Ken Price and Claire Smith were speaking to a journalist on Monday about why they’ve become outspoken proponents of a ban on handguns when their phones started ringing and pinging. The couple almost lost their daughter Samantha in last summer’s Danforth Avenue shooting in Toronto, and when they saw the messages streaming in for them on Monday, they briefly relived that horror.
Samantha, 18, was calling and texting from the Toronto Raptors celebration downtown, where she’d heard someone was firing a gun.
The teenager, whose hip was shattered by a bullet during the Danforth shooting, has been recovering from her injury and had been feeling well enough to be part of the massive gathering cheering the NBA championship team at Nathan Phillips Square.
But the stage announcer was alerting the crowd to an emergency. Telltale staccato bursts had sounded, scattering Raptors fans and panicking them. From her spot in the middle of the pack, the teenager was frightened, and trying to contact her parents to ask where she should go.
As the messages came in, her parents described the experience as their worst fear. “Our daughter is trying to regain her trust with the city and crowds right now,” Mr. Price said.
In the aftermath of the downtown shooting, police arrested three suspects after four people were wounded.
It was only when they knew their daughter was safe that the self-described mild-mannered couple from the Beaches neighbourhood spoke about how nearly losing their daughter inspired them to become politically involved. They now stand among the victims of violence lobbying the federal government for a handgun ban.
Ever since the night of July 22, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd in the city’s Greektown neighbourhood, survivors of the Danforth shooting and their families have been calling upon the federal government to take cues from Britain, Australia and Japan and start seizing or buy back the handguns and assault weapons circulating in Canada.
While the Liberal government initially seemed supportive of this idea, it has since backed away from a crackdown on handguns. The Liberal Party will be running in the fall federal election on a plan to prohibit and buy back some military-style assault weapons that are currently legal in Canada.
It’s a stand that led Ms. Smith to confront Bill Blair, Minister for Border Security and Organized Crime, when she bumped into him recently at her local MP’s office in east Toronto. “We’re not taking our foot off the gas here,” she recalls telling the minister. “I just reiterated that it only took one handgun and one mass shooting to change the game for us.”
And while the Liberals have backed off a federal ban, they may well encourage municipalities to enact their own handgun bans.
“Because of the particular vulnerability of large urban centres to gang violence, there may be additional measures that can be appropriately applied within those municipalities, and we’re prepared to explore that with them,” Mr. Blair told reporters on Parliament Hill this week.
It was last July when Mr. Price and Ms. Smith got a text from their daughter saying she and some friends were going to the Danforth for a birthday celebration. It was an hour later, around 10 p.m., that someone else sent a message from their daughter’s phone, relaying that Samantha had been shot. “It turned out it was a medical doctor who was trying to administer first aid,” Mr. Price said. At St. Michael’s Hospital, the couple learned that four of the eight young women at the patio table where their daughter was sitting were shot that night. One of them, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, died. The shooter also killed a 10-year-old girl, Julianna Kozis.
It’s been a struggle for Samantha Price to regain her trust in Toronto, her parents say. They spent last summer trying to support her healing as much as they could, before sending her off to her freshman year at university. The couple has since spoken out at several anti-handgun events. In February, they were among the victims of the Danforth shooting and their families who publicly called upon the Liberal government to fully ban handguns.
Today, the parents say they believe Toronto Police are on the cusp of revealing their investigation into the gunman, Faisal Hussain, who killed himself as police moved in to arrest him. Over the past 11 months, officials have never said how he acquired his Smith & Wesson handgun. Court documents say he also stashed magazines for an AK-47 assault rifle and 9 mm handgun in his bedroom.
Answers are overdue, Ms. Smith says. “Why has it taken so long for this police report?” she asked. She said other victims’ family members have spoken about “being taken emotionally hostage” by the 11-month wait.
In an e-mail Thursday, Toronto Police spokeswoman Allison Sparkes said, “Pending the resolution of some legal matters, Chief Saunders is committed to releasing the investigation’s findings at the earliest opportunity."
Last year, a spokesman for Mr. Hussain’s family circulated a statement saying he’d had mental-health issues. The propaganda arm of the terrorist group known as Islamic State claimed that it inspired the attack, but Canadian officials expressed skepticism about this. Mr. Price says that, ultimately, whatever was in the shooter’s head is less important than what was in his hand. The type of guns “that are most easily concealed and most dangerous should be prohibited,” he argued.
His wife agreed. “Lots of people get angry in Toronto. But you put a gun into the mix it is a whole other ball game."
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