Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-346, An Act to amend the Firearms Act (licences).
As my colleagues know, we campaigned on a promise to implement reasonable, effective measures with respect to firearms that promote public safety while ensuring that law-abiding firearm owners are treated in a fair and reasonable manner.
I believe it is fair and reasonable to require firearm owners to obtain a permit to own firearms. It is also fair and reasonable that people applying for a permit be required to provide information proving that they do not pose a threat, including information about any new mental health conditions as well as the attestation of current or former conjugal partners. It is also fair and reasonable that that information should be updated regularly, since circumstances can change in life.
That is why firearms permits currently have expiry dates. Every five years, firearms owners must apply to have their permits renewed and they must submit updated information on their eligibility. That is fair and reasonable.
Licences for many other things, such as cars, work the same way. However, the bill before us would eliminate the very idea of an expiration date for the firearms licensing system. In other words, this bill would allow people to go 10 years without having to update their licence information. That is not right or reasonable. This bill would not be in the interest of public safety. That is why I cannot support it.
Let us take a closer look at what Bill C-346 is proposing. Under the bill, a firearms licence would essentially be valid for life for any licence holder over 18. The idea behind the licensing provisions of the Firearms Act is to protect public safety by ensuring that applicants are appropriately screened.
The provision of the bill regarding lifetime licences will weaken the regime and undermine the very purpose of the act. What is more, it is dangerous to let people go for 10 years without updating the eligibility information on their permit. The information that is collected every five years under the current regime is critical to protecting the public. It is an invaluable tool for the chief firearms officers who review this information.
Chief firearms officers use this information to determine whether there are safety risks associated with allowing an individual continued access to a firearm. This is done based on the understanding that people's personal circumstances change over time. The chief firearms officers feel it is very important that this information be kept up to date, as do most Canadians.
Neither communities nor law enforcement officers would want a firearm owner who is not eligible to be able to go for 10 years without undergoing any kind of assessment, while maintaining continued access to firearms.
As I mentioned earlier, applicants have to provide a statement from their current or former partner confirming that they are not a threat. This statement is essential for several reasons.
For one thing, studies have shown that battered women are five times more likely to be killed by their aggressor if he owns a firearm. A study by the Violence Policy Center in the United States showed that nearly two-thirds of the women murdered with a firearm were killed by their intimate partner.
If that is not proof enough, we are seeing more and more evidence of the link between domestic violence and mass shootings. A recent American study that looked at mass shootings between 2009 and 2014 showed that 57% of them involved the murder of a family member or a current or former intimate partner.
If we were to pass this bill, a person could have serious concerns about a former partner owning a firearm, but Canadian authorities would be unaware of those concerns for 10 years.
Let us look at what would happen after 10 years if new information about eligibility were not supplied. First, the licence would not expire because it would have no expiration date. Essentially, the bill introduces the concept of a suspended licence for those who do not renew their licence, and it enables people to voluntarily relinquish their licence.
However, this proposed legislation does not adequately explain what a suspended licence means. The concept of a suspended firearms licence does not exist in the Firearms Act, nor is it defined in the Criminal Code.
There is nothing in the bill before us that defines this concept. It would introduce a vague system that would create uncertainty and jeopardize public safety. For example, if a person's licence is suspended, can that person buy, sell, or exchange a non-restricted firearm? The bill does not say.
Since the bill does not explain how it would amend the Firearms Act with regard to the transfer of non-restricted firearms, a person could buy a non-restricted firearm with a suspended licence, because their laminated card would still look valid.
By all accounts, this is not the only point on which this bill is too vague. It also fails to state whether people who continue to possess firearms after their licence is suspended could continue to hold a suspended licence, even though this would violate our firearms laws. We still do not know whether this means that those who have access to restricted or prohibited firearms could simply choose to allow their licence to be suspended indefinitely while still possessing a non-restricted firearm.
This type of omission is unacceptable in a bill dealing with such an important issue as firearms and community safety. The bill's inconsistencies go against the government's sensible and effective approach to firearms. In the past two years, the government has implemented reasonable basic measures to ensure Canadians' safety, while continuing to treat responsible firearm owners in a fair and respectful manner.
The government allowed decisions on technical classifications to be made by the law enforcement community rather than allowing politics, instead of public safety, to determine how a gun is classified. These decisions are made by the RCMP, in accordance with criteria established by Parliament in the Criminal Code and other regulatory regimes.
The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness overturned a ministerial directive from the previous government that would have allowed firearms manufacturers to determine the classification of their own products, and a new and more representative Canadian firearms advisory committee was established. It includes representatives of women's groups and public health organizations, as well as police and the firearms community. That makes sense, because decisions about firearms concern all of us.
In summary, we are putting public safety first while remaining respectful of responsible gun owners. Since Bill C-346 does not make public safety a priority, I invite all honourable members to join me in opposing it.