Bill C-21 invites controversy from all sides of the gun debate
Following the ban of 1,500 makes and models of firearms in May, the Liberals are proposing new gun restrictions under Bill C-21, which will grandfather out assault weapons currently in circulation with a voluntary buy-back program, should the bill pass.
“Gun violence has had devastating effects on communities across the country, and on too many Canadians who have lost loved ones. According to Statistics Canada, firearms were used in over 40 per cent of homicides in Canada in 2019. This violence must stop,” states a press release from February 16 on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s website.
A two-year amnesty period is in place, which began in May of 2020, to last until April 30, 2022. The goal of the amnesty period is to “protect lawful owners from criminal liability and to enable them to comply with the law,” according to the press release.
The buy-back program is voluntary; those in possession of weapons eligible for buy-back will be able to keep them past the amnesty period but they won’t be able to fire, transport, or pass them on to a new owner. Canadians could hope a new administration will reverse the ban and allow them to retain possession of their firearms.
If Bill C-21 cannot be passed before the next election, it will have to be dropped and reintroduced after the election by the new administration. Trudeau campaigned on stricter gun control in 2019.
“One Canadian killed by gun violence is one too many. The tragedies we have seen in Sainte-Foy and Portapique, and more recently in Toronto and Montreal, should never happen. This is why our government has taken some of the strongest action in our country’s history against gun violence,” Trudeau stated in a press release in February.
But some are questioning whether this current policy is a genuine attempt to achieve stronger gun control, and whether the Liberals intend to pass it before the next election.
One such person is James Hanna, one of the founders and president of the Concordia University Sports Shooting Association (CUSSA) and a Concordia Student Union (CSU) councillor. He is opposed to the buy-back program and the May 1 ban.
“They’re basically doing a giant PR stunt before the election. That’s my personal theory … it allows them to claim victory without actually doing anything on the ground,” said Hanna.
Many people on both sides of the gun debate see the buy-back program as a policy that will be ineffective and simply a piece of electioneering. For anti-gun advocates, the policy allows too many firearms to remain in circulation.
Meaghan Hennegan was injured in a shooting at Dawson College in 2006. She was recently quoted in a press release by PolySeSouvient, “The reason we applauded the Liberals during the last election and told Canadians they are the best party for gun control is because their promise included a total ban. That is why we endorsed them. […] We were used and betrayed.”
Even if the guns can’t be operated legally, the concern on both sides of the issue has always been to crack down on illegal gun use. Some people on the pro-gun side think the best way to do this is to turn the issue to gangs and gang violence rather than gun control.
“We want to look at the source of all this gun violence, which is gang violence, and if we’re targeting gang violence … this is going to have much more holistic positive effects,” said Hanna.
Bill C-21 will also allow municipalities to regulate handgun usage as they see fit, which is another controversial part of the legislation. Those living in areas where handguns are banned could simply travel to somewhere with looser regulations, purchase a gun and return home with it.
“They’re jettisoning responsibility off to the municipalities. So if gun crime continues to rise, the government can just say, ‘Well, we gave municipalities the power to fix it. They’re not using it, it’s not our fault’ and just absolve themselves of responsibility for any issues,” said Hanna.
Bill C-21 will also increase the maximum penalties for firearms trafficking, and provide $250 million over five years to anti-gang programming in municipalities and Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
Graphic by Lily Cowper