Toronto mayor takes handgun ban proposal to churches

  • May 27, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Toronto Mayor David Miller wants churches and other faith communities to stick their necks out on behalf of the urban poor who live in the city's most violent neighbourhoods.

At the second annual Toronto Area Interfaith Council Breakfast May 22, Miller pointedly asked faith leaders to lobby the federal government for a ban on handguns.

"I don't believe we will be the truly safe city that we can be — that we will be building on our incredible traditions starting here with this interfaith dialogue, unless we do one thing — and that is get the handguns off the street that kill young people," Miller said.

An online petition Miller initiated April 7 asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ban handguns garnered 40,000 signatures in two weeks. Miller urged faith leaders at the annual breakfast to promote the petition at in their communities.

"The city's approach to community safety is consistent with the faith communities' approach to community safety, because our approach is based on social justice," said Miller.

Persuading the current government to take small arms seriously has been a tough task, said Ken Epps of the ecumenical peace research institute Project Ploughshares. Ploughshares has been monitoring Canada's participation in the United Nations Firearms Protocol. Canada has been a signatory to the international protocol since 2005, but its record of compliance has deteriorated recently.

"We have called for more attention to the issue by the current government given that there has been some backsliding, and quite deliberate backsliding, by the government," Epps said.

Both in terms of an amnesty for unregistered and unlicensed weapons and failure to live up to international standards for marking and tracing domestically manufactured weapons, Canada is not fulfilling its signed obligations, Epps said.

Though it's hard to say what precise effect a ban on handguns in Canada would have, church involvement on behalf of Miller's campaign would be consistent with the international lobbying against small arms which churches have sponsored through Project Ploughshares, said Epp.

"There is a role for churches within Canada as well as internationally to call for greater controls on small arms and light weapons," he said. "The fact that the Toronto mayor is trying to do something about a growing problem — and it's a worldwide problem, the use of handguns by gangs — then that is a useful thing in as much as it's calling attention to the problem and it's calling on the federal government to respond."

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops participates in Project Ploughshares through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

The Vatican has been strongly supportive of UN efforts to control trade in more than 600 million small arms and light weapons circulating around the globe.

Canadian police services reported 8,105 victims of gun crimes in 2006. Statistics Canada reports that one quarter of Canada's gun crimes happened in Toronto in 2006, and handguns accounted for 86 per cent of firearms homicides.

Miller claims one-third of gun crimes in Toronto are committed with handguns that originate in Canada, with the other two-thirds falling to guns smuggled across the Canada-U.S. border.

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