The House resumed from October 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Larry Miller Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide a definition of “variant” in order to limit its application to certain firearms.
The House resumed from October 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
October 6th, 2016 / 5:40 p.m.
Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support my colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, and his private member's bill, Bill C-230, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code by defining the term “variant” as it pertains to firearms. I was honoured to be a seconder of this piece of legislation. As a Canadian firearm enthusiast, this is an issue that is dear to my heart.
Currently, the word “variant” is used extensively in the schedule of regulations that lists the firearms that are prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted in Canada. However, the term “variant” is not legally defined in either the code or the Firearms Act. This lack of definition has led to numerous firearm classification errors and much confusion.
Public Safety Canada uses the term “variant” as a way to classify future firearms that are generally of the same make and type as firearms already listed in the regulations, but have slight differences such as barrel length or cartridge size. Based on this undefined term, over 4,000 firearms have been classified as variants. It is because the term is vague and possesses no clear definition that numerous firearms have been prohibited or restricted because they were named as variants of other firearms.
Members might be aware of the Mossberg Blaze and Mossberg Blaze 47 case. The Blaze is a non-restricted .22 caliber rifle. The Blaze 47 is listed as an AK-47 variant, an assault rifle that is prohibited. Yet the Blaze and the Blaze 47 are virtually identical. They are both .22 caliber rifles, which is a common caliber of rifle in our country. The .22 is one of the most widely owned firearms in Canada.
How did a .22 caliber rifle come to be listed as an assault rifle? It happened partly because there was no clear definition of what a variant actually was, and because the definition was left open to interpretation. The Blaze and the Blaze 47 are essentially identical guns, but the Blaze 47 differs in appearance because it was manufactured with a plastic stock to make it resemble an AK-47.
When the widely available Blaze 47 was reclassified, Canadian firearms owners suddenly found themselves in possession of a prohibited firearm for no other reason than it had a plastic stock that made it look like an assault rifle. The reclassification did not take into account that the fundamental parts of both firearms were identical, and that the fundamental parts belonged to the non-restricted .22 rifle, not the assault rifle.
The inconsistent firearms classifications have repercussions for law-abiding firearm owners and sellers. Based on unclear guidelines, firearms that have been legally sold for decades can suddenly be reclassified as prohibited. That reclassification essentially bans them, leaving sellers with inventory they cannot sell and owners who may be at risk of prosecution when they suddenly find themselves in unlawful possession of a newly prohibited firearm.
I am sure everyone here agrees that there are certain weapons that should be, and rightly are, restricted or prohibited. No one is arguing about that. However, it is neither fair nor scientific to prohibit or restrict a firearm when the criteria for that restriction are unclear and imprecise, and sometimes come after the fact.
Canadian firearms owners and sellers alike have the right to demand that gun classifications be based on fact. We need a classification system that is clear and consistent. In fact, when it comes to public safety, the general public has a right to demand clarity. We must have confidence in the system that classifies firearms in Canada.
The member's bill would do just that. Bill C-230 proposes to amend the Criminal Code by defining the term “variant” to mean a firearm that has an unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm. This definition makes clear exactly what the essential criteria are for consideration when a firearm is a variant of another firearm. There is no guesswork involved. A firearm would no longer be restricted or prohibited simply because it looks like a restricted or prohibited firearm.
Logically, this makes sense. We would base our gun classification system on science rather than on unspecified criteria that are open to interpretation. Had this system been in place, the recent controversy regarding the reclassification of the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles and their variants would never have occurred.
Since 2001, these rifles have been legally imported and sold in Canada. Depending on barrel length, they are either restricted or non-restricted. In 2014, an identical looking rifle showed up in Canada. However, beyond the look, it was repainted to look like the Classic Green. The firearm was made with a different receiver that made it into a military-style weapon.
