The Trudeau government is delaying the enactment of gun marking regulations for the third time since being elected — despite promising to bring them into force immediately following the 2015 election.
Public Safety Canada announced today it will defer the regulations, which were meant to take effect on Dec. 1, until Dec. 1, 2023. The regulations — first drafted in 2004 but never fully implemented — are designed to help police investigators trace suspects connected to gun crimes.
The department said it concluded after consulting with law enforcement agencies and industry groups that the regulations as drafted would be ineffective in the absence of record-keeping requirements for non-restricted firearms.
"The government will use the deferral period to continue consulting with partners and develop an effective markings regime that is appropriate for Canada, balancing the needs of law enforcement with the impact on firearms businesses and owners, while prioritizing public safety," said the release.
History of delays
The regulations would have required domestically manufactured firearms to bear the name of the manufacturer, the serial number and "Canada" or "CA," while imported guns would have to carry the "Canada" or "CA" designation along with the last two digits of the year of import.
The measures would help Canada meet the requirements of the United Nations Firearms Protocol and a convention of the Organization of American States.
The Trudeau Liberals promised to enact gun-marking regulations "immediately" after being elected in their 2015 platform. Instead, the government chose to defer them in May 2017 and again in Nov. 2018. The previous Conservative government also delayed the regulations several times since 2006.
Governments often cited the need for more consultation when deferring the regulations, although the last time they were deferred in 2018 the Liberals argued the destruction of the gun records contained the long-gun registry reduced the utility of the regulations.
Gun enthusiasts, hunters and sport shooters have, over the years, lobbied hard for each deferral and praised every delay.
They argued markings would do little to stop gun crime, given that many criminals already file serial numbers off their weapons. It is also widely believed that requiring markings would add to the manufacturing costs and therefore make firearms more expensive.
Gun control advocates call for stricter measures
Also today, gun-control advocates held an online news conference to urge the Trudeau government to get on with promised reforms.
"We urge minister Blair to return to the gun file with force and to aim to meet his commitments without delay," said Heidi Rathjen, coordinator of the group PolySeSouvient.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has pledged new measures, including a buyback of recently outlawed firearms, tougher storage provisions and steps to control handguns — but Rathjen said that, several months later, there are no signs of progress on legislation.
Rathjen's plea came days before the Dec. 6 anniversary of the shooting of 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, which Rathjen witnessed as a student.
The federal government outlawed a wide range of firearms by cabinet order in May, including the one used at Polytechnique, saying the guns were designed for the battlefield, not for hunting or sport shooting.
The ban covers some 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style weapons, meaning they can no longer be legally used, sold or imported.
The measure has met with stiff criticism from some firearms owners and the federal Conservatives, who question the value of the ban.
PolySeSouvient says it wants to see the new prohibitions on assault-style guns, brought in through regulation, embedded into law to complete the ban and render it permanent — something the Liberal government has signalled it will do.
It also wants the Liberals to legislate a system of pre-authorization for guns to ensure only new models inspected and authorized by the RCMP can enter the Canadian market.
Blair has said the coming legislation will create a new evergreen framework for classification of firearms to ensure federal intentions can't be easily overridden.
Besides seeking the legislation the government has previously promised, PolySeSouvient has also called on the government to:
Limit firearm magazines to five bullets to reduce the damage a mass shooter can do;
Give police officers easier access to commercial sales record data to help detect bulk gun purchases;
Invest significant efforts and resources in strengthening the screening and monitoring of gun-licence applicants and licensed owners;
End the importation and manufacture of handguns.
The Trudeau government says it plans to empower provinces and cities to take steps to manage the storage and use of handguns within their individual jurisdictions, given that they have different needs and concerns.
PolySeSouvient has counselled the government to avoid off-loading handgun restrictions onto municipalities, saying local bans are generally ineffective, as the patchwork of local and state laws in the United States shows.