In a major retreat on Friday, the federal government withdrew controversial amendments to its gun-control bill. The now-removed changes would have cemented bans on thousands of assault-style firearms, but had been widely criticized for also targeting guns used by hunters.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said his government would try to refine and reintroduce the prohibitions on assault-style guns – a move for which the Bloc Québécois signalled its support.
Liberal House Leader Mark Holland wouldn’t say whether the aim was for that to be done through a new round of amendments to the bill, known as C-21, or through an entirely new law.
“We didn’t get it right,” Mr. Holland told reporters.
The amendments, which expanded the scope of Bill C-21 beyond its original focus on handguns, were tabled by the Liberals late in the parliamentary process, without explanation. The changes angered such a wide swath of Canadians, including First Nations leaders and premiers, that the minority government lost the support it needed from the NDP and Bloc Québécois to pass the bill.
The Friday withdrawal of the amendments was formalized at the Commons public safety committee.
The changes “really derailed” progress on the bill, NDP MP Alistair MacGregor told fellow committee members. “I’ve never seen such a groundswell of opposition come really from everywhere, all at once.”
In a news conference, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took credit for the government’s reversal, saying his party had forced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “into a temporary but humiliating climbdown.”
Mr. Trudeau and his ministers had staunchly defended the amendments, which would have legislated a prohibition on thousands of assault-style firearms and established a legal definition of guns to be banned automatically in the future.
In November and December, the Prime Minister blamed the widespread opposition, in part, on disinformation from the Conservatives, who he said were attempting to “scare everyone as much as possible.”
Mr. Trudeau first denied that the prohibitions would affect guns used for hunting, and then late in December acknowledged to CTV News that the government amendments would “take away” some hunting guns that are “too dangerous in other contexts.”
On Friday, Mr. Holland reversed the government’s message yet again. “We are committed to not affecting hunting,” he said.
He said the government withdrew the amendments because it failed to properly draw the line between guns legally used for hunting and those that are used in mass killings.
“We acknowledge and regret that the consultations that we undertook were not sufficient, and that there were gaps and problems in the amendments. That’s why we’ve retracted them,” Mr. Holland said.
The amendments had strong support from gun-control groups, in part because they would have made it more difficult for a future government to reverse existing bans on assault-style weapons, which are currently enacted through regulations, rather than legislation. Those bans cover guns used in mass shootings such as the 1989 mass murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal.
In a statement Friday, Nathalie Provost, a spokesperson for the gun-control advocacy organization PolySeSouvient, established in the aftermath of that mass murder, said the group was shocked and dismayed by the government’s decision, but that it is still hopeful the amendments can be reintroduced after more consultation and revision.
“The government needs only one opposition party to deliver on their promise to ban assault weapons and it would be unthinkable for the Bloc not to collaborate in this regard,” Ms. Provost said.
Bill C-21 was introduced in May, 2022, just days after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex. The legislation was designed to freeze the sale of handguns, crack down on gun smuggling and automatically revoke firearms licences from domestic abusers. Advocates who had criticized Mr. Trudeau for not delivering on promises to enact stronger gun control welcomed the bill as the first substantive move in a generation.
On Nov. 22, after witness testimony on Bill C-21 before the public safety committee had wrapped, the government tacked on the amendments, which expanded the bill to cover assault-style firearms. The changes were introduced by Liberal MP Paul Chiang.
The amendments were introduced in two sections. The first was a list of thousands of banned firearms. It also listed exceptions to the bans.
That list primarily moved bans on firearms already done through regulation into legislation, but also added 482 more guns to the prohibition. The second section included language that would have automatically banned future weapons before they came on the market, if they were assault-style firearms as defined by the government.
The government did not explain the amendments to the public when they were first introduced. Mr. Mendicino’s office later said the government had consulted three gun-control groups on the changes, but no hunting or gun-rights groups.
Rod Giltaca, chief executive and executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said in an interview that his organization is “very pleased at this retreat by the Liberals.”
Calling the amendments’ withdrawal a “small but meaningful victory,” Mr. Giltaca said the organization remains concerned about how the government will approach gun control in the future.
In a statement Friday, Mr. Mendicino said the government will work with opposition parties to “craft a clear solution that will keep assault-style weapons off our streets.”
Bloc MP Kristina Michaud said in a statement that withdrawing the amendments was the right call. But she urged the government to try again and “do more” to prohibit assault-style weapons while respecting the rights of hunters. She said the focus should be on establishing a definition of what constitutes an assault-style weapon, rather than banning individual gun models.
Mr. MacGregor told reporters Friday that he would reserve judgment on any new attempt from the government to revive its legislated assault-style weapons ban. He said he believes that the initial amendments fell outside the scope of Bill C-21.