The federal government’s newly proposed ban on assault-style weapons won’t have any impact on guns that are currently legal in Canada, prompting accusations that the Liberals have broken another election promise and betrayed the country’s most prominent gun-control group.
The revised plans from the minority government, released Monday, have the support of both the NDP and Bloc Québécois.
In February, the government ditched its first attempt to ban assault-style weapons after widespread criticism that it was overly broad and targeted hunters. Its new proposal will only apply to guns that are designed and manufactured after the new law takes effect. Additionally, the government is dropping the planned prohibition of 482 more firearms that Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino last year said are weapons that “have no place in our communities.”
That means the Simonov SKS will remain legal in Canada. The gun is popular for hunting but has also become notorious in crimes, including the killing of two Ontario police officers in October. The SKS became a key focus for critics of last year’s failed attempt to ban assault-style weapons.
Tracey Wilson with the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights called the new amendments a “retreat of sorts.” The group still decried the government’s policy, saying it is about winning votes rather than securing public safety.
Late on Monday, Mr. Mendicino described the government’s newly proposed law as “an historic step” but also one that “acknowledges the realities of our current situation.”
“It is the best path forward in this Parliament so we can advance Bill C-21 and deliver the most significant legislation on gun control and reducing gun violence in a generation.”
The whittled-down ban will be added as an amendment to Bill C-21, which was first introduced in May, 2022, with an initial focus on handguns.
Among the amendments that will be presented to the House of Commons public safety committee on Tuesday are a new technical definition of what will constitute an assault-style weapon.
The new definition is different in two key ways from the one proposed last year and revoked in February. The definition will now only apply to future weapons, and it was narrowed to only apply to semi-automatic firearms that discharge centre-fire ammunition and are originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six rounds or more.
The amendments will also tackle ghost guns, which are homemade or 3D printed and untraceable. The government said the proposed changes to Bill C-21 will create new offences and classify ghost guns as prohibited.
At the same time Mr. Mendicino said the government will use regulations to revive a firearms advisory committee that will make recommendations on the classification of guns now on the market.
The government would make regulations through the Firearms Act to ensure that guns are classified correctly before entering the Canadian market.
The new suite of changes amount to a “nothing burger,” said A.J. Somerset, a hunter, former soldier and author of Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun.
Despite the minister’s framing about the significance of the steps outlined Monday, Mr. Somerset said “it does actually remarkably little” because it doesn’t address the guns on the market today.
The approach also means though that the government is not at risk of repeating the firestorm it created with its first attempt at a ban last year. Under those amendments, Mr. Somerset said the wording that the government used in the definition would have banned virtually every semi-automatic, centre-fire firearm with a detachable magazine. Because of that, vast swaths of gun owners were left concerned that the ban would mean the government would force them to relinquish their firearms.
“The impact of the initial amendment was huge,” he said. In contrast, Monday’s proposal is “so minor in its effect that it will be hard to get people as riled up about it.”
The minority government could have passed the revised amendments through the House of Commons with just the support of the NDP or Bloc, but the Liberals negotiated with both parties to ensure they would support their second attempt.
“For now, it’s better than what we had,” Bloc MP Kristina Michaud told The Globe and Mail on Monday. She said she had expected that after four months of consultations, the government would have been able to say which guns that are currently in the market should also be banned, but instead that will now be left to the advisory committee.
NDP public safety critic Peter Julian defended the government’s approach, stressing the need to make sure that assault-style firearms “don’t come into the market in the first place.” But he repeatedly dodged questions about why New Democrats don’t want to ban other firearms already in use in Canada.
The Conservatives meantime said there was no substantive change in the new amendments. The party has previously said Bill C-21 should be revoked in its entirety.
The Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, an advocacy group, issued a statement Monday supporting the government’s announcement, saying it won’t end all violence “but it will make the violence less lethal.”
However, groups that were born out of the 1989 Montreal École Polytechnique massacre and the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting decried the new plans as inadequate and watered down. Long-time gun-control advocate and PolySeSouvient co-ordinator Heidi Rathjen said her group was stunned by the “total capitulation of the Trudeau government before the NDP’s duplicitous stand on banning assault weapons.”
Anne-Marie Edward was one of the 14 women murdered at the École Polytechnique 33 years ago. In Ottawa on Monday, her mother Suzanne Laplante-Edward said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally promised her his government would implement the ban at a previous Dec. 6 memorial. “He said ‘Madame Edward, you have my word of honour. This is going to be the time when we do it.’ ”
“Well now he’s backing out,” she said.
With reports from Bill Curry and The Canadian Press