A battle appears to be brewing between senators and Public Security Secretary Marco Mendicino as he tries to get the Liberals’ controversial gun legislation into law quickly.
On Thursday, his office sent a letter to the leaders of various Senate groups and the chairman of a committee saying the secretary was “eager” to answer senators’ questions about Bill C-21 “given the urgency of passing legislation to to protect Canadians”.
The letter comes with less than a month to go before the House of Commons and Senate plan to break before the summer. Liberals have described the gun legislation as a priority law to be passed into law within weeks.
The bill aims to pass into law a national handgun freeze, fight the scourge of homemade guns and ban what it calls “assault weapons” — measures critics of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have called a misguided effort to combat gun violence .
The government’s attempts to define which guns are covered by a ban on guns it deems unfit for civilian use has sparked outrage from Tories, indigenous communities and other gun owners.
Those critics argue that widely used shotguns would be covered by the proposed law – something the liberals say was not intended.
Earlier this year, the Liberals withdrew amendments to the bill that sought to establish a May 2020 legal ban on some 1,500 firearm models and variants and cover hundreds of additional weapons.
Liberals amended the bill after backlash
In the wake of widespread reactions to the proposed definition, including from the NDP, the government instead decided to legislate through the Firearms Act to ensure that guns are classified before they are allowed on the Canadian market.
The regulations would not be retroactive, so they would not apply to nearly 300 newer models of firearms not covered by the 2020 ban.
Don Plett, the leader of the Conservative Senate, accused Mendicino on Thursday of showing “unvarnished guts” by asking senators to hurry as MPs studied the bill for months before it was passed in the House of Commons.
It was approved last month by a 207 to 113 vote, with NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green MPs voting with the Liberals. The Tories were against.
“Listen, we agree that one Canadian killed by gun violence is too many,” Plett said, referring to a line in Mendicino’s letter.
“But that can’t be why the government is taking decisive action to strengthen Canadian gun laws. There must be many reasons why we want to strengthen Canadian gun laws.”
Plett said he intends to vote against the bill as it is currently written and try to prevent it from passing. He said he thinks it penalizes firearm users, such as sport shooters, and wonders if he could even support an amended bill.
Speaking to reporters, Mendicino called on conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre to “tell his senators to get to work” and described it as a matter of public safety.
“Somehow he expects that we’re not supposed to think about it soberly and indeed some kind of vetting,” Plett said.
“He’s basically saying, ‘I’ve looked at the bill, I say it’s fine, so give it your stamp and let’s get on with things.’ Well, that’s not how the Senate works.”