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 a new firearms legislation (Bill 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.
Bill C-71 is an important step forward, reversing measures which have weakened Canada’s gun control regime in recent years. The Bill does restore some measures that are important for public safety. For example, extending the period during which risk factors may be assessed beyond the five-year period is important. Reinstating the verification of licenses when firearms are purchased is an important measure to ensure that licenses are valid and will help improve public safety by ensuring that people who buy guns are appropriately licensed. Reinstating the authority of the RCMP to manage the classification of restricted and prohibited weapons is important as well but must be accompanied by a commitment to systematically review the current classifications given the gaps that have been exposed in recent tragedies.
We also applaud the amendment introduced in the House of Commons to strengthen the screening processes for firearms licenses, which was advocated for by many groups in order to help prevent people who are a risk to themselves or others from getting access to firearms. However there are two other important amendments needed to fill loopholes in the legislation that will improve public safety without creating unnecessary regulatory burdens on legitimate owners of firearms that are desperately needed.
- Restore the 1977 controls on sales of unrestricted firearms – When the previous administration dismantled the long gun registry, they failed to reinstitute the 1977 requirement that gun dealers record firearm sales and make those records available to police when they need to trace guns. Even Conservative allies who opposed to the registry like Calgary’s former Chief of Police Rick, testified that this should be reinstated when the Conservatives repealed the registry. While C-71 does reintroduce the requirement for gun dealers to track sales, it does not restore easy access to the information for police. We are asking for a simple amendment to restore the 1977 language: Specifically the amendment should ADD from 1977 law 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.
- Restore strict issuance of Authorizations to Transport (ATT) to pre-defined locations – Canada’s firearms legislation was designed to strictly control the proliferation of handguns and military assault weapons making them “restricted” or “prohibited”. However loopholes in the law and inadequate implementation have allowed legal ownership of these firearms to increase dramatically, more than doubling in the last decade. While some claim that they are “virtually banned”, there are now more than 1 million restricted and prohibited weapons in Canada. As we increase legal ownership of these guns, which are primarily used for recreational purposes and collecting, we increase the risk that they will be misused or diverted to illegal markets. Recent data show that of the crime guns that have been traced, an increasing proportion original in Canada in both studies in Toronto and BC. There are many recent examples – including the Danforth shooting in Toronto, the attack on the Quebec Islamic Centre to the worst cases of domestic violence mass shootings that were perpetrated with handguns that originated in Canada. Handguns and other restricted weapons are particularly dangerous because of their concealability and firepower and are subjected to additional controls. Handguns are not used for hunting nor are restricted weapons permits intended to allow farmers to protect their livestock or private property The Liberals platform promised to fill loopholes in the controls over restricted weapons. While the proposed ban on handguns would obviate the need for amendments to controls on restricted and prohibited firearms, we urge the Senate to make C-71 as strong as possible. Along with strict licensing provisions, owners of restricted weapons used to have to have Authorizations to Transport (ATTs) that were very restrictive, defining the locations where the guns could be moved, typically the owner’s home and, for example, a specified shooting range. These provisions were relaxed to allow holders of restricted and prohibited weapon ATTs to transport their firearms to any gun club in the province where they reside, which creates significant risks. This was a major loophole the Liberals committed in their election platform to closing but it was not addressed in C-71. Bill C-71 should be amended to restore strict issuance of Authorizations to Transport (ATT) to pre-defined locations consistent with the election promise to repeal C-42.
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.