Olivia Chow is vowing to push for a handgun ban if elected Toronto mayor – an announcement her rivals are dismissing as "grandstanding" and an "empty gesture."
Ms. Chow made her handgun announcement on Monday at a North York community centre where she unveiled her crime policy platform, which also focuses on community-based policing and providing better jobs and after-school programs for young people.
Other politicians, including former mayor David Miller and former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, have made similar pleas to the federal government for a handgun ban in the past to no avail.
Still, Ms. Chow said she would press the issue further, and accused Mayor Rob Ford of neglecting the issue.
"I believe that taking guns out of people's hands means fewer guns on the street," she said. "There's no reason why anybody needs a handgun in a big city like ours."
Ms. Chow's announcement was made at Ephraim's Place Community Centre in North York – named after 11-year-old Ephraim Brown, who was killed in the crossfire during a 2007 shooting. It is just days before the two-year anniversary of the deadly Danzig Street shootings in Scarborough.
"We don't want to see more tragedies happening," she said. "We don't want to see more pain and suffering from parents or from loved ones that have lost their children or their partners to senseless violence."
But Mayor Ford responded with a statement Monday afternoon calling Ms. Chow's proposal "political grandstanding."
"Chow knows full well that criminal law surrounding firearms are a federal issue, with limited municipal oversight," the statement said.
And John Tory, another mayoral candidate, called the announcement an "empty gesture."
"Handguns are already strictly regulated by the federal government," he said in a statement. "What Ms. Chow doesn't seem to understand is that criminals and gang members don't obey the law. Calling for such a ban isn't leadership. It's an empty gesture."
Rev. Sky Starr, who works with the families of shooting victims in the Jane and Finch community, said she would welcome a handgun ban.
However, she added that the answer to gun crime has to include a "top-down approach."
"Unless this stuff happens on a systemic level – this is why we go to Ottawa – it has to start there. The ministers around the table, some of them don't have a clue how a shooting can affect the entire community. These are the things that we need to change."
In addition to pushing for a ban, Ms. Chow also vowed to bolster existing police-community partnerships, to create better co-ordination between police and youth outreach workers, teachers and others who are active in the community.
"I don't think we need to hire additional officers," she said. "It's really about partnership, about understanding the needs of the community and working together."
She also spoke about creating jobs for up to 5,000 young people, as well as greater investments in after-school and summer programs for youth.