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Campaigning Liberals plan to announce handgun ban during Toronto visit

Canadian Press/Joan Bryden And Alexander Panetta | December 8 2005

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Paul Martin will venture into a violence-plagued area of Toronto on Thursday to announce a sweeping ban on handguns, The Canadian Press has learned.

Martin was scheduled to visit Toronto's troubled Jane-Finch area to make a "safer communities announcement." Liberal sources have confirmed the announcement includes an "outright" ban on handguns.

However, there will be exceptions for competitive target shooters, gun collectors and peace officers, a Liberal insider said on condition of anonymity. The source would not explain any more details of the policy proposal.

Handguns are already severely restricted in Canada and a handgun registry has been in force for more than 60 years.

But a rash of recent gun deaths in Toronto has prompted Martin to promise to crack down even more. Gunfire was responsible for 50 of the 74 murders so far this year in the city.

The rash of shootings prompted city police to launch a gun amnesty program in November, during which they collected 261 weapons and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

A ban on handguns is likely to be popular in other large urban centres as well, like Montreal and Vancouver, where residents have been disturbed by recent firearms violence.

On Tuesday, Montreal residents marked the 16th anniversary of the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique, where 14 young women were gunned down by a rifle-wielding misogynist.

Windsor MP Joe Comartin, the New Democratic Party's justice critic, said the announcement sounds like "smoke and mirrors."

"Basically, all handguns in Canada are illegal now," said Comartin. "The only people who get permits are those who are using them for recreational purposes or those who need it for their own personal safety and there's not a lot of those that are granted."

He said the announcement sounds like "a political ploy during an election to garner some headlines and make it look like you're actually doing something when, in fact, what you're proposing is pretty meaningless."

Given the number of stolen guns used in crime, Comartin said there had been some discussion earlier this year at the all-party Commons justice committee about tightening regulations governing safe storage and use of handguns. But that is something that falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Comartin said the one thing the federal government could do would be to stop the flow of illegal firearms into Canada from the United States.

It remains to be seen how the ban will go over in rural areas, where the issue is more about rifles. Many Prairie rifle owners have never forgiven the Liberals for creating a registry for long guns.

Created 10 years ago, the registry was supposed to cost a mere $2 million. Instead, its cost has ballooned to more than $1 billion.

The Conservatives, who declined comment on the expected handgun ban Wednesday, have called the program a boondoggle and Auditor General Sheila Fraser has sharply criticized the waste and mismanagment that have pervaded the registry.

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