Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about Bill C-346. For those who have just joined us, Bill C-346 amends the Firearms Act to eliminate the expiration of firearms licences for those over the age of 18. It essentially makes licences valid for life, only requiring an update of information every 10 years, with a penalty of a licence suspension if the information is not updated.
The current legislation requires owners of firearms to renew their licence every five years. As part of the process, they must update the information relevant to their licence eligibility. I will discuss this in further detail, but at this point I would like to clearly state that this does not seem like an overly onerous requirement to balance against the requirement and responsibility of having a firearms licence.
I believe everyone in this place can agree that we want to keep firearms out of the hands of people who could be dangerous. Our safety and the safety of our communities is paramount. Canadians, including my constituents, want to live in a country with effective gun regulations.
Millions of Canadians lawfully and responsibly own firearms. Responsible firearms owners understand why it is important for firearms to be kept out of the wrong hands. As of Sunday, the Toronto police showed that 324 shootings had occurred in the city of Toronto this year, including 26 shootings in my community.
Canadians understand the importance of doing everything to combat gun crime and to keep communities safe. This includes keeping firearms out of the hands of individuals who can be dangerous. At the heart of this is the fact that whenever we talk about guns, we need to focus on responsible gun ownership and the safety of our communities.
Our government believes in an effective approach that prioritizes public safety while respecting law-abiding firearms owners. The fundamental principle of the Firearms Act is ensuring public safety. Bill C-346 disturbs the balance, and for that reason, I cannot support this bill.
First, I cannot support the primary premise of this bill, which appears to be that the current requirements that a firearms owner renew their licence every five years is too onerous. I talk all the time with my kids about privileges and responsibilities, that when we have certain privileges, we must accept the responsibilities that come along with those privileges. For example, many Canadians have the privilege of driving a car. We all accept that that this privilege comes with the responsibility of driving the cars responsibly, and of renewing licences to ensure that the driver continues to meet the eligibility requirements, including whether or not the driver still meets the eyesight requirements?
That is the idea. Under the current legislation, every five years a responsible firearms owner must renew their licence. They update the information relevant to their licence eligibility. A renewal notice is sent to licensees about 90 days prior to expiry, and they have a six-month grace period if, for some reason, the licence is not renewed within that timeline.
The licence renewal forms can be completed online, and the cost is $60 for five years. Does this sound too onerous a responsibility for maintaining and fulfilling the obligations of having the privilege of maintaining lawful firearms ownership? It does not to me.
What I cannot understand is the problem that the member across the way wants to address. I can understand that we would want to see people update their information and to keep their eligibility information current. I cannot accept that we would be promoting responsible firearm ownership, or keeping our communities safe, by taking away this renewal every five years.
We can all logically understand the principle behind license renewals. Circumstances change, and we can all understand that an individual might qualify for a firearms license at one point but in the future might not meet the requirements. Under the current regime the information collected every five years is critical to protecting the public. It is an invaluable tool for the chief firearms officers, who review the information to determine whether there are safety risks associated with allowing an individual continued lawful access to firearms.
One of the most critical parts of the current five-year licence information update is what information can be investigated under section 55 of the Firearms Act to determine whether an applicant is eligible to hold a licence. Subsection 55(1) states:
A chief firearms officer or the Registrar may require an applicant for a licence or authorization to submit such information, in addition to that included in the application, as may reasonably be regarded as relevant for the purpose of determining whether the applicant is eligible to hold the licence or authorization.
Subsection 55(2) states:
Without restricting the scope of the inquiries that may be made with respect to an application for a licence, a chief firearms officer may conduct an investigation of the applicant, which may consist of interviews with neighbours, community workers, social workers, individuals who work or live with the applicant, spouse or common-law partner, former spouse or former common-law partner, dependants or whomever in the opinion of the chief firearms officer may provide information pertaining to whether the applicant is eligible under section 5 to hold a licence.
A firearms licence holder's personal situation, including mental health, employment, and marital status, can change numerous times in a 10-year period. By moving the requirement to update the chief firearms officer every 10 years, it will make it more difficult to determine all the factors in a person's changing life.
I also would like to address a specific part of the renewal eligibility requirements that should be emphasized and viewed through a gender-based analysis. One aspect of licence renewal eligibility concerns the owner's role in domestic violence. The key part of the five-year licence information update is that current or former partners of an individual may be contacted about concerns regarding extending the privilege of that person to acquire a firearm and to continue with his or her licence.
A 2011 Statistics Canada report on family violence in Canada found that from 2001 to 2009, in 53% of spousal murder-suicides, the cause of death was shooting. According to the RCMP 2015 Commissioner of Firearms report, in 2015, almost 400,000 new or renewed individual licenses were issued, and 688 applications were refused. Of these refusals, 40 were because of domestic violence.
I am proud that our government has adopted Canada's first gender-based violence strategy. Taking that into account, and the fact that women who leave an abusive spouse are at particular risk of violence, it seems reasonable to me that we have a system that allows for this factor to be reviewed every five years. I should add that domestic violence can be the basis for a licence to be revoked if an issue arises before the five-year renewal, but every five years, we have a chance to review.
I would add that 112 of the refusals were because of mental health, 203 refusals were because there was a concern that a person would be a danger to him or herself, and 132 refusals were because there was a concern that a person would be a danger to others. The refusals were just a handful of the new and renewed licences issued, as we would hope and expect. However, can we not all agree that it is better for us to remove the privilege that comes with a firearms licence from a person who is involved in domestic violence and is viewed as a threat to him or herself or as a danger to others? Is that not at the heart of public safety?
This is not just a question of renewing a licence every five or 10 years. Under this proposed legislation, if the licence is not updated at the 10-year timeline, it does not expire. It is not a 10-year licence that expires. At 10 years, the licence is suspended.
My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, laid out very clearly all the unanswered questions in Bill C-346 in respect of suspension. It is not a defined term in the legislation. What does a license suspension mean? Would people who have suspended licences be allowed to continue possessing firearms? Would they be allowed to purchase ammunition? Would they be allowed to buy, sell, or trade firearms? Can a suspended licence be confiscated? All this ambiguity in the Firearms Act is unacceptable, and it clearly does not prioritize public safety.
I understand that when we talk about all these matters in the House, there are different perspectives. I have heard them. I am not a gun owner, and I represent a community of fewer gun owners that many of my colleagues. I understand that. In my community, there are incidents of shootings that make the community feel unsafe. Two weeks ago, a man was shot a couple of blocks from my house, with a child in a vehicle. I spoke to constituents recently who have bullet holes and broken windows from a shooting at the beginning of the summer.
Our government will be implementing measures consistent with our platform and will ensure that criminals and individuals who pose a danger to themselves or the public are not able to obtain and use firearms.
I will not be supporting this bill. To me, it is not a heavy burden for gun owners to renew their licences every five years, as the current legislation requires.