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Letter to the Honourable Bill Blair on preventing victimization related to handguns


December 10, 2020

The Honourable Bill Blair
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
269 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8


Re: Preventing victimization related to handguns  


Dear Minister Blair,

Thank you for speaking with me at our quarterly bilateral meeting on October 29, 2020. I am following up on our conversation to ensure the $250 million pledged in 2019 over five years for Canadian municipalities to combat gun violence is released at once. There is a pressing need to address handgun-related homicides in Canada’s biggest cities, which are disproportionately taking the lives of young men who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour. These victims must not be forgotten, nor should their families. While I believe a complete and comprehensive ban on the sale and ownership of all handguns is necessary, I also strongly support planned investments in prevention, including addressing risk factors that may contribute to violence. As you know, there is strong evidence to support balanced investments in prevention, intervention, and enforcement as an effective strategy for reducing violence.

Statistics Canada reports an increase of 42% in gun-related crime in Canada since 2013. The most recent report from Statistics Canada—Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2019, indicates that, “Over 40% of homicides in Canada in 2019 were firearm-related and handguns remained the most common firearm used to commit a homicide, which has been the case since 1995. Handguns accounted for 60% of firearm-related homicides in 2019.” Countless others are injured but survive shootings, with serious physical and psychological consequences and little assistance or support to heal over the long-term. More data is needed. I recommend that Public Safety Canada partner with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada to invest in more data collection across Canada’s most high-risk communities regarding pathways to violence, and particularly the link between socioeconomic factors and gun violence.

The ripple effects of gun violence cause enormous harm, trauma and ongoing challenges to communities and families who have lost a loved, friends or colleagues of the victims. For parents, the loss of a child to gun violence is agonizing. The intense trauma and stress experienced by surviving family members increases the risk of long-term psychological suffering and mental illness. These risks are heightened when the families and communities of victims are marginalized, lack social support, and endure financial burdens because of gun-related deaths. Further, exposure to violence can have negative long-term impacts on youth who do not have access to any treatment or counselling in the aftermath of an incident. Without any supports, risk factors that may contribute to violence can be compounded. I recommend Public Safety Canada provide sustainable funding to community-based organizations to deliver victim supports through resiliency centres that treat victims, injured survivors and family, friends, and communities impacted by gun violence. Resiliency centres employ professionals to create resiliency through services, programs, and community gatherings designed to promote healing and integrative wellness, provide education, and bring people together in meaningful dialogue with a focus on the needs of the local community, as well as victims of tragedies1.

Many handguns used to commit violent crimes are either stolen or illegally imported and then trafficked, usually in major cities. I do not believe that a ban alone will be successful in preventing criminals from obtaining access to these weapons. We must increase border security, as many firearms come across the Southern border illegally every year. I do support expanding red flag laws to include family members, victims and other community members to allow them to report potentially dangerous individuals (especially in regards to reducing suicides and intimate partner violence), however I am not certain red flag laws can address the social problem of young persons who become gang-affiliated.

Research (primarily from the US, but also from the UK and Canada) suggests that for many young people, the gang is a means of survival. Gang membership offers an opportunity for those whose lives are marked by systemic inequalities, ineffective support systems, experiences of victimization, and feelings of hopelessness to make money, gain status, obtain protection and acquire a sense of belonging. The gang is seen as providing a number of advantages.2 I recommend Public Safety Canada help fund and establish more Hub models across Canada, which improve all aspects of social wellness and give citizens and families at risk the supports needed to build positive and healthy lives. As you know, research demonstrates the cost-benefit of early-prevention efforts that focus on youth in high-risk settings before problem behaviours develop3.

Best practices in the prevention of violence take a holistic approach, with coordinated efforts across sectors, such as health, education, community organizations, as well as law enforcement. We must prevent adverse childhood experiences and address the social conditions that lead to crime to help communities build resilience and capacity at the local level. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further and look forward to your response on this important issue.




Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime