NDP leader Jagmeet Singh poses with a supporter after speaking during a campaign stop in Sherbrooke, Que., Sunday, September 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Federal party leaders address gun violence after weekend shooting near Toronto

One teen was killed and five people injured in the shooting

What police were calling an “ambush-style” shooting in the Toronto area that left one teenager dead and five other people injured saw federal party leaders swiftly move to offer condolences Sunday but little in the way of new ideas to address gun violence in Canada’s cities.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had already been on the way to Mississauga, Ont., when he briefly addressed the incident, telling reporters he would speak with the city’s mayor, Bonnie Crombie, to offer support from the federal government.

Crombie, a former Liberal MP, suggested Sunday that all levels of government must increase the resources and funding they direct at the problem of gun violence. Trudeau said what his party is preparing to offer is something he’ll discuss in the coming weeks.

“We know there’s more to do and we will be doing more,” he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh went little farther. Both said the root causes of the violence need to be addressed, but differed in their views on what those are as they repeated their existing commitments.

“What we do know about some of these shootings that have gone on over the past few months is that they are related to gang activity and that’s why we need better laws to deal with things like bail conditions that known gang members receive,” Scheer told reporters after a campaign announcement in Surrey, B.C.

“That’s why we need greater co-operation with police agencies, that’s exactly what my plan for a safer Canada talks about.”

READ MORE: Mississauga mayor “shocked” after teen killed, five wounded in shooting

That plan was mostly released last year. It will form part of the Conservatives’ broader election platform. Among other things, it promises that known gang members won’t be allowed to post bail if arrested (a measure certain to be challenged on constitutional grounds) and bring in longer sentences for gang-related offences.

Peel Regional Police said the intended targets of the shooting in northeast Mississauga, just outside Toronto, appeared to be a group preparing to film a rap video, and the 17-year-old victim was a bystander. Police are now searching for at least seven suspects who they say fired semi-automatic handguns indiscriminately.

Singh, campaigning in Quebec, re-iterated his party’s promise to allow municipalities to ban handguns, if that’s what they think is the best way to stem violence.

But he said that’s only one step.

“When people don’t have hope they can fall on the wrong path,” Singh said after an event in Sherbrooke.

“And we want to make sure we have all the programs in place — affordable housing, good health care, opportunities for work so that young people can find a positive way forward and not end up in a vicious cycle of violence.”

Trudeau’s stop in Mississauga wasn’t entirely for the campaign; he was to attend a celebration rally for tennis star Bianca Andreescu, who captivated the country with her victory in the U.S. Open last weekend.

His attendance at the rally — and call to Crombie — speaks to the two hats he wears these weeks. Despite the fact Parliament has been dissolved, Trudeau remains prime minister. He spent most of the day campaigning in southern Ontario, and was to wrap up the day with a rally in Markham, a suburb northeast of Toronto.

The shooting in Mississauga is sure to renew calls for a handgun ban, which the Liberals have been facing pressure for over a year to implement.

In August 2018, they launched a formal study of the idea, with public consultations suggesting Canadians were divided on the issue.

While Trudeau provided no details on his party’s plan on Sunday, the Liberals have signalled they will include some form of gun control in their platform.

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who was named crime-reduction minister in his first term as a Liberal MP, suggested back in June that ideas on the table included new standards for secure storage of firearms, preventing people from buying them on behalf of criminals and deterring the smuggling of weapons from the United States.

Police forces have largely stopped short of calling for a ban, with some echoing Blair’s thoughts on the need to tackle illegal firearms-trafficking as a top priority.

Scheer, in B.C., pointed to the fact that not even police want a ban when asked whether his party would support one.

“We listen to the experts on this,” he said.

Surrey is no stranger itself to gun and gang violence. Outrage over the issue saw a new mayor elected last year on a promise to end the city’s policing contract with the RCMP and establish a new force answering to a local police board.

But Scheer focused his announcement there Sunday on a promise to cut the amount of tax Canadians pay on the first $47,630 of taxable income they earn, what’s known as the lowest tax bracket. The cut would be phased in starting in 2021 and fully take effect in 2023.

The parliamentary budget office estimates the cut will cost the treasury $6 billion a year if fully implemented, though Scheer said forgoing that revenue would still allow him to balance the federal budget in five years. The cut would be worth $850 a year to a household headed by a couple making average salaries, Scheer said.

The NDP took a big-picture approach to its campaign Sunday, with Singh launching a platform specific to the province of Quebec. Among other things, he pledged more money for immigration, an expansion of language laws and the right to withdraw from more federal programs with financial compensation, so Quebec could establish its own parallel programs.

The 11-page pitch harkened back to the NDP’s “Sherbrooke Declaration,” a 2005 policy document that laid out the party’s vision for Quebec and in turn, what many considered the groundwork for the party’s historic victory in the province in 2011.

That year, the NDP captured 59 of the province’s then-75 seats. But New Democrats’ fortunes have reversed: the party had only 14 Quebec MPs at dissolution and the NDP is trying at least to hold onto those this time around.

Singh is expected to spend the next few days in Quebec as well.

Also on Sunday, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was making her way to Toronto, where she’ll be unveiling her party’s platform on Monday. People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was in Quebec, and will travel to New Brunswick Monday for a rally there.

The federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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