Gun politics in Canada

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Gun politics in Canada is largely about registration. Handgun registration became law in 1934, and automatic firearms were added in 1951. In 1969, laws classified firearms as "non-restricted", "restricted", and "prohibited". Since 1977, individuals who wish to acquire firearms legally are required to pass a criminal background check. From 1995 on, all firearms were required to be registered, but in April 2012 the requirement to register non-restricted firearms was dropped in every province and territory, except for Quebec (pending litigation). Today, there are two kinds of individual licenses for firearms owners—possess-only and possess-and-acquire.

History of firearm laws in Canada[edit]

Controls on civilian use of firearms date from the early days of Confederation, when justices of the peace could impose penalties for carrying a handgun without reasonable cause.[1] Criminal Code of Canada (Criminal Code or Code criminel) amendments between the 1890s and the 1970s introduced a series of minor controls on firearms. In the late 1970s, controls of intermediate strength were introduced. In the mid-1990s, significant increases in controls occurred. A 1996 study showed that Canada was in the mid-range of firearm ownership when compared with eight other western nations. Nearly 22% of Canadian households had at least one firearm, including 2.3% of households possessing a handgun.[2] As of September 2010, the Canadian Firearms Program recorded a total of 1,831,327 valid firearm licences, which is roughly 5.4% of the Canadian population. The four most licensed provinces are Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.[3] In 2005 almost 3% of households in Canada possessed handguns, compared to 18% of U.S. households that possessed handguns.[4] In 2005 almost 16% of households in Canada possessed firearms of some kind.[4]

The following is a summary of the history of gun control laws in Canada:[5][6]

A major focus of C-17 was the control of military and para-military firearms. It created orders prohibiting or restricting most para-military rifles and some types of non-sporting ammunition. It prohibited firearms that had been converted to avoid a 1978 prohibition (exempting existing owners), and it prohibited high-capacity magazines for automatic and semi-automatic firearms.[8] (It limited handguns to ten rounds and most semi-automatic centre-fire rifles to five rounds.)[citation needed]
Legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in Reference re Firearms Act (2000). The FAC system was replaced with possession-only licences (POLs) and possession and acquisition licences (PALs). Referring to Bill C-68, John Dixon, a former advisor to Deputy Minister of Justice John C. Tait, stated that the Firearms Act was part of a policy exercise by the Liberal Party of Canada so as to appear to be "tougher" on guns than Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and thus defeat her in the 1993 election.[10]

Licensing of firearms owners[edit]

A sample of possession-only licence

All licensing and registration is managed by the RCMP's Canadian Firearms Program (CFP), under the Deputy Commissioner Policing Support Services (PSS). In the Canadian system, there are three classes of firearms and firearm licences: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Prohibited firearms are not forbidden outright, as the name might imply, but their legal possession and acquisition are dependent upon their registration history and an individual's firearm licence.[12] As of December 1, 1998, the prohibited clause must be grandfathered to acquire or possess prohibited firearms. New prohibited licences are available only at the discretion of the Chief Firearms Officer of the province or the RCMP[citation needed]. See Classification of firearms below for complete details on prohibited, restricted and non-restricted firearms.

Individuals who wish to possess or acquire firearms in Canada must have a valid possession-acquisition, or possession-only, licence (PAL/POL); either of these licences allows the licensee to purchase ammunition. The PAL is distributed exclusively by the RCMP and is generally obtained in the following three steps:

  1. Safety training: To be eligible to receive a PAL, all applicants must successfully complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course[13] (CFSC) for a non-restricted licence, and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course[14] (CRFSC) for a restricted licence; the non-restricted class is a prerequisite to the restricted licence. The RCMP publishes information on the locations and availability of these courses.[15]
  2. Applying for a licence: Currently only one type of licence is available to new applicants, the possession-acquisition licence (PAL). People can request a PAL by filling out Form CAFC 921.[16]
  3. Security screening: Background checks and investigations are performed. All applicants are screened, and a mandatory 28-day waiting period is imposed on first-time applicants, but response time may be longer.[17]

Licences are typically valid for five years and must be renewed prior to expiry to maintain all classes. Once licensed, an individual can apply for a firearm transfer;[18] and an authorization to transport (ATT) for restricted firearms.[19] People may hunt with firearms in Canada only with non-restricted firearms, and this requires an additional "Hunting with Firearms" course.

