HALIFAX – Canada’s police chiefs say in light of recent gun-related tragedies in Fredericton and in other cities across the country they are striking a committee to analyze data related to gun violence.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which wrapped up its annual conference Wednesday in Halifax, says it wants to come up with evidence-based recommendations to help combat the problem.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, the newly elected president of the association, said while gun violence “ebbs and flows” across the country, the chiefs believe there has been a spike in illegal firearm use over the past year.
“We are seeing in many cities, small and large throughout our country, an increase in gun violence whether its Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg or out here in the Maritimes, we are seeing an increase in that,” said Palmer.
He said Canada’s current gun control regime is “actually very good” and the association is not calling for any wholesale legislative changes related to gun violence. It also isn’t calling for tighter restrictions for rifles and shotguns.
“But we are going to be looking at that issue (violence) and we may come forward with recommendations in the future.”
Palmer said the association does support measures to strengthen certain aspects of federal gun regulations in Bill C-71, including rules around obtaining a gun licence and the transportation of firearms.
Last week, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair said the latest rash of shootings had added to a sense of public urgency for Ottawa to do more to keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands.
Blair said the government’s work would include looking at “any measure which will be effective.”
Palmer said the overall issue isn’t law-abiding people who want to possess firearms, but rather people who are involved in criminal activity who obtain guns through illegal means.
Those means include getting illegal firearms from the U.S., through break-and-enters, and from legal gun owners without criminal records who purchase firearms and then sell them on the black market.
He said less organized street gangs are a particular concern for police.
“We are seeing a resurgence of lower level street gangs that are becoming quite violent, becoming ever more sophisticated and that are starting to connect themselves with organized crime at a higher level,” said Palmer.
Still, Palmer said gun violence is a complex issue that will require many different approaches, from early education for children on the dangers of guns and gangs to better enforcement measures.
“We are looking at different strategies,” he said. “We want to follow best practices in reducing violence.”
On another front, the police chiefs announced a new online training program that will provide an “introduction to the cannabis legislation” for more than 65,000 police officers preparing to enforce the law when cannabis is legalized Oct. 17.
Palmer said police forces will be ready to conduct enforcement in the fall and he doesn’t believe it’s going to be “mayhem overnight” once cannabis is legal.
“It’s a complex issue, it’s a challenging issue … but we will be ready to deal with this issue.”
Palmer said it would take about a year before police will be able to assess how the introduction of legalized cannabis is handled.
He said the conference also discussed the opioid crisis, crypto-currency, use of force training, mental wellness, and proactive policing.
The chiefs called on Ottawa to harmonize cybercrime training across the country to ensure police officers have the proper training and capability to combat the problem.
They are also urging Public Safety Canada to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow the comprehensive vetting of people who import pill presses, and also to regulate their sale domestically.