Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, and my fellow panellists.
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-42, the common-sense firearms licensing act.
It has been clear from the rhetoric that has developed around this legislation and from many of the comments made during debate in the House, that there is either a troubling lack of understanding of what the legislation does or does not do, or a deliberate attempt to misrepresent what the government is seeking to do through the legislation by suggesting that it will open the floodgates to a proliferation of irresponsible behaviour on the part of legal, licensed, law-abiding firearms owners in this country.
In fact, some members of Parliament have gone so far as to suggest that once passed the bill will sanction behaviour reminiscent of the wild west, the same kind of dire predictions that characterize the response of anti-gun lobbyists. Many of the comments have been remarkably similar to those we heard in 2011 and 2012 when debate focused on Bill C-391 and Bill C-19, the latter of which finally scrapped the long-gun registry.
Not only are many of the characterizations we heard in the House inaccurate, but quite frankly it's disappointing when in the interest of partisan politics some have suggested that the bill is either a bribe to one group in the firearms community, or payola, as one member of Parliament put it, to not testify against other government legislation; or a gift to the firearms community; or politically partisan legislation that will benefit only those who represent ridings where firearms ownership and use is the norm; or worse still, that it's the product of a “gun lobby” with a U.S.-influenced ideology, which frankly I find offensive.
During second reading debate on the bill, a number of members expressed the belief that the legislation will benefit those in rural and northern areas of the country. For members who ascribe to this theory, I would respectfully remind them that firearms owners from across Canada come from many places and many backgrounds.
In fact, if they think there is a rural-urban divide on long-gun ownership in particular, I suggest they think again. A quick survey of just our members in three urban centres, Windsor, London, and Ottawa, earlier this week showed that 4,500 of our members who own firearms live in those centres. When it comes to a large urban centre like Toronto, almost 290,000 non-restricted firearms are owned by residents of Canada's biggest city, and 85,000 are legally licensed to possess a firearm. Of those, roughly 32,000 are licensed to possess restricted or prohibited firearms, which in 2012 translated into 90,000 legally registered restricted and prohibited firearms in the GTA.
Firearms owners in Canada are judges, lawyers, farmers, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, accountants, even federal politicians, many of whom, like former interim Liberal and opposition leader Bill Graham, live in and represent urban ridings. They are not criminals. They are not gang members. Rather, they are lawful firearms owners who obey the law.
The changes proposed in Bill C-42 will make life easier for these people because there will be less needless paperwork. It will not, however, change the way that these responsible, law-abiding individuals safely use, store, and transport their firearms. Despite this we have had at least one member of Parliament who attempted to link the debate of Bill C-42 and the changes it will make with the behaviour of terrorists. Others have suggested that the changes like the application of an ATT to a licence will result in firearms owners running around mall parking lots with guns in their possession threatening the public safety.
This bill does some very simple things, some of which are specifically designed to greatly enhance the public safety. The rest are nothing more than common-sense proposals that pose no additional risk to the public despite all the hyperbole. I will not speak to all the changes proposed in the legislation but will focus instead on a few key aspects of the bill.
The grace period for licence renewal comes with an incentive to renew. It addresses an administrative error on the part of the licensee that immediately and unfairly places them in violation of the Criminal Code. It also comes with restrictions that ensure that until the error is corrected they cannot use their firearms or purchase ammunition for those firearms. The bill proposes to merge possession-only licences with possession and acquisition licences. Canadians who have a POL have owned and used firearms responsibly for decades. The very fact that their licence status will change is hardly a reason for them to suddenly and inexplicably become irresponsible.
Bill C-42 contains two very important changes that taken alone or together will help to enhance public safety, something that many parliamentarians and anti-gun groups have been arguing for for years.
The first, which I might point out has been a long-standing policy of my organization, is that all new or first-time firearms owners will no longer be able to simply challenge a test to get a licence, but will have to take the firearms safety course.
You would think that even a group like the Coalition for Gun Control would applaud this move, but instead of admitting that the provision enhances public safety, they choose instead to focus on what they believe are discrepancies on how the course is taught across the country instead of supporting the introduction of mandatory training.
The second relates to proposed changes that Bill C-42 would make to sections 109 and 110 of the Criminal Code that relate to mandatory and discretionary prohibition orders. Court orders prohibiting the possession of firearms and other articles including ammunition are mandatory when a person has been convicted or granted a discharge. Bill C-42 adds that a mandatory prohibition order would apply regardless of the possible sentence when violence was used, threatened, or attempted against the offender's current or former intimate partner, or the child or parent of the offender or the offender's current or former intimate partner.
With respect to discretionary prohibition orders, Bill C-42 provides that, in circumstances involving the use or threat of violence, prohibition orders may be imposed for life or a shorter period as opposed to the current maximum of 10 years. Surely this is something that should be supported, but we've been disappointed with the reaction of anti-gun groups and others to what we believe is a sensible amendment that enhances public safety.
During debate in the House, several members of Parliament spoke of their concerns about illegal firearms coming into Canada and chastised the government for not doing anything to address the threat. In fact, this bill proposes to end the loophole that stops information sharing between law enforcement agencies, in this case, the RCMP and the CBSA when they are investigating the importation of illegal guns. The concern over the flow of illegal firearms into Canada is a serious one, and depending upon the jurisdiction, is responsible for the large majority of guns used in the commission of a crime. In my view, this amendment goes a long way to addressing this problem. Just anecdotally, former police chief Bill Blair, estimated that 55% of the guns used in crime in Toronto were smuggled in from the U.S., while in B.C. one police chief suggested it could be up to 90%.
Lastly I want to touch on the portion of the bill that amends section 19 of the Firearms Act pertaining to the circumstances under which authorization to transport restricted or prohibited firearms is granted. The bill provides for automatic authorizations upon licence renewal, not automatic licence renewal, as the coalition would have you believe. It simply removes the requirement to obtain paper authorizations every time you want to move a firearm. A person who holds the appropriate licence will be authorized to transport them for the five purposes spelled out in the legislation, not freely transported in cars at any time going anywhere within the province, as the coalition and others have suggested.
In closing, Mr. Chair and members of the panel, Bill C-42 proposes reasonable amendments to sections of the Criminal Code that make sense, that eliminate red tape, and introduce additional public safety measures. It does not make guns easier to get. It does not allow firearms owners to transport them at will wherever they want, and it does not put guns in the hands of the “wrong people”.
I am pleased to see that the Liberal Party of Canada has chosen to support many of the aspects of the bill, and we appreciate and acknowledge that.
Thank you again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for affording me the courtesy of appearing here today.