Tighten gun laws to get firearms off the streets, Mayor John Tory tells Ottawa summit

Mayor John Tory was in Ottawa Wednesday to discuss guns and gangs at a national summit as concerns grow over gun-related incidents and gang involvement in Canada.

'Give us the tools to have a fair fight with the bad guys,' Toronto mayor said

'Give us the tools to have a fair fight with the bad guys,' Toronto Mayor John Tory told a national summit on guns and gangs Wednesday. (John Rieti/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory continued his campaign Wednesday to get firearms off the streets, telling a summit on guns and gang violence in Ottawa that the federal government needs to do more to tackle domestic weapons trafficking.

"Give us the tools to have a fair fight with the bad guys," Tory told the summit.

He said two thirds of the 39 gun homicides in Toronto last year have some connection to gangs, and that just two per cent of those killed "have absolutely no connection" to gangs or the illicit drug trade, "so the number's big."

The summit was convened to discuss a troubling increase in gun-related incidents and gang activity in Canada, and follows last year's federal government investment of $327.6 million over five years in anti-gun and gang initiatives.

Tory said in the past, 80 per cent of illegal guns were smuggled into Canada. Now, he told the summit, that figure has dropped to 50 per cent, with the other half already in Canada and part of domestic gun trafficking.

But Gary Ellis, head of justice studies at the University of Guelph Humber, thinks the distinction between guns smuggled over the border versus guns trafficked in Canada is "really semantics," since the majority of guns are manufactured in the U.S. 

"The bottom line is there's way too many guns on the streets," Ellis told CBC Toronto.

Police are not engaging with some of the people that are very clearly involved in that gangster lifestyle.- Gary Ellis, former Toronto police superintendent

Though he knows he might be opening an old wound, Ellis said to reduce gun trafficking, police should revisit a concept like carding — the controversial practice of street checks that critics believe unfairly targets young black men.

The province brought in rules more than a year ago to restrict carding and is now seeking input from the public so it can review police procedures to see if the new rules are being followed.

But Ellis, a former Toronto police superintendent, points to parts of the U.S. where there are so-called "stop-and-frisk" laws, with a lower threshold to investigate based on suspicion.

"Now I am not suggesting that we do that but at this point in sort of the Toronto context," he said, but he believes there is a middle ground.

And while he's acutely aware it's controversial to mention carding, "there is a place for it. Right now I think police are not engaging with some of the people that are very clearly involved in that gangster lifestyle."

Twenty-five handguns seized by Toronto police in February, 2018. (Toronto Police Service)

In an interview with CBC News, Tory said there has been "no discussion" of carding at the summit. Instead, he said the focus is looking at gun laws and giving "tools to police as opposed to giving them more power."

Pointing to "holes that exist," Tory said people can buy dozens of guns without indicating why someone would want "dozens of guns."

At one time, he said the system that tracked purchases flagged two firearms in a 30-day period. Whereas now, there's only a "red flag" if six guns are purchased in less than 90 days.

Liberal MP Bill Blair says force can't be the only tool available to the police in dealing with guns and gangs. 'What we've learned from the past is you can't just arrest your way out of the problem,' he said. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"You can be a person who has the requisite permit, who has had all the requisite background checks and interviews, but can still go and buy dozens of guns in Canada, legally, without any red flag being shown as to why you would want to buy dozens of guns like that," Tory said.

 "I would argue to you forcefully, that's going in the wrong direction."

You can't just arrest your way out of the problem.- Bill Blair, MP for Scarborough Southwest

Last year there were 392 shooting incidents in Toronto, according to police.

"There has to be appropriate interventions," said Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who is now the Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest.

"What we've learned from the past is you can't just arrest your way out of the problem."

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.