OTTAWA — Two prominent gun-control groups are urging the Liberal government to proceed without delay in drafting regulations that will flesh out firearm legislation being reviewed by the Senate.
They say in a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino that it could "cost lives" if the government allows the process to drag on for years.
The letter, dated May 29, is signed by Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of PolySeSouvient, and Ken Price, spokesperson for Danforth Families for Safer Communities.
The groups also lay out several detailed recommendations for crafting regulations on the future classification of firearms, a ban on large-capacity magazines, a national handgun freeze and protection orders to assist victims of domestic violence.
In addition, they want the government to follow through on a commitment to toughen regulations on storage of guns by owners and retailers to prevent firearm theft.
In an interview, Mendicino said the immediate priority is getting the bill through the Senate so it can receive royal assent before Parliament's summer break.
"First things first. Let's get the bill passed," he said.
"I am going to spare no effort. This has been my top legislative objective since taking on the role of minister of public safety."
The bill, known as C-21, would enshrine a national freeze on handguns into law, increase penalties for firearm trafficking, move to curb homemade ghost guns and usher in new measures to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The legislation also includes a ban on assault-style firearms that fall under a new technical definition. It would apply to such guns designed and manufactured after the bill comes into force.
The Conservatives opposed the bill in the House of Commons, saying it penalizes law-abiding firearm owners while failing to tackle actual gun crime.
Mendicino expects similar resistance from Tories in the upper chamber. "They want to do everything they possibly can to stall this legislation, and we can't let that happen."
PolySeSouvient and Danforth Families, groups formed following deadly shootings, are concerned the bill might not take full effect for years after its passage.
They point to a previous, more modest Liberal gun-control bill, C-71. Though it was adopted in 2019, enabling regulations did not emerge until two years later and the measures came fully into effect only in 2022.
"Such a long delay is unacceptable as it can not only cause devastating injuries and trauma to more victims of gun violence and cost lives, but also radically change the scope and impact of the legislative measures," the letter says.
"We strongly urge that the government proceed with a sense of urgency to draft and adopt these new regulations so that they coincide as much as possible with the coming into force of Bill C-21 and will take effect before the next federal election."
The government proposes to use existing regulation-making authorities under the Firearms Act to close a regulatory gap that allows a gun entering the Canadian market to potentially be misclassified, meaning appropriate restrictions would not be placed on the firearm.
The government says the new system would ensure it is aware of the presence of new makes and models of firearms before they are available for sale and that classifications are applied correctly.
In their letter, the gun-control groups say a preauthorization process "for dangerous products like guns should have been in place a long time ago."
However, they fear the proposed system won't be rigorous enough. "An effective pre-authorization process aimed at preventing misclassifications must include mandatory physical inspection by the RCMP before manufacturers can introduce a new model on the Canadian market," the letter says.
Mendicino said details would be worked out "at the operational level," and he tried to play down concerns.
"We are saying to manufacturers, you also have a role to play in keeping our community safe from gun violence by working with law enforcement to ensure the proper classification of new firearms before they make their way onto the market."
The government intends to update regulations regarding large-capacity magazines to require the permanent alteration of long-gun magazines so they can never hold more than five rounds and to ban the sale or transfer of magazines capable of holding more than the legal number of bullets.
Mendicino said the government would do so "by this summer."
The letter from the groups cautions that in order to achieve a true ban on large-capacity magazines, the government needs to "close all the loopholes and exemptions in the current regulations," adding the planned measures should apply to handguns, not just long guns.
With respect to the freeze on new handgun purchases, PolySeSouvient and Danforth Families also want regulations that prevent the possible abuse of an exemption for Olympic shooters and limit expansion of the handgun market through commercial acquisitions by gun clubs.
The bill says the exemption applies to those training, competing or coaching in an Olympic or Paralympic handgun shooting discipline.
"We need clear criteria for what constitutes qualification as an Olympic handgun shooting discipline competitor, prospect or coach, as anyone can claim to be interested in participating in being part of an Olympic team," the letter says.
"It is important to prevent individuals from disingenuously using this program to gain access to handguns, which they may be authorized to keep for life unless a stronger measure is adopted."
Mendicino said in the interview there is a "need to carefully tailor the exemptions" on handguns.
The Liberal government says the bill is just one element of its efforts against gun-related crime, citing the importance of keeping young people on the right path. It is proclaiming a National Day Against Gun Violence, to be held annually on the first Friday of June.
"It will spark conversations across the country, particularly among young people," Mendicino said. "We have to take a comprehensive approach to reducing gun crime."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press