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Liberal gun control bill passes Senate, becomes law

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The federal Liberal government's contentious gun control legislation Bill C-21 passed the Senate without changes on Thursday, becoming law on Friday.

The bill passed the House of Commons in May after months of division and political acrimony. The version that made it to the Senate was significantly expanded from what the federal government had initially tabled a year prior.

Bill C-21 passed by a vote of 60 to 24, and with applause in the upper chamber. 

The legislation includes measures to:

  • Tighten gun laws to include "red flag" and "yellow flag" provisions related to a gun owner posing a risk to themselves or others;
  • Impose a "freeze" on the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns in Canada;
  • A prospective Criminal Code "technical definition" of what constitutes a prohibited assault-style firearm, meant to "cement in law" a permanent ban on future models once the bill comes into force;
  • A series of provisions meant to make it illegal to make or buy ghost guns and to combat firearms smuggling; and
  • Wording making clear the government's intent to uphold Indigenous treaty rights.

The bill also includes a requirement for a parliamentary review of the technical definition five years after it comes into effect, while a series of other related measures are being advanced through regulations. 

Defending Bill C-21 at the time, then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino said the Liberals were committed to go further "than any government in the history of this country" when it comes to gun control, while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asserted the legislation targets law-abiding gun owners.

When the bill moved to the Senate, many gun control observers had wondered what, if any, amendments would be made to the legislation.

Ultimately, after six sitting months that included a dozen days of study at the Senate National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs Committee, where 66 witnesses were heard from, Bill C-21 passed the Senate without amendment. 

Though, senators did submit several observations about the bill, including that the government should consider "additional policy measures," to address outstanding concerns, such as implementing a Canada-wide database and data collection process regarding all gun-related injuries and death, and consulting further with sport shooters. 

In the view of Conservative senators, the inability to pass amendments to Bill C-21 was due to resistance from the "government majority," concluding that it will be up to a future government to correct the "serious errors" that remain within the "extremely divisive bill."

Reacting to the bill's passage, members of the Coalition for Gun Control celebrated that the bill will be granted royal assent "unscathed," after a "very challenging" and protracted parliamentary process.

"The game-changing bill reflects more than thirty years of advocacy… to make Canadians safer from gun violence. The legislation responds to the concerns of experts, community groups and Canadians from coast to coast, and proposes measured but effective solutions," reads the group's statement.

"Today really is a historic day." 

In a statement, PolySeSouvient said while the Liberal-led gun control measures becoming law is "a solid victory for public safety," the fight "is not over" as much of the bill's impact will be determined by the coinciding regulations.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc marked the bill's passage by thanking Sen. Hassan Yussuff for "shepherding" the bill through the Senate," and noted it will now be presented to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon for her final signoff.

In a statement issued Friday morning, the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) said it is "deeply disappointed" that Bill C-21 has passed without amendment.

"Women's anti-violence groups spoke out about the danger of the changes to the existing red flag laws, law enforcement questioned the focus on legal handguns instead of smuggled ones, and Indigenous leaders condemned the lack of consultation by the government," the CCFR said. "Once again, they’ve focused on the wrong target."

The bill received royal assent on Friday, ahead of a long holiday hiatus for the House of Commons and Senate. 

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