By Lori Thompson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On February 3, the Liberal government unexpectedly withdrew amendments that would have banned firearms commonly used by farmers and hunters across Canada. The controversial amendments expanded the scope of Bill C-21, which was originally drafted to include a national handgun freeze, with the intent to provide a standard definition of what constitutes an assault-style firearm.
Amendment G-4 would have created a new definition of a firearm that prohibited semi-automatic rifles or shotguns that were designed originally to accept magazines with a capability of more than five cartridges, and would ban any gun with a muzzle wider than 20 millimetres or long guns that generate more than 10,000 joules of energy. Amendment G-46 would have added 400 additional models to the prohibited firearm list and codified prohibited firearms that were already prohibited, making it difficult for future parliaments to remove them.
In the scrum that followed, government House Leader Mark Holland told reporters, “What we acknowledged today is there was insufficient consultation, that more work had to be done to hear from Indigenous communities and from Canadians across the board. It is absolutely critical that this bill get adopted. It’s important that we take handguns off our streets and assault style weapons and there’s a couple of items that we still need to have conversations about, that were contained in the amendments.”
The amendment would encroach on First Nations treaty rights, hunter and farmers’ rights, and was introduced at the last hour by the Liberal government to Bill C-21, a bill designed to address handgun violence in major cities, said the NDP.
“They had tabled those amendments after the bill had been tabled in the House and before it went to committee and after the committee had heard from witnesses,” Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes told The Expositor.
The amendments had nothing to do with the intent of C-21, she said, adding that NDP House Leader Peter Julian had raised a point of order asking the Speaker to rule the amendments out of order because they were enlarging the scope of the bill. That couldn’t happen, as the bill was still before committee. “We’re happy they saw the light and realized those amendments were out of scope and needed to be removed and that’s what they did today, after much negotiating,” said MP Hughes.
A statement from the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights said that in general, this is good news for licenced gun owners across the country, but “this is not a win in the sense of the battle being over. In fact, far from it. It is imperative we continue to push with the same vigour and force to ensure C-21 is scrapped in its entirety. Don’t forget there is still the airsoft ban, the handgun freeze and a variety of other measures still within C-21 itself.”
“I still find it grossly unfair that the people that do the harm with handguns are the people who have illegal handguns,” said Bill Elliott of Manitoulin Small Handgun Association. “Now they’re even apparently 3D printing parts and handguns and importing the parts illegally to print, conducting gang wars among drug dealers. But the people that shoot targets, like the people that belong to our club, are not a threat to anyone. Their property has now been made worthless because they can’t even transfer it to their heirs. (What happens to it?) I don’t know. No one has said if the government is going to spend millions on a buy back program or what’s going to happen. Can the government just make property worthless without compensation? I wouldn’t think they’d be able to in a democratic society.”
Bill C-21 is still on the table. “This is an emotional issue, and Canadians are counting on us to get it right,” said Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendocino. “More discussions, including with Indigenous communities, are crucial. That’s why we continue to take the time to engage with people from all walks of life_victims and survivors, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, hunters, rural folks and more.”
He said the government’s intent is not on guns commonly used for hunting but on AR-15s and other assault-style weapons, guns that “are too dangerous in other contexts.”
“My colleague Taleeb Noormohamed, with the support of the government has withdrawn amendments G-4 and G-46,” said Minister Mendocino. “We are now getting to work with our parliamentary colleagues to craft a clear solution that will keep assault-style weapons off our streets. Canadians expect their leaders to work together to address gun violence, and we will collaborate with the other parties to get the balance right and complete this process.”
“Handguns do not belong in our urban centre and Bill C-21 should be focused on that,” MP Carol Hughes in the statement. “Instead, the Liberals made a huge mess with this amendment and singled out people who are just trying to feed their families.”
“The Liberal political games caused undue stress for many Northern Ontarians. And the Conservatives just complained instead of taking action to demand the Liberals fix their mistake,” stated NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus. “While the government targeted rural, northern and Indigenous people, New Democrats stepped up and had their backs.”
The bottom line, said MP Hughes, is there was no reason for the Liberal government to table those amendments when they did because they hadn’t introduced them in the House for the initial debate and the witnesses hadn’t talked about them during the committee hearings.
“Even the Assembly of First Nations* said this was impeding on Indigenous rights and there hadn’t been any consultation with Indigenous people,” she pointed out. “We wanted to make sure that their amendment wasn’t actually targeting farmers, hunters and people who use their guns to protect their property from predators.”
“You can pass all the laws you want but they only affect law abiding people,” added Mr. Elliott. “I think the people that are committing crimes with handguns are not law abiding people.”
Mr. Elliott believes there should be more focus on tighter control on bail conditions. “There’s a lot of examples out there of people who had committed crimes with firearms and then they were out on bail and they committed more crimes when they were out on bail,” he said. He noted that some minimum sentences that had been imposed by the previous government have been reduced or revoked.
“It seems to me that’s going in the wrong direction,” he said.
If somebody doesn’t care to what lengths they will go, then not very much is going to deter them, he noted. “With all of the police reporting of the handguns that they’re finding, virtually all of them are handguns that were never legally registered in Canada but were brought in from the United States. It begs the question, why are you penalizing people who obey the laws when it has little to no effect on the people who don’t?”
Lori Thompson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE MANITOULIN EXPOSITOR. The LJI is a federally funded program. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.