In the face of a furious backlash against changes proposed to Bill C-21, Canada’s Liberal government has dropped two expansive amendments to the bill. Gun rights groups, opposition politicians and ordinary Canadians opposed the bill because it would not only criminalize mainstream hunting and sport shooting firearms lawfully owned by millions of individuals – guns that play no role in crime – but lacks any redeeming public safety benefits.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced Bill C-21 last year to freeze the importation, sale, or transfer of handguns and “help stop the growth of personally owned handguns in Canada.” In November, in a sweeping shift in scope, a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) introduced amendments to Bill C-21 that would add 1,500 or so long guns to the list of firearms classified as “prohibited” (banned) firearms.
In December, chiefs and their proxies at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) annual winter meeting in Ottawa responded by unanimously supporting an emergency resolution against Bill C-21. The AFN represents more than 600 First Nations communities across Canada, many of which rely on subsistence hunting and trapping. “We totally oppose this bill,” said one chief at the meeting.
On January 19, Liberal MP Brendan Hanley (Yukon) hosted a “roundtable” meeting with concerned citizens in Whitehorse and the federal minister of public safety, Marco Mendicino, who has maintained that the “government has no intention – no intention whatsoever – to go after long guns and hunting rifles.” The minister began his remarks at the meeting with the usual Liberal platitude about “my respect for you, and for others, who are responsible gun owners; be you hunters, farmers, collectors, trappers, you name it… there’s a stigma or stereotype that we don’t value that relationship, and that is simply not true. We do.”
Unsurprisingly, the group of 15 or so trappers, hunters, sport shooters, and gun collectors invited to attend were unanimous: “none of them agree with the proposed amendments.”
One gun owner told Mendicino that “if you trust us, then you wouldn’t be doing a handgun freeze. You wouldn’t be taking away my firearms is what you wouldn’t be doing. It is very simple. That illegal guy is the problem. Not the legal guy.” Another attendee, an indigenous hunter and trapper who lives in a remote area 110 miles away from the closest city, concurred. “We have to have these firearms” because a conservation officer or the RCMP isn’t available, and “[t]aking guns out of legal gun owners’ hands can’t be about solving gun crime.” A third, a hunter and sports shooter, added “the irresponsibility” of criminals and the lack of mental health care shouldn’t “affect me and my children’s ability to enjoy the sport.”
Attendees also spoke about the consequences for responsible owners like them should the gun ban be enacted—the lack of compensation for firearms worth thousands of dollars, and the inability to pass guns, and the enjoyment of hunting and shooting sports, on to the younger generation. “In one stroke, we’re destroying the ability of our young folk to get into a sport that has defined Canadian tradition.”
Bill Klassen offered some important insight based on his experiences as a former senior government official and RCMP officer. After informing Mendicino that he couldn’t see how the ban was going to make Canada safer, he said, “I’ve obeyed the law. I’ve enforced the laws as a former deputy minister at the Yukon government. And I recognize a bad law when I see it… And so I’m saying that I will purposely indulge in civil disobedience. I will not surrender my Parker shotgun, my Weatherby rifle or my Ruger.”
And in case Mendicino had missed the message, the day after the meeting Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai issued a statement on Bill C-21 that echoed the issues residents raised. “Many Yukoners are very concerned about the proposed amendments to Bill C-21 and the impacts they would have on law-abiding firearms owners in the territory. As a lawful gun owner, avid hunter and member of a family who has worked a trapline on the land for generations, I have a deep appreciation for the concerns.” The statement notes that Minister Mendicino “has committed to engaging and making appropriate changes to Bill C-21 after hearing from Yukoners and others living in more rural and remote parts of Canada,” and the premier “strongly urge[d] the federal government to listen to Yukoners and make changes to the amendments to Bill C-21.”
None of the issues raised on January 19 are new or unexpected. Canada’s gun owners and gun rights groups have made identical arguments for years in response to Trudeau’s misguided gun control agenda, but it seems that now, perhaps, government officials are starting to pay attention.
On February 3, Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed announced the government was withdrawing Amendment G-46, a 300-page document listing thousands of rifle and shotgun models to be confiscated, and Amendment G-4, classifying semiautomatic long guns designed to accept a detachable magazine holding over five rounds and using centerfire ammunition as “prohibited” firearms. The rationale, he said, was that “we have to get this over the finish line…in a way that also respects hunters, farmers and indigenous communities.”
The move, however, leaves Bill C-21 otherwise intact, and as professor Gary Mauser of Simon Fraser University points out, the bill still bans over a million legally-owned handguns. It also doesn’t prevent the government from reintroducing similar legislation. Indeed, in remarks shortly after Trudeau’s “humiliating climbdown” was announced, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre warned that the withdrawal was a “temporary pause” in Trudeau’s gun control agenda. “Trudeau desperately wanted to ban hunting rifles …He was asked specifically if that was his goal, and he said yes. It wasn’t just incompetence, as we would normally expect from him, it was his own words... He would ban all civilian firearms ownership in Canada. That’s his agenda and he’s made it clear.”
The Liberal walk-back of part of the bill, though, may be the latest sign that Trudeau’s gun control agenda is foundering. The success of his ban of so-called “assault weapons” imposed in 2020, with mandatory confiscation of the prohibited guns, is already doubtful. The original amnesty period has had to be extended, and several provinces have since signaled their unequivocal refusal to be involved in the confiscation and enforcement aspects in any way. Implementation is unlikely to be enhanced now that responsible Canadians make known their intention to follow the example of the provinces.