Canada to ban handgun imports

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TORONTO — The Canadian government will ban the import of handguns, officials said Friday, the latest in a series of gun-control measures under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Because the great majority of handguns in Canada are imported, the move effectively caps the number of such weapons already in the country at the current level without banning them outright.

The regulatory measure, announced by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, follows a bill introduced by the government in May to implement a “national freeze” on buying, importing, selling and transferring handguns.

Friday’s measure allows the government to impose that freeze without waiting for Parliament, which is on a summer break until September, to pass the legislation. It’s expected to come into effect in two weeks, reducing the window for gun stores to amass merchandise.

“They have no place in any community, any neighborhood or any street,” Mendicino said at a news conference Friday outside a Catholic school in Etobicoke, Ontario. He said Toronto, in particular, has seen “too much gun violence” in recent years.

Joly said she would use her authority as foreign minister to deny import and export permits to effect the ban.

Local media outlets have reported that handgun sales have skyrocketed since Trudeau’s government announced the freeze, prompting some lawmakers to express concern about a run on handguns by legal gun owners looking to stock up before the legislation passed.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new gun-control legislation May 30 that would put a “national freeze” on importing, buying or selling handguns. (Video: Reuters)

Gun control enjoys broad support here. But critics say the focus on limiting handgun ownership unfairly targets law-abiding owners while doing little to stamp out the root problem: guns smuggled illegally across the border.

Toronto’s police chief said in November that roughly 80 percent of the firearms involved in gun violence in Canada’s most populous city come from the United States, which he noted has a significant gun culture, making it a “very difficult” issue to address.

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“The biggest problem we have in the city is the volume of guns that are coming across the border,” Chief James Ramer said.

The legislation introduced in May, known as C-21, also includes “red flag” laws that would allow judges to temporarily take firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, the removal of gun licenses from people who have committed domestic violence, and stiffer penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking.

The legislation and the ban both include exemptions for those, such as armed security guards, who hold an “authorization to carry” as part of their work, those who have an “authorization to carry” for protection, and authorized high-performance sport shooting athletes and coaches.

Canada imported more than $28.2 million in revolvers and pistols in 2021, according to government data, with nearly two-thirds of that volume coming from the United States. Total imports were up 7.7 percent from the previous year, but down from a recent peak of $34.7 million in 2018.

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Mass shootings are relatively rare here compared with in the United States, but the rate of firearm-related homicides has increased since 2013, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The government statistics agency reported that more than 60 percent of gun-related violent crime in urban centers in 2020 involved handguns. But it also said there were many gaps and limitations in the data, including on the “source of firearms used in crime” and “whether a gun used in crime was stolen, illegally purchased or smuggled into the country.” No province requires investigators to send guns used in crimes for tracing.

A Toronto police spokesman said that publicly available data on guns from the United States doesn’t reflect the true number of firearms in Canada because most that are used in crimes are illegally purchased or smuggled across the border. “The crime guns that we seize in Toronto have been banned since the mid-90s,” the spokesman said. “But those guns are still available in the U.S.”

The Canada Border Services Agency said it seized 1,203 firearms from 2021 to 2022. In May, a Yorkshire terrier named Pepper thwarted an attempt to smuggle 11 handguns across the border from Michigan to Ontario using a six-rotor drone.

Some 2.2 million people in Canada are licensed firearms owners, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported in 2020, and more than 1.1 million firearms are registered. Mendicino said 55,000 firearms have been registered in the past year alone.

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Trudeau’s government pledged stiffer gun-control measures during the federal election campaign last year.

In 2020, Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 makes and models of “military-style assault weapons,” after a gunman posing as a police officer rampaged across Nova Scotia over two weekend days, setting structures ablaze and killing 22 people, including a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, in Canada’s deadliest mass shooting.

Last week, the government outlined how much it is proposing to compensate gun owners who turn in those weapons under a mandatory buyback program.

During hearings in a public inquiry this year on the “causes, context and circumstances” of the Nova Scotia attack, evidence was presented on the origin of the shooter’s large cache of weapons.

Gabriel Wortman, a denturist, did not possess a firearms license and obtained his weapons illegally. The commission heard that there were “two, and potentially three,” instances when police received information about his access to firearms. Little, if anything, was done, according to testimony.

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Several of the weapons were traced and sourced to gun stores in Maine. A friend there told police that Wortman took one or more of the guns without his knowledge or permission, but he gave the shooter a Ruger P89 pistol “as a sign of gratitude” for his help with “tree removals and other odd jobs at his residence.”

An AR-15 came from a gun shop in California, but Wortman first saw it at a gun show in Maine and another person bought it for him. Witnesses told police after the shooting that Wortman would disassemble the firearms and roll them up in his pickup truck’s payload cover to smuggle them across the border.

Wortman was shot to death by Royal Canadian Mounted Police at a service area in Enfield, Nova Scotia, ending his rampage. Police have not charged any of the individuals who helped him obtain the weapons, including those who might have broken U.S. laws.