Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale capped off a summit on growing gang activity and gun violence by promising more vigorous background checks to get a licence to purchase firearms in Canada.
Among the measures that are expected to be included in a new law will be a longer look into the buyer's criminal history, which goes back only five years under the current system. In addition, if Ottawa gets buy-in from provincial governments, the background checks could include an examination of the purchaser's mental-health history.
At a news conference, Mr. Goodale said the proposed legislation will fulfill key promises made in the 2015 Liberal platform, which also included a requirement for vendors to ensure that buyers have a valid possession and acquisition licence.
"As controversial as measures related to firearms can be, and you have seen the debates provoked in the past around these issues, that particular point with respect to background checks and making sure that it is a system that works to protect public safety, that is an area where there is broad consensus," Mr. Goodale told reporters. "Our goal is to prioritize public safety and … making sure that we are being practical and fair with respect to legitimate firearms owners."
Last November, Mr. Goodale announced $328-million in new funding over five years as part of efforts to reduce gun crime across Canada. On Wednesday, the federal government convened a summit in Ottawa to help co-ordinate the work of municipalities, provinces, police forces and experts in this field.
Statistics presented at the summit showed that after years of decline, firearm-related violence has been on the increase since 2013. Between 2013 and 2016, the percentage of homicides involving firearms increased from 26 to 39. There were 109 victims of homicides involving a firearm in 2013, a number that rose to 195 in 2016.
A key cause of the recent increase is related to gang activities, according to Statistics Canada, with 141 gang-related homicides in Canada in 2016. The numbers have sharply increased from 2013 to 2016 in major cities such as Toronto (from 13 to 33), Edmonton (from three to 11) and Ottawa (from zero to seven).
Over all, in 2016, there were 7,000 victims of gun-related crimes in Canada, with 60 per cent of incidents involving handguns.
"When it comes to homicide, guns and gangs often go together," said Lynn Barr-Telford, director-general at Statistics Canada. "Shooting homicides are up, gang-related homicides are up and there is a strong interplay and intersections between those two types of crime."
Experts at the summit, including academics and senior police officers, described how gangs are evolving, increasingly using anonymous internet sites to obtain guns and sell drugs.
Guns frequently come into Canada through "stealth shipping," said RCMP firearms expert Rob O'Reilly, who told the audience about firearms entering the country hidden in hairdryers, televisions and cereal boxes.
In a speech at the summit, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that Ottawa should modernize the country's firearms laws to deal with the influx of illegal guns. He acknowledged that the country's law dealing with handguns is prohibitive, but he added there are "holes in that system."
For example, Mr. Tory said that an individual, having passed all background checks and obtained necessary permits, can "buy dozens of guns, in Canada, legally, without any red flag going up."
Mario Harel, the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said that new generations of gang members are increasingly violent and that law enforcement is not the only solution to the problem.
At the subsequent news conference, Mr. Goodale cautioned that more consultations are needed before the government legislates on that front, given the concerns over privacy rights of Canadians.