The federal government wants to ban Canadians from owning guns, and Bill C-71 is just the first step. It’s a backdoor registry that targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals.
These were just some of the claims made Sunday as about 40 protesters demonstrated outside Calgary city hall.
The event was organized by the Prairie Freedom Movement, a separatist group, and it was meant to be a show of frustration with efforts by the federal government to restrict gun ownership — centred around the newly passed Bill C-71, an amendment to the Firearms Act which tightens restrictions on firearm vendors and owners.
Sunday’s gathering was small and, as some supporters pointed out, nowhere near the several hundred people who clicked “interested” on the event’s Facebook page. But the rhetoric around C-71 has been widespread, pitting many gun owners in Alberta at odds with the plans of the federal government.
Claim: Bill C-71 takes away citizens’ right to protect themselves
Reality: The idea of a right to bear arms is a hotly debated topic in North America. Though many opponents of Bill C-71 say they support citizens’ right to own guns for protection, Canada differs from its southern neighbour in that Canadians do not have a constitutional right to bear arms. This was stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993, two years before the passing of the Firearms Act in 1995.
Canadians own guns for a variety of reasons, the most common being hunting and recreational shooting. A recent survey by Angus Reid found 25 per cent of Albertans own a gun, compared to 14 per cent nationwide, with most Albertans saying their guns are for hunting (43 per cent) or recreational shooting (42 per cent).
Claim: Bill C-71 will make it harder for law-abiding people to get firearm licences
Reality: Section 5(2) of the Firearms Act sets out a list of restrictions that can prevent citizens from obtaining firearms licences. These include previous violent offences, criminal harassment, drug trafficking, mental illness associated with violence and histories of violent behaviour. Previously, these restrictions had a five-year limit, but Bill C-71 removes that limit. This doesn’t mean people with these histories can’t have a firearms licence, but it does mean these factors can be considered regardless of when they occurred.
So, are law-abiding citizens being prevented from obtaining licences? That’s a hard one to answer. For someone who has never been charged with a criminal offence or has no history of violence, this amendment is irrelevant. But for anyone with these offences or histories dating more than five years ago, obtaining a licence could prove more difficult under Bill C-71.
Claim: Bill C-71 creates a ‘backdoor gun registry’
Reality: Bill C-71 will make business owners keep records of their inventory and require those purchasing non-restricted guns to present a licence. It also requires business owners to keep records of non-restricted gun sales for a minimum of 20 years, and to hand over these records to government officials upon request.
The term “backdoor gun registry” has been used by Conservative members of Parliament and senators as well as gun-rights advocates to describe this section of Bill C-71.
Advocates on both sides of the issue say Bill C-71 will restore previous legislation, after the Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act removed the requirement for non‑restricted firearms to be registered in 2012. Gun advocates criticize this, while supporters of the bill say it reintroduces the accountability this requirement once provided.
Claim: Bill C-71 doesn’t prevent criminal gun ownership
Reality: Perhaps the loudest voice from Bill C-71’s opponents is the statement that it targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals. It’s a sentiment that was expressed by Conservative Sen. Don Plett and is echoed across social media posts and at gun rallies across the country. Meanwhile, gun control advocates say the increased accountability required by Bill C-71 will decrease the chances of guns getting into the wrong hands.
While Bill C-71 is focused on firearms licences, registrations and records — things that indeed pertain to legal owners of guns — removing the five-year limit on background checks could make it more difficult for people with criminal backgrounds to legally obtain guns.
Claim: Bill C-71 is just the first step toward a full gun ban
Reality: Many protesters at the rally in Calgary on Sunday expressed a worry that Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is headed toward far stronger restrictions than those laid out in the Firearms Act and Bill C-71.
Joel Gilchrist, a self-professed “gun enthusiast” who applied for a licence last July, said he’s worried the bill means his licence will never arrive.
“If you give them an inch, then they’re just going to take a mile,” he said, adding that while he understands the logic behind the new registration requirements, he’s worried they will make it easier for guns to be taken away if more restrictions come into effect.
The Liberal government has said it is weighing further restrictions against assault-style rifles and handguns, but has not mentioned plans to create a full gun ban.