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Liberals table bill to 'freeze' the purchase, transfer or importation of handguns indefinitely

National Post logo National Post 2022-05-30 Christopher Nardi
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OTTAWA – The Liberals want to “freeze” the purchase, sale transfer or importation of handguns across Canada as part of a new piece of sweeping gun control legislation that will also force assault weapon owners to sell it back to the government.

“We’re capping the market for handguns,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday, minutes after his government tabled Bill C-21.

Current handgun owners will not be affected by the federal government’s “national freeze,” although they would only be allowed to sell or transfer the weapon to an authorized business. The freeze is set to last indefinitely.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he believes there are roughly one million handguns currently in circulation in Canada, and roughly 50,000 new handgun permits were distributed annually on average in the last few years.

The bill also promises to force assault weapon owners to sell them back to the government through a mandatory buyback program by the end of the year.

Mendicino acknowledged that many guns used to commit crimes in Canada are acquired illegally or smuggled through international borders, so he said the bill aims to bring in more significant punishments for gun crimes as well as smugglers.

For example, the government wants to increase maximum prison sentences for gun smuggling or trafficking charges from 10 years to 14 years.

“This bill takes organized crime head on. If you’re in the business of trafficking guns, you’ll face stiffer sentences in the criminal code. If you alter the magazine or cartridge of a gun to exceed its lawful capacity, you’ll face new criminal charges,” he said.

The government says the bill would also amend the Criminal Code to create “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws that give courts or government firearm officials new powers to suspend of remove an individual’s right to a firearm temporarily.

The new “red flag” law would allow any person to ask a judge to immediately order the removal of firearms for 30 days from an individual who poses a danger to themselves or others.

The “yellow flag” law proposes to give the RCMP’s chief firearms officers, who oversee the country’s firearms license and registration programs, to temporarily suspend a person’s licence if they receive information “calling into question their licence eligibility.”

New powers also aim to take away gun licences from people involved in acts of domestic violence or criminal harassment, such as stalking.

Bill C-21 is a revamped version of a similar piece of legislation tabled, but not passed, by the Liberals in the last Parliament that had the same number.

But that controversial bill died in the House of Commons when Parliament was dissolved last summer for the 2021 federal election.

Many of the new bill’s provision are copied from the previous version.

The previous version of C-21 wanted to: limit the capacity of rifle magazines, ban a new list of firearms, and give the power to municipalities to ban handguns on their territory if they so wanted.

The bill was in addition to regulatory changes enacted in 2020 that banned roughly 1,500 military and “assault-style” weapons in Canada.

The previous version of C-21 also created a voluntary buyback program for the newly banned weapons, which was fiercely criticized by gun-control advocates for not going far enough.

In March 2021, survivors and family members’ of victims of the Polytechnique Montréal 1989 massacre told Trudeau he was no longer welcome to any of the event’s commemorative events because they were so disappointed in the first iteration of C-21.

As a result, in their 2021 election platform, the Liberals promised to make the banned weapons buyback mandatory instead of voluntary.

The Liberals went forward with the promise in their new legislation, confirming that it was removing any “permissive storage regime” that allowed Canadians to store the now-banned guns legally.

The only case in which a person can keep a banned gun at home is if they are rendered “inoperable,” Trudeau said.

The changes satisfied the members of gun control activist group PolyRemembers present during the announcement Monday.

“This bill is the most promising legislation since the long gun registry was abolished in 2012. And given the strength of the measures that have just been proposed, we remain optimistic,” said Polytechnique shooting survivor Nathalie Provost.

Boufeldja Benabdallah, the co-founder of the Quebec Mosque where six Muslim men were murdered during a shooting in 2017, also said he was happy with the new legislation, saying it is effectively a ban on handguns.

“For five long years we have been advocating for a ban on handguns, as this is the weapon that allowed one hateful young man to kill six of our brothers, severely wound five other and traumatize dozens of witnesses, including children, all in less than two minutes,” he said.

Trudeau did not respond to a reporter’s question asking if he was worried that people would rush out to purchase handguns before the bill comes into effect, insisting that he “hoped” the legislation would pass through Parliament quickly.

With additional reporting by the Canadian Press

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