Dispatch from the Front Lines: Trudeau's absurd answer to the other absurdity he created
When good politics becomes bad politics, and gosh, that can happen in a hurry. MAID. Soccer. And which province is crazier?
Happy Sunday, Line readers. One of your Line editors has just returned from a hockey tournament weekend, the other has been juggling kids who remain ill. This means they are both exhausted, but for very different reasons (we suspect one has a liver in the better shape than the other, though. Yikes.). We’ve got a pretty heavy dispatch today, which makes how light-hearted and outright silly our video for this week ended up becoming all the weirder.
And as always, if you prefer audio, the podcast is available here.
We hate this as much as you do, but we must discuss guns with you again. We think the Liberals have screwed up, and we aren't sure yet they realize it. (But they're probably clueing in.)
You know why we're suspicious? The Liberals are extremely good at marketing. A depressing amount of the time, it's all they've got. They can take the smallest morsel of accomplishment and make it the centrepiece of a coordinated nation-wide grassroots mobilization campaign and fundraising drive. They have memes and other social shareables ready to go. Cabinet ministers release cringe videos captured by staffers who probably realize, in the very moment of their filming, that they've wasted their God-given potential on ... this.
Outcomes? The hell with those. Let's talk about those inputs, baby! In both official languages.
But this time? When the Liberals have actually embarked on what would be the most significant overhaul of our firearms laws in a generation? Not only have they not said boo. They're going out of their way to deny that they've done anything. Or, when confronted, our self-proclaimed warriors against fake news and misinformation are just lying about what they’re doing.
So either they don't know what they're doing (very possible), regret what they've done (also very possible) or it's a confused mix of both (our working theory).
But let us explain. And forgive us, but things will get a bit technical. (We'll keep it as simple as possible, but guns are complicated.)
Canadian firearms policy has generally tried to classify firearms by their technical specifications. Three broad categories were created by the major reforms of the 1990s. "Prohibited" firearms essentially were machine guns, automatic assault rifles of the kind used by modern militaries, and easily concealed short-barrelled handguns; prohibited licences were issued in the 1990s to a relatively small number of individuals who already owned such firearms and their immediate descendants (to cover family heirlooms), but prohibited firearms otherwise are not available to the public. "Non-restricted" firearms were the very common rifles and shotguns suited (and frequently used) for hunting or target shooting sports, and require the least onerous level of licensing (but still, you do need a licence that involves background checks and vetting). In the middle we had "restricted" firearms — mostly handguns — that require a special licence beyond the normal licence, requiring extra training and conditions.
These broad categories do not always reflect the reality of how the laws actually shaped up. The prohibited and restricted categories were often stretched by meddling politicians to apply more broadly than they ought to have, so that politicians (mainly Liberals) could claim to be "tough on guns" in particular instances. But these three categories have been generally stable for a generation, and functioned well, more or less. Perfectly? No. But our gun-control laws worked for the public at large, which is why violent gun crime by licensed individuals is rare despite a relatively high rate of firearms ownership in Canada.
You wouldn't think it given all the political controversy, but Canadian gun control has been a fundamentally successful public-policy program, for decades. The very real problem we have with gun violence in this country is overwhelmingly committed with illegal guns smuggled in from the United States, and fall outside the scope of our gun-control system, which works well doing what it is supposed to do: licensing lawful gun owners, regulating the legal uses of guns and regulating, as well, the lawful hunting and shooting sports industry.
For all its success as public policy, though, the system didn't work for the Liberals politically. So they decided to get cute. And that's where their problems began.
Assault rifles are banned in Canada (that is, they are "prohibited,") and have been for decades. A small handful are owned by those prohibited-class licence holders who were grandfathered in in the 1990s. In recent years, as Liberal fortunes began to fade anywhere outside a cluster of must-win urban seats, and especially after the 2020 Nova Scotia massacre, the Liberals have been talking about "assault style" rifles.
That was the give away, the tell. The term didn't mean anything. They just made it up. You'd look weird at someone who offered you a "food-style" snack or "medicine-style" pill. "Style" is an awfully big red flag for bullshit.
