Good morning, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 64 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Today, of course, pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, April 20, we are starting our study of Bill .
With us for the first hour today we have the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
We also have accompanying him, from the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Kathy Thompson, assistant deputy minister, the community safety and countering crime branch. We also have with us Lyndon Murdock, the director of firearms and operational policing policy.
Welcome to all.
To our committee, might I first offer the chair's apology? If this early meeting has inconvenienced anyone, it was not the intention of the chair. I do apologize if that is the case. The minister will be called away early for cabinet purposes, so we are starting 15 minutes early to have the full time with the minister. Without any further delay, we will go ahead and get this meeting started.
Minister Blaney, you have the floor, sir, for your opening statement.
I want to thank the members for adjusting their busy schedule to allow this meeting to take place earlier.
As you just said, Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today, joined by Ms. Kathy Thompson. She is our assistant deputy minister for community safety and countering crime. I'm also accompanied by the director of the firearms and operational policing policy division, Mr. Lyndon Murdock.
Mr. Chair, I'm here this morning to present the common sense firearms licensing act, which is a piece of legislation that builds on our government's record of firearms policies that keep Canadians safe without adding needless red tape for those who are predisposed to obey the law, namely, law-abiding hunters, farmers, and sport shooters.
We believe that firearm policies should be safe and also sensible. That is why we've created new prison sentences for the criminal use of firearms, and why we've made significant investments in background checks for new applicants for firearm licences. It's also why we've removed needless red tape like the gun shows regulations and the firearms marking regulations, and why we've ended the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry once and for all, including in my Province of Quebec.
These are policies that are safe and sensible.
The bill before us today continues along the same lines: with policies designed to increase public safety by eliminating red tape for law-abiding Canadians.
Allow me to explain briefly the key measures in this bill. I know that this aspect of the bill is of interest to my fellow member of Parliament, Bryan Hayes.
First, the act will strengthen firearms prohibitions for those convicted of spousal violence. According to a 2013 report, those most commonly committing violence against women are husbands and those in romantic relationships with the women. So it is important for public safety to make sure that firearms are taken away from individuals at risk. Anyone found guilty of an indictable offence involving domestic violence will have a firearms possession and acquisition licence withdrawn for life.
In addition, the legislation allowing the simple and safe licensing of firearms will also require new firearms owners acquiring a firearm for the first time to take the mandatory safety course. I believe that it is important for anyone wishing to acquire and possess a firearm in this country to receive the mandatory training provided by our organizations. This is not only to fully grasp the extent of the responsibility but also to understand the requirements of safety, maintenance, training, technique and knowledge involved in handling firearms.
The legislation will also remove bureaucratic obstacles to the sharing of information on the import of prohibited or restricted weapons. This will allow us to come to grips more easily with the black market and with arms trafficking. We have noticed that our legislation has gaps—especially with regard to the Canada Border Services Agency—that can be used by those wishing to import weapons into the country illegally. That is why we are going to clarify the legislation to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to share information with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and to close all the loopholes that illegal traffickers could exploit.
These three specific measures in the bill will improve the safety of Canadians.
The legislation will also help ensure that our firearms policies are sensible. That is why the legislation will merge the “possession-only” licence with the “possession and acquisition” licence. My colleagues from the NDP may remember that this was a measure that was suggested by the late Jack Layton. It does not make sense that individuals who have owned firearms for many years would not be allowed to make new purchases with their own hard-earned money. The bill before us today will give purchasing power to approximately 600,000 experienced and law-abiding firearms owners.
The legislation will also create a six-month grace period at the end of a five-year firearms licence. As you know, Mr. Chair, the firearms licence is valid for five years, and then anyone who owns firearms or is willing to keep his licence has to renew it. The problem is that if you don't renew it by the time your licence expires and you own a firearm, you are turned into a criminal overnight. You do not become the subject of criminal charges if you forget to renew your driver's licence by a day or two. Well, the same principle shall and will apply to firearms licences with this bill. We completely disagree with the premise that any Canadian ought to be criminalized for errors in paperwork.
