Gun violence is rampant in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Canada’s firearm-related homicide rate is 16 per cent higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. This difference is greatest in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan compared to other provinces.

Hello Flatlanders,

Saskatchewan had the highest rate of gun-related violent crime of any province in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

Saskatchewan had 56 victims of gun violence per 100,000 people in 2016.

Regina had the highest per capita rate of firearm-related crime among Canada’s major cities, with 59 victims per 100,000 people. The numbers doubled from 2013 to 2016. 

And since then, police say firearms offences have only continued to rise.

Regina’s SWAT team says the increase in gun violence has been keeping them busier than usual.

Meanwhile, Manitoba is in second place for the most gun-violence.

That province had 48 victims per 100,000.

Winnipeg police say, in recent years, gun violence has remained the same, but even so, approximately 1,200 guns were seized by city police in 2020, and 700 of those were guns used in an offence.

Dr. Michael Weinrath, professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, told CTV last year, a lot of the random violence in the city is connected to local street gangs.
 
But even outside the big cities, Canada’s firearm-related homicide rate was 16 per cent higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. This difference was the greatest in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan compared to other provinces.
 
Since 2013, break and enter crimes for the purposes of stealing firearms have increased by 28 per cent, from 918 incidents in 2013 to 1,175 incidents in 2017.
 
And there’s been an increase in firearms being involved in domestic violence incidents, say police.
 
As such, in 2019 the Liberal government announced they were going to be making amendments to Canada’s gun laws in the interest of public safety.
 

GETTY IMAGES.

A few readers have asked me to do an issue about how the gun control laws have changed since then.
 
The government points to statistics when it comes to why laws needed to change:

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  • Gun homicides in Canada have nearly doubled from 134 murders in 2013 to 266 in 2017.
  • Fifty-five per cent of firearm-related homicides in 2017 were committed using handguns. 
  • Rifles or shotguns were used in twenty-three per cent of murders.
  • Other types, such as fully automatic firearms, sawed off rifles or shotguns, were used in nine per cent. And unknown types were used in the remaining 13 per cent.
  • In 2017, when it came to firearm homicides, handguns were the most common weapon used in urban areas, while rifles or shotguns were often used for murder in rural areas.

Fast forward to May 1, 2020, just a few weeks following the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would ban 1,500 gun models and variants that the government described as “military-grade assault” weapons.
 
On the ban list, for instance, were AR-15s, as well as similar rifles like the SIG MCX, in addition to the Ruger Mini-14, different types of M14 and the Beretta Cx4 Storm carbine.
 
The government said it would give firearms a two-year window for people to keep possession of these types of guns and provide what they said would be “fair compensation” in a voluntary buy back program.
 
Guns aren’t cheap. I was poking around on various Canadian gun store websites, and some rifles can go upwards of $1,700 or more.
 
Last year, Jeff Kent, from the Saskatoon Rifle and Revolver Club, told the Star-Phoenix his four now-banned weapons cost him $13,000.

What’s more is to own those guns, one must take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, and then you have to apply for your Possession and Acquisition Licence, and then you have to take the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course.
 
The steps to being able to own and operate restricted firearms is a commitment of both time and money, so it’s understandable that after all that work to be able to own a certain type of weapon, you’d be upset to suddenly be told you can’t have it anymore.
 
Most gun owners are responsible and follow all the rules, so when the government creates new ones, it limits a hobby they enjoy.
 
I don’t own any guns, but I’ve gone skeet shooting a few times, so I can see the appeal. I have a few friends who are competitive target shooters. Shooting guns in a controlled environment can be fun. And people use AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles for target shooting.
 
And even though firearms rules seem like a “left vs. right” political issue, the gun owners I know are from a variety of political and professional backgrounds, so it’s probably not helpful to frame firearm legislation arguments along party lines, but that is what generally tends to happen, especially these days.  
 
I was reading about the appeal of AR-15s for Americans and, while Americans have very different attitudes and rules around guns, I think some of these reasons would apply to Canadians who enjoy them.
 
