moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to start debate on Bill , concerning common sense firearms licensing. Today is an important day because this is the first time in nearly 20 years that improvements have been made to our firearms licensing system. They are long overdue.
This bill is designed to simplify and clarify the firearms licensing regime while maintaining the system's reliability. The main goal is to protect the safety of Canadians. I would now like to describe how this bill will improve our licensing system.
Currently, there are two types of firearm licences: possession only licences—POLs—and possession and acquisition licences. The POL is the only licence available to new firearm owners. That is the licence I have held since January, and I took a course. After that, I went through various administrative processes to get the possession and acquisition licence, the PAL. As the name suggests, this licence allows people to possess and acquire a firearm.
The other licence, the POL, the possession only licence, was created over 20 years ago by the previous Liberal government. At the time, it was a transitional step for firearm owners who wanted to avoid the new licensing system. The average age of these licence holders is almost 60. They are all experienced and competent. These are people who know how to use these firearms, who use them and who can also borrow them and buy ammunition.
All we want to do with this bill is simplify the system and combine the two types of permits, which would give 600,000 law-abiding firearm owners the right to acquire a firearm. Naturally, after 20 years, it might be time for people to update their firearm.
People may remember that at the time, this initiative was put forward by the late Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party.
Second, we are addressing a serious issue that impacts every firearm owner. Currently, if individuals make a paperwork error and do not renew their licence on time, they are liable to face a minimum sentence of three years in prison.
Some people may be deployed or travelling abroad. They can be under medical treatment and be turned into a criminal overnight because they have not renewed their firearm licence on time. That is why the bill puts in place a six-month grace period at the end of a five-year licence.
I want to make it clear that people will not be allowed to buy new firearms or ammunition or to use firearms during this grace period. The grace period will simply protect people from being turned into criminals just because of an administrative delay in renewing their permit.
Continuing in the area of licensing, this legislation would improve the way the authorization to transport system works. I certainly invite the leader of the second opposition to read the bill, so he would not attempt to mislead the House as he has tried to do today.
Currently, an authorization to transport is required to take any restricted firearm between the owner's home and another location—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your decision. I understand that the time will not be taken from the time we have to debate this important bill.
While I am on my feet, let me clearly reiterate that, in no way, would the way to transport a restricted firearm in this country be impacted by the bill. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the leader of the second opposition has pretended.
However, as was mentioned, the truth will prevail and that is exactly what is happening right here as I am presenting the bill.
Let us move on to the bill and we will let our little Liberal friend yell over there and he will have his time to debate as well.
I was explaining that there would be a grace period for law-abiding citizens who, after five years, are willing to renew their licence. That is one improvement of the bill.
As I was interrupted, I was also indicating that we would be improving the authorization to transport. I would invite the member to listen because maybe then there will not be any more attempts to mislead the House.
As I was saying, currently, an authorization to transport is required to take any restricted firearm between the owner's home and another location. Each and every new location requires a separate form and application.
Are we changing the way to transport a restricted firearm in the country? No.
Are we cutting red tape for law-abiding citizens? Yes. This is exactly what we are doing.
Let us have an honest debate here. Let us talk about the truth, about the facts and about the fact that it is very important to keep our country safe, and to keep the measures this government is applying to keep Canadians safe.
Members have to know this red tape, those papers are not even shared with law enforcement. They are useless. This is a good example of red tape without any added value. I hope the Liberals will clearly understand what the bill is all about, and then we can have an open and frank discussion
This information, as I just mentioned, not only is not shared with law enforcement but is second only to the registration of long guns. This process is the clearest example of needless red tape and burdensome paperwork brought in by the former Liberal government.
My question would be, at this point in time, what does the Liberal Party have against law-abiding citizens? This is the question I hope the hon. member will be answering as he will be given the opportunity to speak to the bill, which would be cutting red tape while increasing the safety of Canadians.
The bill would eliminate the need to apply for new authorization, new red tape, to transport a firearm for any lawful activity within the province where the firearm owner resides.
What are we talking about? We are talking about going to a shooting range. We are talking about going to a gunsmith to have a firearm repaired. We are talking, in some cases, about going to an exhibition where people can exchange and share their views, and their passion for their activity.
It is important to remind everyone that all restricted firearms must be unloaded, locked and in a locked carrying case while being transported. It is also recommended that they always be transported in the trunk of a vehicle.
