Doctors dealing with the bloody fallout from rising gun violence in Toronto called on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to ban handguns at a campaign event Monday – a move he and his party are not making.
The Liberal gun-control plan includes outlawing the semi-automatic AR-15 — a variety of gun used in many recent US mass shootings — as well a buy-back program for legally purchased assault rifles. But it stops short of a prohibition on pistols.
“I think that what the federal government needs to do is show leadership and do a national ban on handguns,” said Dr. Joel Lexchin, an emergency physician with the University Health Network in Toronto.
Lexchin and other health professionals with Trudeau at a downtown hotel said an assault rifle ban does not go far enough, and that letting cities — and ultimately provinces that can overrule them — decide whether to bar weapons could lead to a piecemeal system that fails to stop the bloodshed. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he would oppose a ban on handgun sales.
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“Even if provinces do accept it, Toronto may do it and Mississauga may not do it. You just cross the 427 [highway] and you can purchase handguns,” Lexchin said.
Toronto has seen 342 incidents of gun violence this year, in which 505 people have been shot and 29 of them killed, according to police statistics. That’s more shootings than in all of 2018. The police added two weekend incidents and one death to their tally on Monday.
In 2014, Toronto had 139 shootings with 174 victims.
Despite the criticism that the Liberals’ plan doesn’t go far enough, Trudeau said that the direction the federal government will take on guns marks a clear distinction between his party and the Conservatives.
“The Conservative politicians want to weaken gun control where we want to strengthen gun control; that is at the heart of the choice that Canadians are facing in this upcoming election,” Trudeau said.
The doctors, nurses and public health workers at his event offered poignant and forceful testimonials about the impact of increasing gun violence, saying that gun bans are just one way to stop the rising flow of bloodied patients to their trauma centres.
Among the speakers was Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon who helped treat victims of a mass shooting in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood last summer that killed two young people and wounded 13 more. The killer used a handgun.
Ahmed spoke of the need for massive blood transfusions in the first 24 hours of treating shooting victims, followed by many, many operations, and the lifelong impact of shootings on patients and those around them.
“They spend weeks and weeks in the ICU, their lives hanging in the balance, their families at their bedsides. We doctors walk past them, trying to give them hope,” said Ahmed.
The Liberals have stressed working with provinces and territories to allow municipalities to further restrict or ban handguns, while at the same time denouncing Ford.
Trudeau acknowledged he has not spoken with Ford since the election call on Sept. 11.
The Conservatives fired back at Trudeau Monday, saying he “has failed to the address gang problem that has been steadily growing over the last four years.”
The party also cited Liberal resistance to more tough-on-crime laws for gun smugglers.
Dr. Suzanne Shoush, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital who also took part in the discussion Monday, said a handgun ban would still just be “a good first step.”
I think that this is a public-health crisis,” Shoush said. “But having funding reach communities in ways that are meaningful is critically important.”
The Liberal platform, unveiled Sunday, earmarks $400 million in new funding over four years for cities to tackle gun crime, while $500 million is slated for “learning to camp.”
Another Liberal platform plank aims to “limit the glorification of violence” by changing how firearms are marketed and sold, which includes advertisements.
“If you look at them, they all seem to imply that we all can be G.I. Joe on our main street,” Liberal platform committee co-chair Ralph Goodale said Sunday.
Goodale, the Liberals’ minister of public safety, said he has undertaken broad stakeholder consultations. “It’s a concern that needs to be addressed with a regulatory framework.”
Trudeau’s forum at the Sheraton hotel was interrupted Monday morning by a sign-toting demonstrator criticizing Canada’s relations with Saudi Arabia, among other undemocratic regimes.
“Canada is the sixth-largest producer and exporter of weapons, including to Saudi Arabia,” said Barry Weisleder, whose sign called Trudeau a warmonger.
Weisleder is part of the unofficial “NDP socialist caucus” and has complained that the New Democrats wouldn’t let him seek the party nomination in Toronto’s University-Rosedale riding.
Trudeau has faced pressure from civil-society groups to update Canadians before the Oct. 21 election on his government’s review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The Liberals launched a review of the $15-billion contract to ship light armoured vehicles to the Middle Eastern kingdom last fall after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Weisleder, an activist critical of Canadian foreign policy, ran as a New Democrat in Ontario’s 2011 provincial election before being dropped on the first day of the campaign because, the NDP said, he did not accurately fill out his nomination form.