Department of Justice Canada

Department of Justice Canada

June 10, 2015 15:58 ET

Government of Canada Moves to Restore Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Illegal Possession of Loaded Prohibited or Restricted Firearms

Proposed legislation would help ensure safety of Canadians and of their families

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 10, 2015) - Department of Justice Canada

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Peter MacKay today announced the introduction of legislation to restore mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs), in defined circumstances, for the illegal possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm. The Bill, titled the Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act, is the Government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in R. v. Nur. The Bill would make clear that people who possess loaded or easily loaded guns on Canadian streets or around schools are engaging in serious criminal behavior and must face the full force of the law, through clear and defined penalties of imprisonment, while protecting law-abiding gun owners.

The Criminal Code prohibits the criminal possession of loaded or easily loaded prohibited or restricted firearms such as fully automatic firearms, sawed-off rifles and handguns, and the offence is punishable by a maximum period of ten years' imprisonment. The Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act would impose MMPs on people who possess loaded prohibited or restricted firearms for the purpose of committing certain serious offences, or in situations that create a real risk of harm to others. Prohibited and restricted firearms are the weapons of choice for gangs and other types of organized crime. In the hands of these groups, such weapons pose serious risks to the safety of Canadians and to the safety of our communities.

The Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act would also clarify who the offence applies to. For example, law-abiding firearms owners who possess prohibited or restricted firearms in accordance with the Firearms Act and store them lawfully would be exempt from the offence.

The proposed legislation builds on measures the Government introduced in October 2014 in the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act (Bill C-42) to strengthen the Criminal Code provisions relating to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence.

The proposed reforms also build on other measures brought forward by the Government to protect public safety and strengthen sentencing of violent offenders. Those measures include changes to the "faint hope" clause that allowed murderers to apply for early parole and Criminal Code amendments to allow judges to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders so that each life taken is represented in an offender's sentence. More recently, the Government introduced legislation that would ensure that Canada's most heinous criminals will be subject to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Quick Facts

  • Gang-related homicides are far more likely to involve firearms than non-gang-related homicides. In 2013, 71% of gang-related homicides were committed with a firearm, compared with 15% of non-gang-related homicides. In total, there were 60 gang-related homicides committed with a firearm in 2013, 83% of which were committed with a handgun.(1)
  • There were more than a dozen shootings between rival gang members fighting for control of the drug trade in Surrey, British Columbia, from March to May 2015(2).
  • The Government recently provided new funding to hire 100 more RCMP officers to tackle the increasing gang-related violence in Surrey, B.C.

Quotes

"The safety of our families and our communities remains a top priority for our Government. Gun crimes, particularly gang-related or those committed by repeat offenders, are serious offences with often devastating violent consequences and therefore deserve serious penalties. This Government is standing up for law-abiding citizens who comply with the law while ensuring that those who put the lives of innocent Canadians at risk through obviously blameworthy behaviour face penalties that match the severity of their crime."

Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

"Our Government always stands up for the rights of law-abiding firearms owners, hunters, and sports shooters. The hunting and outdoors community in Canada, however, is adamant that the criminal use of firearms must be punished severely. That is why this Government is ensuring that those who use firearms for violent and criminal behaviour are punished, so all Canadians can be safe."

Robert Sopuck, MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette

"The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, with 100,000 members, supporters and subscribers, and 725 member clubs across Ontario, represents law-abiding firearms owners who use firearms safely and responsibly for hunting or recreational sport shooting. The Federation strongly supports the new measures announced by the Harper government today, which will include serious penalties for the illegal possession and use of firearms to commit crime and threaten the public safety."

Greg Farrant, OFAH Manager of Government Affairs and Policy

Related Products

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(1) Cotter, A. (2014). Homicide in Canada, 2013. Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

(2) Dhillon, S. (2015, May 19). Feds approve 100 new RCMP officers for B.C. city gripped by gang war. The Globe and Mail.
(2015, April 14). Gang victims allegedly won't co-operate, so Surrey RCMP release photos. CBC News, British Columbia

Backgrounder

The Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act

Proposed Legislation

The Government of Canada remains committed to keeping streets and communities safe for Canadians and their families. To this end, the Government is taking steps to restore mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) to section 95 of the Criminal Code for people convicted of illegally possessing loaded restricted or prohibited firearms, to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting law-abiding Canadian gun owners.

The Bill, titled the Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act, would re-enact MMPs of three years' imprisonment for a first offence of possession of a loaded, or easily loaded, restricted or prohibited firearm, and five years' imprisonment for repeat offenders when convicted on indictment. The MMP would only apply where one of the following aggravating circumstances is proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • the firearm was possessed for the purpose of committing an indictable offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; or
  • the possession created a real risk of harm to others.

If neither of these two circumstances is proven, no MMP would apply. The offence would still be punishable by the existing maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

The proposed measures include a provision that would require courts, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to find that a real risk of harm to others exists if the offence was committed in or next to a school or other public place usually frequented by children or in any place where another person is in fact present.

Clarifying the Scope of the Offence

The legislation would also clarify the scope of the section 95 offence. Three scenarios would be specifically exempted from the application of the offence:

  1. Law-abiding firearms owners would be exempt from the offence if they fully comply with the requirements of the Firearms Act including being licensed and having a registration certificate and where they safely store their firearm and only load it in a place in which they are legally entitled to discharge it.
  2. A person who uses a loaded firearm under the direct and immediate supervision of a person who is legally entitled to possess it, and is using it in a legal manner, would be exempt from the offence.
  3. A person who comes into possession of a firearm by operation of law (e.g. they inherit it) would be exempt from the offence if they take steps, within a reasonable period of time, to lawfully dispose of the firearm or come into compliance with the requirements of the Firearms Act.

Furthermore, the proposed measures make explicit that the common law rule of innocent possession applies in respect of section 95.

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R v. Nur

The proposed legislation responds to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Nur, released on April 14, 2015. The Court found the previous MMPs of three years' imprisonment for first offenders and five years' imprisonment for repeat offenders unconstitutional because they could apply to offenders with minimal blameworthiness and in the absence of any harm or real risk of harm. The effect of this decision is that MMPs are no longer available, though an offender could still face up to 10 years in prison. However, the Court also recognized that firearms-related offences are serious crimes and that it is appropriate for the criminal law to impose consequences that target such inherently serious behaviour. The proposed legislation aligns the MMPs with inherently serious behaviour, such as the possession of a loaded handgun in the hands of organized crime as a tool to perpetuate a criminal enterprise.

Contact Information

  • Clarissa Lamb
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of Justice
    613-992-4621

    Media Relations Office
    Department of Justice
    613-957-4207