Once again, we have an opportunity here to educate my hon. colleagues on the other side. Maybe the leader of the second opposition has a need to refresh his knowledge on the way in which one is to carry a restricted firearm in this country.
Let me be clear, this firearm has to be unloaded. It must be trigger locked. It must be in a locked case and, preferably, in the trunk of the car driven by the owner of a valid restricted firearm.
We will keep this because we feel that it is important. However, while doing this, we also feel it is important to cut red tape for those law-abiding citizens. That is why we are bringing those changes forward.
Accordingly, anyone who is transporting a restricted firearm must take the most direct route to his or her destination. That provision already exists in the law. Those rules are not changing, because they are safe and they make sense. This is just common sense.
This is the common sense firearms licensing act. What will be eliminated is the needless paperwork that law-abiding sports shooters were previously required to complete in order to engage in their hobby.
While the crux of the common sense firearms licensing act is, as its name suggests, the licensing of firearms, there are two other important measures tackled by this bill. This is a federal law under the Criminal Code. Therefore, is it not logical that this law be applied the same way across the land? This is what this bill would accomplish.
Second, law enforcers would apply the law and legislators would set the rules. That is how we would ensure that the authority of the chief of firearms officers is clearly defined in law, so that it is applied in a standardized way and that there are no discrepancies from one region to another. After all, we are in the same country, and this is the same law and the same Criminal Code.
The gun laws are Canadian laws. I therefore firmly believe that there should be a Canada-wide standard for enforcing these laws, some degree of standardization. That is exactly what this bill aims to do. It aims to simplify and standardize how the firearms registry is enforced.
Earlier in my comments today, I alluded to decisions that created criminals out of law-abiding citizens overnight. Many Canadians were shocked to realize that some owners of legal firearms for years or decades were turned into criminals overnight. This is not acceptable. That is why we are addressing this issue in the bill.
The common sense firearms licensing act would end the ability of the Canadian firearms program to make a final decision on the reclassification of firearms without the oversight of an elected member of Parliament. We are doing this because the owners of the Swiss Arms and the CZ firearms are law-abiding citizens and should not be treated as criminals. This is why we are bringing this legislation forward for that specific part. Therefore, the government would have an oversight mechanism for decisions on the classification of firearms.
Let me once again be clear, these decisions would be made on the advice of technical experts who are knowledgeable about the workings of firearms. To that end, this is exactly what would happen to the CZ and the Swiss Arms family of rifles in order to have the original reclassification restored when the bill is proclaimed into law.
These important measures are meant to bring some common sense back to our firearms policies. As I said, my priority is to keep Canadians safe through common sense policies.
For too long, gun control in Canada has been about disarming all Canadians. It was about making hunting and sport shooting so onerous, so filled with time-consuming paperwork, that no one would be interested in pursuing these Canadian heritage activities.
Many members around here have grown up on a farm or have parents or grandparents who have grown up on a farm. This was part of their life. This was part of their way of living.
Many of our friends and colleagues like hunting and sport shooting. They are law-abiding citizens. Why should they be ostracized because they are doing those Canadian heritage activities?
We have a common-sense firearm licensing regime to ensure that they are abiding by the law, but in the meantime we are cutting red tape. That is what this bill is all about. That is what we are seeking to achieve with this bill.
To ensure that all new gun owners have a basic understanding of how to safely handle a firearm, they will have to take the Canadian firearms safety course and pass the related test.
I met with many hunters and various organizations and everyone agreed that it just makes sense that anyone who wants to acquire, handle, use or possess a firearm should have to take training. That training was not mandatory in the past.
This bill makes training mandatory for the possession, acquisition and use of a firearm. While cutting red tape, this measure strengthens our system of registering and possessing firearms.
However, that is not all. We are introducing another measure that allows law enforcement agencies to share information regarding investigations into illegally imported restricted and prohibited firearms.
We want to make sure that the illegal weapons that are in our streets and used for criminal purposes are taken out of circulation. This is also included in the bill. Both the RCMP and CBSA will break down the barriers, the silos, that prevented the sharing of information.
What is more, importers will be required to report any gun imports into Canada. This measure will eliminate a loophole that existed before and will provide a significant tool for removing illegal handguns from our streets.
A study from British Columbia found that thousands of firearms had been diverted to the black market due to this loophole. It is time we closed that information-sharing gap exploited by criminals.
I hope the opposition will consider those sound measures in the bill and will certainly be interested in bringing this bill to committee, so we can discuss those very important measures.
However, that is not all. I must say, regarding the import of illegal firearms, that this issue has been raised with me by my provincial counterparts, and I am pleased to address it in this legislation.
We are tackling the criminal use of firearms instead of focusing on those who practise traditional activities and obey the law.
There is a third measure that I believe is important. We are going to establish orders prohibiting the possession of firearms for persons found guilty of domestic violence. In cases of serious domestic violence, those found guilty will automatically receive a prohibition order for life.
According to a 2013 report, Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends, spouses and dating partners were the most common perpetrators in violent crime against women.
Our legislation is clear. We are eliminating needless red tape while making our gun control regime make good common sense.
Let us be clear. From now on, a person found guilty of domestic violence on indictment will automatically lose his licence to possess a firearm.
We are putting forward safe and sensible firearms policies. That is why there is such strong support for this important legislation. We have spoken with people from all walks of life.
This afternoon, I am very proud to be here with the member for , who was elected in 1993 and who has been a strong advocate of law-abiding citizens, while maintaining tough sentences for criminals. He is right here with us today.
We as a party have abolished the ineffective long gun registry, but we need to do more. We need to take another step. We need to streamline our processes, cut into red tape, and bring some improvements in through this bill to make our country safer. This is what this bill would accomplish.
The member for has been an incredible advocate for law-abiding firearms owners. This place will lose an excellent legislator when he retires in 2015.
I would also like to thank the committee members from my party, who gave me a lot of advice. We have former police officers, for example, who served with the provincial police or the RCMP. I also want to thank the members of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee for providing me with valuable information and showing me the importance of handling firearms carefully and obeying the law.
I am thinking about Greg Farrant, president of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Alain Cossette of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, Tony Bernardo and Bob Rich, a former police officer. These individuals helped us arrive at a balanced bill that makes our country safer and reduces red tape for law-abiding citizens.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill , the so-called common sense firearms licensing act. While this is not the most egregious short title assigned by the Conservatives to a bill, even in this session, the bill might better be titled “the special interest firearms licensing act”.
What we have before us is a bill that only looks like common sense when viewed from the point of view of the gun lobby. New Democrats believe that public safety must always trump politics when it comes to firearms licensing and regulation.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, have been promoting the dangerous ideas of the gun lobby, a small minority of Canadians, and perhaps even a small minority among gun owners. In particular, there is the idea that any regulations at all on firearms pit the interests of law-abiding gun owners against the government and the police, and that these regulations amount to nothing more than excessive red tape. New Democrats have a different view, one that clearly puts public safety first.
The Conservatives like to pose as the only ones here who understand rural Canada, but let me say, perhaps to the shock and surprise of some, that I actually grew up on a farm. My father and his father before him were hunters of quail, pheasant, duck, deer, and moose, and all but one of these later graced our table when I was a kid. I have to say that sometimes there would not have been much on the table without the hunting that went on in my family. I learned to shoot at a young age, an age that most now might consider inappropriately young, and yes, my grandpa always kept a shotgun behind the door for scaring away the coyotes. It must have worked because I never saw any. This was in the day before those proper storage regulations. When those came in, he changed his behaviour. He did not see these as unnecessary red tape. He saw them as good advice for keeping his family safe, and the shotgun disappeared from behind the door and into a locked cabinet.
Subsequently I lived in the Northwest Territories as a young adult. I was fresh out of university, and while there I was privileged to go hunting out on the traplines with my Dene friends. By that time I was not such a fan of doing the shooting myself. It was a great life experience I had there. None of them regarded safety regulations as red tape.
Now I represent a riding that stretches from the Victoria Harbour all the way out to the head of the West Coast Trail at Fort Renfrew, so I do know something about law-abiding gun owners and something about communities where hunting is much more than just a prop to use in arguments about gun registration and licensing.
When the Conservatives abolished the gun registry, we on this side of the House warned that it would be necessary to remain vigilant on the question of gun licensing and gun regulations. We all knew that members of the gun lobby would not be happy to stop at the abolition of the registry, that with their U.S.-influenced ideological viewpoint they would keep pushing to weaken all the other measures in Canada that place restrictions on firearms in the interest of public safety.
