Thank you very much.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, and Mr. Brown in absentia.
On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the largest conservation-based organization in Ontario, our 100,000 members, supporters, and subscribers, and our 725 member clubs across the province thank you for the courtesy of inviting me to appear before the committee to speak to Bill C-637, an act to amend the Criminal Code (firearms storage and transportation).
I will attempt to keep my remarks as succinct as the bill is.
It's been clear from some of the discussion around this legislation and from some of the comments made in the House that there is confusion about what the legislation does or does not do and why it is necessary. Frankly speaking, I think some of that confusion is justified, given the diversity of legal judgments and opinions that exist in case law around this matter. As someone who deals with firearms-related matters on a regular basis, initially I too found the issue to be, as my father would have said, clear as mud.
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one. However, my job requires me to read a lot of case law related to firearms. Before my appearance today, I spent considerable time reviewing the arguments in cases such as R. v. McManus, R. v. Felawka, R. v. Formosa, R. v. Labrecque, and R. v. Dunn in order to gain a better understanding of why the bill is necessary and what it seeks to achieve.
What is clear from looking at those previous cases is that there is a wide discrepancy in how BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, and the like are treated in terms of licensing versus how they are treated in terms of storage and transportation under both the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.
It seems to me that the original intent of Parliament was to treat these types of guns differently under the act, as evidenced by the fact that you do not require a licence to purchase, own, or use low-velocity BB guns. Consequently, I do not believe that it was Parliament's intention to make it a criminal offence to transport or store BB guns or pellet guns differently, but that is what appears to have occurred under the law, which has resulted in the inconsistency of application we are facing.
It has been suggested that R. v. Dunn changed the game. It did not. In fact, it is clear in reviewing a summation of the case law by a crown prosecutor attached to the guns and gangs task force, that if anything, Dunn emphasized the discrepancy. I noted a moment ago the difference between how BB guns and pellet guns are treated in terms of licensing as opposed to how they are treated in terms of storage and transportation. Before this, no one contemplated the criminalization for storage or handling of an air gun until the Firearms Act, which is why we are here and why the bill is necessary.
Quite simply, Mr. Sopuck's bill seeks to create a mere exception so that lower velocity air guns will be treated the same under the Firearms Act for storage and transportation as they are for licensing. It deems that lower velocity air guns are not firearms for the purposes of those sections of the act and creates an exemption for individual storing or transporting of lower velocity air guns from the careless use offence under section 86 of the Criminal Code.
To achieve that, the bill would add a new subsection to subsection 84(3) of the Criminal Code to address the above. At the same time, the bill would exclude from subsection 86(2) of the Criminal Code the careless use, storage, and use requirements with respect to lower velocity air guns.
Currently this subsection creates an offence for contravention of storage and transportation regulations under the Firearms Act, despite the fact that paragraph 84(3)(d) of the Criminal Code already exempts lower velocity air guns from the provisions of the Firearms Act and its regulations, including those related to storage and transportation. In our view, this ambiguity needs to be addressed.
During debate there was concern expressed that the provisions of this bill would weaken the law regarding the storage and transportation of air guns and thus increase the risk to public safety. If we felt this to be true, I would not be sitting before you today. If we were dealing with issues around the transportation and storage of firearms that discharge a projectile, using powder and an ignition source, this story would be different. Instead, we are talking about lower velocity air guns that use compressed air from a canister or a CO2 cartridge.
In essence, the issue at hand is that through cases like Dunn, which changed nothing, the courts have highlighted a discrepancy between the previous definition of a firearm and what the courts now consider to be one. This bill clarifies that lower velocity BB and pellet guns are not, in fact, firearms and reinforces the law as it was before Dunn.
I am of an age and a cohort who grew up in a time when low-velocity BB guns and pellet guns were the norm. They were the first gun you had as a youth for plinking at cans on a fence or shooting at paper targets with friends. In my case, and in the case of millions of Canadians, they were a part of growing up and an introduction to a lifetime involvement with firearms. Our parents counselled us about the proper use of these guns and tolerated, in my case in particular, no nonsense if you were caught being careless with them. At the same time, there was never a thought that they posed a risk to the public safety requiring them to be locked in cabinets and transported like high-powered firearms or that a failure to do so should be subject to a Criminal Code charge.
Let me be clear: the OFAH takes the issue of firearm safety very seriously. We deliver the Ontario hunter education program on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which has taught over 250,000 students in the last decade.
Most of our instructors, which number about 302 currently, also deliver the Canadian firearms safety course. We work closely with the Ontario Chief Firearms Officer and the OPP on campaigns and messaging about safe use, safe storage, and safe transportation of firearms. I have provided the clerk with an example of that, which the committee can deal with as they see fit.
There is no question that, like any gun, low-velocity BB guns and pellet guns should be used responsibly. However, in our view, they do not require regulation in terms of storage and transportation as other firearms do, and owners of these guns should not be subject to Criminal Code charges associated with storage and transportation of them, which is why we support this bill and commend Mr. Sopuck for coming forward to address an inconsistency that exists in the law.
Thank you once again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for affording me this opportunity.