The semi-automatic can “pierce a distant target, with a single precise shot.” Firing one is said to “a gratifying blast of adrenaline.”
 
Some have said the AR-15 is “one of the greatest rifles.”

This may be why the Canadian sport shooting market was significant for local gun store owners, who have been worried that the federal ban of these weapons will hurt their businesses.  

But, as noted earlier, guns get stolen and end up in the wrong hands.

For example, back in 2018, some thieves in Moose Jaw stole a gun safe with 25 guns.

After a year-long investigation, five people were arrested and were charged with several offences, including weapons trafficking.  

This is how guns can end up on the street.

So, I suspect part of the government logic is it is harder for people to steal weapons, like AR-15s, if no one has them.

According to the Saskatoon police chief, people who use firearms in committing crimes obtain them primarily by theft. 

Police are often confiscating shotguns and rifles that have modified barrels and stocks, making them easier to conceal—think a sawed-off shotgun.

Tracing a firearm once recovered by police is difficult. Only 40 per cent of tracing attempts are successful because many seized guns are older and may not have a serial number, or the number is too degraded to be legible.

Some responsible gun owners say the answer isn’t to restrict guns to address crime. They say tougher laws and longer sentences are needed to deal with firearms offences. Punish the offender and not those who are operating firearms legally.

I have a lot of experience reporting on the courts, and the justice system has problems, but how to fix them is complicated and up for debate, even amongst those who work directly with offenders, so we’ll save this topic for another time.

Critics have said gun crimes are committed by unlicensed criminals using smuggled guns from the U.S., and that might be true for Ontario, but according to police here, it’s rare for officers to seize a gun that has been smuggled into Canada up into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Winnipeg police have also complained about “straw purchases,” where licensed gun owners buy firearms and sell them to people who wouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun themselves, which has helped lead to an increase of gun violence in the city.

In the end, the Liberals have made the following changes to the gun laws in addition to banning the 1,500 gun-types:

  • People with a history of violence will not be granted a license to own firearms through expanded background checks that consider the applicant’s lifetime history, not just the preceding five years.
  • Sellers must verify the validity of a firearms licence before selling a non-restricted firearm.
  • Businesses must keep point-of-sale records for non-restricted firearms to help police trace guns used in crimes.

This March, the federal government announced the $250 million Building Safer Communities Fund to help municipalities and Indigenous communities prevent gun and gang violence by distributing funds to local organizations that focus on children, youth and young adults who are involved in or at risk of joining gangs.
 
Some of that money will also go to stop gun smuggling at our borders and develop the mandatory buyback program for the banned guns by Oct. 30, 2023.
 
When it comes to handguns, a bill in the last Parliament, C-21, proposed allowing municipalities to ban them. However, the election last year saw the bill die.
 
The Liberal platform during the election suggested there would be a $1 billion in financial support for provinces or territories that wanted to implement the ban, so I’ll have to keep an eye on any developments there.

What do you think about the issue?

I am introducing a “letter to the editor” section of The Flatlander, so if you’re a gun owner or someone strongly opposed to guns, I’d love to hear your views.

I’m also open to longer form opinion pieces, and, if you’re a freelance journalist or writer on this list, you can now pitch me your article ideas, just be sure to read the contributor guidelines.   

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Manitoba mare strikes it rich with Kentucky Derby-winning offspring
  2. Province doles out $15 million to Manitoba municipalities for road repairs
  3. No ring dike, but why? How Peguis First Nation still has no permanent flood protection
  4. Manitoba records its 1st known case of severe acute hepatitis in children
  5. Paddlers locate statue of giant hand that was carried away by swollen river

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. Ditches lined with empty booze bottles have Sask. cyclist concerned for safety
  2. Catalytic converter thefts on the rise in Saskatchewan in 2022
  3. Seeding behind 5-year average as snowstorms, rainfall cause delays: Sask. crop report
  4. Saskatchewanians waited longer for surgery than any other Canadians in 2021: report
  5. Demand for bikes continues to rise in Saskatchewan while supply falls behind

Photo of the week

A sculpture in downtown Regina. GETTY IMAGES.

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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