In a 2020 order-in-council — an executive order — issued in the days after the Nova Scotia disaster, the Liberals took a few dozen kinds of rifles and banned them by shifting their classifications to prohibited. Since very few of those owners would hold the rare prohibited licences, said owners became legally ineligible to continue to own the guns they already owned, and had for years without incident. (Nothing has actually happened yet, as the Liberals have yet to figure out how to implement the ban, but that’s what they did.) The Liberals proceeded to then spend years telling Canadians that they were banning assault-style rifles, and millions of Canadians, who know nothing about guns except that they are weirded out by how often Americans murder each other, shrugged and said, "Cool!" To avoid creating blowback in other areas, the Liberals also kept insisting that they were not targeting, and never would target, hunters.
The problem for the Liberals is that their order-in-council created instant absurdities. Some guns were banned because the Liberals deemed them "assault style" while other functionally identical ones were not and remained, under the law, mundane rifles fit (and legally approved for) hunting. This was instantly noted by anyone who knew anything about the file, and the Liberals were attacked on both sides for this. From the right, they were attacked for the nonsensical theatrics of banning "Assault-Style" Rifle A, which is no more dangerous than Hunting Rifle B. From the left, they were attacked for not having the guts to ban Hunting Rifle B, which is just as dangerous as "Assault-Style" Rifle A.
Both critiques were valid! This is the reality of the Pandora's Box the Liberals chose to open. By blowing up a stable, functional regulatory system that had worked for a generation in order to apply a completely arbitrary standard to a small sample from a group of otherwise functionally similar objects, they created a situation that could not fail to produce absurd outcomes.
But gosh, those 905 voters, right?
Bill C-21 is the effort to codify the order-in-council into law. As originally proposed and debated in the House, it was essentially in line with the original order. In recent weeks, though, amendments have been tabled that have dramatically expanded the scope of the proposed prohibitions. (Compare the length of the original proposed bill to its amendments — it's bonkers, folks.) The enormity of this cannot be overemphasized. Instead of a few dozen broad types of rifle accounting for, at most, a few hundred thousand firearms, we're now talking hundreds (at least, we haven't fully counted the list yet) of types of rifle, probably totalling millions of firearms. All scheduled for seizure. This is, we repeat, the most massive move on gun control in a generation.
And the Liberals, shameless marketing hucksters that they are, have said ... basically nothing. To the extent they've addressed it at all, it's been to lie, and deny that this move is going to prohibit hunting rifles.
It absolutely is, and lots of them. It may not be the Liberals primary goal to ban hunting and sports shooting rifles, but that is what their amendment will do. Full stop. They can lie about it as much as they want, but the amendments are public, and this is what they are proposing to do. They may try to muddy the waters by sniffing and going, well, gosh, why would you need to hunt with that kind of rifle, but that’s just distraction. This amendment would take potentially millions of rifles that are currently legally cleared to be used for hunting and ban them.
It's easy to see why they’re trying to do this. What the Liberals (with Bloc and NDP support) are doing is trying to solve one of the absurdities they've created. Instead of arbitrarily banning some types of rifle while leaving other functionally identical ones as non-restricted, they're banning any rifle that is both semi-automatic and contains a detachable magazine (which a trained shooter can replace quite quickly). This is actually a defensible policy. The Line would disagree with the policy, strongly, as it is unnecessary and wasteful, but it's at least a coherent idea. It solves the problem of "Assault-style Rifle A" being functionally identical to "Totally Cool Hunting Rifle B" by banning them both.
But this just creates another problem for the Liberals: there is just no way they can do this without sweeping up literally millions (we honestly don't know how many) of rifles that are just normal hunting rifles, used by Canadians for many years to bag deer and moose and guard livestock and crops from predators and pests. It also would basically wipe out Canada's well-regulated sports shooting industry, which astute readers will note hasn’t been the source of much carnage. These are things the Liberals insist they aren't doing. But they are.
And we think the reason they're so silent is because they've realized that now, or at least they're starting to. By trying to solve one problem of their creation, they've just created another one, and this one is probably worse for them. One of the largest users of the kind of weapons the Liberals now propose to ban are Indigenous Canadians. There are large hunting communities in Quebec and the Atlantic. They're pissed, and we suspect the NDP and Bloc are hearing about it from their constituents. Angling and hunting associations that weren't too fussed about crackdowns on handguns and target-plinking rifles are now freaked out. And in a complete own goal, the Liberals have just made Pierre Poilievre's life a lot easier.