Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the members for adjusting their busy schedule to allow this meeting to take place earlier.
As you just said, Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today, joined by Ms. Kathy Thompson. She is our assistant deputy minister for community safety and countering crime. I'm also accompanied by the director of the firearms and operational policing policy division, Mr. Lyndon Murdock.
Mr. Chair, I'm here this morning to present the common sense firearms licensing act, which is a piece of legislation that builds on our government's record of firearms policies that keep Canadians safe without adding needless red tape for those who are predisposed to obey the law, namely, law-abiding hunters, farmers, and sport shooters.
We believe that firearm policies should be safe and also sensible. That is why we've created new prison sentences for the criminal use of firearms, and why we've made significant investments in background checks for new applicants for firearm licences. It's also why we've removed needless red tape like the gun shows regulations and the firearms marking regulations, and why we've ended the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry once and for all, including in my Province of Quebec.
These are policies that are safe and sensible.
The bill before us today continues along the same lines: with policies designed to increase public safety by eliminating red tape for law-abiding Canadians.
Allow me to explain briefly the key measures in this bill. I know that this aspect of the bill is of interest to my fellow member of Parliament, Bryan Hayes.
First, the act will strengthen firearms prohibitions for those convicted of spousal violence. According to a 2013 report, those most commonly committing violence against women are husbands and those in romantic relationships with the women. So it is important for public safety to make sure that firearms are taken away from individuals at risk. Anyone found guilty of an indictable offence involving domestic violence will have a firearms possession and acquisition licence withdrawn for life.
In addition, the legislation allowing the simple and safe licensing of firearms will also require new firearms owners acquiring a firearm for the first time to take the mandatory safety course. I believe that it is important for anyone wishing to acquire and possess a firearm in this country to receive the mandatory training provided by our organizations. This is not only to fully grasp the extent of the responsibility but also to understand the requirements of safety, maintenance, training, technique and knowledge involved in handling firearms.
The legislation will also remove bureaucratic obstacles to the sharing of information on the import of prohibited or restricted weapons. This will allow us to come to grips more easily with the black market and with arms trafficking. We have noticed that our legislation has gaps—especially with regard to the Canada Border Services Agency—that can be used by those wishing to import weapons into the country illegally. That is why we are going to clarify the legislation to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to share information with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and to close all the loopholes that illegal traffickers could exploit.
These three specific measures in the bill will improve the safety of Canadians.
The legislation will also help ensure that our firearms policies are sensible. That is why the legislation will merge the “possession-only” licence with the “possession and acquisition” licence. My colleagues from the NDP may remember that this was a measure that was suggested by the late Jack Layton. It does not make sense that individuals who have owned firearms for many years would not be allowed to make new purchases with their own hard-earned money. The bill before us today will give purchasing power to approximately 600,000 experienced and law-abiding firearms owners.
The legislation will also create a six-month grace period at the end of a five-year firearms licence. As you know, Mr. Chair, the firearms licence is valid for five years, and then anyone who owns firearms or is willing to keep his licence has to renew it. The problem is that if you don't renew it by the time your licence expires and you own a firearm, you are turned into a criminal overnight. You do not become the subject of criminal charges if you forget to renew your driver's licence by a day or two. Well, the same principle shall and will apply to firearms licences with this bill. We completely disagree with the premise that any Canadian ought to be criminalized for errors in paperwork.
Further, it will remove the needless red tape around the authorization to transport firearms. Let's be clear this morning: all the transportation of firearms regulations remain in place, and once this bill is adopted, they will remain the same. We will make sure that we are simplifying the process so that we are cutting red tape.
Lastly, it will ensure that unelected officials are enforcing the law rather than making it. It will ensure that the elected government is able to stop chief firearms officers from taking arbitrary action and allow the elected government to classify firearms if, based on expert evidence, the Canadian firearms program has made an error.
These are safe and sensible changes.
Why? Because, for too long, the gun control policies developed under previous federal Liberal governments have targeted legitimate gun owners rather than attacking the source of the problems we have experienced, dangerous criminals and those possessing illegal weapons.
I am proud to be part of a government that has decided to respect law-abiding citizens. We are reducing red tape for law-abiding citizens, but we are making sure that those making violent use of firearms will face the full force of the law.
Some false notions about this bill have been spread around and I would like to clarify them. Specifically, after the bill was introduced, the Liberal Party saw fit to orchestrate a fear campaign, designed to drum up donations, that falsely claims that this bill will let people take pistols and other handguns into grocery stores and shopping centres. That is completely ridiculous; it is irresponsible and I call upon that party to stick to the facts and to stand up for public safety in our country instead of trying to raise funds. The fact is that restricted weapons can be transported to an approved destination, such as a shooting range or a gunsmith, only by the most direct route. Remember that the weapons must not be loaded and they must have a mechanism that locks the trigger. A restricted weapon must be in a padlocked container and, if the passenger leaves the vehicle, the weapon must not be visible or stored in the trunk. That is the law; it will remain in effect and it will be strengthened.
The Liberal Party also said that the bill “would take the power to classify firearms out of the hands of police...and put it into the hands of politicians...”. Once again, this is false. The police do not classify firearms; Parliament does, but has no mechanism to correct mistakes if they occur.
How do we do that? We do it through the Criminal Code and did so in fact in 1995 under a Liberal government. This is certainly a good opportunity to remind them what was put in place.
The Canadian firearms program interprets the legislation, and sometimes they make mistakes. The example we saw last year of the CZ858 and the Swiss Arms family of rifles is a perfect example and we intend to correct that mistake. That is why this legislation allows elected parliamentarians to correct these types of mistakes.
Mr. Chair, as I draw to a close I would like to highlight how proud I am of the broad support for this legislation. Hunting and conservation groups from coast to coast to coast support this legislation. Police officers support this legislation. Former Olympians support this legislation. Taxpayers support this legislation.
Here is what the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs had to say about this bill:
The Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs is thrilled with this initiative. Quebec hunters are very pleased with this bill because it simplifies the licence issuing process for law-abiding users, while reinforcing the concepts of safety and education.
Hunters and anglers are responsible citizens who want to enhance public safety in our country and who support measures to simplify red tape. Clearly, support for these secure and reasonable policies is very strong. Unfortunately, we have seen members of the New Democratic Party state that they would like to re-establish a costly and ineffective long gun registry. Of course, Mr. Chair, we have a program in place for handguns and restricted weapons. During the debate, we saw a Liberal member from downtown Toronto, who clearly wants to get into a game of political one-upmanship with the New Democrats, compare hunters, law-abiding citizens, with jihadi terrorists. It is important for us to maintain perspective. But statements of that kind will surprise no one who knows that these are the parties who have sometimes expressed contempt for law-abiding citizens. I feel that this is the time to pick a different target, if I may use that expression.
Earlier this week, Mr. Chair, we saw the opposition parties oppose measures whereby our hunters and anglers will no longer be treated as second-class citizens in society.
I will be happy to answer questions in order to provide any required clarifications to the bill that will allow firearms to be simply and safely registered.
Thank you very much.