Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House to debate Bill C-346, an act to amend the Firearms Act, and to perhaps straighten out some of the misconceptions that have been put on record today by the third party and the parliamentary secretary.
The legislation was introduced by my Conservative colleague, the member of Parliament for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies and at this time I would like to thank my friend, now my seatmate, for his work in supporting Canada's firearms owners and for bringing common sense forward as a solution that I know many have long called for.
Far too often gun legislation and responsible firearms owners have been treated unfairly. I am not here today to relive Bill C-68 and it is not my intention to rehash old battles. I know there are many new members in the House who were not around to deal with the common-sense firearms act that was passed in the last Parliament. For the benefit of those following the debate, it was the Conservative government's legislation that enacted simple and safe firearms policies and streamlined the licensing system.
The legislation amended the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code to create a six-month grace period at the end of a five-year licence to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for a paperwork delay. The legislation also streamlined the licensing system by eliminating the possession-only licence and converting all of the existing licences to possession and acquisition licences. The other important elements of the legislation were to make classroom participation in firearm safety training mandatory for first-time licence applicants and to strengthen provisions relating to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person is convicted for an offence involving domestic violence. While the Liberals and the NDP voted against these common-sense measures, I can assure members of the House that constituents of theirs who are firearms owners openly celebrated the passage of the bill.
As a member of Parliament who represents countless firearms owners, I can say that I unequivocally support their right to own and use firearms. However, with this right comes great responsibility. I support their right to hunt wild game for either sustenance or as a traditional way of life. I support their right to take part in sport shooting. I recognize that firearms are a tool for farmers and those who live in rural Canada, and last of all, many Canadians are devout collectors of firearms and are passionate about their hobby.
It was the previous Conservative government that eliminated the ineffective and costly long gun registry, even with the help of a few NDP members.
Furthermore, former colleague Rick Norlock passed his private member's bill to designate a National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day and it was the Conservative government that created the national hunting and angling advisory panel. For far too long, Canadian firearms owners who abide by the law and cross their t's and dot their i's have tried their best to follow the rules and regulations, even when it was abundantly clear they were not always designed in the most coherent fashion.
Bill C-346 builds on the Conservative caucus's long and proud history of defending the rights of Canadian firearms owners. The bill builds on the progress made to ensure common-sense legislation that allows Canadians to become licensed firearms owners in a structured, yet simple mannered process, without compromising the security of Canadians. While much has been done to correct many of the wrongs that the previous Chrétien government implemented, it is good to see that Bill C-346 is being debated today.
The goal of the bill is quite simple. It is aimed at preventing honest, law-abiding firearms owners from being unjustly charged and becoming criminals. Bill C-346 aims to ensure that no law-abiding firearms owner is criminalized for an administrative issue. As the law currently states, should firearms owners fail to have their paperwork finalized when renewing their licences, they can be criminalized. We do, however, take issue when law-abiding individuals can be unfairly criminalized through no fault of their own. Let me explain.
The Firearms Act, as it currently stands, fails to address the issue that paperwork delays do not always occur due to the fault of the firearms owner but also due to the fault of the government. Indeed, the Phoenix pay system has made it quite clear that the government does not always run as smoothly as possible.
If departmental staff delay the processing of a licence application or a renewal, there are no safeguards built into the existing legislation that protect the gun owner from being criminalized. This is wrong. That is why I am pleased to support the legislation, as it will address this problem. If passed, C-346 will amend the Firearms Act to eliminate the expiry date of firearms licences, but includes the mandatory provision that the licence holder must update the relevant information every 10 years.
This is a positive step for licence holders, as they no longer have to worry every five years about the expiry of their licences. For those who think this would be too long of a period, let me just remind the House that our passports now have a 10-year life cycle. I think we can all agree that this change has been very widely celebrated as it has reduced the inconvenience of getting a new passport photo and filling out the paperwork every five years, let alone every year.
As well, Bill C-346 would not revoke the licences of gun owners who have not updated their information. Should a gun owner fail to update their information, the licence is subsequently suspended. Such a suspension can be cancelled as soon as the necessary required information has been provided to the proper authorities. It further states that no licence may be revoked simply because it is suspended due to the required information not being provided.
This is a crucial part of the legislation. It makes the process far easier to navigate for law-abiding firearms owners, as they would no longer have to go through the process for applying for a brand new licence, should they fail to get the required information in on time. Their licence would simply be suspended until said information is provided. We see no reason to continue to make the process unnecessarily onerous and criminalize individuals who have done nothing wrong.
This new legislation also includes a relinquishment section. Many firearms owners who no longer wish to have their licences, simply do not send in their information so that their licence is cancelled. If Bill C-346 is passed, this would not happen, as the licence would be classified as suspended.
Obviously the Liberals, at least the member for Ajax, never read the motion. The relinquishment section of the legislation allows an individual who no longer wishes to keep their firearms licence, to voluntarily surrender their licence to a chief firearms officer with no negative consequences. This ensures that any individual wishing to let go of their firearms licence would be able to do so in a simple manner.
Another reason this proposed change should come into force is that the RCMP continuous eligibility system, which verifies the validity and conditions of licence requirements every single day, has proven itself effective over the years. This system ensures that any offence that would immediately suspend or revoke a licence is provided to the appropriate law enforcement, and as the law enforcement will have the most up-to-date address for the individual who committed the offence, it would easily allow for the licence to be suspended or permanently revoked.
However, the safeguards built into the system say that if an individual does not update their information, they would not be allowed to purchase a firearm or ammunition from any supplier. This is a reasonable condition to place upon any firearms owner.
In closing, I believe that law-abiding duck hunters, deer hunters, sports shooters, among others, are responsible members of their communities, and when safety measures are followed, provide no threat to others. For far too long, firearms owners have not been treated with respect.
The member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, the former minister of public safety and the current member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, and our current chair of the Conservative hunting and angling caucus, my friend from Red Deer—Lacombe, among others, have played an integral role in defending and promoting the rights of firearms owners, and I commend their efforts.
Also, I feel the efforts of our law enforcement officials should be invested in tackling the illegal gun market and those who commit heinous and violent acts of crime. Let us work together to ensure that the firearms regime is targeting those we need to target, those who have demonstrated they pose a threat to society. In particular, these efforts could be aimed at the safety of women and children in their homes.
I encourage all members to vote in favour of the legislation and to open a dialogue with their constituents who own firearms to hear how these measures are a step in the right direction.