Rather than ban the entire class of Swiss Arms rifles, a proper classification would have allowed the Classic Green to remain as it was while a similar-looking military weapon would have been banned. Not only does improper classification create headaches for firearms sellers and owners, the resulting uproar has led to further inquiries and calls for investigations that eat up taxpayer dollars unnecessarily.
Past instances of improper classifications have led to ministerial interventions, which have ultimately resulted in orders to declare amnesty for law-abiding firearms owners. While this is one way of dealing with unclear legislation, it is certainly not the most effective way.
I have given only two examples so far of problems that have occurred due to a piece of legislation that is left too vague to be effective. In the past, classification was based on imprecise parameters that led to glaring errors in firearm classification. The member is proposing a simple, yet highly effective amendment to the Criminal Code that would clearly define exactly what a firearm variant is.
The amendment would eliminate the need for guesswork. It would allow the public to have confidence in our firearm classification process and for proper administration of the firearms program. Bill C-230 would not only streamline the classification process, it would bring transparency and effectiveness to the classification system. I urge all of my colleagues to support this much-needed piece of legislation.
I have another story that I would like to share. I was recently at my local gas station, the Fas Gas in Calmar, Alberta. It had a series of miniature firearms at the counter, which are actually cigarette lighters. I was informed by a series of letters from my riding that some of them could be considered variant firearms and could even be placed on the variant firearm list. It is a cigarette lighter.
Another area where this term “variant” can come into play is in the sport of paintball. I am not sure if members have ever played paintball, but it is a series of training activities with rifles that feel real and shoot paint rather than live rounds. Practice scenarios can be done with them. It is a growing sport in this country. A scenario could play out that one of these paintball markers could be classified as a variant of a firearm and, therefore, become a prohibited item in Canadian law.
I strongly support the bill introduced by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. It would clarify the law, ensure that law-abiding citizens are not suddenly found to be in possession of prohibited items, and ensure that going forward there will be clear, concise, confident laws that we can all understand.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
October 6th, 2016 / 5:30 p.m.
Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB
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.
The House resumed from May 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm—definition of variant), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
May 16th, 2016 / 11:45 a.m.
Winnipeg North Manitoba
Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak to the private member's bill. The Parliamentary secretary for the government has already indicated that Liberals do not support the private member's bill as it is written; and it is important to provide a bit of background.
I have had the good fortune of being around for a number of years, and at different times in my career, the issue of rifles and guns has risen quite significantly. I can recall in the early 1990s, for example, the whole issue of the gun registry came up. I was first elected back in 1988 and it was almost two years afterward that the massacre occurred in Montreal, when 14 young women were killed at École polytechnique. Even today, the local high school in my riding, Sisler High, commemorates, remembers, and reflects on what took place in Montreal back in 1989.
The reason I raise it is that, for me, my political career began on the issue of rifles and guns and wanting to make sure there is sound, good government policy, whether at the provincial or national level. I have had a significant interest in it from the onset of my political career, and I am very much aware of the politics of it. Many people, for example, would be quite surprised to know that Kim Campbell was the first advocate for the gun registry and it was a Conservative senator who actually pushed it forward; and a lot has happened since then.
I appreciate the member's comments about law-abiding gun owners. That is something we need to reinforce. Law-abiding gun owners deserve the respect given to all citizens. Rifles and guns play a very important role in today's society. When we talk about regulations and elements of public safety, it is not to demean law-abiding gun owners in any fashion whatsoever.
In fact, if we were to speak to many of the individuals who have been cited, we would find that some of the strongest advocates for public safety and good, healthy, strong regulations, and so forth, come from responsible, law-abiding gun owners. It is a common interest that I believe that a vast majority of Canadians have and would advocate for.
In the last federal election, the Liberal Party made a number of commitments. The member from the New Democratic caucus made reference to them. I want to highlight that in the 2015 Liberal party platform, we clearly stated that as a government we would take action to get handguns and assault rifles off our streets. This commitment was reiterated during the throne speech. Bill C-230 would run contrary to that promise, by classifying some assault rifles as non-restricted weapons, making them easier to import and acquire.
