Bill C-21, introduced by the Liberal Government on May 30, 2022, has caused much consternation, confusion, and division among Canadians. I want to take this opportunity to lay out the facts and correct some of the misinformation that has been shared about this legislation.
As you may know, I was proud to serve as the NDP Critic for Public Safety and National Security from late-2021 until early February 2023.
I voted in favour of Bill C-21 at Third Reading. The bill has now been sent to the Senate, where they will hopefully consider some of the amendments we were unsuccessful at passing in the House of Commons. Below I will go over the reasons why I ultimately came to the decision to support this bill after much thought, examination, and careful consideration. I have spoken extensively on this bill at Report stage and at Third Reading stage.
First – and I want to make this abundantly clear in no uncertain terms – current makes and models of rifles and shotguns owned and used by hunters, farmers, and Indigenous communities will not be impacted by Bill C-21. The controversial Liberal Government amendments (G-4 and G-46) that were presented to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) without warning at the 11th hour, were withdrawn. I made a lengthy intervention at SECU in this regard back in December, which can be read here. As I stated, the way the Liberals proceeded with this bill is an excellent lesson for future governments to take on how not to craft sound public policy in the best interest of Canadians.
It is important to repeat that the controversial amendments were withdrawn from the bill in February. Despite the misinformation being spread by Conservative Members of Parliament, here is the actual text in Bill C-21:
In the new section that is going to add to the definition of a prohibited firearm, which can be seen on Page 2 of the bill in its current form, it states that:
(1.1) The definition prohibited firearm in subsection 84(1) of the Act is amended by striking out 15 “or” at the end of paragraph (c), by adding “or” at the end of paragraph (d) and by adding the following after paragraph (d):
(e) a firearm that is not a handgun and that
(i) discharges centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner,
(ii) was originally designed with a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more, and
(iii) is designed and manufactured on or after the day on which this paragraph comes into force.
Many people miss or misread the last point, but it is the key part. Bill C-21 does not affect current makes and models, nor does it criminalize the people who own them. In other words, the semiautomatic rifles and shotguns that are currently owned and used by hunters, farmers, and Indigenous communities are not touched by this bill – I made sure of that as your MP.
I also want to correct the record on the misinformation being spread about the proposed Firearms Advisory Committee, and I want to share a portion of my Third Reading speech:
“The Conservatives say that the Minister is going to bring this back and staff it with Liberal appointees, who are going to make suggestions about what firearms should be prohibited and then act on the suggestions. I have a news flash for my Conservative colleagues. This is a power that the government already has. It does not need a firearms advisory committee.
Under the existing section 84(1) of the Criminal Code, the government can change the definition of what a prohibited firearm is when it mentions “any firearm that is prescribed to be a prohibited firearm”. “Prescribed” is the key word there, because that means it can be done by cabinet decree. All this ballyhoo over a firearms advisory council, as well as all the hoopla that we have heard in this House about the dangers of that council coming into being, is a complete red herring. It is smoke and mirrors. This is a power the government already has.
In fact, I would rebut them on that argument by saying that if the minister currently has that power to do this unilaterally through an order in council cabinet decree, would it not be a good thing to have an advisory council to at least talk to the minister about how maybe that would not be a good idea? If we can ensure that the advisory council has indigenous representation, representation from the hunting community and representation from the sport shooting community, in my mind, that is a good thing. I will let them continue to say that, but they know they cannot argue with me on those facts. Again, I am reading from the bill and from existing provisions of the Criminal Code. If they are going to try to muddy the waters, they can try to argue their way out of it, but the facts cannot be changed.”
There are some important changes that happened at SECU that I’m proud of. In total, I worked on 21 amendments. Sadly, only five of them passed; a few were voted on and defeated, and many more were ruled non-voteable due to corresponding amendments prioritized earlier within the same clause of the bill.
We have accomplished much in correcting the most egregious parts of the bill, and we should celebrate getting a solid win for the Airsoft community. My amendment, NDP-0.1, sought to delete the offending clause of the bill classifying airsoft rifles as prohibited items, was successfully passed at SECU.
My amendments NDP-1 and NDP-3 were also passed by the committee, dealing with protection orders. The National Association of Women in the Law has endorsed the bill for all the changes that were made to make women safer from domestic violence where the presence of a firearm is a danger. PolySeSouvient, Doctors for the Protection from Guns, and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians also called for these changes. These are important changes, and an important improvement to the bill introduced last May by the Liberals, and they often get overshadowed by the sound and fury over other parts of the bill.
I was also proud to see my amendment NDP-4 adopted. This amendment provides the legal ability for medical professionals to report when they consider someone in possession of a firearm to be a potential danger to themselves or others. Doctors for Protection from Guns and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians both pleaded for this measure. Doctors who testified felt they do not currently have sufficient protection under the law (outside of Quebec) not to be found in violation of doctor-patient confidentiality. My amendment enshrined this protection so that doctors can report when a person may be a danger to themself or others.
I am disappointed we didn’t pass our amendment to exempt sport-shooters from the handgun freeze, but we made a real try of it. On June 1, 2022, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement on their website regarding Bill C-21: “We believe that a handgun freeze is one method of reducing access to these types of firearms, while allowing existing law-abiding handgun owners to practice their sport.” Despite one of the Liberal MPs giving a speech in support of my amendment, he abstained from the vote when the time came, resulting in a tie, which the Liberal Chair broke by voting with the government to defeat the amendment. Rest assured; we are looking at other avenues to continue pursuing this exemption.
Much of the blame for Bill C-21’s problematic legislative journey lays squarely at the feet of the Liberals. They introduced the bill as a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, one week after that tragedy. It was an incomplete project, an unfinished thought. They reacted to a public tragedy and attempted to turn it into a political opportunity. Had it not been for this monumental legislative fumbling, issues like Government Amendments G-4 and G-46 would never have been an issue that derailed the entire Committee stage process of the bill. They attempted to rewrite their own legislation at the 11th hour because they failed the test of thoughtfulness and thoroughness to develop sound public policy in the best interest of Canadians in the first place.
I hope this helps to answer any outstanding questions you might have had regarding Bill C-21 and my position on it. I feel confident going back to the hunters, farmers and Indigenous communities in my riding and telling them that the rifles and shotguns they currently own and use are safe. I am glad we could and did force the government’s hand on this matter.