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Rural Liberal chair says he’s putting his faith in Blair as gun ban decision looms

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Liberal MPs from rural swing ridings have expressed concern in the past that their government's gun control agenda could cost them their seat. The chair of the Liberal rural caucus, Francis Drouin, said a handgun ban would be an 'issue' in his riding, but he trusts Organized Crime Minister Bill Blair to make the right decision.

Border Security and Organized Crime Minister Bill Blair lead a lengthy consultation on the possibility of banning handguns and assault rifles in Canada. His office says his conclusions will be made public soon. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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The chair of the Liberal rural caucus says he trusts Border and Organized Crime Minister Bill Blair to take the “right approach” as he prepares to announce whether the government will ban handguns and assault-style weapons following a lengthy consultation.  

Liberal MP Francis Drouin (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Ont.), who now chairs the Liberal rural caucus, said a handgun ban would be “an issue” in his riding, but that he trusted Mr. Blair to handle the file.

“Obviously a handgun ban is an issue in the riding. But I think Canadians understand the value of seeing how we address gun violence. I don’t know if a ban is the right question, but I trust minister blair, who is a former chief of police, who will have the right approach on this.”

Independent Senator Pierre Dalphond (De Lorimier, Que.) called on the government to ban all automatic and semi-automatic guns in a March 21 press release, pointing as an example to the New Zealand government’s move last week to ban assault-style weapons from the country in the wake of the shooting massacre of 50 Muslim people in that country by a white supremacist. Gun control advocacy group PolySeSouvient said in a March 22 press release that the action by New Zealand’s government highlighted “the appalling lack of political courage exhibited so far by the Liberal government in response to the 2017 [terrorist shooting] tragedy at the Quebec Mosque.”

Fully automatic guns are already prohibited in Canada, meaning they can only be possessed even by licensed gun owners in limited circumstances. The Quebec Mosque shooter used a semi-automatic rifle to kill six people. Both the Quebec Mosque shooter and the New Zealand shooter were white men, openly racist, who used semi-automatic rifles to murder Muslims. 

Liberal MPs from rural ridings have expressed concern in the past about the government’s gun control initiatives, including Mr. Blair’s (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) consultations on possibly banning handguns and assault weapons, and Bill C-71, which would also extensively reform existing gun control rules. A Liberal MP told The Hill Times a year ago on a not-for-attribution basis that Bill C-71—which has since advanced to committee stage in the Senate—was “scaring the hell out of” Liberal MPs, particularly those from rural ridings. Multiple sources told The Hill Times at the time that former Liberal rural caucus chair T.J. Harvey was rebuked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) when he raised those concerns in a caucus meeting.

Liberal MP Francis Drouin is his party’s rural caucus chair. Gun owners have a strong presence in many of the rural ridings that Liberal MPs represent. The Hill Times file photograph

National Firearms Association president Sheldon Clare says his organization will try to rally members and supporters in 22 vulnerable Liberal ridings to defeat the incumbents in favour of Conservative MPs. The Conservative Party has strongly opposed any new gun control measures.

“We think that what’s going to end up solving this will be the election,” he said.     

A spokesperson for Mr. Blair said his report would be made public “in early 2019.” Mr. Blair told the CBC in January that he had completed the consultations and hoped to bring the results before cabinet in the following two weeks.

Mr. Drouin, who won his seat in 2015 by more than 10,000 votes, said he wasn’t concerned by the NFA’s plans for the coming election campaign.

“It’s not going to change anything for me, no.”

The federal Conservatives have been highlighting Bill C-71 in Facebook ads designed to raise money from their base since the bill was introduced, and Conservative candidates in rural ridings will likely raise it with voters during the election campaign.

Mr. Clare said the NFA’s campaigning “will include organizing our representatives on the ground to encourage their members in local shooting clubs to look critically at the candidates who are presented to them.” He said the campaign would not likely include paid advertising. He declined to identify which ridings the NFA was planning to campaign in.

Mr. Clare said the NFA may urge voters to support NDP candidates in some ridings if it appears that is the best way to unseat a Liberal. He said the NFA will in no circumstances lend its support to a People’s Party of Canada candidate.

“We do not see them as viable candidates at all,” he said.

Gun bill amendments coming in early April

The government’s gun control bill, C-71, is currently before the Senate National Security Committee. Senators expect the committee will start its clause-by-clause examination of the bill during the second week of April.

Opponents of Bill C-71 concede that, like nearly all pieces of government legislation, it will ultimately pass. The Conservative Senate caucus is planning to put forward amendments to at least three parts of the bill, says the party’s critic for the bill in the Red Chamber, Conservative Senator Don Plett (Landmark, Man.): new rules around getting authorization to travel with a gun, the RCMP’s role classifying firearms, and the security of records kept under the legislation.

Bill C-71 will create a new RCMP database to hold information on who has bought and sold guns, and when they did so, though the government says it will not track information on the guns themselves. The bill will require those who sell guns to contact the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP)—a part of the RCMP—to confirm that buyers have a valid firearms license, and thus are allowed to buy and own a gun. The bill will expand background checks for those who apply for a firearms license, require gun retailers to keep records of gun sales and inventory, and restore some powers over gun travel authorizations and classification to the RCMP.