Further, it will remove the needless red tape around the authorization to transport firearms. Let's be clear this morning: all the transportation of firearms regulations remain in place, and once this bill is adopted, they will remain the same. We will make sure that we are simplifying the process so that we are cutting red tape.
Lastly, it will ensure that unelected officials are enforcing the law rather than making it. It will ensure that the elected government is able to stop chief firearms officers from taking arbitrary action and allow the elected government to classify firearms if, based on expert evidence, the Canadian firearms program has made an error.
These are safe and sensible changes.
Why? Because, for too long, the gun control policies developed under previous federal Liberal governments have targeted legitimate gun owners rather than attacking the source of the problems we have experienced, dangerous criminals and those possessing illegal weapons.
I am proud to be part of a government that has decided to respect law-abiding citizens. We are reducing red tape for law-abiding citizens, but we are making sure that those making violent use of firearms will face the full force of the law.
Some false notions about this bill have been spread around and I would like to clarify them. Specifically, after the bill was introduced, the Liberal Party saw fit to orchestrate a fear campaign, designed to drum up donations, that falsely claims that this bill will let people take pistols and other handguns into grocery stores and shopping centres. That is completely ridiculous; it is irresponsible and I call upon that party to stick to the facts and to stand up for public safety in our country instead of trying to raise funds. The fact is that restricted weapons can be transported to an approved destination, such as a shooting range or a gunsmith, only by the most direct route. Remember that the weapons must not be loaded and they must have a mechanism that locks the trigger. A restricted weapon must be in a padlocked container and, if the passenger leaves the vehicle, the weapon must not be visible or stored in the trunk. That is the law; it will remain in effect and it will be strengthened.
The Liberal Party also said that the bill “would take the power to classify firearms out of the hands of police...and put it into the hands of politicians...”. Once again, this is false. The police do not classify firearms; Parliament does, but has no mechanism to correct mistakes if they occur.
How do we do that? We do it through the Criminal Code and did so in fact in 1995 under a Liberal government. This is certainly a good opportunity to remind them what was put in place.
The Canadian firearms program interprets the legislation, and sometimes they make mistakes. The example we saw last year of the CZ858 and the Swiss Arms family of rifles is a perfect example and we intend to correct that mistake. That is why this legislation allows elected parliamentarians to correct these types of mistakes.
Mr. Chair, as I draw to a close I would like to highlight how proud I am of the broad support for this legislation. Hunting and conservation groups from coast to coast to coast support this legislation. Police officers support this legislation. Former Olympians support this legislation. Taxpayers support this legislation.
Here is what the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs had to say about this bill:
|| The Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs is thrilled with this initiative. Quebec hunters are very pleased with this bill because it simplifies the licence issuing process for law-abiding users, while reinforcing the concepts of safety and education.
Hunters and anglers are responsible citizens who want to enhance public safety in our country and who support measures to simplify red tape. Clearly, support for these secure and reasonable policies is very strong. Unfortunately, we have seen members of the New Democratic Party state that they would like to re-establish a costly and ineffective long gun registry. Of course, Mr. Chair, we have a program in place for handguns and restricted weapons. During the debate, we saw a Liberal member from downtown Toronto, who clearly wants to get into a game of political one-upmanship with the New Democrats, compare hunters, law-abiding citizens, with jihadi terrorists. It is important for us to maintain perspective. But statements of that kind will surprise no one who knows that these are the parties who have sometimes expressed contempt for law-abiding citizens. I feel that this is the time to pick a different target, if I may use that expression.
Earlier this week, Mr. Chair, we saw the opposition parties oppose measures whereby our hunters and anglers will no longer be treated as second-class citizens in society.
I will be happy to answer questions in order to provide any required clarifications to the bill that will allow firearms to be simply and safely registered.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Hayes. I will address your question with two answers.
First, I must tell you that I've met with representatives from the hunting and fishing organizations, and since you are a member from Ontario, I have to tell you that I've met with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Actually, I got my own training for the possession and acquisition of firearms from this organization.
I must tell you how impressed I was and how important it is for these organizations to respect our laws and to make sure that the carrying of firearms is done in a safe manner. Just as an example, I've learned how to cross a fence with a firearm. It may look simple, but I had to think twice, because you always have to take into account that a firearm has to be handled with care. I'm pleased to report that I successfully did this exercise.
It is important to mention that those organizations were thoroughly consulted as we were moving forward, and I must tell you they were supportive of the measures you've mentioned and, in particular, of making sure that individuals who could represent a risk to the safety of Canadians should be prevented from carrying a firearm. That's why, for the first time in our country, an individual who is convicted of domestic violence will be prevented for life from carrying or owning a firearm. That's why I personally, as a member of Parliament, support your legislative initiative and feel it is complementary to what is in this legislation regarding an individual who could represent a threat being prevented from carrying a firearm.
Thank you for the question.
The reason why we wish to put mandatory firearms safety training in place is very clear. It is a responsibility.
It is important to make sure that each individual, each new Canadian, who wishes to acquire a firearm can benefit from the expertise and experience of the community of those who handle firearms and know how they work.
For example, some city dwellers do not really have the opportunity to be in contact with firearms; they not only have to become familiar with all the mechanisms, the rules and the history of firearms, but also the way they are handled, their particular characteristics and the ways in which they are used.
The measure will also apply to people such as police officers, for example, who have to handle firearms as part of their duties. They will need to take the training. In fact, although people like that have an excellent knowledge, a mastery, of firearms, from now on, they will have to use it as members of civil society. That is why the training is mandatory. Just because a person does a simple, basic test and fills in little boxes, it does not mean that we are in a position to know that the person has all the knowledge required. Firearms owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens.
To make sure that the public is safe and that they can trust firearms owners, it is important to make sure that they have some knowledge about firearms and are worthy of the trust. That is why were are introducing mandatory training for handling and acquiring fire arms.
A little earlier, I mentioned that the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters supported this measure, just like the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs supports mandatory training in order to give those who wish to acquire a firearm some accountability.
Thank you, Mr. Minister, but with respect, you really didn't address the question, which is about how people who already have the ability to pass the test in rural and northern areas are going to be able to do so when training isn't available.
Let me go to my second and probably the most significant concern about this bill. You say that it does not politicize the classification of weapons and you talk about the Swiss Arms classic green firearm having been reclassified at the stroke of a pen.
With respect, Mr. Minister, that stroke was with your pen, when you signed the order. So I wonder why we need to go to this extreme level of allowing cabinet to create exemptions to the legislation when the existing legislation, in subsection 117.15(2) says:
|| In making regulations, the Governor in Council may not prescribe any thing to be a prohibited firearm, a restricted firearm
—then I'll skip a bit of it—
||if, in the opinion of the Governor in Council, the thing to be prescribed is reasonable for use in Canada for hunting or sporting purposes.
So under the law right now, Mr. Minister, if you thought the Swiss green rifle had any use for hunting or sporting purposes, you could have refused to sign that order in council under the existing legislation.
So why is there a need to create this giant loophole when cabinet can itself, as you say, correct mistakes based on expert testimony. If you had expert testimony, as the minister you could have refused to sign the order in council at the time and have referred it back to the Canadian firearms agency, or you could have said it has a legitimate hunting and sporting purpose.
You did neither of those. You signed that order yourself. So again, with respect, it was the stroke of your pen that reclassified that weapon.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for your presentation this morning.
One change that has been made in this legislation is the authorization to transport restricted firearms, to have it as part of the restricted licence rather than as separate pieces of paperwork.
I'd also point out that when those additional forms for ATTs are completed, they aren't actually shared with the police. They're just retained by the chief firearms officer in the region and really are just put in a drawer.
We've heard, of course, the Liberals saying some pretty outrageous things in respect to this, in an attempt to fearmonger Canadians about that piece of legislation. In fact, I'm looking right now at an advertisement they have, which they're using for cheap fundraising activities, and they're proposing ridiculous comments such as that this ATT merger of conditions on a licence will allow restricted weapons to be transported to places such as grocery stores and hockey arenas, and I think they have shopping malls—all kinds of outrageous, misleading, and grossly inaccurate comments in a cheap effort to fundraise.
