Newly tabled gun legislation would allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.
The Liberal government said Tuesday the measures would be backed up with serious penalties to enforce these bylaws, including jail time for people who violate municipal rules.
Under the plan, firearms licence holders would have to comply with handgun storage and transport restrictions in municipalities that pass bylaws.
Such bylaws could forbid keeping handguns at home, meaning they would have to be stored at a licensed business, or they might go further by outlawing handguns anywhere in a municipality.
Many gun-control advocates have called for a national handgun ban, warning that leaving it up to municipalities would create an ineffective patchwork of regulations.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, citing a recent uptick in gang-related shootings, promptly announced plans to ask city council to use the new powers, should they become law, to implement a handgun ban.
As expected, the bill also proposes a buyback of a wide array of recently banned firearms the government considers assault-style weapons.
Owners could turn in their guns for compensation but would also be able to keep them as long as they abide by strict conditions, including secure storage.
Under the rules, these guns could not be legally used, transported, sold, transferred or bequeathed by individuals in Canada.
They would become “virtually useless as a firearm,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said at a news conference, calling the federal plan “overwhelmingly the most effective way” to deal with the outlawed guns.
The government had faced pressure to make the buyback mandatory — like programs in Australia and New Zealand — to ensure as many banned guns as possible are turned in.
“This is a huge win for the gun lobby,” said Heidi Rathjen, a witness to the Ecole Polytechnique shooting massacre in 1989 who is co-ordinator of the group PolySeSouvient.
She called it an “easily reversible half-measure” that buys the gun lobby time to work toward election of the Conservatives, who oppose the ban.
Suzanne Laplante-Edward, whose daughter Anne-Marie was killed at Polytechnique, said the optional buyback was a total betrayal.
“My family and I have fought for three decades to ban these weapons,” she said.
“We thought we had won in the fall of 2019 when the Liberals announced with much pomp and circumstance that they would ban and buy back all of these killing machines. They lied to us. They lied to Canadians.”
Some gun owners strongly oppose the ban of some 1,500 firearm models and variants altogether and seek to overturn it through the courts.
Conservative public safety critic Shannon Stubbs accused the government of taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens, saying it “does nothing to stop dangerous criminals and gangs who obtain their guns illegally.”
The bill would also:
— Introduce new “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws that would allow people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of a person’s firearms, or to ask a chief firearms officer to suspend and review an individual’s licence to own guns;
— Target gun smuggling and trafficking by increasing criminal penalties, and by boosting the capacity of the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to combat the illegal importation of firearms;
— Create new offences for altering the cartridge magazine component of a gun and depicting violence in firearms advertising;
— Introduce tighter restrictions on imports of ammunition, and ensure the prohibition of imports, exports, sales and transfers of all replica firearms.
In Canada, no one should ever have to be afraid and action must be taken to prevent more tragedies, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The right place to act is here, and the right time is now.”
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
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