If Trudeau wants to ban guns, he has to face the voters and tell us

I’m not sure what the Liberal-friendly version of the expression “Shots fired” is, but whatever it is, it happened last week in Question Period.

Independent Member of Parliament Tony Clement rose with a pointed question for the government, inspired by information Clement received from a source he couldn’t name.

“I am told on good authority that the prime minister has a secret plan to ban legal firearms,” Clement charged. “Apparently this plan is to be executed by cabinet directive, with no debate in Parliament. The prime minister plans to announce this gun ban at the Women Deliver conference to be held in early June in Vancouver, which New Zealand Prime Minister (Jacinda) Ardern will also attend. Could the prime minister confirm or deny this zero-accountability secret plan?”

The question was so specific that it could easily be answered with a yes or a no. But Bill Blair, the minister supposedly tasked with overhauling Canada’s gun laws and curbing organized crime, gave no such clarity.

“I want to assure the House that the government remains absolutely committed to undertaking all measures that are effective in keeping Canadians safe,” Blair said. “As I believe every member of the House would agree, there is no greater responsibility for any order of government than the safety of its citizens and the protection of its kids, and we are prepared to consider whatever measures would be effective in this regard.”

Nowhere in that mush was a direct answer either way, through Blair’s spokesperson later denied Clement’s assertion in a media statement, saying the government has not yet finalized its course of action on gun reform.

True or not, Clement’s belief is plausible, which is why it spread so rapidly through Canada’s community of gun owners, of which I’m a part.

Even if reforms are not announced on the time and date he thinks, his question reveals a troubling and often overlooked possibility—that any sweeping changes to Canada’s gun laws could happen without a parliamentary debate or vote.

With the Canadian government’s view that gun ownership is a privilege and not a right, it would be easy to restrict gun ownership under the cloak of cabinet directives rather than openly and democratically.

This is Clement’s biggest worry, he told me in an interview.

“Cabinet, by its definition, is a secretive and secret process,” he said. “Passing an order-in-council is not done in front of a committee or in front of parliament. It’s done by cabinet ministers in secret. Then Canadians are presented with fait accompli.”

The millions of lawful Canadian gun owners—from farmers to aboriginals to hunters to sport shooters—deserve a debate.

The only times the Liberals want to have such a discussion is in the wake of tragedy, when the emotional climate makes it politically difficult to defend gun ownership.

Policies like a national handgun ban or mandatory central storage are only on the table because of the Danforth Ave. shooting, despite the killer using an illegally-acquired handgun. (But hey, never let facts get in the way of a good narrative.)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale even said the Christchurch mosque attacks—in New Zealand—could justify further gun control in Canada, making it entirely plausible Trudeau would announce measures at an event featuring Ardern, the Kiwi prime minister.

With merely five months until the election, and few sitting legislative days, the only way Trudeau could deliver any changes would be through cabinet fiat. Subverting parliament on contentious issues is always egregious, though it’s especially so when a leader will soon have the opportunity to seek a mandate from the voters.

Process aside, further restrictions on gun ownership in Canada will do nothing, given it’s the illegal guns that are being used so routinely in Toronto’s rising gang homicides.

Toronto Mayor John Tory fancies himself a saviour of lives with his gun amnesty program, though New Zealand’s recent dalliances reveal how fruitless these efforts are.

Only 37 of New Zealand’s 1.2 million guns were turned in under the government’s voluntary surrender program. That’s not a typo—37. These things don’t work because the few people who hand their guns over are not the ones whose gun ownership causes any problems.

Defiant as the government’s denial of Clement’s allegation is, the question still stands of why Blair himself, in the moment, didn’t unequivocally shoot down the question.

It’s possible he wasn’t involved enough in the plans to know one way or another, which wouldn’t surprise me. Also possible is that Clement revealed a previous, abandoned version of the plan. This would mean both Clement and the Prime Minister’s Office are telling the truth.

Or Blair was misrepresenting the government’s plans.

Either way, Clement may have applied the necessary heat for the government to walk this back.

This column was originally published at True North.

Trudeau reveals gun-grabbing ambitions in mandate letter to Bill Blair

I can’t say I’m surprised, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. In this week’s Loonie Politics column, I tackle the quiet announcement—buried in a 1,780 word letter—that the government will be exploring a national handgun ban.

You can read the full column at Loonie Politics, for which you can pick up a discounted subscription by using the promo code ‘Lawton’.

It was 18 years ago that Charlton Heston famously said the government would have to pry his guns from his “cold, dead hands.”  So memorable was the line that most have forgotten its preamble, which now applies to Canadian politics.

Moments earlier in his speech, Heston issued to gun owners a call to action, in the face of concerns presidential candidate Al Gore would curb gun rights, if elected.

“Will you remain silent?”, Heston asked.  “I will not remain silent.  If we are going to stop this, then it is vital to every law-abiding gun owner…(to) show up at the polls on Election Day.”

Canadian gun owners just got their call to action — from Justin Trudeau, oddly.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office released its mandate letter for Bill Blair, laying out what Trudeau expects the former Toronto police chief to accomplish in his new role as Canada’s first Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.

At least we know what Blair is supposed to be doing now.  For weeks, he was a minister-in-name only, existing without a mandate, a staff, or even an office.  I’ve heard of make-work positions, but this was a no-work position.

I was quite critical of this a few weeks ago, though now that I see the job description I find myself longing for the days when he didn’t have one.

Think Canada needs more gun control? Think again

Anyone arguing Canada is in need of further gun control has clearly never attempted to buy a gun there.

Yet, in the wake of the tragic shooting last month on Toronto’s Danforth Ave., there’s a contingent pushing for exactly that. Toronto’s city council passed a motion calling on the federal and provincial governments to ban the sales of handguns and their ammunition, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t ruling out such a proposal.

It was with great frustration that I read University of Toronto professor Jooyoung Lee’s op-ed in the New York Times urging Canada to “reflect on whether handguns ought to be banned.”

Prof. Lee cites a report that 62 per cent of gun-related homicides are committed with handguns, but omits the fact that the majority of guns used in crimes in Canada are illegally owned.

This includes the handgun used by Toronto shooter Faisal Hussain, whose older brother has ties to a street gang and was charged with several drug and weapons offences in 2015.

A handgun ban wouldn’t have stopped Hussain from getting or using his gun. Those who say otherwise don’t know how strict the rules already are.

There is no Canadian version of the second amendment; the government views gun ownership as a privilege, not a right.

Buying a typical rifle or shotgun requires a license granted by the government only to those who have gone through a number of steps, including passing the firearms safety course’s written and practical exams, clearing background and reference checks, and approval by the Chief Firearms Officer.

Mental health, job losses, divorces and bankruptcies are all factored into applications.

Owning a handgun, or other firearms classified as restricted (such as AR-15 models), requires a harder-to-get license that invites even more scrutiny and oversight from the government, including an assessment of why you want handguns. Generally, collecting and sport shooting are the only valid reasons.

As a collector, you can’t take your guns anywhere. As a sport shooter, your license can be revoked if you aren’t’ a member of a certified gun range.

Police run daily background checks on licensed owners, and can perform warrantless home inspections to ensure storage regulations are being followed.

You won’t find a loaded gun in the nightstands or glove compartments of Canada’s law-abiding gun owners.

At home, handguns must be locked, unloaded and secured separately from ammunition. When in transit, you must take the most direct route from home to the range or gunsmith or back. Even innocent slip-ups can mean criminal charges.

The only ones impacted by a handgun ban are those like me who work hard to stay within the laws—not the people who are actually committing crimes with guns.

American gun owners are likely in shock by this. Despite my frustration with several of the restrictions that don’t enhance public safety, I concede that the system is effective in weeding out those who pose a risk to themselves or others.

But as the Toronto shooting shows, this won’t stop someone hellbent on committing an act of violence from getting their hands on a weapon.

The calls to ban handguns ignore the lack of correlation between lawful gun ownership and gun crime.

Between 2004 and 2015, the number of legally owned restricted guns doubled, yet firearm-related homicides remained fairly constant—and even dropped, some years—in the same timeframe.

Toronto had a surge in shootings in 2005—mostly gang related. At the time, police said 70 per cent of guns used were smuggled from the United States. In the years since, the Canada Border Services Agency has reported increases in illegal weapons seizures.

Trudeau has pledged to look at how jurisdictions around the world have dealt with gun control. It’s important to look at all violent crimes, not just those which involve firearms.

In countries with incredibly strict gun control, like the United Kingdom and Australia, the results have hardly been as idyllic as advocates like to make out.

Knife crime in the UK has filled a void in the country’s cities. After firearms were effectively banned in 1997, homicides actually increased for five years, and only started to drop in 2002, mirroring an overall trend in Western nations that existed irrespective of gun control.

Australia’s sweeping gun confiscation, enacted in the 1990s by former prime minister John Howard as a kneejerk reaction to a mass shooting a year earlier, hasn’t deterred a steady increase in gun crimes. In fact, firearm offences have gone up by 250 per cent since 2011.

The challenges would be all the greater for Canada, which shares with the United States the world’s longest unprotected border.

If Australia, a literal island thousands of miles from the United States, can’t stop the illegal importation of American guns, I can’t fathom a world where Canada fares much better.