The buyback program is part of a suite of new gun control measures promised by the federal Liberals in the 2019 election campaign, and follows the announcement of an executive order last May that changed the classification listings to prohibit roughly 1,500 “assault-style” weapons.
While terms like “assault-style” and “assault rifle” are not legal classifications in Canada, they are frequently used colloquially by gun control advocates and the government to describe the type of high-capacity, quick-fire guns targeted by the ban.
Automatic firearms are already prohibited in Canada, as are high-capacity magazines.
Trudeau had said last May that legislation to implement a buyback program would not be introduced until the immediate crisis of the coronavirus pandemic was under control.
He had also stressed it would take time to come up with a proposal that could win support from at least one other party in a minority Parliament.
“We’ve charted a plan of action,” he said, noting the buyback program will be finalized in the coming months and will prevent those weapons from being bequeathed or sold.
“You can’t fight gun violence or any violence on just one front.”
Conservative public safety critic Shannon Stubbs called the announcement “disappointing” in a joint statement issued with Richard Martel, the party’s Quebec lieutenant.
“Instead of targeting law-abiding Canadians and firearm 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 and gangs off the streets,” they said.
“Conservatives have, and will always, support common-sense firearms policies that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. 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.”
Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989 and a gun control advocate with the group PolySeSouvient, said the government’s efforts fall short.
She has been an outspoken advocate for the need for mandatory buyback program, and said the lack of one now leaves her feeling “betrayed.”
“I think that all the families that were involved with those massacre feel betrayed like I am,” she said in an interview on Tuesday with Global News.
“If a new government comes in that has not the same opinion on these kinds of weapons, they can switch the law,” she added. “The only way we could have really changed the picture in Canada would be to have a mandatory buyback, to have something permanent and to have a permanent impact.“
The legislation will also allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation. Trudeau said the measures will be backed up with serious penalties to enforce these bylaws, including jail time for people who violate municipal rules.
Many gun control advocates have pressed for a national handgun ban, warning that leaving it up to municipalities would create an ineffective patchwork of regulations.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said city staff are reviewing the bill and welcome federal efforts to tackle gun violence.
“The federal government has said the changes announced today would allow municipalities to ban handguns and include federal penalties for those who violate local bylaws,” Tory said in a statement.
“The City looks forward to receiving details from the Government of Canada on how such a ban would work and what its impact would be on gun violence.”
The bill will also increase criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking, and enhance the capacity of police and border officers to keep illegal firearms out of the country.
It also creates new offences for altering the cartridge magazine of a firearm and introduces tighter restrictions on importing ammunition.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the legislation, tabled Tuesday morning in the House of Commons, will not allow the owners of the prohibited firearms to bequeath them to others, or to continue to use them under “grandfathering” policies.
He said those who choose not to sell their weapons back to the government will be held responsible if the weapons “end up in the hands of criminals.”
“Gun ownership in this country is a privilege, not a right,” Blair said.
“We do not arm ourselves in this country to protect ourselves from our fellow citizens. We rely on the rule of law, not the end of a gun, for our safety.”
The legislation will also create what are often referred to as “red flag” laws.
Those will allow people such as concerned friends or relatives of a gun owner to ask the courts for an immediate removal of the firearm, or to have the person’s license suspended and/or reviewed.
The rules are intended as a way to remove guns from people believed to pose a risk of using firearms in intimate partner or gender-based violence, or self-harm, according to the government.
Current owners of the prohibited guns have criminal amnesty until April 30, 2022, and can only transfer or transport their firearms for specific purposes.
Blair said the intent of the legislation is to render the 1,500 firearms “legally unusable” in order to incentivize owners to sell them to the government.
While final details of the cost of such a buyback are not yet clear, Blair said current estimates that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 of the weapons in Canada translates to a potential cost of between $300 million and $400 million if the average market price for each firearm is around $1,300.
— With files from The Canadian Press.
— With files from Global’s Bryan Mullan.