Gun control advocates say government is backing down on promise to ban assault-style weapons
The Liberal government is introducing a revised set of amendments to its pending gun legislation after dropping some initial changes that sparked outcry from firearm owners.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Tuesday the amendments to Bill C-21 include a new definition of prohibited firearms that encompasses certain "assault-style" rifles.
"These reforms are about keeping AR-15 assault-style firearms off of our streets while at the same time respecting gun owners," he told a press conference.
In May 2020, the government announced a ban on roughly 1,500 makes and models of military-grade and "assault-style" weapons in Canada.
But gun control advocates have been calling for an "evergreen" definition of prohibited guns that would include more models and could apply to any future designs.
In February, the Liberals withdrew a series of controversial amendments that included such a definition after some firearms owners argued it would have unfairly targeted hunters and farmers.
Those clauses effectively would have banned any rifle or shotgun that could accept a magazine with more than five rounds, long guns that generate more than 10,000 joules of energy, or any gun with a muzzle wider than 20 millimetres — rules that would have rendered many firearms illegal.
Public safety minister announces amendments to firearms legislation
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he worked closely with victims of gun violence and the reforms amount to a 'strong package.'
Mendicino said the government came up with a revised definition after consulting with manufacturers, hunters and Indigenous communities.
The new proposed definition would cover weapons that fire in a "semi-automatic manner" and were "originally designed" to accept a magazine with more than five rounds.
The definition would only apply to firearms manufactured after Bill C–21 becomes law, meaning owners would be allowed to keep what they currently have.
Gun control advocates aren't happy with the changes. Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, said the definition creates a "loophole" that leaves out too many models. She also raised concerns about the definition not being applied retroactively.
"[Our] request is very simple — a permanent and complete ban on assault-style weapons," Provost said.
Heidi Rathjen, a witness to the 1989 massacre, said the changes "watered down" what the Liberals originally promised.
"It is another betrayal of all the victims of mass shootings," she said.
Rathjen said that including the language "originally designed" in the definition would allow manufacturers to circumvent the intent of the law.
"It depends on what the designer had in mind and the designers are the manufacturers who have been known to tinker with their models," Rathjen said.
Proposed amendments to C-21 'another betrayal,' says Polytechnique shooting witness
Heidi Rathjen, who witnessed the Polytechnique massacre in 1989, says the proposed amendments are easy to circumvent and point to a 'total capitulation by the Trudeau government' on gun legislation.
During his press conference, Mendocino was asked about gun control advocates' claims that the government had watered down the original amendments.
"I get that this is a very difficult and emotional subject matter," he said. "But this is a strong, strong package [of reforms] and we will save lives with it."
Some gun owners aren't happy with the new amendments either. Rod Giltaca, head of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said the changes still unfairly target law-abiding gun owners.
"We all want a safer Canada," Giltaca said. "But you don't go after everyone who hasn't done a thing to deserve it as part of a plan like that."
The government is also establishing an advisory committee to provide independent advice for potential future gun regulations.
But both Rathjen and Provost said similar committees haven't worked in the past.
"That is a cop-out," Rathjen said. "We know that these committees can be micromanaged to do exactly what the government wants."
Giltaca said he's open to the idea of an advisory committee but it would depend on who's on it. He said his group would be open to participating.
"We've been open and welcoming to any kind of collaboration," he said. "I would hope that all sides can come together. We can all work together for a safer Canada."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email email@example.com or by tweeting him @DMajJourno.
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