In the midst of dealing with all things COVID, the Federal government is also in the process of working on new gun control legislation that they hope will have an impact on the various crimes involving firearms. There has been some criticism of Bill C-21 and whether it can actually have an effect on crimes where guns are used, but Public Safety Minister Bill Blair took part in meetings with area groups Thursday to try and make the point.
After meeting with groups from the Tri-Cities and Guelph who are dedicated to the fight against with domestic violence, Blair took questions from members of the media. “These groups support healing, they promote safety in our communities, and today we sought their feedback and answer their questions and concerns with respect to the new legislation,” Blair said.
Bill C-21 is meant to take several actions to stop the smuggling and trafficking of guns through stiffer penalties, supporting municipalities that wish to ban handguns locally, and the completing the legal prohibition against assault-style guns in Canada.
“One Canadian killed by gun violence is one too many. The tragedies we have seen in Ste-Foy and Portapique, and more recently in Toronto and Montréal, should never happen,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement last month with the introduction of C-21. “This is why our government has taken some of the strongest action in our country’s history against gun violence. We will continue to take steps to strengthen gun control measures, remove dangerous weapons from our streets, and make sure everyone can feel safe from violence.”
The legislation also offers more support for youth programs with the intention of keeping young people out of criminal activity, and it creates “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws that allow “concerned friends or relatives” to ask authorities to remove firearms from a home if domestic violence is suspected.
“In a home where there is a situation of serious domestic violence, the presence of that firearm continues to make a dangerous situation deadly,” Blair explained. “We know that the police have some limited authority to remove firearms – if they’re aware of them – from that situation, and through this legislation we are empowering many other people who would might have knowledge of the presence of those firearms and the danger that they represent.”
According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Responsibility at the University of Guelph, nearly six out of 10 women killed are murdered by their current or former intimate partner, while only six per cent of women are killed by a stranger. Just over one-third of the total number femicide deaths is committed by a perpetrator armed with a gun, more than any other method of killing, while the likelihood of a woman being killed by a gun goes up to 42 per cent for women living in rural areas.
“We’re going to empower a broader second segment of our society, not just the police, to be able to take effective action to render that situation immediately safe through the removal of those firearms,” said Blair. “Its sole purpose is to keep people safe and I would remind lawful gun owners that firearm ownership and use in this country is a privilege, and a privilege predicated on adherence to our laws and regulations.
“When the circumstances change in the presence of that firearm in a dangerous situation, it creates an unacceptable risk, and we need to have the tools to remove firearms from that situation, and that’s what this legislation will provide,” he added.
One of the critiques of the bill gaining traction though has nothing to do with actual firearms, but replica guns used in recreation like paintball and air guns. Waterloo Region is how to a BlackBlitz Airsoft store, and the manager there has been suggesting that Bill C-21 might put him out, and other stores, out of business.
“What is being prohibited are those exact replicas of these firearms that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing,” Blair said. “They’re prohibited based on the fact that many of them are designed to look exactly like a real firearm, and that’s the problem that law enforcement has identified to us because these devices have been used in crimes and are a real concern for public safety.”
It’s worth nothing that replica and toy guns being used in the commission of a crime has been an issue here in Guelph lately. As recently as this past Monday, Guelph Police arrested a 70-year-old man for threatening a downtown bartender with a toy gun and demanding money before leaving the establishment laughing. He was charged with attempted robbery and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
In January, an 18-year-old arrested after a bank robbery on Stone Road was found with a replica gun, and in a much more serious situation, a 24-year-old woman drew a modified pellet gun made to look like a Smith & Wesson handgun in a downtown confrontation with police. The circumstances forced officers to take her into custody with their own sidearms drawn. She was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and other charges.
“In the last couple of months there have been a number of incidents in Guelph during which replica firearms were seized,” said Scott Tracey, the media relations officer of the Guelph Police Service. “These are very traumatizing occurrences for those involved who have no way of knowing that the weapon being pointed at them is a replica, while responding police officers similarly must act as if the firearm is real until proven otherwise.”
“We appreciate some of these devices, such as Airsoft guns, do have a legitimate recreational purpose,” Tracey added. “Our concern is that these devices – which are virtually impossible to distinguish visually from the real firearms after which they are modeled — are increasingly finding their way into the hands of those who would use them for criminal purposes.”
Blair was scheduled to meet with area police services and local politicians including Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie and Waterloo Regional Chair Karen Redman on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Courtesy of Guelph Police. A picture of the modified pellet gun taken from a 24-year-old Guelph woman who was charged with carrying a concealed weapon on January 15.