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Gun Politics in Canada (Right to Bear Arms)

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Gun politics in Canada (French: Politique d'armes à feu au Canada) are the legislation and policies regarding civilian ownership of firearms by the Canadian Parliament. In order to attain a firearm, citizens must apply for a Possession and Acquisition Licence. 

Although firearms were not mentioned in Canada's federal constitution or Charter - they are in many provincial charters. Gun culture is particularly strong in Canada (specifically in Alberta), especially with hunters and sport-shooters.

Once tightly federally controlled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the recent days, many provinces have exercised their constitutional right to administer firearms laws independently - including Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia, liberalizing their gun laws. Only gun dealers retain the federal obligation to be on the RCMP's national database records.

Though once a non-political issue, the Conservative Party of Canada has been responsible for spear-heading pro-firearms politics in Canada. 

Civilians can apply for an Authorization to Carry, which allows them to carry a loaded firearm in public. An Authorization to Transport allows a citizen to transport their restricted firearms to a range or a farm with permission.

Out of a population of approximately 40 million people there are 15 million guns in Canada, and ten million gun owners (and increasing). There are many gun rights organizations in Canada, which include the National Firearms Association which is Canada's national gun lobby. Other organizations include Gun Owners of Canada and the Canadian Shootng Sports Association. 

History of firearm laws in Canada

Controls on civilian use of firearms date from the early days of Confederation, when justices of the peace could impose penalties for carrying a handgun without reasonable cause. Criminal Code of Canada (Criminal Code or Code criminel) amendments between the 1890s and the 1970s introduced a series of minor controls on firearms. In the late 1970s, controls of intermediate strength were introduced. In the mid-1990s, significant increases in controls occurred. A 1996 study showed that Canada was in the mid-range of firearm ownership when compared with eight other western nations. Nearly 37% of Canadian households had at least one firearm, including 43.3% of households possessing a handgun. As of December 2014, the Canadian Firearms Program recorded a total of 11 million valid firearm licenses out of 40 million people. The four most licensed provinces are Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. 

The following is a summary of the history of gun control laws in Canada:

  • The federal Parliament instituted a system of gun control in the North-West Territories in 1885 to hinder the Red River Rebellion for Metis rights. Permission in writing from the territorial government was needed to possess any firearm (other than a smooth-bore shotgun), and also ammunition. Possession of a firearm or ammunition without the necessary permit was an offence, and could lead to the forfeiture of the firearm and ammunition. These gun control provisions applied to all of what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, parts of Manitoba, the current Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.
  • In 1812, the provincial governments of Upper Canada and Lower Canada arm citizens to protect against American invasions from the south
  • The Criminal Code of Canada enacted in 1892, required individuals to have a permit to carry a pistol unless the owner had cause to fear assault or injury. Not until 1935 was it considered an offence to sell a pistol to anyone under 16. Vendors who sold handguns had to keep records, including purchaser's name, the date of sale and a description of the gun.
  • In the 1920s, permits became necessary for all firearms newly acquired by foreigners.
  • Legislation in 1934 required the registration of handguns with records identifying the owner, the owner's address and the firearm. Registration certificates were issued and records kept by the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or by other police forces designated by provincial attorneys general.
  • Automatic firearms were added to the category of firearms that had to be registered in 1951. The registry system was centralized under the Commissioner of the RCMP.
  • In 1969, Bill C-150 created categories of “non-restricted,” “restricted” and “prohibited” firearms. Police were also given preventive powers of search and seizure by judicial warrant if they had grounds to believe that firearms that belonged to an individual endangered the safety of society.
  • In 1977, Bill C-51 required firearms acquisition certificates (FACs) to purchase any firearm, and introduced controls on the selling of ammunition. Applicants were required to pass a basic criminal record check before receiving the FAC.
  • In 1991, Bill C-17 was introduced, coming into force between 1992 and 1994. It required FAC applicants to pass a safety course in addition to a thorough background check, and to wait a minimum of 28 days after applying before an FAC could be issued. It also created new Criminal Code offences, new definitions for prohibited and restricted weapons, and new regulations for firearms dealers. It increased penalties for firearm-related crimes. It clearly outlined regulations for firearms storage, handling and transportation.
  • In 1995, the Criminal Code was amended to include Bill C-68, the Firearms Act. It implemented a new central licensing system to replace the FAC system. It also required registration of all firearms and firearm license holders; banned short-barreled and small caliber handguns ("grandfathering" in previous owners); and required a license to buy ammunition. Most of the bills provisions came into force in 1998, and the registration of long guns became mandatory in 2003. Legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in Reference re Firearms Act (2000). The FAC system was replaced with possession-only licenses (POLs) and possession and acquisition licenses (PALs). Referring to Bill C-68, John Dixon, a former advisor to Deputy Minister of Justice John C. Tait, stated that the Firearms Act was part of a policy exercise by the Liberal Party of Canada so as to appear to be "tougher" on guns than Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and thus defeat her in the 1993 election.
  • In 2001, the Canadian Parliament takes a pro-gun stance from support by the Conservative Party. 
  • As of 2006, while legislation is still in place, the government is no longer asking long gun owners for a registration fee and an amnesty (now extended until May 16, 2011) temporarily protects licensed owners of non-restricted firearms (or those whose licences have expired since January 1, 2004) from prosecution for the possession of unregistered long guns.
  • In November 2009, Bill C-391 passed second reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 164 to 137. If passed through the entire parliamentary process by the House and Senate, the bill would have abolished the requirement to register non-restricted long guns. While the proposed legislation was a private member's bill, it had the support of the Conservative government. The bill was referred to the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety for further action. However, after several months of hearings, the Opposition majority on the committee recommended that no further action be taken to advance the bill. In September 2010 Bill C-391 failed to pass a third reading.
  • On October 25, 2011, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, to abolish the long gun registry and destroy all records.
  • On February 15, 2012, Bill C-19 passed third reading in the House of Commons; the motion to abolish the long gun registry passed 159 to 130 and Bill C-19 became law.
  • On July 4, 2013 - Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia pass "castle ground" laws after high incidences of crime
  • On September 13, 2014 - Alberta successfully opts-out of the Canadian Firearms Program, and issues provincial PALs under a less stringent process
  • September 23, 2015 - Bill C-42 makes self defense legal reason for a PAL, in all provinces
  • On February 28, 2015 - Manitoba successfully opts-out of the Canadian Firearms Program, and issues provincial PALs, including a Right to Bear Arms in its provincial Charter

