Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) announced a complete “freeze” on the movement of handguns across Canada by using what is known as an “Order in Council.”
As the anti-Second Amendment Biden administration continues to push for ever more infringements on our civil rights, the current situation in Canada provides a case study in the historical importance of the Second Amendment—27 simple, direct words affirming our right to own and carry firearms—and our legal and legislative defense of this right.
Last October, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced a complete “freeze” on the movement of handguns across Canada by using what is known as an “Order in Council.” As this was going to print, Canadian citizens could not buy, sell or transfer handguns within Canada, and they could not bring newly acquired handguns into the country.
In a parliamentary-style government, an Order in Council is essentially a legal decree handed down by the federal government. It is often used in emergencies, and, once the emergency is over, the order is often retracted. But such orders can be permanent.
“Canadians have the right to feel safe in their homes, in their schools and in their places of worship,” Trudeau said at the news conference announcing the handgun freeze. “With handgun violence increasing across Canada, it is our duty to take urgent action to remove these deadly weapons from our communities. Today, we’re keeping more guns out of our communities and keeping our kids safe.”
Mendicino also said that the “national freeze will tackle the alarming role of handguns in crime, gender-based violence and more. We are using all tools at our disposal to fight gun violence and will not rest until all Canadians feel safe in their communities.”
Note the tenor of the above comments, which suggest an emergency with “increasing” violence and the “alarming role of handguns in crime,” as well as the suggestion that Canadians do not feel safe. They offered no statistical proof for these emergency claims and neither of them mentioned the many law-abiding Canadians who want to own and carry such guns for self-defense purposes so that they actually can be safer.
Trudeau also didn’t acknowledge that there are already a lot of laws regulating citizens’ guns. In Canada, purchasing a firearm already requires the possession of a firearms license, which mandates that a person undergo a criminal background check from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The potential firearm owner also has to meet various training and other requirements. All of this is not good enough for Trudeau. He wants to disarm law-abiding Canadians. The handgun freeze is a step in this larger plan. In May 2020, Trudeau also announced an Order in Council to ban what he deems to be “assault weapons.”
What the order on “assault weapons” actually banned are commonly owned semi-automatic firearms—guns often used by hunters, shooting competitors and those who want to defend themselves at home. The ban also covered a host of other firearms Trudeau deems to be “too dangerous” to be in the hands of law-abiding Canadians; for example, hunting rifles chambered in .460 Weatherby exceed ballistic limits arbitrarily set by the Order in Council. In all, over 1,500 firearms were listed on the May 2020 ban, including AR-15s, AR-10s and various semi-automatic shotguns.
Canadians were initially told they’d have the option of “complying through grandfathering” or surrendering guns for compensation in some sort of “buyback” scheme before the expiration of an amnesty. Specific information on the grandfathering and the “buyback” options were to be “announced later, once details have been decided.”
Initially, that amnesty deadline was cited as April 30, 2022, but Trudeau and company still have not figured out a practical means of confiscating over 100,000 legally acquired firearms, so the Amnesty Order was extended to Oct. 30, 2023. Yet, at the same time, it is illegal for Canadians in possession of these “banned” firearms to actually use them. These guns must be stored under lock and key as gun owners await a federal decision on the amnesty and confiscation procedures.
Then, in May 2022, Trudeau’s government introduced Bill C-21, legislation that would do what the freeze does: halt the sales and transfers of handguns.
As this was going to print, Bill C-21 was still making its way through the Canadian Parliament; meanwhile, the handgun “freeze” is the law. Apparently, Trudeau wasn’t willing to wait for Parliament.
Meanwhile, Canadian gun owners, pro-gun groups and even a number of Canadian officials are pushing back against Trudeau and his plans to disarm law-abiding Canadian citizens. The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) challenged the May 2020 “assault-weapons” ban in federal court and the challenge was ongoing as this was going to print. The CCFR argued that the ban exceeded constitutional legal authority in a number of ways. One section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
“The government, in an entirely arbitrary and irrational way, has created legislation that will deprive us of our property and our freedom to live as we wish, on pains of incarceration for failing to comply,” Rod Giltaca, CEO and executive director of the CCFR, told CBC Canada when the group’s challenge was filed in federal court.
The Order in Council rifle and shotgun ban also states that semi-automatic, AR-platform rifles are not sporting or hunting firearms and therefore are not legal under Canadian gun laws. The CCFR challenge noted that Canadians have, in fact, used those firearms for exactly those sporting and hunting purposes and have done so for decades.
“We have an eight-day hearing coming up in April, after two-and-a-half years of back and forth in court,” said Tracey Wilson, CCFR’s vice president for public relations. “We have been in consultations with our legal team on options for challenging the handgun freeze, too, but of course it is expensive and difficult to mount a legal defense against government actions like this one. The main differences between the [2020 assault weapons] ban and the freeze is the freeze is permissive, meaning handgun owners who currently own handguns can keep them, but can only use them at government-approved shooting ranges.”
But, upon the death of the handgun owner, the government will seize and destroy the handgun, reducing ownership without compensation.
“The assault-weapons ban is non-permissive and there is an intention of confiscating them from legal owners, and some kind of compensation, in the coming year,” Wilson said.
