Ottawa wants to force firearms vendors to keep track of sales and purchasers as part of new legislation that will beef up Canada’s gun-control regime while stopping short of creating a new federal long-gun registry.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is also launching consultations on other future gun-control measures, including finding new ways to flag owners with mental-health issues and those who acquire large numbers of weapons. Mr. Goodale said the government is also looking at placing limits on advertising of assault weapons, and forcing stores to better protect their merchandise from theft.
Gun-control has been one of the most politically divisive issues in Canada since 1995, when the Chrétien government created the long-gun registry. The Harper government abolished it in 2012.
The current Liberal government came to power in 2015 promising to “get handguns and assault weapons off our streets,” but took more than two years to table the legislation, Bill C-71. The package unveiled on Tuesday was called too weak by gun-control advocates and too harsh by the gun lobby, but the government said it was aiming for policies that can achieve a consensus among Canadians.
“This is not a registry and there is no element of a long-gun registry contained in this legislation,” Mr. Goodale said. “We think we have a sensible, practical package that advances public safety, that assists police … and that is respectful and fair in dealing with law-abiding firearms owners and private businesses.”
The legislation would require companies that sell firearms to keep records of each one they sell, including details on purchasers. The records would not be shared with the government on a regular basis, but would be available to police with a judicial warrant as part of criminal investigations.
The proposed measure would restore a practice that was in place from 1979 until the creation of the gun registry. Mr. Goodale said most vendors already keep records of their sales.
Still, Conservative MP Candice Bergen said she is worried the government is creating a “backdoor registry.”
“The Liberals are going after law-abiding store owners who are already keeping all of this information for their own records,” she said. “This government can’t be trusted when it comes to firearms legislation.”
The new law would also enhance background checks people must undergo to obtain licenses to acquire and possess firearms. The current checks go back five years, but under Bill C-71, they would look at the person’s entire life, including criminal records, mental-health history and past behaviour. Officials would be able to ask employers, colleagues and family members questions about applicants.
In addition, all vendors would have to verify the validity of a purchaser’s licence with the Canadian Firearms Program before completing a transaction. As it stands, these checks are voluntary.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights said many elements of the bill are “window dressing” and will not reduce gun crime in Canada.
“The burden has yet again shifted to licensed gun owners,” said the coalition’s president, Rod Giltaca. “That doesn’t make Canada safer and I don’t believe there is any data that supports that it does.”
Mr. Giltaca added he would prefer the background checks to be extended to 10 years rather than the applicant’s lifetime to protect privacy rights.
Bill C-71 would not change the way firearms are classified as non-restricted, restricted or prohibited. However, it would ensure that decisions on classification would be the purview of the RCMP, without political interference.
Survivors of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre criticized the Liberal government’s unwillingness to change the rules and classify more weapons as prohibited.
“The measures contained in the bill consist of the very bare minimum in order to technically fulfill some, not all, of the Liberals’ election promises,” said Heidi Rathjen, spokesperson for Poly Remembers. “It seems very clear to us that the primary intent is not to maximize public safety but to minimize the ire of the gun lobby while looking like they are doing something.”
“Without verifying a firearms licence, there is a greater risk that a non-restricted firearm may be sold or given to a person who is no longer authorized to possess a firearm, which creates a public safety concern,” the federal government said in a briefing document.
Bill C-71 would force owners to obtain formal transportation authorizations to bring their restricted and prohibited firearms, such as handguns and assault weapons, to locations such as gun shows and to bring them for servicing to a gunsmith.
The legislation would not change the way that firearms are classified as non-restricted, restricted or prohibited. However, it would make it clear that decisions on the classification of firearms would be entirely within the purview of the RCMP, without political interference.
“While Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, increased gun crime has caused too much violence and taken too many lives in communities of all kinds,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement. “With this legislation and our other measures, we are taking concrete steps to make our country less vulnerable to the scourge of gun violence, while being fair to responsible, law-abiding firearms owners and businesses.”