Like his gun lobby allies, the has fallen into the habit of using U.S. rhetoric in his comments on firearms. This was never clearer than on July 23, 2014, when the minister said:
To possess a firearm is a right, and it's a right that comes with responsibilities.
Here we have a minister of the crown, one of the government's chief legal ministers, directly contradicting the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1993, the Supreme Court found, in a case called Regina v. Hasselwander, that:
Canadians, unlike Americans do not have a constitutional right to bear arms. Indeed, most Canadians prefer the peace of mind and sense of security derived from the knowledge that the possession of automatic weapons is prohibited.
Therefore, the minister is in direct contradiction of the Supreme Court in the rhetoric he is using around gun licensing. The court could not have been clearer, nor could there have been any doubt about the precedent, since the Hasselwander case was precisely about the right to possess automatic weapons.
The court later reiterated in the 2010 case of Regina v. Montague that in Canada there is no right to own firearms. In that case, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal against an Ontario Court of Appeal decision rejecting the existence of such a right in Canada.
Like their gun lobby colleagues, when the Conservatives are challenged on the rights question, they often switch gears and try to argue that gun ownership is somehow a property right, which I would point out is another right that is not found in the Canadian constitution.
What the minister's comments last July clearly indicate, unfortunately, is that we have a government that likes to pander to the gun lobby. At least in this case, however, I would have to say that the Conservatives do so fairly transparently and in order to generate political support from their base.
When the Conservatives made their first appointments to the Firearms Advisory Committee, the committee responsible for advising the minister on firearms regulations, the appointees were drawn entirely from representatives of the gun lobby. It took until 2012 for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to prevail on the government to add three police chiefs to the nine gun advocates the government had already placed on the advisory committee.
This was only after the committee came forward with a set of extreme recommendations for the government, including such great ideas as extending the ownership licences to 10 years and, unbelievably, a proposal that the police should re-sell guns that had been seized rather than destroying them as is now the case. It is hard for me to even imagine the police running a garage sale of seized weapons. These are the kind of recommendations that came from the Firearms Advisory Committee, which was loaded with gun lobby advocates. When it comes to the specific firearms regulations adopted by the Conservatives, the influence of the gun lobby is quite apparent.
In 2011, the Department of Public Safety drafted new regulations for gun shows that would have required things that most Canadians would see as common sense. These included things like notifying the local police of gun shows to be held in their jurisdiction. That does not seem like red tape to me; that seems like common sense. It would have required the tethering of guns on display at a gun show. Cellphones are tethered at cellphone kiosks, so why not have this important public safety measure of tethering guns at a gun show.
These gun show regulations were to have been brought into force in 2012, but that did not happen. Instead, the Conservatives junked the proposed regulations altogether after complaints from the gun lobby that the new requirements were too onerous. I guess we should have seen this coming, because the Firearms Advisory Committee called for scrapping the gun show regulations in its March 2012 report.
I am worried about who was consulted, as I said in my question for the minister at the beginning of this debate. Who did he talk to? He says he talked to the hunting lobbies and to members of his caucus. He probably looked at the reports of the Firearms Advisory Committee. We see that the committee's slanted approach has influenced what the minister is already doing.
Regulations were also due to come into force in December 2012 to require that each gun manufactured in Canada have an individual serial number. It is surprising to me that it is not a requirement, as it is actually required by the international treaties to which Canada is already a party. It is something that seems like common sense when it comes to the police being able to trace guns used in crimes or in the fight to combat illegal international trade in small arms.
In November 2013, for a second time, the Conservatives quietly implemented a regulation delaying the coming into force of this requirement for serial numbers on each gun manufactured in Canada. This time they delayed it until December 2015, conveniently after the next scheduled election date.
The connection to the gun lobby is not so clear in this regulation, but I have no doubt that it exists. Why else would the Conservatives have appointed a representative of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association as a member of the Canadian delegation at international arms treaty negotiations? A representative of the sports shooting association and a member of the Firearms Advisory Committee became part of the international delegation to debate the small arms trade treaty internationally. Now, at a time when 50 other nations have signed the arms trade treaty, why has Canada failed to do so? Why are we excluding ourselves from the important discussions about how to end the illegal arms trade? The minister in his speech made reference to the important role in public safety of stopping the smuggling of illegal arms into Canada, yet we have excluded ourselves from the very process that would make that possible.
