Legal gun owners in Canada are feeling the sting of recent firearm freezes and bans, and citizens, activist groups, and even provincial governments across the country have had enough.
The federal government proposed sweeping new gun control legislation in 2020, following a mass casualty event in Nova Scotia. Fifteen hundred assault-style guns have been banned by an order-in-council; restrictions on magazine capacity have been instituted; and a mandatory buy-back program for affected firearms has been announced.
In addition to the banning of assault-style weapons, the federal government has also instituted a freeze on the sale and transfer of handguns, introduced in May 2022. Dubbed Bill C-21, the legislation has received ongoing intense backlash from gun rights activist groups, and equal amounts of support from gun-control advocates, particularly following the most recent House of Commons reading.
Amendments proposed by Liberal MP Paul Chiang on November 22 aim to expand the list of prohibited weapons to include various long guns, which other MPs and Canadians say will unfairly target hunters and infringe on indigenous rights and traditions.
Lori Idlout, NDP MP for Nunavut, has been an outspoken opponent of the new amendments to the bill after initially supporting the move to ban handguns. After a recent community tour of her constituency, Idlout told APTN Nation to Nation anchor Lindsay Richardson Bill C-21 was top of mind for many residents, and her aim is to make sure those concerns don’t go unnoticed.
“The amendment is a mess that was made by the Liberals, and they need to clean up the mess that they’ve made… we need to make sure that we help them to realize that this amendment infringes on Indigenous peoples’ rights.”
CBC reported on Trudeau’s response to the pushback in December, when he stated a review of the amendments was underway to ensure hunting weapons would not be affected by the legislation.
The controversial amendments were withdrawn on Friday, February 3, after the review found insufficient consideration of various community voices. CBC published footage of MP Taleeb Noormohamed withdrawing the amendments during the latest House of Commons meeting.
“In order to get this bill right, Canadians need to know that we heard them… we have to get this over the finish line in a way that respects victims but also respects hunters, farmers, indigenous communities, ” said Noormohamed.
But any relief felt by hunters, farmers, indigenous communities and other opponents of Bill C-21 was short-lived. Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendincino, tweeted a statement detailing the Liberal party’s plan to pursue including a definition of assault-style weapons into the legislation in collaboration with the NDP and Bloc Québécois parties.
Mendicino touts the legislation as a necessary step towards ensuring public safety and reducing gun violence in local communities, but the more than 2.2 million gun owners in Canada say this bill is an attack on the public, rather than protection.
The Alberta provincial government agrees. In late September, UCP Justice Minister Tyler Shandro issued a statement to news media that Albertan taxpayer money would not be spent on the enforcement of Bill C-21.
“We will not tolerate taking officers off the streets in order to confiscate the property of law-abiding firearms owners,” Shandro told the press.
The province announced an injection of more than $10 million over the next two years into the Alberta Chief Firearms Office in order to increase capacity for processing license, sale, and transfer applications in-province.
According to the Calgary Herald, a ruling by the Federal Court of Canada passed down on January 11 granted the Alberta Government’s request to intervene in six lawsuits regarding the national gun legislation. In a press release following the ruling, Shandro stated: “I am pleased that Alberta has been granted an opportunity to defend the tens of thousands of Albertans who are personally affected by this ban in a court of law.”
Premier Smith also told Albertans to expect a Provincial Firearms Act in the spring of 2023, citing the Constitutional rights of civil and property regulation of Canadian provinces. Smith’s announcement of the Albertan gun legislation followed on the heels of the Alberta Sovereignty Act, which was introduced in late November of last year and received Royal Assent on December 15.
Mendicino spoke to CTV News condemning Alberta’s provincial response to Bill C-21, maintaining firearms legislation is entirely within the purview of the federal government’s authority.
In 2020, the province of Alberta alone had 326,709 licensed firearms holders, and it’s estimated just under half of these license holders also legally possess restricted arms, such as handguns.
Many of these gun owners and advocates do not see Bill C-21 as a step toward public safety, but as an infringement on personal freedoms.
“It’s just a completely hypocritical move to control firearms for the safety of the citizens,” said social media gun activist Rob Boutilier. Boutilier is known for being an outspoken conservative commentator, with 80,000 followers on Facebook and just under 70,000 on TikTok.
“We have these people … telling us we’re too civilized to need firearms anymore,” Boutilier said in a zoom interview. “Nobody should trust that and nobody should allow them to take an inch.”
