Gun law lives despite criticism


IQALUIT — Since Bill C-68 was adopted in 1995, Canada’s new national firearms law has received a continuous barrage of criticism.

Provinces have objected to the legislation because they feel their powers are being trampled on, aboriginal people maintain the new regulations violate aboriginal rights, and the non-aborginal firearms ownership lobby sees government licensing and registry of guns as a sinister form of control.

Eight provinces and two territories have challenged Ottawa in the Supreme Court of Canada, saying the federal government has ignored their jurisdiction over property and civil rights.

Canada’s National Firearms Association also continues to lobby against the law. According to this group, it’s a “sadly defective bill, riddled with errors, inconsistencies, [and] omissions.”

According to the new law, if you want to own, use or even sell a rifle, you’ll have to hold a license, and you’ll have to obtain this license by January 2001. You’ll also have to register all your guns by January, 2003.

To qualify for a licence, you’ll also have to take a firearm safety course and in order to register your firearms, you’ll have to prove you possess a valid license.

There’s a cost attached to these new licenses and permits, as well. Licenses cost $45 until September, but after that date they’ll set you back $60 each. Registration fees for firearms are $14 per application, increasing to $18 in September.

Ignoring these new regulations could mean a fine of up to $2,000 or five years in jail

The new law also cuts down on the kinds of guns that are considered legal, by prohibiting handguns, semi-automatic guns and adapted firearms.

Supporters say this new law will cut down on gun-related deaths. Out of 26 industrialized nations, Canada ranks fifth in these deaths among children aged 0-14.

With the new registry in force, it’s also expected many gun-owners will lock up their guns. About one million of Canada’s three million gun-owners are expected to decide that it’s simply easier to get rid of their guns than to keep them.

“The goal of the new regulations is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and help keep Canada safe,” said Alan Rock, the federal justice minister in 1996, in defense of the legislation.

But critics of Bill C-68 say education and penalties would be much more effective approach to cutting gun-related deaths and crime.

And they challenge the wisdom of creating a costly bureaucracy to register guns. So far, it’s reportedly cost the government more than $300 million to handle the deluge of requests.

While the Supreme Court has not yet given its judgment on Bill C-68, only about 500,000 people have obtained their licenses and only 1.5 million of Canada’s seven million firearms have been registered.

Nunavut has not yet taken an active role in encouraging compliance with the new law or in protesting against its regulations.

Justice Minister Jack Anawak has said the licensing and registry of firearms is “not the responsibility of the Nunavut government.”

Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik has told MLAs “it’s a bit late to intervene” in the present court challenge to the gun control legislation.

“This was dealt with before the Nunavut government was established,” Okalik said. “We were unable to be involved. If there is going to be another court case like that in the future, we are going to be involved.

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