Cross Country Checkup·Q&A

'If now is not the time, when is?': Bill Blair on feds' new 'assault-style' firearms ban

Critics on both sides of the gun control debate are raising tough questions about the federal government's new ban on 1,500 makes and models of firearms. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is the man tasked with enforcing the new ban.

Government aiming for 'broad compliance' in buyback program for owners of now-banned rifle models

'Enough is enough. Banning these firearms will save Canadian lives,' Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Critics on both sides of the gun control debate are raising tough questions about the federal government's new ban on 1,500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" firearms.

Some say the ban goes too far; others think it doesn't go far enough.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is the man tasked with enforcing the new ban. He spoke with Checkup host Duncan McCue about the ban, how the government plans to roll out its buyback program for gun owners and more.

Here's part of their conversation.

[Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer says your government is reopening this divisive debate about gun control during the pandemic, at a time when the prime minister has said this is when Canadians need to be unified. So why pick now to announce a ban on assault style rifles?

If Mr. Scheer suggests that this is somehow some new idea to him, perhaps he missed the last election when we ran on this as one of our significant campaign planks. We said we were going to strengthen gun control in this country. We said we were going to prohibit assault-style rifles.

You know, there was a tragedy in this country two weeks ago, in which 22 innocent Canadians lost their lives.... And the weapons used in that terrible tragedy are directly related to the prohibition we brought in.

And so if now is not the time, when is?

Scheer reacts to Liberal government's new gun regulations

2 years ago
Duration 0:43
'...doing it at a time when Canadians are very concerned about this pandemic, we believe, is completely unacceptable.'

I think there's an overwhelming consensus among Canadians — not all, as you heard earlier from some — but there's an overwhelming consensus among Canadians [that] there's no place for a weapon that was designed for military use — designed for soldiers to kill soldiers.

And I appreciate that some people may find some recreational value in using those, but to put that against the risks to public safety —

The Globe and Mail reported that your government is going to allow current owners to sell their weapons back to the government, or keep them under a grandfathering process.

We've had gun control advocates on this show that say that's disappointing, that the buyback program may be voluntary. Can you explain or set the record straight on what your government intends to do?

First of all, let me be very clear. The people who purchased these weapons did so legally. And by the order in council that was published on Friday, those weapons have now become prohibited.

We didn't want to create a legal jeopardy for people who purchased their guns legally.- Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

So we put in place along with the prohibition, a period of amnesty. And during that amnesty, it's what's called a non-permissive grandfathering, in which those weapons cannot be used, cannot be taken for hunting and sport shooting. And they can't be sold or bequeathed.

But … we didn't want to create a legal jeopardy for people who purchased their guns legally. And then when we changed the rules, we didn't want to put those people in a difficult spot.

But we have also said that we will bring forward legislation that will allow for a buyback of those weapons. My intent is that that would be done in a way which would be safe and effective.

Will a buyback be mandatory?

And that is a question. We're a minority government, Duncan. And so we will have to work with other parties, and all of the parties in parliament.

But certainly in order to get a plurality of support for these measures, we will work with all of the parties. And so there are a number of different ways in which a buyback can be put into effect, and parliament will decide how that will be done.

Is it your government's intention, then, that there will be a grandfathering process, that gun owners of these assault-style rifles will be able to keep their guns at the end of the amnesty?

It is my government's intent to put in a buyback program. It is also our intent to ensure that there is broad compliance. I want to make sure that the people who purchased these guns legally are treated fairly.

Minister, you say "broad compliance." I guess what it boils down to [is], what's the point of a ban if people at the end of it will still be able to keep their guns?

Well, something really important happened on Friday. The market freezed. We have seen an actual increase in the sale of these weapons over the past year and a half.

[As of] Friday the sale of such weapons in Canada is now prohibited. And so the number of assault rifles that are in Canada now will never be more than there was on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there will be a 2-year amnesty period to allow people who already own these firearms to comply with the ban. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

And now we will begin the process of, in a responsible and safe way, eliminating those weapons from our society. And that includes a buyback program.

The actual form it's going to take, as I've said, there's a number of ways to do that. ... I want to make sure that what we do is effective. I also want to make sure that it's responsible, and that it is safe. And so we've got some work to do and we'll bring forward legislation and parliament will decide the form that that buyback will take.

As a former chief of police yourself, you know that handguns account for most of the gun deaths in cities across this country.

Toronto introduced a handgun buyback program last year. Will the federal government consider taking this ban that you've announced on Friday over assault style rifles further to include handguns?

We know that there are a number of ways in which handguns get in the hands of criminals. And as I've already articulated, we are going to take the steps that are necessary to shut those lines of supply off — either at the border or through theft, or through criminal diversion and trafficking.

But we are also committed to working with municipalities. I've had many conversations with Mayor Tory in Toronto, for example, but also mayors right across the country. And many of them are saying we want to do more.

There's no place for handguns in our cities. And so we've made a commitment to work with those municipalities to see if we can give them some authority to place restrictions on where firearms and handguns in particular could be stored or used within their municipalities. And so that, combined with the measures that we are prepared to take, would make it far more difficult for people to acquire firearms will make a significant difference.

Blair on banning assault weapons today in Canada

2 years ago
Duration 3:01
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair spoke to reporters on Parliament Hill on Friday

But at the same time, it's not just about the supply of handguns, it's also the demand for them. And that's why you've got to go in and invest in kids in communities and change the social conditions and circumstances that give rise to gun violence in so many of our communities.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Levi Garber. Q&A edited for length and clarity.