Known as The Patriotic Dad on his social media channels, Boutilier explained his take on the “hypocritical” firearms legislation: how can disarming Canadians and preventing the use of firearms for self-defence increase public safety?
“They’ve done a great job of framing that [view as] extremist,” said Boutilier. “For me, the balance is the more you restrict firearms, the more bold government becomes, and … the government is not your friend.”
And Boutilier’s opinions are shared by other citizens and organizations alike. The National Firearms Association is a staunch opponent of the recent gun control legislation, condemning the Federal government’s actions as “lies, dishonesty, deceit and gas-lighting.”
The organization says it’s currently “supporting and funding a request for judicial review of the May 1, 2020 Order in Council prohibiting 1500 named classes of firearms,” in addition to advocating against the bill on social media channels such as Twitter and the home page of the NFA’s website.
Jerrold Lundgard, NFA’s regional director of Alberta said in an email statement the federal government is creating bureaucratic obstacles and scapegoating legal gun owners as the source of criminal activity.
“Creating more administrative penalties for possession of named firearms by law-abiding citizens will not reduce violence and crime,” stated Lundgard.
Just days ahead of the federal government announcing the implementation of the national handgun freeze at a morning press conference on October 21, 2022, the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR) released a report on the data surrounding legally-owned firearms in Canada as it relates to gun-related homicides.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies done by Canadian emergency medicine doctor, Cailinn Langmann, provide more insight into the data cited by the CCFR’s report – and the findings are as controversial as Bill C-21 itself.
Langmann released studies in 2012 and 2021, analyzing previous data and scientific papers gathered before and after the implementation of gun control laws in Canadian history.
In his 2012 paper, Langmann found no statistically significant change in homicide and spousal homicides between 1974 and 2008, during which Bill C-51 (1977), C-17 (1991), and C-68 (1995), and subsequent licensing and registration legislation were instilled into national legislation.
Although the legislation had no significant impact, factors that did contribute to an increase in gun-related homicide rates were unemployment rates, income inequality, and incarceration rates.
Langmann’s more recent paper (2021) analyzed firearm-induced suicide rates from 1981 to 2016. In it, Langmann added stringent analysis processes to eliminate confounding factors found in a compilation of findings from previous studies.
In regards to gun control legislation passed in 1977, the paper concludes “considering all the studies currently available regarding Bill C-51, it appears that there is an associated decline of suicide by firearms but there is a Substitution Effect at work, negating some, if not all, of the benefits.”
Substitution Effect refers to the shift from suicide by firearm to another method such as hanging. Although gun-related suicides may drop following gun-control legislation, these reductions are not indicative of lower suicide rates – only that firearms may be harder for some members of the population to acquire.
Similar conclusions were made for the remaining gun control bills put into action in subsequent years. Overall, Langmann found:
While there may be an association between legislation and a reduction in suicide rate by firearms, overall suicide rates remained unaffected due to substitution into other methods.
Studies of other countries on firearms control and suicide demonstrate mixed results, and many show a decline in firearms suicide associated with interventions that putatively decrease availability with no overall suicide rate reductions, or a substitution effect, and therefore the results from this review study are supported by previous findings in other countries.
Langmann, in many of his studies, recognizes the importance of proper firearm storage and education but emphasizes other societal factors that seemingly impact suicide and homicide rates. These factors include alcohol and drug use, socioeconomic standing, and mental health and wellness.
Langmann’s conclusion? Gun-control may have the best intentions, but is symptomatic treatment that ignores the root causes of gun violence in Canada. Instead of being helpful, this misguided treatment plan might do more damage than good, and lawyer Leighton Grey agrees.
Hailing from small-town Cold Lake, Alta, Grey is a constitutional lawyer with a penchant for political writing. Producing essays on topics ranging from the history of censorship to the effectiveness of gun control legislation, Grey echoes the findings presented in Langmann’s studies.
“No form of gun control that has been tried [in Canada] has ever worked,” said Grey. “There’s some presumed relationship between gun control and crime reduction” in public opinion and government policy, he added.
“When you actually go look at the data … you find that legal gun owners are by and large, not the ones who have committed crimes… There are a whole host of other reasons for crime that gun control does nothing to address. For example, poverty, [and] the availability of illicit drugs.”
Grey firmly adds: “Criminals don’t use legal firearms,” a sentiment shared by many in the world of law enforcement and existing gun regulation.
