The federal government introduced new gun control legislation today that would introduce a buy-back program for barred firearms, allow municipalities to ban handguns and increase criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking.
Bill C-21, introduced this morning, comes nine months after the Liberals announced a ban on the use, sale and importation of more than 1,500 makes and models of what the government refers to as military-grade “assault-style weapons.”
A two-year amnesty period has been in place since May to give people who already own the targeted firearms time to comply with the ban. The amnesty period will last until April 30, 2022.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that the government will move forward with legislation to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to introduce a fleet of gun measures — including the long-anticipated voluntary buy-back program — in the coming months.
Today’s announcement didn’t offer concrete details of how the program would work. During the 2019 federal election campaign, the Liberals pegged the cost of the program at between $400 million and $600 million.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government will have a better picture of the cost when it gets a sense of how many firearm owners might seek compensation.
“If we take the estimate, for example, of 150,000 to 200,000 of these weapons that would be surrendered and for which compensation would be paid, on an average price … of approximately $1,300 per firearm, the estimate is somewhere between $300 and $400 million dollars,” he said.
“But it really depends on knowing exactly how many of these firearms and what is currently possessed in Canada.”
Those who keep their blacklisted weapons would have to abide by strict conditions. They would have to agree not to use the weapons, to import or acquire any more of them or to bequeath them to anyone else.
“We are not targeting law-abiding citizens who own guns to go hunting or for sport shooting.The measures we’re proposing are concrete and practical,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa.
“And they have one goal and one goal only — protecting you, your family and your community. Because the victims are real. The pain of their families is real.”
Increasing trafficking penalties
If passed, the bill would create “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws which would allow individuals — such as concerned friends or relatives — to apply to a court for the immediate removal of someone’s firearm.
Blair said these laws could be used in cases of domestic violence and concerns about mental health.
Trudeau said his government also plans to increase criminal penalties for gun trafficking, smuggling, possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm or possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence — from 10 to 14 years in prison.
The legislation also would create new offences for altering the magazine of a firearm, introduce tighter restrictions on importing ammunition and allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation, said the prime minister.
“We’re backing up the cities with serious federal and criminal penalties to enforce these bylaws, including jail time for people who violate these municipal rules,” said Trudeau.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said earlier today that he doubts the program will curb gun violence.
“I think Mr. Trudeau misleads people when he tries to suggest that buying things back from hunters and other Canadians who are law-abiding is somehow going to solve the problem of shooting and criminal gang activity in the big cities,” he said.
“It’s ignoring the real problem and it’s dividing Canadians.”
Pro gun-control group PolySeSouvient said it’s disappointed to see the government fail to make the buy-back program mandatory, as New Zealand and Australia did.
“This is a total betrayal,” said Suzanne Laplante Edward in a media statement. Her daughter, Anne-Marie Edward, was shot and killed during the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre.
“My family and I have fought for three decades to ban these weapons. We thought we had won in the fall of 2019 when the Liberals announced with much pomp and circumstance that they would ban and buy back all of these killing machines.”
New Zealand program questioned
In 2019, after a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand left 51 dead and dozens injured, the New Zealand government banned semi-automatic weapons and instituted a buyback and amnesty program.
More than 56,000 weapons have been withdrawn from circulation in New Zealand and the government has paid $87 million dollars in compensation. The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, however, estimated the number of semi-automatic weapons in circulation at 170,000 at the program’s inception and called the program a failure.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, a group that represents gun owners, said last week that it would oppose any measures that lead to the “confiscation of legal guns from RCMP-vetted gun owners.”
“Canadian gun owners have owned these firearms safely and without issue for decades,” said coalition spokesperson Tracey Wilson, whose group is engaged in a court challenge of the Liberal gun legislation.
“Along with most Canadians, we were hoping the Liberals would address the actual crime and violence we see committed in our streets by criminals.”
The term “assault-style” has no legal definition in Canada under the Firearms Act. Generally, “assault-style weapon” is used to describe a semi-automatic firearm with an ammunition magazine, built to fire quickly. There is already a legal limit — five rounds — on the maximum size of a magazine.
The initial firearms ban was announced less than two weeks after the Nova Scotia gun massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.