Amid a Wave of Mass Shootings in the U.S., Canada Tightens Gun Laws

It was an unusually hectic week of announcements and news from Canada: a freeze on handgun sales and transfers; the introduction of a gun reform bill that includes a buyback of “military-style assault rifles”; another damning report on sexual misconduct in the military with a road map for ending it; decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of opioids and other illegal drugs in British Columbia; and a vote in Ontario that returned its Progressive Conservative government to power.

Canada’s freeze on handguns will not require Parliament’s approval.Credit…Jesse Winter/Reuters

[Read: Canada Plans to Ban Handgun Sales and Possession of Assault Weapons]

[Read: Canada’s Military, Where Sexual Misconduct Went to the Top, Looks for a New Path]

[Read: Canada Decriminalizes Opioids and Other Drugs in British Columbia]

Last week in this newsletter, my colleague Vjosa Isai discussed how little Canada knows about the source of its so-called ghost guns problem.

[In Case You Missed It: What Canada Doesn’t Know About Its Guns]

Given the sweeping gun measures announced this week, let’s stay with the topic.

Two of the government’s plans dominated the news. First, Canada moved immediately to freeze the selling, gifting, trading and importing of handguns. It’s not a ban, but it does mean that the number of handguns legally owned by Canadians outside of the military and the police will not increase from the estimated 900,000 owned now.

The other attention-grabber was the government’s decision to follow up on its earlier ban of military-style assault rifles with a mandatory buyback program.

The proposed legislation, however, goes beyond the freeze and the ban. It would strip people of their firearms licenses if they had been involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment, increase penalties for firearms offenses and require people whom a judge has found to be a threat to themselves or others to turn over their guns to the police.

The announcement, made late on Monday, followed several recent mass shootings in the United States, particularly the devastating attack on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last week. As of Friday, some 20 mass shootings had taken place over nine days in that country, a rate of more than two a day.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the horrific killings when he announced the proposals. But given the complexity of introducing any government bill to Parliament, it’s unlikely that the current proposal was put together after the Uvalde shooting.

One point somewhat lost in the shuffle is that the handgun freeze won’t need Parliament’s approval. It was already put into effect through a relatively brief series of changes to the Firearms Act.

(My colleague Max Fisher wrote an explainer contrasting how the Parliament in Canada has acted quickly on gun control while the United States Congress has remained gridlocked on the issue for a decade.)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited recent horrific shootings when he announced gun proposals this week.Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

The government plans to have formal guidance for gun owners, gun shops and the small number of people exempt from the new rules (including Olympic and Paralympic athletes) within the next few weeks. Given the time lag involved in obtaining a firearms license, the government also hopes to prevent people who don’t already hold licenses from stocking up on guns last minute before the new directives go into effect.

At least one aspect of gun laws is not changing: the rules that basically limit handgun use to target practice at an approved firing range. At home, handgun owners must continue to keep their weapons locked up.

And it’s still illegal to use a handgun against another person in any circumstance. The farmer who shot and killed Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Saskatchewan, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in 2018, but was still fined 3,900 Canadian dollars and placed under a 10-year ban on gun ownership for improper firearm storage.

This week’s proposed legislation and change to the handgun rules were praised by multiple gun control groups.

“There is no ‘right to own’ guns in this country,” Wendy Cukier, the president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said in a statement. “Legal handguns are a significant source of handguns used in crime and are the guns most often used in mass shootings.”

But Raquel Dancho, the Conservative member of Parliament who speaks for the party on public safety matters, criticized the bill on Twitter, saying it doesn’t deal with what she views as the “the root cause of gun violence in our cities: illegal guns smuggled into Canada by criminal gangs.” (Just over a year ago, the Canada Border Services Agency announced a joint task force with its counterpart in the United States to stem the cross-border flow of guns.)

Many people welcomed the changes but urged the government to go even further. John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, called for a national ban on handguns.

There’s no way of knowing if the handgun freeze and the assault weapon buyback program will affect gun crimes and gun-related suicides. A review of international firearms legislation, prepared by the public safety department’s research division in 2020 and released under access-to-information laws, found “little to no quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of firearm buyback programs in reducing firearm violence.”

And a study released last November by Dr. Caillin Langmann of the medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that “while there may be an association between legislation and a reduction in suicide rate by firearms, overall suicide rates remained unaffected due to substitution into other methods.”

Many people pushing for tighter gun control also noted that women are disproportionately affected by gun crimes.

“The presence of guns is our first indicator that fatal intimate partner violence is a high risk,” Amanda Dale, a family lawyer in Brampton, Ontario, said in a statement in response to the gun reform bill. “For those who feel today their privileges have been scaled back, I would remind them that this is not the same as being stalked, threatened and killed by the person who is supposed to love you.”

Trans Canada

“Talugaq’s No Point of Returning” by Ningiukulu Teevee, a storyteller and graphic artist at Kinngait Studios known for her striking ravens and owls.Credit…Brendan George Ko for The New York Times
  • Patricia Leigh Brown traveled to Kinngait on Baffin Island in Nunavut to meet with the artists of the Kinngait Studios. “That a place of significant challenges, from poverty to suicide, has evolved into a ‘Florence of the North’ is a proud fact of life here,” she wrote. “Artists comprise roughly a quarter of the community and largely learn by observation, mentored by elders and family members.” Brendan George Ko contributed some outstanding photography from the community of artists.

  • Katie Yu, a 16-year-old attending Inuksuk High School in Nunavut, is one of 10 winners of a profile contest for students run by The New York Times’s Learning Network. In her piece, she told the story of Heather Shilton, the director of Nunavut Nukkiksautiit Corporation, Nunavut’s first entirely Inuit-owned renewable energy developer.

  • Some Americans on international trips are bypassing the United States’ requirement for negative Covid test results to board flights by first traveling to Canada and then returning home at a land crossing.

  • Two brands of organic strawberries may be to blame for an outbreak of hepatitis A in Canada and the United States.

  • Christopher Clarey, The Times’s tennis expert, examined the playing style of Leylah Fernandez, the teenage tennis star from Montreal, as she advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open. (Because of an injury, however, she didn’t make it past that stage.)

  • The Frugal Traveler column features several spots in Canada in a list of destinations for the budget-minded traveler interested in wine, culture, food and the outdoors.

Ian Austen is a native of Windsor, Ontario, and was educated in Toronto. He lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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