Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. This is an important legislative measure, since, for the first time in 20 years, it will make a significant change to the way in which firearms licences are awarded in Canada.
There are eight important measures in this common-sense legislation that highlight the clear approach our Conservative government is taking to firearms' policies, namely it is that policies should promote safety but that they must also be sensible.
I served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years, and in doing so acquired professional knowledge regarding firearms, firearms safety and firearms responsibilities. Now as a civilian, I have gone through the process of obtaining my possession and acquisition licence. As a firearm owner myself and as a sport shooter, I can say that the important changes contained in the bill are needed and much appreciated by law-abiding Canadian gun owners.
I can also say that these policies and, more generally, this bill, have the support of a large number of Canadians from coast to coast.
Before I get into the details, I would like to start by explaining where I stand on this debate. This is a debate about culture. Hunting, fishing, trapping and sport shooting are all proud parts of our Canadian heritage.
Were it not for these activities, the brave men and women who settled Canada would simply never have been able to undertake and sustain the exploration that has grown into the greatest country in the world. Not only that, many young Canadians can look back fondly on hunting excursions with their family.
We need to encourage this type of activity.
However, the firearms policies crafted by the previous Liberal government often served to dissuade people from engaging in these Canadian heritage activities. Policies that criminalize the ownership of firearms will simply discourage individuals from becoming involved. The same can be said for increased needless paperwork.
Former Liberal justice minister and father of the long gun registry, Allan Rock, said that he that he came to Ottawa with the firm belief that only police and the military should have firearms. On this side of the House, we could not disagree more.
That is exactly why we introduced the bill before us today.
As I said a moment ago, the bill continues to deliver on our record of safe and sensible firearms policies. These two themes run throughout the bill.
First, I would like to touch on how the bill would keep us safe.
Our Conservative government has a strong record in tackling the criminal use of firearms. We have passed a series of new measures to ensure that criminals who use firearms go to prison for a very long time. For example, we created a new offence to criminalize drive-by and other reckless shootings. The bill before us today builds on this with three key measures.
First, we will establish mandatory firearms safety training for first-time firearms owners. This is a very important change because, in the past, individuals were able to simply challenge the test, which did not ensure any level of consistency in knowledge of how to safely operate a firearm. This change is widely supported. For example, Pierre Latraverse of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs said, “This bill...simplifies the procedures for awarding a permit for users who follow the law, while strengthening safety and education”.
Second, in the area of public safety, the bill before us today would amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions relating to order prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person would be convicted of an offence involving domestic violence.
That is very important. I will repeat for emphasis. It will be mandatory to prohibit the possession of firearms in cases of serious offences involving domestic violence. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all those convicted of spousal homicide had a history of domestic violence. This change makes perfect sense.
Tony Rodgers, executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, had this to say:
The amended Criminal Code to strengthen the provision relating to orders prohibiting possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence is a step in the right direction.
The last public safety measure in this legislation that I would to address is the authorization of firearms import information sharing for restricted and prohibited firearms imported by business.
I would like to expand on this important point if I may. When a business imports a restricted or prohibited firearm, it has to complete forms and the merchandise has to be examined by the Canada Border Services Agency at the border. The business also has to register the firearms when they are received in the shop before they can be sold.
However, the two agencies are operating in silos. If a business tells the Canada Border Services Agency that it has 5,000 units but registers just 3,000 with the RCMP, nobody compares those numbers. Consequently, 2,000 units could end up on the black market. That is a big problem, especially in British Columbia. That is why this was raised during federal, provincial and territorial meetings, and that is why we are pleased to be taking action on this important issue.
I now would like to touch on our five measures to make our firearms policies more sensible.
First, we would create a six-month grace period at the end of the five-year licence. This would stop otherwise law-abiding individuals from being criminalized overnight for a simple error in paperwork.
Some people have wrongly claimed that this change was made just to satisfy the firearms lobby because no other permit has a grace period after it expires.
However, I would like to counter that argument with this point. If I let my driver's licence, my dog licence, my fishing licence or any other licence lapse, I may have to pay a fine or be subject to another regulatory punishment. If I let my firearms licence lapse, I could go to prison for a significant length of time. It is clear that the threat of prison time for administrative oversight deserves special attention for leniency.
However, we do not want this new measure to be abused. That is why, under the legislation, an individual would not be allowed to purchase new firearms or ammunition or even use their firearms during that time. However, a person would not become an overnight criminal as the result of a simple, honest mistake. That is common sense policy. No one who is not simply ideologically opposed to the civilian possession of firearms can disagree with this measure.
Even the NDP member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca had to agree that this was common sense in committee. What did he have to say about the grace period? He said, “I do agree with some of our other presenters is that perhaps a failure to renew shouldn't result in an immediate criminal charge”.
The next measure to make our firearms policies more sensible is the merger of the possession-only licence and the possession and acquisition licence. Again, this makes good sense.
The possession-only licence was created by the previous Liberal government as a grandfathering system. Those who did not want to engage in the new bureaucratic regime would not have their firearms taken away, but they would not be able to purchase any new ones, either. This group of firearms owners averages approximately 60 years of age and has owned firearms in excess of 20 years. This group is clearly experienced in the safe handling and use of firearms. That is why this legislative change would give purchasing rights to nearly 600,000 individuals.
