Bill C-21

Gun Policy and Gun Activity

There has been considerable controversy over Bill C-21, which was introduced in February 2021.
Promoted as being designed “to tackle the increase in gun-related violence and gang activity”, the Bill, despite the obvious and legitimate public safety concerns, will allow lawful owners of now-prohibited ‘assault style’ firearms to keep their weapons – although not to use them.
This permission would seem to contradict the political rhetoric from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety about the dangers to society these weapons inherently pose, and gun control advocates are angered (to put it mildly).
Equally controversial is the reality that lawful gun owners, including of now prohibited firearms, are clearly not the source of the growing gun violence in Canada. Given this, why are they the primary target? Add to this the blatantly unconstitutional measure to let municipalities, which are under Provincial jurisdiction, decide to ban the possession, storage or transport of otherwise legally owned handguns and the Bill seems to be more about politics than actual policy. 
There are, however, some non-legislative glimmers of optimism that suggest that real policy is on the horizon to reduce gun crime in Canada. The first was a paragraph included in the public release about the Bill where Minister Blair confirmed that Canada would “Fight gun smuggling and trafficking by increasing criminal penalties, and by enhancing the capacity of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency to combat the illegal importation of firearms.” 
Given that it is assumed that a large number of crime guns are smuggled into Canada from the U.S. (including between ports of entry), this focus is essential and long overdue. 
It requires cross border co-ordination and finally creating (twice promised by the former government but not delivered) enhanced domain awareness through deployment of analytical radar surveillance. This creates the opportunity for intelligence-led enforcement and will also require giving CBSA officers an express mandate to conduct mobile border patrols between ports of entry as well as adding them to the existing cross-border enforcement ‘Shiprider’ program. This can’t come soon enough. 
A second area of cautious optimism was revealed in a response Minister Blair made to a softball question asked of him in Question Period the day after C-21 was introduced. He said the government is “pleased to see that our federal funds are being used to open a new forensic firearms lab in British Columbia. This is essential to holding criminals accountable and to getting illegal guns off our streets. We are also renewing the Canada-United States Cross-Border Crime Forum and working on the creation of a new bilateral task force on gun smuggling and trafficking with our American allies. We will strengthen gun control in this country at our border and in our communities.”
Tracking is Essential
Properly tracking gun crimes is essential to developing and deploying measures to prevent guns getting into the hands of criminals. As Minister Blair noted it needs cross border and national and inter-agency domestic co-ordination. This should clearly be a national initiative, led by the RCMP and its National Police Services group with participation by all Provinces, Provincial Police and large municipal police services. This will require targeted and appropriate funding, and this may also be an issue for the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) to examine in light of its recently announced review of RCMP National Policing issues. 
Building a crime gun tracking capability is important but it should also include public reporting of relevant data so Canadians can understand what’s working, what’s not…and why. The importance of this information cannot be overstated as has been revealed in our improving…but still deficient…crime statistics analysis and reporting. Again, we don’t need to be ‘tough’ on crime; we need to be honest about crime so we can be smart about crime.
In light of that, the following suggestions are offered as data tracking, analysis and reporting which should be required by Ministerial Directive.  
Required data tracking and reporting
  • How many violent gun crimes are committed annually – by Province and by Municipality?
  • How many gun thefts are committed annually by Province and Municipality?
  • How many gun crimes are solved and not solved annually by Province and Municipality?
  • How many crime guns are successfully tracked?
  • How many crime guns are not tracked?
  • Of the crime guns that can be tracked, how many are used illegally by the lawful owner ?
  • Of the gun crimes that can be tracked, how many are the result of theft from lawful owners, how many are illegal purchases from lawful owners, and how many are illegally smuggled into Canada?
  • Of the crime guns illegally smuggled into Canada, what are the countries of origin?
Confronting Reality
Gun crime in Canada is a serious threat to public safety that has been increasing alarmingly in the past few years. There are effective policy measures that can be taken, including combatting gang-related actions, which will be controversial but needs to be confronted. These issues need to be addressed, and Canadians deserve a policy – and not political focus.
Bill C-21 has never even made it past First Reading in the House, and Parliament has now adjourned until September unless, as anticipated, an election is called – in which case, this government ‘priority’ will die. 
On June 22nd, Minister Blair announced the introduction of new firearm-related Regulations pertaining to background checks, transportation authorization, license verification and retail sales practices, all of which will come into force in July 2021. 
Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations for Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada.