As gun control laws become increasingly stringent in Canada, Tash Glazer investigates loose border control and rising violent crimes with a focus on firearms.
On 4 September, two assailants embarked on a mass stabbing spree at 13 different locations in the remote Indigenous community of James Smith Cree nation, Saskatchewan Province, that left 10 people dead and 18 wounded. Whilst a motive for the attack remains unclear, some victims appear to have been targeted while others were attacked at random. The incident ranks as one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings. However, despite the high-profile nature of the incident, mass killings in the country are rare, with only six cases recorded over the last ten years.
Though incidents are few and far between, Canada’s government has been swift to crackdown on gun ownership. For example, a mass shooting that left 22 dead in Nova Scotia in 2020, led to the banning of over 1,500 models of assault-style firearms and a restriction in sales to people convicted of domestic violence. In addition, in May, after several US-based shootings, the government introduced Bill C-21, which proposes to ban the ownership of military-style assault weapons in a mandatory buyback program and to impose restrictions prohibiting the sale, purchase, importation and transfer of handguns.
A NATION ARMED
Recent estimates indicate that 26 percent of Canadian households own at least one firearm, with 95 percent possessing long guns and less than 12 percent owning handguns. In total, an average of 7.1 million firearms are in civilian hands, which represents a rate of 241.5 per 1,000 population and falls in a similar bracket to countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
In 2021, the cost estimate of the buyback program was USD 756 million, which increased this quarter by another USD 8.8 million. Whilst the C-21 legislation is under consideration, the government announced that from 19 August, it would implement a temporary ban on the import of restricted handguns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, news of the planned legislation led to a spike in domestic gun sales.
However, undermining the above government efforts is the illegal cross-border smuggling of firearms from the US into Canada, which saw a dramatic rise over the past year. The shooter of the abovementioned 2020 mass killing, had smuggled three of his weapons from Maine, US, in the back of his truck. In a change of pace, in April 2022, police in Ontario recovered a drone smuggling 11 handguns from the US. Police have noted that guns illegally crossing the border into Canada have been on the rise since 2019, despite a drop in 2020 due to Covid-19. Hence, in 2021, 86 percent of handguns used in the perpetration of crimes that were able to be traced originated in the US. Additionally, thus far in 2022, an estimated 30 percent of all guns purchased in Texas, US, and then traced to crimes committed abroad were now linked to Canada, when in previous years 100 percent were linked to crimes in Mexico.
On 2 August, the government released information stating that firearm offences have risen for the seventh consecutive year in the country, increasing by four percent in 2021 compared to 2020. The rise has called into question the effectiveness of the government’s ongoing anti-gun initiatives. However, there is widespread public support for tighter firearm legislation. In 2021, 66 percent of respondents in a countrywide survey stated that they favoured stricter gun control, whilst 19 percent were satisfied with the status quo, and only 10 percent advocated for looser regulations. Yet, the proliferation of the firearm smuggling trade is likely to compensate for the loss in domestic trade. By meeting this demand, a rise in modified guns can be expected in the country. For instance, firearms smuggled from the US can have higher capacity magazines than the legal Canadian allowance of a maximum of ten rounds. Already in 2021, police stated that the number of shell casings they recovered from shooting scenes were up by 50 percent, suggesting widespread use of higher capacity magazines. According to Toronto police, between January to February 2022, shootings increased by 47 percent compared to the same period in 2021. Additionally, the number of people injured in shootings rose by 70.6 percent and the amount of people fatally shot was up by 33.3 percent, which amounted to a total increase of 57.7 percent of people injured and killed by gunfire in comparison to the previous year.
With weapon smuggling likely to undermine government efforts to slow gun violence through legislative curbs on gun ownership, incidents of violent crime may well continue their upward trend over the coming year.
There has been a significant uptick in firearms seized at Canadian borders over the past year. Methods to smuggle guns across the border include by truck, plane, private citizens in vehicles and more recently drones.
Incidents of homicide by shooting and stabbing have risen over the past four years.