#1: Withdraw the Municipal Handgun Prohibition on Storage and Transportation; Cease RPAL Issuance and Importation for Private Ownership
REQUESTED ACTION. Withdraw the proposal for a municipally-determined handgun prohibition on storage and transportation in order to determine a more credible strategy, which must include reducing, and eventually phasing out, the private ownership of handguns in Canada. In addition, immediately cease to issue new Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licenses (RPALs) for handguns and cease the further manufacture of handguns for, and importation of handguns to, Canada for sale to private citizens.
DISCUSSION. Bill C-21 does not create a national law prohibiting private ownership of handguns. Instead, it proposes to allow Canada’s 3,500+ municipalities to determine whether, or not, to prohibit handgun storage and transportation through unenforceable municipal bylaws. This element of Bill C-21 has been met with strong opposition through public commentary (including by leaders of local and provincial governments, advocacy groups, editorials in leading publications, and many other voices). In fact, we struggle to find any credible, authoritative source that supports this approach. Furthermore, this government’s marketing of Bill C-21 as an effective solution with respect to handguns is disingenuous and misleading or, as we have heard it referred to as, “performative politics”. We will not be duped or placated into supporting these ineffectual measures.
The proposed measures will not stem the alarming growth of handgun acquisition and possession in Canada nor the risks related to such growth. Relying on a patchwork of municipal bylaws and bureaucratic oversight does not adequately address the cross-jurisdictional quagmire or the possibility that individuals will use their weapons, or those that they have acquired through illegal means, to commit atrocities.
#2: Make the Military-Style Gun Buy-Back Program Mandatory or Remove or Render Prohibited Weapons Permanently Inoperable
REQUESTED ACTION. Remove, through a mandatory buy-back program, all of these newly prohibited weapons from circulation (or, in the very least, implement a program through which such weapons are rendered permanently inoperable).
DISCUSSION. Bill C-21’s proposal to make the buy-back program for military-grade “assault-style” weapons voluntary does not address the corresponding risk to public safety as these weapons will remain functional and in private hands. Through Orders-in-Council, this government has determined that ~1,500 makes and models of such weapons are prohibited because they are not reasonably required for hunting, etc., and have specifications intended for combat use.
This government claims that licensed gun owners will no longer be allowed to sell, transport, import, or use these sorts of weapons in Canada but is not taking sufficient steps to either remove them from civilian hands or to render them inoperable. In citing New Zealand’s experience as a reason to change their commitment, unfortunately, this government has listed statistics and outcomes from biased pro-gun sources whose motives are intended to make the New Zealand program look less effective than it actually has been. It is a mistake to look only at the number of guns returned in New Zealand; the number of modifying gun parts returned is in itself a major accomplishment of that program. The failure to implement a mandatory buyback program risks, among other things, further gun massacres, cruelty to wildlife disguised as “sport”, and the immediate access to these weapons by civilians should a reversal of the prohibition be implemented by a future government.
#3: Improve Resources to Lower Risks of Self-Harm and Harm to Others (“Red Flag” Provisions)
REQUESTED ACTION. Do not introduce an onerous and, potentially, dangerous “red flag” judicial process that would cede responsibility to those under the threat of violence to petition the court. Instead, hold authorities accountable. The government issues licenses and allows people to have guns. It also needs to take responsibility for ensuring that they are taken away when public safety is at stake. In addition, develop a clear and responsive avenue for potential victims, and those that may act on their behalf, to ensure appropriate resources are mobilized quickly and effectively. [For example, the means to contact a properly staffed resource (such as a dedicated “hotline”).]
We also support the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, which is calling for the national implementation of Quebec’s Anastasia Law, which allows certain professionals (such as physicians) to set confidentiality considerations aside and report potentially dangerous behaviour directly to police if guns are involved. Everyday physicians encounter patients with, among other diagnoses, suicidal ideation, untreated psychosis, substance abuse, dementia, and impulsive aggressive behaviour, as well as potential victims of domestic violence, and for each of whom a gun in the home raises safety concerns for the patient, family, and the larger community. In tandem with the concerns we raise, it is imperative that this government address the restrictions that the medical community faces, which prevent physicians from reporting such potentially dangerous behaviour to police.
DISCUSSION. Through Bill C-21, this government has proposed changes that would allow individuals (actual or potential victims; those expected to act on their behalf) to directly petition the courts to have guns removed from licensed persons, for up to 30 days, in the event of an immediate risk of violence towards themselves or others. We consider this measure to be dangerous for individual applicants, particularly abused women under threat of gun violence. Placing the onus on an individual in crisis puts undue pressure on that individual and increases the administrative burden on an already taxed court system.
Many women experiencing abuse or violence are deliberately and completely isolated by their abusers from family, friends, and other support networks. Even with the Attorney-General as the formal “Applicant”, the true identity of the original applicant will be obvious to the gun licensee (abuser). Should the application fail, the applicant will then be at a heightened risk of violent reprisal. In addition, many women already do not trust the police, judges, or the larger court system to protect them from sexual assault and other abuses. Why would they trust them to protect them from guns? Too many police officers already deflect responsibility onto abuse victims to file their own individual restraining order applications. The “red flag” provisions in Bill C-21 provide too great a risk of that pattern repeating with respect to threats of gun violence. Further, unnecessary (and, potentially, life or death) delays may result in achieving forfeiture or seizure of guns when an order IS approved, as failure to respond with urgency to reporting individuals is an identified issue. Last, an order may be appealed, forcing a hearing at which the victim or prospective victim may have to face the abuser in court. It is for these reasons that, in a number of U.S. jurisdictions where Extreme Risk Orders (EROs) have been implemented, applications remain restricted to law enforcement personnel.
Chief Firearms Officers (CFOs) and police agencies already have the legislative and regulatory authority to take decisive action based on the laws that are in effect. Implementation of Bill C-71, particularly the adult lifetime background checks for licensing or renewals would strengthen these powers. Instead (or in addition to) the above approach, a greater focus must be placed on the effectiveness of existing methods, processes, and tools available to provincial and territorial CFOs and police agencies.
#4: Publicly Disclose the Implementation Plan for Measures Contained in Bill C-71
REQUESTED ACTION. We call on this government to publicly disclose the implementation plan for Bill C-71 and the status of each constituent part.
DISCUSSION. Bill C-71 contains key measures, such as (a) replacing the current five-year limit on background checks with adult lifetime background checks performed prior to issuing a gun permit or Acquisition and Possession License (PAL), (b) requiring retailers to keep sales records available that police can access with proper cause, (c) requiring verification of a valid PAL when a gun is transferred, and (d) tightening restrictions as to when and how guns are transported.
Despite Bill C-71 having received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, its implementation plan remains unknown. There has been no status update to the public regarding when certain provisions will come into effect nor any disclosure on their dependence upon the prior enactment of Regulations, technology remediation, and / or administrative or other required resources. The lack of transparency suggests a lack of progress or political will towards bringing the provisions of Bill C-71 into force, which harms the credibility of this government and calls into question its commitment to act upon or provide the additional measures required.