Gun rights, privacy concerns heard at violent crime meeting in Calgary
Minister of organized crime reduction holds consultations across Canada
Albertans invited to a closed-door meeting with Canada's minister of organized crime reduction are hoping their point-of-view will be considered in deliberations about how to deal with gun violence in this country.
Minister Bill Blair has been travelling across the country to consult with Canadians about options including possible handgun and assault weapon bans. One of his final stops was Wednesday in Calgary, where he met with more than 20 local stakeholders.
Other meetings are scheduled for Red Deer and Edmonton.
Minister Blair is expected to make his recommendation about a possible handgun ban in less than two weeks — meaning, the chances to have his ear are slim.
"We had a lot of people in the room and it was a very good discussion," Blair said after the meeting. "I felt a very respectful discussion and I learned a lot."
'Make the best of our opportunity'
Some attendees of the meeting said they worried the private, one-hour meeting for more than 20 guests was too short to have a productive discussion. They also said they would have preferred a more public forum, such as a townhall.
"The minister did lots of speaking. He heard our questions," said Gordon Sterchi, who attended as a firearms owner and concerned citizen. "I don't know if there's really much consultation left, if what was said today is really going to make a difference but we had to make the best of our opportunity."
Blair was tasked with addressing violent gun crime, including by studying the idea of a handgun ban, in his mandate letter from the prime minister last summer. The directive followed the brazen shooting on busy Danforth Avenue in Toronto that killed two people and injured 13 others.
After the minister's cross-Canada consultations were announced, Stephanie Kusie, Conservative Member of Parliament for Calgary Midnapore, sent him a letter about arranging a meeting with interested Calgarians.
She said she had gathered the names of dozens of people but was told to pick 10.
"The format that Minister Blair has chosen does not allow for all those who have contacted me and my office to be included in the direct consultations," Kusie said.
Sharon Polsky of Privacy and Access Council of Canada said Minister Blair assured her that changes would be possible even after he makes his recommendation. She attended to represent a voice concerned about civil liberties and personal information privacy.
Along with studying a possible ban on some types of guns, the federal government was close to passing new firearms legislation in Bill C-71 that would require all firearms sales be recorded, with the sales data provided to police if requested, even without a warrant.
Polsky said any ban or surrendering of weapons would be "abhorrent" from a civil liberties perspective. She also warned that stores may not be equipped to protect the privacy of firearms buyers.
"It's nothing for anybody to walk by with a cellphone, take picture of the page or two, and there's a shopping list of where to go and steal guns," she said.
Another attendee, Rick Ostashower, said he wanted to offer his insight as a military veteran, who worked with firearms for 40 years, and to put a face to gun users who aren't men in a "plaid hat and shirt mis-buttoned."
"Because we're not knuckle-draggers," he said.
Ostashower's biggest concern, he said, was that gun users won't have the chance to contribute ideas and ensure those ideas are heard and not forgotten. He said they could also stand to have more information about what's being considered before the decision is made.
"More information, both good and bad, is necessary. I understand the concept of secrecy but this is in our own country," Ostashower said. "To the best of my knowledge, we are not enemies to each other in this country."
In a statement, Minister Blair's office said the ongoing engagement is to help "identify and inform" future measures to reduce violent crimes.
"We are currently leading a collaborative review of this issue and are considering options, including a ban on handguns and assault weapons, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians," the statement read. "Our government's top priority is keeping Canadians safe, and we are deeply concerned with the recent acts of gun violence across the country."
It also noted there was an online questionnaire that closed Nov. 10, 2018. A summary report of all engagement efforts is due to be made public early this year.
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