5. The Politics of Panic - A History of Canadian Firearms Control


In 1867, the British North America Act placed firearm legislation within the jurisdictional control of the federal government (Ramsay, 1994, p. 6).

By 1877, the country was expanding westward. The province of Manitoba had been created and the first Riel rebellion was crushed. In 1873, the North West Mounted Police brought the Queen's Law to the Canadian west, forcing out American traders who were selling alcohol to native Canadians and establishing a Canadian presence against American expansionism (Waite, 1971, pp. 10-11).

In March, 1877, Dominick Blake, the Minister of Justice in the Liberal cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander Mackensie, reported to Parliament that the "...practive of carrying fire-arms [sic] was becoming too common" especially among "...the rowdy and reckless characters and boys and young men". He introduced legislation which specified a criminal penalty for persons "...whosoever should present a pistol, without reasonable cause, at anyone, might be bound over to keep the peace for six months" (Hansard, 1877, p. 850).

Both Blake and Sir John A. Macdonald had concerns about the proposal. Both recognized that firearms, and handguns in particular, were routinely carried by law-abiding Canadians for self defense. Blake realized that criminals would probably ignore the law "...while the sober, law-abiding citizen would be unprotected". Sir John A. Macdonald stated that the law "...might have the effect of disarming the person who ought to be armed, and arming the rowdies" (Hansard, 1877, p. 851).

The bill was passed by Parliament in April of 1877; however, the controversy it generated indicated that it established early in Canada's history that it was both reasonable and necessary for law-abiding Canadians to carry firearms, and handguns in particular, as a deterrent to criminal assault.

On 17 October, 1878, Sir John A. Macdonald was elected Prime Minister.