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The Liberal government is planning to introduce long-promised legislation Tuesday to strengthen controls on the sale, licensing and tracing of guns.
The Liberals are bracing for political pushback from the Conservatives, as the bill would repeal some measures passed by the previous government.
The bill is expected to fulfil Liberal election platform promises to enhance background checks for anyone buying a handgun or other restricted firearm, as well as require purchasers to present a valid licence.
The Liberals also pledged to require vendors to keep records of all firearms inventory and sales to assist police in investigating gun trafficking and other firearms-related crimes.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has already earmarked more than $327 million over five years, and $100 million a year thereafter, to address criminal gun and gang activities.
The government has stressed that it has no interest in reviving a national long-gun registry — a Chretien-era project that became mired in cost overruns and prompted vociferous criticism from firearms groups.
The Liberals are also conscious that any measures unduly restricting the freedoms of gun owners or imposing new administrative burdens could generate a significant backlash, particularly in rural ridings where firearms are part of everyday life.
Goodale recently told a news conference during a national symposium on gangs and guns that the goal of the legislation will be to prioritize public safety while ensuring "we are being practical and fair with respect to legitimate firearms owners."
"The whole message around the platform is about illegal handguns and assault weapons," he said. "So it's very much focused on the illegal use of weapons and illegal weapons themselves."
If the Conservatives pounce on the legislative package, the Liberals are expected to highlight Tory Leader Andrew Scheer's promises when running for party leader, suggesting they are out of step with public opinion. Scheer advocated repealing all federal regulations pertaining to firearms ownership, usage and transportation that do not:
— ensure Canada's gun laws respect the rights of honest firearms owners;
— recognize the fact that hunting and sports shooting are an important part of Canadian culture history;
— and empower police to concentrate on real criminals who pose a public threat.
Conservative MP Glen Motz has urged the government to find a way of cracking down on the sale of illegal guns from abroad through the darkest channels of the internet.
The number of firearm-related homicides in Canada hit 223 in 2016 — up 44 from 2015, and the third consecutive annual increase. There were 141 gang-related homicides in 2016, 45 more than the previous year. In addition, break-and-enters to steal guns have been rising.
There are three classes of firearms: non-restricted (such as hunting rifles and shotguns), restricted (handguns and some semi-automatics) and prohibited (prescribed handguns and fully automatics).
Guns are classified through definitions in the Criminal Code or by means of classification regulations.
Justice Department briefing materials prepared for a federal advisory committee on firearms note that the regulations have not been substantially updated in more than two decades. "There are many loopholes and inconsistencies within the current firearms classification regime."
Any legislative measures to strengthen background checks for people buying handguns or other restricted firearms would be aimed at ensuring the system "works to protect public safety," said Goodale, adding "that's an area where there is broad, broad consensus."
Internal briefing notes indicate the government has also pondered possible measures to more quickly identify people considered unfit to have guns for reasons such as mental instability or violent behaviour.
Under the current firearms licence application and renewal process, personal information helps determine whether someone is eligible for a licence. In addition, "continuous eligibility screening" means criminal behaviour can be flagged for the federal chief firearms officer for review and possible investigation.