New federal gun control legislation 'virtue signalling,' Sask. premier says

Premier Scott Moe is criticizing new gun control legislation tabled this week by the federal government that would put a national freeze on the sale of handguns in Canada.

Scott Moe criticizes legislation that would put a national freeze on the sale of handguns

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the new gun control laws would target law-abiding citizens. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is criticizing new gun control legislation tabled this week by the federal government that would put a national freeze on the sale of handguns in Canada.

"This is … nothing more than really virtue signalling by the federal government that we see time and time and time again, regardless of the topic," Moe said on Tuesday.

"It's extremely problematic because it absolutely appears to be going after those that own firearms, but do so legally and are following all of the rules and regulations that are in place." 

The proposed legislation would effectively limit the number of handguns in Canada by freezing the purchase, sale, importation and transfer of handguns in the country.

The federal government would also begin buying back thousands of banned assault-style weapons before the end of the year under the new legislation.

The federal government previously proposed working with provinces and territories to put restrictions on handguns. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government abandoned that idea after consultations.

Other measures in the legislation include taking away firearms licences from those involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment, increasing criminal penalties for smuggling and trafficking of firearms, and a "red flag" law which would require people deemed a threat to themselves or others to turn in their firearms to law enforcement.

It also would increase the maximum penalty for offences under the law, such as illegally owning, acquiring or manufacturing a firearm, from 10 years imprisonment to 14.

The bill has been welcomed by the Coalition for Gun Control, a group founded in the wake of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

"This proposed law will strengthen screening processes for gun licences with a particular focus on risk factors associated with domestic violence, but also suicide and hate crimes," Wendy Cukier, the group's president and a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, said in a media statement Monday.

But Moe said the only proposal he would support is increasing fines and penalties for those "committing property crime, where they're stealing a weapon or a firearm, or those that are using a weapon or a firearm in said property crime."

The proposed legislation is intended as a distraction from another bill to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, Moe argued.

He appeared to be referring to Bill C-5, federal legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties for 14 of the 67 offences in the Criminal Code that currently carry them — 13 for firearms offences and one for a tobacco offence.

The bill also would eliminate all six mandatory minimums for offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 

The mandatory minimum penalties would remain for murder, high treason, impaired driving and sexual offences, as well as a number of firearms offences.

Moe said he's asked his justice minister to look at ways the province could counteract these proposals.

"In Saskatchewan, we have increased property crime. Some would call it rural crime, but I would say it's also in urban centres," Moe said.

"We know that that's fuelled by largely addictions. We are putting in place the pathways for those folks that are struggling with addictions to find a way to a better life," the premier said.

He also said that in cases where people are committing a property crime with a weapon, or stealing a firearm, "we need to ensure that they are held to account."

With files from Richard Raycraft and The Canadian Press


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