The federal government has staunchly defended its gun control legislation that would outlaw a large number of firearms commonly used by hunters, but signaled on Wednesday it was open to “fine-tuning” the bill.
The law has the effect of a rare combination of opposition to government policy from both the left and right political spectrum and has prompted friendly fire from the Territory’s premier and backbench Liberal MPs. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples also opposed it. Public Safety Secretary Marco Mendicino said Wednesday the government has listened to those concerns and is consulting with hunters, First Nations, experts and industry leaders on the proposed law, known as Bill C-21.
“We are showing our determination to make sure we get it right, and we acknowledge that hunters and Indigenous people have concerns about the wording of this amendment,” Mr Mendicino told reporters as he was surrounded by Liberals. The proposed changes will have the greatest impact.
The amendments were introduced by the Liberals late in the legislative process without the usual scrutiny. They consist of two key parts. The first introduced a legal definition of assault weapons that would be automatically banned. Critics say the proposed definition covers many firearms used for hunting.
The second part is a 307-page list of prohibited guns and outlines exceptions. It’s based on past regulations or the RCMP’s list of guns banned, but also includes a new list of guns that experts say don’t meet the government’s proposed definition of an assault weapon.
Opposition parties say they are skeptical of the government’s willingness to change its proposed laws and say the government is working in reverse: first propose amendments and then hold consultations on them.
Mr Mendicino said he wanted to make sure the government’s legal definition of an assault rifle was correct, acknowledging that the government needed to revisit some firearms based on feedback from hunters.
“They’re definitely trying to contain the damage,” said AJ Somerset, a hunter and former soldier who wrote a book on gun culture called Weapons: The Culture and Creed of Firearms.
“When you’re trying to come up with a definition of evergreen, you inevitably grab some shotguns,” Mr Somerset said. “They need the courage of conviction, and if they’re going to do it, they need to realize that you can’t please everyone all the time.”
Mr Somerset supports a clear definition of what counts as a prohibited assault weapon, eliminating the need for the government to pass regulations or legislate to ban a long list of guns. But he said the definition needed to be more precise because it appeared to ban nearly all center-fire semi-automatic rifles, which the government said was not its intention.
Still, he said the law would not affect most shotguns that use either bolt-action or lever-action.
Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings told reporters there were still 19,000 firearms used for hunting that would not be affected by the government’s proposed ban.
Mr Somerset said the most controversial part of the government’s amendments came from its list of hundreds of prohibited weapons – the first time the government will pass legislation to ban them. Mr Mendicino told reporters the government was putting the list into law to make it “harder” for future governments to change. Mr Somerset said the minister’s assertion suggested the legislative list was “mostly about politics” as it was designed to constrain future parliaments and make current court challenges to the government’s gun ban moot.
Bloc Quebec leader Yves-François Blanchet also questioned the need for the list and said the government must remove ambiguity in its proposed definition of an assault-style firearm.
Another key reason for criticism of the amendment is that people in rural and northern communities often depend on hunting for their livelihoods. Asked what hunters whose rifles would be banned should do if they cannot afford another gun, Ms Hutchings argued that if there was a market for cheaper guns, manufacturers would fill that demand.
Mr Somerset said the response was unrealistic and “overbearing”. He noted that the Simonov SKS, which is on the proposed banned gun list, is being sold through military surplus, in part because it is cheap and therefore popular with hunters.
“No one is going to make new guns at a price that they can buy a surplus of guns,” he said.
NDP public safety critic Alistair MacGregor called Ms Hutchings’ comments “a bit insulting”. He said the Liberal amendments greatly expanded the original scope of Bill C-21, while the later amendments were an “abuse of process” that MPs could not properly scrutinize.
The Commons public safety committee is conducting a full review of the amendments, but MPs are debating how long it should take. The Liberals want just two witness conferences, the Conservatives want 20 and the NDP suggest eight.
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Wednesday the amendment should be pulled from the bill entirely, saying the administration’s proposed definition of an assault gun is too broad. Given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to rule out changing the definition last week, she said the outcome of more consultations appeared to be predetermined.
“If we’re forced to meet, then we better do it right,” she said. “We’d better go to northern Canada, to remote communities, to rural Canada, and make sure we get the input of everyone affected by this.”