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Bill C-21 Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some introductory Frequently Asked Questions for Firearms Bill C-21, which was introduced in the House of Commons on Feb. 16, 2021. At this point, some of the answers to these FAQs only use information directly from Public Safety Canada and statements by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair.

More specifically, we’ve recently engaged officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice to get clarification and answers to some of the questions our members are asking on topics like replica firearms, red flag laws, magazine capacity offences, and rules for keeping May 1, 2020 OIC-banned firearms. For that and more, see below, and check back often as we will continue to update this list and provide updates through OFAH e-news regularly with new information.

Last modified on May 4th, 2021 at 2:10 pm.

Public Safety Canada has stated that Bill C-21 would make “Compliance with handgun storage and transport restrictions a condition of a federal firearms licence in municipalities that pass bylaws to:

  1. prohibit storage at home (i.e., owners must store handguns at a licensed business); or,
  2. prohibit storage anywhere in municipality, and transport to or from certain places in it.

Municipalities would notify the Minister of bylaws creating these restrictions and the Registrar of Firearms would inform affected licence holders, with conditions of licence to apply after 180 days to provide time for compliance. The Commissioner of Firearms will maintain a public list where restrictions apply. Breach of a condition of federal licence carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment and possible revocation of licence or registration certificate.”

They also state that “Additional eligible grounds for storage restriction bylaws may be prescribed by regulation to adapt the regime, and in response to local needs. The Governor in Council may also prescribe exceptions”.

Minister Bill Blair has stated:  “We will enable them to implement additional regulations. And, yes, under the constitution, the provinces can stop them.”[MD1] 

The only changes relate to self defence. Trappers will be able to retain and continue to hold onto their ATCs, and trapping will continue to be recognized as a legitimate purpose. The decision to issue or revoke an ATC remains the authority of the provincial CFO.

Public Safety Canada has stated“the Criminal Code will be amended to allow anyone to apply to a judge for an order [Emergency Prohibition Order] to immediately remove firearms from 1) an individual who may pose a danger to themselves or others, or 2) a third party who could provide firearms to such an individual. The order is for a period of 30 days. Applications are now available only to peace officers, firearms officers, and Chief Firearms Officers.”

In a follow-up discussion with officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice, they provided some additional clarification on the proposed Emergency Prohibition Order (EPO):

Government’s policy intent – the intent is more about stopping something that could happen, NOT something that IS happening (e.g., not when someone calls 9-1-1). The two examples provided were someone who is suicidal (and has access to firearms) or in situations of domestic violence where an individual is too afraid to go to the court/police.

Making application directly to the court – the proposed EPO is considered to be a stopgap measure that is more expeditious and efficient than the current Prohibition Order, which must be requested by a peace officer, police officer, or Chief Firearms Officer. Currently, the Criminal Code allows for a person to apply to the court to obtain a peace bond (protection order) against another individual (e.g., restraining order). The EPO would enable this process for the removal of firearms from an individual.

Third-party application to the court – in the second example used to illustrate the government’s policy rationale above, a third-party would now be allowed to go to the court on the individual’s behalf.

Abuse of the EPO & Judge’s discretion – similar to a protection order now, a judge is the ‘filtering’ process to determine whether claims are unfounded and to prevent abuse of the system. Depending on the situation, the judge would have discretion to determine what happens with the firearms, including 1) search and seizure, 2) surrender, or 3) transfer to another person with a valid firearms licence.

Notification – the individual which the order is sought against is not notified until after order is issued. This is the point when individual can get involved.

Appeals – The ‘defendant’ would need to go through common law to fight the order because there is no appeal process. The ‘defendant’ can request a full hearing on the issue.

EPO expiry & Triggering a longer-term order: A judge will determine if a longer prohibition is required/justified and can set a date for a full hearing (i.e., existing Prohibition Order kicks in). If no date is set for a full hearing, the EPO expires automatically after 30 days.

Public Safety Canada has stated: a new provision in the Firearms Act will allow a Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) to temporarily suspend an individual’s firearms licence if the CFO receives information calling into question their licence eligibility. During the suspension, an individual is prohibited from using their firearms, and cannot acquire new ones. This provides a pause while CFOs assess whether to revoke the licence. If the reasonable suspicion is eliminated prior to the end of the 30 days, the licence would be immediately reinstated.” 

Public Safety Canada has stated: It would now “Require surrender of firearms during a legal challenge of licence revocation, and measures to facilitate their safe disposal if required. Owners would no longer retain their firearms while appealing a revocation.”

The Bill does not propose any change to current magazine capacity limits. However, Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Create a new Criminal Code offence for altering a cartridge magazine to hold more than its lawful capacity with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment on indictment or punishable on summary conviction.”

In a follow-up discussion with officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice, some additional clarification on the proposed penalties related to magazine capacity was provided:

Currently, there is no specific offence for ‘unpinning’ a magazine. It is a ‘lesser included offence’ and the government is trying to broaden the scope to make it a specific offence.

This amendment will be a tool to target those individuals who are purposely committing crimes (e.g., organized crime), and will aid in tracking a person’s behaviour when looking at their criminal record.

No. The government reiterated that it “intends to offer owners compensation for surrendering firearms prohibited on May 1, 2020. Details of a buyback program will be announced later.”

Public Safety Canada has stated: “The bill would create a lawful compliance option for those who prefer not to surrender their firearms: new grounds for non-permissive storage of prohibited firearms by imposing strict conditions: no permitted use, no import, no further acquisition, no sale, no bequeathal. To qualify for the option owners must:

  1. possess a Restricted Possession and Acquisition licence;
  2. register the firearm; and
  3. comply with strict storage conditions (to be prescribed) and confirm periodically they are still in compliance.”

