Letter by Danforth Families for Safe Communities says Toronto-area Liberal MPs ‘complicit’ in failure of federal government to deliver meaningful gun control reform

This loaded handgun was seized by Toronto police officers in 32 Division in March. Photo: Toronto Police Service.

By ALAN SHACKLETON

The Danforth Families for Safe Communities (DFSC) sent a letter to the Canadian government this week outlining its “great disappointment” with the proposed changes to federal gun control laws being put forward by the ruling Liberal Party.

The April 7 letter was addressed to Scarborough Southwest MPP and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, with copies to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal Members of Parliament.

“We do not accept this government’s record on gun control reform as meeting, or being on track to meet, its platform promises,” said the letter posted on the DFSC’s website.

“To then claim that Bill C-21 is the ‘most sweeping and significant gun legislation in Canadian history’ is highly offensive to gun crime victims. Bill C-21 not only misses the mark on the most important elements that such legislation should address, but the messaging disseminated by this government actually masks the potential harmful effects of this bill for Canadians.”

The DFSC is made up of families who were affected by the Danforth Shooting on the night of July 22, 2018, that took the lives of two people and injured 13 others.

Beach resident and Malvern Collegiate grad Reese Fallon, 18, and Markham’s Julianna Kozis, 10, were killed in the shooting that took place near Danforth and Logan avenues.

The shooter killed himself as he was approached by police near Danforth Avenue later that night. The gun used by the shooter had originally been legally sold in Canada but was then stolen from a gun dealer in Saskatchewan in 2015.

Those who signed the April 7 DFSC letter included the parents of Reese Fallon and Julianna Kozis, and family members of many of those injured in the Danforth Shooting.

In a Beach Metro News story in February of this year, DFSC member Ken Price said the federal government’s proposed changes in Bill C-21 to the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code were disappointing to the group and were “difficult to support”. https://beachmetro.com/2021/02/25/failure-to-include-national-ban-on-handgun-ownership-a-disappointment-to-danforth-shooting-victims-group/

Price’s daughter Samantha was wounded in the Danforth Shooting.

This week’s letter went much further in its criticisms of Bill C-21 than Price had first outlined in February.

“Unfortunately, the Liberal government’s response has been to acknowledge the issues but to inadequately address them, which is disappointing to say the least. Consequently, it is with great disappointment that we are once again forced to revisit our own grief and trauma as a means of having you and other elected officials take notice,” the letter said.

The Liberal government’s failure to address the many issues related to gun control and public safety in the wake of the Danforth Shooting, along with continuing gun-related crimes across the country, is bringing back the pain of July 2018 for many of the members of the DFSC group, the letter said.

“It is not easy to relive the night of July 22, 2018, nor any other occasion where gun use led to tragedy, shattering lives and the perceived sense of safety within a community. Nonetheless, we have shared our stories. For all of us, it is impossible to accept the senseless loss of life and long-standing health effects of the related injuries (whether they be physical or mental). For all of us, it is impossible to erase the direct and indirect impact of the trauma and the haunting memories for those who bore witness,” the letter said.

The letter specifically takes to task Minister Blair and 48 Liberal MPs (25 in the City of Toronto and 23 more in the surrounding Greater Toronto Area) for “failing” to protect Canadian citizens and being “collectively complicit” in the process and shortcomings of Bill C-21.

“And, it is, most particularly, a failing of yours, Mr. Blair – Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness – which is significantly disappointing to those signatories hereto who are represented by you in the electoral district of Scarborough Southwest,” the letter continued.

“The bottom line is that your direct experience in Toronto law enforcement and representation as a Toronto MP should have resulted in a far stronger recommendation on handgun policy.”

Blair was a Toronto police officer for 39 years, including serving as Chief from 2005 until his retirement from policing in 2015, after which he ran in that year’s federal election and was elected MP for Scarborough Southwest.

Among many failings in Bill C-21 outlined by the DFSC is the section saying municipalities could be responsible for instituting their own bans on handguns exclusive of a Canada-wide law.

“Withdraw the proposal for a municipally-determined handgun prohibition on storage and transportation in order to determine a more credible strategy, which must include reducing, and eventually phasing out, the private ownership of handguns in Canada,” said the letter.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Blair, said in a statement to CBC News on April 8 that the federal government has “taken the strongest and most extensive action to end gun violence that our country has ever seen.”

She told CBC that if Bill C-21 is passed, owners of prohibited weapons would need a licence and enhanced storage requirements.

“These measures will give our government information about where these prohibited weapons are, and who has them; information that will ensure our buyback program is effective in retrieving these weapons that are too dangerous for our communities,” Power said. “The federal government would like to thank the members of Danforth Families for Safe Communities for their advocacy, and their commitment to a future free from gun violence.”

The full text of the DFSC letter is below:

Dear Mr. Blair

We are the Danforth Families for Safe Communities (DFSC), a group of families affected by the “Danforth Shooting”. We are joined by other individuals and families in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that have also been victimized by gun violence. You know many of us.

It is not easy to relive the night of July 22, 2018, nor any other occasion where gun use led to tragedy, shattering lives and the perceived sense of safety within a community. Nonetheless, we have shared our stories. For all of us, it is impossible to accept the senseless loss of life and long-standing health effects of the related injuries (whether they be physical or mental). For all of us, it is impossible to erase the direct and indirect impact of the trauma and the haunting memories for those who bore witness.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government’s response has been to acknowledge the issues but to inadequately address them, which is disappointing to say the least. Consequently, it is with great disappointment that we are once again forced to revisit our own grief and trauma as a means of having you and other elected officials take notice.

