Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-230, an act to amend the Criminal Code. I would like to thank the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for bringing it forward for discussion and debate in the House. I can understand his clear desire to produce greater clarity and regulations concerning firearms. As he said, it is a laudable goal of the non-partisan nature. I salute him for doing so. However, I will be speaking against the bill, which in my view fails, despite its best intentions, to provide the kind of clarity that the member is seeking.
What would the bill do? It is a very simple bill. It would define the term “variant” in a different way. It is not defined now. It is left to the discretion of the regulator under the regulations. It would simply say in the statute, the Criminal Code, that “variant”, in respect of a firearm, means a firearm that has the “unmodified frame or receiver” of another firearm. That is all it would really do. It would take away the discretion that currently exists and narrow it in that way. In so doing, the member obviously seeks to provide greater clarity.
It then applies that criteria to the existing definitions of “restricted firearms” and “prohibited firearms” by affecting future classifications of a restricted and prohibited firearm, which would have a significant effect on access to firearms across our country.
I understand the member's motivation is to bring clarity to the process of classifying firearms. Law-abiding owners of firearms have often expressed frustration at what they see as the arbitrary classification or reclassification of firearms. Cases like the controversial case surrounding the Mossberg Blaze-47 or the Swiss Arms rifles, to which the member referred, illustrate the need for a more transparent process and a better, more open communication with Canadians. Yet these very firearms enthusiasts have raised serious concerns about the bill before us. Their analysis suggests that this bill would, and they believe, unintentionally, lead to the restriction or prohibition of firearms that would be currently available to properly licensed Canadians as non-restricted firearms. I believe the member is seeking to clarify, not to confiscate, but they fear that is precisely what the unintended consequences of the bill would do.
As I said in a question for the hon. member, there are something like 163,000 firearms currently listed in the Firearms Reference Table, of which over 4,000 are variants. Therefore, the question I would pose to the member is this. Why would one not want to provide continuing flexibility in the regulations themselves so officials could look at various criteria and make their determinations rather than perhaps unintentionally narrowing it, which would be the subject of concern to firearms enthusiasts by simply leading it to the very narrow category that the member has stated, namely of firearms that have the “unmodified frame or receiver” of another firearm? There may be many other criteria, and time permitting I will describe what they are, that need to be taken into account by officials as every day of the week they make this kind of interpretation. Inevitably, there would be some vagueness, I think one has to accept that, but that may make some sense in the public interest, I would suggest.
Any change to gun laws needs to be done with care and precision. The safety of Canadians must always be our top priority. We should be aiming for greater transparency, openness and certainty, not sowing, unintentionally, fresh confusion and concern.
The real question for every Canadian who is concerned about illegal guns and violence, whether they own firearms or not, is this. What is the government's policy?
In the last federal election, the Liberal platform promised four things: first, to take pragmatic action to make it harder for criminals to get and use handguns and assault weapons; second, to repeal elements of the Conservative's Bill C-42; third, to “put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of police, not politicians”, and, fourth, to provide $100 million each year to the provinces and territories to support guns and gangs police task forces to take illegal guns off our streets and reduce gun violence.
Those are the key things I was able to find in the platform to deal with comprehensive firearms reform. Unfortunately, the Liberals have already broken an election promise by once again delaying the gun-marking regulations to help police trace guns used in crimes.
We have not yet seen any legislation to deliver on the promise to make it harder for criminals to access guns or to repeal dangerous elements of Bill C-42, or to put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of firearms experts. In other words, the opaque and politicized system that the current government inherited from its Conservative predecessor remains unchanged.
Canadians expect the government to do better. When it comes to firearm classification, Canadians expect these vital public safety decisions to be made by experts in an open and transparent manner, based on all the available evidence.
Canadians expect their laws to be kept up to date and to be flexible enough to adapt to changing needs and fresh developments without compromising public safety, and it is that which is of concern in this particular bill. There is the lack of flexibility, the lack of giving the officials the tools they need to exercise their discretion appropriately under law. If they make a mistake, they are always subject to judicial review, and there have been several cases in which their discretion has been called to account in the courts. That, I suggest, is how it should be.
The government has promised legislation to meet these standards. It is time the government started to deliver. We should not be making piecemeal reform of firearms legislation on the fly through specific bills from time to time by private members. This bill does not provide the certainty, openness, or transparency that Canadians expect from any reform to firearms legislation.
Again, I thank the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for raising this issue and for representing his constituents who are looking for that clarity from their government. However, given the concerns I have heard from firearm law experts, it is clear the bill may not have the effect that the member intends. Even a more precise bill in this area would only be one part of the broader solution promised to Canadians by this government during the election.
As the government finally develops that policy, I hope the Liberals will consider the member's proposal and consult with Canadians in all parts of the country. Instead of repeating the mistakes of the past or pitting Canadians against one another in this sensitive area, the government has a great opportunity to bring people together around common sense solutions that work.
Although we cannot support a flawed bill, I hope the hard work of the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound spurs the government to make this important public safety issue a priority.