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Public safety minister announces $390M for provinces to help fight gangs, gun crime

The federal government announced Monday it’s spending $390 million over five years to help the provinces crack down on gang violence and reduce the number of crimes committed with firearms. 

“Today’s announcement will provide additional resources to law enforcement agencies, assist young people to make the right choices and help our communities prosper,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a media statement. 

This announcement comes as the Liberal government introduces a motion in the House of Commons to speed the passage of gun control legislation.

According to Public Safety Canada, the number of firearms-related homicides in Canada has been steadily increasing in recent years. The year 2020 saw 277 gun-related murders, 16 more than in the previous year. 

The government department said that gang violence is also on the rise and that since 2013, the number of gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities has almost doubled.

Of the 743 homicides in 2020, the department said, 20 per cent were linked to organized crime or street gangs.

In a media statement, Public Safety Canada said the funding builds on the Take Action Against Gun and Gang Violence strategy announced in 2017. The program, led by Public Safety Canada in concert with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the RCMP, started with $327.6 million in funding.

Most of the money — approximately $214 million over five years — was given to provinces and territories to help them combat gun and gang violence.

On Monday, a government statement said the new money is part of the Liberal government’s “comprehensive plan to get guns off our streets and inject resources into our neighbourhoods.”

The other aspects of that plan, the statement said, are effort to reform the bail system and Bill C-21, the government’s legislation to ban some types of firearms, currently working its way through Parliament.

Bill C-21

Last week, the Liberal government introduced a revised set of amendments to its pending gun legislation after dropping some initial changes that sparked outcry from firearm owners.

Mendicino said at the time that the amendments to Bill C-21 include a new definition of prohibited firearms that encompasses certain “assault-style” rifles.

“These reforms are about keeping AR-15 assault-style firearms off of our streets while at the same time respecting gun owners,” he told a press conference last week.

Mendicino said the government came up with a revised definition after consulting with manufacturers, hunters and Indigenous communities.

A women in a black suit stands at a podium and answers media questions as another woman in a leather jacket looks on.
Nathalie Provost, right, graduate of l’École Polytechnique and survivor of the 1989 mass shooting, listens to Heidi Rathjen, graduate of l’École Polytechnique and witness of the shooting, speak about the government’s plans for automatic weapons, in Ottawa, on May 1. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The new proposed definition would cover weapons that fire in a “semi-automatic manner” and were “originally designed” to accept a magazine with more than five rounds.

The definition would only apply to firearms manufactured after Bill C–21 becomes law, meaning owners would be allowed to keep what they currently have.

Gun control advocates weren’t happy with the changes. Last week, Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, said the definition creates a “loophole” that leaves out too many models. She also raised concerns about the definition not being applied retroactively.

“[Our] request is very simple — a permanent and complete ban on assault-style weapons,” Provost said.

Liberal motion to speed passing of Bill C-21

Shortly after Monday’s funding announcement, the Liberal government introduced a motion in the House of Commons that, if passed, would limit debate at committee on those new amendments to two days. At the end of those two days, the committee would vote on each amendment. 

According to the motion, if the committee does not complete its clause-by-clause evaluation of the bill with the new amendments by 11:59 pm on the second day, all of the remaining amendments would be deemed to have passed and the bill would be returned to the House of Commons.

Once back in the House, C-21 would be debated for one additional day, until midnight if required, at report stage, after which the House of Commons would vote on the bill with the new amendments. If the bill passes report stage, there would be one additional day of debate in the House — again until midnight if needed — before MPs vote on passing the bill in the House and sending it back to the Senate. 

The bill passed first reading on May 30 of last year, and the Liberal government introduced today’s motion to speed up its passage through Parliament after a series of delays at the committee stage.

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho, the party’s public safety critic, said Monday the move to push the bill through Parliament is an attack on gun ownership in Canada and undermines the democratic process. 

“There’s no reason of why they would need to use this motion other than to expand the scope of the bill and to destroy the ability for us to debate,” she said 

“The programming motion would limit our ability to debate to about five minutes per clause. That’s about two questions per clause … so the idea that it would limit debate so severely is very concerning.”

Bail reform

Current bail rules have also been under fire in recent months, particularly since the alleged killing of an Ontario police officer by a man who was out on bail facing charges that include assaulting a police officer.

Last month, the association representing Canada’s chiefs of police called for urgent reforms to the country’s bail system after a meeting with provincial and territorial premiers.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said the provinces are set on obtaining reforms to the bail system.

In late April, Justice Minister David Lametti told CBC Radio’s The House that he intends to stick to his promise to introduce bail reform legislation this spring and that he expects it to pass Parliament “expeditiously.”

On Monday, Mendicino re-committed to that pledge, saying the legislation would be introduced “in the very near future.”

“Because we know we need to address repeat violent offenders, especially those who use guns and weapons,” Mendicino told reporters in Streetsville, Ont., on Monday morning.

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