TORONTO — A group representing doctors and other health-care workers pushing for stronger gun laws held rallies across the country Wednesday, calling for a national ban on private ownership of handguns and assault rifles.
Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns held events in cities that included Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and St. John’s, and also planned discussion forums and information sessions in other communities — all as part of a national day of action.
The group has said it considers gun control a public health issue, and that physicians have a duty to speak out on issues that affect people’s safety.
Dr. Suzanne Beno, a pediatric emergency specialist and co-director of the trauma program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said firearms legislation currently before the Senate — Bill C-71 — is a step in the right direction, but more action is needed.
“Bill C-71 is kind of an initial step. It certainly helps around tighter regulations,” Beno said. “But it’s really weapons that don’t really need to be in the hands of civilians that are out there. When you think about public health … one direct way to reduce this burden is simply to reduce the vector, and reduce the number of firearms that are in circulation.”
Shortly after noon in Toronto on Wednesday, a group of protesters gathered outside a downtown church, some of them in white lab coats, others carrying signs that read ”Yes to C-71” and “We Can Do Better.”
Beno, who was set to speak at the rally, said she has seen firsthand how gun violence affects children and families, as well as the “ripple effects” it has on wider communities.
“I strongly believe that firearm injuries in Canada are on the rise, particularly in Toronto,” she said. “And I believe that it is a public health issue that we definitely need to tackle a little bit more aggressively.”
In Montreal, physicians and medical students carried protest signs in the street after speaking to the media at the Montreal General Hospital.
Tarek Razek, chief of trauma services at the hospital, said gun violence is an increasing part of Canadian reality. “It’s just unfortunately part of our regular everyday professional life,” he said. “We’re a trauma centre in the second-biggest city in the country.”
He said Canada should take inspiration from New Zealand, where the government moved quickly to ban assault rifles following last month’s mass killings at two Christchurch mosques.
“This is not about being against guns. I’m not against guns,” Razek said. ”Canada has a lot of rural communities where guns are actually quite necessary, especially long guns. I have nothing against that, nor against any gun owners, for that matter. We’re against gunshot wounds in humans.”
The Senate committee on national security and defence was set to hold its final day of testimony Wednesday on Bill C-71. Among other changes, the legislation would eliminate a five-year limit on background checks for people applying for a gun licence.
In Ottawa, Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said he finds the physicians’ testimony compelling.
“They actually have been dealing with people who have experienced the trauma of injury as a result of firearms, so they’ve seen it firsthand,” Blair said. But he was not prepared to accelerate the process of restricting firearms, as New Zealand lawmakers did.
“I think it’s important to listen to the very diverse opinions on this issue that Canadians have and to find the most effective and best way forward that will work to keep all Canadians safe,” he said.