When it comes to Bill , I guess we should be glad that the government abandoned the most extreme recommendations of the Firearms Advisory Committee, the ones I mentioned a minute ago of 10-year licences and the resale of seized weapons.
Now we are seeing complaints in the media from the gun lobby that Bill does not go far enough. That is why I am worried about the private member's bill that was placed on notice today, which we will see later this week, and how it will relate to this bill. The minister can say all he likes that it is a private member's bill and that it has nothing to do with him, but we will see. We will see if it has nothing to do with this legislation. When I heard the gun lobby say that Bill C-42 should have gone further, I am concerned about the contents of this new private member's bill.
Let me turn to the contents of the bill we have in front of us. It is one that is still clearly a child of the gun lobby. I should point out, as I did in my question for the minister, that there is no evidence of broad consultations throughout the community. If this is such common sense legislation, I do not understand why such a narrow group of people were the only ones consulted on this bill.
For me, despite the short title, there is nothing common sense about the two major provisions in this bill. One of those would make the gun classification process a clearly political process. The other would remove the requirement for having a permit for the transportation of firearms in any vehicle carrying them. Neither of these provisions has any public safety purpose. Instead, they respond only to the explicit complaints from the gun lobby. All of the other things that the Conservatives want to address in this bill could be accomplished without these two provisions.
Let me discuss the first change that is proposed in the way weapons are classified.
Right now, recommendations on classification are under definitions contained in law, and those recommendations are made by firearms experts in the RCMP, who both the gun lobby and the government members have referred to as “bureaucrats”. They are, in fact, the RCMP firearms experts.
The minister's signature is required on any reclassification, but there is no discretion for the minister, providing the recommendations fall within the scope of the existing legislative definitions. What Bill suggests is that the cabinet should be able to ignore the classification recommendations from the public experts and substitute its own wisdom about how weapons should be classified. The minister has already told us today that when the bill passes, he intends to use this political process to reclassify two individual types of guns. Therefore, by varying the definitions in the legislation, Bill would go even further by allowing the cabinet to grant exemptions for guns and ammunition that would otherwise have been prohibited.
Where did this perceived need for a change come from? It came from a single case of reclassification of a single weapon, the Swiss Arms PE 90, or Classic Greens, as they are sometimes called. These are military-style weapons that have been sold for nearly 20 years in Canada as semi-automatic weapons limited to firing five rounds. Before 2013, there were approximately 2,000 of these weapons in Canada, worth about $4,000 each.
So why the reclassification? What we had in Calgary in 2013 was the sudden appearance of so-called “refurbished” models of this gun, which were now operating as automatic weapons. That meant that these weapons were now easily converted to automatic weapons capable of firing a long series of shots from a single trigger pull, exactly what the “prohibited” designation was designed to keep off the streets of Canada.
When there was an immediate outcry from the gun lobby, the Conservatives were quick to grant a two-year amnesty in March of 2014. It is an amnesty for which I believe legal authority is doubtful, at best. How can the government grant an amnesty on possessing a weapon that is prohibited by law in Canada?
Now the government has presented Bill as the solution, giving the Conservative cabinet the power to decide if these dangerous weapons should be allowed in Canada.
Quite apart from the danger of ending up with automatic weapons on the street, there is another principle at stake here. When we make laws, we make them in public after public debate, and they stay in force until there is another public debate about changing them. Public debate before changing law is essential to democracy and accountability. In fact, what we would have in Bill is the creation of a process whereby Canada could in effect change our gun classification system and the classification of individual weapons through decisions made behind closed doors and without any public debate.
The other major change in Bill would remove the requirement that exists in most provinces to have a permit in any vehicle transporting restricted firearms, and the bill would go further: it would prohibit any province from reintroducing such a requirement. Currently, permits must specify a reason for transporting the firearm and specify that the travel must be from a specific point A to a specific point B. This makes it easy for police to enforce the prohibition on the illegal transportation of firearms, since a specific permit and a specific route must be provided.
Bill rolls transportation permits into the licence to own firearms. This would automatically allow the transportation of firearms between the owner's home and a list of five kinds of places: to any gun range, to any gun shop, to any gun show, to any police station, and to any border post for exiting from Canada. This change would provide a vast array of excuses for having weapons in a vehicle along a myriad set of plausible routes, and it would make the prohibition on illegal transportation of weapons virtually impossible for police to enforce.
