Bill C-21 heads to Senate for debate after passing House of Commons

Ottawa passed Bill C-21 Wednesday in the House of Commons and will proceed to the Senate for further debate almost one year after its introduction. Only the Conservatives opposed the bill in a 207-113 vote.

Bill C-21 heads to Senate for debate after passing House of Commons
The Canadian Press / Spencer Colby
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"This is the most significant gun control legislation in a generation that will strengthen the ban on AR-15 style firearms," said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in a video posted to social media. Bill C-21 initially targeted handguns, but in late-stage amendments introduced last November, the federal government expanded the law also to target assault-style rifles.

On May 8, the Trudeau Liberals tabled a motion to expand the scope of the government bill and clearly define 'assault-style' firearms to be prohibited in the future. Ottawa defined 'assault-style' firearms as a gun — not a handgun — that discharges centrefire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that was initially designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more.

If passed, the bill cements the federal freeze against handguns. It stiffens penalties for smuggling firearms to address concerns about homemade weapons and guns used in domestic disputes. 

It would "introduce red and yellow flag protocols, reversing the alarming trend between domestic abuse and the presence of guns," added Mendicino, permitting the removal of gun licences from domestic abusers and increasing maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking from 10 years to 14.

After hitting several hurdles, including profound opposition from Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick on the 'buyback' scheme, Ottawa appears to be well on its way to passing it soon.

"Bill C-21 is the strongest gun control legislation in a generation, and I am proud that today it passed in the House of Commons," concurred Liberal MP Pam Damoff. "By listening to Canadians and Indigenous Peoples, and working with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, we passed a Bill to keep Canadian communities safer."

Ottawa temporarily withdrew Bill C-21 from a further debate at the Commons after firearms owners and Opposition MPs, including Yukon Liberal Brendan Hanley, condemned the legislation for infringing on the property rights of hunters, sport shooters, and gun collectors by targeting rifles and shotguns.

During a Yukon public safety town hall in January, former deputy minister Bill Klassen told Mendicino he would purposely indulge in civil disobedience and not surrender his Parker shotgun, Weatherby rifle, or Ruger. 

"I intend no offence, Minister Mendicino, but I can't agree with your description of the laws," said Klassen. "As a former deputy minister at the Yukon government, I've enforced the laws. And I recognize a bad law when I see it."

The federal government faced considerable backlash on the legislation for not explaining the amendments to the public when tabled in November. They pledged the amendments would not affect hunters but later acknowledged they would. 

The Conservatives remained firm in their opposition to the legislation, saying it penalizes law-abiding firearm owners instead of targeting criminal gun violence. Public safety critic Raquel Dancho claimed it would impact 2.3 million gun owners and hundreds of millions of dollars for our economy.

"The problem is violent gun smugglers and gangsters — the real criminals — not hunters," said Tory leader Pierre Poilievre on May 8. "What [we need to do] is to stop the hunting rifle ban, use the savings to bolster the border, and put repeat violent [offenders] behind bars."

In November 2017, the federal government allocated $327 million to tackle violent gun crime and gang activity over five years. Québec and BC tapped into the fund to bolster efforts to disrupt firearms smuggling and organized crime.

On May 8, Mendicino earmarked $390 million over five years to support police and crime prevention programs.

Under the May 2020 regulatory ban, Ottawa flagged 1,500 firearm models and variants, including the AR-15 and 482 other models. But a revamped approach would exclude the former by correctly classifying firearms before entering the Canadian market, including those referenced in the amendments last November.

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