Amid Rising Gun Violence In Toronto Trini-Born Canadian MP Touts Tougher Laws – But Can It Work?

Hardbeatnews, TORONTO, Canada, Fri. Dec. 16, 2005: A Trinidad-born recently-elected Member of Parliament in Canada is calling for people who commit gun and gang crimes to receive mandatory jail time. His comments come amidst the recent murder of Trini-Canadian youth, Amon Beckles, at the funeral of his best friend.

Liberal Provincial Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Rouge River, Bas Balkissoon, says he will push provincially for the Justice system to be harsh on those who commit gun and gang crimes.

The issue of gun violence has been plaguing parts of Balkissoon’s constituency for years. So far this year some 50 young people, mostly African-Canadian youths of Caribbean background, have been killed as a result of gun violence in Toronto.

The MP says because of the flexibility in the sentencing, some criminals are out of prison within a year and the cycle of crimes continue.

Last week, just steps away from the scene of one of Toronto’s most heinous acts of firearm violence, Liberal Leader and Prime Minister, Paul Martin, pledged to ban all handguns should his party win next month’s election.

On a campaign stop in Rexdale, near the Toronto West Seventh Day Adventist Church where 18-year-old Beckles was shot and killed while mourning his friend, who was also a shooting victim, Martin presented his sweeping anti-crime package, which also includes $325 million toward a special anti-gang R.C.M.P. squad.

Mandatory sentences for gun crimes and more money for programs to help troubled youths were also promised by the Prime Minister.

Also last week, Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler said he will introduce legislation this month to crack down on the gun crime plaguing some of Canada’s big cities.
Balkissoon hopes that the gun violence issue will be re-opened after the federal election on January 23 and pressure will be put on the authorities to get the mandatory sentences approved.

This, the MP said, would hopefully serve as a deterrent for persons who commit such crimes.

“Young people are being influenced by others and we need to put something in the interim to deal with the crime problem,” he said.

But Member of the Coalition of African Canadian Organization and Executive Director of the Black Action Defense Committee, Dudley Laws says, “It’s puzzling how banning handguns will get them off the streets.

“I want an explanation from the Prime Minister or someone else,” he said in responding to the announcements by Martin and Cotler.

Laws says legislation is one thing but questioned whether it would really. “They are not examining the conditions under which people are living, they need to deal with that,” he added.

Handguns are already severely restricted in Canada and Martin vowed to get the rest off the streets with the help of amnesty and buy-back programs. But in spite of the program, the killings have continued and some critics suggest the proposed prohibition would not do much.

A handgun registry in place for the past 60 years has not stopped the flow of weapons and many are still coming across the U.S. border illegally and falling into the wrong hands.

As the BADC Executive Director told HBN, “They are putting millions of dollars in the wrong direction.”
Laws also explained that preparations are on stream for a summit involving the three levels of governments next year, noting that it will deal with crime and community development.

“It’s not only about gun violence, but issues such as economic, cultural, counseling, crime prevention and empowerment of the community,” he said. –