By: Surjit Flora
A private member’s bill aimed at putting the brakes on illegal arms smuggling in Canada hit the skids last week when it was defeated by the Liberals and NDP — despite promises to curb gun violence.
A Conservative MP representing Markham Unionville riding made a push for non-cabinet ministers to adopt Bill C- 238 in the House of Commons last week, which would amplify punishments against individuals who smuggle weapons into Canada. The bill, promoted by Punjabi MP Bob Saroya, was defeated by a margin of just 20 votes last week by Liberal and NDP MPs.
The bill sought to amend Canada’s Criminal Code to increase the minimum sentence for smugglers from one year to three years. The bill also provided that a person could be sentenced maximum of 14 years in prison if found with a smuggled weapon.
The axing of the bill came as shootings were on an upward trend in the country, with politicians at all levels of government seeking solutions to curb gun violence — particularly in the wake of high-profile gun violence in Peel Region, the GTA and beyond.
In mid-December, Toronto Police Service seized $18 million in drugs, along with 78 guns. In June 2020, 38 firearms were seized after a traffic stop in Mississauga — to say nothing of shootings and gang violence that rocked neighbourhoods in Brampton, Malton and other areas and led to widespread calls for reform.
Remember last May when the Trudeau Liberals used the Nova Scotia mass killing as an excuse to ban 1,500 models of “military style” rifles and shotguns owned by law-abiding Canadians? (That number has since crept up to 9,500 models and perhaps 400,000 individual guns.)
The biggest reason for the confiscation of guns in Canadian history is public safety. Somehow, taking the spear away from hunters, farmers, and flying saucer shooters will encourage drug dealers and gang members to stop using pistols to kill each other.
“Every Canadian want to see less gun violence and safer communities. So today, we have taken another big step forward,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when announcing the ban.
“Enough is enough,” added Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. “Banning these guns will save Canadian lives.”
The government has repeatedly acknowledged that gun violence and gun crime is an increasing problem in Canadian society that needs to be addressed with a comprehensive strategy.
This was recently reiterated in the Speech from the Throne in Sep. 2020. That is why the mandate letters of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety have committed to the implementation of a robust set of firearms amendments, including the stronger penalties for gun smuggling.
On the other hand, the NDP’s intention is to support the Liberal government by all means, but the statistics raise questions as to why the Liberal Party opposed the bill.
In 2018, for example, the federal government ‘ s Department of Public Safety conducted a study of 130,000 Canadians. 78 per cent of people suggested that the government should enact stricter laws on illegal handguns rather than confiscate licensed guns from Canadians.
According to 86 per cent of those surveyed, the illicit arms market is a source of concern that Saroya’s bill targeted. In Dec. 2019, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders publicly admitted that police intelligence reports revealed that 82 per cent of the handguns found in Toronto were smuggled in from the United States.
According to Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones, 84 per cent of the weapons found in Ontario are smuggled from the United States. According to Dennis Young, a former RCMP officer who liaised with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the enormous numbers of illegal weapons seized in 2019 came from the southwestern part of Toronto, the same area that Saroya brought the bill into consideration.
In 2018, the Liberal government budgeted $51.5 million over the next five years to help the CBSA better deal with gun smuggling.
The question is raised — why is the same government failing a bill in Parliament on this serious issue, just because an Opposition MP brought it?
Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer based in Brampton.