Could you comment on these false claims and give some context and greater understanding to my colleagues in the Liberal party about how these requirements and this change to the legislation will actually be implemented?
You raise a very valid point. The fact that there is a lot of red tape for the authorization to transport firearms has no impact on public safety. The forms that have to be filled out by those who are willing to travel with restricted firearms just go into a file, and I see no purpose in terms of public safety. So you make a very valid point. This is a very good example of red tape that has no impact on safety, but is indeed creating red tape—for example, for sport shooters who want to attend a shooting club to do their hobby. That's why we are willing to simplify the regime so that once you are admitted to get the training and possess a licence, you will, within your own province, not need an additional layer of red tape that has completely no purpose in terms of security.
But this bill is an opportunity to look at the real mechanism we have in place now to keep an eye, if I can put it that way, on anyone in this country who owns a firearm. This is an opportunity to share with Canadians that we have what we call the continuous eligibility screening. So every morning, everyone who has a police record and owns a firearm is considered in that database. So on a daily basis, every citizen in this country who owns a firearm is monitored, if I can put it that way, by our law enforcement. So we have a strong mechanism, a robust mechanism. We are reinforcing it by making sure that CBSA and the RCMP are sharing information regarding the importation of firearms.
We are adding mandatory training, not just a quick challenge test. This is an important responsibility, so you have to go through a course. It also makes sure that those who are convicted of domestic violence would be banned from owning a firearm. So those are the measures.
But at the same time, yes, we are cutting red tape, and the authorization to transport is one. A grace period is another measure. That's why we also want to make sure that decisions that are made regarding the use of firearms are done for safety reasons and not to add an additional layer of red tape that has no impact on public safety.
Thank you, Mr. Minister.
You're welcome, Mr. Leef.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Sean Casey: Mr. Minister, you received a briefing note from the Commissioner of the RCMP. The briefing note is dated February 20, 2014. One of the things it says in the briefing note is that “Automatic firearms and their derivatives are”—and I want to underline these words—“a threat to public safety and considered more lethal because of their fast reloading action and their ability to discharge multiple shots each time the trigger is pulled.”
A binder was circulated to this committee in preparation for our examination of this legislation. In the binder it has those exact words, with some words lifted out. Those exact words, the words from the briefing note of February 20, 2014 to you, are contained in our binder except for the words “a threat to public safety and”.
My question for you, Minister, is, has something happened between February 20, 2014 and now that has caused there to be less of a threat to public safety? Since February 20, 2014, have you not accepted the advice of the RCMP with respect to the public safety element, or is there some other reason for this careful editing of the information provided to this committee?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to thank the minister as well for appearing here with the officials.
I want to clarify something as well. There is a bit of discussion on whether or not the word “territory” was explicitly stated in the legislation. It's my understanding, and I'm not a lawyer by any means, with regard to definitions that where a territory is not specifically stated, a “province” actually includes Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. That's included in the Interpretation Act and my good friend pointed out that he believes it's in section 35. I just wanted to put that on the record that we're covered, and I don't think this is a major issue with respect to this bill.
Secondly, Mr. Minister, I would very much like to thank you for strengthening the prohibitions for those convicted of domestic violence offences. Having formerly been on the status of women committee, I fully support the legislation introduced by my colleague, Bryan Hayes. When I saw this legislation and reviewed it for the first time, that was one of the things that stood out to me because it struck a really good balance of what's needed in this country. I want to commend you for bringing that forward in this legislation.
Speaking of striking a balance, this legislation also reduces red tape for law-abiding Canadians. I think that's extremely crucial.
When we talk about our Conservative government standing up for those law-abiding Canadians, it's obvious that the opposition parties were against scraping the long gun registry. It's something that we were committed to doing because we recognized that it did absolutely nothing for public safety and was a burden on those Canadians, such as farmers, hunters, and those who are involved in sport shooting.
The question I need to ask you relates specifically to something that my colleague, Mr. Easter, the Liberal critic on Public Safety, stated in the past. He has said that the Liberals stance on gun control cost them Liberals at least 60 seats in rural Canada. I heard it today as well from my colleague, Mr. Hayes, that it cost the NDP seats as well. Yet, they continue to be on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to common sense firearms legislation like we have before us today in committee.
Could you give the committee a sense of some of the support from across Canada on this legislation? I know Mr. Leef started to ask you that question, but I'm sure that there are a number of organizations that have given very good feedback to us on this legislation. Could you comment on some that?
Thank you for your question.
When the Supreme Court handed down its decision concerning the abolition of data that was incomplete, obsolete and inadequate in the Quebec long gun registry, I was in Saint-Appolinaire, in the riding of my colleague Jacques Gourde. I should mention that I received a large number of positive comments from many Quebec men and women who where relieved to see that this saga was coming to an end. The data was out of date, and in my opinion posed a threat rather than being a source of information that could allow for effective measures. They encouraged us to continue to put in place effective measures for the control of firearms and domestic violence.
That is why I thought, for instance, about my colleague Rick Norlock. You know that he sits on the committee and is a former police officer. During caucus consultations, it was proposed that permits to acquire and possess a firearm be revoked for those who have been found guilty of conjugal violence. Many suggestions were also made by Mr. Leef and Mr. Robert Sopuck. One group promotes traditional activities involving wildlife, recreation and outdoor sporting activities. These people made a lot of constructive suggestions to eliminate the irritants. It is important to specify that I consider that a firearms owner who complies with legislation makes the whole context safer. That is why it is important, of course, to remove the irritants.
It was with this in mind that we met with representatives of the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Anglers, and the Quebec Outfitter Federation. We heard several opinions there. I am thinking for instance of Ms. Russel-Aurore Bouchard. A lot of people appreciate the measures our government is putting in place.
It is important to mention that some of the provisions of the bill that is before you strengthen our firearms registration regime, and by the same token also eliminate irritants, such as the fact that a person may be considered a criminal because he has not renewed his permit on time. People have a grace period for possession only. Again, these people are aware that if their permit has expired they cannot use their firearm or buy ammunition, because this would not be legal.
In Canada, under the Firearms Act, to legally and lawfully own a firearm you must possess a licence. There are two types of licences that are available in Canada. One is a possession only licence, which is only available to individuals who are grandfathered, who owned a firearm at the time that the Firearms Act came into force in 1998. The other is a possession and acquisition licence, which is available only to those who are now applying for a licence. That is obviously, as stated, a licence to possess, but also to acquire, firearms and ammunition.
In order to apply for a licence, you must first apply to the chief firearms officer in your province or territory, and you must fill out an application. It's a very comprehensive application with mandatory fields that must be completed, including all of your tombstone information. As well, it requests information on criminal history, mental health, substance abuse and any past violent behaviour. You must provide two references. You must provide a certified photograph. You must also provide references and attestations from current and former spouses, as well as the signed guarantor photograph.
Then, there is a mandatory check that is completed by the chief firearms officer. They check that against CPIC. It's not only for convictions. Anyone who is on parole or probation, with any prohibition orders, or any reported incidents, as well as charges, would be picked up through that check.
The chief firearms officer may also conduct an open source search on the Internet, interview the references, the spouse, the former spouse, and request further information, including asking the licence applicant for permission to contact the doctor, for example, if the individual indicated there has a history of mental health related violence. Very importantly, mental health histories where violence was involved, threatened, or attempted against a person are the only instances were mental health would be a relevant factor.
If any of those red flags come up, either through the questionnaire or through the comprehensive background check, the CFO can undertake further work on completing the background check. That's the licence portion of obtaining the licence.
The individual who has the licence then has to go through a process to acquire a firearm.
In Canada, there are four purposes for which you can acquire a firearm. The first purpose is to protect your life or the life of an individual, which is provided for in very rare instances. Another purpose is for employment, for example, Brink's Security guards. We'll set those two aside. For our purposes today, there are two additional purposes for which you can acquire a firearm. One is for the purpose of going to a shooting range or participating in competitions. The other is for a gun collection.