There is no doubt that there is a great sense of public awareness on this public policy issue. The member, in his attempt to provide more definition, might have actually made things more complicated. At the end of the day, even some individuals who advocate for the legislation might be surprised at how providing this definition of a variant would ultimately change the classifications of some rifles and guns in a way that even the member himself might not have initially intended. What the current law states with regard to the variant, I believe, should be left as is.
The member made reference to Bill C-19. I will refrain from commenting on Bill C-19. I gave many speeches inside the House in regard to Bill C-19. He also made reference to Bill C-42. That was a piece of legislation for which there was great concern from all regions, on issues of transportation and classification. There was a great deal of concern in terms of why the government, at the time, felt that it was in a better position to make determinations as opposed to those experts who are making decisions not based on politics. I am referring to the RCMP.
I know there was a great deal of concern raised with the Swiss Arms issue and how that firearm was reclassified. That ultimately led to, I believe, at least in part, why Bill C-42 was brought forward. I do not believe that the government, back then, made progressive steps forward in attempting to address that issue.
I do not think the Conservatives realized the valuable contributions that our experts and, in particular, our RCMP experts have to play in this whole area. Every day, they have to deal with issues related to guns and rifles. Over the years, they have compiled a great deal of expertise. As legislators, we would do well to listen to what the experts actually have to say on the legislation.
My colleague pointed out a number of important facts that are worth repeating. He stated that the Government of Canada believes in a balanced approach, and that we have effective gun legislation that prioritizes public safety, while ensuring that law-abiding firearms owners do not face unfair treatment under the law.
While the bill's intent is in fact to bring more precision to the Criminal Code, it is the unintended consequences that would criminalize many law-abiding gun owners, while at the same time making it easier to import or own certain assault rifles.
This is what I meant when I said that I believe not even the sponsor of this particular bill has realized the consequences of the bill, if in fact it were to pass as it is. I would also point out that if the bill were to pass, it would lead to massive and indiscriminate reclassification of literally tens of thousands of firearms among the non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited classifications system, something I suspect we should all be concerned about.
It is also important that we recognize that reclassifying many hunting rifles and shotguns from non-restricted to restricted would result in thousands of law-abiding gun owners needing to apply to the RCMP for a restricted licence and be approved, or dispose of the firearm itself, or be in violation of the Criminal Code. It does not really leave very much in terms of options.
Before I run out of time, I just want to emphasize that the parliamentary secretary and the government believe that public safety is priority one. We recognize those individuals who are law-abiding gun owners. There is an overwhelming consensus that public safety is number one and that we do in fact respect those law-abiding gun owners.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
May 16th, 2016 / 11:35 a.m.
Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be the seconder of the bill put forward by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. I commend him for bringing this legislation forward.
Bill C-230 addresses a long-time concern of law-abiding firearms owners in Canada. I support this legislation for three main reasons: it is simple, effective, and most important, just plain common sense.
First, on simplicity, the bill does not attempt to make any sort of wide-sweeping broad reforms as mentioned by the government and the other opposition party. Bill C-230 does not propose to reinvent the wheel when it comes to firearms regulation. It contains three simple clauses that would accomplish a targeted goal: ensuring consistency and transparency for law-abiding firearms owners in Canada.
Second, the bill provides an effective definition of the term “variant” that ensures that firearms that are classified as a variant of another firearm share similar mechanical components and are derived from the original prohibited firearm. The proposed definition states that a variant is defined as a firearm that shares the same unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm. This is an effective definition that would provide greater clarity for law-abiding gun owners and would ensure that decisions surrounding variants will be based on this fundamental definition rather than an inconsistent interpretation of an undefined and vague term.
Third, this legislation is a common-sense reform that would simply bridge the gap between legislation and regulations to ensure greater clarity for gun owners.
