Chairman's Desk

We need a serious political discussion about crime in Canada

The warmth of this year’s festive period was undeniably dampened by horrific incidents of violent crime that rattled Canadians to their core. A shocking mass shooting at a condo building in Vaughan, an appalling tale of young girls allegedly stabbing an unhoused man to death in downtown Toronto, and a spate of increasing random attacks on the TTC combined to produce a most dispiriting and tragic holiday news cycle.

But no matter the time of year in which these violent acts unfold, their occurrence and nature point to a deeper truth, one often buried or obscured but made all too clear in recent weeks: Canada has a serious crime problem.

For despite what we might wish to believe, it’s evident that crime has been allowed to fester and grow — with the result that real systemic issues are now threatening the safety of Canadians.

For three consecutive years, homicides and violent crimes have risen in Canada. Reports from law enforcement across the country show organized crime is primarily responsible, with almost a quarter of murders in 2021 being gang related. Furthermore, marginalized Canadians are consistently and disproportionately impacted by violent crime.

And rather than adequately face these difficult issues, our politicians have been asleep at the switch.

Look, dealing with this issue is not easy. And it is made harder because Canadians are far too self-congratulatory when it comes to our national safety. Set in our supposedly idyllic, tolerant haven of the Great White North, we often look down on the maniacal gun situation south of the border, thinking we are immune. Or we gaze patronizingly across at Europe, believing organized crime cannot infiltrate our country to the same extent.

This view is wrong. Our homicide rate is roughly double that of the U.K. or France. It’s four times worse than Italy’s. A Canadian was murdered every 11 hours in 2021; for many, as it was for me, that will be a shocking revelation. It shows we have rested on our laurels for far too long. As a result, we’ve allowed both random acts of crime and organized, structural crime to thrive. It’s time for Canada to shake off our complacency and begin to treat our crime problem with the seriousness it deserves.

Guns are clearly the place to start. Efforts in this area have been woeful, most recently illustrated by the government’s bungled handgun legislation — so poorly executed it has managed to alienate a variety of groups including First Nations, both opposition parties and Liberal backbenchers.

I agree with freezing handgun sales, but the overwhelming priority should be halting the flow of firearms at our borders. Sure, Americans have insane gun laws, but we are not unaffected by them. When handguns were involved in a Canadian crime in 2021, 85 per cent of the time the weapon came from the United States.

The Liberals would do well to be humbled by their attempts to broaden gun bans and now focus primarily on strengthening protections at our border. In 2023, I would like to see a federal non-partisan task force ferociously dedicated to tackling that and other systemic flaws that have allowed crime to intensify, such as money laundering, a deepening mental health crisis and inadequate community supports.

It shouldn’t take another mass murder to crystallize for Canadians the depth of this problem. Nor should it take another horrific act for politicians of all stripes to honour the oaths they have sworn, and act swiftly to take the action everyone knows is needed.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on December 31, 2022.