Yes, city council will debate a handgun ban. No, it doesn't have the authority to implement it

The city's executive committee wants council to debate a call for a city-wide handgun ban, although it is beyond Toronto's power to declare one. But advocates say it could show Ottawa that the city is united in supporting federal attempts at gun control.

City only has power to enforce location of gun ranges

Toronto only has the power to determine the locations of gun ranges with its city limits, but is pressing higher levels of government for city-wide handgun ban. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

City council will press ahead and debate a handgun ban, although Mayor John Tory and councillors admit there are limits to what Toronto can do to impose any firearms prohibition.

"The city, I don't think, ever felt that it had legislative or legal jurisdiction over anything other than very narrow aspects of guns," said Tory, adding the city does have the power to determine the location of shooting ranges, but little else.

"We knew all along the strong views we put forward … to say we would like to see a handgun ban and various other measures taken to tighten gun controls, are things that recognize the fact that it's principally the federal government that has responsibility for this."

Toronto Mayor John Tory addresses the media at an Executive Council meeting held at North York Civic Centre Thursday. He hopes senior levels of government will support Toronto's demand for a handgun ban. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

On Thursday, Tory's executive committee voted to send a proposed handgun ban to city council June 18 for debate. If it passes, the city plans to ask the province and federal government to ban handguns, assault rifles, and semi-automatic firearms and ammunition within city limits.

So far this year there have been 149 shootings and 14 firearms-related deaths. Last year, there were 428 shootings and 51 fatalities.

"Obviously I would prefer if the cities were given the option to choose to have a handgun ban in their own boundaries," Tory said, adding that the city's limited powers mean it has to keep lobbying senior levels of government.

"They've made some changes and I think they're still considering making more and I'm heartened by that because that came in direct response to Toronto as the first city that spoke up and said in light of all this gun violence," said Tory.

The federal Liberal government introduced Bill C-71, which renewed requirements for checking gun licences before the sale or transfer of long guns, and made it mandatory for gun dealers and retailers to keep records.

Coun. Shelley Carroll, a former member of the Toronto Police Services Board, says in general police across the country support stricter gun laws. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

It also extends the length of background checks for gun licences for non-restricted rifles and shotguns to a lifetime rather than going back five years under the previous law.

Coun. Shelley Carroll, who represents Ward 17, Don Valley North and previously sat on the Toronto Police Services Board, said there are issues with prohibiting handguns in the city.

"We could have a ban here in the city. And what happens as soon as you leave the city? What happens as soon as you head to another province?" she said.

The motion sent to council also requests that the government of Canada not only ban the sale of handguns in Toronto, but prohibit the availability, sale, possession and use of handguns, assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms, with the exception of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and police officers across Canada.

Coun. Paula Fletcher says with the one-year anniversary of the Danforth shooting approaching, members of her ward are asking: 'Where's the gun ban?' (Greg Bruce/CBC)

"A huge amount of their effort goes into finding those guns that have fallen into criminal hands and just keeping those off the streets," Carroll said referring to the police.

"And so tighter controls give the police the ability to be focusing on the things that they should be focusing on. If we can take away the guns that are involved in tragedies across the country it helps every police service do a better job."

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said people are looking for change as the city gets ready to mark a grim anniversary, referring to the Danforth shootings, which happened last July 22 and left three people dead, including the shooter.

"And I think citizens are asking, 'Where is the gun ban?'" 


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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