The term “variant” is used extensively when it comes to the regulatory framework surrounding firearms, but does not have any kind of legal definition in the Criminal Code or the Firearms Act. For example, the term “variant” is used 99 times in the regulations that govern firearms classifications. A term that is used this extensively in the regulations warrants a formal definition in the legislation. Furthermore, a recent access to information request stated that as of October 16, 2015, there were approximately 4,030 firearms that had been identified as prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted variants. Again, a term that impacts this many firearms deserves to have a clear definition to ensure that it is applied uniformly in all decisions.
I want to take a few moments to present an example of an issue that was created by the term “variant” being undefined.
The recent controversy surrounding the reclassification under variants of the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle, of which I was an owner, is a prime example of the negative consequences that can arise from inconsistent interpretation of this undefined term.
This issue goes all the way back to 2001 when the RCMP determined, based on documentation provided by an importer and the manufacturer, that Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles were semi-automatic variants of the Swiss Arms SG 540. Therefore, they were considered non-restricted or restricted, depending on the length of the barrel of the individual rifle. As a result, these firearms were allowed to be imported and sold in Canada. They were not prohibited firearms. However, in 2014, following a complaint about Swiss Arms rifles, the RCMP determined the rifles and their variants to be descendants of the Swiss Arms SG 550 and therefore were deemed prohibited firearms in Canada.
This was an arbitrary reclassification that made a long-time legal firearm owner, a firearm that I used to own, illegal overnight. With the stroke of a pen, law-abiding owners of Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles found themselves in illegal possession of a legal firearm. The decision eliminated the ability of Swiss Arms owners to obtain a licence to transfer and acquire these firearms, limited the locations where they could be possessed, and imposed enhanced storage and handling obligations by the owners. Furthermore, as I previously stated, it immediately criminalized law-abiding owners of Swiss Arms rifles who found themselves in unlawful possession of a firearm and at the risk of prosecution for unauthorized possession of a firearm under section 91 of the Criminal Code, and again, as the member stated, overnight.
Members may recall that when this decision was made in 2014, the Conservative government reacted strongly to protect law-abiding firearms owners.
The government brought in an amnesty to ensure that Swiss Arms owners would not be prosecuted for owning their once-legal firearms. Furthermore, the government then brought in Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which enacted a number of important measures to reduce the red tape for firearms, as well as measures that allow the Governor in Council to respond to arbitrary classification decisions, such as the Swiss Arms decision.
Bill C-42 was a very important piece of legislation for firearms owners in Canada. Likewise, Bill C-230, is yet another responsible measure to protect law-abiding gun owners from arbitrary and inconsistent interpretation.
If Bill C-230 had been in place when the decision on the Swiss Arms rifles was made, the RCMP would have had to demonstrate that the rifles in fact shared the same unmodified frame or receiver as the SG 550 and were prohibited on this basis.
To wrap up, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this legislation. As I stated in the questions, it is not a partisan issue; it is a clarity issue. There is quite clearly a disconnect between the legislation and the regulations that Bill C-230 is looking to bridge.
This is an important bill for legal firearms owners. I look forward to seeing it pass at second reading, although it looks like there is some opposition. I hope there is some serious second consideration by the parties across the way and beside us to have a real strong second look at this strong legislation.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
May 16th, 2016 / 11:30 a.m.
Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-230, an act to amend the Criminal Code. I would like to thank the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for bringing it forward for discussion and debate in the House. I can understand his clear desire to produce greater clarity and regulations concerning firearms. As he said, it is a laudable goal of the non-partisan nature. I salute him for doing so. However, I will be speaking against the bill, which in my view fails, despite its best intentions, to provide the kind of clarity that the member is seeking.
What would the bill do? It is a very simple bill. It would define the term “variant” in a different way. It is not defined now. It is left to the discretion of the regulator under the regulations. It would simply say in the statute, the Criminal Code, that “variant”, in respect of a firearm, means a firearm that has the “unmodified frame or receiver” of another firearm. That is all it would really do. It would take away the discretion that currently exists and narrow it in that way. In so doing, the member obviously seeks to provide greater clarity.
It then applies that criteria to the existing definitions of “restricted firearms” and “prohibited firearms” by affecting future classifications of a restricted and prohibited firearm, which would have a significant effect on access to firearms across our country.
I understand the member's motivation is to bring clarity to the process of classifying firearms. Law-abiding owners of firearms have often expressed frustration at what they see as the arbitrary classification or reclassification of firearms. Cases like the controversial case surrounding the Mossberg Blaze-47 or the Swiss Arms rifles, to which the member referred, illustrate the need for a more transparent process and a better, more open communication with Canadians. Yet these very firearms enthusiasts have raised serious concerns about the bill before us. Their analysis suggests that this bill would, and they believe, unintentionally, lead to the restriction or prohibition of firearms that would be currently available to properly licensed Canadians as non-restricted firearms. I believe the member is seeking to clarify, not to confiscate, but they fear that is precisely what the unintended consequences of the bill would do.
As I said in a question for the hon. member, there are something like 163,000 firearms currently listed in the Firearms Reference Table, of which over 4,000 are variants. Therefore, the question I would pose to the member is this. Why would one not want to provide continuing flexibility in the regulations themselves so officials could look at various criteria and make their determinations rather than perhaps unintentionally narrowing it, which would be the subject of concern to firearms enthusiasts by simply leading it to the very narrow category that the member has stated, namely of firearms that have the “unmodified frame or receiver” of another firearm? There may be many other criteria, and time permitting I will describe what they are, that need to be taken into account by officials as every day of the week they make this kind of interpretation. Inevitably, there would be some vagueness, I think one has to accept that, but that may make some sense in the public interest, I would suggest.
Any change to gun laws needs to be done with care and precision. The safety of Canadians must always be our top priority. We should be aiming for greater transparency, openness and certainty, not sowing, unintentionally, fresh confusion and concern.
The real question for every Canadian who is concerned about illegal guns and violence, whether they own firearms or not, is this. What is the government's policy?
In the last federal election, the Liberal platform promised four things: first, to take pragmatic action to make it harder for criminals to get and use handguns and assault weapons; second, to repeal elements of the Conservative's Bill C-42; third, to “put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of police, not politicians”, and, fourth, to provide $100 million each year to the provinces and territories to support guns and gangs police task forces to take illegal guns off our streets and reduce gun violence.
Those are the key things I was able to find in the platform to deal with comprehensive firearms reform. Unfortunately, the Liberals have already broken an election promise by once again delaying the gun-marking regulations to help police trace guns used in crimes.
We have not yet seen any legislation to deliver on the promise to make it harder for criminals to access guns or to repeal dangerous elements of Bill C-42, or to put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of firearms experts. In other words, the opaque and politicized system that the current government inherited from its Conservative predecessor remains unchanged.
Canadians expect the government to do better. When it comes to firearm classification, Canadians expect these vital public safety decisions to be made by experts in an open and transparent manner, based on all the available evidence.
Canadians expect their laws to be kept up to date and to be flexible enough to adapt to changing needs and fresh developments without compromising public safety, and it is that which is of concern in this particular bill. There is the lack of flexibility, the lack of giving the officials the tools they need to exercise their discretion appropriately under law. If they make a mistake, they are always subject to judicial review, and there have been several cases in which their discretion has been called to account in the courts. That, I suggest, is how it should be.
The government has promised legislation to meet these standards. It is time the government started to deliver. We should not be making piecemeal reform of firearms legislation on the fly through specific bills from time to time by private members. This bill does not provide the certainty, openness, or transparency that Canadians expect from any reform to firearms legislation.
Again, I thank the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for raising this issue and for representing his constituents who are looking for that clarity from their government. However, given the concerns I have heard from firearm law experts, it is clear the bill may not have the effect that the member intends. Even a more precise bill in this area would only be one part of the broader solution promised to Canadians by this government during the election.
As the government finally develops that policy, I hope the Liberals will consider the member's proposal and consult with Canadians in all parts of the country. Instead of repeating the mistakes of the past or pitting Canadians against one another in this sensitive area, the government has a great opportunity to bring people together around common sense solutions that work.
Although we cannot support a flawed bill, I hope the hard work of the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound spurs the government to make this important public safety issue a priority.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
May 16th, 2016 / 11:20 a.m.
Michel Picard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to the legislative measure introduced by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, which proposes changes to Canada's firearms classification system.
Our government pledged to take measures to protect Canadian communities from armed violence. We believe in balanced and effective gun control that puts public safety first without subjecting law-abiding firearms owners to unfair treatment. Unfortunately, the legislative measure we are debating is contrary to both of those principles.
Bill C-230 would amend the Criminal Code to provide a definition of the term “variant”. This term is already used in the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited, Restricted or Non-Restricted made in accordance with the Criminal Code, to indicate variants to prescribed firearms that are already listed.
It was added in 1992 in response to the considerable increase in new firearm models available in the civilian market. The intent was to ensure that new firearms entering the market between regulation updates would be covered until the next update.
Although the term is not explicitly defined, the RCMP determines what constitutes a variant by using long-standing, well-established criteria and a standardized process to assess whether there is a connection between the firearm in question and a firearm prescribed under the regulations. If the RCMP determines that a firearm is a variant of another weapon that is already included in the regulations, the firearm is automatically classified as a restricted or prohibited firearm.
Under Bill C-230, a variant would be defined as “a firearm that has the unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm”. That would be a change from the RCMP's long-standing, well-established criteria.
The bill would also amend the definitions of restricted and prohibited firearms in the Criminal Code by making all newly defined variants prohibited or restricted firearms.
While I am certain that the intention behind the proposal is honourable, I must acknowledge that it is not one our government can support. If such a definition were to be established, it would have a number of significant and problematic sequences. During my time today, I will focus on the two most problematic elements from our government's perspective.
It would mean a massive and indiscriminate reclassification of firearms. Because the proposed definition does not reflect the well-established criteria that the RCMP uses to assess whether a firearm is a variant, it would cause tens of thousands of firearms to be reclassified. Many firearms would move unnecessarily from their present classification to a more-controlled class, including certain hunting rifles and shotguns. Indeed, some currently non-restricted hunting rifles and shotguns would become restricted. We should keep in mind that restricted firearms are not permitted to be used for hunting.
Given that many gun owners may have the licence privileges to own a restricted firearm, they would suddenly find themselves in illegal possession of their firearms. To come back into compliance, they would have to apply to the RCMP for a restricted licence, which is available under the Firearms Act for use in lawful occupation, gun collecting, target shooting, or competition at an approved shooting range or club. Therefore, in effect the bill would mean that many hunters and other responsible gun owners would have to dispose of their firearms because those would simply not be the purposes for which they owned their guns.
On the one hand, Bill C-230 would move many firearms to a more restricted class to the detriment of law-abiding gun owners. Yet, on the other hand, it would also have the effect of reclassifying thousands of firearms to a less controlled class, with potentially serious repercussions.
Permit me to draw the attention of members to one particularly troubling example from a public safety perspective. Under this legislation, certain prohibited assault weapons would become non-restricted. Presently, for example, a semi-automatic firearm that is a variant of the AK-47 assault rifle is prohibited based on the regulations. However, if we were to adopt the proposed definition of a variant in Bill C-230, in other words, a firearm that has an unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm, a firearm virtually identical to the AK-47 could become non-restricted. This would occur because, according to the proposed definition, the slightest change of the design of the frame or receiver of the firearm would mean that it would no longer be considered a variant of a virtually identical gun.
As a result, we would likely see a dramatic increase in the circulation of firearms that are currently prohibited because they would become available to some two million licence holders. People would be able to import, own, transfer, and transport these firearms more freely. What is more, we would not be able to track these weapons because it is not mandatory to register unrestricted firearms.
I hope that members on all sides of the House will agree that this raises serious public safety concerns and provides a lot of food for thought. This bill also flies in the face of our government's promise to get dangerous assault rifles off the streets.
I can guarantee members on all sides of the House that the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness are working diligently to keep this important election promise.
As I said from the start, we will maintain a balanced and effective firearms policy that makes public safety a priority while ensuring that law-abiding gun owners are treated with fairness and respect.
Our government will continue to work with all Canadians, including gun owners, to meet our common goal of reducing gun violence in Canada.
Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business
May 16th, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.
Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON
moved that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant). This is a straightforward piece of legislation that will provide much-needed clarity for law-abiding firearms owners across Canada.
Today, I would like to explain to the House why I am bringing this legislation forward, the problems surrounding variant firearms, how this legislation will help solve the problem, and why I believe this bill should be considered further at committee.
Before I do so, I would like to take a moment to thank the member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies for seconding the bill and for all of the important work that he does for hunters, anglers, and sports shooters in Canada.
I have owned and handled firearms for a number of years, basically all of my life. I am a very proud and law-abiding gun owner. However, one thing that has always bugged me and irritated a lot of law-abiding gun owners and hunters is the stigma that some people attach to the firearms community. Let me be very clear: owning a gun does not make someone a criminal. As I said, I am a law-abiding gun owner. I have many friends and family who are law-abiding gun owners. Most people who own firearms in Canada are law-abiding gun owners.
Sadly, though, time and time again, we see gun owners who are presumed to be dangerous. The stigma has worked its way into our regulatory system and, in my mind, it is high time that we bring some common sense, fairness, and clarity to the system.
There were two pieces of legislation, which were brought in under the previous Conservative government, that worked toward creating a better system for law-abiding firearms owners in Canada. I was proud to support Bill C-19, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, and was pleased that it received royal assent in 2012. This legislation was extremely important to hunters and firearms owners across the country. The long-gun registry was a colossal waste of money, was ineffective, and it simply did not make sense.
Furthermore, in 2015, Bill C-42, Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, received royal assent. Measures in this bill included merging the POL and PAL licences, giving the Governor in Council the ability to reverse arbitrary firearms classification decisions, a grace period at the expiry of licences, authorizations to transport as conditions of licence, mandatory firearms safety courses for first-time gun owners, and prohibitions for those who are convicted of domestic violence offences. That is just to name a few of the measures.
These were all very common-sense reforms that were welcomed by firearms owners across the country. I would like to highlight one of the measures in particular, as it deals directly with the purpose of my Bill C-230.
Bill C-42 came in response to a seemingly random classification decision in 2014 regarding the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles. This was a decision that was made overnight, wherein the RCMP classified the Swiss Arms as a variant of the SG 540, a restricted firearm in Canada.
There were a number of problems that resulted from this decision. Since 2001, the Swiss Arms rifles had been legal, non-restricted firearms in Canada, and with the stroke of a pen, many owners of these firearms found themselves in unlawful possession, without a clear explanation of the decision to reclassify. In simple terms, one night these guns were legal, and the next morning they were not. I think members can understand the frustration of law-abiding gun owners.
This all stems from the fact that there is no legal definition for the term “variant”. Firearms are under the purview of two different acts in Canada, part three of the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. These two acts form the basis for the regulatory framework that is used when it comes to firearms. Specifically when it comes to classifications of firearms, it is the Criminal Code and the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited, Restricted or Non-Restricted, that are the two important legislative pieces.
Furthermore, it is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canadian firearms program that is responsible for the administration of legislation and regulations, which includes determining the classification of firearms based upon criteria in the Criminal Code.
It has been in my mind, and in the minds of many other firearms owners across Canada, that there is a significant disconnect between the legislation and regulations surrounding the term variant. This term is used nearly 100 times in the regulations to classify firearms as prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted, but there is no clear sense of what this term actually means. It has been used extensively to reclassify firearms in cases similar to the Swiss Arms decision, without any clear explanation of the purpose for the reclassification. In simple terms, it is continually misinterpreted, and therein lies the problem.
Firearms owners have been left scratching their heads wondering how is it possible for these seemingly random decisions to be made. This is my reason for bringing this legislation forward. We need some clarity here. There is no room for vague interpretation on a case-by-case basis. In fact, if the bill were passed, it should actually make the job of RCMP members who are responsible for this law much easier.
As legislators, it is our job to ensure that those who are tasked with interpreting the laws we create are clear on the intentions of the legislation. This would provide clarity, not only for firearms owners but, as I said, also for the RCMP firearms program. They will finally have a benchmark on which they will be able to make clear and consistent classification decisions.
Bill C-230 proposes that a variant of a firearm be defined as “a firearm that has the unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm”. This will ensure that firearms that are classified as variants do in fact share fundamental mechanical pieces and therefore warrants the firearm to have the same classification as the previously classified firearm.
Having this definition added to the Criminal Code will ensure that the regulations surrounding firearms classifications are well informed and consistent with the intent of the legislation on which they are based. It will eliminate inconsistent and arbitrary interpretation and provide much-needed clarity for firearms owners and, as I always like to point out, law-abiding firearms owners.
It is rare that a piece of legislation is perfect on the first draft, and I want to pledge that my goal is to fix a problem. I have worked with a lot of people on this, and I am willing to work with the government to fix a problem that needs to be fixed. Basically, I am saying that if there is an amendment to the bill that makes it better, I am open to it and we will see where it goes. There may be members and outside stakeholders who will have concerns with certain elements of the bill. I welcome all feedback.
I feel that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security would be the perfect place to have this discussion. I see both the chair of that committee and the parliamentary secretary are here today. I want to thank both of them for their interest in being here and hearing what I have to say on the bill.
I see this legislation as less of a partisan matter and more a matter of clarity and responsible legislation. No matter what one's ideology on firearms and gun control is, I think that all members can and should agree that we need clear legislation that is free of vague and inconsistent interpretation. This is what I am hoping to accomplish with the bill.
Finally, I would like to thank the Canadian Shooting Sports Association for all of the help and guidance it has provided in the drafting of the bill. The CSSA knows this issue well and has heard loud and clear from its members that this problem must be solved. President Tony Bernardo and his team have been strong advocates for this legislation, and I would like to thank them for that support and for their input.
I also want to thank Mr. Greg Farrant of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for his input as well, and the many responsible firearms owners across the country I have heard from. I have received support and suggestions from firearms owners in every province and territory across this country, and I still welcome that.
In closing, I want to make it very clear that I fully support good regulation and legislation that ensures that only responsible Canadians own and operate firearms in this country. Criminals and irresponsible gun owners affect the reputation of people like me, and all law-abiding gun owners. We do not want or need that.
Leaving it at that, I look forward to the debate today in the first hour of second reading. I am very happy to take questions from my honourable colleagues.
Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings
February 24th, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.
Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm—definition of variant).
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to table this important legislation today in the House for first reading.
The term “variant” is used 99 times in the regulations in the Firearms Act to classify firearms. However, it is not actually defined anywhere in the legislation. This vagueness has resulted in a number of inconsistent and confusing classifications over the years that were based on an interpretation of what variant was meant to mean.
This legislation would provide a definition for “variant” to ensure that we would have a very clear, consistent, and fair firearms' classification system. It is not a controversial bill.
I look forward to working with all my colleagues in the House on both sides, including the government, on this very important legislation.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)