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On military-style assault weapons, Bill Blair, seen here on Jan. 20, 2020, said the first part will be to introduce legislation to ban their sale across the country.Mike Sudoma/The Canadian Press

The federal government plans to implement its gun-control strategy in a multistep process, acting quickly to prohibit the sale of assault weapons but taking more time for other measures, including a partial handgun ban that requires negotiations with the provinces, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.

During last fall’s election campaign, the Liberals promised to ban military-style assault weapons, allow municipalities to ban handguns and bring in a series of new laws to restrict access to illegal weapons, among other elements.

At a cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Mr. Blair told reporters his government’s agenda on firearms will come as each step is ready to be implemented by the government or adopted by the country’s minority Parliament. For starters, Mr. Blair said the government is looking to provide funding in the next budget to strengthen communities affected by gun violence.

“Our work is to reduce the supply of guns getting into the hands of criminals, but you also have to interdict the demand for those guns,” he said. “We have just gone through, for many communities across Canada, a very difficult summer last year. And so we want to make sure we are there for those communities and work in those communities to make substantive changes and investments that will help to keep them safe.”

On military-style assault weapons, Mr. Blair said the first part will be to introduce new rules to ban their sale across the country, saying the process “could be accomplished in the near term.” He added that plans for a buy-back program for assault weapons that are currently in the hands of Canadians "will take a little bit more time.”

Mr. Blair said the government wants to get “good value” for the purchase of firearms that were legally obtained by Canadians. The Liberals placed an estimated price tag of $250-million on the program in the election campaign, but critics said the final tab will likely be much higher, reflecting the market value of the weapons.

“We are very mindful we are dealing with law-abiding Canadians and I want to make sure they are treated fairly and respectfully,” Mr. Blair said. “Firearm ownership in this country is a privilege earned by the adherence to our strict regulations, and I have nothing but respect for those who have been adhering to those regulations.”

He said that discussions and consultations are ongoing on new rules that would allow municipalities to ban handguns. He reiterated that his government will not enact a national handgun ban.

“We have to have a certain flexibility," he said. “The requirements and the environment in different parts of the country are varied and it’s important to make sure the laws we bring forward are effective in every place in keeping communities safe.”

He also promised new legislation to further restrict the availability of illegal handguns on Canadian streets. He said there will be tougher penalties for those who smuggle handguns into Canada, as well as for those who take handguns from a legal source and divert them into the hands of criminals.

In terms of the government’s legislative agenda, Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said his government’s “absolute priority” when the House of Commons comes back next week will be the ratification of the renegotiated free-trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. In addition, he said the government needs to reform its assisted-dying legislation to comply with a court ruling that invalidated a key portion of the law in September.

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