moved that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearm — definition of variant). This is a straightforward piece of legislation that will provide much-needed clarity for law-abiding firearms owners across Canada.
Today, I would like to explain to the House why I am bringing this legislation forward, the problems surrounding variant firearms, how this legislation will help solve the problem, and why I believe this bill should be considered further at committee.
Before I do so, I would like to take a moment to thank the member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies for seconding the bill and for all of the important work that he does for hunters, anglers, and sports shooters in Canada.
I have owned and handled firearms for a number of years, basically all of my life. I am a very proud and law-abiding gun owner. However, one thing that has always bugged me and irritated a lot of law-abiding gun owners and hunters is the stigma that some people attach to the firearms community. Let me be very clear: owning a gun does not make someone a criminal. As I said, I am a law-abiding gun owner. I have many friends and family who are law-abiding gun owners. Most people who own firearms in Canada are law-abiding gun owners.
Sadly, though, time and time again, we see gun owners who are presumed to be dangerous. The stigma has worked its way into our regulatory system and, in my mind, it is high time that we bring some common sense, fairness, and clarity to the system.
There were two pieces of legislation, which were brought in under the previous Conservative government, that worked toward creating a better system for law-abiding firearms owners in Canada. I was proud to support Bill C-19, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, and was pleased that it received royal assent in 2012. This legislation was extremely important to hunters and firearms owners across the country. The long-gun registry was a colossal waste of money, was ineffective, and it simply did not make sense.
Furthermore, in 2015, Bill C-42, Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, received royal assent. Measures in this bill included merging the POL and PAL licences, giving the Governor in Council the ability to reverse arbitrary firearms classification decisions, a grace period at the expiry of licences, authorizations to transport as conditions of licence, mandatory firearms safety courses for first-time gun owners, and prohibitions for those who are convicted of domestic violence offences. That is just to name a few of the measures.
These were all very common-sense reforms that were welcomed by firearms owners across the country. I would like to highlight one of the measures in particular, as it deals directly with the purpose of my Bill C-230.
Bill C-42 came in response to a seemingly random classification decision in 2014 regarding the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifles. This was a decision that was made overnight, wherein the RCMP classified the Swiss Arms as a variant of the SG 540, a restricted firearm in Canada.
There were a number of problems that resulted from this decision. Since 2001, the Swiss Arms rifles had been legal, non-restricted firearms in Canada, and with the stroke of a pen, many owners of these firearms found themselves in unlawful possession, without a clear explanation of the decision to reclassify. In simple terms, one night these guns were legal, and the next morning they were not. I think members can understand the frustration of law-abiding gun owners.
This all stems from the fact that there is no legal definition for the term “variant”. Firearms are under the purview of two different acts in Canada, part three of the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. These two acts form the basis for the regulatory framework that is used when it comes to firearms. Specifically when it comes to classifications of firearms, it is the Criminal Code and 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, that are the two important legislative pieces.
Furthermore, it is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canadian firearms program that is responsible for the administration of legislation and regulations, which includes determining the classification of firearms based upon criteria in the Criminal Code.
It has been in my mind, and in the minds of many other firearms owners across Canada, that there is a significant disconnect between the legislation and regulations surrounding the term variant. This term is used nearly 100 times in the regulations to classify firearms as prohibited, restricted, or non-restricted, but there is no clear sense of what this term actually means. It has been used extensively to reclassify firearms in cases similar to the Swiss Arms decision, without any clear explanation of the purpose for the reclassification. In simple terms, it is continually misinterpreted, and therein lies the problem.
Firearms owners have been left scratching their heads wondering how is it possible for these seemingly random decisions to be made. This is my reason for bringing this legislation forward. We need some clarity here. There is no room for vague interpretation on a case-by-case basis. In fact, if the bill were passed, it should actually make the job of RCMP members who are responsible for this law much easier.
As legislators, it is our job to ensure that those who are tasked with interpreting the laws we create are clear on the intentions of the legislation. This would provide clarity, not only for firearms owners but, as I said, also for the RCMP firearms program. They will finally have a benchmark on which they will be able to make clear and consistent classification decisions.
Bill C-230 proposes that a variant of a firearm be defined as “a firearm that has the unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm”. This will ensure that firearms that are classified as variants do in fact share fundamental mechanical pieces and therefore warrants the firearm to have the same classification as the previously classified firearm.
Having this definition added to the Criminal Code will ensure that the regulations surrounding firearms classifications are well informed and consistent with the intent of the legislation on which they are based. It will eliminate inconsistent and arbitrary interpretation and provide much-needed clarity for firearms owners and, as I always like to point out, law-abiding firearms owners.
It is rare that a piece of legislation is perfect on the first draft, and I want to pledge that my goal is to fix a problem. I have worked with a lot of people on this, and I am willing to work with the government to fix a problem that needs to be fixed. Basically, I am saying that if there is an amendment to the bill that makes it better, I am open to it and we will see where it goes. There may be members and outside stakeholders who will have concerns with certain elements of the bill. I welcome all feedback.
I feel that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security would be the perfect place to have this discussion. I see both the chair of that committee and the parliamentary secretary are here today. I want to thank both of them for their interest in being here and hearing what I have to say on the bill.
I see this legislation as less of a partisan matter and more a matter of clarity and responsible legislation. No matter what one's ideology on firearms and gun control is, I think that all members can and should agree that we need clear legislation that is free of vague and inconsistent interpretation. This is what I am hoping to accomplish with the bill.
Finally, I would like to thank the Canadian Shooting Sports Association for all of the help and guidance it has provided in the drafting of the bill. The CSSA knows this issue well and has heard loud and clear from its members that this problem must be solved. President Tony Bernardo and his team have been strong advocates for this legislation, and I would like to thank them for that support and for their input.
I also want to thank Mr. Greg Farrant of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for his input as well, and the many responsible firearms owners across the country I have heard from. I have received support and suggestions from firearms owners in every province and territory across this country, and I still welcome that.
In closing, I want to make it very clear that I fully support good regulation and legislation that ensures that only responsible Canadians own and operate firearms in this country. Criminals and irresponsible gun owners affect the reputation of people like me, and all law-abiding gun owners. We do not want or need that.
Leaving it at that, I look forward to the debate today in the first hour of second reading. I am very happy to take questions from my honourable colleagues.