Spike in gun and gang violence in Canada has experts worried

Politicians, law enforcement experts, academics and community members have gathered in Ottawa for the Summit on Gun and Gang Violence to discuss the troubling increase in gun related incidents and gang activity in Canada.

Ottawa summit on guns and gangs sets out to find solutions

Police display guns, drugs and other items that were seized during a seven-month investigation into the drug trade in western Manitoba, in Winnipeg on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. Police said the investigation and the arrests of three men should quell a recent spate of shootings in Brandon, the region's largest city. (Steve Lambert/Canadian Press)

Politicians, law enforcement experts, academics and community members have gathered in Ottawa for the Summit on Gun and Gang Violence to discuss a troubling increase in gun-related incidents and gang activity in Canada.

The summit is being hosted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who in November announced the federal government would be spending $327.6 million over five years on anti-gun and gang initiatives, and $100 million annually thereafter.

"We're seeing young males resorting to the use of firearms where they hadn't in the past," said Insp. Mark Patterson of the Ottawa Police Service's guns and gangs unit.

Patterson, who is attending the summit, said he's looking forward to getting a national perspective on the issue that goes beyond law enforcement.

"What's happening in Toronto might not be what's happening here [and] what's happening in Montreal," he said.

Like other major cities in the country, the capital has seen a spike in shootings and gang-related violence. In 2017, there were 74 shootings in Ottawa compared to just 32 in 2013.

Insp. Mark Patterson of the Ottawa police's guns and gangs unit says it's looking like more guns used for crimes in the city are being stolen from break-ins than in the recent past. (CBC)

"We're struggling in relation to why that's happening," said Patterson, noting that more and more gang members are using guns to settle personal and drug disputes.

Last December, Ottawa police arrested 13 people and seized two dozen firearms following a six-month investigation called "Project Sabotage". One of the firearms recovered by police had a 'bump stock', an illegal modification that simulates the firing characteristics of a fully automatic weapon.

Patterson said some of the weapons were stolen from lawful gun owners.

"Now we're seeing a trend of maybe 50/50, if not more domestically-sourced guns as opposed to smuggled guns from the United States," he said.

Looking at the data

In 2016, police reported 141 gang‑related homicides in Canada — 112 of them firearm-related — according to Statistics Canada Director General Lynn Barr-Telford, who is responsible for health and justice statistics.

"Since 2013, we've seen, in our largest cities, that gang-related homicides have almost doubled," she said.

Barr-Telford will discuss trends in gun crime and gang-related homicides at the summit, as well as areas where experts can improve their knowledge.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health Bill Blair says gun violence takes away people's sense of safety and security. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"Some of the things that we don't know are things such as the link between firearm-related crime and organized crime or the the origin of firearms involved in gun crime."

Barr-Telford said that Regina and Winnipeg have the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime among Canadian cities, followed by Moncton, Edmonton and Toronto.

The impact on communities

Liberal MP Bill Blair spent nearly 40 years as a Toronto police officer, and the last 10 years of his career as Toronto's police chief. He said the availability of illegal guns — especially ones with larger-capacity magazines — has had a horrible impact on communities.

"When there is an incidence of violence, it can result in many random victims," he said.

"It has a very negative effect in taking away people's sense of safety and security in their communities because these crimes are shocking and frightening for people."

Blair said he believes that while police agencies need government support to combat gun and gang violence, communities also can tackle the problem.

"Community-based interventions involving different social service providers, educators and community members can also play a significant role," he said.