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Liberals move to speed up gun-bill debate, Conservatives call move undemocratic

The federal Liberals are trying to ensure gun-control legislation makes its way through committee soon by asking the House of Commons for the green light to limit debate and expand the bill’s scope to cover new elements.

The federal Liberals are trying to ensure gun-control legislation makes its way through committee soon by asking the House of Commons for the green light to limit debate and expand the bill’s scope to cover new elements.

The move came Monday as the Liberals announced the renewal of their multimillion-dollar program to fight gang violence and gun crime.

A motion introduced in the Commons would ensure recent amendments to the gun-control bill are within the scope of the legislation, including a definition of assault-style firearms to be prohibited in the future.

The motion would also limit the time devoted to consideration of each clause or amendment, and ensure additional committee time during the evening to scrutinize the bill.

Progress on the legislation, introduced a year ago, was derailed in late 2022 and early this year by the government’s first attempt to enshrine a definition of assault-style firearms in late November. The addition prompted a political storm as Conservative MPs and some gun owners claimed the Liberals were trying to ban many routine hunting rifles and shotguns.

The government is now hoping to get the bill out of the House of Commons public safety committee, through third reading and into the Senate promptly.

“It’s been clear since the bill was first introduced that the Conservative party had no interest in advancing this transformational legislation,” Liberal MP Pam Damoff told the House in support of the motion Monday.

“Rather than asking relevant questions to officials last week, Conservative members of the committee spent over three hours of the committee’s time parroting speaking points of the gun lobby. In addition to their previous obstruction tactics, it made clear that the committee was going to be bogged down with unnecessary delays.”

Damoff said it would take years at that pace to see the bill reported back to the House.

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho called the Liberal move a circumvention of the democratic process. She said it was surprising the government would try to curb debate of the bill through a motion, given that considerable progress had been made at the last two committee meetings.

“This is a nuclear option,” said Dancho, a committee member. “This is what happens when, say, committees go awry and there’s hours of filibusters and nothing is moving. But that’s not what was happening at committee last week.” The public safety committee has approved some elements, including a reworked prohibition on assault-style firearms that would ban such guns once the legislation comes into force.

The definition of assault-style firearm includes a gun that is not a handgun that discharges centrefire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that was originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more.

Conservative MPs on the committee voted against the amendment. One Tory MP said it left open the possibility that hunting rifles and shotguns would be banned in the future. The Liberals deny targeting such commonly used guns.

The legislative ban would not apply retroactively. However, the Liberals outlawed some 1,500 firearm models and variants they consider assault-style firearms through a May 2020 regulatory ban, which remains in effect.

Upon introducing the bill last year, the Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns to help reduce firearm-related violence. Federal regulations are now in effect aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada.

The bill contains measures that would reinforce the handgun freeze. The legislation would also allow for the removal of gun licences from people committing domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking, as well as increase maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.

The Liberals see the bill as a pillar of their efforts to reduce gun-related violence, which also includes stronger measures to address cross-border gun trafficking and programs to counter gun violence and gangs.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Monday the government is earmarking $390 million over the next five years for provinces and territories, including support for police and crime prevention programs.

“These federal funds will be distributed to the provinces and territories for the purpose of giving law enforcement the additional people resources and supports that they need to get the job done, and to get the job done safely,” Mendicino said as he announced the program’s renewal in Mississauga, Ont.

In November 2017, the federal government announced about $327 million in funding over five years to tackle an increase in gun violence and gang activity.

Quebec has used the fund for Operation Centaur, a provincewide initiative aimed at disrupting firearms trafficking and preventing crime.

British Columbia has put some of the money toward the province’s Organized Crime Agency, a police organization that fights gun smuggling, drug trafficking and other kinds of organized crime.