How are firearms regulated in Canada?

Firearms are heavily regulated in Canada. Sections 84 to 117 of the Criminal Code deals with various aspects of gun ownership as well as subsequent punishments.

Canada also has a Firearms Act, passed in 1995. It regulates the manufacture, import/export, acquisition, possession, transfer and storage of firearms in Canada, as well as breaking down which weapons are classified as either non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited. The Act also outlines the requirements for the licensing and registration of firearms in Canada.

The RCMP administers the Act and offers a gun safety course and administers the Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).

What is a PAL?

Holders of a PAL have the right to own and use firearms in Canada. A registration certificate identifies a firearm and links it to its owner.

A PAL is renewable every five years. When renewing, you do not need to resend your training information. However, if you want a licence with new or different privileges, you must prove that you have successfully completed the proper training.

For example, if you have a basic licence for a non-restricted weapon such as a hunting rifle, you must take another course to own a restricted weapon such as a handgun. Keep in mind that if you have a licence for restricted weapons you can hold non-restricted weapons, but you can’t go the other way.

When you take the basic PAL course, the RCMP will ask if you have a criminal record as well as look at your past behaviour, looking for possible signals of violence or aggression. They will also ask for contact information for your spouse or partner. The RCMP wants to know if they would be concerned if you owned a firearm, which potentially could be used against them if you are prone to anger.

What is the Canadian Firearms Safety Course?

First-time licence applicants must pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course before applying for a PAL. After in-class instruction, they do a written and practical test. Minors can take the course, but for those 12 and under it is only for educational purposes. To receive a Minor's Licence to borrow and use non-restricted firearms, a person must be between 12 and 17 years old.

Topics covered in the course include basic firearms safety practices, safe handling and carry procedures, along with the responsibilities of the firearms owner/user.

If someone wants to own a restricted firearm they must take the basic course plus another that deals with firing techniques for handguns and the safe storage, display, transportation and handling of restricted firearms.

What is the Canadian Firearms Program?

In accordance with the Firearms Act, the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) oversees firearms licences and registration, maintains national firearm safety training standards and assists law enforcement agencies.

The CFP handles licensing, registration of firearms and safety programs. It also regulates who receives Authorization to Transport certificates needed with restricted and prohibited weapons.

If you want to set up a target shooting range on your own property the RCMP advises that you check with your municipality to see if firearms can lawfully be discharged in your area. If that is allowed, the target shooting must be approved under the Shooting Clubs and Shooting Ranges Regulations, designed to make sure that projectiles do not stray onto neighbouring property and that there are adequate warning systems in place to inform people they are entering a shooting area.

How do I buy or sell a firearm?

In Canada, a firearm may only be transferred to an adult with a PAL that is valid for that class of firearm. The only exceptions are if the firearm is going to a business, museum, or other organization with a firearms business licence or a public service agency, such as a police force.

There are three ways to transfer a firearm. The first is by telephone. With non-restricted firearms, sellers can call the CFP at 1-800-731-4000 to confirm the validity of the transferee's licence before handing over the firearm. With restricted and prohibited weapons, the CFP must speak with both the transferor and the transferee, though it does not have to be at the same time.

Businesses that sell firearms can do these transfers online if they can confirm that the buyer is 18 years old and has a valid PAL.

The third option is by mail. With restricted and prohibited weapons, use form RCMP 5492. Both the transferor and the transferee must complete the form, which is available by calling the CFP at 1-800-731-4000.

What about executors and heirs of firearms owners?

Estate law varies from province to province, but generally, an executor has the same rights the deceased had to have firearms while the estate is being settled. Even if the executor does not have a licence to have firearms, they can possess a firearm left in an estate for a reasonable amount of time while the estate is being settled, unless a court has prohibited that person from possessing firearms.

Executors of estates with firearms must provide a completed form RCMP 6016 Declaration of Authority to Act on Behalf of an Estate and a confirmation that the registered owner is deceased.

Within a reasonable length of time, the executor must also ensure the firearms are transferred and registered to a properly licensed individual or business, or that the firearms are disposed of in a safe and lawful manner

To inherit a firearm you must be 18 years of age and possess a PAL with the correct privileges.

The evolution of firearm regulation in Canada

Controls on the civilian use of firearms have been part of the Canadian legal system since the early days of Confederation when justices of the peace could impose penalties for carrying a handgun without reasonable cause. Here is a quick rundown of some major policy changes that have taken place in firearm regulation, with information drawn from the RCMP and other sources.

In 1885, Parliament instituted a system of gun control across western and northern Canada to hinder the Northwest Rebellion, with permission in writing needed to possess any weapon other than a smooth-bore shotgun.

When the Criminal Code was enacted in 1892, it required individuals to have a permit to carry a pistol unless the owner had cause to fear assault or injury. It also became an offence to sell a pistol to anyone under 16. Vendors who sold handguns had the obligation to keep records, including the purchaser's name, the date of sale and a description of the gun.

In the 1920s, permits became necessary for all firearms – but only if you were a non-Canadian living in this country. In 1932, everyone had to give reasons for wanting to purchase a handgun. Prior to that people only needed to be of "discretion and good character” to get one.

In 1934, the government created the first registration requirement for handguns, with police issuing registration certificates and keeping records. In1951, the RCMP started a registry system for handguns. Automatic firearms also had to be registered and have serial numbers, for the first time.

From 1968 to 1969, the government created categories for firearms, such as restricted and prohibited weapons, to allow for legislative controls for each category. For the first time, police could search for firearms and seize them if they had a warrant and reasonable grounds to believe that possession endangered the safety of the owner or any other person.

In 1977, Bill C-51 introduced Firearms Acquisition Certificates along with new definitions for prohibited and restricted weapons. Fully automatic weapons became prohibited firearms unless they were registered as restricted weapons before Jan. 1, 1978.

The Firearms Act came into force in 1998. By2001 you needed a licence to possess and acquire firearms and in 2003, a valid licence and registration certificate were needed for all firearms in your possession, including non-restricted rifles and shotguns.

In 2012, Bill C-19,Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, came into force. The bill amended the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to remove the requirement to register non-restricted firearms and to order the destruction of existing registration records.

In 2019, Bill C-71 brought in “modest reforms” to firearm legislation, according to the government, though it was opposed by some firearm owners for being too restrictive.

In 2021, the government introduced Bill C-21, with proposed legislation that would allow municipal governments to create bylaws related to handgun storage and transportation. It also includes a voluntary buyback program for prohibited firearms that people may currently possess.

Contact me for assistance

The rules around firearms are constantly changing and you may unintentionally find yourself on the wrong side of the law. The penalties for transgressions can be steep and you could lose your valued possession in the process. Don’t take that chance. Call me for a free consultation.

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