Toronto on its own can’t do much to reduce the number of guns in the city and might have to look to the province for help even if Ottawa lets municipalities ban some types of firearms.
Those conclusions are in a city staff report going to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee Thursday, raising the possibility of yet more friction between the city and Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.
City council last year, in the wake of the Danforth attack that killed two people and injured 13 others, asked the Justin Trudeau Liberal government to ban the sale of handguns in Toronto.
Council also wants a cross-Canada ban on the sale, ownership and use of handguns, assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms, except for police, soldiers and the like, and other measures to track and restrict use of other firearms.
City staff were asked, amid a surge in homicides, to examine what Canada’s biggest city could do, in the meantime, on its own. Not much, it turns out, other than keep lobbying senior governments.
“The regulation of handguns and ammunition is within federal jurisdiction, with implementation responsibilities delegated to provinces … ” the report states. “Within the current legislative framework, there is little jurisdictional room for the city to act without conflicting with or frustrating the current federal and provincial regulation of firearms and ammunition.”
If Toronto and other municipalities are given authority to ban handguns and assault-style weapons within their borders, the report adds, “it would likely be done through a delegation of authority from the federal government to the province. In turn, the province would authorize municipalities to make the decision to ban these firearms within their boundaries.”
Last August, Premier Doug Ford firmly rejected the idea of making Toronto a handgun-free zone.
“I wouldn’t support a ban on handguns,” Ford said after city council’s vote. “There’s a lot of legal, responsible handgun owners. We have to refocus all our resources going after the bad guys, not the good guys.”
Asked about the province’s position now, Jesse Robichaud, a spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, said banning specific weapons “is a decision for the federal government.”
The Ford government is focused on “taking effective action to protect law-abiding citizens from guns and gangs,” Robichaud said in an email, including “strong action on prosecution and enforcement with prevention and intervention initiatives.”
Wendy Cukier, a prominent gun control advocate, said Canada-wide prohibitions on the most dangerous firearms makes the most sense, rather than different rules for different cities.
“Our position has always been that strong federal legislation is what is required — the evidence is that the success of local efforts to control guns is mixed at best,” said Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control and a professor at Ryerson University.
“Focusing on city regulations absorbs a lot of energy that is far better directed at encouraging the federal government to introduce strong and rigorous legislation, and the province to ensure appropriate implementation and administration of it.”
Cukier supports bans on private handgun and military-style assault rifle ownership. Gun ban opponents talking about criminals versus law-abiding gun owners ignores the fact that previously legal guns are used in murders, suicides and mass shootings, she said.
“The evidence is fewer guns, fewer dead people.”
Ken Price, whose daughter Samantha was shot in the thigh by the gunman who opened fire on Danforth Ave. restaurants and patios last July, echoed Cukier’s comments.
“We believe more guns lead to more chances for abuse — that legally obtained weapons can end up in the hands of criminals,” said Price, part of a group of Danforth victims and family members pressing the Trudeau government to ban handguns and assault rifles.
“The federal government needs to set the legislative tone but it certainly needs to be supported and enforced by the provincial and municipal levels of government,” Price said, lauding Tory’s frequent statements that nobody outside law enforcement needs a handgun in Toronto.
Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who is now the federal minister in charge of border security and organized crime, said this week of new gun legislation expected soon: “We are looking at all the measures that we believe could help keep Canadians safe.”
He refused to tell the House of Commons if specific types of weapons would be banned, but said Canadians have told him they are worried about “firearms that were designed for military purpose.”
Marco Mendicino, the Eglinton-Lawrence Liberal MP, said his colleagues are urging cabinet to be bold.
“Every member of Parliament from Toronto that I know is engaging the government, including Minister Blair and (Public Safety) Minister (Ralph) Goodale, to take decisive action,” Mendicino said.
“When the City of Toronto takes the extraordinary step of asking the federal government to take additional measures including a ban on assault rifles, and potentially handguns as well, we’ve got a moral obligation to respond.”
Nicolas Johnson, a gun rights advocate and founder of thegunblog.ca, said bans on firearms will do nothing to make Torontonians safer.
The roughly 100,000 licensed gun owners in Toronto are, like other Canadians, tightly regulated and risk jail if they break firearms regulations, he said.
“We know that we have to follow the law,” Johnson said. “The people that John Tory and council are worried about don’t follow the law. You don’t stop bad guys by cracking down on good guys.
“You could take all the guns from every federally licensed gun owner and I don’t imagine it would change anything about (criminals) shooting kids in schoolyards or a Danforth-type shooting.”
With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and Tonda MacCharles
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider