Mr. Speaker, I would first like to acknowledge that we are gathered here on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin people.
Let me start by thanking the Minister of Public Safety and his parliamentary secretary, the member for Ajax, for their diligence and hard work in bringing forward Bill C-71. This commitment was made during our election in 2015, and I am proud to be part of a government that is following through on much needed changes to our gun laws.
There are two ways of addressing the issue of gun violence, and for that matter, violence as a whole. The first is to address the root causes of violence. The roots of violence can be linked to many socio-economic conditions, and despite living in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, we know there is a lot of disparity between those who have and those who have not, and their outcomes in life. Be it education, health care, access to mental health support, we know that when young people find themselves in a conflict, they sometimes do not have the support to resolve issues in a peaceful way. Sometimes it is the local setting in individual communities that prevents them from moving forward.
We know our justice system has many issues. Most importantly, it has outcomes that are sometimes based on one's race. For example, young black men are more likely to end up in the justice system than their non-black counterparts. This is a result of racial profiling and anti-black racism that exists in all spectrums of the justice system.
As a government, we have to address these inequities, and to a large extent, we are doing that now. We are investing in much needed infrastructure, our Canada child benefit has lifted over 300,000 young people from poverty, and we are working hard to narrow social inequities. However, it is not enough. We have to address the real issue of guns in our communities.
The second issue I want to address is the guns themselves. The issue of gun violence is startling and the numbers really do speak for themselves. Over the past three years, Canada has seen a huge surge in gun violence. In 2016, there were 223 firearms-related murders in Canada, 44 more than the previous year. This represents a 23% increase in just one year. There were 2,465 criminal firearms in 2016, an increase of 30% since 2016. Looking at the issue with a gendered lens, from 2013 to 2016, the level of domestic violence against women where a gun was present increased dramatically from 447 incidents to 576.
The issue of gun violence is very personal to me. Over the past 20 years, I have been to way too many funerals of young people, mostly, of young racialized men who have died as a result of gun violence. My work against gun violence started in 1999 with an organization called CanTYD, the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre. CanTYD started off 20 years ago this past February with 17 young Tamil men and women who got together to respond to the many senseless deaths in our community. It was sparked by the murder of a young man called Kabilan Balachandran, a University of Waterloo student. He was murdered by a coward who picked up a gun and killed him.
CanTYD's work has been powerful and has led to an entire generation of young people moving away from violence to becoming productive citizens of our country. I had the privilege of being the coordinator of this organization from 2000 to 2002, and I cannot recount how many funerals I attended and how many young men I saw being buried. I would sometimes just sleep with my phone on Friday or Saturday night, waiting for a call. Oftentimes it would be from either Michelle Shephard from the Toronto Star or Dwight Drummond from CityTV, asking what was going on. These calls were punctuated with calls from young people who were either afraid, or just damn angry that yet another one of their friends was killed.
There were times when youth outreach workers and I would be at the Sunnybrook Hospital. We would see the headline in the Toronto Sun or the Toronto Star, that was when we would find out the person who was hospitalized as a result of a gunshot had actually died.
Working closely with many family members, siblings, schoolmates, and parents moved me a great deal. I witnessed families change over night, mothers who would wait in front of their windows for their sons to return home one day, knowing full well they had buried their sons, but hoping it was a dream, parents who never really got over the loss of their child.
Let me just take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers, staff, board members, and the great many young people who have worked with and for CanTYD for the past 20 years. I want to thank the families who entrusted CanTYD with their children. It is because of the work of organizations like CanTYD that many young people have gone on the right path, including those who once picked up a gun. I wish CanTYD many more years of success in directing our young people.
Permit me to also thank all the great youth outreach workers and youth-serving organizations in Scarborough, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the years.
Gun violence in the greater Toronto area continues to affect us all. My riding of Scarborough—Rouge Park has seen its fair share of gun violence in recent years, and shall I say, an unfair share of gun violence.
On July 16, 2012, the community at Danzig Road in Scarborough—Rouge Park got together for a celebration. Danzig is a vibrant community with a great deal of young people. In the early evening of that day, some young people came in a car and shot randomly at the crowd. Two people, 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Joshua Yasay, died that day. Twenty-three people suffered injuries, making this the single largest mass shooting in the history of Toronto.
Sadly, this was not isolated. Just last year, during a weekend in July, three young men under the age of 35 were killed in Scarborough—Rouge Park by gun violence. Sadly, the spate of gun violence is expected to continue.
We have all seen recent accounts of young people in the United States, led by the young people of Parkland, Florida. It is not a right to own a gun in Canada. It is not a constitutional right to carry arms.
I have, sadly, been to way too many funerals of young people who died as a result of gun violence, and I cannot count the tears of these family members.
In the past year, I have met with members of the Zero Gun Violence Movement. The Zero Gun Violence Movement has been working since 2013 to bring awareness and advocacy to reduce gun violence in the city of Toronto and around the country. One of the disturbing trends that the founder, Louis March, consistently mentions each time we meet is that young people have clear access to guns. They know where to get them when they need them.
The Zero Gun Violence Movement, in recent years, has gathered the mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. I was inspired by the mothers who came to Ottawa recently. They spoke of their losses and hardships, and the anguish of burying sons, some of them fathers themselves. The entire family is crushed and is deeply affected by the personal loss of their child. The families are at a loss as to why governments have not moved forward in limiting access to guns. They have told me that in some places guns are easier to find than jobs. This is why we have to take ownership of this issue and find the right legislative tools to get guns off our streets.
Bill C-71 strikes a balance by respecting legitimate, law-abiding gun owners, and ensuring that minimum safeguards are extended to the public against the drastic growth of illegal guns.
I will summarize the five key elements of the legislation. First, the legislation will introduce enhanced background checks. Second, Bill C-71 will ensure that all individuals or businesses selling firearms verify that the buyer is legally able to buy a firearm before completing the transaction. Third, there is record-keeping and the tracing of firearms used in crimes. Fourth, the bill will reintroduce restrictions for transportation of prohibited firearms. Finally, fifth, it would remove the ability of cabinet to arbitrarily reclassify weapons.
Today we have the opportunity to take a path to limiting illegal guns and taking them off the streets, while ensuring that these laws do not affect law-abiding citizens. We cannot continue on the path of the U.S. where we see gun violence hold an entire nation hostage while the gun lobby refuses to regulate even the most dangerous of weapons.
As the member of Parliament of a riding where I have witnessed the deaths and destruction of young people and their families, I want to ask my colleagues of all parties to support this sensible legislation. I recognize that this alone will not solve the issue of gun violence, but I am confident that it goes far in taking guns off the street.
We must, however, continue to work to ensure that young people have the necessary supports to resolve conflict, seize opportunities, and move away from violence.