The federal government placed an immediate ban on the purchase, sale transportation or importation of 1,500 models and variants of “military grade and assault weapons” in an effort to cut down on gun crime.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Friday, flanked by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Trudeau began the announcement by reading a list of mass shootings that occurred in Canada since the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989. The list included the Mayerthorpe tragedy in 2005, where four RCMP officers were killed by a man with a semi-automatic rifle, and the 2016 La Loche school shooting, which claimed the lives of four people and injured seven others. Trudeau said the victims and their families deserve action, not just well-wishes and public sympathy.
“We can stick to thoughts and prayers alone, or we can unite as a country and put an end to this,” he said. “We can decide together that enough is enough.”
The list of banned weapons includes variants or modified versions of the SG-550 rifle, the SG-551 carbine, the M16, AR-10 and AR-15 rifles, the M4 Carbine, the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, the Vz58 rifle, the Robinson Armament XCR rifle, and the Beretta Cx4 Storm carbine, among others.
Gun owners will have a two-year amnesty period to comply with the new law while parliament drafts and votes on gun buyback legislation. During that time, the weapons may not be used, but may be returned to the manufacturer or sold outside the country.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau said. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”
Trudeau acknowledged that for some residents, firearms were part of important traditions and recreational activities. He also acknowledged that the vast majority of gun owners used their weapons safely and responsibly. However, he argued the firearms being targeted were unnecessary for sport shooting, collecting or hunting.
Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minster and former chief of police for the City of Toronto, echoed those sentiments in his own comments.
Blair appealed to gun owners, calling them “law abiding, responsible and conscientious” citizens, but said safety is the government’s first priority.
“Protecting human life must come above all else,” he said. “These guns have no legitimate civilian purpose. They don’t belong in our communities.”
Blair added that these measures would be the first in a series brought forward as soon as parliament resumed regular sittings. He said Canadians can expect to see greater controls and regulations placed over “ammunition and magazine capacities” and by strengthening storage, gun trafficking and smuggling laws. He also promised to bring in red flag laws, which would allow police to remove firearms from dangerous situations.
The federal government originally planned to announce the new regulations in March, but held off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Blair and Trudeau said the two-day mass shooting in Nova Scotia, which claimed the lives of more than 20 victims, convinced them to bring the changes forward as quickly as possible.
According to RCMP, the Nova Scotia shooter did not have a firearms acquisition certificate for the weapons used in the incident. Police are investigating how he managed to acquire the unlicensed firearms.
Trudeau added that he’s already spoken to all parliamentary leaders and expects to have no problem passing any new gun control legislation, despite having a minority government. Many of the new rules will only affect regulations, and therefore do not need to be passed in parliament. Items that do require ratification, like a gun buyback program, will be debated as soon as regular parliament resumes, Blair said.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer accused the government of using the emotional reaction to the Nova Scotia shooting to push an ideological agenda.
Scheer issued a statement calling on the federal government to wait until the pandemic is over so new laws could be introduced and debated in the House of Commons.
“Canadians are rightly upset by the horrific attack in Nova Scotia and want answers,” Scheer said. “As the RCMP’s investigation unfolds it is essential that we learn why a province-wide alert was not immediately issued, if RCMP officers had the proper body armour, and whether or not there were any red flags that could have prevented this tragedy.
“As the RCMP has made clear, the Nova Scotia shooter did not have a firearms licence, so all of his guns were illegal. Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally.”
Conservative Party leadership candidate and Nova Scotia native Peter McKay also criticized the move, calling the timing “crass and beyond the pale.” He said the laws would punish law abiding gun owners, without addressing illegal firearm purchases.
“This kind of behavior is unacceptable and beneath the dignity of the office of Prime Minister,” McKay said in a video posted on Facebook. “As Prime Minister of all Canadians, I can guarantee that I will never use a tragedy like this to push a political agenda.”
According to Statistics Canada, firearm-related violent crime dropped by 33 per cent between 2009 and 2013. Between 2013 and 2017, however, it rose by 42 per cent, including increases in seven of Canada’s 10 largest metropolitan areas. Toronto saw the largest increase out of any city, ending 2017 with more than 35 police-reported incidents of violent firearm-related crime per 100,000 people.
Handguns were the most common type of firearm used in Canada. They account for roughly 60 per cent of firearm-related violent crimes since 2009.
Firearm-related violent crime does not include administrative offences, such as unsafe storage.
Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of gun-related violent crime, according to Statistics Canada data from 2016. The province had 56 victims of gun violence per 100,000 people that year, well ahead of second place Manitoba, which had 48 victims per 100,000 people. There were roughly 116,000 victims of violent crime in Canada that year. About one per cent of those crimes involved guns. Violent gun crimes were up 83 per cent in Saskatchewan between 2013 and 2016.
Both the federal and provincial governments have increased funding to combat gang activity in an attempt to cut down on gun crime. In 2018, the provincial government spent $1.6 million to hire more RCMP officers to tackle gangs and gun violence, with a specific focus on Prince Albert and North Battleford. In November 2019, the federal government announced plans to spend $327 million over five years, and $100 million every year after to reduce gun violence and gang activity.
In Prince Albert, gun seizures spike in 2017 when police seized 137 in one year alone. Police only seized 21 firearms per year as recently as 2010. In March 2019, Prince Albert police chief Jon Bergen said the majority of those weapons were legally purchased, then modified by illegal means. He added that most were used by gang members for self-protection as much as to cause trouble.