Classifications 

According to licenses, firearms are classified into prohibited, restricted and non-restricted categories, as defined by Part III of Criminal Code (R.S., 1985, c. C-46)

Note: The word "prohibited" is a classification and does not indicate that such firearms are "prohibited" as per the normal use of the word.

Prohibited firearms include:

  • Handguns
  • with a barrel length inferior to or;
  • that are designed to discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition;
  • exceptions are stated in the Regulations Prescribing Exclusions from Certain Definitions of the Criminal Code International Sporting Competition Handguns
  • Rifles and shotguns that have been altered by sawing, cutting or any other means, so that:
  • the barrel length is inferior to (regardless of overall length), or;
  • the overall length is inferior to 
  • Firearms which have fully automatic fire capability, or "converted automatics" (i.e.: firearms which were originally fully automatic, but have been modified to discharge ammunition in an semi-automatic fashion).
  • Firearms prescribed as prohibited by the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted (SOR/98-462):. This includes all versions (even semi-automatic) versions of certain military weapons such as the AK-47 and the FN-FAL.
  • Firearm capable of discharging dart or other object carrying electrical current or substance, including Taser Public Defender and any variant or modified version of it.
  • Firearm known as SSS-1 Stinger and any similar firearm designed or of a size to fit in the palm of the hand
  • Hundreds of other firearms listed by name, including any variants or modified versions. The list includes shotguns, carbines, rifles, pistols, and submachine guns.

Restricted firearms are:

