Government plan to reduce firearms violence

Jun 23, 2021

As part of the Government’s comprehensive strategy to build safer communities and combat gun and gang violence with what it deems "common sense" laws, the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced that, effective 7 July 2021, the Government of Canada is expanding mandatory firearms licence background checks to cover the lifetime of an applicant and reinstating the requirement to seek Authorization to Transport (ATT) for restricted and prohibited firearms to most locations.

“We are moving forward on our promise to make our streets safer and our communities stronger. Canadian firearms owners take gun ownership and firearms safety very seriously, and lifetime background checks and verifying the validity of a firearms licence will help to keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have access to them. Increasing law enforcement’s ability to trace guns used to commit crimes, and closely regulating the movement of restricted and prohibited firearms within a community will further enhance the safety of our communities,” confirmed Minister Blair in a statement.

Background checks

Expanding background checks to cover an applicant’s lifetime rather than the previous five years is a positive measure that will protect Canadians by helping to prevent individuals who are not authorized to possess a firearm for any reason  – such as a history of domestic violence, harassment including a restraining order, or a risk of harm to any person – from obtaining a firearms licence.

Authorization to Transport

Reinstating the requirement to seek ATT for most locations will provide Chief Firearms Officers (CFOs) with more oversight into how restricted and prohibited firearms are transported, other than to and from a shooting range or home after purchase. This will safeguard the movement of these firearms within a community, and give CFOs greater information about transportation patterns and confidence that these firearms are being transported for a “good and sufficient reason” as required by the Firearms Act.

In addition, the Minister tabled the following proposed regulations in both Houses of Parliament on June 21, 2021 that would further strengthen Canada’s robust firearms regime by preventing individuals who are not authorized to possess a non-restricted firearm from obtaining one, and helping law enforcement trace crime guns.

Licence verification

The proposed regulations would require individuals or businesses who are selling or transferring a non-restricted firearm to confirm the buyer/transferee has a valid firearms licence, further protecting public safety by reducing the risk of non-restricted firearms being sold or given to those without a valid licence.

Standardizing best practices among commercial retailers

The proposed regulations would also standardize best practices among commercial retailers by requiring firearms businesses to retain inventory and sales records related to non-restricted firearms, helping to strengthen due diligence practices and support the tracing of crime guns during criminal investigations. The ability to trace a crime gun is valuable for law enforcement and can help uncover illegal activities such as straw purchasing (when an individual who is authorized to purchase a firearm sells or transfers it to someone who is not), as well as identify potential firearms trafficking or patterns of theft of legal firearms.

The proposed regulations will be posted in Canada Gazette, Part I on June 26, 2021 for a 30-day public consultation period. The Government intends to finalize and bring these regulations into force in Fall 2021.

The changes and proposed regulations are part of former Bill C-71, An Act to Amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms, which received Royal Assent in June 2019.

Canadian firearms owners are among the most safety conscious in the world and Canada has a strong, common-sense firearms regime in place. These changes and proposed regulations are part of the Government’s comprehensive firearms strategy to protect public safety which includes: 

  • a prohibition on assault-style firearms and implementation of a buyback program;
  • bolstering funding for gang-prevention programming at the local level to counter the social conditions that lead to criminality; and
  • providing $86 million in 2018 to the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to tackle firearms smuggling, including increasing the number of detector dog teams and handheld x-ray scanners, and boosting the capacity of the National Weapons Enforcement Support Team

Quick facts

  • Statistics Canada reported that in 2017 there were 1,175 incidents of break and enter to steal a firearm (including breaking and entering a motor vehicle), and 921 unsafe firearm storage incidents.
  • Women and girls accounted for almost four-fifths of all victims of intimate partner violence in 2019.
  • At 261, the number of homicides where a firearm was the primary weapon used to commit the homicide in Canada saw an increase of 4% (+10 homicides) from 2018 to 2019. Over 40% of homicides in Canada in 2019 were firearm-related.
  • Nationally, there were 162 gang-related homicides in 2019, six more than in 2018. The majority (86%) were committed with a firearm, most often a handgun (78%). In 2019, gang-related homicide committed with a firearm represented 21% of all homicides, a larger proportion than in 2018 (20%).
  • Under one-third (28%) of firearm-related homicides occurred in non-census metropolitan areas. Provincially, rates of firearm-related homicide were highest in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.
  • With these new regulations, individuals and businesses would have to verify the buyer/transferee’s firearms licence with the Canadian Firearms Program before the sale/transfer of a non-restricted firearm. 
  • Individuals would not be required to keep records of sale.
  • Businesses that transfer ownership of non-restricted firearms would be required to keep records confirming licence validation and on the firearm being transferred, as was the case between 1979 and 2005.
  • Law enforcement would only be able to access business records on reasonable grounds, and upon presentation of a judicial authorization.
  • Neither the Canadian Firearms Program nor the Government of Canada would hold information on the firearm transferred.