The Current

We're working to 'plug the leaks' that put guns in wrong hands: Minister Bill Blair

After One Bullet, The Current's series on gun violence that aired last week, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair discusses efforts to reduce gun violence in Canada.

Minister has been travelling country, hearing from Canadians affected by gun violence

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair said 'the prime minister gave me a very clear mandate to look at every measure ... up to and including banning handguns.' (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
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This story is part of CBC's One Bullet series. Each instalment takes a close look at a shooting from somewhere in Canada — who was hurt or killed; who was held accountable; and how did the fallout impact friends, family and first responders.

The federal government is working to "plug the leaks" that put guns in the hands of those who would use them to do harm, according to Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

"What we have seen is an increase in gun violence across the country, and I don't think we can afford to be complacent," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Blair was responding to issues highlighted in The Current's One Bullet specials, a series of documentaries and discussions about gun violence in Canada.

On the instructions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Blair has been travelling across the country, speaking to people about how gun violence has affected their communities, and examining what measures need to be taken to keep Canadians safe.

"The prime minister gave me a very clear mandate to look at every measure ... up to and including banning handguns," he said.

Some firearms have legitimate uses such as recreation, he said, but with others, "their sole intent and their sole use is to actually take people's lives."

"And so those weapons we need to be far more restrictive of, and even look at how we keep those entirely out of our society," he told Tremonti.

Toronto Police display guns seized during a series of raids. The Liberal government is proposing changes to the nation's gun laws through Bill C-71. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

There was one caveat to the prime minister's request, he said.

"He also asked that I do that work acknowledging and respecting the lawful firearm owner, because we know the overwhelming majority of Canadians who do want firearms do it in a very responsible way," Blair said.

Prevention, not reaction

The federal government introduced Bill C-71 in March, before Blair began consulting with the public. The bill, which is currently before the Senate, proposes an overhaul of background checks, introducing new record-keeping requirements for those selling guns, and putting more restrictions on the transport of firearms.

In September, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer argued the bill targets lawful gun owners, but "does nothing to keep Canadians safe."

"It does nothing to address gang violence or target gang criminals," he said.

Blair told Tremonti the gun problem in Canada is not just about gangs, but can manifest in domestic violence, and mental health issues that lead to suicide and self-harm.

The Canadian public made their opposition to a long-gun registry clear, Bill Blair tells Anna Maria Tremonti. 0:39

He wants to see more preventative work.

"So many of our laws right now are reactive," he said, pointing to criminal trials and firearm prohibitions that take place after an act of violence has occurred.

"I think we have a responsibility to look at any means by which we can prevent these incidents from taking place in the first place."

That could mean keeping guns out of the wrong hands, he said, explaining firearms used in violent crime are often brought in illegally from the U.S., stolen from licensed legal owners, or bought legally and then resold on the black market.

The government is tackling that issue with "investments ... in the RCMP and [Canada Border Services Agency] to make our borders more secure, to prevent those guns from coming in in the first place," Blair said.

I think we have a responsibility to look at any means by which we can prevent these incidents from taking place in the first place.- Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction

He added the federal government is also working to "provide services into those communities, and for those individuals, who may be at risk of either acquiring a firearm to commit a criminal offence, or at risk to harm themselves."

"We've got to change the circumstances where that occurs," he said, "and give communities, families, teachers, youth workers and the police the tools that they need to be effective in prevention, not just in reaction."

Canada is still a safe country, Blair said, but we shouldn't become complacent.

"Especially when we see disturbing and concerning increases in the incidence of gun violence, it demands action from us, and we're prepared to act."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by John Chipman.

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