With the government reportedly days from introducing new bans on assault rifles in Canada, other gun control measures passed through Parliament will likely have to wait to be put into force until after a federal budget is passed.
CBC News reported Wednesday night that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was reviewing a list of firearms to add to those that are illegal in Canada after a man in Nova Scotia killed 22 people in a longer than half-day rampage across multiple towns in the province less than two weeks ago.
The prime minister avoided addressing whether he was looking over a list on Thursday, instead reaffirming that his government would expeditiously increase gun control when asked about it at his daily press conference.
“We will have more to say on this when we make an announcement around what we’re doing to strengthen gun control in the coming days,” Trudeau said.
A spokesperson in the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declined to comment on reports as well.
Blair is the member of the federal cabinet responsible for firearm legislation, and was assigned a collection of tasks on gun control that included bringing into force a ban on “military-style assault rifles” when he was appointed at the helm of Public Safety Canada.
Blair hasn’t yet made headway on that list – or finished the job of putting in place regulations passed as part of Bill C-71, which was gun legislation passed by the government in the previous Parliament.
There are more than 30 amendments to the Firearms Act that are not in force, which were passed in Bill C-71, which enhanced background checks, made retailers keep more stringent records on gun sales and modified rules around transporting weapons.
Included in the not-yet-instated laws is a requirement that anyone applying for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) — which would-be gun owners in Canada need before purchasing a firearm — undergo a background check for any past behaviour that would suggest they pose “a risk of harm to any person.”
The RCMP is still investing how the Nova Scotia shooter acquired the guns that he used, but had the pending amendments of Bill C-71 been in place and he had applied for a PAL, a past assault charge would have been flagged and prevented him from being able to buy a gun legally.
The shooter was given a conditional discharge and nine months probation for the 2001 assault.
The reasons why Bill C-71 hasn’t been put into force in its entirety relate primarily to the logistics of government, according to Blair and his office.
Responding to questions about why the bill’s amendments hadn’t yet been made official through a cabinet order, Blair’s office gave a deeper explanation into reasons he told iPolitics about two months ago – that “there are regulatory and budget issues” that needed to be addressed.
According to Blair’s office, though it’s been longer than 10 months since Bill C-71 received Royal Assent, changes need to be made to agencies’ online licensing functions, including to the Canadian Firearms Information System, which is where the RCMP keeps data about guns and their owners. Manuals, procedures and communications products all still need to be reviewed as well, Blair’s office said.
To make these changes, Public Safety is banking on securing funding (an exact amount wasn’t shared by Blair’s office) in the next federal budget.
Elliot Hughes, who was a policy advisor in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office from 2015 to 2018, said that it’s common for bills to be reliant on upcoming budgets to come to into implementation in entirety and that because of the timing of the passage of Bill C-71 that it makes sense in this case.
“With the bill having been wrapped up after receiving Royal Assent after last year’s budget, there are still some outstanding pieces that needed funding as they’ve laid out,” Hughes said. “And, you know, the Budget Implementation Act is one way of securing that funding for different departments to make sure that they follow through on legislation that has passed – whether it be last year or years before.”
Blair’s office said it was in discussions with Finance Canada about securing funding. The government planned to table this year’s budget on March 30 but had to delay when the parliamentary scheduled was derailed due to COVID-19. The government hasn’t announced a new date for tabling the budget.
“The provisions in former Bill C-71 related to license verification, eligibility, vendor record-keeping and transportation will come into force through Orders-in Council once the necessary administrative changes have been made, funding has been approved and the associated regulations have been tabled in Parliament for review,” an email from a member of Blair’s staff said.
Since the Nova Scotia shooting, Blair and Trudeau have both repeatedly stressed their intention to move forward with their party’s promises on gun control.
Trudeau has said his government was “almost ready” to introduce its assault rifle ban before COVID-19 consumed Parliament’s attention. Trudeau has also said that outlawing military-style weapons is the next gun measure the government plans to advance.
It’s unclear when the government will be able to introduce that legislation since the House has agreed to focus strictly on COVID-19 in its rapid reshaping due to the pandemic.
Blair’s mandate letter says an “associated buyback program” would be introduced with any assault rifle ban. In the re-election platform, the Liberals carved out $250 million to complete this promise.
The Trudeau government has also promised to give municipalities the ability to put their own limitations on handguns, and update storage and licensing requirements for firearms.