Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to speak to Bill C-42, which would amend the Firearms Act, the Criminal Code and the Customs Act, thereby changing the legislation governing firearms licences and the transport and classification of firearms and limiting the powers of provincial and territorial chief firearms officers.
I do not have enough time to discuss all of the provisions in this bill, so I will focus on two specific elements.
First, what baffles me about this bill is that it gives the Minister of Public Safety the power to decide how to classify firearms.
Basically, if memory serves, in 2014, after conducting an analysis that got a lot of press, the RCMP decided to reclassify Swiss Arms Classic Green and CZ858 firearms. These firearms were originally classified as restricted, but the RCMP reclassified them as prohibited. Why? Because the RCMP determined that these firearms could easily be converted into automatic weapons.
What did we find out a few weeks later? We found out that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness was not very happy about that decision and granted an amnesty for individuals who already owned those guns. Then, to ensure that such a situation does not happen again, since the minister did not have the power to reverse the decision, he introduced Bill C-42 to grant himself those powers.
At this time, all ammunition and firearms, regardless of the type of gun, whether prohibited or not, are classified by the RCMP, then approved by the minister. When the RCMP makes a decision, the minister cannot reverse that decision.
Furthermore, standards governing the classification of new products—in other words, new guns—the modification of firearms or ammunition, and even the review of information on classification are set out in the Criminal Code. Bill C-42 grants the minister another new power whereby, by regulation of course, and through exceptions, the minister can determine on his own, in his infinite wisdom, how firearms will be classified, obviously bypassing the RCMP and the Criminal Code.
What does this mean, in concrete terms? This means that the minister could decide, by regulation, to classify guns that would normally fit the definition of a prohibited or restricted weapon as non-restricted firearms. He could even decide that weapons that are normally prohibited could be restricted or non-restricted. He could therefore decide that even automatic weapons could be classified as restricted or non-restricted. Basically, this bill puts the power to decide whether a weapon should be prohibited in Canada into the hands of a politician, the public safety minister.
If the RCMP no longer has a say in firearms classification, then who is going to advise the minister? The RCMP is the appropriate body to do so and has the experience with firearms, having seen a few. Is the firearms lobby going to advise the minister as to whether or not a firearm is prohibited? Will Gary Mauser, their big expert they keep talking about here in the House, step in? He wrote a very good book that I invite my colleagues to read, entitled “Manipulating Public Opinion”. I do not know whether there is a link between public opinion and guns, but there could be because we have been watching the Conservatives since 2006 and they are pretty good at manipulating public opinion. In that sense, I have to hand it to them that Mr. Mauser is a good advisor.
That brings me to the next point. Currently, the provincial and territorial chief firearms officers are responsible for implementing the Firearms Act and setting standards for licences and authorizations to carry and transport, transfers of firearms, and record keeping.
This bill would limit by regulation the authority of the chief firearms officer. The premier of Quebec and also Mr. Fournier are completely opposed to the bill. Thus, Quebec is opposed to the bill, but it is not the first time that this government has not listened to the provinces.
If this government is really concerned about public safety and wants to do something intelligent about it, it should instead quickly implement the firearms marking regulations, which it has delayed since 2006. I have been closely following this file since 2006. Firearms marking would make it possible for us to know where firearms in Canada are coming from. Information such as the place or date of manufacture, the manufacturer and the series number is described in detail in the regulations.
It is ridiculous that we currently have marked firearms in Canada because of the United States. It is not a Canadian government initiative, but a U.S. initiative that has led to the mandatory marking of firearms by the manufacturer. The U.S. honours the contracts and agreements it signs with other countries. We have still not implemented that decree, and we do not always honour the agreements that we have signed. We have delayed this one every year.
We have the U.S. government to thank for the fact that some of the firearms that come into Canada are marked, since they come across that border. However, some firearms that come in through channels other than the U.S. border and from some European countries are not marked. Unmarked firearms are extremely difficult to track, so they are the most tempting to the criminal world.
I listened to the debate on Monday, and I have been listening to the Conservatives talk about firearms since 2006. They always talk about the illegal trafficking of firearms. We all agree that we need to combat the illegal trafficking of firearms, but if firearms are unmarked, how can we start to combat illegal trafficking?
Here is a little lesson in criminology: marking is a theft prevention mechanism. A marked firearm is easier to track and is therefore less attractive to criminals. Furthermore, marking is also used to protect firearm owners. Marking is certainly necessary in the fight against gun trafficking, but border controls are also important.
Let us have a little criminology 101.1 lesson: 80% of illegal weapons in Canada come through the United States. The Internet gives people access to all sorts of ways of buying weapons and bringing them to Canada. Nevertheless, since 2006, this government has done nothing but cut the CBSA's budget and shut down a number of border crossings in the regions. The CBSA's budget for 2014-15 will be cut by $143 million. That means that 1,351 jobs will be cut, including those of 325 border officers and about a hundred intelligence officers.
If we want to crack down on the smuggling of firearms, we simply need to allow our agencies to trace these weapons and stop the traffickers. If there is no one at our border crossings and cuts are being made, we are not going to be able to solve this problem.
In closing, I would like to show how ridiculous this situation is. The Conservatives are passing laws that will put more prohibited weapons in circulation. They still have not done anything regarding firearms marking, and they are cutting the CBSA's budget. Then they are wondering why there are illegal firearms in Canada.