OTTAWA — Gun owners whose weapons end up banned under a proposed sweeping new firearms bill could be eligible for compensation, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday, as the Liberals work to contain political pushback over their latest efforts to regulate guns.
Whether newly banned guns would qualify for a buyback program already in the works for those banned by the federal government in 2020 has been among the questions swirling in the contentious debate around its new gun bill, known as C-21.
While the bill started off as a proposed law to institute a handgun freeze and other firearms-control measures, late last month it morphed into something much larger: a law that would lay out an evergreen definition of what technical specifications should get a gun banned in Canada and a massive new list specifying which firearms will now be banned.
The Opposition Conservatives called the move to add those provisions via “sneaky” amendments, and an effort to ban nearly every rifle or shotgun in Canada, while the New Democrats have called the proposals an “overreach” that came out of nowhere.
The Liberals had said the amendments were coming when the bill was originally tabled in May. On Friday, Mendicino pushed back against the idea that by choosing that legislative path, the government was deliberately avoiding scrutiny, arguing there has been a robust national debate over the scope and size of Canada’s gun laws for years.
“This is not a new concept, to be clear,” he said.
What’s also frustrated gun owners and their advocates is the fact that after the 2020 ban, some bought weapons they believed were going to remain legal, only to have the government now seek to ban them, lending credence to their fears that despite saying otherwise, it is hunters the government wants to attack.
“They’ve said that, ‘We respect hunters, we’re not coming after them.’ That’s seven years of lies,” said Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho.
Mendicino said the Liberals are trying to cut through the “noise” being created by the Conservatives on the proposed ban, which he said is deliberate misinformation designed to sow fear.
One principle of the 2020 ban was that Canadians ought to be compensated if their legally owned firearms were outlawed, he said, and the same principle should apply this time.
“We have not yet made a final decision on that because we do not yet know what the final outcome of either the amendments or the bill is,” Mendicino said, “but it is very important to me that we are seen to be fair and equitable to law-abiding gun owners.”
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights says the proposed amendment, as well as the new evergreen definition, would add “several million” additional rifles and shotguns to the list of weapons now banned in Canada.
The new ban would include the SKS, a semi-automatic rifle that was used in the recent fatal shootings of two Ontario police officers.
That gun wasn’t on the May 2020 order-in-council that deemed upwards of 1,500 “assault-style” rifles and variants illegal. It is estimated there are millions of SKS rifles in Canada as they are a relatively inexpensive military weapon from the 1950s that later became popular with hunters.
But Mendicino said just because that gun wasn’t included in the 2020 list doesn’t mean it should not be banned now.
“Guns that were designed for wartime, for the battlefield, have no place in our communities. That is the concept of this government,” he said.
“It is the intent of this government to focus on those guns and not hunting rifles.”
But the fact that widely used hunting rifles like the SKS are among those potentially being sheltered caught even some non-traditional critics of the government’s gun agenda — the New Democrats — off guard.
With their amendments, the Liberals are inflaming political divides in the country and pitting rural Canadians against their urban neighbours, said NDP MP Charlie Angus.
“They have to restore trust with Canadians, both urban and rural, that they’re doing the right thing,” said Angus, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay.
“I think they made some serious mistakes with this amendment and they have to fix it.”
Liberals have been increasingly bleeding political support in rural pockets of the country to the NDP and Conservatives.
Mendicino spent part of the day on the phone Friday with hunting groups in one of the few pieces of Liberal turf with a rural constituency, the Quebec riding of Pontiac, assuring them that the guns they prize aren’t being caught up in the bill.
But when it comes to gun control issues, it’s also a politically delicate topic for the New Democrats.
In 2011, two NDP MPs were punished by the party’s then interim-leader after they voted with the Conservative government of the day to abolish the long-gun registry, which was reviled in parts of the country including their own ridings, but supported by the New Democrats.
One of the MPs, Bruce Hyer, eventually quit the NDP caucus to sit as an Independent. He joined the Greens before losing his seat in the 2015 election to the Liberals.
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