Businesses, museums and organizations must have a valid firearms business licence to possess, manufacture or sell firearms, restricted or prohibited firearms, prohibited devices, or prohibited ammunition. A licence is not required to possess regular ammunition, but is required to manufacture or sell ammunition. A separate licence is required for each location where the business operates, and each business licence is valid only for the activities specified on the licence.

Registering firearms. In order to be legally owned, a restricted or prohibited firearm must be registered in the Canadian Firearms Registry, which stores all data regarding firearms in Canada. To register a firearm into the system, a firearm must first be verified; its identification and classification being confirmed by an authorized verifier working with the RCMP. One must submit a registration application, which can be done online. If the firearm is being transferred from one owner to another the process can be done by telephone. Firearm registration certificates do not expire and do not need to be renewed. The Canadian Firearms Registry Online (CFRO) is accessible to police through CPIC.

Public Agents Firearms Regulations, which took effect on October 31, 2008, require public service agencies to report all firearms in their possession. Agency firearms are those used by employees (i.e. service firearms) while protected firearms are those that have been found or seized or are otherwise being held. The timely reporting and sharing of information about protected firearms is particularly important for police as it will have a significant impact on investigators' efforts to monitor the locations, movement and distribution of illicit firearms in Canada.

Canadian Firearms Program[edit]

There are four major areas within the Canadian Firearms Program, which are managed by the Deputy Commissioner Policing Support Services (PSS):

The CFP offers a wide variety of investigational support services to police:

Laws and regulations[edit]

Prohibited devices[edit]

Prohibited ammunition[edit]

Magazine capacity[edit]

Common AR-15 30 round magazines that have been pinned to 5 rounds

Some magazines are prohibited regardless of the class of firearm to which the magazines are attached. As a general rule, under the Criminal Code, the maximum magazine capacity is five rounds for most magazines designed for rifles that shoot centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic fashion, or ten rounds for most handgun magazines.

Magazines designed to contain centre-fire cartridges and designed or manufactured for use in a semiautomatic handgun are limited to 10 cartridges. The capacity is measured by the kind of cartridge the magazine was designed to contain. In some cases the magazine will be capable of containing more than 10 rounds of a different calibre; however, that is not relevant in the determination of the maximum permitted capacity.[21]

The maximum permitted capacity of a magazine is determined by the kind of firearm it is designed or manufactured for and not the kind of firearm that might actually use it. As a consequence, the maximum permitted capacity remains the same regardless of which firearm it might be used in. Example: The Marlin Camp Carbine chambered for .45 ACP uses magazines designed and manufactured for the M1911 pistol, therefore the seven- and eight-round capacities are permitted. A similar example is the 10-round capacity magazine for the Rock River Arms LAR-15 pistol, regardless of the kind of firearm it is actually used in.[21]

Many common magazines are manufactured to hold more rounds than law allows in Canada. These magazines must be permanently altered so they no longer hold more than the number of rounds allowed by law. Acceptable ways to alter a magazine are set out in the Criminal Code Regulations.[20]

There is no limit to the magazine capacity for semi-automatic rim-fire rifles or manually-operated rifles or shotguns (i.e., lever-action, pump-action, or bolt-action).

Additionally, there are a few exclusions on magazine regulations for certain specific firearms.


Non-restricted firearms must be unloaded and either:

Restricted firearms must be unloaded and either:




Non-restricted firearms must be unloaded and either:

Restricted and prohibited firearms must be unloaded and:


Public agents firearms regulations[edit]

When not in use, agency firearms and other controlled items must be:

Other controlled items being stored in a dwelling place must be securely locked in a container or receptacle that cannot be easily broken into, unless the agency has provided other instructions in writing.

By law, a potential customer must be 18 years of age or older to purchase a firearm or legally maintain possession of one. People under the age of 18 but over the age of 12 may procure a minor’s licence, which does not allow them to purchase a firearm but allows them to borrow a firearm unsupervised and purchase ammunition. Children under the age of 12 that are found to need a firearm to hunt or trap may also be awarded the minor's licence. This is generally reserved for children in remote locations, primarily aboriginal communities that engage in subsistence hunting.[22]


Long gun registration is no longer required after Bill C-19 was passed and made into law, except in the province of Quebec, where sections of Bill C-19 is being contested in court. As such, until further notice, the CFP is still accepting registration for non-restricted firearms in the province of Quebec.[23]

