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FIRST READING: A reminder (since Trudeau apparently forgot) that Canadian gun law is already way stricter than the U.S.

National Post logo National Post 2022-05-31 Tristin Hopper
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says scary things about guns in Ottawa on Monday, May 30, 2022. © Provided by National Post Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says scary things about guns in Ottawa on Monday, May 30, 2022.

First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.

TOP STORY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a developed a bit of a habit of taking domestic political stances that are seemingly targeted for a U.S. audience.

After word leaked earlier this month that the U.S. Supreme Court was set to overturn federal guarantees on abortion, Trudeau immediately issued a statement touting how “every woman in Canada has a right to a safe and legal abortion.” When Black Lives Matter protests roiled the United States last summer, Trudeau was quick to “take a knee” for photographers on the streets of Ottawa. And now, after a mass shooter killed 19 at an elementary school in Texas last week, Trudeau has responded with a slate of new restrictions on Canadian gun ownership.

Canada and the U.S. both have some of the Earth’s highest rates of civilian gun ownership, but the similarities basically stop there. Below, a not-at-all comprehensive rundown of the sharp differences between Canadian and U.S. gun laws.

GUNS CAN’T TECHNICALLY BE OWNED FOR SELF-DEFENCE IN CANADA

Easily the biggest difference between Canadian and U.S. gun owners is cultural. American firearms rights are guaranteed in the U.S. constitution for the explicit purpose of arming the citizenry as a check against tyranny. And when you ask gun owners why they possess firearms, the vast majority of them report that it’s for personal protection.

But in Canada, the government allows civilians to own guns only for three main reasons: Killing an imals, collecting, and shooting tiny holes in paper targets for fun.

 The U.S. Second Amendment. Canada has no constitutionally guaranteed firearms rights, and never has. © U.S. Library of Congress The U.S. Second Amendment. Canada has no constitutionally guaranteed firearms rights, and never has.

There are obviously plenty of Canadian gun owners who will fudge this condition in an emergency, but Canada mandates a pretty strict storage regime for firearms which makes them hard to whip out at a moment’s notice.

Unless you’re in a wilderness area, your gun needs to be stored unloaded and separate from its ammunition. In addition, it either needs to be in a locked vault or, at the very least, fitted with a trigger lock.

There is a very, very rare exception to the above wherein a Canadian citizen can be authorized by the RCMP to carry a concealed handgun for protection if they can prove that they face regular threats to their life. As of 2018, only two Canadians had this certification.

NOBODY BUYS GUNS OR AMMUNITION IN CANADA WITHOUT AN RCMP-APPROVED LICENSE 

By their 21st birthday, most Americans can purchase a long gun with minimal restrictions. The U.S. has a whole latticework of rules governing handguns and concealed carry and magazine size; but as a rule, if you don’t have a criminal record, you’re all clear to pick up some pretty serious small arms.

Even in New York State — home to some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. — a successful background check clears you to pick up a 10-shot semi-automatic sniper rifle (the semi-automatic part meaning that it fires every time you pull the trigger without recocking).

But in Canada, you will receive nothing but hearty laughter at the local gun shop until you can show evidence of a Possession and Acquisition License. To get one, you’ll have to complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and then submit an application to the RCMP. Among other things, it requires you to submit the contact details of current and former conjugal partners, who may get a call from the Mounties asking if it’s a good idea that you be allowed to own guns.

 If your ex doesn’t like the idea of you owning guns, Canada may not let you. © RCMP If your ex doesn’t like the idea of you owning guns, Canada may not let you.

In 2019, 946 Canadians had their application for a PAL rejected. “Potential risk to others” was the most popular reason, with 212 getting spiked for “mental health.” In other words, the Texas shooter whose actions have prompted Trudeau’s latest round of gun control almost certainly would have been barred from obtaining a firearm if he’d lived in Canada. 

Fun fact: You generally don’t need a licence in Canada to buy muzzle-loading black powder rifles, as the federal government doesn’t classify them as firearms. So, the most powerful civilian firearm at the time the U.S. Constitution was drafted is now so comparatively harmless that even Canada doesn’t consider it a real gun.

 The four planks of Trudeau’s newly introduced gun control measures. Plank number two and number four are already well-established in Canadian law. © Prime Minister's Office The four planks of Trudeau’s newly introduced gun control measures. Plank number two and number four are already well-established in Canadian law.

“RED-FLAGGING” A CANADIAN GUN OWNER IS WAY EASIER TO DO

The rash of civilian mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years have prompted many U.S. states to pass what are called “red flag laws.” The laws differ in each jurisdiction that has introduced them, but it basically allows police or family members to seek a court order to remove firearms from an individual who may pose a risk to themselves or others.

