Tory urges Trudeau to prevent repeat gun offenders from getting bail

Toronto Mayor John Tory has outlined his vision for gun violence prevention in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Tory is calling on Ottawa to toughen bail rules, crack down on trafficking and ban handgun sales inside city limits.

Mayor wants repeat gun offenders held in custody until their charges are resolved

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto mayor John Tory pose for the media at city hall in Toronto on Friday, July 6, 2018. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor John Tory is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke bail opportunities for repeat gun offenders.

The request is one of several made by Tory in an Aug. 3 letter to the prime minister that outlines the mayor's vision for gun violence prevention.

Tory is also calling on Trudeau to enact a handgun ban in Toronto, crack down on cross-border gun trafficking and introduce tougher sentences for gun traffickers.

"It is my job to make sure we don't just talk about banning handguns and strengthening our laws, but that we actually ban handguns and we actually strengthen those laws," Tory wrote in the letter.

So far this year, 30 people have been killed in shootings in Toronto. There have been a total of 233 shootings, according to Toronto police statistics.

Ottawa could tighten bail system

Tory's request would see repeat gun offenders held in custody until the charges are "disposed of by the judicial system."

"I have heard from frontline constables and our police chief how frustrated they are by the fact someone they arrest for a gun crime who already had a criminal record or similar offences, or who was already out on bail on a similar charge, can almost immediately be back out on the street on bail," Tory wrote.

Tory said that granting bail may still be appropriate for some first-time offenders who have a better chance at diversion and rehabilitation.

However, some community members say Tory's proposal is misguided and potentially damaging.

Community advocate Paul Bailey said bail reform will not address the root causes of gun violence, which include unemployment and poverty. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

"Essentially, toughening up bail conditions is only going to exacerbate social inequality in the city of Toronto," said Saron Gebresellassi, a Toronto lawyer and mayoral candidate.

Gebresellassi, who has represented clients accused of gun violence, said tougher bail conditions will not accomplish the ultimate goal of reducing shootings.

Ending gun violence, she added, requires long term commitments to address unemployment and poverty in marginalized communities.

"Focusing on gun violence is almost focusing on the symptom, when the real problem is lack of employment and concentrated poverty," said Paul Bailey, a community and anti-gun violence advocate.

"We're not going 'lock up' our way out of this issue," he added.

Crack down on gun sales

Tory is also calling on the federal government to introduce tougher penalties for gun traffickers, including mandatory-minimum sentences.

That request is one of several designed to combat the sale and movement of guns in Toronto.

When asked by reporters Monday how a ban would work just for the city, the mayor said it would require the help of gun dealers. 

"I think we have to have the cooperation of the people who sell guns; we have to have some procedures that make sure we can track guns that are sold," he said.

"Nothing is easy when it comes to things you have to do to try and keep a city safe, but to me, I think it's feasible."

Others measures "much tougher" procedures to control guns entering the country from the U.S. border, a crackdown on domestic firearms trafficking, and more rigorous mental health screening for legal gun buyers.

If the banning of handgun sales is unsuccessful, Tory said he wants Ottawa to help create "gun repositories," where legal owners would be required to store their weapons. The guns would be checked out only when they are needed for hunting or target shooting.

Mayor wants funds for community programs

The letter includes requests for more than $47 million in federal funding for various gun violence initiatives:

  • $29 million would be distributed over five years to the city's community violence intervention and prevention programming, which includes measures focused on youth violence and mental health.
  • $15 million would go toward enforcement measures, including CCTV cameras and "enhanced security" in the communities most affected by gun violence.

Before that money is secured, Bailey is calling on Toronto to conduct a thorough review of its current services and programs to determine which ones are worthy of continued funding, and which ones should be dropped.

"Investment is good but I think you need to have smart investment," Bailey said. "Investment that you know is going to have the desired impact and outcome."

PMO 'open to all options'

In a statement to CBC Toronto, the prime minister's office called the recent shootings in Toronto senseless tragedies and said it is "open to all options" to reduce gun violence. 

"We are looking at a broad range of ideas based on what measures have been most effective around the world," it said 

"The truth is there's a growing problem with gun crime, especially in Canada's largest cities. This is a dangerous trend, and we must stop it."

The prime minister's office added that it has made gun control a priority and plans to continue to work with Toronto and its other partners to help keep communities safe.