The history of the long gun registry: On January 1, 2001, all firearms in Canada did have to be registered with the Canadian Firearms Registry. In early 2006, the Conservative Party of Canada became the largest party in the 39th Canadian Parliament, and the new government announced an amnesty period of one year (later extended by a further year) in which licensed or previously licensed long gun owners would not be punished for not registering their long guns. The legal requirement to register as set forth by law has not been revoked; legislation to revoke the requirement to register long guns was introduced by the government during the 39th Parliament but was not brought to a vote. It was opposed by the Opposition parties who together had a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Similar legislation was again brought forward in the form of private member's bill C-391 during the 40th Parliament but was narrowly defeated on September 22, 2010.[24] During the 41st Parliament the newly formed Conservative majority government again introduced legislation to repeal the requirement to register non-restricted firearms and to destroy the registry database. Bill C-19 passed both the House and Senate and received royal assent on April 5, 2012.[25] The repeal of the long gun registry had been a long standing campaign promise of the Conservative Party.[26]

Restricted firearms[edit]

To purchase a handgun or other restricted firearm, a person must have a possession and acquisition licence (PAL) for restricted firearms.

Canada's federal laws severely restrict the ability of civilians to transport restricted or prohibited (grandfathered) firearms in public. Section 17 of the Firearms Act makes it an offence to possess prohibited or restricted firearms other than at a dwelling-house or authorized location, but there are two exceptions to this prohibition found in sections 19 and 20 of the act. Section 19 allows for persons to be issued an authorization to transport, or ATT, authorizing the transport of a firearm outside the home for certain purposes, such as for its transfer to a new owner, going to and from a range, a training course, repair shop or gun show, or when the owner wishes to change the address where the firearm is stored. Such firearms must be transported unloaded, equipped with a trigger lock and stored in secure, locked containers. In rarer cases, section 20 of the act allows individuals to receive an authorization to carry, or ATC, granting permission to carry loaded restricted firearms or (section 12(6)) prohibited handguns on their persons for certain reasons specified in the act. These reasons are as follows: if the person is a licensed trapper and carries the firearm while trapping, if the person is in a remote wilderness area and needs the firearm for protection against wildlife, if the person's work involves guarding or handling money or other items of substantial value, or if the person's life is in danger and police protection is inadequate to protect him or her. It should be noted that the authorities almost never issue an ATC for the last reason, that is to say, because a person's life is threatened and police protection is inadequate. The vast majority of ATC's issued are to employees of armoured car companies to allow carry of a company owned firearm only while working.[27]

Carrying for self-defence[edit]

The Criminal Code recognizes self-defence with a firearm. The Firearms Act provides a legal framework wherein an individual may acquire, possess and carry a restricted or (a specific class of) prohibited firearm for protection from other individuals when police protection is deemed insufficient.[28] This situation is extremely rare: the (publicly available version of the) RCMP authorization to carry application[29] refers only to protection of life during employment that involves handling of valuable goods or dangerous wildlife.[30]

Classification of firearms[edit]

According to licences, firearms are classified into prohibited, restricted and non-restricted categories, as defined by Part III of Criminal Code (R.S., 1985, c. C-46)[31] Note: The word "prohibited" is a classification and does not indicate that such firearms are "prohibited" as per the normal use of the word.

Prohibited firearms include:

  • with a barrel length inferior to 105 millimetres (4.1 in), or;
  • that are designed to discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition;
  • exceptions are stated in the Regulations Prescribing Exclusions from Certain Definitions of the Criminal Code International Sporting Competition Handguns[32]
  • the barrel length is inferior to 457 millimetres (18.0 in) (regardless of overall length), or;
  • the overall length is inferior to 660 millimetres (26 in)
  • Firearm capable of discharging dart or other object carrying electrical current or substance, including Taser Public Defender and any variant or modified version of it
  • Firearm known as SSS-1 Stinger and any similar firearm designed or of a size to fit in the palm of the hand
  • Hundreds of other firearms listed by name, including any variants or modified versions. The list includes shotguns, carbines, rifles, pistols, and submachine guns.[20]

Restricted firearms are:[33]

  • not prohibited;
  • that has a barrel length inferior to 470 millimetres (18.5 in)
  • The firearms of the designs commonly known as the High Standard Model 10, Series A shotgun and the High Standard Model 10, Series B shotgun, and any variants or modified versions of them.
  • The firearm of the design commonly known as the M-16 rifle, and any variant or modified version of it, including the
    • Colt AR-15; Colt AR-15 SPI/Sporter/Collapsible Stock Model/A2/A2 Carbine/A2 Government Model Rifle/A2 Government Model Target Rifle/A2 Government Model Carbine/A2 Sporter II/A2 H-BAR/A2 Delta H-BAR/A2 Delta H-BAR Match/9mm Carbine; Armalite AR-15; AAI M15; AP74; EAC J-15; PWA Commando; SGW XM15A; SGW CAR-AR; SWD AR-15; and
    • any 22-calibre rimfire variant, including the
      • Mitchell M-16A-1/22, Mitchell M-16/22, Mitchell CAR-15/22, and AP74 Auto Rifle.

