Public Safety Minister Bill Blair took meetings with two high-profile Canadian gun lobby groups as the government was putting the finishing touches on plans to ban “assault-style” weapons.
According to lobby registry records, Blair agreed to meet two days before the House of Commons suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic with Charles Zach, executive director of the National Firearms Association (NFA), and with Alison de Groot, managing director of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association.
The NFA advocates for the elimination of the Firearms Act.
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Lobbying activity is legal but subject to regulations such as the need to report any lobbying interactions to the federal lobbying commissioner, and that information is contained in the lobby registry.
The meeting records list “justice and law enforcement” as among the topics discussed.
Global News reached out to Blair’s office for further details, including whether the gun groups pressed Blair on the plans to ban “assault-style” weapons.
A spokesperson for his office initially said that Blair met with a range of stakeholders during consultations held between October 2018 and spring 2019 on potential gun reforms.
That response did not address specific questions about the March 2020 meetings.
When asked specifically whether the meetings influenced the decision to hold off for now on implementing a buyback program for the 1,500 firearms banned on Friday via a cabinet order, the spokesperson did not give a clear answer.
“The minister meets with many stakeholders who request meetings related to his mandate, and all points of view are considered when making decisions,” said Craig MacBride, senior communications advisor for the minister.
“The government of Canada intends to implement a buy-back program as soon as possible.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Blair announced that the government is prohibiting 1,500 “assault-style” weapons including the models of semi-automatic guns used in several recent mass shootings in Canada and the United States.
That follows up on a Liberal campaign pledge to implement “a ban on all military-style assault rifles” and “a buyback program for all military-style assault rifles legally purchased in Canada.”
The term has no legal definition in Canada but is generally used in reference to semi-automatic firearms capable of firing large amounts of ammunition in a very short period of time.
Automatic weapons, used by many militaries, are already prohibited except under grandfather rights.
Trudeau told reporters this week that when the House of Commons suspension happened on March 13, the government was “almost ready” to roll out its Friday prohibition on the firearms.
The announcement of the prohibition did not include details of an accompanying buyback program but instead said there will be a two-year amnesty period during which a buyback program will be developed.
A bill is required in that case because a buyback program would require funding to operate — something the government’s can’t authorize without parliamentary approval.
Trudeau said once the danger of the pandemic passes and the government can get back to passing non-pandemic related legislation through the House of Commons, it will move forward with that.
But a report by the Globe and Mail on Friday cited sources suggesting the government was considering making the buyback program voluntary, a move Ecole Polytechnique shooting survivor Nathalie Provost warned would be “a big win for the gun lobby.”
“A partial buyback would be just one more disappointment in our 30-year battle for gun control,” she said in a statement released after the announcement. “This could means that tens of thousands of assault weapons will remain in circulation, in the hands of their current owners, for generations.”
A poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Global News found that 52 per cent of urban Canadians believe all guns should be illegal, though that ranged from 67 per cent in Toronto to 30 per cent in Saskatoon.
A poll by Angus Reid released on Friday found four in five Canadians say they support a complete ban on civilian possession of military-style assault rifles, holding steady from the same level last year.
The ban applies to 1,500 restricted and non-restricted firearms including the Mini-14 used in the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, the Vz58 used in the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017, the M14 used in the 2014 Moncton attacks and the Beretta CX4 Storm used in the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montreal.