The federal government is extending its amnesty for individuals in possession of recently prohibited “assault-style” firearms until the fall of 2023, saying it needs more time to finalize a mandatory buyback program announced in November as part of the Throne Speech.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino shared the update Wednesday at an event in Markham, Ont.
Several firearms previously classified as restricted were prohibited by the federal government in May, 2020. Among the firearms banned was the VZ58 rifle, one of the weapons used during the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting in which six worshippers were killed. The ban also applies to the Ruger Mini-14 that was used in the 1989 École Polytechnique mass shooting that left 14 women dead.
An amnesty order was previously in effect until April 30, 2022, and firearm owners were encouraged to participate in the planned buyback program. The extension gives people until Oct. 30, 2023, to comply.
“The purpose of extending the amnesty period is to allow us to take the additional steps to launch the mandatory buyback program,” Mr. Mendicino said, adding that he hopes it will be launched this spring, “if not as quickly as possible.”
During last year’s federal election campaign, the Liberal platform promised to make it mandatory for owners of banned firearms to either sell the weapons back to the federal government or, at government expense, have them rendered inoperable.
PolySeSouvient, a firearms-control advocacy group based in Montreal, said it wanted to see the buyback program rolled out as quickly as possible, and hoped this extended amnesty order would be the “first and last” delay.
“We are also expecting a new bill, meaning a complete overhaul of the former Bill C-21, which we vehemently opposed,” the organization said in a statement released on Wednesday.
In February, 2021, the federal government introduced Bill C-21, which proposed allowing municipalities to regulate handguns and implement their own buyback programs for banned firearms. The bill also proposed increasing criminal penalties related to gun smuggling and trafficking, and included a new “red flag” policy that would allow anyone to apply for a court order to immediately remove firearms in certain situations, such as when an individual may pose a danger to themselves or others.
PolySeSouvient was one of the many gun-control advocacy groups who strongly criticized the proposed bill for several reasons, including not making the buyback program mandatory.
“The measures included in that bill, namely those that concern handguns, red flags and large capacity magazines, are unacceptable at their core and need to be completely revamped,” it said in the statement.
The proposed bill also faced criticism from the Conservative Opposition, with then party leader Erin O’Toole raising doubts that it would be able to curb gun violence.
Bill C-21 failed to become law prior to the federal election in September, 2021.
During that election race, the Conservatives initially pledged to reverse the ban on assault-style rifles, but Mr. O’Toole announced a mid-campaign switch. He said the 2020 ban would remain in place, while also referencing a broader review of federal gun policy.
On Wednesday, the federal government also announced $7.3-million for Ontario’s York Region as part of a national $250-million Building Safer Communities Fund that aims to prevent gun and gang violence.
Recent numbers on gun violence are “stark,” Mr. Mendicino said, adding that between 2009 and 2019, the criminal use of firearms increased by 81 per cent across Canada. One in three homicides in Canada are firearm-related, according to a Statistics Canada report released in 2019.
“We put a lot of emphasis on introducing strong gun control, we put a lot of emphasis on investing in law enforcement, but we also have to tackle the root causes of gun violence in the first place,” he said.
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