The federal government plans to fast-track a ban on the import of handguns into the country without the approval of Parliament using a regulatory measure that comes into effect in two weeks, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced Friday.
The change will last until a permanent freeze is passed in Parliament and comes into force.
The government tabled gun control legislation in May that includes a national freeze on the importation, purchase, sale and transfer of handguns in Canada.
That law did not pass before Parliament took its summer break, and is set to be debated again when MPs return to Ottawa in the fall.
In the meantime, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said she has the authority to ban any import or export permit in Canada.
"Working with Marco, we came up with this idea of creating this new system of requiring permits," Joly said. "But meanwhile, we will deny any permits."
The temporary ban will prevent businesses from importing handguns into Canada, with a few exceptions that mirror those in the legislation tabled in May.
"Given that nearly all our handguns are imported, this means that we're bringing our national handgun freeze even sooner," Mendicino said. "From that moment forward, the number of handguns in Canada will only go down."
Handgun imports have been on the rise
Government trade data shows Canada imported $26.4 million worth of pistols and revolvers between January and June — a 52 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.
PolySeSouvient, a group that represents survivors and families of victims of gun violence, applauded the government's approach to freezing imports in a statement released Friday.
"This is a significant and creative measure that will unquestionably slow the expansion of the Canadian handgun market until Bill C-21 is adopted, hopefully this fall," said Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the Ecole Polytechnique shooting in Montreal in 1989.
Liberals blame Conservatives for holding up legislation
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said the move targets law-abiding citizens and businesses rather than illegal and smuggled guns.
"Instead of addressing the true source of gun crime in Canada, the Liberal government is unilaterally banning imports without parliamentary input, impacting a multi-billion dollar industry and thousands of retailers and small businesses, with very little notice," Dancho said in a statement after the announcement.
In the announcement, Mendicino accused the Official Opposition of obstructing the passage of the bill and other gun control measures. Dancho, meanwhile, said the Conservatives support addressing illegal gun smuggling and accused the Liberals of creating a wedge issue out of gun control while making communities less safe.
Mendicino said he's been visiting land borders over the summer to make sure the government has the staff and technology in place to address illegally smuggled weapons as well.