For almost 30 years, the Coalition for Gun Control has been working to make Canada safer and is supported by more than 200 health, crime prevention, victims, policing, women’s and community organizations from across Canada. We have made progress but much more needs to be done.
While Canada has a much lower rate of firearm death and injury than the USA, it compares poorly to other industrialized nations: we are fourth among 22 OECD countries in the rate of firearm death. And there have been troubling trends in recent years: From 2013 to 2016, criminal incidents involving firearms were up 30%, gun homicides increased 60% and intimate partner and gender-based violence involving the use of a firearm was also up by one-third. And after decades of decline, rates of firearm suicides have increased year over year since 2012.
For the first time in 20 years, police in Toronto and communities across Canada report recovering more crime guns that originated from legal owners in Canada than were smuggled in from the United States. Handguns and assault weapons, which are supposed to be restricted and prohibited, have proliferated, more than doubling over the last 10 years. There are currently more than 1 million legally owned. Polls show the vast majority of Canadians, including gun owners, would ban civilian possession of military assault weapons (80%) and handguns (60%).
The Conservative Bill C-19 eliminated the firearms registry and destroyed the records of 6 million rifles and shotguns. Few understand that it also eliminated the controls over firearm sales that had been in place since 1977. As a result, the United States currently has better controls over the sales of rifles and shotguns than we do in Canada. Today, a licensed gun owner can purchase 1, 10 or 50 non-restricted firearms, including the Ruger Mini 14 used in the Montreal massacre, and no record is kept of the guns purchased. That means no accountability and no ability to trace guns. As the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police noted “Since the end of the long gun registry the police have been effectively blind to the number of transactions by any licensed individual relating to non-restricted firearms. The absence of such records effectively stymies the ability to trace a non-restricted firearm that has been used in crime. The tracing of a crime gun can assist in identifying the suspect of a crime and criminal sourcing (trafficking network).”
Next the Conservatives introduced Bill C-42 which relaxed controls on restricted and prohibited weapons including handguns and military assault weapons. For example, under previous law, the owner of a restricted handgun could get an Authorization to Transport that gun between two places – for example, their residence and gun club. The Conservatives changed that to ensure that when an Authorization to Transport was issued it would allow the holder to transport restricted and prohibited guns to any gun club in the province in which they reside. Effectively, this means they can effectively take their guns anywhere. As the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said “in practical terms it allowed the license holder to carry the firearm at all times if they were not forthcoming about their purpose and intent.”
Finally, over the last decade, there have been innumerable cases which have revealed gaps in current laws in terms of screening for risk factors associated with domestic violence, suicide, hate crimes and other forms of violence. Health organizations, women’s groups, anti-radicalization organizations, victims groups and judges have highlighted the importance of strengthening the screening provisions.
Minister of Public Security Ralph Goodale from Regina, Saskatchewan, introduced new firearms legislation (C-71). This fall, the Senate is expected to be reviewing proposed Bill C-71, and will make critical decisions on whether or not to close loopholes that have fueled the flow of illegal guns.
To this end, the Coalition for Gun Control urges the Members of Senate on Public Health and
National Security to embrace the following recommendations in consideration of Bill C-71:
- Adopt an approach that prioritizes public safety and violence prevention, focusing on the
reduction of risk and harm to Canadians;
- Recognize and support those measures in the Bill that strengthen public health and public
safety protections, including the verification of licenses, the referral of classification of
firearms to the RCMP, the restoration of discretion to the chief provincial firearms officer,
providing access to the registry data for the Province of Quebec, and extending the licensing
screening period to 10 years;
- Place special emphasis on securing within the Bill reassertion of the principle that military
assault weapons, the misuse of which has extraordinary potential for negative public health
and public safety impact, are prohibited for ownership by civilians; and, that classification of
restricted and prohibited firearms is updated urgently through Orders in Council based on
recommendations from the RCMP and police services experts;
- Broaden the scope of the framing of the Bill to reflect understanding that a coherent and
balanced public safety strategy must address not only “gangs and guns” but directly and
actively entail measures respecting violence against women, suicide and political violence,
including requirements that the RCMP and provincial Chief Firearms Officers enforce the
law rigorously to protect the health and safety of women, with specific regard to the checking
While many policing, health professionals, victims, women groups and other experts expressed concerns about the legislation and made recommendations about how to strengthen it, few appeared before the committee which heard from many gun organizations opposed to even the minor measures included in the legislation. The Bill includes some important provisions and closes some of the loopholes introduced with C-42. For example, it restores the requirement that licenses be verified when guns are purchased which should help reduce illegal sales and stockpiling. It restores power for classifying weapons as prohibited or restricted to the RCMP and hopefully as a result we will see firearms that should not be in civilians hands prohibited. It provides the authority to transfer the data on the registration of firearms in Quebec to that Province, the final stage in a hard fought battle to preserve the registry in that Province. (Other Provinces simply refused to fight.) It also reintroduces controls on the sale of firearms although it falls short of reinstating the provisions that were in place in 1977. It reverses some of the measures in C-42 but not all of them, falling short of the Liberal election platform.
Three small amendments have been requested by police, public health, women’s groups, victims and others to make C-71 as strong as possible. These include:
1. Restore the 1977 controls on sales of unrestricted firearms
It is critical that this legislation restore controls respecting the sale of rifles and shotguns that were in place in 1977 requiring the licensed firearms dealer to record the Firearms Acquisition Certificate (now License) number, make model and serial number of firearms. The proposed bill needs to include the language from the 1977 legislation that allows police to trace firearms as needed
ADD 3) The business must produce the record and inventory for inspection at the request of any police officer or police constable or any other person authorized by regulations made pursuant to para 106.8(a) to enter any place where a business referred to in that paragraph is carried on; and d) mail a copy of the record and inventory relating to restricted weapons to the Commissioner or to any person authorized […] to issue a permit to carry on the business in accordance with any request in writing made by the Commissioner or any such person
2. Restore measures limited Authorizations to Transport (ATT) handguns and assault weapons between pre-defined locations
Bill C-71 should be amended to restrict Authorizations to Transport (ATT) to pre-defined locations consistent with the election promise to repeal C-42.
3. Prioritize Public Safety in Licensing & Screening Provisions
Bill C-71 reintroduces verification and licenses on purchase and extends eliminates the 5 year period for screening risk factors which is very good. The law states: 5 (1) A person is not eligible to hold a licence if it is desirable, in the interests of the safety of that or any other person, that the person not possess a firearm and is intended to reduce the chances that violent or suicidal individuals will have access to firearms. While the intent of the law, the existing regulations and forms provide broad scope for assessing such risks risk as domestic violence, suicide, political violence and crime, the Criteria defined in the law which “shall” be considered are defined quite narrowly. They should be amended to align better with the law’s intention to ensure “Public Safety” and ensure that there is reference to a broader range of issues or circumstances may be considered
ADD (d) is considered a threat to themselves or any other person.
Canadians support stronger gun laws. But they must make their voices heard.
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Learn more about the history of gun control and how it has improved public safety in Canada, you can watch this video, or visit our page on Firearms Legislative History.