Once again, you go through a process with the chief firearms officer to ensure that you have a valid licence and that you can acquire those privileges. It's a separate process that takes approximately 30 days.
In the past, there was an additional separate touch point with the chief firearms officer for authorization to transport, which we are now proposing to streamline as part of the licensing process, because it's generally the same check that the CFO was doing. We're going to attach those conditions to a licence; that is the proposal.
To the officials, thank you for your attendance and participation today.
We hear a bit of misinformation in the House, and then we see it a bit here in committee. It's not really a surprise, because when I look to the opposition, very few of them are gun owners or actually understand the activity of hunting.
A piece of this came out again today. The term “firearm” is being used interchangeably now across all classifications of firearms. Indeed, there are prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted firearms. When we hear questions pertaining to ATTs, and the transport of restricted firearms for the purpose of hunting, particularly from American citizens entering this country, or even presenting yourself to a point of entry, in fact the provinces in this country don't allow hunting with restricted weapons. That's a provincial regulation. But it's an important distinction, because if we're asking questions around American hunters arriving at a point of entry to Canada and wanting to enter our country with firearms, they are by and large doing that with non-restricted weapons for the purpose of hunting, at which point they have always received, and will continue to, a permit designating for what purpose and what time length they can enter our country.
Has any of that changed?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. That is very kind.
A lot of topics were covered in the questions asked by my colleagues. I think that we all have a slightly different vision of how the population in general should be protected. I detest bringing in dichotomy here. In my opinion, we should include everyone in the consultation process on firearms safety and we should try to not make it a political issue.
I find it a bit sad that the debate addressed a firearms registry that no longer exists, and in my opinion, we should really concentrate on the provisions of the Firearms Act. I think parliamentarians should be very cautious about any eventual amendments to the Firearms Act, and their priority objective should be improving the safety of the public in general. Unfortunately, certain provisions of the bill do not necessarily meet that criterion. Consequently, I have a little trouble getting perspective on all of this.
I would like to broach in more detail an issue that was raised here by several of my colleagues as well as by the Minister of Public Safety in his presentation. That concerns the illegal arms traffic. I did not quite understand everything that was said. In my opinion, the details were not sufficient to allow us to understand that situation well.
The minister talked about the elimination of red tape in connection with firearms and of the fact that this will help to counter the illegal arms traffic. I find it hard to understand how the fact of eliminating red tape will help to diminish firearms traffic.
Mr. Murdock, could you enlighten me on that?
Bill would provide an explicit authority for the CBSA to share the information that it has with the RCMP's Canadian firearms program. If I may, to provide a little bit of clarity, I'll walk through the system as it exists now, and how it would be under Bill C-42. Just to be clear, this deals only with businesses and businesses that are importing restricted and prohibited firearms.
Right now, businesses importing restricted prohibited firearms have to provide information to the customs officer at the port of entry. That information includes information regarding their licence and it also includes some brief description regarding the firearms that are being brought in. There is a requirement in law that restricted and prohibited firearms be registered. They don't have to be registered at the time of importation. Businesses have a period of approximately 30 days following importation, during which they can register their firearms.
There was a study conducted in the province of British Columbia, in 2008, I believe, which looked over a two-year period at a phenomenon whereby firearms being imported by businesses—again restricted prohibited firearms—were being diverted to the illicit market because the RCMP had no ability to ensure that what was presented at the time of importation, for example, 100 firearms, was actually registered at a later period of time. The RCMP could not then ensure that what had been being brought in was actually registered and meeting the legal requirements.
With Bill there will be a new form created, an RCMP form that has to be provided by the importer to the RCMP registrar in advance. It will list specific information regarding the firearms being brought in. When the businesses are importing, they will also have to provide a copy of that form, previously provided to the RCMP, to the customs officer. The officer will be able to look at and identify possible discrepancies between information provided to the RCMP and the CBSA at the time of importation. If there is possible diversion, law enforcement will be notified, and CBSA will have the authority to provide that information to the RCMP for appropriate follow-up as required.