Feds Circumvent Provinces to Regulate Handguns Through Municipalities

On February 16, 2021, the Federal Government introduced Bill C-21. Bill C-21 proposed amendments to a number of acts, restricting a variety of firearms.

Section 26 of Bill C-21 would amend the Firearms Act by adding three offences:

  • an individual must not store a handgun other than in a business authorized to store prohibited or restricted firearms;
  • an individual must not have a handgun within a municipality or transport a handgun through the municipality (with some limited exceptions); and
  • an individual must comply with the prescribed storage requirements.

The Federal Government will presumably determine the content of the third offence in later regulations.

Each offence only applies if a municipality has passed bylaws stating that the offence applies and the offence occurs within said municipality. Accordingly, municipalities are able to opt-in to these offences by passing bylaws. This appears to apply to all municipalities within Canada, regardless of size.

The Federal Government is exercising its power, but a condition of this is the existence of bylaws made by the municipality. This is, in a sense, a creative mechanism for delegating federal power to provincial municipalities to allow for those municipalities to decide to opt-in to these handgun offences.

Municipalities are commonly referred to as “creatures of the provinces,” a reference to the fact that municipalities are located under provincial jurisdiction in the Canadian Constitution. The Federal Government’s attempt to circumvent the provinces may render it vulnerable to constitutional arguments and provincial legislative action, both of which will be explored in a later blog post.

The MLT Aikins municipal law team will continue to monitor the developments to Bill C-21 and provide updates.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.