DFSC Update on the 5th Anniversary of the Danforth Mass Shooting
July 22, 2023
Danforth Avenue is a neighbourhood that belongs to the whole City of Toronto. It is a gathering place by design. But five years ago, while enjoying the Danforth, two lovely families lost children to a person filled with hate and armed with a handgun. That lone gunman took those lives, caused a life-altering injury to another victim, and seriously wounded twelve others before taking his own life. What a tragic shock. To the other victims and the families. To the first responders. To those living in the area, and to those visiting. The reach of the news then, and the reaction to it five years later, is a reminder of that.
Even after five years, that memory is clear and present and shrinks the mental arc of time to mere moments for us. Even as we try, we can not forget it happened. This is just something we now all live with. As challenging as it is, we mark this day each year to honour these two girls and all the kindness and hope, and potential that they had. We do so by gathering each year, as well as by the ongoing kindness of friends, of family, of the community, during the days in-between.
In these five years, we’ve also tried to learn about gun violence and to speak out about our experience, hoping to effect change. We believe that we need to recognize the special and particular properties of guns and of their potential for harm. We need to more judiciously control the kinds of weapons that are widely held by the public. And we need to look at the initiatives that can be put in place to proactively prevent the use of guns for crime, or for acting out on hate.
The public health model to fight gun violence is the right framework. It rests on a multipronged approach including: primary prevention, restricting access to the means of the violence and harm, and addressing treatment and enforcement. It is not a question of choosing one measure over another.
Addressing “access to the means of harm” is pending federal legislation, Bill C21, a necessary and comprehensive update to our gun laws and regulations. Now passed by the House of Commons, led by the government, and supported by most federal parties, it reflects the wishes of the majority of Canadians. A summary of its elements:
• A freeze on the number of handguns in the country (no new licenses, transfers, imports)
• A definition of assault-style rifles that will be applied to prohibit such rifles and shotguns from being introduced, once the law takes effect (accompanying the Order in Council in May, 2020, that prohibited 1,500 models, and is supported by a pending buy back of those guns)
• Further restrictions on magazines (bullet capacity) and the inability to buy magazines without a license (which the Danforth shooter was able to do, thereby increasing the capacity of his stolen gun)
• Restriction on the sale and distribution of gun parts that can be used in the construction of “ghost guns”
• A new option (still a work in progress) to make it easier for a person who is threatened by someone, usually a partner or known person, to “flag” the risk to the courts directly
• More resources and better technologies for detecting guns that are being smuggled in from the US across our borders
• Tougher laws and sentencing guidelines for those that traffic in illegal guns
Bill C21 is comprehensive, consistent with, and an essential part of, a public health approach to gun violence. It correctly takes aim at the firearms that pose the greatest risk to public safety: semi-automatic assault-style rifles, handguns, ghost guns and illegally smuggled guns. It minimizes access to these kinds of guns – those most likely to inflict harm.
The federal government has also launched other initiatives that we also need to pay attention to and monitor as to effectiveness, as they are also important to this cause, including:
1) The Building Safer Communities Fund, created to invest in programs of intervention, particularly directed toward youth (addresses intervention).
2) Funding for enforcement agencies tackling gangs and organized crime, which was extended and increased (addresses enforcement).
3) Bill C-48, which was introduced in May, 2023. Among other things, it would “reverse the onus” to the granting of bail, directed to those accused of violent crimes and those involving firearms. The Bill’s intention is to make it less likely that repeat offenders are released before trial. Balanced against Charter Rights of the individual, fair justice must ensure that repeat violent offenders are not caught by police, only to be released and able to resume their criminal ways, as we saw in a case reported days ago on Queen St East in Toronto.
Missing from the list of initiatives - and really more of the purview of the provinces – is addressing the “treatment” pillar. The care that we received for our physical injuries was excellent. Treating the mental health impacts of gun violence was less defined and less available to many of us, in our experience. That part of this file needs more focus as a next step.
On this 5th anniversary for the Danforth Families, we pause first to think about and honour our loved ones. We then reflect on our experience and the lessons we learned from being involved in the debate about curbing gun violence. There are different reasons that gun violence occurs, but each time it is a reminder of the lethal potential of guns. It is right that we challenge ourselves, our neighbourhood, our city, our province, and our country to achieve better outcomes - to maximize safety and to minimize loss and grief. Gun violence is not inevitable. It comes from a set of choices we make individually and collectively. Let’s choose to do better, building on Bill C-21, as part of a public health approach.