Many communities across Canada have been impacted by very public displays of gun violence. In 2018, the rate of gun violence in Canada reached it’s highest since 1992. While there have been many public debates on gun violence, one question remains unanswered, “How do we stop it?” Canada has had its share of opportunities to commit preventive actions that would set us apart from other countries by ensuing gun laws are much more stringent. We continue to see concerning gun-related crimes impacting communities and many provinces across Canada.
Policy discussions and changes in Canada often follow major gun violence events and usually leads to incremental changes at the Provincial and Municipal level with less Federal enhancements. There are social movements that may be the catalyst to mobilize changes in the discourse of gun violence. Groups such as physicians and mothers of those victimized by gun violence have tabled different ways of thinking about gun violence. They will increase their effort to forge new policy directions based on approaching gun violence as a public health issue instead of strictly a criminal concern in Canada.
Concerned groups have mobilized and are forging new expectations for changes in gun policies at every level of government. Reports of gun crimes reach our homes every day, and the rate of these crimes continues to threaten communities and households which have been traditionally safe and secure. Statistics Canada reports that the crime rate in Canada has increased by 1% since 2013, while the violent crime rate has decreased by 4%. Violent crime makes up 20% of all Criminal Code offences in Canada. (Canada, 2018)
Statistics published by the Department of Justice Canada (Zhang, 2012) show that, in 2008, Canada had approximately 8,710 police-reported incidents involving a firearm that affected 9,469 victims. The total economic and social costs of gun-related crime in Canada was $3.1 billion that same year, and “firearms were present in about one-third of homicides (32.7%) and attempted murders (35.8%) in 2008” (Zhang, 2012).
While figures have fluctuated since, Statistics Canada reveals that, in 2016, critical contingency factors primed policy discussions. The report suggested that “there were approximately 7,100 victims of violent crime where a firearm was present”—a 33 percent increase on 2013 figures. The Toronto Van Attack in April 2018, the Quebec City Mosque shooting of 2017, the Vernon Massacre of 1996; the Yeo Inquest Shooting of 1992 the Concordia Shooting of the same year, and the École Polytechnique Massacre in 1989 show that Canada is not immune to horrendous incidents of gun violence (Kamal, 2018). As aforementioned, there were subtle policy movements following these events.
The Federal Government can legislate handguns as evidenced in Bill C-71. They remain cautious about infringing on the constitutional rights of “gun owners” in Canada. The Federal Government has been engaged in the discussion regarding public safety that peaked when the Reform Party became a willing conduit for the arguments of firearms (Brown R. , 2017). For the 2019 federal elections, the Liberals, Green Party and New Democrat Party included gun control, prisoner form and support for victims of violence in their party platform.
The municipal government is advocating for a public health approach to managing gun violence and has put forward recommendations to the Province of Ontario.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal reports that medical doctors want gun control policy, as with all health policy issues, to be founded upon the best available evidence. Physicians know scientific evidence and are good at producing, appraising and explaining it to the public (Stanbrook, 2019).
A feminist group became the first Community Coalition for Gun Control in response to the Montreal massacre. They started as a feminist group that believes in stricter gun laws including policies that are based on a public health approach to dealing with gun violence (Brown R. B., 2013). The Globe and Mail reported that Ken Price, a member of Danforth Families for Safe Communities, said in an “interview that dealing with gun violence must be approached much like smoking once was as a multidecade public-health endeavour” (Cardoso, 2019).
The Gun Lobby in Canada objects medical doctors involved in the gun control discourse and dismisses their recommendations as “ridiculous.” The gun lobby has been excellent at obstructing the initiation and discussions regarding available evidence that links guns and health. They have argued, for example, that such advocacy will lead to children being shot by police coming to raid homes of gun owners (Cardoso, 2019).
The Federal Government remains the only level of government with authority to commit an outright ban on handguns. There remains a pressing need for policies that have horizontal appeal such that it shifts the span of control and scope of action from the traditional enforcement focus to a socially driven entity. These entities appear to be emerging as evidenced by citizen groups, provincial government initiatives and municipal government initiatives.
The opportunity to apply the lenses of intergovernmental collaboration as the key to future policies regarding gun violence remains available as the main thread that connects all efforts to address gun violence as a public health issue. This would necessitate mandating all files that address the broader social determinants of health to work as extensions of each other in building the policies required to address gun violence in a public health context.
At the Provincial and municipal level, direct discussions are underway. The Globe and Mail reported that the Toronto Board of Health had been actively involved in advocating a new way of dealing with gun violence by asking the Province to ban the sale of handgun ammunition in March 2018 (Cardoso, 2019). Further, the idea of approaching gun violence using similar policies to those used for tobacco or alcohol has been tabled and is gaining traction as social movements.
Concerned groups have mobilized and are forging new expectations for changes in policy at every level of government. United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere is one such organization that formed a new utility of motherhood as a political vehicle and have successfully elicited the support of local politicians in the City of Toronto (Kinser, 2010). The Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns continue to rally their support for gun control that have resulted in the 70 complaints to the College of Physicians and Surgeons from the Canadian Gun Lobby group (Stanbrook, 2019). In the future, it is likely that we will continue to see a narrowing of the gap between the influence of institutions and the influence of coalitions in the effort to reduce the impact of gun violence through policy.
The analysis in this paper explored the prospect of opening the policy directions that meet the expectations of citizen coalitions. Gun violence as a public health issue requires commitment and corporation of the three levels of government. The policy change is increasingly attainable, but change is slow. While bills must pass through the Senate, at best, the Senate can only attempt to modify it (Kamal, 2018). Political Parties are the change catalyst in Canada’s parliamentary system, and when one party has a majority, it becomes the dominant player (Tsebelis, 2002). With the Liberal Government’s creation of the long-gun registry in1995 as part of the Firearms Act, the door to change appeared to be opening. In 2018, the passing of Bill C-71 confirmed the journey to real and effective policies is attainable, but in real-time. Congruence and cohesiveness will be the key to achieving a Federally backed public health approach to gun violence policy. (Golding, Llewellyn, 2019)
- Brown, R. (2017). Firearm ‘Rights’ in Canada: Law and History in the Debates over Gun Control. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 97-116.
- Brown, R. B. (2013). Arming and Disarming—A History of Gun Control in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
- Canada, S. (2018, 11 21). Firearm-related Violent Crime in Canada. Retrieved from Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-005-x/2018001/article/54962-eng.htm
- Cardoso, T. (2019, 11 13). Toronto health board calls on Queen’s Park. Globe and Mail.
- Kamal, R. D. (2018). POLICY GRIDLOCK VERSUS POLICY SHIFT IN GUN POLITICS. World Affairs, 181(4)., 317–347.
- Kinser, A. (2010). Motherhood and Feminism. Berkley: Seal Press.
- Stanbrook, M. (2019). Gun control: a health issue for which physicians rightfully advocate. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 434-435.
- Tsebelis, G. (2002). How Political Institutions Work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Zhang, T. (2012). Introduction—The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.