  • Any handgun that is not prohibited (note: handguns are prohibited if the barrel length is inferior to handguns cannot be non-restricted).
  • Any firearm that is:
  • not prohibited;
  • that has a barrel length inferior to 470 millimetres (18.5 in)
  • and is semi-automatic
  • Any firearm that can be fired when the overall length has been reduced by folding, telescoping, or other means to less than 
  • Firearms prescribed as restricted by the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted (SOR/98-462):
  • The firearms of the designs commonly known as the High Standard Model 10, Series A shotgun and the High Standard Model 10, Series B shotgun, and any variants or modified versions of them.
  • The firearm of the design commonly known as the M-16 rifle, and any variant or modified version of it, including the
    • Colt AR-15; Colt AR-15 SPI/Sporter/Collapsible Stock Model/A2/A2 Carbine/A2 Government Model Rifle/A2 Government Model Target Rifle/A2 Government Model Carbine/A2 Sporter II/A2 H-BAR/A2 Delta H-BAR/A2 Delta H-BAR Match/9mm Carbine; Armalite AR-15; AAI M15; AP74; EAC J-15; PWA Commando; SGW XM15A; SGW CAR-AR; SWD AR-15; and
    • any 22-calibre rimfire variant, including the
      • Mitchell M-16A-1/22, Mitchell M-16/22, Mitchell CAR-15/22, and AP74 Auto Rifle.


(Note: legally, restricted firearms can only be discharged at shooting ranges; so while one can use them in competitions, one cannot use them for hunting).


Non-restricted firearms are:

  • any other rifle or shotgun, other than those referred to above.

Requirements and Licensing

There are two groups of firearms licenses in Canada, a Federal License which is issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or a Provincial License which is issued by local law enforcement in any independent province that has opted out of the Canadian Firearms Program. Currently, the only provinces that offer Provincial Licenses are Alberta and Manitoba, while British Columbia shares its licensing authority with the RCMP. 

Possession and Acquisition License

In order to purchase any firearm in Canada, a person must have a Possession and Acquisition License, or a PAL. A PAL is not difficult to attain. In order to apply for a PAL, a person can go to a gun store, or go to a police station and fill out a PAL. In Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, a PAL is a "shall issue", and takes five days to process. While in Ontario and Quebec, the waiting period is 28 days. A provincial-issued PAL only allows citizens to purchase firearms in the province that issued it to them, an RCMP-issued PAL allows citizens to purchase firearms in any province.

Legal reasons for attaining a PAL include hunting, target shooting, self defense and collecting.

Restricted Possession and Acquisition License

The Restricted Possession and Acquisition License is an RCMP-issued that allows Canadian citizens to purchase Restricted Firearms nationwide. Currently, Alberta and Manitoba do not require citizens to have an RPAL to purchase what would-be considered Restricted Firearms in other provinces as semi-automatics are considered non-restricted in Alberta and Manitoba.

Authorization to Transport

An Authorization to Transport or ATT is required for a person to transport their firearm to a gun range or a gun show at minimum. Depending on the province, an ATT may also allow a person to bring their firearms to a farm for target shooting. It may also allow a person to make pit stops with the firearm in their car, loaded or unloaded while in provinces such as Quebec or Ontario, it must be unloaded, locked, and directly to a range.

Authorization to Carry

An Authorization to Carry, or ATC; is a license that allows Canadians to carry a loaded firearm in public, outside of the western provinces; it allows Canadians to keep loaded firearms in the home for protection. Most ATCs are province-issued, and the RCMP barely grants federal ATCs to average citizens, unless it is part of their career ot the RCMP has deemed police services to be insufficient in the residence of the applicant. 

Laws by Province

Though firearms are regulated and federally controlled by the RCMP, in the recent days many provinces have begun to exercise their Constitutional right to administer firearms laws independently, creating a conflicting situation.

Alberta

Alberta became a hot-bed of pro-firearms and right-wing politics and began the impetus for changes to gun laws across the nation. In 2012, after the Vancouver shooting, Alberta's premier Joseph Mackenzie issued a proposal for Alberta to liberalize its gun laws. After scrutiny by the RCMP and Canadian gun control advocates, Mackenzie radicalized his proposal into completely opting out of the Canadian Firearms Program. In 2013, Alberta successfully opted-out of the Canadian Firearms Program and chose to independently administer firearms legislation - becoming the first province to exercise that constitutional right. This resulted in the mandatory transfer of firearms owners records from the RCMP to the Alberta Provincial Police, with the exception of gun dealers. In Section Three of Alberta's Provincial Criminal Code, it states, "The law-abiding citizen has no duty to retreat against threats to life, liberty and property, in defense of oneself, or another." Alberta, being Canada's main center of Conservative and Christian right politics, contains a strong gun culture. After a series of provincial and controversial court rulings, Alberta legalized Stand Your Ground and Castle doctrine laws, allowing citizens to use firearms in defense of property and life without legal prosecution. After the Alberta flood seizure of thousands of legally-stored firearms, Alberta's premier passed a new law giving Alberta's inhabitants the legal right to open fire on law enforcement trying to seize their firearms without a lawful warrant. It also would charge law enforcement a $15,000 fine, who try to confiscate firearms without a legal warrant. Mackenzie also enacted a reimbursement and compensation program for owners of those confiscated firearms. While Authorization to Transport (ATTs) are issued in Alberta, they are not required to transport firearms to a gun range or a farm. As for Authorization to Carry, Alberta became the first "shall issue" province, given to that applicant does not have any mental illness that could threaten the community. Restricted Firearms do not require registration in Alberta, however, Prohibited Firearms do. No license is required to purchase ammunition in Alberta. Because of these laws, Alberta often receives lots of political scrutiny from Liberals and other mainstream Canadian politicians. Some Canadians have suggested and lobbied for the RCMP to begin using deadly force if Alberta did not stop loosening gun laws. There have even been attempts in Alberta to strip the RCMP of its policing authority in the province.