We do not accept this government’s record on gun control reform as meeting, or being on track to meet, its platform promises. Bill C-71 has yet to be implemented, with no recent update to stakeholders or the public. To then claim that Bill C-21 is the “most sweeping and significant gun legislation in Canadian history” is highly offensive to gun crime victims. Bill C-21 not only misses the mark on the most important elements that such legislation should address, but the messaging disseminated by this government actually masks the potential harmful effects of this bill for Canadians.

Whatever the politics and whatever the process, the lack of progress on Bill C-71 and the introduction of Bill C-21, as currently drafted, are failings of this government to protect its citizens. It is also a failing of the 25 Liberal MPs elected by the City of Toronto, and the other 23 Liberal MPs elected in the GTA, who have collectively been complicit in this process.

And, it is, most particularly, a failing of yours, Mr. Blair – Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness – which is significantly disappointing to those signatories hereto who are represented by you in the electoral district of Scarborough Southwest.

The bottom line is that your direct experience in Toronto law enforcement and representation as a Toronto MP should have resulted in a far stronger recommendation on handgun policy. Instead, during this government’s time in office, the number of Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licenses (RPALs) issued across Canada has grown at an alarming rate and, with that, the growth in private ownership of the most dangerous firearms that this government pledged to curb. Also, as you are aware, gun crime in both the City of Toronto and across the country has been greater in each and every year since this government came to power in 2015. The statistics speak for themselves but, using 2015 as a baseline, where applicable, the DFSC feel compelled to highlight the following:

· At the end of 2019, Canadians had been issued 1,057,418 RPALs, which constitutes an average of approximately 65,000 additional RPALs per year, along with a 32% growth in the user base.

· The rates of violent and non-violent offences specific to firearms increased for the fifth consecutive year in 2019.

· Handguns were used in 60% of firearms-related homicides in 2019. 49% of firearm-related homicides in 2019 were not related to gang activity.

· There has been no progress on the fact that 85% of victims of solved homicides in 2019 knew their killer. 50% of female victims continue to be killed by someone with whom they had a current or former intimate relationship.

· In the City of Toronto, 1100 persons were killed or injured by guns between 2016 and 2020, which is an average of 222 per year or 46% more per year, on average, compared to the 152 incidents in 2015.

You must do better. Canadians need this government to achieve outcomes similar to those of social-liberal democracies such as Australia, where the gun homicide rate per 100,000 population is half of Canada’s, or the UK, where they experience about 10% of the rate in Canada; the obvious difference being that those countries have had the courage to prohibit private ownership and possession of assault weapons and handguns.

Now that Bill C-21 has progressed to the stage of consideration in committee, and since the implementation plan of Bill C-71 is undisclosed, we urge you and this government to take the action we’ve outlined below. Not only in the interest of public safety, but to also honour our loved ones who paid the ultimate price for a lack of balance between public safety and the desires of self-centered interests.

1) Withdraw the proposal for a municipally-determined handgun prohibition on storage and transportation in order to determine a more credible strategy, which must include reducing, and eventually phasing out, the private ownership of handguns in Canada. In addition, immediately cease to issue new RPALs for handguns and cease the further manufacture of handguns for, and importation of handguns to, Canada for sale to private citizens.

2) Remove, through a mandatory buy-back program, all of the newly prohibited assault weapons from circulation (or, in the very least, implement a program through which such weapons are rendered permanently inoperable).

3) Do not introduce an onerous and, potentially, dangerous “red flag” judicial process that would cede responsibility to those under the threat of violence to petition the court. Instead, hold authorities accountable. The government issueslicenses and allows peopleto have guns. It also needs to take responsibility for ensuring that they are taken away when public safety is at stake. In addition, develop a clear and responsive avenue for potential victims, and those that may act on their behalf, to ensure appropriate resources are mobilized quickly and effectively.

4) We also call on this government to publicly disclose the implementation plan for Bill C-71 and the status of each constituent part.

As a group, we read the letter addressed to the Prime Minister published by PolySeSouvient on March 17, 2021. The letter is both heart-breaking and necessary. We commend those signatories for their continued bravery and agree with them that Bill C-21 contains compromised, flawed, and possibly even dangerous proposals. We stand in solidarity with those individuals and families when we also call into question whether this government is truly prepared to try and prevent another Danforth, or any other incident of mass shooting that is the product of the existing gun management policy.

Our calls to action are clear. Your action is now required.

Sincerely,

Danforth Families for Safe Communities:

· Ali Demircan

· Claudine DeBeaumont and Doug Fallon (parents of Reese Fallon)

· Sheryl Fallon

· Tilly Gray

· Danielle Kane

· Donny Kozis and Voula Kozis (parents of Julianna Kozis)

· Miranda Li, Vivian Ho, and Jin Li

· Skye, Jane, and Patrick McLeod

· Samantha Price, Claire Smith, and Ken Price

· Noor Samiei, Mandana Partomanesh, and Mohamad Samiei

· Max Smith, Wendy Harris, and Kevin Gowans

Joined in support of this letter’s content and, specifically, the calls to action therein by:

· Nancy Bokma (Mother of Justin Bokma, 2016 gun homicide victim)

· Alison Irons (Mother of Lindsay Wilson, 2013 gun femicide victim); as also supported by Jessica Carmelo, Deborah Lobban, Jane Hickey, Lesly McConnell, Gloria Dowden, Kim Scott, and Laurie Forster

· Cathy and Ryan Keyes (Toronto residents; survivors of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting)

· Craig Stevenson (Father of Connor Stevenson, survivor of the 2012 Toronto Eaton Centre mass shooting)

· Kelly Whetter (Mother of Gabriel Nikov, 2016 gun homicide victim)


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