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Canada is banning the importation of handguns, effective Aug. 19

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OTTAWA -

The Canadian government is moving to ban the importation of restricted handguns, effective Aug. 19.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced Friday that the federal government has decided to push ahead with the importation ban without the approval of Parliament, moving to make the policy change through regulatory restrictions.

The measure will prevent "nearly all" individuals and businesses from importing handguns into Canada, the government says.

Joly and Mendicino said Friday the coming regulations will effectively speed up aspects of the planned freeze. The move is temporary though, with plans for it to remain in effect only until the previously-promised permanent importation ban is passed in Ottawa.

"This ban is a stopgap while the handgun freeze in its entirety moves through the parliamentary process, preventing shelves from being restocked in the immediate term," Joly said.

While the details of the coming regulatory restrictions have yet to be released, Joly said she will be enacting her authority as the foreign affairs minister, which allows her to deny any export or import permit application, citing security concerns.

"Working with Marco, we came up with this idea of creating this new system of requiring permits, but meanwhile, we will deny any permits from any commercial entity or people wanting to bring handguns to Canada," Joly said. "So this is how creatively we've worked, and that's why we're talking today about an import ban."

In late May, the Liberals tabled Bill C-21, legislation which if passed would further restrict legal access to handguns in Canada. The bill includes a specific section that stops short of a complete ban, opting instead for a national "freeze" on the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns in Canada that allows current legal owners to keep theirs.

Bill C-21 also seeks to create systems to flag individuals who may pose a risk to themselves or others, and increase the maximum penalties for firearm-related offences such as firearm smuggling and trafficking.

The incoming regulations announced Friday will include "narrow exceptions that mirror those in Bill C-21," the government said.

Joly said that the Liberals have decided to do this because when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Bill C-21, there was an "uptick" in guns being purchased in Canada, and handguns in particular.

"We want to prevent that. That is why we're announcing this import ban… We know that the vast majority of handguns in the country are imported, as there's no handgun producer in the country," Joly said.

The legislation is still in the early stages of moving through Parliament, with MPs set to initiate a committee study of the bill when the fall House of Commons sitting begins in late September.

On Friday, Mendicino reiterated his desire to see the legislation pass "as quickly as possible."

"I'm continuing to call on all MPs to read the bill, to study the bill and to put it into law as quickly as possible. We've made some good headway… Unfortunately, it's the Conservatives who continue to obstruct the passage of this bill," the minister said.

The Conservatives have routinely denied claims of stalling government bills, accusing the minority Liberal government of being inept managers of the legislative agenda.

In a statement reacting to the news, Conservative MP and public safety critic Raquel Dancho accused the government of "attacking business owners and law-abiding citizens."

“Instead of addressing the true source of gun crime in Canada, the Liberal government is unilaterally banning imports without parliamentary input, impacting a multi-billion dollar industry and thousands of retailers and small businesses, with very little notice," Dancho said. "Today’s announcement will do nothing to stop the flow of illegal handguns."

The Bloc Quebecois said Friday they welcome the decision, but lamented that action wasn’t taken immediately after Bill C-21 was announced to stem the flow of handguns into the country.

In a statement, Bloc MP and justice critic Rheal Fortin said more work needs to be done to combat gun crime, including tackling the number of handguns already in circulation in Canada through a handgun buyback program.

The Liberals are in the midst of implementing a gun buyback program, but it’s focused on as list of 1,500 various makes and models of what the government considers "assault-style" firearms.

According to the government, law enforcement agencies seized more than double the number of firearms at the border in 2021, compared to 2020.

The ministers suggested that from the moment the import restrictions come into effect, the number of handguns in Canada will only decrease, something gun control advocates are celebrating.

"A ban on imports will not end the purchase of handguns in Canada. However, this is a significant and creative measure that will unquestionably slow the expansion of the Canadian handgun market until Bill C-21 is adopted, hopefully this fall," said Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique shooting in Montreal, in a statement.

With files from CTV News' Michael Lee

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