Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-42, 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 Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness 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 to 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 C-42, 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 C-42 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 to 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 C-42 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 C-42 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 C-42 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 C-42 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 C-42 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 C-42 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 Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette 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 C-44 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 C-42. 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 C-42.