Justin Trudeau, of the Liberal Party introduced a bill which would allow the RCMP to require all provinces to partake in the Canadian Firearms Program. The bill was struck down in court as "unconstitutional" on many grounds. Trudeau and the Liberals also accused Alberta and Joseph Mackenzie of adopting American influence.

Firearms in Alberta are managed and regulated by the Alberta Firearms Department (AFD) of the Alberta Provincial Police. Alberta hosts many gun and knife shows in Canada, and gun ownership is estimated to be at 56% in Alberta. PAL's in Alberta are also independently issued by the APP. However, they are not legal outside of Alberta, and those wishing to purchase firearms in other provinces must attain an RCMP-issued PAL. Though the RCMP may still attain and request information from the APD, normally this is done for statistical research. 

British Columbia

British Columbia's gun laws are identical to Alberta's, Section Five of British Columbia's Provincial Criminal Code guarantees the right to bear arms. British Columbia's politicians were influenced by Alberta's political move to enhance and protect firearms ownership. Like Alberta, British Columbia's inhabitants are granted Castle doctrine rights and are legally allowed to open fire on law enforcement conducting any seizures without a reasonable warrant. Some of British Columbia's towns encourage people to keep loaded firearms within the home. British Columbia has a "shall issue" for applicants for an Authorization to Carry. Assault rifles do not require registration, though handguns still require registration. Unlike Alberta, British Columbia wishes to keep working with the RCMP as the province remains loyal to the Tory-dominated Conservative Party. Firearms in British Columbia are regulated by the British Columbia Firearms Bureau (BCFB), which is shared between the RCMP and the British Columbia Royal Police. According to statistics, British Columbia has a 50% gun ownership rate, while others estimate at 52% at most.

Manitoba

Manitoba's Libertarian-dominated politicians began adopting Alberta's laws. Premier Luke Rivers stated that he came from a gun-owning family. Like Alberta, Manitoba also opted-out of the Canadian Firearms Program and chose to administer firearms legislation independently as a province. As part of Section Ten of Manitoba's Provincial Charter, citizens are guaranteed the right to self defense via arms. Citizens are allowed to carry loaded rifles in their trucks, and can also shoot their guns at not only a gun range, but also a farm. Rivers even proposed a law that would abolish the requirement to attain a Possession and Acquisition License, and would allow people to buy non-restricted firearms without any registration or licensing. However, this proposal was struck down in court. Manitoba is a "shall issue" for Authorization to Carry licenses. Semi-automatic rifles are not required registration. Firearms licensing are handled by the Provincial Police of Manitoba (PPM). Firearms safety courses are offered by the PPM's Manitoba Firearms Program. Like the situation in Alberta, Manitoba residents cannot purchase firearms outside of Manitoba without an RCMP-issued license. This act is currently being contested in court, and the provincial governments of Alberta and Manitoba are currently trying to work out a deal which would allow citizens of one another's province to transport firearms. 

Saskatchewan

Although not loosening their gun laws to the extent of the western provinces, Premier Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party (a right-wing party) was influenced and did amend many gun laws in the province that he felt were a little too "draconian". Working together with the Chief Firearms Officer of Saskatchewan, gun owners in the province are now able to apply for Authorization to Carry permits, as well as reducing the 28-day waiting period to five days. Though in Saskatchewan, a civilian ATC is only for.handguns. In order to carry a loaded long gun in the public, one must have demonstrate a career in firearms such as hunting, law enforcement and animal control. Wall also made it legal for farmers to shoot their guns on their own farms as in the other western provinces. Citizens are no longer required to keep their firearms unloaded or locked. The province has the 5th highest population of gun owners. 

