Liberals withdraw bill's assault-style firearm definition, promise more consultation
OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have withdrawn an amendment to their gun bill aimed at enshrining a definition of banned assault-style firearms, citing "legitimate concerns" about the need for more consultation on the measure.
Opposition MPs and some firearm advocates applauded the move, while a prominent gun-control group called it a victory for misinformation about the now-pulled amendment.
On behalf of the government, Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed asked for and received unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment to Bill C-21 at the House of Commons public safety committee Friday.
Among other technical specifications concerning bore diameter and muzzle energy, the proposed definition included a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed with a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.
The measure, introduced late last year during clause-by-clause review of the bill, would have built on a May 2020 regulatory ban of over 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.
There was debate over exactly what was included in the definition and what was not, because it applied only to some variations of certain models that met the criteria — guns the government considers inappropriate for civilian use.
Still, Conservative MPs and some gun advocates said the measure unfairly targeted many commonly used rifles and shotguns.
The Liberals were also under pressure from many of their own members to change or withdraw the definition of guns being banned.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a written statement posted to Twitter that the government had committed to coming up with "a clear, standard definition of what constitutes an assault-style firearm."
It tried to do that with the amendment, but Mendicino acknowledged "there have been legitimate concerns raised about the need for more consultation and debate on this vital part of the bill."
He travelled the country in recent weeks to meet with concerned Canadians, including members of the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
"We hear those concerns loud and clear, regret the confusion that this process has caused and are committed to a thoughtful and respectful conversation that is based on facts, not fear," he said.
"This is an emotional issue, and Canadians are counting on us to get it right. More discussions, including with Indigenous communities, are crucial."
Mendicino said work toward a new solution to keep assault-style weapons off Canada's streets is underway.
MPs from all three main opposition parties expressed relief that the amendment was withdrawn, though the Liberals were still under heavy criticism for trying to push it through in the first place.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre declared his party's efforts to be the sole reason the Liberals pulled the amendment.
Conservative MP Doug Shipley said it was a "relief" the Liberals had a light bulb go off because he heard a lot about bill in his riding over the holidays.
"I'm happy we got here, don't get me wrong," he said. "There will be a lot of relieved hunters and farmers across Canada."
The Conservatives are pushing for Mendicino to appear at the public safety committee for two hours to answer questions about the amendment. The Liberals are offering him for one hour.
Gun-control group PolySeSouvient, which had long pressed for enshrinement of an assault-style firearm definition, said survivors of mass shootings were "shocked" by the withdrawal.
"It is clear that the misinformation propagated by Conservative MPs and the gun lobby has won," said group spokeswoman Nathalie Provost, who was shot during a gunman's 1989 rampage in Montreal.
PolySeSouvient accuses firearm-rights advocates of raising fears about a ban on certain gun models even though versions suitable for hunting are currently unrestricted and would remain so under the bill. Military-grade versions of these models are already prohibited, the group says.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights welcomed withdrawal of the amendment but added there was "still much work to do."
"The majority of provisions in Bill C-21 have no potential benefits to public safety, and still remain as a deterrent to legal and regulated firearm ownership in Canada," the group said.
Upon introducing the bill earlier this year, the Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns to help stem firearm-related violence. Federal regulations aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect.
The bill contains measures that would reinforce the handgun freeze. The legislation would also allow for removal of gun licences from people committing domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking, as well as increase maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.
New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor said the amendment "derailed" all other progress on C-21. "I've never seen such a groundswell of opposition come really from everywhere all at once."
Bloc Québécois public safety critic Kristina Michaud said withdrawal of the amendment was necessary, but must be followed by a new proposal to remove military-style assault weapons from homes and streets, while respecting the rights of hunters.
The group Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns said there is strong international evidence that prohibiting firearms that have the capacity to injure and kill many people in a short period of time will save lives.
"We know the gun lobby will always oppose banning assault weapons out of their private interest, but the NDP and Bloc, who have committed to support for evidence-based gun control, must demonstrate greater courage in supporting the public interest in protecting and strengthening Canada's assault weapons ban," the group said.
Noormohamed said the Liberals are aware that withdrawing the assault-style firearm amendment also removes a reference to homemade "ghost guns," which are difficult to trace.
The proliferation of 3D printers has seen an increase in the number of "ghost guns," creating a new problem for police and the courts.
The government intends to find a way to ensure Bill C-21 still addresses that issue.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
Mia Rabson and Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press