Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear on this subject matter today, the question of privilege raised by Mr. Motz.
As you pointed out, Mr. Chair, I'm accompanied by Deputy Commissioner Strachan and Mr. Rob O'Reilly, Director of Firearms Regulatory Services within the Canadian Firearms Program.
I'm sorry our time is a bit constrained this morning because of the vote in the House, but the House is the House.
For me as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, my key priority is ensuring the safety of all Canadians, and their confidence in the integrity of the government agencies that fall under my authority as minister. This includes the accurate use of departmental platforms to communicate information about all legislation, but in particular for the purposes of today, about Bill C-71. The subject matter is something that's important to me, Mr. Chair, because, as you will recall, in my previous roles, I have been a House leader in both the opposition and the government side, so procedure matters.
As outlined in the document entitled “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”, government agencies have a fundamental role in serving Canadians, their communities and the public interest under the direction of the elected government and in accordance with the law.
Government agencies are to operate with the knowledge that legislation comes from Parliament and no other authority in Canada. That being the case, it is essential that these organizations continue to accede to the legislative process. All government agencies, including the Canadian firearms program and the RCMP, are expected to demonstrate respect for Parliament's privileges and to act with integrity. Integrity alongside transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of good governance and democracy.
I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm categorically that the Canadian firearms program and the RCMP fully respect the authority of Parliament and the legislative process.
The mission of the Canadian firearms program is to enhance public safety by reducing the risk of harm from the misuse of firearms. To support these objectives, the Canadian firearms program uses online bulletins and website updates to communicate any changes in requirements to stakeholders as well as the general public.
Web updates are posted to inform about topics such as changes to the firearms licensing regime, modifications to the transfer process, revisions to classifications, changes to requirements for business and much more. These online updates are important to increase awareness among legal firearms owners and to increase compliance with the Firearms Act and the associated regulations.
On May 8, 2018, updates were made to the CFP website to inform individual owners and businesses in possession of certain Swiss arms or Ceská Zbrojovka model 858 firearms that classification changes had been proposed under Bill C-71.
As only certain Swiss arms and CZ858 firearms would be impacted by the proposed classification changes, the Canadian firearms program included information on the website to assist clients in determining whether their firearm would be impacted by the bill as introduced in the House, presuming that the legislation was finally enacted by Parliament.
The focus of the information was to provide an explanation of actions that would need to be taken by individuals by June 30, 2018, in order to be eligible for the proposed grandfathering provisions that were outlined in the draft bill. Information was also posted for Canadian businesses, as the regime proposed by Bill C-71 would have an impact on businesses that had firearms in their business inventory after June 30, 2018.
The objective was to allow these individuals and these businesses to be prepared and to avoid anyone inadvertently finding themselves in contravention of the law once it was passed. The updates related to Bill C-71 were done in good faith, and they were intended to encourage awareness and to educate stakeholders.
Following the publication of the information, concerns were flagged to the Canadian firearms program by the media and by other concerned citizens pertaining to the language that had been used in the web content to describe the status of Bill C-71. To immediately address those concerns, the Canadian firearms program consulted with relevant stakeholders and made revisions to the web content on May 30, 2018.
Following the question that was raised by the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner in the House, a further review of the website was undertaken and a complete set of edits was posted on July 3, 2018.
The language of the initial web content on Bill C-71 was not intended to assume the passage of the legislation, contravene the legislative process, or undermine the authorities of Parliament. The revised web content removed potentially misleading language and clarified the status of Bill C-71.
Mr. Chair, I believe the RCMP made good faith efforts to inform Canadians about the impacts of the legislation should Parliament pass it in its current form. Those impacts needed to be outlined for Canadians before the legislation was actually passed, as decisions would have to be made by those Canadians before the bill received royal assent. However, the website's original postings did not sufficiently convey the fact that Parliament was still considering Bill C-71 and that changes could be made to it.
We can see from the first update that the answers to the Q & A were changed to reflect what would happen if Bill C-71 were to be passed in its current form. In the second update, you can see that the questions in the Q & A were also revised and corrected.
Just as an example of this, Mr. Chair, in the original posting, the website asks how Bill C-71 affected individuals, and it answered that Bill C-71 would affect your CZ model 858 firearms in one of three ways. The second iteration of that same point contained a question from an individual trying to determine if his Swiss Arms or CZ model 858 would be affected by Bill C-71. In answer, the website stated that the information there was intended to provide guidance to firearms owners should Bill C-71 become law.
The final version, Mr. Chair, read as follows:
How would Bill C-71 affect individual owners of Ceská Zbrojovka (CZ) and Swiss Arms (SA) firearms?
Bill C-71 proposes changes that would impact some firearm owners in Canada. The information outlined below is intended to provide guidance to CZ/SA firearm owners should Bill C-71, as introduced in the House of Commons on March 20, 2018, become law.
You can see through those quotations the evolution of the language.
In endeavouring to keep Canadians as up to date as possible about the implications of legislation before Parliament, the RCMP did not sufficiently advise them that Parliament had yet to pass those changes. I believe, Mr. Chair, that it was an honest error and one that the RCMP corrected through the two updates to the site that I have referenced.
We apologize for the mistake and for any misunderstanding that resulted. We continue to be committed to providing Canadians with important information related to the requirements for firearms ownership in Canada. We commit to ensuring that this information will use clear language and accurately reflect the legislative process.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the members present here today who brought this issue to the attention of the House and who spoke to the issue as parliamentarians. You have defended the legislative process and emphasized the continuing importance of transparency and accountability in government agencies. I thank you very much for that.