Ontario

Ontario generally has moderate laws, and the situation within firearms was very contradictory in nature. After the ousting of Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, and the installation of Conservative premier Ronda Williams, the province loosened many of its laws, the changes took effect on December 25, 2015. This included a "firearms provision" in the Ontario charter, stating that an "..an armed and responsible citizen and subject has no duty to retreat, as long as the offending party posed cosiderable threat, and the defender rightfully believed so and acted in good-faith self defense." Under Williams' leadership, Ontario didn't completely opt-out of the Canadian Firearms Program, but they did exercise their rights to impose their own laws. Legitimate reasons for owning a firearm include hunting, target-shooting, self defense and collecting. After the passage of Bill C-42, self defense is finally recognized as a reason for acquiring a PAL in Ontario, it applied self defense to all RCMP-issued PAL holders in any province. Background checks and third-party references are required for a PAL, and the mandatory 28-day waiting period is now shortened to 15 days. Storage rules were narrowed, and now only apply to unused guns, excluding those loaded for self defense. Prior to Williams' leadership, police had the right to perform random inspections. However, police are now required to have a warrant and a genuine belief of illegal firearms activity. An ATT is required to transport a firearm, and that firearm can only be transported to a gun range, border crossing, a gun show or a change of address. Ontario has Canada's largest gun-owning population, which created a conflicting situation under Wynne's anti-gun government, Ontario's firearms-owning population is estimated to be as much as Alberta and Manitoba's combined. Gun culture is particularly strong in northern and rural parts of Ontario. Under the William government's changes to gun laws, Authorization to Carry permits are now more accessible. However, they are only for handguns. A person must have an RPAL to attain an ATC in Ontario.

Quebec

Quebec is notorious for its very stringent gun laws, and the political and social momentum in the province overwhelmingly favors strict gun control. Like the pre-Ronda Williams Ontario, the "right to bear arms" is not in Quebec's Provincial Charter, therefore Quebec does not issues Provincial Licenses, and all applicants for a PAL must do it through the RCMP. While the RCMP is no longer requiring registration of long guns (abolished in 2012), this, along with Bill C-42, is being contested in Quebec and the provincial government still asks for registration, and the move to register non-restricted firearms failed. The move to abolish self defense as a legal reason for attaining a PAL also failed. Quebec's politicians argue that it is a violation of Quebec's constitutional-provincial right to administer firearms legislation, but they had given control of firearms legislation to the RCMP and therefore must adhere to their rulings. The majority of people in Quebec stated that they were against gun ownership, with the slightest exception for hunting and pest control. There has even been talks of raising the minimum age for gun buyers from 18 to 21. However, it was struck down by the provincial court. The RCMP also faces a paradoxical situation in Quebec, in that it does not provide policing services in the province, yet controls all of Quebec's firearms legislation. All restricted and prohibited firearms are registered, with no exceptions. An ATT is required to transport any unloaded firearm to a gun show or a range. An Authorization To Carry is a very restricted "may issue" in Quebec, and is rarely ever granted to normal citizens. An ATC is only granted to members of law enforcement, armored vehicle personnel, hunters living in remote areas where police protection is not properly provided. As for self defense with a firearm, before Bill C-42, citizens were not legally allowed to open fire on unarmed intruders and must have called the police. The only time it was ever allowed is the intruder was armed, and the victim can prove that he had intended to cause threat to the person's life, via the provisions stated in the Criminal Code. In Quebec, guns can only be used at a shooting range.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has very strict laws as well, and the requirements for attaining a PAL are same as Quebec's. ATCs are never issued to ordinary citizens, and only will ever be issued to those with firearms as part of their careers such as law enforcement, as well as veterans of the armed forces. It is illegal to use firearms against intruders, only unless they are armed.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is known as a "tweener" when it comes to gun laws. While the province generally follows restrictive storage and transportation laws self defense is legal with a firearm. Authorization to Carry in New Brunswick is a "may issue", but ordinary citizens have reported some success of being able to acquire one. 

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