TORONTO — The federal government has not ruled out further restrictions or even an outright ban on handguns to combat gun-related violence, Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said on Thursday as he announced funding to address youth crime in Toronto.
The spike in shootings the city has seen this year has echoes across the country and is partly the result of vulnerable youth getting drawn into street gangs, said Blair, who has been consulting on potential law changes.
“We are considering any and all measures,” Blair said. “(But) if all we focus on is putting people in jail and not preventing these crimes, we will continue to see an escalation of violence.”
The federal money for Toronto comes at a time when Premier Doug Ford is under fire for cutting funding for various social and community supports for young people. Participants at the announcement stressed the importance of all three levels of government working to deal with the crime issue.
In one initiative, Ottawa said it would give Toronto $6.7 million over five years for a community “healing project” that aims to prevent crime by tackling the complex causes underlying gun violence. The program aims to train 250 young people to help more than 1,000 peers build skills, increase mental health resiliency and cope with violence.
“This isn’t just throwing money at a problem,” Blair said. “The program that we are funding today will make a real and lasting and positive difference in these kids’ lives.”
The second initiative will see Ottawa give Toronto police $400,000 over two years to help officers work with vulnerable youth in eight priority neighbourhoods. Officers would be assigned to a neighbourhood to gain insight into the community and build trust in relationships.
“This kind of community outreach is both effective and efficient in preventing crime,” Blair said.
Mayor John Tory, who said the city had been “devastated” by violence this year that includes the Greektown mass shooting, welcomed the federal support. Tory said he hoped the announcement was only the first in a series of city requests to Ottawa worth a total of $30 million.
“Crime prevention and intervention at the community level are important parts of combating the violence that we have seen in our city,” Tory said. “We are committed to working together and to doing everything we can to stop the loss of life and address the root causes of the violence.”
Police Chief Mark Saunders, who has said the surge in shootings this year was largely due to a rise in gang violence, said Toronto remains one of the safest cities. However, Saunders said young people have to see alternatives to joining gangs, and combating gun violence has to go beyond enforcement.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Saunders said. “If we have stronger relations with our communities, then our solutions become sustainable.”
Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan made an impassioned plea for whatever action is needed to ensure young people don’t join gangs.
“If we give up on these kids, they will give up on us,” Vaughan said. “When that happens, the despair we see and the violence we see on city streets is what the yellow tape has been all about this summer.”
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press