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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces new gun control legislation in Ottawa on May 30, 2022.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

After a white supremacist killed 51 people in a shooting rampage in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, 2019, the government leapt into action.

Six days after the attack, then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced an immediate ban on the assault-style semi-automatic weapons used by the shooter, as well as similar weapons and the parts used to modify them. The less deadly rifles used by hunters and farmers were exempted.

Ms. Ardern’s government also introduced transitional measures that allowed owners of the newly illegal guns to hand them over to police while cabinet developed a buyback program. The measures included an amnesty for the affected gun-owners.

In July – four months after the attack – the buyback began. It ran until mid-December of that year. New Zealanders handed in more than 56,000 banned weapons and 200,000 illegal firearm parts. When the buyback period ended, the amnesty did, too, meaning those who hadn’t complied faced up to five years in prison if they were caught in possession of a banned gun.

Straightforward, no? You’d think so. But in Canada, you’d be wrong.

After a heavily armed man randomly killed 22 people in Nova Scotia in April, 2020, the Trudeau government took inspiration from New Zealand. It immediately banned the possession and sale of a long list of assault-style semi-automatics. It also said it would launch an obligatory buyback program, and announced a two-year amnesty for gun-owners while the program was set up.

“Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time. Instead, they got delays and excuses.

In 2022, Ottawa extended the amnesty to Oct. 30 of this year. Two weeks ago, it extended the amnesty for two more years, to Oct. 30, 2025.

On Monday, the government said the details of the buyback program are still being worked out. In other words, three-and-a-half years after the country’s worst shooting, the buyback program still hasn’t even begun.

Canada is not New Zealand. This country is far bigger, with almost eight times the population and 37 times the land mass. As a federation of 10 provinces and three territories, it is more politically convoluted than New Zealand, which is governed by a single legislature.

But those caveats don’t carry that much weight when you’re talking about a federal Liberal government that has cynically used the gun-control debate as a wedge issue against the Conservatives since it came to power in 2015.

The fact that the Trudeau government has now extended the amnesty to a date beyond the next federal general election because it still doesn’t have a launch date for the buyback is just a particularly breathtaking example.

The 2021 Conservative election platform included a promise to scrap the 2020 ban on assault-style semi-automatics, a position the Liberals successfully exploited to trip up the Conservative leader at the time, Erin O’Toole. No doubt the Liberals would like the Conservatives to fall into that trap again as the 2025 election approaches.

The same Liberal government stalled for months on bringing in its long-promised ban on assault-style weapons, only doing so after the Nova Scotia tragedy. And it took the Liberals until last year to finally freeze the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns, after first illogically trying to get municipalities to take on that federal responsibility.

As well, the Trudeau government nearly derailed its signature gun control legislation, Bill C-21, last year when it suddenly tabled confusing amendments that appeared to ban many popular hunting rifles. It eventually dropped the amendments in the face of public outrage – but not before accusing the Conservatives of spreading disinformation.

Today, there are tens of thousands of banned assault-style weapons in their owners’ hands awaiting a still theoretical buyback program. The government’s excuse is that these things take time, but that is undercut by the speed with which New Zealand was able to go from terrible massacre to completed buyback program in under a year.

If the Liberals wanted a buyback program, they could have one in place by now. The fact that they keep putting it off is just more proof that, for them, gun control is just as much an electoral wedge issue as it is one of public safety.

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