Feds table firearms legislation and plan optional gun buyback program
OTTAWA -- The federal government is moving forward with its promise to impose stricter gun laws today and will implement a voluntary buyback program to purchase now-prohibited firearms in the "coming months."
Owners of any of the 1,500 firearm models and their variants that the government reclassified as "prohibited" last May will have the option of keeping their weapon under strict storage rules or selling it to Ottawa.
"What we are working towards is creating a path to legality and fairness for those Canadians who purchased those weapons legally," said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in Ottawa on Tuesday.
He said that he expects many owners will be inclined to surrender their guns, given they’ve been rendered legally useless.
"They can’t be shot, they can’t be traded, they can’t be transported, they can’t be sold, and they can't be bequeathed," said Blair. "For the overwhelming majority of Canadians who originally acquired these weapons lawfully … so that they could use them as firearms, we have eliminated that use through this legislation."
The government estimates the program will cost between $300 and $400 million.
"It needs to be fair, and so we will offer an independent assessment on the value of the weapon that’s surrendered for compensation, but we also want to make sure the administration is effective as well. We are trying to resolve this," said Blair.
Owners will first be required to properly license and register their weapon, so authorities know how many are in the hands of the public and whether conditions are being followed. Failing to comply with these conditions could result in criminal prosecution.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government looked very carefully at buyback programs elsewhere, including in New Zealand and Australia, where stiff penalties occur for not turning weapons in, and determined an optional model was "most effective."
Louise De Sousa, mother of Dawson College shooting victim Anastasia De Sousa, told CTV News today’s measures don’t go far enough to prevent the kind of devastation seen in the 2006 rampage.
"I would like that (Trudeau) would have kept his promise and have the buyback of all semi-automatics and have them off the market, prohibited completely,” she said.
She said because the buyback isn’t mandatory, gun owners of prohibited firearms won’t be obliged to follow the rules.
"People will say, 'Yeah, I’ll put them away.' I don’t believe that. You need to get them off the streets. That’s it,” said De Sousa. "Let me tell you, it’s going to be 15 years this year and it’s still not easier."
The draft legislation contains measures to crack down on the illegal firearms market by increasing penalties and enhancing resources at the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The federal policing agency will receive more than $42 million over five years, while the CBSA will collect more than $29 million over the same time period.
Other measures of Bill C-21 include:
- In circumstances of self-harm or gender-based violence, the development of new "red flag" and "yellow flag" laws that allow concerned friends or family to apply to the courts for immediate removal of an individuals’ firearms;
- Creating safer communities by allowing cities to ban handguns in their region using bylaw restrictions on storage and transportation;
- Supporting youth programs to help young Canadians avoid criminal behaviour;
- And establishing new offences for altering the cartridge magazine of a firearm.
In anticipation of the announcement, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told reporters on Tuesday that he believes "Mr. Trudeau misleads people when he tries to suggest that buying things back from hunters and other Canadians who are law abiding is somehow going to solve the problem of shooting and criminal gang activity in the big cities."
While the Conservatives oppose the legislation, the NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois are expected to support the bill eventually.
Meanwhile, gun owners argue that the legislation unfairly targets those who use their weapons responsibly.
"These things were acquired legally, they were used legally, the people who are using them have committed no offences,” said Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. “No, it's not fair."
Some gun control activists and local politicians, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, have long advocated for a national handgun ban. The calls for the ban came after a record number of deadly shootings in the city in 2019.
The federal Liberals have nixed the notion of a national provision but said they wouldn’t let premiers interfere with a city-by-city approach. Today’s legislation gives municipalities those powers through bylaws restricting storage and transportation.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Tory said he welcomes the new regulations to combat gun violence and is awaiting clarity on how a local handgun ban would rollout.
"The federal government has said the changes announced today would allow municipalities to ban handguns and include federal penalties for those who violate local bylaws. The city looks forward to receiving details from the Government of Canada on how such a ban would work and what its impact would be on gun violence," he said.
He also encouraged community supports to flow "as quickly as possible."
With files from CTV News’ Glen McGregor and CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins.