Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in favour of Bill C-230, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding a firearm definition of “variant”, introduced by the great member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. I would like to applaud that hard-working member for his great work to clarify this difficult and arcane issue and for his continued support for law-abiding firearms owners across Canada. I consider the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound a mentor, and I have benefited greatly from his wisdom.
The previous Conservative government also implemented the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which enhanced the safety of our communities while ensuring safe and sensible firearms policy and cutting red tape for law-abiding firearms owners.
The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act made common-sense changes to protect public safety, such as making firearms safety courses mandatory for all first-time licence applicants and strengthening provisions to prohibit the possession of firearms for those convicted of domestic assault. These are tangible measures to protect public safety, and I am very happy to see my colleague continuing to pursue this common-sense solution as presented in Bill C-230.
Many Canadians may not be aware of the difficulties our current firearm classification system places on businesses, hunters, sport shooters, and all gun owners in Canada. However, it is part of a larger trend in overburdening law-abiding firearms owners for no reason, simply based on stigma, not fact. Thankfully, Bill C-230 seeks to clarify what a variant is and would lead to a more transparent classification process moving forward.
I am an avid outdoorsman. I enjoy hunting and fishing and living off the land. I have had a 35-plus year career in environmental conservation. I have been using firearms safely and responsibly for as long as I can remember, and there are millions of Canadians just like me.
Far too often Canadians who enjoy hunting or sport shooting are overburdened with red tape, and even attacked for taking part in the lifestyle they enjoy, which has been part of our heritage for hundreds of years. Thankfully, the previous Conservative government consistently stood up for law-abiding firearms owners, and we continue to do that today.
I will digress from my prepared remarks to reiterate my gratitude to the members yesterday who stood up and defeated Bill C-246 from all sides of the House, particularly from our side, the Conservatives, but on the Liberal side too. That was a victory for not only law-abiding firearms owners but also legitimate animal users, and it was one of my most precious times in Parliament to see that happen.
The legislation, Bill C-230, is common sense and is needed. It is common sense because it defines a term that is used 99 times without being defined. The term “variant” is used an incredible 99 times in the regulations prescribing firearms and other weapons, but has no legal definition, which obviously leads to confusion. It is absurd that we allow something as important as this to go undefined and remain open to ever-evolving interpretations.
We have seen this far too often recently, most notably the classification decision in 2014 regarding the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle. This decision was made through the stroke of a pen of unelected bureaucrats and led to the RCMP reclassifying the Swiss Arms as a variant of the SG 540, a prohibited firearm in Canada.
Thousands of people who were perfectly law-abiding firearms owners who held non-restricted firearms licences, and I have a non-restricted firearms licence myself, were made criminals overnight by simply possessing a firearm that they could have legally owned for more than a decade. Fortunately, our Conservative government stepped in and provided amnesty for those firearms owners and passed the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which allowed those rifles to be reclassified to non-restricted, as they should have been all along.
It is unacceptable to allow for such an arbitrary system to exist without the clarification needed to prevent thousands of Canadians from becoming criminals unwittingly.
Beyond that, some of the classification decisions we have seen in recent memory have thus been baffling. Take, for example, the case of the Mossberg Blaze-47. The firearm has an outer plastic shell that is bent aesthetically to look like an AK-47, which is of course prohibited, as it should be. However, the firearm is not even close to being the same. It does not have any of the same parts. It is not the same size. It is not the same calibre, and it has a different magazine capacity. The guts of the firearm, so-called, are the same as the Mossberg Blaze rifle, which is non-restricted.
The government of day, and all of us, actually like to talk about evidence-based policy. The way that firearms like these are classified is a perfect example of ideology trumping evidence.
Somehow the RCMP firearms program deemed that to be a prohibited firearm, since it is a variant of the AK-47. It is no such thing. This is simply false. It merely looks similar. Talk about judging a book by its cover. That is not how to classify a firearm. It must be based on facts, on function, on structure, and on operation, not by the way it looks. To use an automobile metaphor, we could take a Volkswagen bug and plunk a Corvette body on top of that bug, but it is still a Volkswagen.
Not only do we have incorrect classifications coming forward to begin with, and then classifications changing without reason, it can also take years for the classification determination to be made at all. Any member who has a firearm retailer in their riding, and I have a number of them, has undoubtedly been approached about the length of time it takes for businesses to be provided with a classification prior to importation. Most firearms in Canada are actually imported.
I have heard of it literally taking years for a decision, meaning that by the time a certain firearm is permitted, the firearm is no longer a new product. If any of us were running a business that sells firearms legally, or trying to decide what products to import for sale to our stores, we would understandably be irate if the government forced us to wait months and even years before we could move forward with importing the product. If we allowed government to delay the entry of other consumer products like this, we would just be getting the iPhone 4 this year. I hope that is correct, because I do not even know what an iPhone 4 is.
Thankfully, in 2015, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, when he was minister of public safety, took action on this problem, issuing a directive to the RCMP. That allowed for 180 days to evaluate a firearm, decide its classification, and issue the firearms reference table. This classification number is needed to import that model into Canada. I doubt that many would claim that 180 days to make such a decision would be particularly rushed, and it provided certainty to retailers that a decision would be made. Unfortunately, the current government has rescinded that directive, allowing for those decisions to be delayed as long as it sees fit, with no means of accountability.
The bill seeks to help the RCMP in this regard, as it would provide more structure and certainty as to what a variant is, and ultimately make it easier to classify that firearm. This is about certainty. This is about making it clear and transparent as to what the rules are. The bill is not attempting to alter the specifications of what is non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited. This is trying to clarify what we base the term “variant” on when classifying firearms within those streams. This is not about trying to get firearms.
Just because the Liberal government says this is at odds with how the RCMP have classified in the past does not mean that the RCMP have been doing it correctly. In fact, more firearms owners would argue that they have not been.
It is time to help clarify what a variant is, based on facts and on how the firearm functions, not based on anything else. I urge my colleagues to consider the flaws in the current system and get on board with this legislation to provide a definition of a firearm variant. Allow us to accurately and consistently classify firearms while ensuring we protect public safety and the rights of legitimate hunters and sport shooters.