(Note: legally, restricted firearms can only be discharged at shooting ranges; so while one can use them in competitions, one cannot use them for hunting)

Non-restricted firearms are:

Firearms registry[edit]

Violent crime, suicide, and accidents in Canada[edit]

Gun control laws are often enacted to control injury and death with target areas broadly classified as violent crime, suicide, and accidental injury. Statistics are used to demonstrate the need for new legislation, or highlight the successes and failures of existing legislation.

The year following the introduction of firearms licensing in Canada (1977), saw a continuation of the pre-existing decline in murder involving firearms, relative to other mechanisms.[34] From 1977 to 2003 Canada firearm homicide has declined from 1.15 to 0.5 per 100,000, while other mechanisms declined less significantly (1.85 to 1.23 per 100,000).[34][35] A 2011 study by Dr. Caillin Langmann found no beneficial effect on Canada's homicide or spousal homicide rates as a result of any of Canada's major gun control legislation since 1974, including FAC and PAL licensing, storage laws, the characterization of many types of firearms as prohibited or restricted, magazine restrictions, etc., all of which were enacted in that time period.[36] A January 2011 study by the Université de Montréal came to the opposite conclusion, finding that Canadian gun control legislation since 1974 resulted in a 5-10 percent drop in firearm homicides.[37] However, the Tristan Hopper study has been criticized for only looking at data to 2004. The Long Gun Registry came into effect in 2003 and licencing was started in 1999 so there may not have been enough time to examine the post effects of any legislative changes beyond a stiffening of sentencing requirements for violent crime that coincidentally occurred during the years Hopper considered. Langmann examined data up to 2008. Further, the Langmann study analyzed more explanatory variables than the Tristan study, which only looked at the effects of age and alcohol use. The Hopper study also did not look at trend effects over time and hence did not account for the decreasing trend which already existed independent of the factors examined. Despite the differences in scope and reliability, it is noteworthy that the Hopper study and the Langmann study both conclude that the Canadian gun control laws which created and tightly regulate "restricted firearms", such as handguns and AR-15's, have had no effect on homicide. In his article for Global News, Hopper cites political comments from Langmann without explaining why he considers any of those comments to be relevant.[37]

Currently, shooting and stabbing represent the two most common mechanisms for homicide in Canada, each accounting for approximately 30% of murders.[38]

Overall suicide in Canada peaked in 1978 at 14.5 per 100,000,[39] declining by 22% (11.3 per 100,000) in 2004.[40][41] During this same time period, firearm suicides declined by 55% (1287 individuals to a low of 568) [42] while the number of non-firearm suicides increased by 52% (2,046 in 1977 to 3,116 in 2003).[citation needed] In response to the 2001 registration requirements, some psychiatric doctors have argued that the legislation is not as effective as treatment in the prevention of suicide, given alternate mechanisms are available for suicide.[43]

Accidental death, of any kind, is rare claiming 27.9 people per 100,000 in 2000. Of these, firearms accidents account for 0.3% (0.1 per 100,000), ranking below the 37% for transportation (10.2 per 100,000), 28% for unspecified (7.7 per 100,000), 18% for falls (5.1 per 100,000), and 11% for poisoning (3.1 per 100,000).[44]


Although firearms laws are all officially controlled by the federal government, which should create an identical situation across the country, the role of provincial governments in implementing those laws complicates this matter. As is prescribed in the constitution, provinces are free to opt-out[45] and administer the program provincially; currently half administer the program federally and half provincially (see CFP for more information).

Only the provincial attorneys general can prosecute criminal offences under the Criminal Code. The federal attorney general cannot prosecute offences under the Criminal Code, except in the three federal territories, and except for certain national security offences.[45] However, the federal attorney general can prosecute offences under other federal statutes, such as the Firearms Act. Since both the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act contain offences relating to firearms, the nature of the charge will determine which attorney general is responsible for prosecuting the offence. For reasons of cost or public opinion, all provinces, except Quebec, have refused to prosecute people for these charges[vague].[46][47][48] Also, since CFOs are responsible for issuing authorization to transport and authorization to carry, the use of firearms can differ between provinces.

