In Saskatoon, says police Chief Clive Weighill, “knives, swords and machetes are the weapons of choice.” In the first 10 months of 2009, Saskatoon police documented 299 knife-related incidents. Though that number is down from previous years, Weighill says the proliferation of such weapons in urban settings is increasing. So he wants to give police across the province the power to confiscate knives.
The Criminal Code prohibits carrying concealed weapons, or weapons dangerous to the public peace, but a knife worn in the open can only be seized if police have reason to believe it has been—or will be—used in a crime. Weighill is pushing for what he calls “proactive” legislation, which would provide “non-criminal intervention”—the weapons would be confiscated but no charges would be laid. But the proposal is troubling many. “Knives are everywhere. We use them at work. We use them in our cars,” says Glen Luther, a law professor at the University of Saskatoon. “How can you ban knives without coming to grips with the fact that they’re used lawfully by people from all walks of life?”
According to Luther, the kind of legislation being proposed by Weighill would be highly subjective in its application. It suggests, he says, that “police can tell the difference between someone who is up to no good, and who [isn’t].” And he fears that giving police “a massive amount of discretion to decide when they’re going to enforce the law” could lead to racial profiling—a claim Weighill dismisses as “absolutely ridiculous.” Says Weighill: “The increase we’ve seen involving street weapons crosses all cultures and ethnic groups.”
For now, a province-wide knife ban is unlikely. Morgan says the department has thus far been “unable to find any kind of a legislative solution that would work,” and “stand up to constitutional scrutiny.” But he is currently exploring other options, such as amending the Criminal Code, “to see if we can come up with something that meets the chief’s needs.”