A parliamentary e-petition sponsored by Conservative Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner that calls for the federal government to scrap its firearms ban has been certified with more than 230,000 signatures — the most on the online platform since it was introduced in 2015.
The petition asks the prime minister to immediately scrap his "firearms confiscation regime," calling it "undemocratically imposed without debate during a pandemic while Parliament is suspended, [and] an assault on Canadian democracy."
"[Canadians] are wondering why the government has chosen to confiscate legally-owned firearms during a suspended parliament," Rempel Garner said in an interview with CBC News.
"When we know that that is going to do little to reduce the issue of violent crime in Canada, in terms of firearms that are obtained illegally."
In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on 1,550 makes and models of "assault-style" weapons in Canada. A two-year amnesty period was granted before Canadians are required to dispose of the weapons.
In making the announcement, the prime minister said that assault-style weapons had "no place" in Canada.
"These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time," he said at the time.
Instead of a ban on assault-style weapons, Rempel Garner's petition calls on the government to crack down on firearms obtained illegally, specifically targeting the prevention of smuggled firearms across the U.S. border.
"Canada has one of the most rigorous firearms acquisition licensing regimes in the world," she said.
"When we're looking at the very important issue of preventing firearms violence in Canada, we have to look at where firearms that are used in violent crime are coming from and we know that the vast majority of those are illegally obtained and primarily smuggled in from the United States."
Advocate says weapons are 'designed to kill'
Heidi Rathjen, a gun control activist and survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, pushed back against Rempel Garner's petition, saying the banned weapons are "designed to kill."
"There's no legitimate justification for allowing that kind of power in the hands of ordinary civilians. These weapons belong to the military. These are weapons of war," Rathjen said.
"They're not needed for hunting or even legitimate target practice … these are civilian versions of military weapons that, you know, many, if not most, have been put on the market in the last couple of decades."
Following the Polytechnique massacre, Rathjen said students of the school garnered more than 500,000 signatures on a paper petition, signed by hand and gathered through regular mail, over a period of four months.
"But again, petitions are one thing. I think, what really matters, is what the public wants," Rathjen said. "A majority of Canadians support the ban on assault weapons. I think the Liberal government did the democratic thing when they passed these orders in council."
As Parliament is currently prorogued until Sept. 23, Rempel Garner will need to wait to table the petition.
"Because it is an official parliamentary petition, the government is required to respond to all the signatories that are on there," she said.
"So I think that the government is going to have to think really carefully about its response, because there's a lot of people in Canada that cross political boundaries that are concerned with this issue and are not pleased with the government's response."
According to a spokesperson in the House of Commons, Rempel Garner's petition has surpassed any other petition on the number of signatures since the launch of the new system for electronic petitions in 2015.
Historically, however, a number of paper petitions have also obtained a large number of signatures, including an anti-abortion petition in 1975 that contained more than one million signatures. That contradicts Rempel Garner's claim in social media that hers is the largest Parliamentary petition in Canadian history.
As part of the e-petition platform, signatories are required to enter a valid email address and click on a link sent to that address, and additional monitoring tools are in place to ensure the integrity of signatures, the spokesperson said.