Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support my colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, and his private member's bill, Bill C-230, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code by defining the term “variant” as it pertains to firearms. I was honoured to be a seconder of this piece of legislation. As a Canadian firearm enthusiast, this is an issue that is dear to my heart.
Currently, the word “variant” is used extensively in the schedule of regulations that lists the firearms that are prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted in Canada. However, the term “variant” is not legally defined in either the code or the Firearms Act. This lack of definition has led to numerous firearm classification errors and much confusion.
Public Safety Canada uses the term “variant” as a way to classify future firearms that are generally of the same make and type as firearms already listed in the regulations, but have slight differences such as barrel length or cartridge size. Based on this undefined term, over 4,000 firearms have been classified as variants. It is because the term is vague and possesses no clear definition that numerous firearms have been prohibited or restricted because they were named as variants of other firearms.
Members might be aware of the Mossberg Blaze and Mossberg Blaze 47 case. The Blaze is a non-restricted .22 caliber rifle. The Blaze 47 is listed as an AK-47 variant, an assault rifle that is prohibited. Yet the Blaze and the Blaze 47 are virtually identical. They are both .22 caliber rifles, which is a common caliber of rifle in our country. The .22 is one of the most widely owned firearms in Canada.
How did a .22 caliber rifle come to be listed as an assault rifle? It happened partly because there was no clear definition of what a variant actually was, and because the definition was left open to interpretation. The Blaze and the Blaze 47 are essentially identical guns, but the Blaze 47 differs in appearance because it was manufactured with a plastic stock to make it resemble an AK-47.
When the widely available Blaze 47 was reclassified, Canadian firearms owners suddenly found themselves in possession of a prohibited firearm for no other reason than it had a plastic stock that made it look like an assault rifle. The reclassification did not take into account that the fundamental parts of both firearms were identical, and that the fundamental parts belonged to the non-restricted .22 rifle, not the assault rifle.
The inconsistent firearms classifications have repercussions for law-abiding firearm owners and sellers. Based on unclear guidelines, firearms that have been legally sold for decades can suddenly be reclassified as prohibited. That reclassification essentially bans them, leaving sellers with inventory they cannot sell and owners who may be at risk of prosecution when they suddenly find themselves in unlawful possession of a newly prohibited firearm.
I am sure everyone here agrees that there are certain weapons that should be, and rightly are, restricted or prohibited. No one is arguing about that. However, it is neither fair nor scientific to prohibit or restrict a firearm when the criteria for that restriction are unclear and imprecise, and sometimes come after the fact.
Canadian firearms owners and sellers alike have the right to demand that gun classifications be based on fact. We need a classification system that is clear and consistent. In fact, when it comes to public safety, the general public has a right to demand clarity. We must have confidence in the system that classifies firearms in Canada.
The member's bill would do just that. Bill C-230 proposes to amend the Criminal Code by defining the term “variant” to mean a firearm that has an unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm. This definition makes clear exactly what the essential criteria are for consideration when a firearm is a variant of another firearm. There is no guesswork involved. A firearm would no longer be restricted or prohibited simply because it looks like a restricted or prohibited firearm.
Logically, this makes sense. We would base our gun classification system on science rather than on unspecified criteria that are open to interpretation. Had this system been in place, the recent controversy regarding the reclassification of the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles and their variants would never have occurred.
Since 2001, these rifles have been legally imported and sold in Canada. Depending on barrel length, they are either restricted or non-restricted. In 2014, an identical looking rifle showed up in Canada. However, beyond the look, it was repainted to look like the Classic Green. The firearm was made with a different receiver that made it into a military-style weapon.
Rather than ban the entire class of Swiss Arms rifles, a proper classification would have allowed the Classic Green to remain as it was while a similar-looking military weapon would have been banned. Not only does improper classification create headaches for firearms sellers and owners, the resulting uproar has led to further inquiries and calls for investigations that eat up taxpayer dollars unnecessarily.
Past instances of improper classifications have led to ministerial interventions, which have ultimately resulted in orders to declare amnesty for law-abiding firearms owners. While this is one way of dealing with unclear legislation, it is certainly not the most effective way.
I have given only two examples so far of problems that have occurred due to a piece of legislation that is left too vague to be effective. In the past, classification was based on imprecise parameters that led to glaring errors in firearm classification. The member is proposing a simple, yet highly effective amendment to the Criminal Code that would clearly define exactly what a firearm variant is.
The amendment would eliminate the need for guesswork. It would allow the public to have confidence in our firearm classification process and for proper administration of the firearms program. Bill C-230 would not only streamline the classification process, it would bring transparency and effectiveness to the classification system. I urge all of my colleagues to support this much-needed piece of legislation.
I have another story that I would like to share. I was recently at my local gas station, the Fas Gas in Calmar, Alberta. It had a series of miniature firearms at the counter, which are actually cigarette lighters. I was informed by a series of letters from my riding that some of them could be considered variant firearms and could even be placed on the variant firearm list. It is a cigarette lighter.
Another area where this term “variant” can come into play is in the sport of paintball. I am not sure if members have ever played paintball, but it is a series of training activities with rifles that feel real and shoot paint rather than live rounds. Practice scenarios can be done with them. It is a growing sport in this country. A scenario could play out that one of these paintball markers could be classified as a variant of a firearm and, therefore, become a prohibited item in Canadian law.
I strongly support the bill introduced by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. It would clarify the law, ensure that law-abiding citizens are not suddenly found to be in possession of prohibited items, and ensure that going forward there will be clear, concise, confident laws that we can all understand.