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A photo on a billboard of a large cache of weapons.
An image shows the firearms found in the car driven by Gabriel Wortman, the perpetrator of the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead. It was shown at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

N.S. Mass Casualty Commission a year later: What recommendations have been implemented?

March 30 marks the first anniversary of the release of the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report into the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead. It was the most thorough study of a mass shooting in Canadian history.

The non-partisan commission’s 130 recommendations included several focused on gun laws.

Over the past year, the federal government has had a mixed record in implementing the commission’s firearms policy recommendations. Some provincial governments, however, have sought to limit implementation, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has provided little indication that he will follow the commission’s recommendations if he becomes prime minister.

Firearm recommendations

Among the commission’s recommendations:

  1. The federal government should “amend the Criminal Code to prohibit all semi-automatic handguns and all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that discharge centre-fire ammunition and that are designed to accept detachable magazines with capacities of more than five rounds.”
  2. Ottawa must “take steps to rapidly reduce the number of prohibited semi-automatic firearms in circulation in Canada.”
  3. The federal government must close loopholes that allow gun owners to use large-capacity ammunition magazines.
  4. Purchasers of ammunition and magazines should possess a firearms license.
  5. Stronger measures need to be put in place to prevent gun possession by people involved in domestic or gender-based violence.
  6. Governments should adopt a public-health approach to firearms policy.
  7. Governments should improve efforts to combat gun smuggling.
People embrace in front of a large screen that reads Mass Casualty Commission.
Family, friends and supporters of the victims of the mass killings in rural Nova Scotia in 2020 gather following the release of the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry’s final report in Truro, N.S. on March 30, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Ottawa’s efforts

The federal government has implemented some of the Mass Casualty Commission’s recommendations with its most recent gun control legislation, Bill C-21.

In fact, the government described this law as being designed to “align with recommendations put forward by the Mass Casualty Commission.”

To help address intimate partner and gender-based violence, the act enhances measures allowing for emergency prohibition orders to remove firearms in situations in which gun owners pose dangers.

Bill C-21 also statutorily enacted a freeze on handgun purchases and transfers. In addition, the Liberals amended the definition of prohibited firearms to include models of assault-style rifles “designed and manufactured” after the legislation came into force.

Most gun control advocates supported the final version of C-21, but some noted that the legislation did not fully implement the commission’s recommendations.

A couple and their dog look down at a makeshift shrine to shooting victims with a prominent blue and white Nova Scotia flag.
A couple pays their respects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S., following a mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

For example, it doesn’t require current owners to dispose of handguns, and thus does not address the commission’s goal of rapidly reducing the number of semi-automatic firearms in circulation.

As well, the new definition of prohibited weapons left many models of semi-automatic rifles in the Canadian market. If models of such rifles were not previously prohibited, and have already been designed and manufactured, then they remain legal.

Other aspects of C-21 have yet to be implemented through regulation. This includes new limits on ammunition magazines.

The federal government has also delayed its buyback of assault-style rifles like the AR-15 prohibited by order-in-council after the Nova Scotia mass shooting. This again means that Ottawa is not following the commission’s recommendation to rapidly reduce the number of semi-automatic firearms in Canada.

Opposition to the recommendations

While the federal government has taken significant but incomplete steps, some provincial governments oppose the commission’s recommendations.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are supporting a Federal Court case challenging the prohibition of some assault-style rifles.

Several provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, want to make it more difficult for Ottawa to carry out its planned gun buyback strategy.

A dark-haired man with snow on his head and his coat.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre arrives at the funeral of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in Montréal on March 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Poilievre is critical of the Mass Casualty Commission’s work. In April 2023, he complained that the “commission is really an outrage.” In his view, the commission had “ignored the victims of crime” and “the facts on the ground.” Poilievre went on to criticize the federal government’s effort to prohibit some firearms.

Poilievre, however, is vague about his own firearm policies. His social media simply speaks of a desire to “stop Trudeau’s hunting rifle ban.” Some Conservative MPs, however, have promised to repeal the Liberal government’s gun control measures.

For example, Conservative shadow minister Rachael Thomas said on X (formerly Twitter) that a “Conservative government will repeal Bill C-21 and take real action to tackle crime and put criminals behind bars!”

Previous Tory stances

The Conservatives’ stance is at odds with some steps taken by previous Conservative governments and prime ministers.

Brian Mulroney tightened access to assault-style weapons, including the AR-15, after the 1989 Montréal Massacre.

Read more: A short history of the AR-15 in Canada

In 2012, Stephen Harper rejected calls to make some high-powered weapons more available, saying that “prohibited weapons exist as a category under the law for essential reasons of public security.” He said his government had “absolutely no intention of weakening that category of protections.”

These wise words should be kept in mind by politicians of all stripes as they face the important task of implementing the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report.

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