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Lorna Brown holds a photo of her son Ephraim, who was killed in handgun crossfire in Toronto. From Kevin Newman's documentary Missing the Target.
Lorna Brown holds a photo of her son Ephraim, who was killed in handgun crossfire in Toronto. From Kevin Newman's documentary Missing the Target.

John Doyle: Television

A frightening portrait of gun-crazy Canada Add to ...

One of the many unsubtle indicators of how closely we now resemble the United States is an obsession with guns and gun control.

There is an entire political subculture devoted to the issue, it seems. Certainly, there is a vast amount of rhetoric. If we are to believe a lot of the rhetoric, the farmers and hunters of Canada have been insulted, demeaned and made to feel like criminals. They are a group under siege.

The current situation is rooted in reaction to the killing of 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989. The appalling murders led some, including the government of the day, to see the sense in creating a gun registry. That was a very Canadian response. A measured rejoinder. Regulation. Paper work. But the Conservatives have always opposed the gun registry, and demonized it as a boondoggle, typical of the former Liberal government. No matter that the auditor-general found that eliminating the long-gun section of the registry might only save taxpayers about $3-million a year. The gun registry seems destined to disappear. The origins of it have been lost in a fog of political posturing, accusations and bombast. The long-term result is that the gun issue has been fetishized, and slogans used by the NRA in the U.S. have entered into Canadian debates.

According to Revealed: Missing the Target (Global 10 p.m.), Kevin Newman's news documentary, the contentious gun debate here is misguided. It has distracted from the alarming increase in the number of handguns being used by kids and in Canada's cites. As it makes clear, while politicians seek photo-ops to denounce the gun registry, handguns are killing kids in Canadian cities

Newman's story starts in the Jane/Finch area of Toronto with the shooting death of 11-year-old Ephraim Brown, believed to be Toronto's youngest fatal-shooting victim. The two men charged with his killing were aged 20 and 21 years old. Then the story goes to Newfoundland, where Ephraim's uncle is a registered gun owner and has a number of rifles. The uncle began a campaign to have handguns banned in Canada but immediately faced a backlash. Even though his aim was to stop handguns, he faced abuse and threats from gun owners. The fact of the death of an 11-year-old mattered little.

From there we meet the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, who supported the handgun ban but in reality can do little to enforce it. A city program to have youths surrender guns in exchange for digital cameras brought in a frightening number of weapons. But as an anti-gang activist points out, the attitude among gun-toting youths is, "If I have six guns, sure I'll give you two of them for a camera."

There is also a dismaying picture of the small successes in stopping the flow of handguns into Canada. Apparently, these days, Canadian drug dealers ship their merchandise to the U.S. and often like to be paid with guns. Stopping the flow is obviously a necessity but achievements are negligible. It's pointed out that in Windsor, Ont., at Canada's busiest border crossing, a total of only 28 guns were seized in 2008. Meanwhile, thousands of handguns flow into Canada every year.

Perhaps the most telling example of the gun culture in Canadian cities is in the seemingly peripheral story of a rap singer from the Jane/Finch area. Newman and his producers made contact with him and talked about the issue and then the singer disappeared. Eventually he was back in touch, leaving a message that he'd been shot, a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the end, what we get is deeply disturbing. The facts are stark but the action is limited. And Newman says, "We have lost sight of what needs debating." And the viewer is left thinking that it's not just political rhetoric about gun-owners' rights that defines us as resembling the United States. It's the fact that we have ghettos where gun deaths happen all the time.

Check local listings.

Airing tonight:

American Master: Merle Haggard (PBS, 9 p.m.) is a provocative program, a reminder that American popular artists are not all cut from the same cloth. The country legend is an introverted man, cryptic about his past - growing up in poverty, his criminal activity and jail time. He's also unapologetic about his music, that lean, tough-minded country music that essentially reflects the experiences of conservative, rural Americans. We hear from Keith Richards, Kris Kristofferson, John Fogerty, Tanya Tucker and others, but Haggard's music speaks eloquently for him. Long a troubled man, he's had his demons and, hearing him talk about them, it seems rather pathetic that so much attention is paid to those celebrities who are much less talented and have such tiny misfortunes.

Tangled (CBC, 9 p.m.) is a pilot for a show that CBC is not going to pick up. An action-adventure drama, it is officially described by CBC as "A spy attempts to remake herself and rediscover her own humanity, even as the bullets fly." Actually it stars Sarah Wayne Callies (Sara Tancredi on Prison Break), and Leslie Hope, who was Jack Buaer's wife on the first season of 24. If you want to see what CBC rejects, check it out.

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