Critics of Canadian gun control policy are coming from many backgrounds, and have different opinions. Some are OK with the current PAL system, some aren’t. Some want concealed carry, some don’t think it’s needed. But there’s one thing everyone can agree on: Canada’s current firearms laws are needlessly confusing. On that basis alone, the rulebook needs a re-write, and Bill C-21 will make it worse.
The Liberal government announced Bill C-21 in February. If passed, it would allow municipalities to pass their own laws restricting handgun usage and storage. Effectively, if Bill C-21 becomes law, cities can ban handguns inside their borders.
As we pointed out earlier this month, some mayors welcome this power, others don’t want it. It’s unclear where cities would get the money to accomplish this goal. But, one of the biggest problems of all would be the giant patchwork of mis-matched laws created.
Take, for instance, New Brunswick’s cities of Dieppe and Moncton. Both are served by the Codiac RCMP detachment, and are effectively one massive metro area. Imagine the confusion if these cities enact different laws regarding handgun storage.
Situations like this will pop up all over Canada, resulting in legal problems even more confusing than the current situation. For a good summary of the potential problems, check out this article by a grad student from Carleton University. It’s posted at TheConversation.com, a non-partisan website founded by several universities in 2017 as “an independent source of news and views, from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.” Its founders include a wide range of Canadian universities; its funders include government bodies and non-profit foundations.
In his explanatory journalism write-up, Noah S. Schwartz, a Ph.D candidate in political science at Carleton, calls Bill C-21 an “attempt to copy and paste failed American-style gun laws into the Canadian context.” The article argues that the US is a patchwork of firearms laws, which vary greatly from region to region, city to city. Indeed, look no further than the differing rules between the states of New York and New Hampshire, and respective towns of New York City and Manchester. The mish-mash of differing rules between various states, and different cities within those states, causes so much confusion that websites and books are devoted to the topic, for Americans worried about breaking the law while traveling.
In Canada, that hasn’t been a problem for years, with the feds making the whole country play by the rules in the Firearms Act (with the exception of Quebec’s current gun registry). The rules are confusing, but at least they’re the same rules everywhere. The only major differences between most provinces are due to vagaries in hunting legislation.
Now, Bill C-21 is slated to change that. Not only would C-21 itself bring in confusion, but it opens the doors to more regional disparity down the road.
With that in mind, it’s hard to argue with Schwartz’s closing paragraphs:
Canada already has strict gun laws. The gun problem in Canada stems from sharing the world’s longest undefended border with the country that has the largest number of guns in civilian hands. There is no need to replicate American stop-gap gun laws here.
Lawmakers should instead focus on tackling the social determinants of crime, invest money in chronically underfunded programs to trace guns used in crimes and increase funding for community-based organizations like the One by One Movement, an advocacy group founded by former gang members to fight gun and gang violence.
Because, let’s face it: It’s not like we don’t have a huge mess on our hands already.
The mess we already have
Canada’s gun laws are a morass already. For a good example of this, watch Alberta lawyer Ian Runkle’s latest update on the Robert Crawford case. Crawford is challenging the Crown about the legality of last spring’s Order in Council firearms ban. He’s filed a Section 74 challenge to that end (find more about Section 74 challenges here). The point is, it takes Runkle, a trained lawyer, considerable time to weigh through the mess here.
The back-and-forth between government lawyers and Judge Fradsham in this case is a perfect example of the problems Canadian gun owners already face. Government lawyers don’t know the rules, or at least, they’re pretending they don’t, or changing them as they go along. That makes it exceedingly more difficult for Canadian gun owners to challenge the laws in court. How can the firearms owners seek fair and just rules, if the government will not admit to the rules nor play by them, and judges argue back and forth over standing?