Soon after Trudeau announced his handgun freeze, Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro issued a statement that read, in part: “The federal government will pretend that this is about public safety, deliberately conflating legal handgun ownership with the violence that we see in many urban centres across Canada. In reality, the handguns used to perpetrate criminal acts in our urban centres are typically illegally obtained and are smuggled across the U.S. border by weapons traffickers.”
Shandro also said, “The federal government’s real goal is to scapegoat handgun owners and use wedge politics to appeal to a narrow base of voters who wish to see legal firearm ownership in this country eliminated entirely.”
He also noted that, since no more new handguns can be purchased, shooting ranges, sport shooting clubs and firearms-related businesses will slowly be forced to shut down, which will impact the livelihoods and recreational opportunities of many Canadians.
In Medicine Hat, Alberta’s sixth-largest city, interim chief of police Alan Murphy told local media that the handgun freeze could very well lead to a number of “unintended consequences.”
“I think motivated criminals will continue to get guns no matter what legislation is in place,” said Murphy. “So, I think what you’ll see is potential for increased smuggling of guns, increased prevalence of ghost guns in our communities all across the country and likely an increase in airsoft gun conversions.”
Provincial officials in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Yukon also are on record that their provinces won’t be footing the bill for any firearms confiscation programs instituted by the federal government.
In October 2022, a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers was held to discuss the federal government’s plan to use police resources to confiscate over 100,000 legally acquired firearms across Canada due to the 2020 “assault-weapons” ban. Some estimates put the cost of this confiscation as high as $1 billion Canadian.
Representatives from Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan called on the federal government to halt plans to use law-enforcement to collect the firearms.
In an official press release summarizing the meetings, New Brunswick’s Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said, “New Brunswick’s bottom line is this: RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] resources are spread thin as it is. We have made it clear to the Government of Canada that we cannot condone any use of those limited resources, at all, in their planned buyback program.”
“Manitoba has consistently stated that many aspects of the federal approach to gun crimes unnecessarily target lawful gun owners while having little impact on criminals, who are unlikely to follow gun regulations in any event,” said Manitoba Justice Minister and Attorney General Kelvin Goertzen. “In Manitoba’s view, any buy-back program cannot further erode our scarce provincial police resources, already suffering from large vacancy rates, and away from focusing on investigation of violent crimes.”
Despite push-back from provincial government officials and Canada’s pro-gun groups, it is clear that Canada’s federal government will have the final say on what guns are and are not legal in Canada, who can own them and where these firearms may be used.
Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness, summed up the legal situation concerning firearms in Canada when he told the Associated Press, “In Canada, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right. This is a principal that differentiates ourselves from many other countries in the world, notably our colleagues and friends to the south. In Canada, guns are only intended to be used for hunting and sport purposes.”
Blair Hagen, executive vice president of Canada’s National Firearms Association, said that the handgun freeze as well as the 2020 “assault-weapons” ban can be reversed, but will require a change in the Canadian federal government leadership to do so.
“The freeze and other liberal gun-control nonsense, absolutely, yes, they can be overturned, and there is a commitment from the Conservative Party of Canada to do so,” Hagen said. “These actions were imposed by an unpopular, incompetent liberal government desperate to divert attention from their failed policies, a tanking economy and many other controversies … . We are ready to get back on the road to firearms law reform legislation, just as we did in 2012 with the end of the infamous Canadian gun registry.”
In the United States, anti-gun forces have had to contend with a Second Amendment that clearly protects a citizen’s rights to keep and bear arms. The June 2022 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the NRA-backed case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, for example, affirmed that Americans have the right to “bear” arms outside their homes. This majority opinion also prescribed a standard of judicial review that lower courts must apply in resolving Second Amendment cases—a standard that requires respect for historical understandings of the right to keep and bear arms.
Unfortunately for Canadian gun owners, there is no Bruen decision in their future. The Canadian constitution does not have a Second Amendment. Basically, in Canada, freedom can be won or lost with every national election.
300 Pages of Banned Guns
As this issue was going to print, Liberal members of the Canadian Parliament introduced an amendment to Bill C-21 which, in part, would add hundreds of semi-
automatic long guns to the list of firearms banned in Canada.
According to one section of the proposed amendment, C-21 would also ban “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 … .”
According to Tracey Wilson, vice president of public relations for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, a list of specific models of semi-automatics that would be banned was included with the amendment, and it totaled 309 pages!
A statement issued by Alberta’s Minister of Justice Tyler Shandro soon after the amendment was announced noted that the ban would “target more than two million licensed Canadian firearms owners, including hunters, farmers and target shooters who collectively own hundreds of thousands of firearms that could soon be prohibited.”
The statement also said, “The decision to take this action abandons long-held claims put forward by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino—namely, that the federal government was only seeking to ban so-called ‘assault-style’ firearms and that they would somehow equitably compensate firearms owners.”
The amendment must be voted upon to officially be added to C-21. Given the Liberal Party majority in the Canadian Parliament, she anticipated that the amendment would be added to the original bill. Given the necessary Parliamentary procedures required, Wilson did not expect a vote on C-21’s passage until the summer of 2023.