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Inquiry into N.S. mass shooting calls for sweeping changes to gun laws


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In this June 27, 2017, file photo, a semi-automatic handgun is displayed with a 10 shot magazine, left, and a 15 shot magazine, right, at a gun store in Elk Grove, Calif. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rich Pedroncelli

By Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa

The federal government should push ahead with gun-control legislation to ban many types of semi-automatic weapons, restrict ownership of ammunition and create a standardized definition of banned firearms, urges the final report of an inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

The Mass Casualty Commission released its report Thursday after holding more than 70 days of public hearings that ended last fall.

The inquiry was called after a gunman dressed as a police officer and driving a mock police cruiser killed 22 people, including a pregnant woman, during a 13-hour-long rampage in rural Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020.

The gunman, Gabriel Wortman, died after being shot by RCMP officers.

The commission is recommending changes 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,” and to close a loophole by banning the use of magazines with more than five rounds.

It also says the government should take steps to “rapidly reduce the number of prohibited semi-automatic firearms in circulation,” and clarify in Canadian law that gun ownership is a conditional privilege, not a right.

Parliament is still debating gun-control legislation introduced last May by the Liberals, which has sparked opposition from gun groups.

Upon introducing Bill C-21 last May, the Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns to help stem firearm-related violence. Federal regulations aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect.

The bill contains measures to reinforce the handgun freeze. It would also allow for removal of gun licences from people committing domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking, as well as increase maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.

Many of the commission’s recommendations closely mirror that legislation. It calls for changes to the Firearms Act that would automatically revoke gun licenses from people convicted of domestic violence or hate-related offences, and that would suspend licenses when those charges are laid.

“Where such charges are diverted, withdrawn, stayed or otherwise resolved without trial, the suspension should remain in place and the burden of proof should be on licence holders to demonstrate they are not a risk or a threat to others,” the report says.

The recommendations also include developing a “standardized schedule and definitions” of 206 prohibited firearms in the Criminal Code.

The Liberals introduced, and then subsequently withdrew, an amendment to Bill C-21 that would have created a standard definition of assault-style weapons and enshrined it in the Criminal Code.

Among other technical specifications concerning bore diameter and muzzle energy, the proposed definition included a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed with a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.

The commission notes that government should consult with Indigenous groups, along with police, firearms officers and groups that deal with gender-based violence about any changes.

Gun-control groups are applauding the recommendations.

“We hope that these recommendations in particular will lead all parties to expeditiously press for the passage and implementation of Bill C-21 — the delays are putting lives at risk,” said Coalition for Gun Control president and co-founder Wendy Cukier in a written statement.

“Better firearms control at our borders, prevention of unlawful transfers of firearms and overall focus on effective, consistent, and accountable enforcement of firearms regulations are critical and the CGC is encouraged to see them reflected in recommendations.”

PolySeSouvient, an advocacy group representing victims and survivors of the 1989 Montreal Polytechnique massacre, called the report “extraordinarily comprehensive.”

Nathalie Provost, survivor and spokesperson of PolySeSouvient, said in a statement that she hopes it will convince legislators to reintroduce amendments to Bill C-21 to ban all assault-style weapons.

“The withdrawal of the initial amendments was mired in disinformation and highly politicized, and this report puts public safety objectives squarely back on the agenda,” she said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Thursday that his government is committed to “review the report and address its recommendations.”

The NDP said it supports calls to close loopholes that allow people to get ahold of weapons, parts and ammunition without  a license.

However the party’s public safety critic did not commit to supporting the proposed Liberal definition of assault-style weapons.

“The government came forward with a long list that was poorly considered, and the (public safety) committee as a whole will have to look at all the amendments,” Peter Julian said outside the House of Commons Thursday.

“Right now, we have a situation where manufacturers can come reintroduce weapons that get around any existing definitions, and we don’t have a process in place that forces manufacturers to be responsible.”

All five of the weapons Wortman had during the killings were obtained illegally, and he did not have a license to own firearms.

The two semi-automatic pistols found in his possession after his death had laser sights, and he had overcapacity magazines for a semi-automatic rifle and a police-style carbine.

Police learned he had been stockpiling ammunition in the months before the attacks.

The RCMP charged his longtime partner, Lisa Banfield, her brother and brother-in-law in December 2020 with unlawfully transferring the ammunition.

Police acknowledged at the time that the three had no knowledge of what the gunman would do, and the Crown withdrew the charges after they participated in a restorative justice program.

Banfield is now suing the federal and provincial governments, alleging she was charged because the RCMP wanted to deflect attention from mistakes they made during the response and investigation into the killings. Federal lawyers argued in a statement of defence that it was lawful and reasonable to charge her.

