OPP officers prepare to bag a firearm after Ontario Provincial Police host a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., on Thursday, February 23, 2017. The Liberals are planning to introduce legislation in coming weeks to fulfil platform promises on firearms, including a requirement for “enhanced background checks” for anyone seeking to buy a handgun or other restricted gun.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Feds eye tougher screening of gun owners for mental health, violence concerns

The Liberals are planning to introduce legislation in coming weeks to fulfill platform promises on firearms, including a requirement for “enhanced background checks”

The federal government has been eyeing changes that would allow authorities to more quickly identify people considered unfit to have guns for reasons such as mental instability or violent behaviour, an internal memo shows.

The Liberals are planning to introduce legislation in coming weeks to fulfil platform promises on firearms — including a requirement for “enhanced background checks” for anyone seeking to buy a handgun or other restricted gun.

The federal memo, released under the Access to Information Act, indicates the government could go further, beefing up screening of those who already have guns “by allowing authorities to reassess licence eligibility in a more timely fashion.”

Keeping guns out of the wrong hands is just one of the issues to be debated at a national meeting on gun and gang violence in Ottawa today that will include members of government, law enforcement, academia, community organizations and big-city mayors.

Related: Potential gun owners scrutinized under Canadian laws

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has convened the meeting as statistics reveal troubling trends.

The number of firearm-related homicides in Canada hit 223 in 2016 — up 44 from 2015, and the third consecutive annual increase. There were 141 gang-related homicides in 2016, 45 more than the previous year. Meantime, break-and-enters to steal guns have been rising.

Last year the federal government earmarked more than $327 million over five years, and $100 million a year thereafter, to address criminal gun and gang activities.

It is also preparing legislation to strengthen controls on the movement, licensing and tracing of firearms — measures that would repeal some elements of a bill passed by the previous Conservative government.

Under the current application and renewal process, personal information helps determine whether someone is eligible for a firearms licence. In addition, ”continuous eligibility screening” means criminal behaviour can be flagged for the federal chief firearms officer for review and possible investigation.

Federal statistics show 2,223 firearms licences were revoked in 2016, with mental health concerns figuring in 424 of these.

Certain professionals such as doctors, therapists and social workers have discretion to inform police of behaviour indicating that someone might harm themselves or another individual with a gun, notes the federal memo prepared for a May 2017 meeting of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, which provides advice to the government.

The memo, intended to generate discussion among committee members, also cites a Quebec law that requires people working at childcare facilities, schools and shooting clubs to report such behaviour to police. “Identifying individuals who are no longer eligible for a firearms licence as quickly as possible and ensuring they can no longer access firearms is an important public safety objective.”

Privacy considerations need to be carefully considered to ensure “the right balance” between privacy rights and public safety, the memo adds.

The federal plans to crack down on the illicit gun trade and gang violence has won approval from some representatives of the firearms community. But they are wary of measures that would impose new burdens on legitimate owners or merchants.

“We take minister Goodale at his word that he will take concrete action against violent criminals. If the minister’s course of action focuses on the drug war and those who perpetuate the violence it breeds, we wholeheartedly and unreservedly support him,” said a recent Canadian Shooting Sports Association commentary.

“We remain cautious, however, as history has shown that governments often attack the low-hanging fruit, lawful gun owners, in their rush to appear to be doing something about criminal violence — rather than do the hard work required to end it.”

Firearms organizations are framing the issue in a way that denies any connection between gun control and illegal guns or violent crime, says the group PolySeSouvient, composed of graduates and students of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, where 14 women were gunned down in 1989.

“Virtually all the guns used in mass shootings in Canada in recent history were legally owned at the time of the shooting,” the group says. “While illegal guns definitely pose a risk to public safety, so do legal guns.”

Canada has a strong firearms regime, and there is room to improve it while avoiding divisive politics, said Matthew Dube, the NDP public safety critic.

“I think everyone agrees that there is a way to have a balanced approach.”

Related: Trump says more must be done to protect children

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

WATCH: Kan Yon restaurant break-in caught on camera

Owner Kevin Kwong said the break-in will not stop him from doing business

Letter: With Greyhound cuts, cancer care still available for rural residents

Editor, In light of the Greyhound bus lines reducing service in British… Continue reading

Savage West rock at a hoedown for a cause in Hope

Owners of Broke Buckle Clothing Co. held the event to benefit the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Snow prayers answered as Manning Park ski hill opens Friday

Ski hill will be open seven days a week starting Dec. 14, and cross-country trails as well

Fleeing driver picks fight with Chilliwack police dog, loses

Good dog ‘Griff’ also locates large quantity of what police believe to be crystal meth in Abbotsford

VIDEO: Royals reveal the images on their Christmas cards

Prince William and his wife Kate are shown outside in casual clothes, their three young children in tow

VIDEO: Giants winning streak halts against Everett Friday at home in Langley

Following their first loss since November, G-Men hope to regroup and defeat Victoria on Saturday.

ICBC to apply for 6.3% hike to basic insurance rates

Crown Corporation said it will be submitting its next basic rate application to the British Columbia Utilities Commission Friday

Media, robotics, Indigenous studies coming to B.C. Grade 12 classrooms in 2019-20

Provincial tests are also being changed for students in Grade 10 to 12, the Education Ministry said

Stranded B.C. trucker writes final wishes before being rescued 3 days later

‘I was just praying someone would come along’

Canfor Corp. extending temporary curtailment of sawmills in B.C.; cutting hours

Vancouver-based company says the decision is due to declining lumber prices, high log costs and log supply constraints

Canada’s prospective world junior team members await final roster decisions

Thirty-four players were invited to the national junior selection camp

MAP: Christmas light displays in the Lower Mainland

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Family searching for B.C. professor last seen at Colombian salsa club

Ramazan Gencay, a professor in economics at Simon Fraser University, was last seen in Medellin

Most Read