Guns in Canada not an American problem
Monday, October 31, 2005
After squandering $2 billion on the pointless and useless gun registry, our federal government has now discovered legal guns aren't the main problem after all
. Prime Minister Paul Martin, struck by lightning on the road to the next election, discovered last Monday, while the U.S. Secretary of State was on her way to Canada, the real problem is guns smuggled illegally into Canada from the United States.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler promptly came up with a half-cocked scheme to have the provinces empower Canadians to sue U.S. gun manufacturers whose legal products are used illegally in Canada.
It's quite a doctrine, that. The U.S. Congress, as it happens, has just passed a law shielding gun makers and dealers from liability in many negligence lawsuits; it's a bad law in some ways, but so would be any Canadian law saying the maker of a legal product is responsible for the way it's used. Please do not roll up this newspaper and beat anyone to death, no matter how infuriating you find the editorials: we wouldn't much like to be sued, and that surely wouldn't be far down the road. (As for citizens suing the government in Ottawa for bad decisions, on the gun registry, say, where do we sign up?)
But never mind the lawsuits; let's look at the broader issue. It's no coincidence Martin's new position comes just as a poll identifies fear of random gun violence as the biggest public fear in the Liberal caucus's heartland, Toronto. Ontario Public Safety Minister Monte Kwinter went so far as to say Toronto is under a "blanket of fear."
Police and prosecutors there have just stepped up their anti-gun and anti-gang efforts and will add resources by borrowing additional prosecutors. That makes sense: Toronto's gun violence is mainly gang violence. Mercifully, this problem of shooting sprees has not reached Montreal to the same degree as in Toronto, in part no doubt because police here have had some success against gang culture.
As for guns, it turns out some of the blame for the northward movement of handguns to Toronto, and to some places in Western Canada, belongs in this country.
Canada's Customs Excise Union, which wants armed sentries at border points to protect its members, has dug up some interesting data. It shows between 1995 and 2003, as north-bound border traffic increased greatly, front-line staffing increased by only about 10 per cent, or 717 full-time-equivalents, while staffing at the Border Services Agency's head office more than doubled, adding 540 FTEs.
The Agency notes many of those positions are in intelligence work, created since Sept. 11, 2001, to make the border less porous in response to U.S. security concerns. In all, 11 officers are working full time on hand-gun-interdiction intelligence work. And another 250 front-line workers will be hired soon.
Fair enough. But clearly more needs to be done, and done by Canadians, about gang members' access to handguns.
Because our U.S. friends have such a gun-friendly culture, the problem is an intractable one. But blaming the Americans before we've done our best ourselves, while it may be good politics, is rarely sound policy.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005