The federal government will permanently drop one part of its controversial plan to legislate a ban on assault-style weapons, but will propose a new amendment to its gun-control bill that will define what types of firearms are to be covered by the ban.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino confirmed the plans to reporters on Tuesday.
The Liberal government has long promised a legislated ban on assault-style weapons, which have been used in some of Canada’s most notorious mass shootings, including the 1989 Montreal Polytechnic massacre. Many such guns are already banned by regulation.
The Bloc Québécois and NDP have said they support the goal in principle. On Tuesday, the Conservatives dismissed the Liberal plan as a move that will do nothing to make streets safer, and said an assault-style weapons ban will also end up prohibiting some hunting firearms.
The Liberals first introduced their assault-weapons ban in November, through two sections of amendments to the government’s gun-control legislation, Bill C-21. The first section was a list of thousands of banned firearms, which also listed exceptions to the ban. 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 withdrew both sections of amendments in February after criticism from opposition parties, Indigenous groups and gun-rights associations, none of which had been consulted on the language in the ban.
The amendments’ critics said the list left it unclear which weapons were banned and which were exempted. And they objected to the inclusion of firearms used for hunting, like the Simonov SKS.
“We’re not bringing back the list,” Mr. Mendicino told reporters, as he described the government’s plans for its next attempt at amending the bill.
He said the government thinks the best way forward is to focus on an “objective definition” of assault-style rifles that will “look at physical characteristics, so that we can be clear, consistent, upfront with Canadians and gun owners.”
Before speaking to reporters, he testified at the House of Commons public safety committee as part of its review of Bill C-21. He told MPs the government’s plan aligns with recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission, which probed the 2020 mass killing in Nova Scotia.
The commission recommended that the federal government prohibit all semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that shoot centre-fire ammunition and accept magazines capable of carrying more than five rounds.
Mr. Mendicino did not say when the new amendment will be presented. Bloc MP Kristina Michaud said any new amendments would need to come within the week if Bill C-21 is to be passed before the House rises for summer break.
The minority government has been in negotiations with the Bloc and NDP to ensure a new amendment can get through the House. Both of those parties had opposed the government’s first attempt.
Bill C-21 was first introduced in May, 2022. 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.
In the committee, Mr. Mendicino described Bill C-21 as the strongest gun control legislation in a generation.
But Alberta Conservative MP Dane Lloyd dismissed it as “virtue signaling,” and said the law was “designed to help the Liberal Party win elections, instead of policies that will actually combat violent crime in our communities.”
Manitoba Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said her party believes the entire bill should be shelved.