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Feds dig in on support for cities looking to ban handguns, despite provincial pushback

Click to play video 'Feds prepared to support cities with handgun ban in face of provincial opposition: Blair' Feds prepared to support cities with handgun ban in face of provincial opposition: Blair
WATCH: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair doubled down on the government’s plans to support municipalities that are pushing for handgun bans amid provincial pushback to the proposal – Feb 17, 2021

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has doubled down on the government’s plans to support municipalities that are pushing for handgun bans amid provincial pushback to the proposal, including legislation from some provinces that seeks to prevent cities from going ahead with such restrictions.

“Where there are municipalities that wish to impose additional restrictions on the use and possession of handguns in their communities, we’re prepared to work with them,” Blair said, speaking in a Wednesday press conference.

“We’re hopeful that, perhaps not in every place in the country, but there are provinces that have given every indication of their willingness to work with their municipalities to keep their citizens safe.”

Read more: Trudeau unveils details of ‘assault-style’ gun buyback program, municipal gun ban

His comments come the day after the government introduced new firearms legislation, which includes a pledge that the federal government will “(support) municipalities that ban handguns through bylaws restricting storage and transportation in their jurisdictions.”

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“Individuals who violate these municipal by-laws would be subject to federal penalties, including licence revocation and criminal sanctions,” read a press release on the legislation, issued by Public Safety Canada on Wednesday.

Click to play video 'Gun control advocates calling on national handgun ban, mandatory buyback' Gun control advocates calling on national handgun ban, mandatory buyback
Gun control advocates calling on national handgun ban, mandatory buyback – Feb 16, 2021

However, that aspect of the legislation was met with intense pushback from the provinces.

Multiple provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, have voiced concerns about municipalities circumventing jurisdictions should they seek to implement handgun bans without a provincial go-ahead.

Read more: Alberta justice minister accuses feds of targeting ‘law-abiding Canadians’ with new gun legislation

Municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction, so any bid on the federal government’s part to allow municipalities to proceed with certain bylaws could be seen as trampling on provincial and territorial autonomy.

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Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said on Tuesday that he was “bewildered” by the “supposed provision” for municipal bylaw gun bans. He said that the “Constitution is clear that municipalities fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces.”

“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 anyways,” he said.

Click to play video 'Bill Blair says new legislation will prevent prohibited firearms from being ‘grandfathered’' Bill Blair says new legislation will prevent prohibited firearms from being ‘grandfathered’
Bill Blair says new legislation will prevent prohibited firearms from being ‘grandfathered’ – Feb 16, 2021

Madu also noted that a private member’s bill has already been introduced to limit municipalities’ ability to pass bylaws on these matters – and that the government of Alberta “will expedite that bill.”

Saskatchewan passed similar legislation in June of last year. That law stops municipalities across Saskatchewan from banning firearm and handgun ownership through bylaws.

“We will take every opportunity to ensure the status quo does remain. This isn’t federal jurisdiction. They have chosen to make the decision to move forward on, essentially, a firearm ban that is expanding day-by-day by stealth on their website,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said at the time.

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Read more: Changes to Bill 194 prevent Saskatchewan municipalities from banning firearms

Still, Blair tiptoed around questions of provincial jurisdiction on Wednesday as he was pressed on the pushback to potential municipal handgun bans.

“I have heard from a number of provinces who appear to be very concerned with their constitutional authorities and jurisdiction. And I certainly respect that. And we’re not suggesting we intend in any way to go around them,” Blair said.

“But I will also suggest that all three orders of government have as their first priority and responsibility, the safety of their citizens. And I think it’s incumbent upon us all to work together to address our citizens’ concerns about their safety and particularly gun violence.”

Click to play video 'PM Justin Trudeau unveils new legislation to crack down on gun violence' PM Justin Trudeau unveils new legislation to crack down on gun violence
PM Justin Trudeau unveils new legislation to crack down on gun violence – Feb 17, 2021

Trudeau also announced on Tuesday that the federal government is launching a long-promised buyback program for what he called “assault” or “assault-style” firearms.

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The buyback program comes as a part of a number of new gun control measures the Liberals pledged to implement in the 2019 election. The government took one step closer towards fulfilling this promise in May, when they implemented an executive order in the wake of the largest mass shooting in Canadian history in April. That order changed the classification of listings to prohibit around 1,500 “assault-style” weapons.

Meanwhile, automatic firearms are already prohibited in Canada – as are high-capacity magazines.

Terminology like “assault-style” or “assault rifle” isn’t actually legal classifications in Canada, but is used colloquially by gun control advocates and the government to describe the type of high-capacity, quick-fire guns targeted by the ban.

When faced with the reality of gun violence, however, it becomes apparent that these kinds of guns are not the ones being used most frequently to commit violent crimes. According to Statistics Canada, the vast majority of gun-related homicides between 2014 and 2018 were undertaken using a handgun.

The next most commonly used guns are rifles or shotguns – but between 2014 and 2018, these weapons were used in 20 to 28 per cent of homicides – compared to at least 60 per cent of homicides having been committed using a handgun in each of those same years.

— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly

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