Public safety minister Steven Blaney speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa

Public safety minister Steven Blaney speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa

Is firearms possession a “right” in Canada?

Public safety minister's statement on gun ownership "right" put to test

By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – “To possess a firearm is a right, and it’s a right that comes with responsibilities.” — Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney at a news conference in Powassan, Ont., while announcing planned changes to Canada’s gun laws, July 23, 2014.

—

The Canadian Press has examined Blaney’s statement and put it to its baloney meter test — a dispassionate examination of political statements that culminates in a ranking of accuracy.

Spoiler: On a scale from “no baloney” to “full of baloney,” the claim would appear, from a strictly legal standpoint, to meet the criteria for a “full baloney” grade. By law, there is no right in Canada to possess firearms.

The facts:

The right to bear arms has been a hotly debated topic in the United States for decades.

That right, say advocates, is deeply entrenched in the U.S. Constitution, and provided for in the Second Amendment that was adopted Dec. 15, 1791, as part of the United States Bill of Rights.

In Canada, such a right is not specifically spelled out in the Constitution, although proponents of the notion argue that such a right exists.

But does it?

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, it does not.

“Canadians, unlike Americans, do not have a constitutional right to bear arms,” the high court stated in 1993, in a decision over the possession of convertible semi-automatic weapons.

“Indeed, most Canadians prefer the peace of mind and sense of security derived from the knowledge that the possession of automatic weapons is prohibited,” said the court.

The rights issue was tested again in the case of an Ontario firearms dealer and manufacturer.

Bruce Montague was charged with several weapons offences after police found more than 200 firearms and 20,000 rounds of ammunition at Montague’s home in northwestern Ontario.

Montague didn’t renew the registrations on his weapons, convinced that he had a constitutional right to bear arms without government interference or regulation, despite the passage of Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, in 1995.

Montague argued that he had “a constitutional right to possess firearms for self defence” derived from the constitution of Britain.

He pointed to the preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867, Canada’s founding constitutional document, which in his view imported the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which states in Article 7: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.”

Montague further argued that in 1982, this historical right was shielded from any ordinary legislation by section 26 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads: “The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada.”

His convictions were upheld in the Ontario Court of Appeal and in September 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a final appeal, without offering reasons.

Montague is facing further legal troubles after the Ontario Court of Appeal further ruled last month against his challenge of the Criminal Code’s automatic forfeiture provisions.

That, after a judge ordered most of his weapons cache — including sub-machine guns, assault rifles and sawed off shotguns — be turned over to the province of Ontario. He may also lose his house to forfeiture.

The right to gun ownership in Canada has been far from universally accepted throughout the country’s history, says Saint Mary’s University associate professor Blake Brown.

Many 19th-century lawyers — including Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald — believed in a limited right to bear arms, Brown wrote in his book, Arming and Disarming, a History of Gun Control in Canada.

An 1869 law that prohibited people from carrying “offensive weapons” did not mention firearms.

During his tenure as prime minister, Macdonald generally opposed new gun laws, arguing that “citizens needed arms to protect themselves from American criminals who crossed into Canada,” wrote Brown.

And even though the British Bill of Rights declared a guarantee of arms to men “for their defence suitable to their condition,” the federal government declared that right invalid in 1885, because it deemed aboriginal peoples incapable of full citizenship and didn’t want to afford them such a right.

Skip forward 130 years to a recent news conference where Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney outlined proposed changes to Canada’s gun laws, publicly reopening the debate by stating that “to possess a firearm is a right.”

Blaney has not since clarified what he meant by “right,” nor has his office responded to several inquiries about whether the minister was stating government policy.

But critics immediately called the statement into question.

The courts have laid to rest any argument that Canadians have an absolute or legal right to own guns, says the Coalition for Gun Control.

“Quite simply, (Blaney) is wrong,” said the coalition’s Wendy Cukier.

But gun ownership is a rights issue, says Sheldon Clare, president of Canada’s National Firearms Association.

The debate about firearms control has been centred on the issue of public safety since the late 1960s, said Clare. He pointed to the RCMP seizure of guns from homes in flood-ravaged High River, Alta., in 2013.

The Mounties cited safety concerns as a reason for confiscating guns from homes they had entered while looking for flood victims and pets.

But many gun owners called that reasoning into question, accused the police of violating their rights and called the operation an unwarranted search and seizure.

“It is time to challenge that falsehood — firearms control is not a public safety issue,” Clare wrote recently on his association’s website. “It is a property and personal rights issue.”

The conclusion:

Governments since Confederation have framed laws that are much more in line with gun possession being a “privilege” that is regulated and licensed, similar to laws that allow Canadians to drive cars. However, there remains a strong divide on the issue between gun control proponents and advocates of the right to own firearms.

For those reasons, Blaney’s statement earns him a rating of “full of baloney.”

__

Sources:

Supreme Court of Canada Judgements, R. v. Hasselwander, May 19, 1993.

University of Alberta, Centre for Constitutional Studies, article, “Ontario Court Confirms No Right to Bear Arms in Canada; Supreme Court Will Not Hear Appeal,” Oct. 4, 2010

Firearms Act, 1995

The Right To Keep And Bear Arms In Canada website, www.rkba.ca.

English Bill of Rights, 1689.

Arming and Disarming, a History of Gun Control in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Canada’s National Firearms Association website, https://nfa.ca/.

__

Just Posted

Area A Director Ali Grieve (right), Village of Fruitvale Mayor Steve Morissette (front), and Village of Montrose Mayor Mike Walsh (left) held a congratulatory ceremony for Beaver Valley students who are part of the Class of 2021 graduates of J. L. Crowe Secondary at Beaver Creek Park on Thursday. Photo: Jim Bailey
Beaver Valley Grads of 2021

Beaver Valley mayors, RDKB Area A director celebrate their 2021 graduates with gift ceremony

Adrian Moyls is the Selkirk College Class of 2021 valedictorian and graduate of the School of Health and Human Services. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College valedictorian proves mettle in accomplishment

Adrian Moyls is a graduate of the School of Health and Human Services

A volunteer delivers food to families as part of a West Kootenay EcoSociety program. Photo: Submitted
Farms to Friends delivers 2,500th bag of food to families in need

The program services communities in the Nelson, Trail and Castlegar areas

Selkirk College has begun its search in earnest for a leader to replace president Angus Graeme who is set to retire from his position in May 2022. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College seeks community input for president search

Current president Angus Graeme retires next year

A report shows nine West Kootenay communities are have more low-income persons than the provincial average. File photo
Study casts new light on poverty in the West Kootenay

Nine communities in region have more low-income residents than provincial average

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Most Read