Let me again quote Pierre Latraverse of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, who 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 back 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 next sensible measure is the elimination of useless paperwork for authorization to transport restricted and prohibited weapons. Currently, an individual who wants to do target practice with a restricted weapon has to fill out forms when he wants to go to a firing range.
Sometimes provincial chief firearms officers, or CFOs, will allow for broader authorizations, but I will touch on that and on their discretion later.
This paperwork is then sent to the CFO, or the chief firearms officer, where it is filed in a drawer and never seen again. It is not shared with law enforcement and it is not searchable. Aside from the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, which our Conservative government proudly destroyed, this is yet another significant waste of taxpayer dollars within the entire firearms regime. It makes no sense to require all of this needless paperwork.
I would like to quote from a National Post editorial from earlier this month. It said:
The aims of our gun control system...are worthwhile and important. Our approach to achieving these ends, however, leaves much to be desired, and inflicts burdensome red tape on citizens well beyond what is necessary.
Take, for instance, the current system controlling the lawful transport of restricted firearms...The prospective buyer of a handgun most have a restricted-class licence, and must show he has a valid reason to buy it...The firearm must be stored, unloaded, inside a securely locked container or safe. And it must be equipped with a secondary trigger lock even when so secured. The only place the handgun may be legally transported is from the owner’s home to a firing range, or a gun repair shop, and back, by a “reasonably direct route.”
And that’s not the end of it. The gun owner must then apply for an entirely separate piece of paperwork — an authorization to transport, or ATT. This permit repeats what the firearms licence already establishes: that the lawful possessor of a registered gun can only transport it via a direct route from home to certain authorized locations.
What good is this? Anyone who qualifies to own a handgun clearly already meets the legal requirements of using it at a certified facility, and anyone who cannot legally qualify to transport a gun back and forth should not be authorized to possess one in the first place. The entire ATT system is redundant.
It simply does not make sense and it does not protect the public. These are two strong reasons to support this important legislation.
What else would this legislation do?
As I mentioned earlier, it would end the arbitrary powers of the chief firearms officers. Elected officials would take their appropriate place overseeing the decisions of CFOs that directly affect law-abiding gun owners.
The current rules and procedures have resulted in a nonsensical patchwork across the country. It is ridiculous that these would differ vastly between Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. There have to be harmonized standards across the country.
The final measure I would like to discuss is, in my opinion, one of the most important ones in the whole bill. We will enable a duly elected government to have the final say in classification decisions.
Why make such a big change? As many have pointed out, the government already has the power to further restrict the classification of a firearm, but it does not have the power to relax restrictions.
That problem became all too apparent on February 25, 2014. That was the day that tens of thousands of Canadians woke up to find that the Canadian firearms program had turned them into criminals with the stroke of a pen. Unilaterally, a change had been made to the Firearms Reference Table. The minister was not consulted, nor was any other Canadian.
There was no legislation, no regulation, not even an order-in-council that authorized this change.
Even more worrisome, there was no way to correct the mistake. That is why this bill is so important.
I can reconfirm, as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has said numerous times, as soon as the legislation receives royal assent, we will restore the non-restricted classification of the Swiss arms and the CZ858 families of rifles.
It is clear that our Conservative government is standing up for law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters. However, what about the other political parties? Well, I expect that we will hear for the remainder of this debate how awful firearms are and how they ought to be further restricted. That should come as no surprise, given that both the Liberals and the NDP have committed to bringing back a wasteful and ineffective long gun registry should they ever get the chance.
What has struck me, however, is the degree of contempt for gun owners. The member for Trinity—Spadina alluded to some sort of moral equivalence between hunters and terrorists. That is the same member who said in the past that emotional arguments from hunters were not enough to justify not banning the sale of ammunition.
In case anyone thinks this is a rogue junior member, let us listen to the words of the Liberal leader. He said that this bill:
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 a local hockey arena.
He even put out a fundraising advertisement with the same comments. This is patently ridiculous. The Liberal leader is either trying to fearmonger or he simply does not have a clue about how firearms are regulated in Canada, or it could be both.
I was pleased to see Conservative members of the public safety committee ask Tony Bernardo, one of Canada's foremost firearms experts, about this advertisement and whether it was accurate. Here is what he had to say: “I've seen the advertisements and they are incorrect”.
What is more, the question was also put to non-partisan public servants. The assistant deputy minister of public safety answered with a simple “no” when asked by committee members if the advertisements were accurate.
The facts are these. Despite the claims of the Liberal Party, firearms issues are serious issues. Any serious leader must stand up for these rights, and it is clear that the only leader who will do so is the Prime Minister.
In closing, I would like to remind the members of the House that we are talking about Canada's hunting, fishing and sport shooting culture. We are talking about important outdoor activities that are enjoyed by over 4 million Canadians. We should be promoting those activities, not making them less accessible.
Before my colleagues opposite rise to ask questions about why the so-called gun lobby has so influenced the bill, I would like to remind them of something. There are simply ordinary Canadians who enjoy these activities.
I would like to remind my colleagues of the words of Greg Farrant, from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, who said the following:
Firearms owners in Canada are judges, lawyers, farmers, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, accountants, even federal politicians...who live in and represent urban ridings. They are not criminals. They are not gang members. Rather, they are lawful firearms owners who obey the law.
I hope that members heed those words when they vote on this important legislation, because I know that the individuals who care about firearms issues and property rights issues will be watching this debate closely.