Mr. Speaker, there is little evidence to justify the many changes found in the Liberals' firearms legislation proposed as Bill C-71. They are trying to fix a problem that does not exist. In fact, they would only further burden law-abiding firearms owners rather than actually going after people who commit crimes. I, for one, would prefer that our law enforcement agencies and the Government of Canada spend their time, energy, and resources on cracking down on gangs and criminals.
To step back for a moment, law-abiding firearms owners do not trust the Liberal government. They do not believe that the changes found in Bill C-71 would actually make our streets safer or put criminals behind bars.
I want to focus my comments on two aspects of the legislation that are deeply flawed and why I believe the bill must be defeated.
In the last Parliament, our previous Conservative government passed the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. Found in that legislation was the sensible change of introducing an automatic authorization to transport firearms. This meant that individuals were no longer required to contact the RCMP for certain routine and lawful activities as it became a condition of a restricted PAL holder's licence. This was a common-sense change. Why would law-abiding licensed owners need to notify the RCMP that they were taking their licensed firearm to a firing range? By adding the authorization to transport their firearm as part of their licence, it freed up valuable RCMP resources. It must be said that if the firearms owners did not follow the conditions as part of their licence, they would have it revoked, which is a very severe punishment.
If the government is going to give someone the right to own a firearm, to shoot a firearm, to store a firearm, to compete with a firearm, why would we not give them the automatic right to transport a firearm?
Found in the legislation, the Liberals are reverting to the old ways of not trusting responsible law-abiding Canadians to automatically transfer their firearms. Why? Well, they think it suits their political needs, and there is ample evidence to back that statement.
Before the last election, the Liberal Party went as far as scaring the public by suggesting that an automatic authorization to transport firearms was going to make Canada less safe. During question period on November 26, 2014, the now leader of the Liberals said that the right to have an automatic authorization to transfer a firearm would “allow handguns and assault weapons to be freely transported in a trunk anywhere within a province, even left parked outside a Canadian Tire or local hockey arena”. This was and remains a very erroneous statement. The law is quite clear when it says that one is only allowed to transport prohibited or restricted firearms “between two or more specified places for any good and sufficient reason”. If we dig even further into the regulations, it says that they must transfer their firearms by “reasonably direct” routes.
While the Liberals are entitled to their opinions, they are not entitled to ignore the facts. They cannot just purport something to be true while the law says something completely different.
For those thinking that calling up the RCMP every time they want to get authorization to transport a firearm is not that big a deal, let me put on the record the number of times the RCMP previously had to go through this process. Since 2008, the RCMP issued 992,139 authorizations. That is almost one million phone calls. For argument's sake, let us just say that it takes an average of eight minutes to get this process done. That is 132,285 hours that the RCMP could have used on investigating crimes and patrolling our streets and highways.
Now that we have established the inordinate amount of time this process takes, with little evidence that it actually enhances public safety, let us dig further into the numbers. If we really think that the RCMP's issuing authorization to firearms is doing something to keep our streets safe, people might want to know that over the past seven years, out of close to one million authorizations issued, only 17 have been refused. This would indicate that it is a fruitless endeavour that really does not accomplish a whole lot.
With all that in mind, what evidence did the Liberals put forward for why we have to revert to the old ways? They put forward nothing.
When the Hells Angels start calling the RCMP to let the RCMP know when they are transferring their firearms, I might change my tune on this matter. However, until criminals decide to start applying for firearms licences, I think we should call a spade a spade and admit that seeking an authorization to transfer a firearm does nothing to enhance the safety of Canadians.
The second part of this deeply flawed legislation is the removal of any oversight of the classification of firearms. For years, there was no recourse or appeal process if a firearm was not correctly classified. That meant the individuals in charge of this process could make millions of dollars' worth of property worthless with the stroke of a pen. While I am not a hunter or a sport shooter, I can understand their frustration when a firearm they have owned for years, or in some cases even decades, is suddenly prohibited.
No one in the House is suggesting that classifying firearms should not be taking place. All we are asking for is an appeal process, or at the very least a very clear understanding of the regulations that determine the classification of a firearm.
I want to be very clear that firearms should not receive a classification based on their appearance. Their classification should solely be based on their form and function.
If the Liberals wanted to provide greater clarity on the classification of firearms, they would have legislated the firearms reference table into law. The firearms reference table information is used during the process of firearms identification, classification, tracing, importation, and registration. Right now, the public has no ability to find out what is contained in the firearms reference table or to find out the justification of why a firearm was classified as it was.
I want to salute Matthew Hipwell, a former RCMP officer who served for 17 years, for bringing this issue to the public safety committee during its study of Bill C-71. It was Matthew who brought to the committee's attention that Murray Smith of the RCMP said, “the Firearms Reference Table has no standing in law. It's simply the...viewpoint of the firearms program on classification and description of any particular item.”
This has led to all sorts of problems, as the definitions to determine a classification are neither clearly nor legally defined. They are open to different interpretation and opinion. An example is the use of the word “variant”. There is no legal definition of “variant”. Another challenge in correctly classifying a firearm is the definition of “readily and easily”, which would be applied when determining if a firearm can be reconfigured.
If the firearms reference table has no standing in law, why are the Liberals completely gutting the ability of cabinet, made up of elected representatives, to overturn a wrongful classification? This was the only possible way to correct a wrongful classification. People who want to challenge the classification of a firearm would actually have to be arrested. That is the most irresponsible and undemocratic element of this legislation. Let us think for a moment. As a firearm owner, people would literally have to get arrested in order to challenge the reclassification of a firearm they may have owned for decades.
If this Liberal legislation has accomplished one thing, it has shown the need to establish clearly defined definitions of the criteria used to classify firearms. It also must be said that after reviewing all the expert witness testimony, not a single recommendation or amendment put forward by a firearms expert was accepted.
I cannot and will never support a piece of legislation that only goes after law-abiding firearms owners. There is little to nothing contained in this legislation that would crack down on criminals. Once again, the Liberals think that duck hunters and sport shooters are the problem.
While the government blindly passes this legislation, I will oppose it every step of the way. I will always stand up for law-abiding firearms owners and advocate for legislation that will actually make our streets and communities safer. Bill C-71 fails in this effort.