The Mass Casualty Commission also calls for changes to the Firearms Act to require a firearms license to own ammunition or buy a magazine, and to restrict people with a license to purchasing ammunition for the type of weapon they are licensed to have.

It’s also calling for limits on stockpiling ammunition.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax and Jim Bronskill in Ottawa.

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Alberta United Conservatives win majority government, NDP makes inroads in Calgary

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The Canadian Press has projected a United Conservative Party majority government in Alberta.

Leader Danielle Smith and her party rode a wave of rural support to victory, but the NDP made inroads in the traditional conservative stronghold of Calgary.

UCP Leader Danielle Smith won her seat in Brooks-Medicine Hat and other key cabinet members were also returned, including Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Agriculture Minister Nate Horner, Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson and Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley won her seat in Edmonton-Strathcona for a fifth time and her party was on track to sweep the capital.

No election winner had been called more than two hours after polls closed at 8 p.m. Elections Alberta said in a statement it was moving as fast as possible.

“We are not seeing any issues at this time, but understand that people are keen to see the results,” said Elections Alberta in a statement.

“Processing the votes takes some time. The hand count of today’s ballot is occurring.”

To win, the NDP needed to flip 20 seats in the 87-seat legislature and early results showed promise in multiple Calgary constituencies outside of traditional UCP core support in the south end of the city.

UCP cabinet heavyweights in the city were facing stiff challenges from the NDP, including Justice Minister Tyler Shandro in Calgary-Acadia and Health Minister Jason Copping in Calgary-Varsity.

Calgary cabinet minister Nicholas Milliken, responsible for mental health and addiction, was defeated in Calgary-Currie by the NDP’s Janet Eremenko.

Smith’s two deputy premiers were also in tough against Notley’s crew: Kaycee Madu in Edmonton-South West and Nathan Neudorf in Lethbridge-East.

The UCP was seeking a second mandate while the NDP was fighting to regain the majority government it lost to the UCP in 2019.

Voter turnout was expected to be strong, given advance polls set a record of 758,540 votes cast, eclipsing the previous record of more than 700,000 in 2019.

The campaign took place alongside a record-breaking spring for wildfires in Alberta. Ten communities were under evacuation orders Monday.

Elections Alberta set up alternate voting locations for those displaced. Evacuation was added as an eligible reason to vote by special ballot and mobile voting stations were placed in evacuation centres.

To win, the NDP would have to continue its dominance in Edmonton, flip the majority in Calgary and hope for some help in smaller cities, while defeating scores of UCP incumbents including cabinet ministers.

The UCP won 63 seats under then-leader Jason Kenney in 2019 to 24 for Notley’s NDP in the 87-seat legislature.

Polls suggested the UCP should continue its near total domination in rural areas and smaller centres, giving it a cushion of up to 40 or so seats to reach the 44 needed to form a majority government.

The month-long campaign was dominated by the economy and health care.

Albertans are struggling with high costs for consumer goods, a shortage of family doctors and long waits in emergency rooms.

Smith promised to keep Alberta the lowest tax regime in Canada.

Her government, she said, would introduce a law to mandate a referendum before any personal or corporate income tax hikes. There would also be tax changes to benefit those making more than $60,000 a year, at a cost of $1 billion annually to the treasury.

The NDP promised to maintain Alberta’s status as Canada’s lowest tax regime. It pledged to end the tax on small businesses and raise the corporate income tax to 11 per cent from eight per cent, which it said would help pay for investments in health and education while keeping the books balanced and maintaining the lowest corporate rate in Canada.

The NDP also promised legislation to counteract UCP policies that hiked the cost of utilities, auto insurance, a range of fees and tuition.

Both leaders promised to preserve the publicly funded health system while creating more primary care teams — physicians accompanied by related specialists such as nurses and therapists — so more Albertans are able to access a family doctor and not clog emergency wards for care.

Polls showed trust was a key issue, with Notley viewed more favourably than her party and vice versa for Smith.

Smith was dogged during the campaign by past comments she made comparing those who took the COVID-19 vaccine to credulous followers of Adolf Hitler. A report also came out mid-campaign from the province’s ethics commissioner that concluded Smith undermined the rule of law by pressuring her justice minister to end the criminal court case of a COVID-19 protester.

The future isn’t clear for Jennifer Johnson, the winning UCP candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka.

During the campaign, Johnson apologized for comments last year comparing transgender students to feces. Smith has said Johnson would not sit in the UCP caucus because of the remarks but later said, when asked about Johnson, that she believes in redemption and second chances.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2023.




More coming.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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CP News Alert: NDP Leader Notley wins seat in Edmonton-Strathcona

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EDMONTON — Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has been re-elected as the legislature member for Edmonton-Strathcona.

The Canadian Press

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