Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on Bill C-42, 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 Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture 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 C-42 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 C-42 be split.
We call on the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to split Bill C-42. 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 Service Agency, the RCMP, and police forces of other jurisdictions should have that information.
To sum up, we therefore call on the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to split Bill C-42. 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 Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture 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 C-42 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 Yorkton—Melville 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 Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to speak to this point. If Bill C-42 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 C-42, 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, which 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 Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, 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 Lévis—Bellechasse. 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 Prime Minister 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.