A gun control group is hoping a new 13-foot-tall bullet-shaped exclamation point outside Toronto’s city hall will lend a sense of urgency to the debate about gun violence in Canada.
In the wake of increasing gun violence in Toronto and Canada as a whole, the Coalition for Gun Control launched a national campaign Tuesday morning urging Ottawa to ban handguns and military-style assault weapons.
Stacey King, whose two children were shot this summer in a Toronto playground, said the time for platitudes has passed.
“Thankfully they survived, but our lives have been changed forever,” she said. “Mothers of children that have been shot do not want prayers or flowers. We want gun control.”
The campaign consists of billboards and a social media campaign directing people to the website triggerchange.ca. The site links to a government petition calling for the weapon ban — more than 600 people had signed as of noon Tuesday — and urges Canadians to contact their member of parliament.
The exclamation point sculpture was briefly placed next to the Toronto sign at city hall Tuesday morning.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years,” said coalition president Wendy Cukier, who started advocating for gun control after the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. “And personally, I feel like in the last decade we’ve been moving backward, not forward.”
Gun homicides are up sharply this year in Toronto — 45 so far this year, up from 35 by this date in 2017 — and the city is two killings away from breaking its record for homicides in a single year, set in 1991. The city councils of Toronto and Montreal have urged the federal government to ban handguns in their cities.
“We have all the evidence, we have all the data, we have all the experts, who have argued very clearly that stronger controls on guns reduce the risk that people will be injured and die — not just in the big cities, but right across the country,” Cukier said.
Cukier said she is worried Canada is approaching a “tipping point” where gun ownership is too saturated to be rolled back. She gave the example of the United States, where public opinion is generally for stricter gun control, but meaningful action is slow-moving.
In 2005 there were about 300,000 legally-owned handguns in Canada, she said. “Now there are almost a million, and if we wait longer, there will be two million,” she said.
An Ekos poll last December found 69 per cent of Canadians support strict gun bans in urban areas.
“There’s a real disconnect between public opinion on this issue, and political action,” Cukier said.
The campaign is taking aim at handguns and assault weapons, but not rifles to be used for hunting.
“You don’t use a handgun to shoot deer, and you can’t hunt partridge with an AR-15 — these are guns designed to kill people,” said campaign activist Meagan Trush, who grew up in an area outside Thunder Bay where many people, including most of her family, often go hunting on weekends.
King’s daughters, 5 and 9, were shot on June 14 while playing at a Scarborough playground. Her younger daughter was shot in the stomach; her older was shot in the ankle.
Both underwent emergency surgery.
Trush said she’s hopeful about the campaign’s potential to talk about gun control with youth.
“I’m tremendously proud of all the hard work that’s gone into it,” she said. “I think it’s a really important opportunity to engage younger demographics, millennials like myself in the issue that has traditionally been a narrative dominated by those of our parents’ generation.”
For the veteran Cukier, it’s more difficult to muster optimism about an issue she’s been protesting for nearly three decades.
“On the one hand, I’m grateful and happy that so many people have stepped up to help move this forward. On the other hand, every time there’s a shooting, I am furious that people who could’ve taken action did not take action,” Cukier said.
“To me, it’s now come down to, what do we value — our assault weapons and handguns, or our children’s lives?” she said. “For me, that choice is really clear.”
Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen