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


Only eleven months later, on 6 May 1921, Doherty proposed additional amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to firearms. He reported that the June, 1920 amendments operated "...to rigorously, lent itself to abuses and subject citizens to uncessary annoyance. This matter has been pressed from many quarters" (Hansard, 1921, p.3005).

James Arthurs (Con. Ont: Parry Sound), outlined his opposition to the 1920 amendments:

"...It was understood that the amendment would make it illegal for a foreigner or alien to have firearms in his possession. Unfortunately this amendment did not so apply; it makes it illegal for any person, any Canadian, to have in his possession a gun, rifle, cannon, or anything of that kind without a permit. In the majority of cases this permit is to be issued by officers who are stipendary magistrates, police magistrates, or chiefs of police. As the law stands at present the permits are valid only within the jurisdiction of the officer who issued them. That means that if a man starts out on a hunting trip, say, from Ottawa and has to go through various counties in the province of Quebec, he may be arrested for having arms illegaly in his possession the moment he leaves Ottawa, and at any time thereafter unless he gets a permit from each district through which he passes having jurisdictions in such matters. I do not think that was the intention of Parliament at all, and I would say that we should simply repeal clause (aa), the provision I complain of, and put nothing in its place."

(Hansard, 1921, pp.3906-3907)

Doherty retained the restrictions on "aliens", but deleted those sections which applied to Canadians and British subjects.

Doherty amended the Criminal Code so that the Governor-in-Council could suspend "..any of the provisions of this section in any part of Canada and for such period as he deems fit". In addition, the Governor-in-Council couldd specify areas in Canada where it would be required that all persons obtain a permit to possess any firearm.

Researchers (Mauser, 1992, p.4; Kopel, 1990, p.141; Ramsay, 1994, p.7) indicate that Doherty's June, 1920 amendment was repealed because the domestic political situation has stabilizedl however, it also appears firearm-owning Canadians reacted negatively to these revised firearm controls and urged their Members of Parliament to have it abrogated. Doherty, a member of Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighan's cabinet, recognized that his party was heading into an election December of 1921, and probably had little desire to see this controversy continue.

It didn't help. Meighan's Conservatives, authors of the 1919, 1920, and 1921 firearm legislation lost the election of 6 December, 1921, to the Liberals under William Lyon Mackensie King.

The issue of "gun control" would remain undisturbed until the social and political upheavals of the Great Depression of the 1930's.

By 1933, 23% of Canadians were unemployed and 1.5 million were on some form of public relief (Myers, 1987, p.181). The average per capita income in Canada had declined by 48% since 1929 (Herstein, et al., 1970, p.339).

Overwhelmed by the socio-economic effects of the Depression, the country became infected with xenophobia. Immigration was reduced to a trickle, and would not increase again until after World War Two (Granatstein, et al., 1990, pp.367-369).

It was believed that the Communist Party was growing in influence. They had won municipal elections in Blairmore, Alberta, in January of 1933. James Shaver Woodsworth's Cooperative Commenwealth Federation party advocated the nationalization of railways, banks, insurance companies, and public utilities (Myers, 1991, p.181).

The Conservative government of R.B. Bennet, like Borden and Meighan's in 1919-1921, felt besieged. Once again, revolution appeared to be at hand.