Strengthened Measures to Protect Canadians from Gun Violence


On May 1, 2023, the Government of Canada announced its intent to bring forward a suite of strengthened measures to protect Canadians from gun violence. 

These include several proposed amendments to Bill C-21 and plans for further changes that would be made through regulation and other reforms. These new proposed measures would help prevent assault-style firearms and ghost guns from getting into our communities and clarify classification of firearms for gun industry to keep the next generation of assault-style firearms out of our country, and protect the firearms of hunters and other law-abiding gun owners.

1. How we got here

Firearms are classified into three categories in Canada: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. 

Section 84 of the Criminal Code describes what makes a firearm non-restricted, restricted or prohibited. Firearms can also be classified as restricted or prohibited through regulations.

Canada’s 2020 ban on assault style-firearms

On May 1, 2020, the Government of Canada prohibited over 1,500 makes and models of assault-style firearms through an Order-in-Council. These amendments to the regulations addressed concerns about the safety risk posed by assault-style firearms and their suitability for civilian use. These types of firearms have the capacity to injure and kill many people in a short period of time and have been used in mass shootings in Canada. 

The goal of these amendments addressed assault-style firearms designed to sustain rapid fire and make them unavailable in Canada. 

These prohibited firearms are tactical and/or military-style design and function. They also exist in high volumes in the Canadian market.

Bill C-21

On May 30, 2022, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-21, our country’s most significant action on gun violence in a generation. 

Bill C-21 proposes to strengthen rules to prevent gun violence in our communities by placing responsible restrictions on some firearms used in Canada. The Bill aims to keep Canadians safe by addressing various gaps in the law pertaining to gun crime. 

The Bill introduces a national freeze on the sale, purchase and transfer of handguns into law. This national freeze took effect via regulations on October 21, 2022. The Bill also includes significant measures to:

  • address the alarming role of guns in gender-based violence through red and yellow flag laws;
  • strengthen border controls by increasing maximum penalties for gun traffickers; 
  • create authorities to combat firearms smuggling, trafficking and related offences; 
  • establish new firearm-related offences and strengthened penalties; and
  • address concerns with mid-power “replica” airguns. 

2. Changes via amendments to Bill C-21 

The suite of measures includes, most notably, proposed amendments to Bill C-21, to strengthen this landmark proposed legislation.

Technical definition of prohibited firearms 

This would add a new technical definition to the definition of “prohibited firearm” in the Criminal Code. This definition would be inserted into the Import Control List. The proposed technical definition responds directly to recommendation C.21 from the final report of Mass Casualty Commission, which recommends a similar technical definition.

The definition would focus on semi-automatic, centre-fire firearms that are not handguns that were originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more.

This definition would apply prospectively, meaning it would only apply to firearms designed and manufactured on or after the definition comes into force. It would not impact the classification of existing firearms in the Canadian market.

Importantly, codifying the definition in law, as well as adding a requirement to obtain Firearms Reference Table (FRT) numbers through regulatory amendments, would clarify classification of firearms for gun industry and ensure that no firearm is unaccounted for in the classifications process.

To do this, the Government proposes to use existing regulation making authorities under the Firearms Act to close a regulatory gap where firearms that enter the Canadian market are misclassified. It would also ensure that the Government is aware of the presence of new makes and models of firearms before their entry into the domestic market and that classifications are applied correctly.

Ghost Guns 

The package includes a number of proposed amendments to address the growing threat of illegally manufactured firearms – otherwise known as “ghost guns.” The amendments would, among other things, enact new offences targeting ghost guns and classify ghost guns and other illegally made firearms as prohibited

Indigenous rights

These changes include a specific provision stating that nothing in Bill C-21 derogates from the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. 

Parliamentary Review

A new clause in the Bill would require a parliamentary review of the amendment to the definition of prohibited firearm and would start five years after the coming into force of the new provisions. That would help to inform whether the objectives of the proposed changes are being achieved.

3. Changes via Regulations 

Beyond amendments to Bill C-21, the Government will be moving forward in the future with additional measures through regulations. 

Regulations under the Firearms Act

The Government proposes to use existing regulation making authorities under the Firearms Act to close a regulatory gap where firearms that enter the Canadian market may be misclassified. It would also ensure that the Government is aware of the presence of new makes and models of firearms before entry into the domestic market and that classifications are applied correctly.

Large Capacity Magazines

The government intends to update regulations regarding large capacity magazines in the near future to require the permanent alteration of long-gun magazines so they can never hold more than five rounds and to ban the sale of transfer of magazines capable of holding more than the legal number of bullets.

4. Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee

The debates around measures to prohibit additional firearms have shown that there are diverse and divergent opinions around firearms classification in Canada. To depoliticize the classification definitions, the Government will be re-establishing the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee. 

The Minister will seek advice from the Committee as to how the new technical definition will apply against the current market of firearms. This will be done within six months from when the Committee is established.

5. Broader action on gun violence

No single program or initiative can tackle the challenge of gun violence alone. That is why Bill C-21 is one of many elements in the Government’s comprehensive plan to keep Canadians safe from gun crime. 

Action at the Border

The fight against gun violence begins at our borders, where the Government of Canada has added resources to fight smuggling and stop guns from coming into Canada. 

Over the past two years, the Government of Canada has devoted an extra half billion dollars to border security. The plan is working: the Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP are seizing a record number of guns, both at the border and domestically.

The Government of Canada is also working closely with counterparts in the United States to fight gun trafficking and trace illegal guns, including through the re-established Cross-Border Crime Forum and the new CAN-US Joint Cross-Border Firearms Task Force. 

Action in Parliament

The Government is also advancing legislative solutions to help protect Canadians from gun violence. In addition to Bill C-21, the Government has stated its intention to move forward with important changes to Canada’s bail system. 

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has committed to introducing legislation to strengthen the bail system including by focussing on repeat violent offenders and serious offences committed with firearms and other dangerous weapons.

Action in our communities

Finally, the Government of Canada is working to stop violence before it starts. 

This is headlined by our $250 million dollar Building Safer Communities Fund (BSCF). First announced in March 2022, it takes direct aim at root causes of crime by supporting local initiatives to help young people make good choices and set themselves up for success. The BSCF gives funding directly to municipalities and Indigenous communities, who then distribute it to local organizations making important progress directly in their communities. Over the past year, the Government of Canada has concluded agreements with dozens of cities, towns and Indigenous communities across the country. More will be announced in the coming weeks and months. 

The Government is also investing in communities through the National Crime Prevention Strategy, the Guns and Gangs Violence Action Fund and more.

Page details

Date modified: