Sunday was the 26th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre in which 25 year old Mark Lépine shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before subsequently committing suicide. Also known as the Montreal Massacre, it spurred the gun control movement in Canada, which culminated in the enactment of the Firearms Act in 1995.
The Firearms Act works with the Criminal Code to regulate gun offenses in Canada. Much stricter at the time of its enactment, it established a national gun registry which was subsequently abolished in April 2012 under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The abolition of the gun registry occurred amid massive protests from the survivors of Polytechnique and their families. In response, Quebec promised to establish its own gun registry and on December 3, 2015, it presented Bill 64 to the National Assembly.
Bill 64, also known as the Firearms Registration Act, would require that ALL guns be registered in Quebec. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that public authorities know where all firearms are in the province are at all times, thus helping peace officers in their investigations and interventions.
Public Security Minister Pierre Moreau cited the example of domestic violence; such a registry would allow police to know right away if there’s the risk of a gun being involved and where to find it. The bill requires that gun owners apply for registration immediately after taking possession of the weapon, but allows for a 45 day delay for a gun owner who has just moved to Quebec.
Anyone owning a gun in Quebec at the time the bill is enacted would have a year to register it. In the 90 days following the gun’s registration, the registration number has to be clearly and permanently indicated on it in a manner set out by the government.
Anyone who fails to register their gun within the designated time and doesn’t mark the registration number on it would be facing a fine ranging between $500 and $5000 for an individual person and up to $15000 for anyone else, the latter presumably including businesses that identify as legal persons and other organizations. The same fines would be imposed on anyone who makes it difficult for peace officers to verify the registration of a firearm by lying, refusing to provide information or documents, or by concealing or destroying them.
The law would also require that gun owners provide the registration number upon request by a peace officer. Anyone failing to do so is looking at a fine of between one and three hundred bucks.
The new law would also create rules for businesses that sell, rent, display, restore, maintain and alter guns. Bill 64 would make firearms businesses in Quebec establish and keep an updated table to monitor all operations relating to its firearms, which must be sent to the Public Security Minister upon request. Failure to do so would result in a fine.
Last but not least, the law gives the police permission to confiscate firearms if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a gun isn’t registered under the new law. If no proceedings are instituted against the owner in the 90 days since its seizure or the owner has since complied with the Firearms Act or if the peace officer thinks no offense has been committed, the gun has to be returned to its owner.
The new law is designed to fill the voids created by Stephen Harper when his government modified the Firearms Act in order to abolish Canada’s National Gun Registry. Unlike the Criminal Code and current Firearms Act, the new gun registry would apply to ALL guns.
Under current federal legislation only guns classified as “restricted” or “prohibited” must be registered with the federal government. All other firearms do not.
Restricted firearms are defined by the Criminal Code as a gun not considered to be prohibited that has a barrel less than 470 mm in length and “is capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner.” Guns that are designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to a length of less than 660 mm by folding or telescoping are also considered restricted firearms.
Prohibited firearms are handguns not considered restricted that have a barrel of less than 105 mm in length or designed to shoot a 25 or 32 caliber bullet. Guns used for international sports contests don’t count as prohibited firearms but sawed off shotguns and automatic weapons do.
Canadians are allowed to possess restricted and prohibited firearms provided they have a license and a registration certificate for it. Failure to have a license and registration certificate for these guns makes you guilty of a possession offense which could result in up to five years in prison.
The new law proposed by Couillard’s government was favorably received on the day of its presentation to the National Assembly. Though Quebec MNAs are reserving the full extent of their comments for later, they seem to be in agreement on the spirit of the law and recognize the importance of creating a registry for firearms in Quebec. A survivor of Polytechnique is hailing the proposed law as good news.
To the stereotypical gun toting American, Canadian gun control laws probably look like a crazy breach of individual freedoms. Fortunately for us, there is no right to bear arms entrenched in our constitution. We as a country recognize the horror that unrestricted access to guns causes and mourn its victims every December 6th.
* Featured image by kcdsTM, Creative Commons