News / Toronto

A young person is shot every day in Ontario, Sick Kids study finds

Every day a child or youth is shot in Ontario and three out of four of incidents are accidental, says a groundbreaking study on firearm injuries in Canada.

A child runs with a wooden gun at just before the military tactic demonstration in Fort York. A team of Toronto researchers found Canadian-born youth, particularly males, have the higher rates of unintentional firearm injuries compared to immigrant youth.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

A child runs with a wooden gun at just before the military tactic demonstration in Fort York. A team of Toronto researchers found Canadian-born youth, particularly males, have the higher rates of unintentional firearm injuries compared to immigrant youth.

A child or youth is shot in Ontario every day and three out of four of the incidents are accidental, according to a groundbreaking study that attempted to identify at-risk groups for firearm injuries.

Based on government health and immigration databases, a team of Toronto researchers found Canadian-born youth, particularly males, have the higher rates of unintentional firearm injuries compared to immigrant youth.

Canadian-born males suffered 12.4 such injuries per 100,000 people, 72 per cent higher than the 7.2 among immigrant males between 2008 and 2012, during which almost 1,800 firearm injuries were reported among children and youth in the province.

However, the risk of being a victim of intentional firearm assault is 43 per cent higher for refugees, at 4.7 per 100,000 people, than for non-refugees (2.4 per 100,000 people), said the study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Also, immigrant children and youth from Africa are almost three times as likely, and those from Central America are more than four times as likely to be a victim of such targeted firearm assault than their Canadian-born counterparts, said the study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“A child or youth injured by a gun each day in this province is staggering,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician and associate scientist at Sick Kids.

“Our findings indicate that this is a conversation we should be having with our patients and their families, particularly with these newly-identified high-risk populations.”

While the Canadian-born males under age 24 suffered 1,032 accidental and 304 assault-related firearm injuries over five years, the comparable numbers for their immigrant counterparts were 148 and 113 respectively. Female non-immigrants had 137 unintentional and 31 assault-related firearm injuries; female immigrants had 12 and less than six in the respective categories.

Although immigrants had a lower rate of unintentional firearm injury, overall they were as likely to suffer such injuries in targeted assaults as Canadian children and youth. While children and youth in rural areas were more prone to unintentional firearm injuries, urban residence was positively associated with the risk of assault from a firearm.

The data did not allow the researchers to dig deeper into why some subgroups face a higher risk of firearm assault.

“It’s hard to extrapolate but vulnerable youth are more likely to be victimized,” said Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer at ICES and a pediatrician at Sick Kids.

Possible contributing factors, the study suggests, may relate to higher rates of poverty, lack of access to resources, and more bullying and peer aggression among first-generation immigrant adolescents.

“The observed variation in firearm injury by region of origin may have been related to higher participation in Canadian gangs by Indo-Asian, Caribbean and African immigrants than by those from other regions, and it highlights the need to ensure a healthy transition to Canada by these particular at-risk groups,” the study said.

The release of the report coincided with the release of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s updated position statement on firearm safety, which includes several recommendations for clinicians, including asking families if they have firearms at home, particularly for kids struggling with mental health issues.

Given three-quarters of the firearm injuries among children and youth are accidental, Guttmann said the report speaks to the importance of gun safety and storage for gun manufacturers and gun owners, as well as the enforcement of gun control legislation as part of the prevention strategy.

“The majority of these injuries are unintentional and are entirely preventable, making this an important public health problem that needs to be addressed with targeted prevention programs,” Guttmann said.

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