Gun crackdown was being considered before Toronto shooting, minister says

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the federal government is prepared to consider tightening handgun laws, but warns that taking such action would be a complicated process.

Minister says Danforth suspect was not on any federal watchlists associated with national security

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale arrives to appear as a witness at a House of Commons standing committee on immigration in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal government is prepared to consider tightening handgun laws, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters Tuesday as he responded to questions surrounding the deadly weekend shooting in Toronto.

But changing the laws or reclassifying weapons is not a simple task, Goodale warned before testifying at an immigration committee meeting.

"That would require significant remodelling of the Criminal Code," he said.

Ottawa has been looking at changes to Criminal Code handgun provisions — not based on the Toronto shooting, but after hearing testimony earlier this year from people affected by the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City, where six people were killed, the minister said.

Following Sunday's attack in Toronto's Danforth area, in which authorities said 29-year-old Faisal Hussain killed an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl and wounded 13 others, the city's mayor renewed calls for tougher restrictions on firearms.

Goodale said the Trudeau government will look at proposals already before lawmakers to see what changes could be made.

"A number of groups and organizations made representations to that effect earlier this year," said the minister.

"I said that we would be prepared to consider their arguments, and we will do that.

"We'll examine the proposal to see if it can be effective."

Goodale also said that Hussain was not on any federal watchlists associated with national security.

Hussain's parents have said their son struggled with psychosis and depression and that they were devastated by his violent actions.

In a speech at Toronto city council chambers just hours after the shooting, Mayor John Tory said there is a growing problem of people improperly acquiring guns that were originally purchased legally, and that has to stop.

"Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?"

That sentiment was echoed Tuesday by Liberal MP and former Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan, who suggested handguns be banned outright in large urban centres.

Banning handguns

"My personal perspective. I don't own a gun and I can't see why anyone else would," said Vaughan, parliamentary secretary responsible for housing and urban affairs.

Vaughan said there should be two sets of rules depending on where people live.

"It is different in rural Canada. I understand the argument of hunters and fishers, but no one is using handguns to cull the raccoon population in Toronto," he said.

"Handguns are being used to kill people in Toronto, and quite frankly we've had enough."

Bill Blair, the former Toronto City Police chief who was appointed last week as minister responsible for reducing organized crime, said lawmakers should be looking at more than simply handguns as they work to get illegal weapons off the streets.

"I think we really need to focus on those guns that are getting into the hands of criminals and people who commit violent crimes in our city," said Blair.

"The causes and solutions to violence are varied and I think it's really important that we be open to looking at every avenue that we can take."

Expanding background checks

The Criminal Code already imposes restrictions on handguns and other firearms, but some critics have called for a further tightening both on handguns and certain semi-automatic weapons.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May of this year, more than 75 people including some wounded in the Quebec City shooting and family members of those killed urged the Liberal government to ban rifles like the one carried by mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette.

Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty in March to six charges of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder, had a .223-calibre Small Arms VZ58 Sporter rifle along with a handgun.

Investigators said they retrieved a handgun from the shooting scene in Toronto. But it's not yet known whether the gun was legally obtained.

The Trudeau government's firearms legislation, Bill C-71, would expand background checks to look for red flags over the entire life history of gun licence applicants, rather than the current requirement of scouring the past five years.

The bill, which was at third reading stage in the House of Commons before MPs began their summer break, would also require gun retailers to keep inventory and sales records. As well, anyone selling a gun would be responsible for ensuring a purchaser has a valid licence to possess the firearm.

Under current rules for obtaining a Possession and Acquisition Licence, or PAL, the Mounties conduct extensive checks of records pertaining to an applicant's criminal activity, domestic violence, addictions and mental health.