The federal government plans to study a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada.
A mandate letter to Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sets the minister to the task of working with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on policy, regulations or legislation on gun control.
He will also be in charge of studying a total prohibition on certain firearms.
"You should lead an examination of a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians," the mandate letter reads.
It also outlines other jobs for the new portfolio, including leading the government's plan to deal with asylum seekers entering Canada outside official border points (which the letter refers to as "irregular migration"), overseeing the legalization of marijuana and cracking down on opioids.
The issue of gun control arose after the July 22 mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown.
Trudeau promised at the time that the government would take steps to ensure Canadians are safe, but did not say if the government was considering a handgun ban.
"We're looking at things that have been done around the world, things that have been done in other jurisdictions, looking at the best evidence, the best data, to make the right decisions to make sure that we are ensuring our citizens, our communities are safe into the future," Trudeau said.
Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, said the mandate to study the handgun ban is "indicative of intent" to follow through.
"It's very disappointing that an elected government would turn on two million law-abiding citizens that haven't done anything wrong and start looking at punitive measures of taking their lawfully owned property," he said. "You don't expect that stuff in a democracy."
With a federal election just one year away, Bernardo said it would be "political suicide" for the Liberals to impose a gun ban.
"If they want to start playing Russian roulette with the electorate, well okay, game on. If they think our community is going to meekly roll over and accept this, they're in for a real big shake."
Heidi Rathjen, coordinator of gun control advocacy group Poly Remembers, called the study "very encouraging" and hopes the process unfolds quickly.
She said a ban does not need to happen overnight; there could be grandfathering and buy-back programs.
"There are different ways to get at it. It doesn't necessarily have to be taking away guns from people who bought them legally," she said. "The idea is that there's no new purchases of handguns and assault weapons and the government needs to endorse the principle that certain guns should not be in the hands of civilians."
Long-time gun control advocate Wendy Cukier said whether or not a ban is ultimately imposed will depend on whether the government bows to well-resourced and organized gun advocates, or supports the less-loud gun control advocates pushing to protect public safety.
"Unless average Canadians speak out, the gun lobby will win again," she said.
Minister's marching orders
Blair's mandate letter was released by the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday, along with those for each member of cabinet.
His other marching orders include:
- Develop new policies and legislation to reduce organized crime, gang activity and money laundering in Canada, working with provinces, territories and municipalities, as well as community organizations, law enforcement and border agencies.
- Lead talks with the United States on modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement.
- Seek additional opportunities to expand pre-clearance operations for travellers to the United States.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the potential impact on the hunting industry during a press conference at a school in Kapuskasing, Ont. Wednesday: