Senator accuses public safety minister of 'disinformation' over gun control bill

Dominic LeBlanc told a Senate committee that firearms groups didn’t oppose the Liberals’ Bill C-21

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OTTAWA — A Canadian senator accused Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc of providing “disinformation” to a Senate committee last month during a meeting on a contentious firearms control bill.

During deliberations Thursday over Bill C-21, Manitoba Sen. Don Plett took aim at remarks made during a previous committee appearance by the public safety minister, who told senators that hunting and sporting groups, among others, were in favour of the government’s legislation.

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“I don’t think that Indigenous peoples were at large opposed with this bill, and I don’t think hunters or sports groups oppose this legislation,” LeBlanc told senators during the meeting.

“That’s why I think the legislative process in our place, I hope, to a large extent attenuated and diminished those concerns.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Plett asked representatives of three hunting and sport shooting associations if they knew of such support for the bill, and if C-21 was likewise supported by their members.

“I do not know of any sporting organizations that support this legislation,” replied Eric Schroff, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association.

When asked if he knew of any hunters or sport shooters who supported C-21, Schroff responded “not that I’m aware of.”

Marc Renaud, president of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs (Quebec federation of hunters and fishermen) gave a similar answer.

“In Quebec, our federation is aware of no organization that supports this very restrictive bill, be it sports clubs, hunters, our members,” he said in French.

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Gilbert White of the 33,000-member Saskatchewan Wildlife Association told Plett that he concurred with both Renaud and Schroff.

“Senator (Stan) Kutcher is citing disinformation here quite often,” Plett said in response.

“I would suggest the height of disinformation here is what the minister has been telling us.”

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LeBlanc’s Oct. 23 appearance before the committee was his first since becoming Public Safety Minister after the sudden ouster of his predecessor Marco Mendicino, whose disastrous term in the portfolio resulted in him being shuffled out of cabinet over the summer.

Plett’s remarks earned a rebuke from Kutcher, who took exception with what he interpreted as a slight against him.

“Senator Plett, I wish that you would either apologize for your comment, or at least acknowledge that was not disinformation,” he said, referring to a statistic about gun smuggling made earlier in the meeting.

“I will apologize only if I have hurt your feelings, but I was not referring necessarily to today, but the other day you clearly talked about misinformation, and I think if we check Hansard and the records that are there, I did not imply that you were wrong — I simply implied that you had referred to disinformation,” Plett said.

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“Let the record show, I did not accuse you, sir, of anything.”

Kutcher’s response was cut off by committee chair Sen. Tony Dean, urging the floor to return to the witnesses.

When asked by Ontario Sen. Mary Deacon on where the line should be drawn between weapons used for hunting and those used in mass shootings, White replied that firearms aren’t weapons until they’re used as such.

“We all seem to focus on the firearm in any crisis, we never seem to focus on the person behind the firearm, or what brought them to that point in their life,” he said.

“I would definitely like to see that focus changed.”

Later in the meeting, committee deputy chair Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais asked the heads of three firearms owners’ groups why their members choose to hunt with so-called “assault rifles” — firearms that Dagenais described as those that “do not look like hunting rifles.”

Rod Giltaca, chief executive officer of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said that hunting is just one of the activities enjoyed by Canada’s firearm owners.

“There’s a lot of hunters, but there are a lot of target shooters,” Giltaca said.

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“There are around 650,000 Canadians who are licensed to own handguns and rifles like AR-15s — that’s far more than Canadians who play organized hockey. It’s a very big community, but it’s a community that keeps to itself, because it doesn’t want situations like what’s happening right now.”

He said semi-automatic rifles, whether they have a wooden stock or outfitted in black plastic, all function exactly the same way.

“This is what keeps getting lost,” he said.

“AR-15s are used for hunting all of the time, in jurisdictions where they’re legal to be used for hunting. It’s just another semi-automatic rifle.”

When asked by Quebec Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain about striking a balance between protecting rights of firearms owners and that of public safety, Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association President Wes Winkel urged for an increased focus on stopping crime guns.

“What’s in the bill is a strategy to destroy our industry,” he said.

“Our industry represents less than three per cent of firearms that are used in crime in Canada. We need an approach that attacks crime in Canada, and does not destroy the jobs of our employees.”

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Last February, police chiefs from across Canada told the House public safety committee that most of the guns involved in crimes found by investigators are firearms that aren’t legal to own in Canada.

“Our problem in Toronto are handguns from the United States,” Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw testified last year, telling the committee that efforts should be directed instead at stemming the flow of illegal guns into Canada.

Concerned over the use of firearms in intimate partner violence and violence against women, Ontario Sen. Kim Pate asked National Firearms Association President Rick Igercich about what measures they’re taking to screening out members who are at risk of such acts.

“Most of our members are firearm owners that have a possession and acquisition licence, so they are screened and vetted by the RCMP on a daily basis,” he said, explaining that they’re first and foremost a lobby group.

Canada’s firearms lobby was dealt a blow earlier this week after a Federal Court judge dismissed a challenge lodged by the CCFR and other groups questioning the constitutionality of the Trudeau Liberals’ May 2020 order-in-council that summarily prohibited over 1,500 firearm models.

• Email: [email protected] | X: @bryanpassifiume

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