Bill Blair is giving himself until the end of the year to consult Canadians and experts on the need for a handgun ban, saying he wants to stop gang members from getting their hands on firearms that were initially purchased legally.
The Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that he will hold roundtables with experts around the country, seek input from the public through an online portal and get data from other jurisdictions before determining the best way to deal with handguns in Canada.
Mr. Blair said he wants the consultations to be completed by the end of the year, which means that any legislation to ban handguns could only be introduced next year. The issue could be a hot topic in next year’s fall election campaign, given the House of Commons would only have a few months to debate a ban before rising next June.
The proposed measure is being vigorously opposed by the Conservative Party of Canada, but a number of Liberal MPs, as well as the city councils of Toronto and Montreal, are calling for a ban in response to recent shootings in Canada. Pressure has been growing on the federal government to enact tougher gun laws after a mass shooting along Toronto’s Danforth Avenue on July 22 and a deadly attack against a mosque in Quebec City last year.
Mr. Blair said illegal handguns are either smuggled into Canada from other countries, especially the United States, or “diverted” from legal domestic sources by criminals.
“We have got to look responsibly at both [streams] and take all the measures that can be effective in reducing the movement of guns from both the United States and the domestic market into the hands of criminals,” the former chief of the Toronto Police Service told reporters. “There is a diversion from the domestic market that needs to be addressed.”
He added that any solution proposed by the government will be based on evidence from Canada and around the world. “We will go and get the best available data. I want to be informed by the best [information] we can find,” Mr. Blair said.
Conservative MP Glen Motz, a former police officer with the Medicine Hat Police Service, said the federal government is playing politics by contemplating a handgun ban. He said he is particularly concerned that the government will change firearms laws without a guarantee that the measure will reduce crime.
“A handgun ban is not going to stop those who already have access to illegal firearms," he said. “Having a handgun ban consultation is in no way speaking to the issue.”
Appointed to cabinet in July, Mr. Blair is in charge of a series of complex files, including the legalization of recreational cannabis and the flow of asylum seekers entering the country from the United States. At the meeting of the public safety committee on Tuesday, Conservative MPs tried and failed to get Mr. Blair to state that he wants to put an end to all border crossings at unauthorized points of entry.
“My understanding now is that you do not have a mandate to stop people from illegally crossing the border from safe spaces like upstate New York and claiming asylum in Canada,” Tory MP Michelle Rempel said.
Mr. Blair responded that his goal is to get all asylum seekers to seek entry at authorized border crossings, but he needs to discuss the matter further with U.S. officials.
“My responsibility is to ensure that Canadian law is upheld and Canadian humanitarian principles are adhered to,” he said.