With politicians in Montreal and Toronto calling for a nation-wide handgun ban following bloodshed in their communities, political candidates in Surrey are weighing in on whether they would also advocate for a ban, if elected.
Things quickly got heated after Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill revealed this week that while he believes there is a place for long-guns for recreational activities and hunting, he is committed to “cracking down on handguns” if he becomes the city’s next mayor.
Soon after, Surrey First Councillor and former cop Dave Woods resigned from the party, saying in a statement Wednesday morning that he “cannot support a team leader who doesn’t value or seek consultation of team members” who have “experience in areas where he does not.”
Woods said a handgun ban would “impact law abiding handgun owners, such as hobby target shooters.”
“In my view, Canada’s handgun restrictions are very good; hence I do not support a wholesale legislation change,” wrote Woods. “From my experience in law enforcement, thugs and gang members never/seldom have legal permits to possess handguns; therefore, such a wholesale ban would have little effect to decease gang violence in our community.”
Woods — who won’t confirm if he’ll be running with a slate, as an independent, or at all in the upcoming Oct. 20 election — said he said if there is a need for handgun regulation change or “enhancement,” recommendations should come from the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs.
“I stayed with Surrey First because I was assured there would be a new culture and attitude on the team, one of consultation and team input into decisions and the platform,” said Woods. “I have no confidence the movement towards a more open, collaborative, and transparent culture within the party will exist and, therefore, I will not be seeking re-election as a member of Surrey First.”
To those comments, Gill said Woods “has his own personal beliefs when it comes to handguns.”
“We’ve got a new team, and our perspective has changed and I think we want to be very bold in terms of out thoughtfulness,” Gill elaborated.
“We have consensus on the team that we need to take some very bold steps, particularly given some of the tragic events we’ve seen in Surrey recently that involved gangs and guns,” Gill added, an obvious reference to recent gunplay, including the murder of father and OR nurse Paul Bennett, an innocent man who was shot and killed on June 23 outside his Cloverdale home in what police believe was a case of mistaken identity.
Gill pointed to an RCMP-commissioned report that noted there were roughly 840,000 restricted or prohibited guns in Canada, which he said is almost double the 2005 figure.
“This is a huge, significant cultural change to have the discussion,” said Gill of a ban, adding he thinks minimum sentencing needs to be reviewed as well. “There’s no question that we need to look at ourselves as a country and the availability of guns, the licensing of guns, the safe-keeping of guns, the policing of guns, those are all significant issues. We need to do things differently. It’s not just about hiring cops.”
Gill said Surrey First met for three hours to discuss platform issues on Tuesday (Aug. 21), and came to consensus on the gun topic.
Gill said Woods was invited to that meeting, but did not attend.
“It’s unfortunate Dave chose to make the decision he did,” Gill added.
Woods is the third Surrey First member to split from the party in recent months; Councillors Bruce Hayne and Barbara Steele also split, and are running together.
But what do others in the election race think about a handgun ban?
“Generally, a lot of any municipal election is political parties announcing what they will do if they mind-control the premier or the prime minister — speaking about issues completely outside of your jurisdiction,” mused council candidate Stuart Parker, who co-founded the left-leaning Proudly Surrey party.
“We’re a party that would really like to end the drug war but we don’t have the power to do that,” Parker said of a ban. “We, generally, don’t make a big deal out of that kind of stuff because I think it makes voters cynical if you campaign on things outside of your jurisdiction.”
Having said that, Parker said Proudly Surrey supports Gill in “lending his voice to greater handgun restrictions.”
“I think if you’re a mayor of a major city in Canada, it’s kind of your responsibility to support a policy like that,” he commented.
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, who is after the city’s top spot with his Safe Surrey Coalition, said he supports toughening up gun laws but said, “I fully realize (a ban) doesn’t do anything to prevent the gang violence that we’re seeing in Surrey because they operate with illegal guns no matter what you do.
“That’s the main reason why we’re suggesting we have our own police force — actually trained in urban policing and can deal with this gang violence better with the RCMP,” he added.
Former Surrey First member and mayoral candidate Bruce Hayne doesn’t think a ban would make much of a difference, if at all.
Hayne, who has launched his Integrity Now slate, said the matter is “absolutely federal jurisdiction” and he feels there is a “far more practical” solution, calling an outright ban “impractical and likely ineffective.”
“This is unenforceable” he said of a ban. “Right now there must be several thousand legally registered handguns in the City of Surrey, owned by law-abiding citizens who go and shoot at the range on the weekends. How are we going to take those away and who’s going to enforce that? And who’s going to pay for that enforcement?”
Hayne said “gangsters are not buying their guns at Cabela’s on a Saturday morning,” but rather are smuggled in from the U.S. or stolen domestically.
“So restricting or eliminating handguns is simply not going to alter the behaviour of the bad guys,” he added.
Hayne suggested other methods, including enhanced background checks for those wanting to buy a handgun; the possibility of requiring handguns to be stored at ranges; and “most importantly and most effectively” he called for higher minimum sentencing for possession of illegal firearms.
“It has to be a significant incarceration period for anyone that has illegal firearms, particularly out in public, in a car, something like that,” Hayne said.
Meantime, independent mayoral candidate Pauline Greaves said she’s in favour of “anything that will increase our community’s safety.”
“Clearly there is no need for assault weapons or anything like that,” said Greaves. “Currently, there’s an extensive process that individuals are supposed to go through in order to own (a handgun). It’s a restricted weapon, and it’s very much supposed to be monitored in terms of licensing and training.”
Greaves said the question, for her, is how criminals are getting hold of these guns, and what level of violence is happening with them. She called for more information on gun owners.
“The weapons that are used (in crimes), are they legally obtained or illegally obtained?” she said. “I’m in favour of anything to keep us safe, and protect us. Bad guys do not need to have access to assault weapons. With handguns, we need to know if the system isn’t working effectively…. If that’s not working then we need to enhance that and we need to know we’re doing due diligence in making sure these individuals should have the guns.” If that’s not the problem, then Greaves called for new efforts to stop criminals from getting their hands on these weapons.
Another slate seeking office in the upcoming election is People First Surrey. Rajesh Jayaprakash said the party supports a handgun ban.
“We are aware of the need of self defence, etc., however looking at the possibility of theft, lack of care and accessibility of guns to children and other members in family and friends, it makes sense to ban the guns,” Jayaprakash wrote in an email to the Now-Leader. “But this also takes away a fear in burglars and robbers that the owner may have a gun. So we need more crackdown on illegal weapons at the same time. Overall, in Surrey’s climate where teens joining gangs is an issue, the pros of a gun ban far outweigh the cons.”
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