Publisged:December 15, 2021

-The Star


OTTAWA—The Liberal government will move early in the new year to set up a $1 billion fund to help provinces ban handguns, the Star has learned.

The funds will be earmarked for provinces to help them implement and enforce a ban, but the government is not ruling out allowing municipalities to access the money as well, a government source told the Star.

Word of the fund comes as the Liberals’ past promises to address gun violence in Canada are about to undergo intense scrutiny in the House of Commons.

On Thursday, the heads of the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency, as well as Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino are appearing before a committee focused on the issue of gun control, illegal weapons trafficking and gun crimes.

The House of Commons’ study was prompted by an increase in gang and gun violence in Montreal specifically; in mid-November, a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed in Montreal, the third teen killed this year.

There have been more than 100 shootings in the city in 2021, causing Quebec Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante to urge the Liberals to follow up on their original promise to ban handguns.

Gun-related deaths in Toronto are also increasing, according to statistics from the Toronto police. So far this year, 42 people have been killed in shootings, up from 39 last year. Gun-related injuries have dropped to 156 this year from 173 in 2020.

The Liberals have long promised to find a way to ban handguns, first trying to work directly with municipalities to set up local bans and then introducing a bill to that effect in the last Parliament. The bill died when the election was called in August.

Northern Ontario mayors were among those who argued that it wouldn’t work, given the patchwork of rules and regulations that would be required to enforce it.

And some provinces moved swiftly against the idea as well; Saskatchewan and Alberta passed legislation prohibiting towns and cities from unilaterally putting gun bans in place.

In Ontario, Doug Ford’s government has also signalled it has no interest in a ban.

The Liberal government is aware of the opposition it might face but is setting aside the money for those willing to come to the table, the source told the Star, speaking confidentially because the matter had yet to be finalized at cabinet.

The idea to work directly with provinces on a ban was in the Liberals’ election platform this year, along with the $1 billion spending commitment.

The throne speech kicking off this Parliament also stressed that tackling gun crime was high on the government’s new agenda, and working with provinces on a ban would be one route it would take.

“My message is, let’s work together. Let’s find ways to get handguns and other guns off the streets,” Mendicino said after the speech.

That claim however was panned by the Opposition Conservatives just this month when the Liberals reintroduced a bill to lift mandatory minimum penalties to address systemic racism in the justice system.

Some of the mandatory minimum sentences they’re lifting include those for some weapons offences.

“If you want to fight gun crime, you go after the people who are committing crimes with guns,” Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen said earlier this month.

“The message that this is sending is of course in line with what Liberals do — go after law abiding firearms owners and let the criminals off the hook.”