Again I want to say that is why I am concerned about the notice the member for has given about a bill to amend the Criminal Code on firearms storage and transportation. I am looking forward to having law enforcement representatives present in committee so that we can talk to them about the impact of no longer requiring permits for transporting restricted firearms to limit them to travelling from a specific place to a specific place. There is a great deal of danger here for Canadians.
We have some questions about some other provisions in this bill. Most of those questions will be about whether proposed changes, such as combining the two kinds of licences and creating a grace period after the expiry of a licence, would have negative consequences on completing timely checks as to whether owners remain authorized to own firearms after criminal or mental health incidents. We will be asking for assurances from the minister on these questions in committee. There is nothing more important to public safety than ensuring that the system works so that those who are convicted of criminal activity or those who have experienced mental health difficulties are no longer in possession of firearms. We have to look no farther than this Parliament Hill to understand the importance of those kinds of checks.
Does anything in this bill look good to New Democrats? The minister was asking me that question earlier, as a kind of heckle. Certainly measures that make prohibitions on gun ownership easier in cases of domestic violence are very welcome, as are expanded requirements for gun safety courses. In a sense, there are a couple of positives in this bill.
The minister might ask, “Why are we not trying to improve this bill in committee? Why have we said we will not support it at second reading?” I have to say I have become more than a bit cynical about this idea.
On Bill just last week, the minister assured me we could have full debate in committee on the bill expanding the powers of CSIS. He said it was up to the committee to make its own decision, as if the government does not have a majority on every committee and as if his parliamentary secretary did not move motions that restrict debate in committee. It beggars belief that he would make this argument in the House of Commons. The Conservatives said they would like all-party support on Bill C-44, and we clearly were told by the minister that the public safety committee was the place for detailed debate. However, this afternoon, while we are here in the House, the committee is getting its only afternoon with opposition witnesses, its only two hours to discuss the bill that would expand the powers of CSIS.
That is why, even though there are a couple of good things in this bill, I cannot argue that we should support sending the bill to committee to try to fix the rest of it. The experience that we have in committee again and again is limited time, limited witnesses, and the absolute refusal of the government to accept even the best-intentioned, most non-political amendments from the opposition.
Clearly public safety is not the priority for Conservatives in Bill . In fact, its two main provisions seem to me to present clear threats to public safety. Making political decisions about whether or not a gun is a prohibited weapon does not bode well for public safety. Introducing this grey area in terms of transportation of weapons does not bode well for public safety.
Let me conclude by saying that I find it both sad and insensitive on the part of the government to be discussing this bill in the lead-up to December 6. This is a national day dedicated to remembering the victims of the École Polytechnique massacre 25 years ago, and a day set aside to recommitting to the fight against violence against women. As well, I do not understand why the Conservatives want to proceed so abruptly with this bill to loosen gun regulations in the aftermath of the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and the attack here in Parliament. I would ask the government to put off further consideration of this bill until well into the new year, a less emotional time for victims, and to give time for the air to clear after the October 22 incident here on the Hill.
Will the government show more respect for Canadians and our democratic process by delaying this bill? I doubt it. Instead, I expect the Conservatives to press on to the tune of a dog whistle played by their gun lobby friends. Unfortunately, I think Canadians already know the answer to this question. The gun lobby rules, and this bill will press ahead. That is why, as a New Democrat, I will be proud to vote against Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on Bill , an act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other acts. As it states in the bill, the short title is the common sense firearms licensing act. When the government calls something common sense, as we well know, it is time for all of us to look at the fine print, and that is what Liberals are going to do.
I am pleased to lay out today the position of the Liberal Party on this bill moving to committee. First and foremost, as we know and as I said in a question earlier, the bill is coming forward disguised as a law and order bill, but really it is designed to try to re-ignite support among those in the pro-gun community for the Conservative base and the Conservative Party. As such, as we have already heard, government MPs will try to allege that the Liberal Party would bring back the gun registry, which we heard from the earlier. For any member from the Conservative camp to say that would be an absolute lie.
The leader of the Liberal Party previously, and again today, made it absolutely clear, to quote him, that we will not bring back the long gun registry. It was stated in the past and it was stated today at a scrum with the media following the caucus meeting. Let me repeat that, as there seems to be a lot of yelling opposite by government members. They might not like to hear it, but the fact of the matter is that the leader of the Liberal Party has committed that the Liberal Party will not bring back a gun registry.
