OTTAWA — The Trudeau Liberals’ contentious gun control legislation will do little to stop gun crime while ensuring the end of sport shooting in Canada, advocates say.
Bill C-21 is poised to become law after passing third reading in the Senate with an easy 60 to 24 majority Thursday evening. The legislation would freeze the sale or transfer of handguns, add a definition of what constitutes a prohibited so-called “assault rifle” to the criminal code, and introduce “yellow flag” and “red flag” laws that would allow anyone to apply for emergency prohibition orders against somebody they feel poses a danger.
While gun control proponents hailed the bill’s passage as a victory for public safety, firearms advocates fear it will infringe on the rights of licensed gun owners while doing little to combat Canada’s gun crime problem.
“It’s been the goal of this government all along to target licensed sport shooters and hunters,” said Tracey Wilson, spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR).
“Our goal is to have this bill repealed, and have the focus return to combating crime, violence and gun smuggling.”
While the bill was touted as a means to tackle gun crime, concerns were raised by scholars and police officials that most crime guns found on Canadian streets are smuggled in from the United States — and in many cases, are firearms illegal to own in Canada.
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Testifying before the House public safety committee during C-21 deliberations, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said 86 per cent of crime guns in the city in 2021 were smuggled from the United States — a trend on the increase since 2019, he said.
Describing C-21’s passage as a “solid victory for public safety,” gun control advocacy group PolySeSouvient praised the Trudeau Liberals but maintained that much of the bill’s public safety impact is linked to the strength of its regulations.
“Bill C-21 contains solid measures to better protect victims of domestic abuse from gun threats and violence thanks to a series of measures related to this oft-neglected aspect of gun control,” said spokesperson Nathalie Provost.
“These measures represent concrete and effective progress and will saves many lives, in particular due to the new automatic prohibition preventing an individual who is subject to a protection order from owning guns.”
Noah Schwartz is an assistant political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley and firearms policy expert who also testified during the bill’s committee analysis. He said more work could have been done to give the bill a firmer focus, particularly concerning fears the legislation would disarm hunters and sport shooters.
“I was disappointed the Senate didn’t dig into the bill a bit more and try to make some revisions — I thought there were a lot of places where some of the rough edges of the bill could have been softened,” he said.
“The government claims that they were not trying to target sport shooters or hunters, and I think there were areas where that could have been made more clear.”
The bill’s “red flag” provisions, which would allow Canada’s chief firearms officer to summarily revoke firearms licences due to threat of domestic violence or criminal harassment, are also prone to abuse, Schwartz said.
“A number of witnesses, myself included, raised concerns about the potential for the red flag laws to be misused, especially amongst groups that the government kind of claims to be looking out for, like Indigenous Canadians,” he said.
Schwartz also maintains the bill won’t do much to fight gun crime.
“(C-21) is really targeted at the low-hanging fruit, which are people who have gone through the licensing process to get their firearms,” he said.
“It’s not really digging into the bigger structural problems that are causing gun crime in Canada.”
Simon Fraser University Prof. Gary Mauser accused the Liberals of putting ideology ahead of reality in their effort to get C-21 over the finish line.
“Strong empirical research shows that laws that focus on lawful gun owners do not reduce criminal violence,” he said, referring to testimony provided during committee deliberations.
“Their findings are backed up by the testimony of the police chiefs, police union representatives, wildlife organization reps, and Indigenous groups.”
Both Mauser and Wilson agree that C-21 will greatly reduce firearm ownership in Canada, which will have a devastating impact on retailers, gunsmiths and shooting ranges and clubs.
“These clubs are the backbone of provincial fish and game organizations which are responsible for teaching firearms safety, supporting wildlife conservation, and incidentally, are available for training police and border officers,” Mauser said.
Wilson said shooting clubs in large cities also cater to local law enforcement — noting the club she belongs to in Ottawa also serves as a primary range for Ottawa police, RCMP and Parliamentary Protective Service members.
“Bill C-21 does nothing to protect our citizens from violent crime,” Mauser said.
“Bill C-21 will divert police resources, money and people, from real policing, and as a result, can only increase violent crime.”
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