Island advocates say more restrictions on firearms will not stop gun violence

Brian Barker
Bryan Barker, a retired firearms instructor, says the current gun law is already strict and should be better enforced.

MANITOULIN—A late amendment last month to the Liberal government’s firearm bill has been widely criticized over concerns that some firearms commonly used for hunting could be included in the ban. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the amendment to Bill C-21 is about public safety and prohibits assault-style weapons that are designed to kill the largest number of people as quickly as possible.

The prime minister told reporters the government is moving forward on a ban on assault-style weapons. “We did that two years ago,” he said. “We are now enshrining it into law.”

The amendment adds an ‘evergreen’ definition of what characterizes an assault-style weapon and includes a limit on muzzle energy and bore diameter, and bans automatic rifles or shotguns designed to accept a detachable cartridge with a capacity greater than five cartridges. Part of the amendment includes a list of thousands of models of named banned firearms, many of which are commonly used for hunting or sport shooting.

The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) says the additional ban is being driven by ideology. A number of gun advocates on Manitoulin Island agree. CCFR represents many of the 2.3 million licenced gunowners in Canada, said CEO Rod Giltaca at a November 30 press conference. That includes 640,000 Canadians who are licenced to own handguns. “As I said last time, that’s not a small number. It’s not a small community either by any measure. It’s a community that is uniquely responsible and law abiding, and it’s a community under attack like no other by no fault of their own,” he said.

Firearm owners in Canada pass mandatory safety training through the RCMP Firearms Safety Program and are “extensively vetted” by the RCMP, Mr. Giltaca told reporters. “They are vetted every 24 hours thereafter through a program called continuous eligibility screening, and concealable firearms like handguns are registered by the government so the government knows where they are and who has them. This is only a small sampling of the regulations that small gun owners comply with in order to be trusted with firearms.”

It’s one of those hot topics, said Kagawong’s Bryan Barker, a retired police officer and firearms safety instructor. He feels the gun regulation that already exists as part of the Criminal Code has always been very strict and just needs to be enforced better through the courts.

“I think the government is being a little naïve to think the handgun ban or a firearm ban will do anything to control gun crime,” Mr. Barker said. “It’s not the legal firearm owners that are causing the gun problems. Unfortunately, a lot of those are based in inner city violence and gangs. I don’t think any amount of legislation is going to change that. They need to crack down on penalties for the offences that are already there.”

Mr. Barker is concerned about some of the firearms added to the prohibited list with the amendment. “It’s based on the power of the cartridge,” he said. “It’s still a bolt action sporting rifle and it just happens to be a little bit more powerful. If their intent is to curb violence whether it’s powerful or less powerful it still has the ability to harm people. It’s a little concerning that some of these sporting rifles are included in that list of what will be prohibited firearms.”

Mr. Barker believes there’s no place for some of the firearms on this list but acknowledges that some people do support those kinds of firearms. “They should not be penalized because of the actions of criminals,” he said. “That’s what they’re basing it on, the actions of criminals, and the law-abiding people are being penalized for that and I think that’s what makes it so difficult. The government’s intent may be to control gun violence but it has to target the right people to be effective.”

“Senior police officers and chiefs of police are going on record and saying the majority of firearms used in crimes are sourced illegally from the United States,” said Bill Elliott, secretary of the Manitoulin Small Handgun Association.

“In fact, the York police force said 100 percent of the illegal firearms they’d seized in the last year were all sourced from the States not from lawful firearm owners. Despite that, they’re using lawful firearm owners as a scapegoat saying we’ve got to take guns off the street. The guns that they’re taking are not the guns that are causing the problem The illegal firearm owners are the ones that don’t care about the law, they break the law with impunity.”

Mr. Elliott points to “a revolving door kind of justice system” for people who commit crimes. “They go out and commit more crimes while they’re waiting for a trial.”

The previous Harper government enacted legislation that imposed mandatory minimum sentences but many of those were struck down in Charter challenges, and the Liberal government has since removed some of those mandatory minimum sentences.

“They’re going the wrong way,” Mr. Elliot said.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters issued concerns about the potential impact of adding hundreds of models and significant cost to the proposed buyback program; the impact on hunters, as many of these firearms are used by hunters across the country; the introduction of an amendment of this magnitude at such a late stage in the process; and the lack of transparency, given there is no opportunity for individuals or groups to submit evidence on the amendments.

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare expressed concerns about the lack of consultation, especially for First Nations in the far north. “That’s their livelihood,” he said. “The size of the gun doesn’t matter. What’s next? If they lose their right to hunt with a gun up north, that’s a disaster waiting to happen. I see the dangers of guns down here but there’s a big difference in the territories of gun activity.”

Several cabinet ministers, including Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Prime Minister Trudeau, addressed the Assembly of First Nations last week. Ontario Regional Chief Hare was there. “He (Prime Minister Trudeau) didn’t give a concrete direction or advise us either way, other than saying he’ll look into it. What does that mean? That he’ll keep pushing the bill? ‘I’ll look into it’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ comments scare us all the time.”

While Ontario Regional Chief Hare acknowledged that meeting directly with ministers rather than with their staff is a step forward, he added that for consultation to be meaningful, the decision-makers need to sit down and truly listen to not only the chiefs, but the communities they come from. “We need to be consulted,” he said. “We need to be at the table. The prime minister can’t make bills or laws that affect our livelihood and then just think everything is hunky-dory. It’s not.”