There are plenty of reasons to visit the Okanagan in the summer, but for federal minister Bill Blair it was to check up on Canada’s investments in Kelowna.
The Minster of Border Security and Organized Crime was in the Okanagan earlier this week meeting with law enforcement and community leaders to discuss the ongoing issues in the city, and most importantly to Blair, what the federal government can do to help.
From gang violence, gun violence, drug violence and crime, Blair said that federal investments are needed to protect Canadians.
“Public safety is our biggest concern. Investments into social services like public housing, employment and mental health services defuses the likelihood of violent crime,” he said. “Community organizations doing good work in Kelowna need our support.”
The investments are part of a $327 million commitment over five years announced by Ottawa in 2017, put towards Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Blair joined Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr, who shares his advocacy for community endowments into police funding and training, to ensure the issues of gun and gang violence in the Okanagan are being properly investigated.
With the recent shootings in the U.S., gun violence in Penticton and Salmon Arm, as well as in Toronto, firearm safety is a topic Blair is familiar with as he spent 40 years with the Toronto Police Service.
“When you seized a gun (40 years ago), it was a novel thing. Now, it has become far too common,” said Blair.
“Shooting violence is increasing and I know from experience there are measures you can do to reduce violence. Some people like to act tough, but we need to act smart. If all you’re doing is kicking down doors of gang activity, there’s always going to be people looking to get back to gang life.
“There are more ways to reduce (gun and gang violence) through communities.”
More strict gun laws are often the response after shootings, Blair said. Background checks and new transportation regulations are in place for legal purchases, but further investments are being made into how gun-using criminals are getting their firearms by other means.
From border control, firearm retailer thefts and gun-owners illegally selling their firearms, the laws are not in place to deter responsible firearm owners as Blair said the federal government wants to remain respectful of law-abiding people who own firearms and use and store them safely.
Blair also recognized the homeless issue in Kelowna, as well as in other areas of B.C. The local social programs and organizations that look to make life better for people experiencing homelessness are a few of the desired outlets for government investments.
“Changing the circumstances of people and changing the social conditions to help people are needed to decrease crime and get guns off the street,” said Blair. “Investments are needed so young people don’t have to chose to get involved in violence.”
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