moved that Bill C-71, an act to amend certain acts and regulations in relation to firearms, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open third reading debate in the House today on Bill C-71, an important piece of legislation in support of public safety and the ability of law enforcement to investigate gun crimes, while at the same time being reasonable and respectful toward law-abiding firearms owners and businesses.
Following years of declining crime rates in Canada, a number of critical statistics concerning firearms pivoted in 2013 to show a significant increase over subsequent years. In 2013, there were 211 attempted murders involving guns; in 2016, there were 290. In 2013, there were 134 gun homicides; in 2016, there were 223. For armed robbery, the numbers jumped from 2,096 in 2013 to 2,870 in 2016. According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada that became available just this summer, between 2013 and 2017 overall offences involving guns increased by 44%. It is this troubling trend that Bill C-71 would help to address, hand in hand with our investment of $327 million over five years, rising to $100 million every year thereafter, to intensify our battle against guns and gangs.
That new funding will be aimed at three key goals: first, increasing the capacity and the effectiveness of the Canada Border Services Agency to interdict gun smuggling at the border; second, bolstering the work of the RCMP to identify and take down illegal weapons trafficking operations; and third, to support provinces, municipalities and local law enforcement in their efforts to disrupt gangs, prosecute offenders, prevent young people from being drawn into gangs in the first place and to help them exit that destructive lifestyle. This initiative has been very well received by our provincial and municipal counterparts and many stakeholders, like those from all across the country who attended our guns and gangs summit last spring in Ottawa. Discussions are well advanced on how to make the best use of the new federal dollars. The new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction will be rolling out the details in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, we continue to advance Bill C-71. The public safety committee of the House studied this bill very carefully, and during its consideration it accepted amendments from all of the major parties. I would like to extend my thanks to the committee members who, as always, conducted a very thorough study of the subject matter and sent the bill back to the House in improved form.
During the last election, the Liberal Party ran on very specific campaign promises relating to firearms. Bill C-71 deals with those promises that require legislative change. They were as follows: first, repeal the changes made by Bill C-42 that allowed restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit; second, put decision-making about weapons restrictions back into the hands of police and not politicians; third, require enhanced background checks for everyone seeking to purchase a handgun or other restricted firearm; fourth, require purchasers of firearms to show a licence when they buy a gun and require all sellers of firearms to confirm that the licence is in fact valid before completing the sale; and finally, require firearms vendors to keep records of all firearms inventories and sales to assist police in investigating firearms trafficking and other gun crimes. We are delivering on each of these promises to make our communities safer and to support law enforcement while not targeting law-abiding firearms owners.
First, on the issue of enhanced background checks, currently when deciding whether to issue a possession and acquisition licence, a PAL, the law requires the chief firearms officer of a province or territory to consider the past five years of an applicant's history to determine if their past activities or behaviours indicate a public safety risk.
Bill C-71 proposes to eliminate that five-year limitation. That idea stems from a private member's bill introduced by former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore in 2003. Upon tabling his private member's bill, Mr. Moore told this chamber the following:
Currently the Firearms Act says that if in the past five years a person has committed a violent crime and has been convicted of a violent crime or of threatening to commit a violent crime, that person cannot apply to own a firearm for five years.
My private member's bill does not say after five years: it says if a person has ever committed a violent crime in their life never does that person get to own a gun. If a person has ever beat his wife or ever committed rape or ever committed murder and is released from jail, never in his life does that person get to own a gun....
Those are the words of the hon. James Moore.
Mr. Moore's bill obviously did not pass, because today the Firearms Act still says five years. Bill C-71, however, will remove that time limitation, as well as expand the kinds of things that the CFO can consider when deciding whether to issue a licence or not. There are, for example, explicit references in the law to gender-based violence. Thanks to amendments made by the committee, which were adopted unanimously, the CFO would also be able to consider an applicant's online behaviour as well. There appears to be broad and multipartisan support for these measures on background checks.
For indigenous hunters who engage in the traditional practices of hunting, the aboriginal peoples of Canada adaptations regulations will continue to apply. The regulations allow an applicant to ask an elder or community leader for a recommendation to go to the provincial chief firearms officer to confirm the importance to the applicant of their engaging in traditional hunting practices, which are, of course, a section 35 treaty right. Therefore, we can see the legal framework here attempting to make sure that the appropriate indigenous considerations are taken fully into account.
Secondly, on the issue of transporting firearms, specifically restricted and prohibited firearms, before former bill C-42 made changes to the Firearms Act in 2015, the owner of a restricted or prohibited weapon was required to get an authorization to transport it, what is known as an ATT, every time the owner took that firearm anywhere. The Harper government loosened that restriction by attaching an automatic authorization to transport to every possession and acquisition licence for the purpose of transporting the firearm home from a store or to an approved shooting range or to a port of entry or a gunsmith or a gun show. Because the ATT was automatic and applied to numerous different destinations, it became virtually impossible for police to detect the transportation of restricted or prohibited weapons for illegal purposes.
Bill C-71 seeks to narrow and clarify the scope of the ATT rules. An ATT would continue to be included automatically with a PAL licence to transport restricted or prohibited weapons to a certified shooting range, but beyond that, a separate ATT would be required. This would assist law enforcement without impacting gun owners in any major way. In addition, we will work to ensure that the firearms centre is properly staffed to issue ATTs as required, and we will provide an electronic portal where firearms owners can apply online and get their ATTs in a matter of just a few minutes. If people need to go to a gunsmith after they have been at firing ranges, they would also be able to get an ATT on their smart phones. Therefore, the objective here is to make sure that the service is efficient.
Third, on the classification practices, it is of course up to Parliament, up to the House of Commons and the Senate, as a matter of law, to determine how firearms are classified. For years Parliament has identified and defined three categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. Parliament is always free to change those categories if it sees fit. It can change the characteristics that apply to each of the three categories. That is Parliament's sovereign right.
Administratively, after the definitions have been set in law by Parliament, it should be firearms experts who make the technical determination as to which firearm fits into which category. That is a factual, technical function, and it should not be politicized. Bill C-71 makes that point very clear. It grandfathers those individuals who may be adversely affected by the previous government's decisions to allow the cabinet to contradict the experts and assign a lower category to a particular firearm, contrary to the definitions in the Criminal Code.
Let me turn next to the question of licence verification. Currently in Canada, if people want to buy ammunition for a non-restricted firearm, they must show the vendor a valid firearms licence. It might surprise many people to know that they do not currently have to show a valid firearms licence for purchasing a non-restricted firearm.