Criminal Law

Seek advice of those close to gun violence: Handlarski to politicians

By Randy O'Donnell, Associate Editor

Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski has some advice for the city’s new council as it grapples with a growing gun violence issue — talk to the people who deal with the problem.

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, tells that council, elected Oct. 22, should consult residents of the city’s high-crime neighbourhoods, along with Toronto’s criminal defence lawyers who handle the fallout.

“The vast majority of politicians come from a particular class of people, and this is not meant to be a criticism of them or men like Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford, but they are the last people on earth that would have any idea how to solve the gun problem,” he says.

“So who may have a solution? Well, you go to the neighbourhoods that are affected by the crime, with residents who in some cases have children or family who have gotten involved in gun violence or been impacted by it.

“Talk to the criminal lawyers who represent people who are affected by those crimes. Those are the two categories of people who are never asked by politicians for their views on how to address the gun violence issue. It’s a really strange thing,” Handlarski says.

The Toronto Police website indicates there had been 88 homicides in the city as of Nov. 4. Of those, 45 were gun deaths.

An Ipsos poll released in July showed that 81 per cent of Torontonians agreed there is a serious gun problem in Toronto.

Handlarski says those same citizens should stop relying on politicians to solve the gun problem and demand they seek grassroots solutions.

“There is a mentality in 2018 of looking to politicians for answers and thinking they have them. They don’t, and we’d be much better off realizing they don’t,” he says.

“Politicians have an overriding interest to remain in power. Very often they will make decisions that are politically popular that totally satisfy their own interests but have no effect on the problem — or have a negative effect.

“It’s a dangerous situation where the interests of the politician are not aligned with solving the issue. It’s just showing the voters that they are doing something.”

Handlarski says lawyers have a unique perspective not available to politicians. That’s because they interact and build bonds with clients and their families.

“If you’re going to practise criminal defence and be successful, you’re going to form personal relationships and friendships with your clients,” he says.

“Because we’ve made these friendships, we can actually ask our clients for their thoughts on the issue and are more likely to get answers because there is trust.”

In July, Tory announced a $15-million strategy to combat gun violence that included hiring more police officers and funding existing community programs aimed at gang violence prevention.

While applauding the initiatives, Handlarski says money needs to be spent where it will do the most good.

“Ask questions. Who’s going to get the money? Is this idea going to have any effect? Do politicians know? Does anyone know?

“I don’t understand why they don’t unleash the creative potential of the people most affected by crime and live in these areas. Talk to them and the defence lawyers. Open it up to ideas and fund the things that work," Handlarski says.

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