OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is accusing the Conservatives of "whipping up fear" that the Liberal government is outlawing ordinary long guns and hunting rifles.
The government only wants to reinforce a regulatory ban on assault-style firearms such as the AR-15 by enshrining a definition in legislation, and it is prepared to work with MPs to get it right, Mendicino said in an interview.
"The government has no intention — no intention whatsoever — to go after long guns and hunting rifles," he said. "And this is simply Conservative fearmongering."
In May 2020, the Liberal government announced a ban through order-in-council on more than 1,500 models and variants of what it considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.
The Liberals recently proposed including an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm in gun-control legislation being studied by the House of Commons public safety committee.
The description is intended to ensure gun manufacturers can't tweak designs of prohibited firearms in a bid to get around the ban and reintroduce them to the Canadian market.
Among other technical specifications, the proposed definition includes a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed to accept a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.
The Conservatives claim the government's amendment amounts to the most significant hunting rifle ban in the history of Canada.
At the committee last week, Conservative MP Glen Motz said the definition would effectively prohibit hundreds of thousands of firearms, including many non-restricted guns.
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said the party was closely examining the latest list of firearms, tabled as an amendment, to be covered by the ban.
She specifically objected to inclusion of the Simonov SKS.
"The SKS is is a very popular hunting rifle in the Indigenous community. So I'm very interested to see what they think about this," Dancho told the committee last Thursday.
"It's very insulting to insinuate that hunters in this country have weapons of war when they're perfectly legitimate tools that they've been using for well over a century."
Mendicino said any new models that fall under the prohibition are consistent with the criteria laid out more than two years ago when the regulatory ban was announced.
But he also indicated a willingness to address any concerns about the bill's wording.
"I said that I am always open to working with all members of Parliament — on the committee, in the House — to make sure that we get this right. But we will not compromise on prohibiting assault-style firearms of the AR-15 variety because they have no place in our communities."
The public safety committee's clause-by-clause consideration of the firearms bill quickly became bogged down in debate over the assault-style provisions. Members are expected to resume review of the bill this week.
It is no surprise that Conservatives are stirring up the fears of law-abiding gun owners "because they've never had a plan," Mendicino said.
"And the only thing they appear to be proposing is to make assault-style firearms legal again, which would be a step backwards and place at greater risk the lives of Canadians."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press