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."
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.