John Ivison: For the sake of national unity, Liberals should drop hunting rifle ban

OTTAWA — Canada’s firearm classification system would baffle students of Byzantium, but even the uninitiated can figure out the fundamental unfairness in the government’s proposed amendments to its gun control law.
The Conservatives claim the Liberals are intent on going after hunting rifles in a sneaky amendment that was not in the original Bill C21 that was debated in the House of Commons.

The public safety minister, Marco Mendicino, has said the government has “no intention whatsoever” of banning hunting rifles.

After watching testimony before the public safety committee on Thursday, it is fair to say neither position reflects precisely what is going on. Two amendments have been put to the committee — one of which attempts to define what constitutes the type of assault-style weapons the Liberals want to ban, while the other lists 480 pages of guns that may or may not be caught up in the ban.

The first — the “evergreen” clause — was the subject of debate on Thursday, namely a definition that includes “a firearm that is a rifle or shotgun that is capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner, and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed.”

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer held up pictures of a number of relatively benign-looking wooden hunting rifles — if a rifle can look benign — and asked the RCMP’s technical specialist, Murray Smith, if they would be banned under C21 or its amendments. He even raised the case of the Remington 870 semi-automatic shotgun that he said he used to pack when he went fishing in the B.C. outback, in case he met a grizzly bear.

The answer, to spare you the jargon about joules of energy and barrel gauges, is that only high energy calibre weapons will be banned under the evergreen definition.

“But some hunting firearms will be prohibited?” Zimmer asked.

Smith confirmed that would be the case. “Hunting firearms will only be prohibited in certain limited circumstances,” he said, demolishing Mendicino’s case for the defence.

It sounds like some but not all semi-automatic hunting rifles will be caught up in the government’s dragnet if they are powerful enough; the precise models affected are still to be determined.

What is much clearer is that this is a ridiculous way to make public policy. For the sake of national unity, the government should drop an amendment for which there appears to be no need. If there had been, the provisions would have been included in the original bill.

I have no problem with much of Bill C21 — the handgun freeze is long overdue. It worked in the U.K. and even if it is less likely to work in a country that sits next to the U.S., the source of most handguns, that is no excuse for doing nothing.

Firearm licences should be removed from people who commit domestic violence or engage in criminal activity. There should be longer sentences for gun smuggling.

But handguns are the public safety problem, not hunting rifles, and their pursuit makes it look like the Liberals are trying to ingratiate themselves with urbanites who don’t like any type of guns, at the expense of rural Canadians, for whom firearms are integral to their lifestyle. And that is quite apart from the soaring cost of a buy-back that will likely run into billions of dollars.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins, a former provincial conservation officer, was not wrong when he said that C21 in its amended form would “break the social contract” in Canada, where citizens have a reasonable right to own property that should not be breached arbitrarily by the government.

The anger that will inevitably follow the legislation in its current form is going to enforce divisions that have steadily widened to the point that urban and rural Canada no longer recognize one another.

The Liberal party has discerned that it can hold onto power indefinitely by winning in Canada’s cities. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on their own account for a third of the seats in the House of Commons.

Newfoundland MP Gudie Hutchings was virtually guaranteed a spot in cabinet as rural economic development minister because her Long Range Mountains seat is one of the few the party holds outside the big urban areas. The inevitable consequence is that they have lost touch with, or, worse, don’t care about what happens in significant parts of the country.

The other corollary is that rural Canadians have lost trust in a government that it feels doesn’t understand them. Farmers in Saskatchewan, fishing communities in the Maritimes and mining communities in the North are all left outside the policy agenda looking in; concerns about fossil fuel use and natural resource regulation are dismissed as uninformed or motivated by unworthy purposes.

It is all the more ironic that Justin Trudeau has made diversity his signature policy. But diversity for Trudeau is only skin deep. He and his government have no tolerance for divergent or contrary views.

The Liberals should reverse themselves on Bill C21, or we are heading even further down the road of U.S.-style division.

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