ATHABASCA — Newly tabled federal gun legislation is drawing fierce criticism from both Opposition Conservatives in Ottawa and United Conservatives in Alberta who say it targets legal gun owners and creates confusion across municipalities.
While the Liberals' proposed Bill C-21 would strengthen laws for gun smuggling and trafficking it would also allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws and has serious penalties to help enforce those bylaws, something both Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs and Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu strongly oppose.
Handguns have been heavily restricted in Canada for many years with strict laws, allowing them only to be used at a shooting range and otherwise stored in locked containers at home. Police, military and similar agencies are the only entities exempt from that law.
“The reality is, the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained firearms,” Stubbs said in Feb. 16 statement. “Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals and gangs who obtain their gun illegally.”
Stubbs noted Liberals defeated a Conservative bill, Bill C-238, that would have imposed tougher sentences on smugglers and those found in possession of illegal firearms than the current proposed bill.
“The Trudeau Liberals’ decision to vote against this bill shows they are not serious about stopping dangerous criminals from getting their hands on illegal guns,” she said.
In a statement issued Feb. 16, Madu said the federal government is breaching the Constitution Act of 1982 that says municipalities fall under the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
“I’d also note that MLA Michaela Glasgo has introduced private member’s Bill 211, which would limit municipalities’ ability to pass bylaws on these matters,” he said. “The Government of Alberta will expedite that bill, and remains on track to appoint Alberta’s chief firearms officer.”
Among other things, the bill would have “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws allowing people to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of a person’s guns or to suspend their licence; target smuggling and trafficking by enhancing the ability of RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to combat illegal imports of guns; create new offences for altering the cartridge magazine and depicting violence in firearms advertising; have tighter restrictions on ammunition imports; and prohibit the import, export, sale and transfer of all replica firearms.
“Instead of targeting law-abiding Canadians and firearms retailers, the government should be investing in police anti-gang and gun units and the CBSA to provide law enforcement with the resources they need to stop illegal smuggling operations and get dangerous criminals off the streets,” said Stubbs.
Allowing municipalities to create their own bylaws around gun control will make it confusing for law-abiding gun owners as well, said Madu.
“Albertans are smart enough to know that made-in-Toronto calls for city gun bans are futile, since criminals flagrantly using guns won’t follow such a bylaw anyway,” he said. “In addition, a patchwork approach of policy varying by invisible municipal boundaries would create obvious confusion in enforcement, and the federal government clearly knows that.”
Both Athabasca municipalities declined to comment on the proposed bill, saying they needs more time to study it.
“Council hasn't discussed the matter yet; it's very new,” said Karl Kopan, communications officer for Athabasca County. “So, it's just too early to offer comment at this time, they’d just like to take a little bit of a look at it before doing so.”
Town of Athabasca mayor Colleen Powell echoed Athabasca County’s sentiments that it is too early to think about gun bylaws.
“We're not prepared to deal with this right now,” she said.
The bill also has a robust buy-back program on a wide range of recently banned assault-style firearms where owners could turn their guns in for compensation or could keep them under strict conditions of registering them, storing them securely and would prevent them from being used, transported, sold, transferred or bequeathed.
Some critics say the buy-back should be mandatory like in Australia and New Zealand instead of allowing people to keep them even with tighter conditions.
“It is disappointing that during a pandemic, Justin Trudeau is focused on his own re-election and advancing the Liberals’ ideological agenda instead of helping Canadians get vaccines,” Stubbs said. “We are calling on the Trudeau Liberals to ensure that Canada’s firearms legislation is based on evidence, not on ideology, and respects the rights of Canadians.”