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Liberal gun control legislation passes House of Commons

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The federal Liberal government's gun control legislation Bill C-21 passed the House of Commons on Thursday.

While the majority of MPs voted to see the bill pass into the Senate, two Liberal MPs who represent northern ridings sided with the Conservatives in voting against the legislation.

The bill, which passed nearly a year after it was first introduced, had an acrimonious journey through the House, and was significantly expanded from what was initially tabled in May 2022.

When Bill C-21 was first presented, the legislation focused on:

  • Tightening gun laws to include "red flag" and "yellow flag" provisions related to a gun owner posing a risk to themselves or others;
  • Imposing a "freeze" on the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns in Canada; and
  • Including other increased offences related to certain firearm-related offences.

Earlier this month, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino put forward a series of revised amendments that significantly expanded the range of proposed gun control measures in the bill, alongside related regulatory changes being advanced through policy rather than Parliament, including reconstituting a federal firearms advisory committee.

Through the latest package of changes, the bill now also includes:

  • 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;
  • Wording making clear the government's intent to uphold Indigenous treaty rights; and
  • A requirement for a parliamentary review of the technical definition five years after it comes into effect.

The definition passed by the House regarding the future-focused ban covers firearms that are not a handgun, that discharge centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner, and were originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more.

Defending moving to stitch in other firearm policies into Bill C-21, Mendicino has said the Liberals were committed to go further “than any government in the history of this country,” when it comes to gun control.

The Official Opposition continues to assert that the legislation targets law-abiding gun owners though, and an attempt from the Conservatives to see the bill referred back to the House Public Safety Committee for reconsideration "with the view to ensure that the government cannot take away hunting rifles from law-abiding farmers, hunters and Indigenous peoples," failed on Thursday.

The minister's rethink came after withdrawing an initial amendment package that sparked considerable backlash last fall, largely due to trying to inject an "evergreen" definition for assault-style weapons that would have prohibited hundreds of gun models currently on the market, including some commonly used for sport and hunting.

Since pulling the plug on the problematic proposals in February, the legislation had been languishing as the House awaited the minority Liberal's revised approach. Part of the government's consideration in consulting on a new set of amendments, was the need to secure the backing of at least one opposition party to help pass them.

Ultimately, the Bloc Quebecois, New Democrat, and Green caucuses backed Bill C-21 passing the House, with the final vote tally being: 207 to 113. The two Liberal MPs who voted against Bill C-21 were Yukon MP Brendan Hanley, and Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod, neither were in the House for the vote, entering their "nay" votes electronically.

Hanley told CTV News while the reworked version was much improved from what the minister first presented—informed in part by feedback Mendicino received while taking part in a consultation in the Yukon—he voted against Bill C-21 because of his constituents' outstanding concerns.

"It is my duty to reflect the will of Yukoners, particularly when the will is reflected widely and where there is a substantial rationale to support that will. While I support measures within Bill C-21, like the increased support for law enforcement to address illegal sales and smuggling... I agree that there remain significant unaddressed concerns," Hanley said in a statement.

He said should the Senate make further amendments to Bill C-21 he'll review them carefully in considering how he'd vote should the bill bounce back to the House.

"Gun violence is real. And so are the rights of the many law-abiding Yukoners that have reached out. I will continue to advocate for evidence-based policies that can help to reduce gun violence while recognizing the rights of legal firearms owners," Hanley said.  

The bill's passage within weeks of the latest version being presented was as a result of a Liberal a programming motion that restricted the amount of time the committee had to move through more than 100 amendments, and limit the final two stages of debate, which occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday.

When this procedural move was made, the Conservatives balked, calling it the "nuclear option," while the New Democrats said it was necessary to fend off Official Opposition obstruction. 

Bill C-21 is now off to the Senate for a second round of scrutiny. It remains to be seen whether senators are inclined to expedite their study or extend that work into the fall, with just four weeks left in the spring sitting.

As the legislation stands, stakeholder groups remain mixed on the package of proposed firearm reforms.

In a statement on Thursday anticipating the bill's passage, gun control group PolySeSouvient said that Bill C-21 contains "solid measures to improve the protection of victims of domestic violence from gun violence thanks to a series of amendments passed by the public safety committee."

However, the public safety benefits on Bill C-21 will be determined by the strength of the yet-to-be-articulated accompanying regulations, the group said.

"All three parties that claim to support gun control – the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois – have insisted on introducing a new process to prevent abuses or mistakes by manufacturers with respect to the classification of new models. Unfortunately, the government’s proposed regulatory remedy falls short of providing any meaningful improvement over the current system." 

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