Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-42, the common sense firearms licensing act, which is in fact what it is.
This is a bill that is very important to my constituents and to the law-abiding firearms community across Canada. It is also a bill that is very important to me personally.
As members know, I will not be running again in the next election. As members also know, changes to our firearms laws to make them safe and sensible has been something I have worked on very hard during the time I have been in this place. I introduced almost half a dozen private member's bills to reduce needless red tape that had been heaped upon law-abiding gun owners over the years. I am pleased that many of the measures I have advocated for over the years have made their way into legislation introduced by ministers in our Conservative government.
Canadians are interested in the facts of what this common sense firearms licencing act will do and will not do.
This important point is something the NDP and Liberals seem to forget. This bill will make participation in the classroom component of the firearms safety training course mandatory, for the first time, for firearms owners. It will ensure that all those who join the rapidly growing ranks of the 2.2 million licensed firearms owners will have a common understanding of how to safely operate firearms.
What the bill will not do is allow “duck hunting with a machine gun capable of bringing down a MiG”. This is the shocking misinformation suggested by the NDP member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.
What the bill will do is end needless paperwork for the authorization to transport restricted and prohibited firearms. This paperwork was not shared with law enforcement, or anyone for that matter. It was simply filed away in a drawer, never to be thought about again.
What the bill will not do, as the Liberal leader suggested, is “allow handguns and assault weapons to be freely transported in a trunk anywhere within a province, even left parked outside a Canadian Tire or a local hockey arena”. Members do not need to believe me. The non-partisan assistant deputy minister of Public Safety was asked about these comments and whether they were accurate. Her answer was simple and straightforward. She said, “no”.
I think the Liberal leader is cynically trying to scare Canadians, or he simply has no understanding of how firearms laws work in Canada. Either way, it is just another example that he is just not up to the job of leading.
The common sense firearms licensing act will also establish a six-month grace period for firearms owners so that they do not become criminals overnight when their licence expires. I was listening to the debate previously, and it was said that we get a notice for every other licence. However, we do not become criminals if we neglect to renew our driver's licence. It is very different with a firearms licence.
The NDP member for Newton—North Delta said:
For a gun owner it would still be perfectly okay for six months after one's licence expires. That would be legalized in this legislation. When my driver's licence expires, it expires on that date and I have to get it renewed beforehand.
While that is a correct statement, what she forgets is that if I forget to renew my driver's licence, I face about a $200 fine. If I forget to renew my firearms licence, I face many years in prison. It simply does not make sense. We need common sense, and that is what this bill is all about.
This bill will also merge the possession-only licence and the possession-and-acquisition licence. This technical-sounding change can be broken down very simply.
Approximately 600,000 experienced firearms owners did not want to comply with the Liberal firearms regime back in 1995. They did not want to jump through hoops, as they had owned guns for some time. Therefore, this category was created, but they were not allowed to buy new firearms.
This group averages about 60 years of age. They have all had their firearms in excess of 20 years. They are well trained in how to safely use firearms. Therefore, this change will be good for the economy, as this large group of people will be able to purchase firearms.
Let us listen to what Pierre Latraverse, of the Quebec hunters and anglers federation, had to say about this measure. He said:
It's a very positive measure, given that there will only be a single licence under these conditions. This is much more representative of what owning a firearm is like. Currently, there are two licences: a possession licence and a possession and acquisition licence. If you only have a possession licence, you cannot purchase firearms. You have to go through the system to buy a possession and acquisition licence. With the merger, a hunter won't have to go through the whole administrative process again to purchase another firearm.
The common sense firearms licensing act will also restrict the ability of chief firearms officers to make arbitrary decisions. Currently, section 58 of the Firearms Act gives authority to unelected bureaucrats that I do not believe exists anywhere else in law. Let me read this section. It says:
A chief firearms officer who issues a licence, an authorization to carry or an authorization to transport may attach any reasonable condition to it that the chief firearms officer considers desirable in the particular circumstances and in the interests of the safety of the holder or any other person.
Tony Bernardo, the executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, rightly describe this section as creating “God powers” for the CFO. We will return elected officials to their rightful place as the overseers of bureaucrats.
I have talked a lot about measures that will reduce red tape. I would also like to talk about a measure that I find very important in the common sense firearms licencing act. That is the strengthening of firearms prohibition orders for those who have been convicted of domestic violence offences.
We believe that past behaviour is a good indicator of future results. Clearly, someone who has a serious conviction for domestic violence is volatile. We do not believe that firearms ought to be present in those types of situations.
The last measure in the bill I would like to touch on is the ability of elected officials to overturn decisions of the Canadian firearms program regarding classification. We all recall the decision of the Canadian firearms programs to attempt to ban two firearms that had been sold in Canada for well over a decade. In fact, by the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen, thousands of Canadians were turned into criminals overnight, probably without their knowledge. This was without consulting the Minister of Public Safety or his staff, without consulting the public safety committee, and without consulting anyone.
It is clear that this is unacceptable. That is why we are creating this measure. It is why, as soon the bill receives royal assent, we will move to restore the classification of the Swiss Arms family of rifles and the CZ858 to its previous non-restricted status.
As many of my colleagues have said through the course of this debate, it is about culture. There are 2.2 million Canadians who are licensed firearms owners, many in Toronto, despite what some people here think, and an estimated four million Canadians, partake in hunting, fishing, trapping, or sport shooting. I will repeat that: four million Canadians participate in these things.
Why is that? It is because these activities are part of our shared Canadian heritage.