Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory is calling on his political counterparts to join him in a crackdown on illegal guns and those who use them in response to this weekend’s six shootings in Toronto, three of which were fatal.
Mr. Tory said Monday that provincial and city leaders must come together to convince the federal government that stricter security at borders and tougher minimum sentences could be part of the solution.
“It’s time for Ontario and Canada to close the border to illegal guns,” he said.
This lead from the Tuesday, August 2nd Globe and Mail article focusing on the proliferation of illegal weaponry in Canada, specifically Ontario, shows how much Canada and the United States differ on the issue of guns. How many conservative leaders in the United States would say: “That means too many guns in the hands of too many people”?
To be perfectly fair I will add that this also highlights the differences among conservatives in Canada. Although the federal Conservative Party of Canada makes the claim to be strong on law and order, they have long been opposed to the government’s gun registry program. (All privately owned guns have to be registered by their owners with the government.) They claim it is an unnecessary infringement on individual rights.
That right there is the crux of the matter. The primary argument used in America against gun control revolves around a clause in their constitution guaranteeing the right to bear arms.
Whatever the original meaning of that clause may have been, the fact remains that the sentiment has become firmly entrenched in the American psyche.
Until 1981, Canada did not even have a document equivalent to the American Bill of Rights. Nothing existed. At least, not one that could create the same lasting impression and imbue opinion with such passion. It’s hard to get excited about something called The British North American Act. (The B.N.A.)
In my opinion, all major differences between the two countries can be traced back to the means of their formation. While the United States was born out of revolution, Canada was created by an act of British Parliament.
The founding fathers of America wrote a brand new Constitution and Bill of Rights for their new country. In 1867, when the country was created, it was agreed that Canada would continue to be governed by the B.N.A. It had been written around the same time as the American Constitution by the British Parliament.
The primary purpose of the B.N.A. was to guarantee the rights of French speaking Quebec (then called Lower Canada), and to ensure there would be no repeat of the unpleasant business south of the 49th parallel. It placed far more emphasis on good government and keeping the peace than individual rights and freedoms. As Canada and the United States have matured, this distinction can be seen in their different approaches to everything from health care and social programming to gun control.
Canadian governments have traditionally taken a direct approach to ensure the well being of their population at large; the common good before individual need. The American philosophy has been almost the complete opposite: nurture individual rights, sometimes at the expense of the common good, thus allowing everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.
While there is a minority within each country that express dissatisfaction with their respective approaches to governance, the majority are content. Even when governments change, the most anybody does is tinker within the established framework. Any attempt to deviate from the norm is met with fierce public opposition.
It is only since the repatriation of the constitution in the early eighties and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as its companion document, that Canadians have begun to rethink their philosophy. It will be interesting to see what kind of long term effects this has on the societal values that provide the basis for policy.
Gun control has always been a “law and order” issue in Canada. There is no emotional or historical bond between the Canadian people and weapons. They have no meaning beyond their function.
In America, guns are more than just objects. They have come to symbolize the struggle for freedom and the rights of the individual. The archetype of the lone cowboy standing up for justice against a band of outlaws is a powerful image, and one dear to the hearts of a great many Americans.
Even the most liberal of American politicians would think long and hard before saying something even approximating Mr. Tory’s pronouncement of “Too many guns in the hands of too many people.” It would be interpreted as an attempt to curtail freedoms.
With two countries that have so much in common – language, cultural heritage, and religion – you would expect to find similar values and ideals. Yet, while it is true there are areas of common ground, they just serve to highlight the differences. It is in their responses to social issues like gun control that each country’s character is revealed.
It is one of the great wonders of humanity that two nations, side by side, can evolve in such different ways. I know that there are people on both sides of the border who look and see greener grass over the fence, or, perceive in the other some kind of threat.
We would all be much further ahead if we could learn to just celebrate the fact that two countries with such diverse views on life have managed to set an example to the rest of the world. Since the creation of Canada in 1867, there has never been a dispute between the two nations that has not been resolved peacefully. How many countries in the world sharing a common border can make that claim?
Before leaping to conclusions about either country based on their response to the issue of gun control, critics should keep in mind what has gone into that decision. You don’t have to agree with, or even like, their reaction, but at least you can show it some respect. Friends don’t always have to agree with each other, but a little understanding goes a long way.