Bill Blair (right), federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, and Mayor John Tory attend a press conference in Toronto on Friday, August 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Gun violence a ‘significant concern’ for Canadians, Bill Blair says

The City of Toronto now has $11 million in its coffers from the federal government to pay down some costs it has incurred dealing with an influx of irregular border crossers.

Canada’s handgun laws are effective, but the federal government will consider additional restrictions in certain parts of the country along with any other measures to help reduce gun violence, says the new minister of border security and reducing organized crime.

Bill Blair is acknowledging that the latest rash of shootings — most recently in Toronto — has touched off a sense of urgency among the public for the government to do more to keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands.

“This is a significant concern for Canadians,” Blair told The Canadian Press in an interview.

“The concern that currently exists in places like Toronto, Surrey, B.C., and other parts of Canada requires that we examine the issue and deal with it in a comprehensive way.”

The former Toronto police chief, elected to the House of Commons for the first time in October 2015, earned his first senior cabinet post last month after helping to stickhandle the controversial Liberal cannabis bill between three separate departments to its ultimate approval earlier this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now tasked Blair with conducting a “deep analysis” across government to examine what additional steps could be taken to tackle the scourge of gun violence — a subject with which the veteran of the Toronto police is intimately familiar.

“Because I’ve got decades of experience, the prime minister has asked me to provide that focus for our government, to look at every aspect in every ministry so that we address all of the issues related to gun violence and that will enable us to take effective action in addressing it,” he said.

He said the government’s work will include looking at “any measure which will be effective.”

Related: Feds looking at ways to tackle wave of gun violence in Toronto: Minister

Related: No magic wand to end Toronto gun violence: Mayor John Tory

In the wake of a deadly shooting in Toronto last month, Toronto city council passed a motion urging the federal government allow the city to forbid the sale of handguns in the city and for the province to outlaw the sale of handgun ammunition within city limits.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wrote to Trudeau last week urging him to heed Toronto’s call to do more.

The federal government has already said it would consider a number of different ways to crack down further on handguns, including empowering municipalities to do so — a commitment Blair reiterated this week.

He also cited measures already included in Bill C-71, which proposes to tighten certain regulations on gun ownership laws, including expanded background checks on would-be gun owners, stronger record-keeping by retailers and requiring buyers to first present a firearms licence.

“We are quite prepared to look at how — in certain parts of the country perhaps — greater restrictions might be implemented. But in addition to that, you have to recognize that in and of itself is not the sole solution,” Blair said.

“You have to look at a number of different things and we want to make sure that what we do is what works, and works for Canadians. But we also respect the perspectives that exist right across this country, so it’s not just the consideration of a single place but the consideration of the whole country.”

Blair said he believes many of the current rules are working as they should. He also noted he knows many responsible firearm owners who follow all the rules.

“If you look at the difference between gun violence in this country compared to other countries that have less restrictive handgun control, I think it demonstrates that certain aspects of it can work,” he said.

“At the same time, I think we all share a concern when those firearms get into the hands of violent criminals who are prepared to commit violent acts in our communities and we need to do everything we can do keep those guns out of their hands.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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