Bill to make gun violence a public health issue voted down in Ontario legislature


Bill was proposed by MPP Mitzie Hunter

By Lincoln DePradine

(l-r) Ali Demircan_ Dr Samuel Vaillancourt_ MPP Mitzie Hunter_ & Tyrone Charles

Moments before entering the parliamentary chamber on September 8 for a sitting of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, MPP Mitzie Hunter appealed to her political colleagues to back her private member’s bill that aimed at treating gun violence not just as a matter of safety but also as a “public health’’ issue, allowing for surviving victims and family members to receive the support that they “urgently needed’’ from the healthcare providers. However, Hunter’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

“The consequences of gun violence are pervasive and leave marks that can alter the health choices and lifelong trajectory of children, youth, young people, adults and communities. Left unsupported, these consequences become intergenerational,’’ Hunter, Liberal MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, said at a Queen’s Park press briefing, shortly before tabling Bill 9 – also known as the “Safe and Healthy Communities Act 2022’’ – for second reading in the legislature.

“With this reading,’’ she explained, “I will be asking all members of the legislature to support Bill 9, so that victims of gun violence exposure can get the support that they urgently need from their health providers. While discussions and debates surrounding gun violence have often focused on regulation and keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of potential perpetrators, far less attention has been dedicated to the impact of gun violence on victims and their connection. This has meant that significant gaps continue to exist.’’

Hunter, with Bill 9, had been seeking legislative approval to amend the Health Insurance Act. The change would allow “victims of gun violence, their families and other connections to have access to trauma-informed counselling, as well as prescribed hospital-based and community-based violence-intervention programs’’, she said.

“Bill 9 is asking to extend OHIP trauma-informed counselling to those directly affected by gun violence,’’ Hunter added. “It also requires boards of public health to develop programs to address gun violence by declaring it a public health issue in their local communities.’’

At her press briefing, Hunter was joined by Tyrone Charles, Ali Demircan and Dr Samuel Vaillancourt of St Michael’s Hospital, one of Toronto’s trauma centres.

“We’re setting up a program to better support victims of gun violence and their families; and this (Bill 9) falls very much within the spirit of that kind of work,’’ said Vaillancourt, a specialist emergency physician and trauma team leader. “We will support anybody who does this kind of work. there’s great evidence that this can decrease the vulnerability of the youth, especially, that we care for, that have been victims of gun violence.’’

Demircan was one of more than a dozen people injured in 2018 when a gunman started shooting at people in restaurants and walking along Danforth Avenue.  Two people – an 18-year-old and a 10-year-old – were killed in the attack.

His life, and that of his family, said Demircan, were “literally changed’’ by the shooting incident, and they were “left alone with no mental support’’.

Charles lost a granddaughter in a 2012 shooting. “The pain that I felt when I lost my granddaughter, I won’t wish t on my worst enemy,’’ he said.

“The pain doesn’t really go away; the pain disrupts life – mentally and physically. If Bill 9 could make a difference, please, vote for it.’’

Hunter, in lobbying for all-party support for Bill 9, said it was not a partisan issue.

“We simply cannot allow the trauma associated with gun violence to persist unchecked. By addressing such trauma through expanded services by allowing boards of health to develop programs and services for reducing gun violence; and by declaring gun violence a public health issue in Ontario, we can take meaningful steps to building safer communities,’’ said Hunter, deputy leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

However, Bill 9 failed to garner the support of the legislature last Thursday and was voted down 72-31.

LJI Reporter