The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
September 29, 1994 94-R-0838
FROM: Veronica Rose, Research Associate
RE: Gun Control Legislation in Canada
You asked for a description of Canada's gun control laws.
Firearms are federally regulated in Canada. The federal 1977 Criminal Law Amendment Act, as amended, prohibits automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns and rifles. It is illegal for anyone, except (for the most part) the police and the military, to possess them.
The law restricts handguns by requiring a registration certificate to possess them and a permit, issued under limited and temporary circumstances only, to carry them. The only people who can obtain a certificate are: (1) police and other security personnel, (2) members of bona fide gun clubs, (3) bona fide gun collectors, and (4) people who demonstrate a need for handguns for self-protection. As a prerequisite for registration, a prospective handgun owner must obtain a firearms acquisition certificate. The law, with minor exceptions, restricts the magazine capacity of handguns to 10 rounds.
Hunting rifles and shotguns are neither restricted nor prohibited, but it is illegal to possess them without a firearms acquisitions certificate. People who have committed certain serious crimes are not eligible for an acquisition certificate to possess any firearm. Also ineligible is anyone with a record of violence or treatment for mental disorder associated with violence in the five years before applying for a certificate. There is a 28-day waiting period for a certificate, and it costs $50. The law, with minor exceptions, restricts the magazine capacity of hunting rifles and shotguns to five rounds.
The law requires the court, in most cases, to prohibit people who are convicted of serious crimes from possessing firearms for 10 years to life, depending on the crime and whether it is a first offense. And the court may, for safety reasons, prohibit people who have not committed any crimes from possessing firearms.
The law grants police officers considerable powers of search and seizure where prohibited and restricted firearms are concerned. Among other things, they may make warrantless searches of any premises (other than a dwelling) and vehicles and seize undocumented weapons if they have reasonable grounds to believe a crime involving such weapons is taking or has taken place. The law also allows firearm officers to enter gun owners homes to inspect collections for secure storage.
Illegal possession or transfer of a prohibited weapon carries a prison term of up to 10 years. Illegal possession or transfer of a restricted firearm carries a prison term of up to five years. Possessing a firearm in violation of a court order carries a term of up to 10 years.
The minimum age at which someone can have any firearm transferred to him is 18. Violation carries a prison term of up to two years.
THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Canadian Constitution does not contain any protection for gun owners.
CRIMINAL LAW AMENDMENT ACT
Unlike the United States, where firearms are primarily regulated by the state, in Canada firearms are federally regulated.
The current Canadian gun-control law was enacted as the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1977. The law designates some weapons, including automatic weapons, sawed-off shotguns and rifles, and switch blade knives, as “prohibited weapons.” It designates some firearms, such as handguns and semi-automatic weapons with short barrels (less than 18 1/2 inches), as “restricted weapons” (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 84(1) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 564).
It is illegal, with few exceptions, to possess or transfer prohibited weapons.
1. The military and police, customs and immigration officers, and public service employees may possess prohibited weapons for employment purposes. People who import, manufacture, repair, modify, or sell weapons “for or on behalf of” the military or police may possess such weapons in the course of business with them.
2. Authorized persons may posses and import and export certain prohibited weapons, including automatic firearms, for industrial purposes (e.g. developing and testing firearms and ammunition).
3. Authorized persons may import and sell prohibited weapons to approved museums, which may exhibit them.
4. Authorized persons may possess large capacity magazines for use in shooting competitions and authorized persons may (1) make or procure such magazines for such competitors and (2) make them for export (Criminal Code R.S.C. Ch. C-46, §§ 90 to 98 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40 1991 S.C. 567 to 574).
Anyone may possess a restricted firearm provided he obtains a “registration certificate.” A “firearms acquisition certificate” is a prerequisite for the registration certificate.
Certain firearms, such as hunting rifles and shotguns, are not prohibited nor restricted. But one must obtain a firearms acquisition certificate to possess them.
The law, with minor exceptions, limits the magazine capacity of firearms to five rounds for hunting rifles and shotguns and 10 rounds for handguns.
FIREARMS ACQUISITION CERTIFICATES
Anyone who wishes to acquire any firearm must obtain a firearms acquisition certificate from a provincial firearms officer and produce it at the time of a firearm transaction. Both the transferor and transferee are subject to a prison term of up to two years for any transfer without a certificate (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 97(1) and (3)) (1985) (Can.)).
An applicant for a certificate must be at least age 18. He must provide two references, a current photograph, and evidence that he has either successfully completed an approved course in handgun safety and use or been certified as competent to use firearms by a firearms officer. There is a 28-day waiting period for a certificate. It costs $50 and is valid for five years throughout Canada (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 106 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 585 to 587).
The law explicitly prohibits an issuing authority from issuing certificates to anyone: who (1) is subject to a probation order prohibiting him from possessing firearms because of conviction for certain serious crimes; (2) is subject to a court order prohibiting firearm possession for safety reasons; or (3) within the five years preceding an application, was convicted of a crime involving violence or firearms, had a history of violent behavior, or received treatment for mental disorder associated with violence. The law gives firearms officers the additional discretion to deny certificates if they have any information indicating that it would not be desirable for safety reasons for the applicant to possess firearms. If they do not have any such information, they must issue the certificate to anyone who qualifies (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 106 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 587 et seq.).
Operators of museums and businesses must ensure that employees who have to handle firearms hold acquisition certificates. The attorney general may exempt employees from this requirement (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 104 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 28, 1991 S.C. 428 and Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 584).
It is a violation, punishable by a prison term of up to two years, to tamper with a certificate or provide false information to obtain one (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 113(1) (1985) (Can.)).
Anyone with a restricted firearm must register it with the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The registration certificate allows the holder to possess the firearm only at the place specified in the certificate, which may be his home or place of business (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46 (1985) § 109(8)). If the owner wishes to possess the firearm elsewhere, he must obtain a permit (discussed below).
An applicant for a certificate must be at least age 18 and hold a valid firearms acquisition certificate. He must want the firearm (1) to protect life, (2) for use in his lawful occupation, (3) for target practice under the auspices of an approved shooting club or pursuant to specified conditions, or (4) for part of a gun collection (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 106 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 592).
With minor exceptions, possessing a restricted firearm without a valid registration certificate is punishable by a prison term of up to five years. Transferring a restricted firearm to anyone who does not have a permit authorizing possession is punishable by the same five-year term (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, §§ 91(1) and 96 (1985) (Can.)), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 569 and 570).
PERMITS TO CARRY
A permit allows a permittee to carry restricted firearms. The permit is issued for a specified and temporary purpose. Carrying of restricted firearms, except for such temporary purposes with a permit, is illegal. The following are among the specified temporary purposes for which a restricted firearms permit may be issued:
1. to take the firearm for registration,
2. to transfer a registered firearm to a new residence,
3. to allow a registered owner to temporarily loan his firearm,
4. to allow nonresidents to participate in shooting competitions, and
5. to possess a registered firearm away from the location specified in the registration certificate (An applicant for the last mentioned permit must satisfy the same criteria for registering the firearm.)
All the above permits are free. (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 110 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 593 to 596).
Restricted firearm manufacturers, dealers, and importers and people engaged in transporting firearms or ammunition must obtain a business permit. Permits are valid for one year. Permit fees range from $25 for buying and selling ammunition at retail to $850 for manufacturing restricted weapons (see schedule attached). Permittees must keep a record of their stock; report any loss or theft; and take due care in handling, storing, and transporting arms and ammunition.
AGE AND FIREARM POSSESSION
The minimum age for possessing any firearm is 18. But a minor under age 18 may possess a firearm if he is being supervised by an adult with a valid certificate or permit (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 102 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 579).
Also, a firearms officer may issue a permit to possess hunting rifles or shotguns to a minor (1) under age 18 who hunts or traps to sustain himself or his family and (2) age 12 to 18 if the firearm is for target practice, hunting, or firearms instructions. Any such permit must carry the consent of the minor's parent or guardian. The latter permit must carry the conditions of supervision as well (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 110(6) and (7)(1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 595).
Illegally transferring a firearm to a minor under age 18 carries a prison term of up to two years (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 93(1) 1985 (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 572).
COURT ORDERED FIREARM POSSESSION BAN
The law requires the court to prohibit people from possessing firearms if they have been convicted of violent crimes that carry a prison term of 10 or more years, unless the court finds that the ban is either not desirable for protecting the offender or other persons or is inappropriate under the circumstances.
The specified circumstances are: (1) the offender's criminal record and the nature of the crime and the circumstances surrounding it, (2) whether the offender needs a firearm to support himself and his family, and (3) whether the order would constitute a virtual prohibition against employment.
The ban for a first offense is 10 years. It is permanent for any subsequent offense (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 100(1) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 575 and 576).
Firearm Crimes. The law gives the court discretion to prohibit people from possessing firearms if they have been convicted of (1) any crime involving the use, storage, carrying, possessing, handling, and storing of firearms or ammunition; (2) any violent offence against a person; or (3) certain drug related offenses.
The court must impose the ban, for up to 10 years, if it decides that it is not desirable in the “interests of the safety of the offender or of any other person” for the offender to possess firearms (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 100(2) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 576).
Safety Concerns. The court may also prohibit people who are not charged with any crimes from possessing firearms. The law allows peace officers, firearms officers, and provincial attorney generals to apply for an order banning possession if, in their discretion, it is not desirable in the interests of safety for an individual to possess a firearm.
The court must hold a hearing and provide an aggrieved party with an opportunity to testify. If it upholds the application, it may impose a ban for up to five years (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 100(4) to (6) (1985) (Can.), and Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 103(4) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 579).
Violations. Any order made with respect to anyone who already possesses a firearm must give a reasonable time within the person must surrender or dispose of his weapon. It is otherwise illegal to possess firearms while an order is in effect. Violation carries up to 10 years imprisonment (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 100(12) and (13) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 577 and 578).
SEARCH AND SEIZURE PROVISIONS
The law grants police officers considerable powers of search and seizure where prohibited or restricted weapons are involved. For example, the police can search a person, vehicle, or premises (other than a dwelling) without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence relating to prohibited or restricted weapons has been or is being committed (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 101(1) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 578).
The police may also seize prohibited weapons, restricted weapons from anyone who cannot produce a certificate, and firearms from a minor under age 18 who does not have a permit or is not being supervised (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 102(1) (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 578 and 579).
Even where possession is lawful, the law allows a judge to issue a search and seizure warrant, upon an attorney general's application, where continued possession of a firearm is deemed undesirable for safety reasons. The law outlines a hearing and appeals process for aggrieved parties (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 103 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 579 et. seq.).
Firearms officers have the discretion to deny or revoke firearm acquisition certificates and permits. They may refuse to issue the documents if they have “notice of any matter that may render it desirable in the interests of the safety of the applicant therefor or any other person that such a permit should not be issued to the applicant.” (It appears, but is not clear, that the documents are revocable on the same grounds.) The commissioner has the same discretion with respect to registration certificates.
Aggrieved parties may appeal issuing authorities' decisions to any provincial court. People aggrieved by the court's decision may appeal to the appellate court. The law details the appeals procedures. (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 112 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 597 et. seq.).
FIREARM STORAGE AND HANDLING
The law prohibits people from handling firearms “in a manner that shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.” A violation carries a penalty of up to five years (Criminal Code R.S.C., Ch. C-46, § 86 (1985) (Can.), as amd. by Ch. 40, 1991 S.C. 567).
The law requires that firearms be securely stored. According to the regulations, this involves locking non-restricted firearms (e.g. with a trigger lock) or removing an essential part. Restricted weapons must be kept in a secure container and protected by a locking device. The locking device is not required if the firearm is kept in a vault or secure room that is built or modified to store firearms.
By regulation, the basic standard for transporting firearms is for them to be unloaded. If the firearm is being transported in a vehicle, it must be kept out of sight and the vehicle locked unless an adult is in it. A restricted weapon must be kept out of sight, unloaded, and in a locked case.
The law contains a number of “saving provisions.” These are applicable to particular circumstances where it was clearly not intended that criminal liability should attach. For example, it exempts from prosecution persons who come into possession of a prohibited weapon by operation of law (e.g. a judicial sale), with the proviso that the person lawfully dispose of the prohibited object “. . .with reasonable despatch.”