Ottawa to use regulations to ban handgun imports until legislation passes

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

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

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a Friday news conference he hopes the temporary measure will be made moot by the passage of Bill C-21, which the Liberals tabled in May. The legislation would 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 to be a threat to themselves or others. As well, it would increase the maximum penalties for firearms smuggling and trafficking.

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

The country had a steep rise in the criminal use of firearms between 2009 to 2019, and the federal government has been under pressure to take action. Yet Bill C-21 and the import ban have drawn significant ire from gun-rights advocates and federal Conservatives, who say the measures will not stem the tide of firearms being illegally smuggled in from the U.S., and note that Canada already has strict regulations on legal handgun ownership.

Speaking alongside Mr. Mendicino on Friday, Ms. Joly called the ban a “stop-gap” to prevent “shelves from being restocked in the immediate-term,” as Bill C-21 moves through the parliamentary process. When Bill C-21 was announced, there was an uptick in gun purchasing, Ms. Joly said, adding, “we want to prevent that.”

The import ban, which takes effect on Aug. 19, will apply to individuals and businesses with a few exceptions.

Government trade data show Canada imported $26.4-million worth of pistols and revolvers between January and June – a 52-per-cent increase compared with the same period last year.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante welcomed the import ban.

“This is an important step, but events like the ones that occurred this week remind us once again that we need to speed things up and do more, because this could 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 told the federal government for months that a handgun ban and tightened border controls are necessary. “We know Canadian cities share this wish. We need major gestures from the higher levels of governments to help us fight effectively against gun violence,” Ms. Plante said.

The Vancouver region has experienced a series of recent shootings, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he applauded the federal measure.

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

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement that the ban is “one more way that the government of Canada is responding to calls for action on 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 stopping 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 man in Toronto fatally shot two people – a teenager and a 10-year-old girl – and injured 13 others using a stolen handgun in 2018.

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

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

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

“Thus far, they’ve been incapable of doing that,” Mr. Giltaca said in an e-mail. “This approach works for the Liberals because they can fool Canadians into thinking that they’re addressing rising gun violence while attacking a demographic of voter that would be 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 the weapons used in gun crime in Canada.

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

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

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

With a report from The Canadian Press

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