In addition, they have stated that their approach “Ensures a known number of firearms and owners that will only diminish over time, and assures the market will remain permanently closed for these firearms.” 

After a follow-up discussion with officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice, here is some additional clarification on the proposed non-permissive storage provisions in Bill C-21:

Previous grandfathering exemptions – there is no change to grandfathering of prohibited firearms with explicit authorization in law (S. 12.1-12.7). Individual retains current status of those firearms.

May 2020 OIC-prohibited firearms – the new non-permissive storage rules apply to the May 1, 2020 OIC-prohibited firearms. New provisions were required because the government’s policy intent was to ‘close the market’ for these firearms and not allow them to be used (which is inconsistent with the existing grandfathering provisions).

Future regulation-making related to grandfathering – S. 12.8 and 12.9 of the Firearms Act that allowed grandfathering through regulations are being removed and replaced by the non-permissive storage provisions. They were empty classes (i.e., had never been used). These sections are being replaced by a ‘non-permissive storage’ provision that would allow for regulation-making authority (for future prohibitions) with the same conditions applied to the OIC-banned firearms. In other words, regulation-making authority would be limited to ‘non-permissive’ conditions and not ‘grandfathering’.

Public Safety Canada has stated: “Only these conditions would be available to the Governor in Council to apply in future cases through regulation, replacing the existing regulatory authority.” 

Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Close the gap in the Criminal Code regarding ‘replica’ firearms by ensuring the prohibition on importation, exportation and sale applies to all non-regulated airguns that look like modern firearms. Un-regulated airguns that look like modern firearms and fire a projectile below 366 feet per second (fps) are already considered replicas, and are prohibited. This amendment will close a gap to ensure that air guns firing a projectile between 366 and 500 fps are also considered replicas if they look like modern firearms. Current owners will be allowed to keep those they already own, but they cannot transfer them to another person.”

Officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice have provided some additional clarification on the proposed changes to replica firearm provisions in Bill C-21:

Determination of replicas – replica firearms are determined solely on visual presentation, and must exactly resemble an existing firearm, including MAKE and MODEL.

Use of replicas – current owners are not affected. There are no limitations on using or possessing any models deemed to be exact replicas. You can still own, use, and transport these firearms. The only restrictions on lawfully owned pellet, bb or airsoft deemed to be replica firearms is you cannot transfer, sell or bequeath them. This proposal would ‘close the market’ by eliminating the sale and importation of firearms deemed to be replicas (done at the industry level).

Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Amend the Firearms Act to require presentation of a firearms licence to import ammunition to ensure that individuals without a licence cannot obtain ammunition from abroad, e.g., for an illegal firearm.”

Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Amend the Firearms Act to authorize the disclosure of information about firearms licence holders to Canadian law enforcement agencies when there are reasonable grounds to suspect the licence is being used for straw purchasing and weapons trafficking. A reporting requirement will be added to the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Firearms to ensure transparency.”

It will also “Impose stronger Criminal Code penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking and related offences to increase maximum penalties from 10 years to 14 years imprisonment”. 

Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Improve the ability of the CBSA to manage inadmissibility to Canada when foreign nationals commit offences upon entry to Canada, including firearms-related offences. Technical amendments to Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would clarify that the existing regulation-making power may prescribe specific offences, whether in Acts or regulations, as applicable for this inadmissibility ground. Concurrent regulatory amendments are under development which would better focus the inadmissibility on the most serious cross-border offences, and would provide officers at ports of entry the authority to issue removal orders for the most straightforward offences, such as importing a firearm without a permit. Transfer policy responsibility for transborder criminality from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to better align with the Minister of Public Safety’s existing policy responsibilities with respect to border management, immigration enforcement, and criminal law enforcement.”

Public Safety Canada has stated: It will “Create a new Firearms Act offence for a business that promotes or depicts violence in firearms advertising with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, in the case of a first offence, and five years for each subsequent offence. The bill says glorification of violence against a person, so contrary to what some reports have suggested it would not include a depiction of hunting as 'violence'.”

There are a lot of changes proposed in Bill C-21 that would alter the Criminal Code, Firearms Act, and other legislation. Our first priority is to fully assess the proposed changes to determine how it will impact firearms owners. As we learn more about the legislation and its impacts, we will share this information with the goal of wrapping it up in strong policy advocacy throughout the parliamentary process. Some of the proposals have been assessed, at least in part, in previous OFAH advocacy such as our May 2020 letter to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair.

In a follow-up discussion with officials from Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice, here is some additional clarification on the seemingly contradictory removal of mandatory minimum penalties in Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:

Government’s Policy Intent: The government is repealing certain Mandatory Minimum Penalties (MMPs) that have a disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples, as well as Black Canadians in the criminal justice system. The removal of MMPs will give greater judicial discretion for assessing and deciding on the most appropriate sentence/penalty on a broad range of offences and broad range of moral culpability (intent). Currently, less ‘culpable’ offences are still subject to mandatory minimum penalties, and the following examples were used to illustrate how this applies to firearms-related offences:

  • a person who lends a firearm to a friend without a firearms licence is currently being treated the same as someone trafficking firearms
  • a widow/widower who is still in possession of their late partner’s firearms is currently impacted by MMPs.

Last modified on May 4th, 2021 at 2:10 pm.

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