Next step for Canadian gun control

CHRIS MacLEAN  –  Feb 17, 2021

Responding to calls for change that ring out after every major gun violence event, the federal government is ready to introduce new gun legislation as a next step to the May 2020 ban on numerous assault weapons.

Canadians have lost loved ones to gun violence, and the country is no stranger to mass shootings. According to Statistics Canada, firearms were used in more than 40% of homicides in Canada in 2019. This violence has had devastating effects on communities.

In May 2020, shortly after the April mass shooting spree in Nova Scotia, the Government of Canada banned over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms and some of their components. In a press release, the government says it is continuing to "take every step necessary to combat gun violence and keep Canadians and communities safe."

On 16 Feb 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government will introduce new legislation to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to make communities safer while respecting law-abiding gun owners. Through the proposed legislation and other measures, the government would:

  • Combat intimate partner and gender-based violence, and self-harm involving firearms by creating “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws. These laws would allow people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of an individual’s firearms, or to ask a Chief Firearms Officer to suspend and review an individual’s licence to own firearms.

This may pose a contentious issue. At the community level, it will be welcomed by families and friends who have experienced first hand the frustration of the current lack of intervention before a seemingly potential tragedy can be committed. Maybe now people in crisis will have a better chance of getting help before they resort to guns (which may be confiscated before they can be used to kill). That said, preventive measures have existed for some 30 years, allowing police to seize guns (with or without a warrant) if reasonable grounds of a threat exist. Critics feel this change may even discourage the existing tools from being used. Getting feedback from police who will be implementing such laws is imperative.

  • 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.

If passed, bill C-21 will enhance the authorities and increase capability funding for federal law enforcement agencies to interdict gun smuggling into Canada. This will be an important public policy development aimed at increasing public safety on a national scale. Some key questions to answer here are: how will smuggling between ports of entry be monitored and enforced; and will this Bill finally authorize mobile CBSA patrols and vehicular pursuit of port runners?

  • Help create safer communities by supporting municipalities that ban handguns through by-laws restricting storage and transportation in their jurisdictions. Individuals who violate these municipal by-laws would be subject to federal penalties, including licence revocation and criminal sanctions.

This just makes sense. It will be interesting to see how they plan on accomplishing this, such as who will monitor and process such activity. Notably, Ottawa's mayor, Jim Watson, has already indicated he will ask the advice of Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly before proceeding with any city-wide bans. Collaborating with police is the best way for the system to work, and ensuring the optimum use of legal tools is necessary.

  • Give young people the opportunities and resources they need to avoid criminal behaviour by providing funding to municipalities and Indigenous communities to support youth programs.

Impacting youth with positive life programs can change the path from a troubled to productive life. Providing opportunities such as sports and nutrition and other social services to children and communities in need should impact society in many beneficial ways. Accountability is critical.

  • Protect Canadians from gun violence by creating new offences for altering the cartridge magazine component of a firearm and depicting violence in firearms advertising, introducing tighter restrictions on imports of ammunition, and ensuring the prohibition of imports, exports, sales, and transfers of all replica firearms.

The increasing prevalence and dangers of extremely realistic-looking guns will be covered in this Bill.

  • Complete the prohibition of assault-style firearms to ensure these weapons cannot be legally used, transported, sold, transferred, or bequeathed by individuals in Canada. We also intend to move forward with a buyback program in the coming months to support the safe removal of these firearms from our communities.

The vast majority of Canadians agree with a complete ban on assault-style weapons, but tracing these firearms is also essential. Buyback programs have been effective in many countries but are not without controversy.

A few U.S. states have implemented gun buybacks over the years, with limited and questionable success. Gun homicides and assaults in Baltimore reportedly rose during its two-month program. After a 1992 buyback in Seattle, a study found that "crimes and deaths increased, and injuries decreased, but the changes were not statistically significant.”

In July 2007 Argentina initiated a voluntary national gun buyback program in 2007-2008. Authorities collected more than 100,000 firearms.

After the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996, Australia initiated a "National Firearms Buyback Program”. The 12 month (1996-1997) program retrieved 650,000 guns. A subsequent 6-month buyback in 2003 retrieved an additional 68,727 guns.

Following the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, New Zealand tightened its gun controls and funded a buyback program, collecting approximately 47,000 firearms.

In two gun buyback programs between 2003 and 2009, the Brazilian government reportedly collected and destroyed over 1.1 million guns.

These concrete measures we’re announcing today build on actions already taken to address some of the most serious firearms safety issues and are part of our government’s detailed firearms strategy that will help make our communities safer for everyone,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in a government press release.

According to announcement, these measures are part of a broader firearms strategy to increase public safety and build upon previous legislation and policies already in place. This includes the May 2020 ban on assault-style firearms, significant funding to provinces and territories to combat gun and gang violence, and investments in border security to tackle firearms smuggling.

Justice Minister David Lametti believes the multi-faceted approach to gun control we are proposing combines evidence-based policies, tougher Criminal Code penalties, and funding for programs that address root causes that lead to criminal behaviour in the first place”

The minority-led Government of Canada has committed fulfilling its campaign promises on this issue, and to "do what it takes" to keep Canadians safe from gun violence. We will continue to take steps to strengthen gun control measures, remove dangerous weapons from our streets,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The proposed new gun control legislation would likely take precedence over a private member's bill that would prevent Alberta municipalities from passing municipal gun bans.

It's worth reviewing Scott Newark's 2016 suggestions for the Moncton Shooting Review. With a focus on officer awareness, Newark discusses how "privacy issues" have restricted information sharing among authorities and highlights the importance of the police receiving relevant information in a timely fashion. Effective controls will work best with feedback and lessons learned from the policing sector.

Chris MacLean is the Editor-in-Chief of FrontLine Magazine