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Liberals, Tories spar over scope of proposed assault-style firearm definition

OTTAWA — The Liberals say their proposed definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm applies only to guns that belong on the battlefield.
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A restricted gun licence holder holds a AR-15 at his home in Langley, B.C. on May 1, 2020. The Liberals say their proposed definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm applies only to guns that belong on the battlefield.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

OTTAWA — The Liberals say their proposed definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm applies only to guns that belong on the battlefield.

But Conservative MPs continued to insist Thursday the federal move would outlaw large numbers of ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns.

The Liberal government wants to include an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm in gun-control legislation being studied by the House of Commons public safety committee.

The measure, introduced Tuesday during clause-by-clause review of the bill, would build on a May 2020 regulatory ban of over 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.

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.

At a committee meeting Thursday, Liberal MP Pam Damoff said the definition would codify in the Criminal Code the kinds of firearms that were banned in 2020, providing a "clear definition of the specifications of these guns that were designed for war. "

"I just want to make clear that we are not going after hunters," Damoff said. "We're looking to remove weapons that were designed for the battlefield from our society."

She said the amendment would ensure that gun manufacturers can't tweak designs of prohibited firearms to make them available in Canada again. "Codification and clear definitions in the Criminal Code will ensure that manufacturers can't try to game the system to continue to sell weapons which by any other name would be prohibited."

Conservative MP Glen Motz said the definition would effectively prohibit hundreds of thousands of firearms, including many non-restricted guns.

"I think it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Canadian public and mislead Parliament," he said.

Raquel Dancho, the Conservative public safety critic, said the proposed definition casts a very wide net — the "most significant hunting rifle ban in the history of Canada."

"If the Liberals had any integrity, they would have brought this forward in the original bill, then it could have been debated in the House," she said. 

"But of course, they did not do that." During the hearing, the Liberals made public an updated list, running about 300 pages, of the various models and variants of firearms that would now be prohibited.

In response, provincial ministers from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan issued a joint statement denouncing Ottawa's move. 

The federal effort to define an assault-style firearm responds to pleas from advocates for tougher gun laws who wanted such wording enshrined in law.

Gun-control group PolySeSouvient has called the proposed amendment "another critical step towards a comprehensive and permanent ban on assault-style weapons in Canada."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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