Thank you very much.
Good morning, Mr. Chair. Good morning, members of the committee.
On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, our 100,000 members and our 740 member clubs across Ontario, thank you for affording us the opportunity to appear before you today to comment on Bill C-47.
Clearly, most reasonable people do not object to increased oversight when it comes to the export of various types of what are referred to as conventional weapons in the Arms Trade Treaty and increased vigilance as to what countries these weapons are being sent to, where they might be used to engage in acts of war, terrorism, or subjugation of their own citizens. In fact, since a large part of the bill deals with the export of these types of weapons and not importation into Canada, we have no major objections in that regard. There are, however, two or three troubling aspects regarding the importation rules and the absence of certainty in the legislation that I want to comment on very briefly today.
During second reading debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated:
I would like to make it clear that Canada's accession to the Arms Trade Treaty does not and would not affect domestic ownership of firearms or Canada's domestic firearms laws and policies. The ATT would govern the import and export of conventional arms, not the trade in sporting and hunting firearms owned and used by law-abiding Canadian citizens. This government understands that this treaty will in no way affect domestic ownership of firearms.
In response to a question from the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, he responded by saying:
Let me make it clear that accession to the Arms Trade Treaty will in no way affect domestic gun ownership in this country. It will in no way put any restrictions on law-abiding Canadian citizens. It does not deal in the trade of sporting and hunting firearms.
Finally, in response to a question from one of his own colleagues, he stated:
The ATT governs the import and export of conventional arms, not the trade in sporting and hunting firearms owned and used by law-abiding Canadian citizens.
This is an important point, reinforced by the fact that the parliamentary secretary to the minister repeated the government's position on this three times.
While the ATT does contain a measure of assurance in the preamble—not the treaty itself but in the preamble—that speaks to legitimate trade, lawful ownership, and use for several purposes, there is no language in the treaty itself or in the bill that provides similar comfort, what at least one member referred to as a “greater clarity” clause. The question is why not?
If the government believes that the treaty does not impinge upon domestic ownership or use of firearms, and in the words of the parliamentary secretary, “will in no way put any restrictions on law-abiding Canadian citizens”, why wouldn't the government include wording in the bill that would provide a level of certainty for legal, law-abiding firearms owners? I have every doubt that the nation-states that are party to the ATT are predisposed to amend the treaty itself to include such wording, so why is our government reluctant to at least provide some assurances in Bill C-47 that recognize what the parliamentary secretary has said and is reflective of language in the preamble to the ATT, whether that's wording that appears in the preamble or the top hat of the bill or elsewhere?
In our view, this is a missed opportunity for the government to demonstrate clearly their conviction that the treaty is not intended to impact negatively upon that group by reaffirming this in the legislation, and we would respectfully recommend that the committee rectify this oversight.
This becomes even more important in view of the fact that we believe the treaty contains language that may indeed pose a problem for legitimate firearms owners in Canada, and in fact could impinge upon Canada's domestic firearms laws and policies contrary to the government's assurances. I would refer you to article 2 of the treaty, which outlines eight categories of conventional weapons, the last of which is small arms and light weapons. Further to this, articles 3 and 4 clearly state that the treaty also applies to ammunition used by any of those eight categories, their parts and components.
Given that the ATT refers to both persons or individuals and organizations, how could that be interpreted as not impacting on firearms owners in Canada, who may on occasion order firearms, ammunition, or parts from the United States? This is lost on me, but I would appreciate any clarification on the matter if someone can provide it. If that is not possible, it would certainly appear that the treaty does in fact impinge on legal firearms owners, but there is no accounting for this in the bill through exemption or any other means.
The second issue I will speak to briefly this morning was a source of considerable rancour during debate, namely, the contention that requirements in the ATT require nation-states to collect information, which, ipso facto, has the appearance of a new and different firearms registry. I'm not a lawyer nor do I pretend to be one, but in reading article 12(3) of the ATT, its reference to record keeping and in particular the phrase “end-users”, it certainly appears that nation-states that sign on to the treaty are encouraged to create and maintain a version of some type of registry that, in our view, has some resemblance to what went before.
This government, and indeed the Prime Minister himself, have repeatedly assured the firearms community across Canada that they have no intention of bringing back a long- gun registry, and we have taken the government at face value. However, by signing on to the ATT, which includes the criteria suggested in article 12(3), it's hard to see how this is not a variant of the former model, which is cause for much concern and calls into question earlier comments I referred to which contained assurances that lawful firearms owners would not be impacted.
However, the keeping of and retention of records by importers, exporters, firearms dealers, and end-users for defined periods of time that is referred to in the bill, without being required to turn these records over to the government on demand, is something that most in the industry already do for insurance and other purposes. This, in itself, does not constitute a registry subject to future regulations. The problem occurs when the requirements under the ATT require nation-states to keep records where individuals or end-users could be identified, and they're shared, something the ATT seems to provide for. This is problematic in terms of privacy, and problematic in that it takes on the appearance of a pseudo registry, intentionally or otherwise.
Our final concern relates to the fact that so much of the substance of this bill remains unknown. As the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie noted in the House, the meat of the bill will be in the regulations, which are yet to come. Any legislation, not just this bill, that proposes to govern activities substantially through regulations that are unknown and unseen during debate is always of concern because, as the expression goes, the devil is in the details.
We obviously can't comment on regulations that have yet to be created or seen, but we do want to express concern over the fact that legislation is debated in a public place while regulations, which will largely govern the government's actions going forward in this area and give force to the legislation, will not be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
Once again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I wish to thank you for inviting us to be part of this discussion. Thank you.