Initiative is part of national crime reduction effort that includes boosting gun control, bail reform
The federal government announced $390 million in funding over five years on Monday to help the provinces crack down on gang violence and reduce the number of crimes committed with firearms.
"Today's announcement will provide additional resources to law enforcement agencies, assist young people to make the right choices and help our communities prosper," Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a statement.
According to Public Safety Canada, firearm-related homicides in Canada have been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2020, there were a total of 277 gun-related murders, 16 more than the previous year.
The government department said that gang violence is also on the rise and that since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada's largest cities have almost doubled.
Of the 743 homicides in 2020, for example, the department said 20 per cent were linked to organized crime or street gangs.
In a statement, Public Safety Canada said the funding builds on the Take Action Against Gun and Gang Violence, announced in 2017. Back then, $327.6 million was announced for the program led by Public Safety Canada in concert with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the RCMP.
The majority of the funding, approximately $214 million over five years, was given to provinces and territories to help them combat gun and gang violence in communities by working with partners within their jurisdiction that could help prevent crime and enforce the law.
On Monday, a government statement said the cash injection is part of the Liberal government's "comprehensive plan to get guns off our streets and inject resources into our neighbourhoods."
The other prongs of that plan, the statement said, are the efforts to reform the bail system and Bill C-21, the government's legislation to ban some types of firearms, which is currently working its way through Parliament.
Last week, the Liberal government introduced a revised set of amendments to its pending gun legislation after dropping some initial changes that sparked outcry from firearm owners.
Mendicino explained at the time that the amendments to Bill C-21 include a new definition of prohibited firearms that encompasses certain "assault-style" rifles.
"These reforms are about keeping AR-15 assault-style firearms off of our streets while at the same time respecting gun owners," he told a press conference last week.
Mendicino said the government came up with a revised definition after consulting with manufacturers, hunters and Indigenous communities.
The new proposed definition would cover weapons that fire in a "semi-automatic manner" and were "originally designed" to accept a magazine with more than five rounds.
The definition would only apply to firearms manufactured after Bill C–21 becomes law, meaning owners would be allowed to keep what they currently have.
Gun control advocates weren't happy with the changes. Last week, Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, said the definition creates a "loophole" that leaves out too many models. She also raised concerns about the definition not being applied retroactively.
"[Our] request is very simple — a permanent and complete ban on assault-style weapons," Provost said.
Current bail rules have also been under fire in recent months, particularly since the alleged killing of an Ontario police officer by a man who was out on bail facing charges that include assaulting a police officer.
Last month, the association representing Canada's chiefs of police called for urgent reforms to the country's bail system after a meeting with provincial and territorial premiers.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said a key focus of the provinces was to secure reforms to the bail system to protect communities by keeping repeat violent offenders off the streets.
A week later Justice Minister David Lametti told CBC Radio's The House that he intends to stick to his promise to introduce bail reform legislation this spring, and that he expects it to pass Parliament "expeditiously."
On Monday, Mendicino re-committed to that pledge, saying the legislation would be introduced "in the very near future."
"Because we know we need to address repeat violent offenders especially those who use guns and weapons," Mendicino told reporters in Streetsville, Ont., on Monday morning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.
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