The government has withdrawn a controversial amendment to its proposed firearm legislation — one that critics warned could have restricted access to hunting rifles.
The Liberal amendment to gun law reform Bill C-21, which was tabled in a committee meeting in November, faced questions about how far it would have expanded the scope of weapons that are prohibited in Canada.
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The move prompted criticism from across the political spectrum, including from members of the NDP who said it would unfairly impact Indigenous hunters and rural Canadians, as well as from numerous hunters including the Montreal Canadiens star Carey Price, who called the proposed legislation “unjust.”
During a House of Commons public safety committee meeting on Friday, the Liberals brought forward a motion that the beleaguered amendment be “withdrawn.”
All members of the committee agreed, and the change was carried.
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The move follows weeks of “considerable discussion” about the best way to move forward with the firearms restrictions, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a Friday statement.
“There have been legitimate concerns raised about the need for more consultation and debate on this vital part of the bill,” he wrote.
“We hear those concerns loud and clear, regret the confusion that this process has caused and are committed to a thoughtful and respectful conversation that is based on facts, not fear.”
This issue, he wrote, is an “emotional one.”
“Canadians are counting on us to get it right. More discussions, including with Indigenous communities, are crucial,” Mendicino said.
“The government’s intent is to focus on AR-15s and other assault-style weapons – not guns commonly used for hunting. Hunting isn’t just a proud Canadian tradition, it’s a way of life for communities across this country. Bill C-21 isn’t about targeting hunters, it’s about certain guns that are too dangerous in other contexts.”
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In a tweet issued just moments after he consented to the motion, NDP MP Alistair MacGregor called the amendment’s removal a “great development”
“The work on #C21 was completely derailed by these problematic amendments,” he said.
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Conservative MP Raquel Dancho, who sits on the public safety committee, called the Liberal move to drop the amendment “temporary.”
“We fully believe that (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau will ultimately continue to attempt to ban hunting rifles in Canada,” Dancho said.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre echoed his MP’s concerns in a press conference Friday morning, shortly after the amendment was dropped.
“Trudeau desperately wanted to ban hunting rifles,” he said.
“Today’s humiliating climbdown that we have forced Trudeau to make is a temporary pause in his plan to ban hunting rifles.”
Poilievre suggested the Liberals only dropped the amendment because they got “caught.”
“We will not let up,” he said.
“If, God forbid, he ever got a majority, Trudeau would ban hunting rifles…he would ram it through.”
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Two months ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on his way into a cabinet meeting that he had “no plans” to drop his legislative push to enshrine a legal definition for “assault-style” firearms — a term that isn’t currently defined in Canadian law, despite being regularly used by Liberal politicians.
Automatic assault weapons are already prohibited in Canada.
However, Trudeau said at the time that he was open to “fine-tuning” his proposed legislation to reflect the criticisms he’s heard.
“The definition is something that we are very much committed to. But the actual list that goes with it, that’s something that we’re consulting on right now,” Trudeau.
“Because we understand that there are concerns by hunters and farmers that we’re going after their shotguns and rifles. We are not. And that’s what we’re going to make sure with fine-tuning of the legislation.”
The federal government in November had proposed amending its gun control bill to define what an “assault-style” weapon is. It included a clause that would ban any rifle or shotgun that could potentially accept a magazine with more than five rounds.
It builds on a regulatory ban of more than 1,500 models of what the government considers “assault-style” firearms last year.
The proposed reforms have reopened the debate about what firearms should be prohibited, restricted or non-restricted in the country. There have also been concerns about whether the criteria used to make those decisions are being consistently applied, as the definition applies only to some variations of certain models, depending on bore diameter and muzzle energy.
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While some celebrated the decision to drop the amendment, others were deeply critical of the move.
Nathalie Provost, a mass shooting survivor and spokeswoman for gun-control group PolySeSouvient, said she was “shocked” by the move.
“It is clear that the misinformation propagated by Conservative MPs and the gun lobby has won,” says Provost, who was shot four times during the rampage at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989.
She called for the controversial amendment, as well as a second one dropped from the bill in the same motion, to be reintroduced. The Bloc Quebecois, Provost added, should support this push.
“The government needs only one opposition party to deliver on their promise to ban assault weapons and it would be unthinkable for the Bloc not to collaborate in this regard.”
Meanwhile, a lobbyist for the pro-gun group Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights took to Twitter to call the decision “a small win in a bigger battle.”
“It’s imperative we crush #C21 in its entirety. The Liberals are retreating, now is the perfect time to push forward and #ScrapC21 altogether,” Tracey Wilson wrote in a tweet.
“Good work. Now, let’s refocus and scrap it all.”