COLUMN Carol Hughes on gun law and flags

Debate on Bill C-21 now moves over to the Senate, says Algoma – Manitoulin – Kapuskasing Member of Parliament

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes writes a regular column about initiatives and issues impacting our community.

The government’s firearms legislation, Bill C-21, recently passed in the House of Commons. With an increase in gun deaths in Canada over the past decade, it’s an important piece of legislation that, in its current iteration, will help crack down on handguns, as well as ghost guns.

However, it was also a bill saddled with an unnecessary degree of controversy, particularly from the government’s unforced errors in introducing unpopular amendments late in the process that were eventually withdrawn. The bill in its entirety has been marred by frankly absurd misinformation by the Official Opposition.

So what does C-21 actually do? The bill introduces a “red flag” law to allow anyone, including concerned friends or relatives, to apply to a judge to immediately remove firearms from an individual who may pose a danger to themselves or others. It also introduces a “yellow flag” law allowing a Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) to temporarily suspend and review an individual’s firearms license if there are serious questions about their eligibility to own or operate a firearm.

In addition, it revokes an individual’s firearms license if they have engaged in an act of domestic violence or stalking; increases maximum penalties for firearms trafficking, smuggling, and other firearm attacks; and makes it illegal to alter magazine cartridges. And perhaps most importantly, it effectively bans the buying, selling, transferring, and importing of handguns with some narrow exemptions.

Much of the debate around C-21 actually surrounded a series of amendments to the Liberal government tabled to the bill in November, a full five months after the bill passed at second reading in June 2022. Essentially, the government had put forward two sweeping amendments to the bill, over five times the size of the original bill, that listed thousands of new weapons for a proposed ban and would pre-ban some guns before ever coming onto market.

This is where the government grossly overstepped their bounds, and almost made a mess of a fairly common-sense bill meant to help stem the flow of handguns from coming over the border.

When the government tabled those amendments, they weren’t supported by witness testimony at the Public Safety Committee. It was quite clear that they needed to be scrapped, as it was an affront to hunters and trappers. In addition, the Assembly of First Nations, which passed a rare unanimous emergency resolution to oppose them as well.

It’s clear those amendments should never have been introduced. New Democrats had actually asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to remove the amendments, as they had far exceeded the scope of the original intent of the bill, and eventually, the government recognized and struck them down.

In that time, the government only managed to further confuse the purpose of the bill with the public at large. Misinformation spread quickly, and while the Conservatives liked to use the threat of a ban on hunting rifles and shotguns to claim that the government would seize people’s legitimate firearms, the actual wording in the legislation that was passed was and is clear.

It states that any new non-handgun firearm that is prohibited, be defined as follows: “discharges centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner, was originally designed with a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more, and is designed and manufactured on or after the day on which this paragraph comes into force.”

It’s that last point that needs to be made clear, as the bill has no effect on existing firearms owned by hunters and farmers. For the majority of people, this bill will have no effect on their owned firearms.

Another point of contention in the original bill was a provision that would affect replica models. This became a legitimate area of ​​concern for airsoft hobbyists. It was the New Democrats who amended the legislation to ensure that those offending parts of the bill were strict.

As Bill C-21 moves to the Senate, it’s clear that the core of the legislation was solid. Protecting Canadians from gun violence is laudable. Public safety – not politics – should always be the focus when we discuss legislation like this.