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Opinion: Mayor and the VPD won't share data about handgun violence in Vancouver

Some very basic data would help us understand the issue better
File photo

On the heels of the federal government recently introducing Bill C-21, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart took no time to weaponize the news, laying the groundwork for using it to his political advantage in the run-up to the next municipal election.

In a press release announcing his intention to introduce a motion which would ultimately make handguns illegal in the City of Vancouver, he was quoted as saying "[F]or cities like Vancouver, the greatest threat to public safety is the proliferation of handguns, deadly weapons that have no place in cities, and this bill would give us new tools to get them off our streets.”

The bill itself will likely give the mayor tools to ban handguns using bylaws that will restrict their possession, storage, and transportation here.

Not too far to the east, Stewart's progressive contemporary in Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, has signaled that he won't be taking the same path as Stewart, saying that he prefers "one law for the country," as opposed to individual mayors making up a patchwork of gun laws as they see fit.

I've written about the issue of Trudeau's assault rifle ban in the past. My opinion is that it's meant to appear as though it's actually going to make a difference and make Canadians safer, when in fact it's smoke and mirrors; pure politics.

The long and the short of it is that they've banned around 1,500 models of scary-looking firearms and are now proposing a buyback program for people who own them.

The problem with that ban (which took place in May of 2020 and is separate from the bill) is that those guns that look frightening function exactly the same as many hunting rifles—not banned—do. If they truly wanted to make a difference and spend some political capital they'd ban semi-automatic guns entirely, not simply the ones that they can put on a poster and have the average citizen say "Oh dear! Nobody needs to own one of those!" while literally millions of other legal guns in Canada, sitting in people's safes and closets (mine included), could kill you just as fast and effectively if they got into the hands of the wrong person.

With handguns, the feds are spending very little political capital as well, and are mostly leaving it up to municipal leaders like our mayor. They're proposing that large cities will be given tools that will allow them to ban handguns in their individual cities should they choose to, rather than committing to a country-wide ban.

Illegal handguns—the ones mostly used by criminals—are already banned everywhere. Obviously.

So I reached out to the Vancouver Police Department to see if they could supply us with the stats that the mayor certainly must have been looking at prior to pronouncing that they are our greatest threat to public safety. I'm not aware of an uptick in handgun crime, nor do I view legal handgun ownership as an issue our elected City officials should be tackling. I must have a blind spot which basic information could help me fill in.

I requested that the VPD supply us with recent data showing handgun crimes (murder and otherwise) committed by people who have their RPAL (Restricted Possession and Acquisition License), which is issued by the RCMP and is needed to obtain a handgun in Canada.

They did not supply us with that information and suggested that I contact the mayor's office.

I responded by asking how many crimes had recently been committed using any type of handgun, illegal or not. Surely the VPD would have that information readily available, or they could spend half an hour cobbling it together so that the public might better understand the issue.

They did not supply us with that information either. In fact I got no response.

My next stop was the mayor's office to see what information Kennedy Stewart was basing his statement on, and guess what? No data available for us there either.

Okay, surely B.C.'s Ministry of Public Safety must have something for us then. Nope. They referred me back to the Vancouver Police Department, and I threw my hands up in the air, much like I would if a bad guy were somehow pointing a legally-obtained handgun at me.

While nobody would supply Vancouver Is Awesome with any information that shows how much of a danger these weapons actually are to the public right now, the VPD seems to generally be in support of Kennedy's upcoming motion. At least the spirit of it.

In an emailed statement (before they went silent on me), the VPD states that "Gun violence is a major ongoing concern in Vancouver and throughout the Lower Mainland. We know these weapons are typically used in the commission of serious, and sometimes deadly, offences," and that "We welcome any opportunity to reduce violence and keep communities safe, and we look forward to hearing more about this."

I'm not saying handguns aren't a danger. However, we need to be asking questions when politicians make bold statements with literally nothing to back them up with.

The mayor wants us to believe that the "greatest threat to public safety" is the proliferation of handguns, but I can think of many things that are more of a threat.

COVID-19 and people (like mayor Kennedy Stewart) who flout public health orders. Unprovoked, random machete attacks. Heck, more innocent people died while crossing the street in Vancouver last year than by handgun violence brought on by legal handgun owners.

I look forward to seeing the mayor's motion, and the debate surrounding it. I don't imagine all ten members of council will get in line behind him to vote in favour of it before asking him to show the data that the VPD and mayor's office either didn't have for us or simply didn't want to share—I'm running on the assumption that it's the latter.

However, the danger for every member is that at a glance, it will look as though this motion is something that's going to make people safer, and even if it may not achieve that the mayor will use it against them in the upcoming election if they oppose it.

Make no mistake, this is political positioning—some might call it pandering—ahead of election day, coming up in October of 2022.

I'll be bringing you thoughts from different councillors as this loaded and half-cocked motion makes its way to the council chamber.

If we're lucky I'll even get my hands on some data to share which may actually prove the mayor's statement, but don't hold your breath.