Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be the seconder of the bill put forward by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. I commend him for bringing this legislation forward.
Bill C-230 addresses a long-time concern of law-abiding firearms owners in Canada. I support this legislation for three main reasons: it is simple, effective, and most important, just plain common sense.
First, on simplicity, the bill does not attempt to make any sort of wide-sweeping broad reforms as mentioned by the government and the other opposition party. Bill C-230 does not propose to reinvent the wheel when it comes to firearms regulation. It contains three simple clauses that would accomplish a targeted goal: ensuring consistency and transparency for law-abiding firearms owners in Canada.
Second, the bill provides an effective definition of the term “variant” that ensures that firearms that are classified as a variant of another firearm share similar mechanical components and are derived from the original prohibited firearm. The proposed definition states that a variant is defined as a firearm that shares the same unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm. This is an effective definition that would provide greater clarity for law-abiding gun owners and would ensure that decisions surrounding variants will be based on this fundamental definition rather than an inconsistent interpretation of an undefined and vague term.
Third, this legislation is a common-sense reform that would simply bridge the gap between legislation and regulations to ensure greater clarity for gun owners.
The term “variant” is used extensively when it comes to the regulatory framework surrounding firearms, but does not have any kind of legal definition in the Criminal Code or the Firearms Act. For example, the term “variant” is used 99 times in the regulations that govern firearms classifications. A term that is used this extensively in the regulations warrants a formal definition in the legislation. Furthermore, a recent access to information request stated that as of October 16, 2015, there were approximately 4,030 firearms that had been identified as prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted variants. Again, a term that impacts this many firearms deserves to have a clear definition to ensure that it is applied uniformly in all decisions.
I want to take a few moments to present an example of an issue that was created by the term “variant” being undefined.
The recent controversy surrounding the reclassification under variants of the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle, of which I was an owner, is a prime example of the negative consequences that can arise from inconsistent interpretation of this undefined term.
This issue goes all the way back to 2001 when the RCMP determined, based on documentation provided by an importer and the manufacturer, that Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles were semi-automatic variants of the Swiss Arms SG 540. Therefore, they were considered non-restricted or restricted, depending on the length of the barrel of the individual rifle. As a result, these firearms were allowed to be imported and sold in Canada. They were not prohibited firearms. However, in 2014, following a complaint about Swiss Arms rifles, the RCMP determined the rifles and their variants to be descendants of the Swiss Arms SG 550 and therefore were deemed prohibited firearms in Canada.
This was an arbitrary reclassification that made a long-time legal firearm owner, a firearm that I used to own, illegal overnight. With the stroke of a pen, law-abiding owners of Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles found themselves in illegal possession of a legal firearm. The decision eliminated the ability of Swiss Arms owners to obtain a licence to transfer and acquire these firearms, limited the locations where they could be possessed, and imposed enhanced storage and handling obligations by the owners. Furthermore, as I previously stated, it immediately criminalized law-abiding owners of Swiss Arms rifles who found themselves in unlawful possession of a firearm and at the risk of prosecution for unauthorized possession of a firearm under section 91 of the Criminal Code, and again, as the member stated, overnight.
Members may recall that when this decision was made in 2014, the Conservative government reacted strongly to protect law-abiding firearms owners.
The government brought in an amnesty to ensure that Swiss Arms owners would not be prosecuted for owning their once-legal firearms. Furthermore, the government then brought in Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which enacted a number of important measures to reduce the red tape for firearms, as well as measures that allow the Governor in Council to respond to arbitrary classification decisions, such as the Swiss Arms decision.
Bill C-42 was a very important piece of legislation for firearms owners in Canada. Likewise, Bill C-230, is yet another responsible measure to protect law-abiding gun owners from arbitrary and inconsistent interpretation.
If Bill C-230 had been in place when the decision on the Swiss Arms rifles was made, the RCMP would have had to demonstrate that the rifles in fact shared the same unmodified frame or receiver as the SG 550 and were prohibited on this basis.
To wrap up, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this legislation. As I stated in the questions, it is not a partisan issue; it is a clarity issue. There is quite clearly a disconnect between the legislation and the regulations that Bill C-230 is looking to bridge.
This is an important bill for legal firearms owners. I look forward to seeing it pass at second reading, although it looks like there is some opposition. I hope there is some serious second consideration by the parties across the way and beside us to have a real strong second look at this strong legislation.