‘Words are not enough’: Public safety minister defends assault rifle buyback plan at committee

Marco Mendicino took criticism from Conservatives over a government bill which includes removing mandatory minimum prison sentences on crimes involving firearms

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OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has defended his government’s plan to buy back assault rifles even while removing some mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.


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“Words are not enough, thoughts and prayers are not enough. Words have to be put into action,” Mendicino told the House of Commons Public Security committee. “Now that we have banned assault rifles, we have to take the next steps and implement a buyback program.”

Mendicino appeared before the committee to talk about the government’s plan to deal with gun violence as a result of a Bloc Québécois motion to look into gun trafficking after a wave of high profile shootings in Montreal.

The Liberals are continuing with plans to buy-back thousands of what they describe as “military-style” assault rifles, which were banned through legislation in the last Parliament.

Mendicino took criticism from Conservative MP Raquel Dancho over the government’s crime legislation C-5, a bill which among other things removes mandatory minimum prison sentences on a variety of crimes including ones involving firearms.


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“We’re quite concerned that on one hand, we’re seeing criminals using often illegally smuggled guns to harm our communities and on the other hand, your government is taking away the ability to ensure they have mandatory prison time,” Dancho said.

The mandatory minimum sentences the Liberals propose to remove from the criminal code include cases of robbery and extortion with a firearm as well as mandatory prison time for drug trafficking.

The Liberals charge that mandatory minimum sentences have led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Indigenous offenders.


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Mendicino argued it is about giving judges the authority to weigh the circumstances of an offender and impose the right sentences in the right circumstances.

“There are a number of firearms offences to which we propose to increase maximum penalties which of course, we trust our independent judiciary to dispense where appropriate,” he said.

The details of the Liberals’ buy-back program have not been announced. The parliamentary budget officer estimated in June that buying back all of the weapons so they could be destroyed could cost $756 million.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told the committee that the RCMP has not done tracing on all weapons used in crimes, but the limited tracing they have done has shown that 73 per cent of weapons can be connected to Canada, while 27 per cent were smuggled.


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Mendicino said his government is also looking at other programs to reduce gun violence, but stressed they were not trying to target hunters and farmers.

“I want to assure hunters, farmers and target shooters that nothing we are doing is intended to diminish your lawful recreational activities.”

Dancho pointed to estimates that the buy-back program could ultimately end up costing as much as $3 billion and said that money could be better spent targeting smugglers.

“If you would invest $1 billion to $3 billion at our borders, I think we would see a lot less illegal guns from the United States smuggled in by gangs, used in drug trafficking and used to kill innocent Canadians,” she said.

She said illegal gun owners are not going to turn their weapons over during a buy-back program.


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“Criminals will not be handing their guns back to you and they are the ones that are hurting people in our cities,” she said.

Dancho said the Liberals’ record on crime has been abysmal.

“Violent crime across Canada in five of the last six years has gone up, firearms-related offences have increased for six years in a row now. Homicides are at a 30-year high and we know at least one-third of homicides are committed with firearms.”

The Conservatives were the lone votes in the committee against a motion to support the Liberals’ change to gun regulations, which includes rules around gun sales and requirements for firearms dealers to take more steps before selling a weapon.

The gun control advocacy group PolyRemembers / PolySeSouvient argued the committee should have done more to close loopholes in gun sales to keep weapons out of the wrong hands.

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