Some provinces, via their bylaws, also allow municipalities within their boundaries to regulate the use of firearms. For example, in British Columbia, under section 8(5) of the Community Charter, municipal councils can "regulate and prohibit in relation to the discharge of firearms". Similar laws are also in effect in Alberta and Nova Scotia (Municipal Government Act), Ontario and Manitoba (Municipal Act), New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (Municipalities Act), Newfoundland and Labrador (City of St. John's Act, R.S.N. 1990 c. C-17) and Quebec (Municipal Code of Québec) but not in Saskatchewan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of Firearms Control in Canada: Up to and Including the Firearms Act" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  2. ^ In a study of gun ownership in selected nations, Canada's level of gun ownership (21.8%) was similar to France's (23.8%) and Sweden's (16.6%). Of the eight countries compared, firearm ownership was highest in the United States (48.6%) and lowest in the Netherlands (2%)."Firearms in Canada and Eight Other Western Countries: Selected Findings of the 1996 International Crime (Victim) Survey", Canada Firearms Centre. Accessed: 2014-06-11.
  3. ^ "Facts and Figures". 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  4. ^ a b Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective, by the International Crime Victims Survey. See Table 18 on page 279.
  5. ^ "History of Firearms Control in Canada: Up to and Including the Firearms Act" Canadian Firearms Centre. Accessed: June 3, 2006.
  6. ^ "Untitled-4" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  7. ^ The North-West Territories Act, R.S.C. 1886, c. 50, s. 101.
  8. ^ a b "History of Firearms Control in Canada: Up to and Including the Firearms Act". Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  9. ^ "Bill C-19 - An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act". Canadian Criminal Justice Association. February 2012. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  10. ^ "A Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight", The Globe and Mail, January 8, 2003.
  11. ^ "Tories give long guns a break", The Globe and Mail, May 17, 2006
  12. ^ "Prohibited Firearms - Royal Canadian Mounted Police". Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  13. ^ "Canadian Firearms Safety Course". 2004-02-13. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  14. ^ "Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course". 2004-02-05. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  15. ^ "CFSC and CRFSC Contact Information". 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  16. ^ "Form CAFC 921". RCMP. October 5, 2011. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Forms". 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h "Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Ammunition Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted". Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  21. ^ a b [1], October 2013
  22. ^ "Regulations for possession of firearms by Users Younger than 18" Moose rider Firearms Center.
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Private Member's Bill C-391 (40-2)". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2012-04-10. 
  25. ^ "House Government Bill C-19 (41-1)". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2012-04-10. 
  26. ^ "Gun control in Canadian sights", The Guardian, September 18, 2006
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ Part 1, Section 2: Protection of Life. Authorizations to Carry Restricted Firearms and Certain Handguns Regulations. Department of Justice Canada. Retrieved 2011-11-26.
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Criminal Code". Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  32. ^ "Regulations Prescribing Exclusions from Certain Definitions of the Criminal Code (International Sporting Competition Handguns)". Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  33. ^ "Criminal Code". Retrieved 2011-05-26. 
  34. ^ a b Sproule, C. & Kennett, D. (January 1988). Use of Firearms in Canadian Homicides 1972-1982: The Need for Gun Control. Canadian Journal of Criminology 30(1):31-37. NCJ 109420. Retrieved on: 2012-03-09.
  35. ^ "Homicide in Canada, 2010". 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  36. ^;
  37. ^ a b Tristan Hopper, (7 October 2011). "Gun control, homicide rates not linked: study". Global News. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  38. ^ "Homicides by method", (2009-10-28). Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  39. ^ "Suicide in Canada: Update of the Report of the Task Force on Suicide in Canada" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  40. ^ "Department of Justice – Site Map". 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  41. ^ Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group[dead link]
  42. ^ "Mortality, Summary List of Causes: Table 1-1: Deaths by selected grouped causes, sex and geography 125; Canada". 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  43. ^ [3][dead link]
  44. ^ "Mortality, summary list of causes: Tables". 2006-03-01. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  45. ^ a b Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, s. 2, definition of "Attorney General'.
  46. ^ "Crown Counsel Policy Manual" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  47. ^ "New Brunswick AG Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  48. ^ "MB AG Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-28. 

External links[edit]

Gun control advocates/groups:

Gun rights advocates/groups: