How Canada ‘politicizes’ gun violence

How Canada ‘politicizes’ gun violence

As some Americans scramble to purchase more arms to defend themselves and the media combs through every detail following last week’s mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, Toronto is also reeling in the aftermath of the city’s largest ever mass shooting which left 2 dead and 23 injured on July 18.

Despite having far stricter gun control laws than their Second Amendment-loving southern neighbors, Canada is not immune from gun violence. And while you would be hard pressed to find a Canadian in public office willing to promote concealed carry as a solution, Canada is certainly not immune from the inevitable politicking that follows such events.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Toronto mayor Rob Ford declared his intention to banish gun offenders from the city — effectively pushing the problem outside his jurisdiction. According to the CBC:

Critics said the mayor’s comments were confusing, and it wasn’t clear why he appeared to be zeroing in on immigration as an issue when it comes to gun crime.

Ford didn’t specify how he thought he would be able to move residents out of the city by persuading the federal government to change immigration laws.

"A lot of people just said: ‘Rob, why are they living in this city?’ No matter who they are, I don’t care if you’re Canadian born, I don’t care if you’re a Canadian citizen. I don’t care if you’re an immigrant, I don’t care if you’re refugee. It doesn’t matter to me," he said.

"If you’re convicted of a gun crime, I don’t want you living in this city. And the only way I can find out whether that’s legal or not or whether we can enforce that is through the [Prime Minister’s Office], and that’s what I’m doing."

Freedom of movement is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government quickly signaled that it was not on board.

"Obviously we can’t tell people which city [they] can and can’t live in," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Prime Minister Steven Harper, meanwhile, took the shootings as an opportunity to plug for the mandatory jail sentence minimums his government controversially pushed through as part of an omnibus crime bill earlier this year.  

"I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential," he said. "This is not a theoretical problem."

As recently as July 6, an Ontario court struck down the mandatory minimums for gun crimes included in the bill as unconstitutional. Mandatory minimums have been on the books in the U.S. since the 1980s as part of the country’s ailing war on drugs. Critics argue that they result in overcrowded prisons and a loss of judicial independence.

Even before the Toronto shootings, the Harper government’s approach to violent crime legislation could be characterized as a "lite" version of the American model which combines tougher penalties with lighter arms control. Harper abolished Canada’s long-gun registry in April, amidst howls of protest from the left — particularly out of Quebec.

The registry – which required documenting licensed ownership of all rifles, long-guns and shot guns — was established largely in reaction to the 1989 Polytechnique shootings, an event which horrified the country as a whole and is still vividly remembered in Quebec. A decade before Columbine, a lone gunman entered a Montreal, Quebec, engineering school and, shouting his hatred for "feminists," shot 14 female students before turning the gun on himself.

So far, it appears that the Canadian response to this spate of violence has been a series of backwards steps.