The firearms bill, C-71, is an important bill that I’ve known from the beginning had to strike the right balance for Canadians. I am generally supportive of the bill, although I am always open to hearing constructive amendments to improve it, as I am with any bill. I’ve followed its development very closely, and consulted many times with constituents and organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
I myself am a hunter and firearms owner, so I know how careful and conscientious legal firearms owners are. They recognize the importance of ensuring that legal firearms are not used for illegal purposes. The truth is that they will not be negatively impacted by this bill. Even the Globe and Mail (which endorsed the federal Conservatives in every election since 2006, including the 2015 election) has written a strongly worded editorial that points out that this legislation is not the boogeyman that some will make it seem to be. It’s not in my nature to be as strident as the editorial is, since I am not the most partisan person you will find, but the heart of the article’s argument is a good one. You can read that editorial here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-globe-editorial-canadas-gun-advocates-should-stop-playing-the-victim/?click=sf_globefb
With our government’s overall firearms policy, I’m very happy that our government has been consulting with firearms experts and law enforcement agencies from the beginning. As a result, we are investing $327.6 million over five years, and $100 million annually thereafter, in new funding for initiatives to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities, and the expansion of border control services to stop the flow of illegal firearms coming across the border. However, it is important to point out that while it used to be true that most firearms used in crime were ones that were smuggled across the border, the reality nowadays is that police in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Regina, and elsewhere in Canada are reporting that more than half of firearms used in crimes are domestically sourced.
I also often see historic statistics of gun crime going down from the 1970s to 2012 as a way of saying we don’t need to do anything on gun crime. However, these statistics are leaving out that fact that from 2013 to 2016, gun crimes in Canada have gone up by a third.
Canadians are blessed to live in a safe society where firearms violence is not the norm. The firearms bill is the result of extensive consultation with Canadians, including with the firearms community. Our government is proposing practical, targeted, and common sense steps such as more rigorous background checks that, taken together, will make our communities safer from the threat of illegal firearms.
Here is what the bill will do:
- Enhance background checks on those seeking to acquire firearms – looking at the full life history of a person, including any history of mental illness associated with violence, not just over the last five years. On this issue, I personally asked department officials how this would work for young guys (for example) who might have gotten themselves into fights as kids, but who have matured and turned their lives around. Not only would acts committed as a youth be protected under the way the youth justice system works, but the background check is a “consideration” by the authorities of the person’s background and is looking for series of behaviour and patterns. So, it’s not hard and fast specific red flag that would automatically reject an application, but depends more on broader circumstances and history. Another example that I’ve discussed is around veterans suffering from PTSD who have undergone treatment and recovered, who would not be excluded from holding a firearms license. At the end of the day, I know that no responsible firearms owner wants to see a firearm in the hands of a violent person or someone suffering from mental illness.
- Require that whenever a non-restricted firearm is transferred, the buyer must actually produce his/her licence, and the vendor must verify that it is valid. For me, this is completely reasonable. As a firearm owner myself, I would always want to know that the person I am selling a firearm to has a valid license. Currently, this is a voluntary thing to do. To be clear, this is purely a validation. No info on the firearm will be requested, and no records of the firearm kept. The individual only validates the license either online or over the phone, which is a quick and easy process and will be built upon the same platform presently used by retailers for verification.
- Ensure the impartial, professional, accurate, and consistent classification of firearms by restoring a system in which Parliament defines the classes and then experts in the RCMP make the technical determination about the class into which a particular firearm falls into, without political influence. The RCMP does not decide on the classification of a firearm arbitrarily, but rather bases it on the descriptions of classification in the Criminal Code. We are taking this out of the hands of politicians, de-politicizing it, and putting it into the hands of police experts. This approach is no different than numerous other regulatory frameworks, where laws are enacted by elected officials and interpreted by law enforcement.
- Except between a residence and an approved shooting range, require specific transportation authorizations to be obtained whenever restricted and prohibited firearms are moved through the community. The vast majority of transportation is between home and the gun range (over 90%), so the impact of this change will be minimal. It will not be piling on paperwork, since the authorization to transport (ATT) can be done online or on the phone. If everything is in order, the ATT would be given pretty much instantly. This change enables police to be better able to challenge people who are unlawfully transporting a firearm, such as if they are not taking a reasonable route from point A to point B. ATTs are NOT required for non-restricted firearms.
- Standardize record-keeping of sales by firearms retailers, already a common “best-practice” in the industry. As is common practice, the records will have to be kept for 20 years. This information would be accessible to police officers (not governments) on reasonable grounds and with a warrant. There will be NO new gun registry. Firearms retailers already keep these records, and it won’t be government accessing them, but rather police officers for specific cases that have a warrant when a firearm has been use in a violent or illegal act. Only businesses will hold these records, not the government.
As always, I am happy to hear from you about any unintended consequences that these changes might have, or constructive amendments that could be made.