Sask. residents argue both sides of gun legislation debate

·4 min read
Federal legislation that would put a national cap on handguns in Canada received its first reading in the House of Commons on Monday. Some are pleased to see it going through government, while others are not. ( - image credit)
Federal legislation that would put a national cap on handguns in Canada received its first reading in the House of Commons on Monday. Some are pleased to see it going through government, while others are not. ( - image credit)

A host of new gun measures outlined in legislation tabled in Ottawa are causing a stir among gun owners while others are lauding the new bill for addressing gun violence in the country.

Bill C-21 received its first reading in the House of Commons on Monday. It includes a provision that would take away gun licences from those involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment, and would require people deemed a threat to themselves or other to turn in their firearms to police.

But many people are fixated on the national freeze on the sale, purchase, importation and transfer of handguns.

"We don't see it as really doing anything more than political theatre," Gil White, firearms chair for the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, told Garth Materie, host of CBC's Blue Sky.

White joins other vocal critics of the legislation, including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who called the new legislation "virtue signaling."

LISTEN | CBC's Blue Sky takes calls about federal gun legislation

White said the bill targets the wrong people — lawful gun owners — instead of targeting the illegal importation and ownership of handguns.

He also said new legislation needs to listen to people who "know and understand firearms" as well as victims of crime.

One caller into CBC's Blue Sky on Wednesday followed White to say he could lose up to $20,000 in handguns if the legislation goes through. Another called in to say he sees no use for guns, saying the luxury of owning one versus the number of related deaths doesn't seem to balance.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called Bill C-21 the strongest gun reform policy package "the country has seen in a generation" during a news conference in Regina on Thursday.

"The way that Bill C-21 addresses each of these concerning trends is by putting in place a national handgun freeze," he said.

Kirk Fraser/CBC News
Kirk Fraser/CBC News

Mendicino said the government spoke with law enforcement and crime victims, including families involved with the Danforth Avenue shooting in Toronto in 2018.

Mendicino said he's spoken with mayors, leaders and people from rural Saskatchewan.

"It is important that we come up with gun policy that does reflect the varying experiences of Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast," he said.

Some of those people include hunters and sport shooters who use long rifles to keep wildlife at bay.

"This bill does not target them … it targets handgun violence, it targets organized crime, it targets domestic violence in conjunction with gun violence," he said.

Mendicino said police will have additional tools to crack down on illegal gun crime, including the illegal importation of weapons from the United States.

Saskatchewan was among the provinces and territories with the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime in 2020, according to a recent Statistics Canada report. Regina ranked the highest among municipalities across Canada.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

"The prevalence of firearms in our community has kind of spiked, I would say, proportionate to drug-related problems that we have and gang-related problems," Evan Bray, chief of the Regina Police Service and co-chair of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police committee on firearms, told Radio-Canada.

"We had the same number of shootings in our city as they did in the city of Calgary, which is about five times the size of Regina."

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police supports the bill overall, but suggests some tweaks, noting "restricting lawful handgun ownership will not meaningfully address the real issue: illegal handguns obtained from the United States," it said in a statement.

Eileen Higgins, owner of Saskatoon Gunsmith Shoppe Limited, said handgun sales have been strong since the legislation was tabled Monday.

However, on Thursday she wasn't able to check firearm licences because services appeared to be down. She speculated it was due to a backlog of requests at the Canadian Firearms Program, responsible for the regulation and licensing of firearms.

The RCMP could not be reached for comment to confirm.

But that doesn't mean she supports the legislation.

"It's ridiculous," Higgins said, listing off the hoops lawful gun owners have to hop through to get weapons and keep them.

Higgins said the legislation won't be effective.

"It doesn't stop criminals. Criminals don't come to the shop to buy guns," she said. "People in the cities … [believe] 'If we got rid of guns, we wouldn't have crime.' Well, it doesn't work that way."

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