Sen. Plett said the Conservatives would prefer to see the bill scrapped, but will bring forward amendments nonetheless. He said one or more of the amendments would be related to C-71 restoring to the RCMP the power to decide how to classify firearms—as non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited, each of which is more rigorously controlled under law. The previous Conservative government under prime minister Stephen Harper changed the law to give the government the final say on those decisions. 

“We believe that that’s something that should be left to Parliament, elected officials,” said Sen. Plett.

Independent Senator André Pratte (De Salaberry, Que.) the bill’s sponsor in the Senate and another member of the Senate National Security Committee, told The Hill Times that he would not be putting forward amendments to the bill.

“The bill is a result of a balancing exercise between the need to better protect public safety, and the concerns and the privileges of gun owners, who are concerned that any new measure on gun control will impose on them an excessive burden,” said Sen. Pratte.  

“I think the government was very aware of that, so they tried to arrive at the right balance. They didn’t go as far as the gun control advocates would have liked them to do, and they went further than probably many gun owners would have wished they had done. So they decided to try to strike a balance, and I think the balance is there, frankly.”

Sen. Pratte said he has met with gun control advocates and opponents, and in December travelled with Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson (Nunavut) to Iqaluit to meet with a group of Indigenous hunters who had concerns with the bill.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

C-71: what’s in the bill

Here are some of the legal changes that will be brought in under Bill C-71,  An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms.

  • Gun retailers will be required to keep records of gun sales and inventory, something many already do. The records will belong to the gun retailers, but police will be able to access the records with a warrant if needed.
  • Gun retailers will be required to check with the RCMP, through a hotline, that gun buyers still have valid licenses, something some gun retailers already do.
    Private individuals selling or giving guns to other private individuals must also check with the RCMP that the person receiving the gun has a valid gun license.
  • The RCMP will provide gun sellers, private and retail, with a reference number as proof that the buyer’s license was validated. The RCMP will keep the reference number, licence numbers for the buyer and seller, and the date, but no data on the guns sold.
  • Background checks for those applying for a gun license will look for signs of mental illness “associated with violence,” and for criminal activity, throughout the applicant’s entire life. Background checks currently can only look back five years.
  • The RCMP is given back control over which guns fall under the different classes established by the government, each of which has different rules and restrictions.
  • Canada’s chief firearms officer will regain discretion over giving owners of restricted or prohibited guns authorization to transport them. Automatic authorization will be given to transport the weapons home from the store where they were bought, and back and forth from a shooting range.
  • The government will end a long dispute with Quebec, and provide it with old records from the long-gun registry, something the province has requested. Quebec recently established its own gun registry.

Rural ridings held by Liberals and won by five percentage points or fewer in the 2015 election

R/U=mixed, more rural than urban U/R=mixed, more urban than rural

Riding name Province Winner Riding type 2015 Margin of victory
Fundy Royal N.B. Alaina Lockhart R/U 3.8%
Hastings-Lennox and Addington Ont. Mike Bossio R/U 0.5%
Kenora Ont. Bob Nault R/U 1.6%
Northumberland-Peterborough South         Ont. Kim Rudd R/U 3.0%
St. John’s East   Nfld. Nick Whalen U/R 1.4%
Laurentides-Labelle    Que. David Graham U/R 2.4%
Saint-Jean Que. Jean Rioux U/R 4.1%
Cambridge       Ont.    Bryan May U/R 4.5%
King-Vaughan      Ont. Deb Schulte U/R 3.2%
Nickel Belt      Ont. Marc Serré U/R 5.0%
Kildonan-St. Paul   Man. MaryAnn Mihychuk U/R 2.8%
Mission–Matsqui-Fraser Canyon B.C. Jati Sidhu U/R 2.3%
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge     B.C. Dan Ruimy U/R 2.5%

Status of Government Bills

House of Commons

Second reading:

  • C-5, An Act to Repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1
  • C-12, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act
  • C-27, An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985
  • C-28, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge)
  • C-32, An Act related to the repeal of Section 159 of the Criminal Code
  • C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act
  • C-34, An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act
  • C-38, An Act to amend an Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons)
  • C-39, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions)
  • C-42, Veterans Well-being Act
  • C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy
  • C-52, Supporting Vested Rights Under Access to Information Act
  • C-56, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act
  • C-87, Poverty Reduction Act
  • C-88, An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act
  • C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth, and families
  • C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis
  • C-94, An Act respecting certain payments to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund

Committee:

  • S-6, Canada-Madagascar Tax Convention Implementation Act, 2018
  • C-91, Indigenous Languages Act

Report stage:

  • C-82, Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions Act

Third reading:

  • C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)

SENATE

Second reading:

  • C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and other Acts, and to make consequential amendments to another Act
  • C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
  • C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, and the Garnishment, Attachment, and Pension Diversion Act
  • C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act
  • C-85, An Act to amend the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act and to make related amendments to other Acts

Committee:

  • C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act
  • C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act
  • C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  • C-59, An Act respecting national security matters
  • C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act
  • C-69, An Act to amend the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act
  • C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms
  • C-81, Accessible Canada Act

Peter Mazereeuw

Peter Mazereeuw is a deputy editor for The Hill Times covering politics, legislation, and the Senate.
- peter@hilltimes.com


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