. I would still prefer a national handgun ban because I think that’s a lot easier to administer and it doesn’t bring the provinces into it, I don’t think, because it’s within federal jurisdiction under criminal law.”