The Liberal government is proposing a ban on assault-style firearms that would apply once legislation now before Parliament comes into force.
Under the scheme, the government would make regulations through the Firearms Act to ensure that guns are classified correctly before entering the Canadian market.
It also plans to revive a firearms advisory committee of interested groups and individuals that will make recommendations on the classification of guns now on the market.
The announcement Monday is the latest effort by the Trudeau government to restrict access to guns the Liberals say are unfit for hunting or sport shooting.
The Liberals withdrew a gun bill amendment in February that would have spelled out in law the various models to fall under an assault-style firearm ban.
They had touted the definition as an evergreen measure that would cement in legislation a May 2020 regulatory ban of some 1,500 firearm models and variants, including the AR-15, as well as 482 others flagged subsequently.
The government pulled the measure after weeks of criticism from Conservative MPs and some firearm advocates who said the definition would prohibit many commonly used hunting rifles and shotguns.
Gun-control advocates said the effort was clouded by confusing language and misleading or erroneous claims from opponents.
After several days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino outlined the revamped federal approach Monday. “We’re here today because this is a government that does what it takes to keep Canadians safe,” he told reporters.
Prominent gun-control group PolySeSouvient swiftly denounced the plan, accusing the government of proposing a watered-down definition that would apply only to future models and could be easily circumvented.
It also expressed dismay that the government is dropping its plan to ban the additional 482 assault-style models identified last year, leaving them in circulation and available for purchase. Among these is the Simonov SKS, which has been used in police killings and other high-profile shootings.
PolySeSouvient, which includes survivors of the 1989 mass shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, said the government appears to have capitulated to the demands of the NDP to secure the party’s support for the bill.
Mendicino made no apologies. “What families and workers and communities expect of our government is that we make this Parliament work, that we work as much as possible with our colleagues across the aisle,” he said.
Mendicino also singled out the Conservatives for steadfastly opposing the gun bill.
The Tories said Monday the Liberals were continuing the largest assault on hunters in Canadian history. “Make no mistake, today’s announcement is simply the original amendments in a ‘new’ package. Hunters, farmers, Indigenous Canadians and sport shooters will not be fooled.”
In response to PolySeSouvient’s criticism, NDP public safety critic Peter Julian defended the government’s planned approach, stressing the need to make sure that assault-style firearms “don’t come into the market in the first place.”
In terms of scope, the newly proposed definition of assault-style firearm is largely similar to the one that was withdrawn. It would include a firearm that is not a handgun that discharges centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that was originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more.
However, the definition would cover only firearms designed and manufactured after the bill, known as C-21, comes into force. It would not affect the classification of existing firearms in the Canadian market, the government says.
PolySeSouvient co-ordinator Heidi Rathjen said it would be possible for manufacturers to get around the definition by introducing a firearm with a design that initially meets the criteria in the law, only to tweak the design later to accept more cartridges. “And it won’t be captured by the definition because it only applies to the original design.”
Nathalie Provost, a spokeswoman for the gun-control group, once sat on the firearms advisory committee but quit in 2019, saying she was disappointed with the Liberal government’s failure to crack down on assault-style firearms.
“I’ve been on that committee, and we never decided anything,” said Provost, who was shot four times at École Polytechnique.
Another voice for stricter firearm laws, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, welcomed the proposed amendments to the bill.
“This policy reflects the well-documented scientific evidence that demonstrates comprehensive assault weapon bans saves lives, and specifically, significantly reduces both the frequency of mass shootings and the number of victims,” the group said in a statement.
“Proposed amendments to Bill C-21 will go a long way to fulfilling the original intentions of the bill.”