Teri Bryant, Chief Firearms Officer of Alberta, says the budget for the enforcement of Bill C-21 and the federal buy-back program, which is estimated to range between $ 2 billion and $ 5 billion, would be much better spent on preventative measures than bans and legislation.
“Even if these costs can be contained to $2 billion dollars, that would cover the costs of … a fully-paid 20-year career for some 600 people,” said Bryant.
“All Canadians, whether firearms owners or not, should be concerned about the scapegoating of law-abiding citizens and the targeting of their property,” she added.
James Bachynsky, co-owner of Calgary Shooting Centre, is a prime example of a concerned stakeholder. The shooting range and firearms retailer is one of many businesses feeling the financial impacts of increased gun prohibition, and Bachynsky says the proposed compensation program is too little, too late.
“Stopping the transfer of restricted handguns between licensed owners eliminates about 40% of our annual sales,” said Bachynsky. Calgary Shooting Centre also experienced a decline in sales revenue from assault-style weapons after the ban in 2020.
“More importantly, the government said, effective immediately, you can’t sell these guns… so I’ve been sitting on a big pile of inventory for two and a half years … and all we have is a promise that the government will buy them back at some future date.”
And the slow-moving implementation of the program is not the only qualm Bachynsky has with the buyback plan. The shooting range operator balked at the proposed buyback prices, stating the federal government is devaluing personal property in alarming proportions.
“Almost 1500 different models of what they determined to be AR-15 style rifles, and all of them have the same price… That’s like saying we’re banning cars, and four-door passenger cars are going to be compensated at this rate,” he lamented.
“I’ve got one [gun] in the store here that’s valued at $25,000. The government’s offering $1,600 in compensation, and they call that fair market value. That’s bullshit.”
Bachynsky and other gun-related business owners aren’t alone in their dissatisfaction with and disapproval of Bill C-21. Dr. Dennis Modry, a retired Albertan heart and lung surgeon, has expressed concerns parallel to Bachynsky, Boutilier, and other Canadians.
“I view Bill C-21 as an abridgement of property rights…but the federal government doesn’t care about people’s property…[if] they can take away your firearms, that means they can take away anything: your car, your clothes… your right to access your bank account.”
A staunch proponent against federal government overreach into the lives of Canadians, Modry said he’s “delighted” at the provincial-level pushback to the proposed gun legislation.
Presently, the governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and the Yukon have followed Alberta’s lead and voiced disapproval of using tax-payer money to fund buyback programs and confiscation of newly banned firearms.
“I see Bill C-21 as just another mandate, another way of usurping individual authority and provincial authority,” said Modry. “It is a slippery slope, but we’re on that slope already.”
Biased legislation like Bill C-21 and the implementation of the 1980 National Energy Program pushed Modry to question whether centralized authority in Ottawa has Western Canadian interests in mind. As it is for many Albertans and westerners, the answer for Modry was a resounding no.
And Grey agrees. When asked about his feelings on Bill C-21, the lawyer cited sentiments felt in and around his community: “It’s only fueling the level of disconnection, disassociation, that Albertans feel towards this federal government.”
To Modry, the way forward was clear: increased autonomy for Alberta. In 2003, he wrote a paper entitled “Alberta at the Crossroads: Status Quo, Refederation, Autonomy.” In it, Modry dissected the unbalanced relationship between the west and the east, and although he was denied the opportunity to present to caucus at the time, the themes in the paper are alive and well in his work today.
The Alberta Prosperity Project is a movement by Albertans, for Albertans.
“Many thousands and thousands of Albertans are motivated to do something about” the imbalance of Confederation. “What we can do is empower the provincial government in a way they’ve never been empowered in 117 years to negotiate with Ottawa from a position of strength,” said Modry.
“And if we don’t get what we want, well, then we have a legal and moral legitimacy to exit the relationship with Canada.”
Over 115 local chapters of the Alberta Prosperity Project have popped up across the province since the organization was founded earlier this year. Putting on speaking events and discussion-led community functions, the Project’s mission statement is to:
“educate and unite all Albertans, businesses, and organizations to protect their prosperity, individual freedoms, rights, and self-determination by enabling Alberta to chart a new path forward.”
Modry and the team at Alberta Prosperity Project are dedicated to helping Albertans help Alberta, and are proud to be front-runners in the fight against federal government overreach epitomized in domineering legislation like Bill C-21.
“The Alberta Prosperity Project and other projects in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere are so important to protect the values that developed western civilization,” said Modry. “We’re losing that. It’s absolutely unconscionable.”