The Ontario Liberal Party is proposing to ban handguns provincewide within a year if elected to form government in June.
Party leader Steven Del Duca on Tuesday morning announced the platform pledge alongside Scarborough-area candidates, noting it would ban the sale, possession, transport and storage of all handguns in Ontario.
Mr. Del Duca pointed to firearm-related violence “spiraling out of control” as the driving factor for the proposal. He cited a rash of recent shootings in Toronto, including a drive-by shooting over the weekend in a Scarborough strip-mall parking lot that injured five Muslim men who were leaving prayers at a nearby mosque.
According to data from the Toronto Police Service, there have been 112 shootings in the city this year, resulting in 15 deaths. The year-to-date death total is the city’s highest in the past five years and a 36 per cent increase from the same time period in 2021.
“One death by virtue of a legal handgun is one death too many,” he said. “I along with our team will move heaven and earth to stop … the escalating tragedies that we see with respect to gun violence in this province.”
The province projects about 80 per cent of firearms used in crimes are obtained illegally, including from across the Canada-U.S. borders.
But Mr. Del Duca said the other 20 per cent still need to be addressed, and in the meantime he would also work to partner with the federal government to address illegal gun smuggling across the border.
Earlier this month, two men were shot and killed by a man who had an “arsenal” of legal firearms, Toronto police said.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said his government doesn’t support a handgun ban and would rather see a concentrated effort to clamp down on the smuggling of illegal weapons from the United States and stricter penalties for gun crimes.
The Ford government said it is focused on tackling gang-related violence, which is responsible for half of the gun-related deaths in Ontario. In a statement Tuesday, the Ministry of the Solicitor General said the government has invested a record $185-million to combat gang violence fuelled by guns smuggled into the province.
Last November, the province launched a series of initiatives focused on disrupting the illegal drug supply chain and increasing security presence at border crossings.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights spoke out Tuesday against the Liberal Party’s proposal, arguing it won’t address the root causes of violent gun activity and instead penalize licensed gun owners.
Coalition executive director and chief executive officer Rod Giltaca said the majority of licensed gun owners – of which there are about 640,000 in the province – use firearms for sport shooting and they would lose that important element of their lives if a ban is issued.
“Bans like this target exclusively licensed gun owners. It targets absolutely nobody else,” Mr. Giltaca said. “We’re certainly disappointed. It’s the same lazy politicking that we’ve seen in Canada for decades.”
The federal Liberal government has also moved forward on gun-control efforts during their time in Ottawa, prohibiting over 1,500 models of assault-style weapons as of May, 2020. While stopping short of issuing a national handgun prohibition, the Liberals pledged $1-billion as a platform commitment during the election campaign last year to help provinces with the cost of implementing such a ban.
Details about the federal program and how provinces can obtain funding haven’t been released, but Mr. Del Duca said he would work closely with government partners, including municipalities, to implement the ban.
The Ontario Liberal plan also includes health supports and trauma counselling for victims and those affected by gun violence, including families and witnesses. Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter introduced a bill in the legislature this session that, if passed, would declare gun violence a public-health issue and have counselling services covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
“It is about putting the health and needs of impacted communities and individuals and their families first,” Ms. Hunter said.
With only four sitting days left in the legislative session before the election writ is dropped, the bill remains in front of the house for second and third readings and may not be brought forward by the current government for a vote.
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