Gun violence is on the rise in Canada, with data showing there has been an 80 per cent increase in violent crimes involving guns since 2009. To recognize the issue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared the first Friday of every June as the National Day Against Gun Violence, commencing this year, June 2, 2023.
“Gun violence is a real and serious threat. The annual National Day Against Gun Violence will serve as a solemn reminder of the lives lost, of the families who live with the ongoing pain, and of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to prevent these senseless tragedies by putting an end to gun violence,” Trudeau said in a statement on Thursday.
Trudeau made the announcement at the Toronto Raptors’ practice facility, alongside Raptors Vice-Chairman and President Masai Ujiri, anti-gun violence community groups, and civic leaders.
“By pausing on the first Friday in June to remember those whose lives and families have been destroyed by gun violence, we are taking the first step to solving a problem, which is acknowledging it exists. This day is really a result of the work of community members who have been affected by gun violence. It’s mothers, teachers, friends. We’re grateful to them for raising their voices, and to our federal leaders for hearing them,” Ujiri said.
The Toronto Raptors played a huge part in the declaration of the day, collecting the signatures of over 30,000 Canadians who wanted to see the day recognized in Canada.
Canadians are being asked to wear white to honor the day, as a symbol of peace and ceasefire.
Both Trudeau and Ujiri joined The Brandon Gonez Show for an exclusive one-on-one interview to discuss National Day Against Gun Violence, and what it means for Canadians.
One-on-One with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau & Raptors President Masai Ujiri
Trudeau explained that he wants the day to be recognized as a time to honour the families affected by gun violence in Canada, as well as the lives and the potential lost. He also shared that there is no “one thing” that needs to be done to combat gun violence, but a range of steps that need to be taken.
“Yes, we need to continue to strengthen gun control, continue with our ban on assault-style weapons, the freeze on the market on handguns, lots of strengthening at the border so we’re interdicting more illegal guns than ever before,” Trudeau explained, but he added that the solution is not solely based on policing and enforcement.
“It’s better community programs, it’s more investments in youth, it’s lots of work on mental health, it’s fighting against gender-based violence and domestic violence and intimate partner violence. These are the kinds of things that we have to have a whole society approach.”
“Quite frankly, what Masai has been able to do about bringing young people and empowering them through sport to have confidence to be positive in their approach to life and to feel like they have the power to their communities and their future is incredibly impactful,” the prime minister continued.
Trudeau shared that the federal government is combating the issue of gun violence by supporting youth and making sure they don’t find themselves stuck in situations that they do not want to be in.
“Investing a whole lot in community programs, in gang prevention initiatives, in things like community policing and more resilient mental health supports in communities as well.”
“But it’s not just that. It’s investing in sports programs, investing in music programs, investing in things and opportunities for young people to actually see that they have value to the community. Not just some day down the road if they make it through and become a leader, but right now,” he continued, adding that when he was a high school teacher he learned the importance of having adults who care and really “lean in”.
“It just takes adults, whether it’s a coach or a teacher or a mentor or anything, leaning in to show a young person that they matter, that they matter now, and investing money maybe, but mostly time, and effort, and care into those young people. That’s how you direct things.”
He continued on to say that the federal government has some tools to address gun violence, but Trudeau believes that the solution is a society-wide effort.
“Provincial [and] municipal governments have got to get in it, civil society, sports organizations, it’s something that we all need to do if we’re going to build the right future for our next generation.”
And Ujiri agrees, saying that he believes the youth will be the ones to change the problem.
“I believe in sports, I believe in protection, I believe in connectivity. I believe that sports bring peace and we have to empower them in many ways,” Ujiri said, adding that he feels community leaders have a responsibility to put themselves out there to make a difference.
“We have to put ourselves out there to give these guys, these communities, these people, these leaders a 100 per cent chance because we’re leaders and we’re in front of it, we have a chance to make a difference.”
Ujiri shared that this work has been going on for a long time, with a round table and march against gun violence taking place in 2022. But how do they plan to ensure that this day is not forgotten amongst other dates on people’s calendars?
“I think gun violence is something that’s affecting and hitting more and more people and heartbreaking more and more communities unfortunately. And that’s where people said OK it’s good that we have a day but that doesn’t mean that we can ease off on every other day of the calendar,” Trudeau said.
“It’s a day to remember and take stock of what we’re doing. But the work? The work is done every single day in community centres, in schools, in streets across the country, in homes that are facing challenges. This is a thing we have to do, all of us together every single day.”
“Quite frankly having to recognize a day against gun violence in Canada is something we wouldn’t have thought of ten years ago, or even 20 years ago,” the prime minister said, adding that marking this day is a response to the ongoing challenges the government is recognizing.
Advice for Young People
While we had the leaders, we asked them to share advice with young people in Canada who may have access to a gun, or are considering picking up a firearm.
“I would say put it down, you know? Believe in yourself, for me sports is my language. Maybe find a language that you speak that actually preaches peace, and preaches giving to others,” Ujiri shared.
“Remember your childhood, remember people that have helped you. Remember your parents, remember your brothers. It could be someone close to you.”
“Truly believe that there are people in this world who believe in you. There are people in this world who believe in us. I grew up in Northern Nigeria, I could have gone any way, I decided to follow the love of my life, basketball,” the head of the Raptors shared, adding that following this path has given him an incredible life, a beautiful wife and family, and brought him to Canada.
“Put it down. We believe in you, you will do the right thing. You will dream big and be better.”
Meanwhile, the prime minister wants to share that “there are no shortcuts,”
“Life is filled with challenges, life is filled with hard moments and you’ve got to get through them and you’ve got to figure out how to dig into yourself and lean on the people around you who love you, who are there to support you, and make it through that.”
“Looking for shortcuts whether it’s violence, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s hoping to win the lottery, there is no replacement for hard work, for engagement, for leaning on the people around you who believe in you, and move forward in the right ways,” Trudeau continued.
“There are so many reasons to be angry and frustrated and want to lash out at the world, but the path forward to becoming someone who has a positive impact, has a powerful impact on the world around you is not through the barrel of a gun, it’s through steady leadership. Being there for each other. Drawing on strength in the community around yourself, and building that path forward,” Trudeau shared, adding that there are people who believe in you every step of the way.
“But you’ve got to be the one to pick the path that’s going to bring you forward in the right way.”