TORONTO - The recent spate of shootings in Toronto shows the Harper government's stance on gun control has failed the city, federal New Democrat critics said Thursday.
Cuts to border services and youth programs could be disastrous for community safety, members of parliament Olivia Chow and Andrew Cash said as they stood outside a neighbourhood YMCA.
"The Conservatives have been weak on gun control," said Cash. "They failed the city of Toronto."
The government should reverse planned cuts to border services, provide stable funding for youth programs and come up with a strategy to deal with gun smuggling, the pair said.
But a spokeswoman for Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews disputed their claims, saying since the Conservatives took office, firearms-related homicides have decreased by 28 per cent.
"These statistics show that our government's tough-on-crime approach is working," Julie Carmichael said in an email.
"Rather than focusing on political stunts, like calling for a ban on firearms, our government is committed to ensuring dangerous criminals are kept where they belong — behind bars."
Toronto has been rocked by several fatal shootings in recent weeks, including one at the downtown Eaton Centre and another at an ice cream parlour.
The shootings are a reminder of why youth gang prevention programs are needed, said Chow, adding that these programs are effective and should be expanded.
"When (young people) are engaged in meaningful employment, it will detach them away from gang activities and give them a sense of hope."
Some of these programs will soon see their federal funding expire, Chow said, giving examples of two successful Toronto programs that helped youth who were at risk of getting involved with gangs.
"Gangs don't quit after two or three years, but the Conservative government quit after two or three years," said Chow.
Carmichael countered there's been no reduction in federal funding to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund.
"It was our government who created this program to keep our kids out of gangs. The NDP shamefully voted against it," she said.
Guns being smuggled across the U.S. border are contributing to the problem, said Cash, adding Toronto police Chief Bill Blair has estimated 70 per cent of the guns in the city come in illegally from the United States.
"It is amazing in our country, where our government talks all they want about law and order, they don't have a plan to stop the flow of illegal guns coming into our cities," said Cash.
"Our government has also not cut any border guards at ports of entry," Carmichael said in her email. "To claim otherwise is patently false."