Ottawa will use rules to ban the importation of handguns until the legislation is passed

Written by Javed Iqbal

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino speaks with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, left, and MP Yvan Baker, during a news conference announcing new gun control laws, in Toronto on Aug. 5.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

The federal government is banning the importation of most handguns into Canada through a regulatory mechanism that takes effect in two weeks.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a news conference Friday that he hopes the temporary measure will be made effective upon the passage of Bill C-21, which the Liberals introduced in May. The legislation will freeze the import, sale and transfer of handguns nationally.

The gun control bill would also create a mechanism that could require people to surrender their firearms to police if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. It would also increase the maximum penalties for firearms smuggling and trafficking.

Parliament is in summer recess and the import ban does not require legislative approval. It relies on a power from Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to refuse applications for import and export permits. When the Liberals banned around 1,500 models and variants of what they call “assault-style” firearms in 2020, the action was also taken without legislation – using a cabinet order.

The country had one steep climb in the criminal use of firearms between 2009 and 2019, and the federal government has been under pressure to act. Still, Bill C-21 and the import ban have drawn considerable ire from gun rights advocates and federal conservatives, who say the measures will not stem the flow of firearms illegally smuggled into the United States, noting that Canada already has strict regulations for legal gun ownership.

When she spoke with Mr. Mendicino on Friday, Ms. Joly called the ban a “stop-gap” to prevent “shelves from being rebuilt in the immediate term” while Bill C-21 moves through the parliamentary process. When Bill C-21 was announced, there was an increase in gun purchases, Joly said, adding, “we want to prevent that.”

The import ban, which comes into force on 19 August, will apply to individuals and companies with some exceptions.

Public trade data shows Canada imported $26.4 million worth of pistols and revolvers between January and June — a 52 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante welcomed the import ban.

“This is an important step, but events like the ones that took place this week remind us once again that we need to speed things up and do more because this can happen anywhere in the country,” Ms Plante said in a statement referring to the fatal shootings of three people in Montreal and Laval earlier this week, which have been linked to one man.

The statement said the mayor has been telling the federal government for months that a gun ban and tighter border controls are needed. “We know Canadian cities share this desire. We need big moves from the higher levels of government to help us effectively fight gun violence,” said Ms. Plante.

The Vancouver region has seen a number of recent shootings, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he welcomed the federal measure.

“Regulations like this go a long way in keeping our cities safe,” said Mr. Stewart in a statement.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement that the ban is “yet another way the Government of Canada is responding to calls for action against gun violence from victims’ families, other advocates and cities like Toronto.”

But Mr. Tory said this measure and the handgun freeze must all be part of a comprehensive approach to ending gun violence.

Ken Price, one of the founders of Danforth Families for Safe Communities, also called the announcement a welcome development. The grassroots group was created after a Toronto man fatally shot two people — a teenager and a 10-year-old girl — and wounded 13 others using a stolen gun in 2018.

“With news anecdotally of handgun sales increasing and people trying to hoard these things in the short term, this measure is something we’re happy to see,” he said.

Mr. Price said he wished the government had taken the step sooner.

Rod Giltaca, executive director and CEO of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, said if the Liberal government was truly interested in public safety, it would focus on stopping the illegal importation of handguns.

“So far they have been unable to do that,” said Mr. Giltaca in an email. “This approach works for the Liberals because they can fool Canadians into thinking they are addressing rising gun violence while attacking a demographic of voters who were unlikely to support them anyway.”

Raquel Dancho, a Conservative MP and public safety critic, said the change will not stop the flow of illegal handguns, which make up the majority of weapons used in gun crime in Canada.

“Conservatives have always supported common sense gun legislation and gun safety in our communities,” Dancho said in a statement.

NDP MP and public safety critic Alistair MacGregor said the Liberal rules are a temporary fix that future governments could easily undo.

In a statement, he said the Liberal government could have anticipated the frenzy of handgun purchases and violence when Bill C-21 was introduced. “Instead, they failed to implement regulations more quickly and allowed preventable tragedies to happen,” Mr. McGregor.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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Javed Iqbal

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