Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has joined counterparts in other Canadian cities in calling for tighter controls on handguns, saying he supports giving municipalities the power to impose a ban on the weapons.
“I would very much like that power,” Mr. Stewart said on Monday in an interview.
“I think we’ve had five shootings now within a five-block radius, and it would be good if we didn’t have any handguns.”
His comments came after three shootings in less than 24 hours in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside, and also amid a national debate on gun violence in which the mayors of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal have called for a national ban on handguns to protect the public.
On Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to ban military-style assault weapons and allow municipal bans on handguns in provinces that support them. The federal government has the power to ban such weapons, but the Liberal proposal falls short of a national prohibition.
A Globe and Mail investigation has found that handguns are by far the most-used weapons in firearm-related homicides, but that data are limited on the sources of guns used in crimes.
Mr. Stewart said he supports Toronto Mayor John Tory’s call for more data on numbers of guns and types of guns in cities, but politicians shouldn’t wait for data collection before creating the possibility of a ban.
The police did not have a breakdown of how many handguns were among the 223 guns seized this year in the district that includes the Downtown Eastside. But Mr. Stewart said it’s obvious that handguns are likely the problem. “It’s pretty hard to use a shotgun or a long gun for mobile criminal activities,” he said.
The Liberal proposal fell short of the outright national ban Mr. Tory and several other mayors want, but Mr. Stewart said the local authority to ban handguns would be welcome.
“That would be very well received, not just in Vancouver but across the country. It would be another tool we would have to tackle crime,” he said.
In a statement on Monday, the Vancouver Police Department said the Downtown Eastside had three shootings in a 15-hour period between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Four people were injured and no arrests had been made as of Monday. Police said they believe the three shootings were targeted and may be linked to gang activity.
On Monday morning, police tape and cars were still in the neighbourhood, and officers scoured a local schoolyard for evidence.
Vancouver’s police force said last week it had seen a “significant spike in crime and street disorder” linked to Oppenheimer Park and spreading out into the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood of predominantly low-income residents near the city’s downtown core.
Oppenheimer Park, a square block in that neighbourhood, has been at the heart of those concerns, with police linking a tent city there to increased drug traffic, assaults and violence in the area.
The park has been the site of several such encampments over the past decade. This year, the number of tents has at times been close to 200. Community activists say the encampment reflects a chronic housing shortage. Police say rival gangs are vying for territory in the park and officers will not go in at night without at least three others.
At a news conference on Monday, Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Constable Howard Chow said violence in the park was spilling out into the neighbourhood and drawing police resources away from other parts of the city.
However, he did not directly link any of the three recent shootings to Oppenheimer Park.
“At this stage, we are not linking [the shootings] to the park,” Deputy Chief Chow said.
“When I’m talking about the park, I’m talking about what that’s doing to our Downtown Eastside in terms of level of violence,” he added.
Police last week said they had seized 453 guns in Vancouver between January and August this year, including 223 in District 2 – a chunk of the city that takes in the Downtown Eastside and Oppenheimer Park.
On Monday, the VPD said 92 of those 223 guns were in the Downtown Eastside, with nine in Oppenheimer Park.
Police spokesman Sergeant Aaron Roed said in an e-mail on Monday he could not provide a breakdown of the types of guns seized, saying that many cases would still be under investigation.
Asked at a news conference if he would support a ban on handguns, Deputy Chief Chow said the VPD supports the position of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
In August, CACP president Adam Palmer said the group would not support a ban on handguns, adding that Canada has strong firearms regulations.
With a report from The Canadian Press