Bill Blair says new gun bill will help keep handguns off the streets without a federal ban
Liberals introduce new buy-back program for 'assault-style’ weapons banned in May
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is defending his government's decision not to include a handgun ban in its sweeping new gun control legislation.
The federal government on Tuesday introduced Bill C-21, which would increase criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking, create a process for confiscating legal firearms from people who pose a risk to themselves and others, and introduce a buy-back program for "assault-style" firearms, which the government banned in May.
C-21 would also allow municipalities to ban handguns — but only if their province permits it.
Blair spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the new legislation. Here is part of their conversation.
Minister Blair, why can't you tell Canadians how much the gun buy-back program is going to cost?
The estimate really depends on how many of these weapons are out there. And, unfortunately, we don't have a precise understanding of who has them and what they are, simply because there is no registry for many of these guns.
But if there are, for example, about 200,000 of these guns, and we've done some work that determines the average brand new retail price would be about $1,300, and so if that number is correct — and it's an estimate at this point in time — we're probably talking somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300 million to facilitate a buy-back.
And what if somebody doesn't want to do [participate in the buy-back program]?
What we've done in the legislation is really create the set of circumstances and conditions that will facilitate the buy-back.
We are eliminating all legal use of these prohibited firearms. They can't be legally discharged. You can't fire them. You can't take them hunting or to a range. They can't sell them or transport them. They can't bequeath them or trade them in any way. They will be required to store them in a very secure safe or vault.
I think the vast majority of people who bought these guns to use as firearms, now that there is no legal way to do that, they'll be highly incentivized to surrender them for destruction, and then we'll have a fair compensation program available to them.
OK, but if they have to stay under lock and key, if they can't be used, if they're basically out of the system and it breaks the law to take them out and use them for any purpose, what's the point of Canadians paying $300 or $400 million dollars to buy these back?
I will tell you, I think these guns represent a very significant risk. That's why we prohibited them. They really have no place in our society and they have been used in countless jurisdictions, including in Canada, to kill very many people.
And yet if there's a gun issue for people in cities — and you know this well from having been the chief of police in Toronto — the problem is handguns. The crimes and the deaths in our cities come from those weapons. So why haven't you banned those weapons?
In large urban centres, because of their concealability and their deadly nature, handguns are a very serious problem.
We've looked very carefully at how criminals gain access to guns, first of all. And essentially, there are three ways in which guns can end up in the hands of criminals. They're smuggled across our borders. They're stolen from legal gun owners or from gun stores. Or they're criminally diverted, where people buy them legally and sell them illegally.
And in the legislation we've introduced today, we have implemented strong new measures and new resources and authority for law enforcement to secure our borders, to prevent these guns from being smuggled in.
We've also increased the penalty — not a mandatory minimum, but a longer maximum penalty — for people who are engaged in gun smuggling and gun trafficking.
We're going to require every owner of a restricted weapon, a handgun, to store it properly and securely in a safe or a vault.
And finally, we know that many guns are being purchased legally and then sold illegally for an obscene profit. And we're going to give the police the tools they need and the authorities that they require in order to detect, deter and prosecute those individuals.
Finally, Carol, and I think this is also important, we know that some people who acquired guns legally, their circumstances change. And so when that firearm is present in a situation where there's domestic violence or intimate partner violence, then that weapon, it could be used not just for the lethality of the victim, usually a woman, but also as an instrument of intimidation [and] coercion. Or in situations where a person legally owns firearms and [has] access to them, but they may become suicidal or emotionally disturbed, and they represent a real danger to themselves or to others. And we've also seen some people who become radicalized. And online, and they're spouting hate and advocating violence against women and visible minorities and religious minorities.
And those are what we call extreme risk situations. So we've introduced red flag laws, which creates new authority and tools to remove firearms from that otherwise dangerous situation.
OK, but if you're describing all of these as dangerous situations ... and yet you're not banning handguns.... You're allowing that municipalities will be able to ban handguns if they so choose, but only — and this is in the footnotes, the print of your bill — where provinces and territories permit them to do that. And we've already heard from Ontario, from Saskatchewan, from Alberta, that they're not going to let cities do that.
I think there is no greater responsibility for all three orders of government than the protection and safety of their citizens, and so we will work with municipalities and the provinces to ensure that Canadians are kept safe. But let me be very clear...
Can we just stick on this for a second? How is it possible for municipalities to ban these weapons that are a great threat … if the province won't let them?
We will enable them to implement additional regulations. And, yes, under the constitution, the provinces can stop them. And some of them have indicated, you know, that frankly, they're far more influenced, I think sometimes, by the gun lobby than they are by public safety.
But we know that there are jurisdictions where the provinces have indicated strong support for the municipalities to take additional measures. And, for example, we've heard from the mayor of Vancouver, and I spoke to the minister of public safety, my counterpart, in British Columbia. And they are strongly supportive of additional measures to restrict the use of handguns. And that includes their possession, their storage and their use in their municipalities.
You asked me about banning handguns. And just to be clear, the only lawful use of firearms in this country are for hunting and sports purposes. And then I will indicate to you, there's nothing in this legislation that interferes with those legitimate activities that the vast majority of Canadians engage in responsibly, lawfully and quite conscientiously.
And there are many places in Canada and people in Canada who use handguns for sports purposes, and they are generally very law-abiding and conscientious in that activity.
But you saw the value of banning the assault-style weapons, so you see the value of putting bans on weapons. I'm asking you why not this category of weapons that has caused so much damage with gang-related activities in cities like Toronto?
I believe that the measures that we've introduced to more severely restrict handguns, to stop them being smuggled into the country, to prevent their theft and to prevent their criminal diversion, can be effective measures to reduce the availability of handguns in our cities and communities right across the country.
If those measures prove ineffective, then we will certainly contemplate additional measures. But I think this is the most responsible and comprehensive way to deal with [this issue in a way that's] respectful of the lawful activities of hunting and sport shooting, but also taking the steps that are necessary to remove guns that have no place in Canadian society.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.