07/20/2019 07:00 EDT

A Year After Danforth Shooting, Canada’s Nowhere Close To Banning Handguns

The Liberals have been reluctant to consider sweeping changes until after the federal election.

The Canadian Press
Desirae Shapiro, friend of shooting victim Reese Fallon, leaves a candle at a makeshift memorial on Danforth, Ave. July 23, 2018.

The morning after a lone gunman terrorized Toronto’s Danforth community, killing a child and teenager, Mayor John Tory stood before city council and demanded action on gun control.

“This city has a gun problem and guns are far too readily available to far too many people. Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?” he asked at the July 23, 2018 meeting, urging the federal and provincial governments to use their powers to put more restrictions in place, including banning handguns and ammunition altogether.

Momentum appeared to grow as details emerged. With an illegal handgun from Saskatchewan, Faisal Hussain, 29, had killed Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 9, and injured 13 others before dying by suicide. Of the 428 shootings that occurred in Toronto in 2018 — later dubbed the year of the gun — the Danforth shooting was among the most ruthless and devastating. 

 Watch: Mayor John Tory calls for gun control after Danforth shooting. Story continues below.


Tory repeated his question throughout that summer and Ontario Premier Doug Ford vowed to do “everything” in his power to “keep our neighbourhoods safe.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded that his government was looking at a “broad range” of measures. American media praised Tory’s call for a handgun ban and Toronto council’s subsequent support, and the New York Times published an op-ed backing tougher rules, 

But what has actually changed in the last year? Not a lot. 

Less than a month after the Danforth shooting, Ford publicly opposed a handgun and ammunition ban, a stance recently confirmed by Ontario’s new Attorney General Doug Downey. 

“Protecting law-abiding citizens from violent crime is a pressing priority for our government, and we’ve always been clear that our focus is on action that makes a meaningful impact in reducing illegal gun and gang violence,” said his spokesperson Jenessa Crognali.

“However, it has not been demonstrated that banning legal firearms would meaningfully address the problem of gun violence. As law enforcement experts routinely highlight, criminals don’t respect geographic boundaries.”

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends the funeral for the victims of the Danforth shooting July 30, 2018. 

At the federal level, the Liberals passed Bill C-71 to strengthen record keeping for gun sales, expand background checks for potential gun buyers and require they present licences when making gun purchases.

They did not ban handguns or assault-style rifles. 

Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair told reporters in June that after October’s federal election, he will consider tightening  border security to prevent smuggling and giving municipalities the power to ban handguns, but he will not impose a national ban. The government could also considering making all assault-style firearms illegal. 

“I think there are measures we can take to make those guns inaccessible and unacceptable,” said Blair, Toronto’s former police chief on June 18, 2019. The Liberals’ position comes after a Public Safety report found Canadians are polarized over banning handguns. 

Patrick McLeod’s daughter Skye was eating dinner at a Danforth restaurant with her friends, including Fallon, when the shooting happened. She hid under the table. 

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press
Survivors and loved ones affected by the shooting hug following their first public statement as a group at the Danforth Music Hall on Feb. 22, 2019.

The Liberals’ gun legislation is “a baby step in a mile walk,” he told HuffPost Canada. 

“They’re being way too cautious,” said McLeod, who retired as a Toronto Police officer after 32 years. He and other families affected by the Danforth shooting have repeatedly urged the federal government to ban private ownership of handguns, which can be easily concealed, and assault-style rifles across the country. 

“There are so many handguns in Canada now, it’s ridiculous,” McLeod said. “We’re heading down the wrong path. We’re going to end up like the (U.S.) and when people finally wake up it’s going to be too late.” 

McLeod, who lives across the street from the Fallons, said he can’t believe “how placid everyone is about gun control in Canada.

“The Fallons can’t speak out because they’re in such a dark place,” he said. “They’re still a terribly, terribly damaged family because of the loss of Reese. They’re suffering terribly for some Canadian who wanted to buy a pistol. I just fail to see how that is equal.” 

The province has boosted Toronto police funding by $25 million over four years to “fight gun and gang violence,” and $16.4 million for crime prevention and prosecution across Ontario, Crognali said. 

This spring police ran a gun buy-back program and more than 3,100 long guns and handguns were surrendered.

The City of Toronto reiterated its request for a handgun ban and 10 other restrictions in May, however it has received criticism for not adequately assisting vulnerable youth to avoid a future of crime and violence. 

Community leader Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, works with victims of gun violence, such as parents of young men who’ve died in shootings. 

“We see the agony, pain, grief and trauma they experience, and we’ve not seen any improvements in these areas,” March said. “We cannot police ourselves out of this problem. We need help from our communities, improvement in our communities, but our political leaders have done almost zero and we see gun violence normalized.”  

He said banning handguns isn’t enough, but rather a “blatant deflection.” The city needs to tackle the more complex root causes of violence. 

“What about banning poverty?” he said. 

March recommends the city overhaul its approach, and find a way to engage vulnerable youth. “How can we ensure we’re giving them the support and alternatives to criminal activity?”