OTTAWA — A leading gun-control group is urging MPs to vote against the Liberal government's new firearms bill, saying it is too weak to salvage.
The bill would implement a program to buy back recently banned guns from owners and allow municipalities to restrict handguns — measures that PolySeSouvient considers ill-conceived and ineffective.
In a letter sent out this week to MPs, the group says the legislation is a Liberal capitulation to the firearms lobby.
The letter is signed by Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times during the 1989 attack by a gunman at Montreal's Ecole polytechnique.
It was sent to all MPs but Conservative members, given the party's opposition to the bill over concerns it targets responsible gun owners but not criminals.
“Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals and gangs who obtain their guns illegally," Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said recently.
The bill proposes a buyback of many banned firearms the government considers assault-style weapons, but owners would be allowed to keep them under strict conditions, including that they be registered and securely stored.
It would also allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.
PolySeSouvient has pushed for a mandatory buyback of the recently outlawed firearms to ensure they cannot be misused, as well as a national handgun ban to avoid a patchwork of laws across the country.
The group also wants the government to stem easy access to modifiable magazines that are capped at five or 10 bullets but can be easily modified to hold their full, illegal capacity of many times more.
The bill would Introduce "red flag" and "yellow flag" laws allowing people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of a person's firearms, or to ask a chief firearms officer to suspend and review an individual's licence to own guns.
PolySeSouvient calls the measure "a smokescreen" that would place a new burden on private citizens.
"The legislation doesn't include a single core measure among those we recommended despite the fact that they are supported by a majority of the public," the letter says.
Several family members of women killed in the 1989 massacre recently said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would no longer be welcome at annual commemorations unless his government strengthens the legislation.
Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said Friday that "we will work with all interested parties to keep our communities safe," but it is unclear whether that could mean significant changes to the legislation.
PolySeSouvient wants the Liberals to withdraw the bill, calling it unsalvageable. Should the legislation proceed, the group calls on MPs to vote it down at second reading in the House of Commons.
PolySeSouvient coordinator Heidi Rathjen said most responses to the letter from Liberal MPs so far repeat official talking points that accompanied the bill's tabling, "which tells us that as of yet not much if anything has changed with respect to the government’s stance."
The Bloc Québécois says the bill will not protect the public.
PolySeSouvient had not yet received any responses from the NDP.
Rathjen called the party's general reticence on the bill "worrisome," noting New Democrats could have the power to decide its fate.
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris noted the party has long supported tougher action on assault-style firearms and efforts to get guns off the streets.
In an interview, he also expressed dismay about the long-standing problem of illicit-firearm smuggling.
Harris suggested there is general NDP support for the bill, but added he wants to hear from witnesses on the legislation at the House of Commons public safety committee.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press