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November 12, 2019

Comments to the Toronto Board of Health A Public Health Approach to Community Violence Danforth Families for Safe Communities

My name is Ken Price and I represent a group that was formed out of the mass shooting that happened on the Danforth nearly a year and a half ago: Danforth Families for Safe Communities (DFSC).

Thank you to the Board of Health for bringing a Public Health lens to the issue of community violence. It is a complex issue and demands a broader response than what we have seen so far. Our group believes that Public Health is the right frame.

When violence is visited on a neighbourhood - in a mass shooting or when a single person’s life is needlessly taken - it inflicts a multiplier of harm that needs to be acknowledged.

In monetary terms, according to an internal Justice Department study from 2012, crimes involving guns cost Canadians more than $3 billion a year! Those costs represent, among other things, the value of policing and prosecuting offenders, lost income, and victims’ pain, suffering, and loss of life. Those costs were calculated using broadly accepted values developed by courts, insurance companies, and others.

But in human terms, the effects are well-articulated by victims’ groups - such as the ones you are hearing from today. Their concerns are too often dismissed with thoughts and prayers - platitudes, instead of actual policy change by our elected officials. In our case, it took the shooter roughly 6 minutes to ruin, take and change lives, and create on-going trauma for many of us. My daughter was shot. Thirteen were injured, 2 young women were killed, and the community that witnessed the event and the aftermath is forever changed.

I want to mention that we stand in support of the deputation that will be (was) put forward by the group organized by MPP Chris Glover and subscribed to by community groups across the city. The root causes of violence need to be addressed. These include a lack of opportunity for some neighbourhoods, City programs and resources that are not spread equitably, housing strategies that leave communities isolated, and access to educational opportunities and support services that have been cut or reduced. Thank you to groups like CZV and ZGVM who shine the light on these issues.

While acknowledging that gun control is not in and of itself sufficient to address the complexity, our group wants to comment on recommendations 5 and 6 as representing a vital part of the solution.

Looking at recommendation 6, it seems to us that a call for a city-wide ban on handguns is to temper a solution where we need to be firm and resolute. We need the Board of Health to join the Mayor of this City, and many other Mayors across the GTA and the country - Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Ottawa - who are on the record as saying that a national ban on the private ownership of handguns is necessary and what they want to see.

In our case, a handgun legally imported to a shop in Saskatchewan, made its way into the hands of an unlicensed owner in Thorncliffe. The last person to use that handgun was a disenfranchised and troubled person who turned to hate. A person who was able to conceal his intentions and his weapon until it was too late. Our tragedy occurred in Toronto. Our story did not begin in our municipality. Another municipality, in another province, in another part of the country was the source of this handgun. How might banning the private ownership of some guns help? You cannot effect meaningful change regarding something like the transference of dangerous goods if it isn't dealt with in a uniform way AND at the highest - in our case, federal - level possible

According to the TPS database, in 2018, there were 428 shootings involving 613 victims. The number of crimes that stem from so called legal versus illegally imported guns has been estimated at between 20% and 50%, as reported with considerable effort in the Globe by Patrick Whyte.

If we presume that 20% of crimes in 2018 stemmed from so called legal versus illegally imported guns, that would mean approximately 120 victims were from guns diverted to illegal use from legal sources - and that is just in Toronto. 120 victims! The use of handguns, specifically, has also been on the rise. There were 130 homicides committed with a handgun in 2016, Statistics Canada said in a recent report, which was the most in more than a decade Handguns accounted for 21% of the total homicides that year, and 58% of the shooting homicides.

We are not at war. Handguns are not tools for hunting. There should be no acceptable rates of collateral victims for the sake of this recreational activity.

We note that a licensed gun owner in Kitchener, on November 4, was charged with “unsafe storage” … he had 250 guns and 200,000 rounds when he was caught.

So far, in the face of mounting gun violence, Project Community Space has offered a police-led response. This has been useful in terms of getting more guns off the street and targeting criminal activity. But, we think that is reaction where prevention is needed.

Our DFSC group, and others, will be challenging our elected officials to act on this issue. We will ask them to pledge support of the following:

Invest to address the root causes of gun violence, to ensure opportunities for youth and support for those at risk, and to provide services for victims.

Prohibit the ownership by private citizens of handguns and military/assault-style weapons, as well as their ammunition and accessories, including magazines that can be modified to exceed legal capacities.

Improve controls on the acquisition, possession, storage, and use of guns, by those persons licensed to do so in Canada.

Reasonably limit the amount of ammunition any licensed holder may purchase and store for their gun(s).

Dedicate sufficient resources to defend our borders from the illegal smuggling of firearms from the United States and elsewhere.

We are here today to ask the Board of Health to also support these recommendations.

On behalf of the DFSC, thank you for this opportunity and your consideration.


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