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Ombudsman’s statement on the federal government’s ban of assault-style weapons

May 4, 2020

I applaud the Federal Government’s recent announcement to ban 1,500 models of assault-style rifles and other weapons, including guns used in various mass killings in this country. These dangerous weapons have no place on our streets or in our homes in Canada. Eighty per cent of Canadians support a ban on assault weapons because events like the recent tragedy in Nova Scotia, and mass shootings at l’École Polytechnique (1989), Dawson College (2006), the Metropolis (2012), three RCMP officers in Moncton (2014), and the Quebec Mosque (2017), among others, are forever etched into our hearts and minds.

We must work to address the causes of mass shootings, such as misogyny and gender-based violence. These are not senseless acts. Canadian researchers have found the perpetrators of mass killings are predominantly men with misogynist attitudes who believe everyone else is responsible for their problems. They are often single or estranged white men who kill with firearms after substantial planning. There are clear warning signs that go missed by the public and professionals. Research has already found links between mass killings and domestic violence. U.S. national data on mass shootings over the past decade found that in more than half of the cases, an intimate partner or family member is one of the victims. One in four perpetrators had a history of domestic violence.

Investments are also required to provide meaningful services and supports to victims of gun violence. In addition to the harm and trauma they suffer because of the crime committed against them, injured survivors and family members of deceased victims also shoulder a substantial amount of social and financial costs following their victimization. It is crucial to assist victims in the aftermath of a crime with their financial, mental health and ongoing medical needs. The effects of gun violence persist for years, and for some victims, create life-long impacts such as chronic pain and disability, depression and other mental health issues, loss of gainful employment, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

In my view, gun violence is a public health crisis affecting multiple Canadian cities currently. While the assault weapons ban is the first step, we also need to take action on handguns, which are used in hundreds of shooting incidents in communities across the country. There were a record 490 shootings in Toronto in 2019 and the city set a record for shooting-related injuries, at 248. Statistics from 1995 to 2005 indicate that 45 per cent of homicide victims in Toronto are Black men, although they only constituted 8.4 percent of the population during this time1. However, these figures are outdated. According to one estimate, young Black men in Toronto are five times more likely to be victims of homicidal violence than the majority population. Young Indigenous men in Western provinces are also being killed at a disproportionate rate. We must commit to more data collection on the demographics of victims and perpetrators of gun violence, so that we can accurately tackle the most at-risk and vulnerable areas, support the healing and resilience of the most affected communities, and invest in widespread initiatives for prevention. We must also move to ban handguns and increase border security, as many firearms come across the Southern border illegally every year.

Best practices in violence prevention take a holistic approach, with coordinated efforts and significant investments across sectors, such as health, education, community organizations, as well as law enforcement. This type of approach helps communities build resilience and capacity, while preventing involvement in behaviours and activities that may lead to violence. We know that we must shift from reactionary to preventive models of addressing gun violence.

I will continue to ensure victim-centred considerations are part of the federal dialogue on firearms. For additional information on the recommendations my Office made in 2018 to the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, please read our Submission to the Engagement Process on Reducing Violent Crime: A dialogue on handguns and assault weapons.

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime



1 Wright, A. (2018). Year of the gun. CBC. Retrieved from: & Lawson, E. (2012). Disenfranchised grief and social inequality: bereaved African Canadians and oppositional narrative about the violent deaths of friends and family members. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(11), 2092-2109