The Ontario Premier’s Plan to Address Gun Violence
Hayley Pelletier, University of Toronto (Dalla Lana School of Public Health)
Gun Violence in Ontario: Is the Ford Government’s Plan Enough?
Over the past decade, gun violence in Canada has increased, and in 2019, Toronto, the largest city in Ontario, set a record for the number of shootings in a given year. In the country, gun violence results in hundreds of lives lost per year and places a significant burden on society, making it a public health crisis (Cardoso, 2020; D’Amore, 2019).
In an attempted response to this crisis, Ontario premier Doug Ford released that the provincial government will be devoting approximately 25 million dollars over four years in an attempt to end gun violence in Ontario. The Ford government’s plan involves allocating approximately 18 million dollars to Toronto police to be used, in addition to improving analytical capacities and intelligence-led policing, however the police chief wishes. The remaining funds (approximately 7.6 million) will be allocated to provincial crown attorneys to deny bail for people who have been convicted of a firearms charge (Office of the Premier, 2018). The Ford government’s plan lacks concrete steps on how to achieve its goals while the breakdown of the promised 25 million dollars into two components (18 million and 7.6 million) does not add up: illustrating that the initiative was not well developed.
The Ford government is addressing a non-issue and failing to look at the real issues. This is exemplified through the plan to deny bail to firearm offenders despite the Ontario Crown Prosecution Manual’s indication that bail is already less likely to be granted to those convicted of a firearms charge (Government of Ontario, n.d.). Additionally, irrespective of current court practices, the Ford government’s plan is unlikely to achieve this goal since bail (and criminal law more generally) is the responsibility of the federal government (Government of Canada, 1982). This gives the Ford government no control over rules around granting bail and whether offenders will or will not be granted bail. Furthermore, it is anticipated that denying bail will not reduce gun violence since research shows that firearm offenders typically do not reoffend when on bail (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017). Given this, it is unclear how the Ford government’s plan will change current trends.
The largest financial commitment in the Ford government’s plan is the 18 million dollar allocation to Toronto police. The money is set to be used by police for surveillance technology to detect shootings before they occur. However, research on this technology shows that it has been minimally effective and that there is a tendency for police to use the technology to legitimize observing stereotypical suspects (Eid, Magloire, & Turenne, 2011; Manning, 2001). Since gun violence is a problem that disproportionately affects low socioeconomic status areas, where a large majority of minority group members live, it has been shown that these communities receive a higher level of surveillance and in turn are more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes (Rosenfeld et al., 2005; Sanders & Hannem, 2012). It is, therefore, a plan that is racially discriminatory and detrimental to racialized communities, especially the black community that far too often are unlawfully criminalized due to the color of their skin. It will be detrimental to communities in many ways, one of which is that it will create a public perception that these ‘high-risk’ individuals are dangerous and this public perception has been shown to have downstream consequences in the labour market, which further perpetuates cycles of crime and poverty (Sanders & Hannem, 2012).
The Ford government’s plan mirrors efforts in the United States, one of which is the state of Virginia’s Project Exile. Project Exile was an approach to gun violence that targets felons in possession of firearms and prosecutes them in federal court, where they would receive a more severe sentence in comparison to state courts that typically handle these cases (Rosenfeld, Fornango, & Baumer, 2005). Evaluations of Project Exile have indicated that, although the project was successful at increasing the number of convictions and length of sentencing, there was no reduction in gun violence (Johnson, Heineman, Smith, Walko-Frankovic, & Willard, 2003; Rosenfeld, Fornango, & Baumer, 2005). This finding suggests that approaches targeted at offenders do not address the root causes of gun violence and are, therefore, unsuccessful at combating these actions.
Although ‘gun violence’ is often used as a synonym for homicides by firearm, it is actually a term that encompasses all violent acts resulting from gun use. There are four subcategories of gun violence: homicides, accidents, suicides, and police use (Newman & Head, 2017). In line with common understandings of the term, the Ford government’s plan to address gun violence is only directed at the subcategory of homicides by firearm. It is important to realize that, statistically, this violent act does not account for the most deaths from gun violence. In 2009, there were 177 homicides by firearm in Canada, compared to 531 suicides (Statistics Canada, 2009). These statistics demonstrate that homicides by firearm are only one piece of the gun violence equation; the Ford government’s plan fails to address the other subcategories, some of which account for more deaths annually in comparison to homicides.
At the beginning of May 2020, the federal government, under Justin Trudeau’s leadership and in response to the recent Nova Scotia mass shooting, announced a ban on assault style guns in an attempt to address gun violence (Wright, 2020). Similar to the Ford government’s plan, this response to a mass shooting is also unlikely to resolve the issue of gun violence in Canada because it also fails to address upstream causes of gun violence and fails to acknowledge that a large proportion of these deaths are the result of suicides and police use (Newman & Head, 2017). Ford responded to the Trudeau government’s gun control measure stating “the problem is not the legal gun owners. We need to target the smugglers and we need to throw the book at these gangsters out there terrorizing our streets” (Wright, 2020).
Neither of the abovementioned control measures adequately address the underlying issue of gun-related violence in Canada. Far too often public health interventions aimed at addressing gun violence target individuals and their behaviours; however, these interventions have not been effective at reducing the rates of gun violence because they fail to intervene on upstream pathways (Krieger, 2008). By choosing to fund crown attorneys and increase police surveillance, the Ford government is insinuating that law enforcement is the solution when, in fact, it is not. A plethora of research states that gun violence is largely the result of social and economic conditions (i.e., income, education, race) (Butts et al., 2015; Kwon & Baack, 2005; Makarios & Pratt, 2012; Mozaffarian, Hemenway, & Ludwig, 2013; Murray et al., 2013). Despite the academic evidence, the Ford government’s plan to end gun violence does not aim to reduce poverty, address systemic racism, increase educational attainment, or increase employment opportunities. Therefore, it is anticipated that the plan will not be effective in addressing the Ford government’s explicit goal of reducing gun violence in Ontario and is likely to cause more societal problems.
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