The Liberals have dismissed a Conservative offer to quickly pass parts of the federal government’s new gun-crime bill, provided that the legislation is split in a way that sets aside more contentious elements for a thorough review.
Conservative MP and public-safety critic Rachel Dancho moved a motion Thursday afternoon seeking unanimous consent to break up Bill C-21 into two parts, by hiving out measures that have “broad” support from the remaining provisions that are more divisive. The short motion does not detail all of the sections that the Conservatives would support, but mentions “curbing domestic violence and tackling the flow of guns over the Canada-U.S. border” as examples.
The Conservatives also raised the idea during Thursday’s Question Period, but Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland brushed off the offer as “posturing” and said the government was not interested.
“We will never water down our measures on gun control,” she said. “I’ll tell you what is entirely insincere: The Conservatives’ fake concern for Canadians who are victims of gun violence.”
After her motion was rejected, Ms. Dancho issued a statement accusing the Liberals of “selfish” political theatre: “It is clear the Trudeau government cares more about headlines and demonizing Canada’s sport shooters than keeping our communities safe from gun violence,” she said.
Gun control has been a topic of renewed debate after mass shootings last month in Buffalo, in which an 18-year-old shooter killed 10 Black residents in a grocery store using an AR-15-style rifle, and in Uvalde, Tex., where a shooter of the same age using the same type of firearm killed 19 children and two teachers.
Introduced last month, C-21 proposes a freeze on the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns within Canada and would prevent individuals from bringing newly-acquired handguns into the country. Existing handgun owners would be allowed to keep their firearms.
The gun-control legislation would create a new “red flag” law that could require a person deemed by a court to be a threat to themselves or others to surrender their firearms to police. It would also require the revocation of firearms licenses from people who have committed domestic violence or criminal harassment, as well as prevent individuals with an existing or prior restraining orders from obtaining a license.
The bill also would increase maximum penalties for certain firearms-related offences from 10 to 14 years, including for certain crimes related to firearms trafficking. In addition to the measures in C-21, the Liberals also plan to require that long-gun magazines be permanently altered so that they cannot hold more than five rounds at a time.
The first round of debate on C-21 in the House of Commons was scheduled to take place late Thursday evening.
Separately on Thursday, the Liberal government moved a motion to shut down debate on another crime-related bill, C-5, which would repeal a wide range of provisions in the Criminal Code that set mandatory-minimum lengths for prison sentences, limiting judicial discretion.
Bill C-5 was introduced in December and is essentially the same as a government bill that was introduced but not passed in the previous session of Parliament. The Conservatives have accused the government of hypocrisy on gun crime, stating that removing mandatory minimums related to gun crimes with C-5 runs counter to the Liberal vow to crack down on gun crime with C-21.
In introducing Bill C-5, which would remove mandatory-minimum sentences for 14 Criminal Code offences and all mandatory minimums in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Liberals said it aims to root out systemic racism by addressing the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and other members of marginalized communities. The government pointed to data showing that Black and other racialized offenders were more likely to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by a mandatory-minimum penalty.
Earlier this year, Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinder said Indigenous women now account for half of the female population in federal penitentiaries, a situation he called “shocking and shameful.”
Bill C-5 would overturn many mandatory-minimum provisions that were enacted by prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. The Supreme Court of Canada raised concerns with such provisions in a 2016 ruling, cautioning that they can often be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
Then-chief justice Beverley McLachlin, who authored a pair of rulings that stuck down some of the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime laws, had advised Parliament to either narrow the scope of such sentences or provide judicial discretion to allow for a lesser sentence “where the mandatory minimum would be grossly disproportionate and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”
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