Multiple issues are still left unaddressed with Bill C-21
The top priority for every national or federal government should be to ensure the safety of its citizens. However, gun violence in communities and neighborhoods, especially in the United States, contradicts this notion. Canada is facing this same predicament, but the Canadian government hopes to get out of it by attempting to pass Bill C-21, which would introduce new measures of gun control in the country.
Announced on May 30, the proposed measures of Bill C-21 are intended to reduce access to handguns, address gender-based violence, and crack down on gun smuggling and trafficking in Canada.
While these measures seem to be a step in the right direction, the Bill is a bare-minimum attempt by the federal government to try to make a difference in overall levels of gun violence in Canada. A national freeze on handguns is necessary, but the Bill is multiple years overdue and fails to have a concrete effect on tackling gender-based violence, illegal gun activity, and organized crime and gang violence.
According to Statistics Canada, gun violence in Canada has increased to 81 per cent between 2009 and 2019 — with handguns being the most commonly used firearm in homicides since the early 1990s. Considering that statistic, the nationwide freeze on handguns in Canada is much needed as it will likely save many lives.
However, as Bill C-21 has been referred to a committee in the House of Commons, its measures are not a part of federal law yet. In the meantime, handguns are still at-large in communities across Canada, leaving many at risk of gun violence.
In 2020, Justin Trudeau prohibited 1 500 distinct varieties of assault-style firearms. But this was long overdue, as are the gun control provisions outlined in Bill C-21. Trudeau’s government has been in power since 2015; it should not have taken his government five and seven years to propose these more stringent gun control laws. Moving legislation through parliament is a slow process, and it will still take time for this handgun freeze to be seen on the ground.
According to the latest Statistics Canada data gathered, from 2018–2019, well into the reign of Justin Trudeau, firearms related violence — meaning “use of, discharging, pointing” — increased by 21 per cent. 2019 was the fourth year of Justin Trudeau’s regime, so he had more than enough time to implement these measures and potentially save countless people from gun-related death and trauma.
Nonetheless, if and when Bill C-21 receives royal assent from Mary Simon, the governor general of Canada, communities and neighborhoods would become safer due to the reduction in the circulation of guns, especially handguns.
As to the measure focussed on gender-based violence, the Government of Canada acknowledges that women and girls are one of the many groups disproportionately affected by gun violence. To address this issue, the federal government has vowed to implement a new “red flag” law as a part of the proposed amendment. Under this new law, individuals deemed a threat to their partners or themselves are required to surrender their firearms to law enforcement.
In my opinion, the red flag law will tackle gender-based gun violence, especially toward women and girls. However, only women and girls who are willing to come out against their abusers will benefit from this law.
On many occasions, women are reluctant to report the violent behavior of their partners. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a lack of financial independence is one of the many reasons why some women do not leave and/or report the violent behavior of their partners.
Data gathered by Statistics Canada in 2021 states that 1.5 million women in Canada live on a low income. Women in this scenario have to make difficult choices, either moving to a parent’s or close relative’s place, or staying with an abusive partner. If the first two options are not viable, many women will stay in dangerous relationships.
To clamp down on gun violence toward women and girls, the federal government needs to put more effort into educating people about domestic violence shelters and helping people escape dangerous situations. Moreover, I suggest that the federal government create more social income support programs for survivors of all kinds of domestic or gender-based violence.
To tackle the illegal importation of firearms in Canada, the federal government is toughening border security measures. However, the problem with this part of Bill C-21 is the sheer size of the Canada-US border (8 891 km to be exact) which makes it almost impossible to confiscate smuggled and trafficked guns.
Much of the Canada-US border is unguarded, and some of the smaller border crossings like the Montana-Alberta one do not have many border services officers. The more I mull over the myriad ways guns can be smuggled and trafficked across the massive Canada-USA border, the more I believe the commitment made by the federal government is rhetoric rather than practical.
Furthermore, there is a possibility that the national freeze on handguns will not affect organized street crime and gang activity. In response to such measures, street criminals and gangs will adopt inventive methods to conceal handguns that border enforcement may not be able to detect, despite the federal government’s commitment in Bill C-21 to halt gun smuggling and trafficking.
The federal government has made other attempts to combat the rise of gun-related gang violence, announcing the funding of around $327.6 million in the 2018–2019 federal budget. However, the increased funding may work to little effect, as gang violence is still pervasive and growing in major cities across Canada. Along with the new measures in Bill C-21, the government doesn’t seem to be very serious about taking action on gun-related gang violence.
For every federal government, ensuring the welfare of citizens should be their primary goal. While the United States has failed to provide this basic right to its citizens, the measures proposed in Bill C-21 indicate that Canada is not on the same road as our southern neighbour. However, for a government to make a significant change to gun violence, a stronger effort is required.