Canadian Gun Laws: Controversial Definition of Prohibited Firearm

OTTAWA –

The Liberal government sparked applause and outrage on Tuesday by proposing an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm for inclusion in gun control legislation being studied by a House of Commons committee.

The measure, introduced during the clause-by-clause review of the bill, responds to pleas from proponents of stricter gun laws who want a definition enshrined in law. It would build on a federal legal ban on many types of firearms two years ago.

Nathalie Provost, spokeswoman for the gun control group PolySeSouvient, called the planned change “another critical step toward a comprehensive and permanent ban on assault weapons in Canada.”

She said while the group has yet to analyze the definition and real-world effect, the preliminary assessment is that it “would cover most if not all conventional assault weapons.”

Conservative MPs on the public safety committee were quick to denounce the proposed definition, saying it would expand the existing statutory ban by banning a wide range of semi-automatic firearms.

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho characterized the measure as “an all-out war on fighters” in Canada.

“The Liberal government wants to ban almost all semi-automatic shotguns and rifles with this amendment. So we are talking about bird hunters – bird hunters use semi-automatic shotguns,” she said.

“I’m pretty shocked.”

In May 2020, the government announced by order in council a ban on more than 1,500 models and variants of what it considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.

It said these guns were designed to kill people and had no place in hunting or target shooting.

The Liberals are planning a mandatory buyback program to provide compensation to affected owners and businesses.

However, supporters of the ban have repeatedly expressed concern about manufacturers circumventing the regulations by introducing new models.

Gun control advocates said that is why an evergreen definition of an assault-style firearm should be included in the legislation.

The definition was not in the bill tabled by the Liberals last spring, but the government indicated it would be added before the legislation reached a final vote.

Liberal MP Paul Chiang, who served as a police officer for years, told the committee on Tuesday that he had seen firsthand “the damage that assault weapons can do to our communities”.

“I hope everyone will support these amendments to create a more comprehensive definition of a prohibited firearm and improve the public safety of all Canadians,” he said.

The proposed amendment will be discussed further when the committee resumes review of the bill on Thursday.

Liberal MP Pam Damoff, the parliamentary secretary to Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino, said the definition will ensure Canada has a fair and consistent standard for what constitutes an assault weapon, and that there will be no loopholes for gun manufacturers.

“While conservative politicians want to legalize assault weapons again, we remain resolute in our work to make our communities safer,” she said in a statement.

When the bill was introduced earlier this year, the Liberals announced a plan to introduce a freeze on the import, purchase, sale or otherwise transfer of handguns to help stop gun-related violence.

Federal regulations aimed at limiting the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect.

The bill contains measures that would strengthen the small arms freeze. It would also allow for the revocation of firearms licenses from those committing domestic violence or engaging in criminal harassment, such as stalking, and increase maximum sentences for gun smuggling and trafficking from 10 to 14 years.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 22, 2022.

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