Ministers tout tough-on-crime agenda after Toronto shooting

This week on The House with guest-host Susan Lunn, federal justice minister Rob Nicholson reacts to mayor Rob Ford's push to increase minimum mandatory sentences and ban all gun convicts from the city.

Problem is that criminals 'don't respect gun laws,' justice minister says

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson reacts to Monday's shooting in Toronto and mayor Rob Ford's push to make Toronto streets safer. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's push to ban anyone who has been convicted of gun crimes from living in Toronto, along with his appeal for tougher sentencing, has prompted two federal ministers to remind the Toronto mayor of the government's tough-on-crime agenda.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Bill C-10, the federal government's omnibus crime bill, has just been passed into law and that many of its provisions are "just now coming on stream."

Nicholson told guest host Susan Lunn that the federal government's crime legislation already includes tougher sentences for gun crimes.

"We have increased the mandatory penalties for people who commit gun crimes, we have cracked down on the importation of guns into this country."

"We have made a number of changes over the years, one of them is changing the bail provisions of people who have been charged with serious gun crime so that the onus is on them to demonstrate why they should be back out on the street pending the hearing of their case," said the justice minister.

The government has been criticized for introducing new mandatory minimum sentences and tougher jail sentences, and more recently in two separate cases judges did not apply the new rules.

Earlier this month, an Ontario Court judge struck down the automatic three-year sentence for firearms trafficking, saying it was disproportionate. Justice Paul Bellefontaine said a crack dealer who offered to sell an undercover police officer a non-existent gun should not have to face the mandatory minimum sentence.

In February, another Ontario judge said sending a first-time offender to prison for three years for possessing a loaded gun amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" and declared the minimum sentence unconstitutional.

When asked about these recent decisions, Nicholson said "we have been in court defending the constitutionality of these [decisions]. We do give guidance to courts on maximum sentences and where we think it appropriate on minimum sentences as well, and again we'll continue to do that."

After Monday's shooting, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews chided Canada's courts for striking down mandatory sentences for gun-related crime, saying they "are absolutely essential to create a strong deterrent against that kind of activity."

As for Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen's  renewed calls to ban hand guns, Nicholson said the government has already been "cracking down" on guns coming into Canada.

According to Nicholson, the Canada Border Services Agency seized nearly 30,000 prohibited weapons since 2006.

"The purchase, transport, and storage of handguns is strictly controlled in this country. The problem is that gangs and criminals don't respect gun laws," Nicholson said.

Banning gun convicts from Toronto

And for Ford's idea to ban gun convicts from living in Toronto, Nicholson told Lunn this is a matter for the courts.

"If there are restrictions on a person who is out of jail those would be imposed by the courts," Nicholson said.

In an interview airing on CBC's Power & Politics on Friday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said "clearly the recent rash of gun crime in Toronto is connected to criminal gun activity, and we are aware that there have been foreign members, sometimes leading members of criminal gangs in Canada, able to re-commit offences while delaying their deportation."

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney weighs in on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's push to ban gun convicts from Toronto. (CBC)

Kenney went on to specify that his comments were "not in relation to any particular crime, or any alleged particular criminal" but about Bill C-43, which the government introduced last month as the faster removal of foreign criminals act.

Kenney said "the broader problem of gun crime … sometimes does involve foreign citizens who are delaying deportation from Canada."

"We shouldn't be squeamish about this, we should say that if you're a foreigner who has abused the privilege of being in Canada and you've been convicted of a serious crime such as gun-related violence, you should be subject to prompt deportation," Kenney told Power & Politics guest host Hannah Thibedeau.

But Ford has said his intention is not to target immigrants, but anyone convicted of a gun crime.

According to Kenney, "if you are a Canadian citizen, you should be removed from the streets of Toronto and spend years behind bars. Obviously, eventually, a Canadian citizen with a criminal conviction who is released and is no longer under parole conditions has mobility rights."

In an interview with a Toronto radio station on Friday, Kenney added "obviously we can't tell people which city we can and can't live in."

Ford's push to meet with Harper

While the justice minister could not say whether he would be part of a future meeting between Ford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he did tell The House that the Prime Minister's Office "is working on" arranging a meeting with the Toronto mayor.

Kenney told Power & Politics, the prime minister would surely use the meeting to "remind" Ford that the federal government has given the police and the courts "stronger tools to deal with criminals who use firearms and criminals involved in gang activity."

"All of these things mean that people convicted of these kinds of offences will spend more time behind bars and off of our streets. So I'm sure the prime minister will underscore the measures that we've taken and see if the mayor thinks we have to take additional measures."

Nineteen-year-old Nahom Tsegazeb of Toronto is the first person charged in connection with Monday's rampage.

He has been charged with the reckless discharge of a firearm, but police said the charge doesn't relate to the deaths of 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Joshua Yasay.

Tsegazeb is among the injured, and remains in custody in hospital.

At least one more suspect is being sought.

Monday's shooting at a street party is being described as the worst instance of gun violence in Toronto.