Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to the legislative measure introduced by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, which proposes changes to Canada's firearms classification system.
Our government pledged to take measures to protect Canadian communities from armed violence. We believe in balanced and effective gun control that puts public safety first without subjecting law-abiding firearms owners to unfair treatment. Unfortunately, the legislative measure we are debating is contrary to both of those principles.
Bill C-230 would amend the Criminal Code to provide a definition of the term “variant”. This term is already used in the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited, Restricted or Non-Restricted made in accordance with the Criminal Code, to indicate variants to prescribed firearms that are already listed.
It was added in 1992 in response to the considerable increase in new firearm models available in the civilian market. The intent was to ensure that new firearms entering the market between regulation updates would be covered until the next update.
Although the term is not explicitly defined, the RCMP determines what constitutes a variant by using long-standing, well-established criteria and a standardized process to assess whether there is a connection between the firearm in question and a firearm prescribed under the regulations. If the RCMP determines that a firearm is a variant of another weapon that is already included in the regulations, the firearm is automatically classified as a restricted or prohibited firearm.
Under Bill C-230, a variant would be defined as “a firearm that has the unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm”. That would be a change from the RCMP's long-standing, well-established criteria.
The bill would also amend the definitions of restricted and prohibited firearms in the Criminal Code by making all newly defined variants prohibited or restricted firearms.
While I am certain that the intention behind the proposal is honourable, I must acknowledge that it is not one our government can support. If such a definition were to be established, it would have a number of significant and problematic sequences. During my time today, I will focus on the two most problematic elements from our government's perspective.
It would mean a massive and indiscriminate reclassification of firearms. Because the proposed definition does not reflect the well-established criteria that the RCMP uses to assess whether a firearm is a variant, it would cause tens of thousands of firearms to be reclassified. Many firearms would move unnecessarily from their present classification to a more-controlled class, including certain hunting rifles and shotguns. Indeed, some currently non-restricted hunting rifles and shotguns would become restricted. We should keep in mind that restricted firearms are not permitted to be used for hunting.
Given that many gun owners may have the licence privileges to own a restricted firearm, they would suddenly find themselves in illegal possession of their firearms. To come back into compliance, they would have to apply to the RCMP for a restricted licence, which is available under the Firearms Act for use in lawful occupation, gun collecting, target shooting, or competition at an approved shooting range or club. Therefore, in effect the bill would mean that many hunters and other responsible gun owners would have to dispose of their firearms because those would simply not be the purposes for which they owned their guns.
On the one hand, Bill C-230 would move many firearms to a more restricted class to the detriment of law-abiding gun owners. Yet, on the other hand, it would also have the effect of reclassifying thousands of firearms to a less controlled class, with potentially serious repercussions.
Permit me to draw the attention of members to one particularly troubling example from a public safety perspective. Under this legislation, certain prohibited assault weapons would become non-restricted. Presently, for example, a semi-automatic firearm that is a variant of the AK-47 assault rifle is prohibited based on the regulations. However, if we were to adopt the proposed definition of a variant in Bill C-230, in other words, a firearm that has an unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm, a firearm virtually identical to the AK-47 could become non-restricted. This would occur because, according to the proposed definition, the slightest change of the design of the frame or receiver of the firearm would mean that it would no longer be considered a variant of a virtually identical gun.
As a result, we would likely see a dramatic increase in the circulation of firearms that are currently prohibited because they would become available to some two million licence holders. People would be able to import, own, transfer, and transport these firearms more freely. What is more, we would not be able to track these weapons because it is not mandatory to register unrestricted firearms.
I hope that members on all sides of the House will agree that this raises serious public safety concerns and provides a lot of food for thought. This bill also flies in the face of our government's promise to get dangerous assault rifles off the streets.
I can guarantee members on all sides of the House that the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness are working diligently to keep this important election promise.
As I said from the start, we will maintain a balanced and effective firearms policy that makes public safety a priority while ensuring that law-abiding gun owners are treated with fairness and respect.
Our government will continue to work with all Canadians, including gun owners, to meet our common goal of reducing gun violence in Canada.