To play the gun registry card in Conservative propaganda and in fundraising on the part of the Conservatives would be, as I said earlier, an absolute abrogation of the truth. Indeed, it would be a lie. Anybody who stands in the House and says that the Liberal Party is going to bring back the gun registry is lying. Members should get that straight.
Let me turn to Bill as proposed. Simply put, there are good points that would be helpful to those who use guns in this country, and there are troublesome policy and legislative amendments, which would put public safety in Canada at risk and definitely, I believe, would make Canadian streets less safe as a result of some of the proposals in Bill C-42. Indeed, it would put lives at risk and, I would submit, police officers' lives especially. Therefore, the Liberal Party is asking the minister and the government that Bill be split.
We call on the to split Bill . We can support the following measures.
We can support creating a six-month grace period at the end of the five-year licence period, to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for paperwork delays around licence renewal, which is in clause 14.
We can support streamlining the licensing system by eliminating the possession-only licence and converting all existing POLs to possession and acquisition licences, or PALs, which is in clause 11.
We can support making classroom participation in firearm safety training mandatory for first-time licence applicants, which is in clause 4.
We can support amending the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions related to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence, which is in clause 30.
We can support authorizing firearms import information-sharing when restricted and prohibited firearms are imported into Canada by businesses. I do not have the list of where that clause is, but we can support that because it makes sense. The Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, and police forces of other jurisdictions should have that information.
To sum up, we therefore call on the to split Bill . We can support several elements, such as the provisions that streamline licence paperwork, that tighten safety requirements, that make it harder for people convicted of domestic offences to obtain a gun, the firearm information-sharing, and extending the grace period to six months. The bill should be split to assist lawful gun activity by activists, sport shooters, farmers, and hunters immediately. If the minister is willing to split the bill, we should be able to accomplish passage in this House of that segment. I think that even the New Democrats would support some of those aspects. We should be able to accomplish some of those aspects and get the bill through by Christmas, if that is really the desire of the government.
However, as we will find out, the government is really not interested in helping law-abiding gun owners. It is really interested in creating a fight to leave the impression that we on this side of the House do not like those law-abiding gun owners. That is the impression it wants to leave. Therefore, it has put in place a bill that has some good aspects in it for the law-abiding gun community but has a poison pill that I submit would damage public safety in this country.
Let me turn to those other aspects of the bill that we cannot support, because it does put public safety in this country at risk.
First, the bill would eliminate the need for owners of prohibited and restricted firearms to have a transportation licence to carry these guns in their vehicle. It eliminates that need for every time they are transported. This means they could freely transport handguns or automatic weapons anywhere within their province. It says in the backgrounder that they can travel with restricted and prohibited firearms to shooting ranges, practices, and competitions; when returning to an individual's home following a chief firearms officer's approval of transfer of ownership; going to a gunsmith, a gun show, or a Canadian port of exit; and going to a peace officer or CFO for verification, registration, or disposal.
There is such a mix of things that, when we give people a broad transport licence, it is an accident waiting to happen. Of course the guns would be locked. They would not be loaded. These are people who do not want to break the law. However, as the said earlier, criminals do not abide by the law and would break into those vehicles. They would take those weapons and use them for wrong purposes. With this aspect of trying to simplify the system, the minister is making the streets more dangerous. Therefore, we cannot support that part of the bill.
Second, Bill would take the power to classify firearms out of the hands of police, who are the experts at keeping Canadians safe, and put it into the hands of politicians like the current minister. It might even be the member for or someone else over there at some point in time. However, the bill would take the power to classify firearms out of the hands of the police and put it into the hands of politicians. I will speak to that a little more in a moment.
Third, the bill would take the authority away from provincial chief firearms officers and imposes the federal minister's will upon those CFOs in the provinces by regulation. This is a point we have to strongly oppose.
I will explain those points in a little more detail.
The bill would enable the minister to assume the authority to designate firearms, which could result in currently designated prohibitive and restricted firearms receiving a non-restricted categorization. Effectively, an automatic handgun, or worse, could receive a designation the equivalent to a shotgun or a hunting rifle.
I would challenge the to speak to this point. If Bill passes in its present form, the Conservative Minister of Public Safety will be empowered to designate any prohibited or restricted firearm to that of a non-restricted firearm.
