The Quebec City mosque where six men were shot to death in 2017 wants Parliament to toughen and pass a gun control bill currently being studied in the House of Commons.
Boufeldja Benabdallah, a spokesman for the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, told the Commons public safety committee Thursday that the bill, known as C-21, should be amended to include a comprehensive and permanent definition of banned assault-style weapons.
“We don’t need weapons of war,” he said, adding that he wants the definition to include all military-type semi-automatic weapons “that are not reasonably used for hunting.”
Six members of the mosque were killed and five wounded on Jan. 29, 2017, when a gunman opened fire shortly after the end of evening prayers.
The federal Liberal government banned some 1,500 models and variants of firearms, including the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14, through an order-in council in May 2020 on the grounds they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.
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But gun-control advocates have since been pushing for a clear Criminal Code definition of assault-style firearms.
Benabdallah, a co-founder of the mosque, said that Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino assured him that such an amendment to the bill was coming.
“The government needs to do this and I’m confident because we discussed it verbally with Mr. Mendicino when he came to the mosque,” he said.
Bill C-21, introduced by the Liberals in May, would “freeze” the purchase, sale, transfer and importation of handguns in Canada. The importation ban has been in place since August through an interim order.
The handgun measures are part of a broader firearms-control package that would allow for the automatic 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.
Businesses could still sell handguns to exempted individuals, including elite sport shooters who compete or coach in events recognized by the international Olympic or Paralympic committees.
Sport shooting groups have called for those exemptions to be expanded.
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However, Ken Price of Danforth Families for Safe Communities told the committee he wants to see “some clarification and perhaps tightening of some of the exemptions, which I think are well meaning, but could lead to an undermining of the goal of freezing and reducing the number of handguns in the country.”
Marcell Wilson, founder of crime-prevention group One by One Movement, was more critical of the bill in his testimony Thursday.
He told the committee he doesn’t think the proposed freeze would prevent firearm incidents like one he experienced as a youth who took fire from a shooter.
“If Bill 21 had existed, or a bill like it, would it have prevented this traumatizing experience from happening to me? I strongly say that it would not ? Because I’m confident he did not use a legal firearm to shoot at us that day,” he said.
Asked by Liberal MP Pam Damoff about a donation the One by One Movement got from the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, Wilson said his group received $6,000 two years ago.
Wilson, who identified himself as a former street gang member, said he had never seen criminals obtain guns legally.
On that point, Bloc Quebecois MP Kristina Michaud said that while it is important to stop illegal weapons from entering Canada at the border, crimes are being committed with legal guns.
“We have the evidence with the witnesses who are here today that there are owners of legal guns who have committed despicable crimes,” she said.
Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee said he welcomed some of the provisions of C-21, including the fact that it would allow for a crackdown on modifications to firearms. However, he expressed reservations about the idea of a national freeze on handguns.
”In the short term, we can expect those who want to acquire (handguns) will find alternatives, increasing incidents of smuggling, 3D printing and conversion of airsoft guns,“ he said.