Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Bill C-42 is a complex bill and includes many measures, and we won't be able to address them all. This morning I would like to address two specific ones.
The first one concerns the ability of the RCMP to classify certain types of weapons. As you know, about a year ago, the RCMP ruled that thousands of semi-automatic weapons that had entered the country as non-restricted long guns were in fact prohibited, given their ability to be converted to fully automatic firearms.
These weapons included the full range of Swiss Arms models and various versions of the CZ858 family, one of which was used in September 2012 during the election celebrations of the Parti Québécois. One man was killed and another one was injured, but the toll could have been much higher had the gun not jammed after the first shot. The shooter, Richard Bain, was a member of a gun club and was a legal owner of that weapon, amongst many others.
We would have hoped that the public safety implications of having thousands of prohibited weapons circulating across the country would be obvious to all, but that was not the case. As soon as the decision was rendered, public safety minister Steven Blaney echoed the complaints of the gun lobby, criticized the RCMP for their arbitrary decision, and announced a two-year amnesty for the owners of these weapons, accompanied by a public address specifically to gun owners stating, “Our Conservative Government is on your side” and that they will always defend the rights of honest gun owners, followed, of course, by an email directing supporters to a fundraising site.
Bill C-42 authorizes the Minister of Public Safety—a partisan political position—to override any and all classifications, even those clearly defined by law. The minister could literally reclassify as non-restricted any weapon, no matter how dangerous, at any time, for any reason, thus extracting it from any significant controls.
Bill C-42 was tabled only months after the murders of three RCMP officers in Moncton. Justin Bourque used an M305 semi-automatic Winchester rifle, which is a Chinese-made semi-automatic version of the American M14 service rifle, a favourite of military firearms collectors.
Only a few months before the tragedy, the RCMP, echoing other police organizations, had raised concerns with the minister regarding the inherent risks of the legal availability of such weapons. These include, for example, .50 calibre rifles that can pierce military aircraft and light armoured vehicles, not to mention bulletproof vests of police. This picture shows the Steyr Mannlicher, which is unrestricted. You can buy it over the Internet without the buyer being obligated to verify the validity of the possession permit.
Instead of properly classifying these types of weapons according to their risks, this government chose instead, with Bill C-42, to make that kind of political interference at the expense of public safety official and permanent.
The second issue is the discretionary powers of chief firearms officers, which are a core element of their work. Every day, chief firearms officers use their discretion while making decisions on whether or not to issue a variety of licences and authorizations. CFOs may further use their discretion to determine whether or not it is desirable in the interest of public safety to attach special conditions to authorizations or a licence.
For example, a CFO may decide to require a medical report stating that the previous mental illness of an applicant has been successfully treated as a condition of the issuance of a permit. A CFO may require that a business reconfigure its service counter to make sure that the display of the guns is far enough away from clients.
Some conditions can be more comprehensive. For example, Quebec does not allow prohibited weapons to be on the premises of gun clubs, even if they are grandfathered or subject to an amnesty. In Alberta, the CFO requires sellers in gun shows to have trigger locks on their guns, as opposed to putting plastic or wire tie wraps around the triggers.
It is this ability—attaching conditions to licences—that will be subject to new regulations under Bill C-42.
What these regulations will be is impossible to know; however, given that the government has presented this bill as a way to rein in broad and often discretionary authority of unelected bureaucrats, and that it follows from the gun lobby, we are pretty confident the regulations are meant to have detrimental effects on these kinds of public safety decisions.
We don't have to look very far for similar, recent examples of this type of interference. For example, sales records in gun stores had existed in the law since 1978 and were never controversial. The firearms registry rendered them not necessary, because it took up that role. But following the abolition of the gun registry, chief firearms officers required gun businesses to keep inventories and sales ledgers. However, following complaints from the gun lobby regarding this, this government tabled regulations prohibiting chief firearms officers from requiring such a rule even though they said that this could facilitate illegal diversion of guns by gun businesses to the black market.
Another example concerns gun shows. Up until 2012 all sales at these events were first cleared by the registrar, since it automatically verified the licence of each buyer before issuing a new registration certificate. Since the elimination of the registry, there is no way to ensure that sales that take place in these huge gun shows are legal. In order to compensate for the loss of this oversight, every chief firearms office in the country said it was necessary for the government to enact existing gun show regulations, which would allow them to act in an enforcement capacity and ensure minimum safety standards at these shows. According to the firearms investigative and enforcement services directorate, which is tasked to combat illegal smuggling, without proper controls gun shows may become a focal point for the purchase and subsequent stockpiling of non-restricted firearms for criminal use.
As you know, in the United States about one-third to 40% of guns sold at gun shows are sold illegally to people who otherwise wouldn't pass a background check. This was a totally reasonable request by the chief firearms officers, aimed at ensuring the safety of gun shows and preventing illegal sales. But the gun lobby complained, and of course, the government axed the regulations.
In conclusion, discretion regarding the classification of guns and certain parts of the implementation of the Firearms Act should be left in the hands of the RCMP and the chief firearms officers, who are objective, knowledgeable, and mandated to protect the public. It should not be overruled by political interests. Subjecting discretionary powers of public safety officials to political interference places partisan politics over good governance, ideology over expertise, and gun interests over public safety.
Bill C-42 should be opposed and rejected.