This is the conclusion of the Library of Parliament. I will quote its interpretation of Bill , which states, “Bill C-42 would give the Governor-in-Council the power to carve out exceptions by way of regulations for firearms that would otherwise fall within the Criminal Code definitions of restricted or prohibited firearms. This power would allow the minister to render firearms currently classified as prohibited or restricted firearms non-restricted firearms, and to render firearms that are currently classified as prohibited firearms, restricted firearms.”
Quite literally, we would have a firearms registration system in Canada which would be open to lobbying pressure, political favouritism and, in short, a corrupted system of firearms classification.
The legislation us would allow a politician, through the Minister of Public Safety, to override the recommendations of experts within our law enforcement community who have been empowered to determine which firearms should be restricted or prohibited from easy and ready access, as are rifles and shotguns, which are the firearms of choice for farmers, sport shooters and hunters in Canada.
What the minister wants to politicize is unique.
From a preliminary examination of other jurisdictions, which included the Untied States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany, the Library of Parliament found the following, “A review of firearms legislation in several selected countries has not revealed any jurisdiction in which a cabinet, a government department or even the police have the authority to override the firearms classification principles set out in the legislation.”
Therefore, this is unique. We are politicizing the classification of guns.
The question is on the politicization of firearms classification, which would allow Conservative politicians to work toward having full automatic firearms become the equivalent of a shotgun or hunting rifle. On this point, I look forward to hearing from certain members of the Conservative Party, specifically those who, in a previous life, were front-line police officers, because this clause could, if the minister is pressured, put police officers more at risk than they are today.
The primary motivation behind legislation that would empower politicians to classify firearms in Canada began when the RCMP did its duty. As a result of this, the Montreal Gazette, on August 30, stated:
The government came under a barrage of criticism...after the RCMP firearms program quietly changed the status of Swiss Arms-brand rifles and certain Czech-made CZ-858 rifles from restricted or non-restricted to prohibited.
The Conservative government, beginning with the , lashed out at “unelected bureaucrats” for having reclassified those firearms. He even put out a press release on the Conservative Party website as the member for . He is the minister. In this press release of February 28, he said, “That’s why I was troubled to learn of a decision made by unelected bureaucrats.”
He was informed weeks earlier by the RCMP that this would happen. He is the minister in charge of those “unelected bureaucrats”. He is either the minister or not. He cannot be the minister one day and the MP for a riding the next. The minister should have accepted his responsibility and done his job. If he has a problem with the RCMP and how it does its job, which it did and for which he criticized it, and if he felt that way, maybe he should have fired the Commissioner of the RCMP.
It is unbelievable that the minister would go that far and attack the very people who he is responsible for in order to cater to the gun lobby in Canada.
The members opposite heckle me a little. They say that I might accuse them of politicizing, of facing political pressure and making decisions under political pressure. The evidence is right there. The minister caved into the gun lobby, and he knows it. That is, in part, why we have this bill today.
What is even more disturbing is that there are media reports saying that the was fully briefed on the need to reclassify these firearms in May, 2013. That is literally nine months prior to any public statements of reclassification.
In short, the Conservative government has sent a very strong signal to our front-line police officers and first responders across Canada. If there is any interference with any firearms issue, and it can sense some kind of political advantage, it will overrule any decision made on their behalf every time, with their safety and public safety taking a back seat to the government's political advantage. That is a fact.
A second concern with the legislation is the intention of the government to undermine the work of provincial chief firearms officers in this bill. What is the reason for the government challenging or trying to overrule chief firearms officers within the provinces? The reason may be in a Guardian article about Vivian Hayward, the Chief Firearms Officer in P.E.I. In the article, it says:
Vivian Hayward says she knows very little about the changes, as the province has not been consulted on the proposed federal Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. But from what she has read in media reports, Hayward says she is concerned over the proposed easing of restrictions for firearms transportation.
“(It’s) just basically one step away from the U.S.-style having the gun on their hip authorization to carry, which people in this country don’t have,” Hayward said.
Is that part of the reason why the government is coming down hard on provincial chief firearms officers?
Let me conclude by saying that there are several good points that I outlined in the bill. We can support them. We can get those aspects through by Christmas, if we want to do that. Is the minister willing to split the bill? Let us deal with those issues that benefit the law-abiding gun community, and let us set the other ones aside and have a debate. Those are issues that jeopardize public safety.