In Canada, it’s right in the Criminal Code that a police officer can take your guns without a warrant. All they need is a reasonable suspicion that “an offence is being committed, or has been committed.” Chief Firearms Officers similarly retain broad powers to revoke PALs, such as an accusation of domestic violence or a firearm owner getting diagnosed with a mental illness (there’s even a hotline, 1-800-731-4000, that Canadians are urged to call to report dodgy gun owners). Did you get drunk and make a cryptic comment to your ex about life not being worth living? Don’t be surprised if there’s a Mountie on your doorstep the next day looking to seize your gun collection.

 The “cops can take your guns without a warrant” section of the Criminal Code. © Government of Canada The “cops can take your guns without a warrant” section of the Criminal Code.

There’s also something called “continuous eligibility screening” under which any time a gun owner is “involved in an event which could affect their eligibility,” it gets plugged into the Canadian Police Information Centre, where it’s flagged for review by a CFO. There are ways to appeal getting a PAL revoked, but with no Constitutional guarantee on firearms ownership in Canada, it’s what criminal lawyers would call a “fragile privilege.”

 Did you forget to renew it? Don’t worry; it just means that the RCMP can seize your firearms and potentially block you from ever again being a Canadian gun owner. © Handout Did you forget to renew it? Don’t worry; it just means that the RCMP can seize your firearms and potentially block you from ever again being a Canadian gun owner.

YOU CAN’T LEGALLY FIRE A HANDGUN ANYWHERE EXCEPT A LICENSED RANGE

While individual U.S. states may differ on the specifics, there’s nothing immediately illegal about a U.S. citizen keeping a loaded handgun in their desk, their glove compartment or in their purse. With rare exceptions, Canadians haven’t really been able to do this since the 19th century.

Handguns (firearms with barrels shorter than 470 mm) are almost entirely classified as “restricted” firearms in Canada. You’re still allowed to own restricted firearms, but they come with a very onerous set of rules. Basically, the only place Ottawa wants you to have a handgun is locked up in your home, at a licensed range, or in the trunk of the car driving between those two places (and God help you if you stop for lunch enroute).

 The official RCMP guidelines on how a Canadian handgun must be stored. This is not a country that looks kindly on leaving loaded pistols in glove compartments or desk drawers. © RCMP The official RCMP guidelines on how a Canadian handgun must be stored. This is not a country that looks kindly on leaving loaded pistols in glove compartments or desk drawers.

If you’re moving, you can’t take that handgun anywhere unless you get the RCMP to issue you an “Authorization to Transport.” Take a handgun hunting, use it for target practice in your backyard or just store it alongside its ammunition, and you risk getting your entire gun collection (even the long guns) sent to the smelter.

CANADIAN GUN OWNERS BASICALLY AREN’T ALLOWED TO CARRY

Wearing a pistol on your belt is legal in all but three U.S. states. Roughly half of U.S. states will let you carry around a concealed pistol without a licence, while the others will need you to get a permit. As mentioned, Canadians can face total gun confiscation if a police officer so much as catches them with a pistol in their purse, even if it’s unloaded and unable to fire.

The rules are a bit different for long guns. You can keep an unloaded rifle in your car, and there’s technically nothing in the Firearms Act that would prevent you from shouldering your rifle at the grocery store, provided it’s unloaded and the action is open (it would have to be visibly “uncocked,” in other words). But aside from the occasional rural Tim Hortons during hunting season, this basically doesn’t happen, as visibly carrying a firearm around in Canada for no apparent reason is a great way to get the cops called on you.

 To each their own on how to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (who is Canada’s Head of State, remember), but the people who manage Stonehenge opted for this eerie tribute of projecting photos of the 96-year-old monarch, each representing a different decade of her reign. © Twitter/English Heritage To each their own on how to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (who is Canada’s Head of State, remember), but the people who manage Stonehenge opted for this eerie tribute of projecting photos of the 96-year-old monarch, each representing a different decade of her reign.  

IN OTHER NEWS

The Conservative leadership race thus far has been a constant spectacle of Pierre Poilievre dominating every poll in sight while Jean Charest lightly nips at his heels from a distant second place. But in just the last few weeks, Poilievre’s been seeing some of that lead slip for the first time. David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, isn’t quite sure why, but he told the National Post that it might be thanks to Poilievre scaring away some more traditionalist Tories by promising to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada.

Amid a full-blown crisis of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, one of the first promises of Defence Minister Anita Anand upon her appointment was to order military sexual assaults to be tried in civilian courts rather than the much less transparent military justice system. But a review by Postmedia’s David Pugliese found that this isn’t happening; 12 military sexual assault charges are still set to be tried in the military justice system, rather than in provincial court.

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