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Second Reading of Bill C-42 - Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 148

Hon. Lynn Beyak moved second reading of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other Acts.

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to sponsor and speak today on Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Bill. This legislation would build on the significant actions the government has already taken to combat the criminal use of firearms and to ensure a strong licensing system in Canada. It also continues our balanced approach — one that is helping us to protect the safety of Canadians, while at the same time reducing the administrative burden for law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters.

It's the first time in 20 years that substantial changes would be made to the way we license firearms in Canada. Hunting, fishing, trapping and sport shooting are all a part of our shared Canadian heritage, practised and enjoyed by people from coast to coast, in cities and towns across the country.

Canadians have enjoyed these activities for hundreds of years, and both our native peoples and early settlers depended on hunting, fishing and trapping for food and clothing. Parents passed down their expertise to their children over the generations and it's important that government makes it easy for people of all backgrounds and incomes to participate in and enjoy these pursuits.

How will our legislation make it easier and safer for Canadians? To start, the bill proposes four key changes to the licensing system.

First, it would streamline the licensing system by eliminating the Possession Only Licence and converting all such existing licences to Possession and Acquisition Licences. The PAL, as it is known, is the only licence available today for new firearm owners.

Holders of the Possession Only Licence average about 60 years old today and most have owned firearms, used them and bought ammunition for more than 20 years. They are clearly experienced in the handling and use of firearms, so there is little need to make them go through a whole second certification system just to buy a new hunting rifle.

Second, it would allow licence holders to retain lawful possession of their firearms up to a period of six months beyond the expiry date of their licence without the possibility of criminal sanctions for simply possessing their firearms.

Third, it would make classroom participation in firearms safety training mandatory.

Finally, the bill makes important changes to the authorization to transport when engaged in the routine transport of firearms. Currently, an individual seeking to target shoot with a restricted firearm must fill out paperwork every time he or she wants to go to the shooting range. This paperwork is then sent to the CFO, where it is filed in a drawer and never seen again. It is not shared with law enforcement and it is not searchable.

Honourable senators, I believe these are common sense improvements to the licensing system that will provide additional clarity for law-abiding firearms owners, all the while protecting the safety of Canadians.

This proposed legislation would also amend the Criminal Code to ensure that the property rights of lawful firearms owners are protected. To this end, the bill would amend the Criminal Code so that it contains a definition of non-restricted firearms, which it currently does not. Moreover, we propose to give the Governor-in-Council the ability to make firearms non-restricted or restricted in appropriate circumstances. This means the elected government will have the final say on classification decisions.

Why is this such an important change? As many have noted, the government already has the power to move firearms to a more restrictive classification, but it does not have the power to specify that a firearm ought to be non-restricted. This gap became abundantly clear on February 25, 2014. That was the day when tens of thousands of Canadians awoke to find out that the Canadian Firearms Program had turned them into criminals by the stroke of a pen.

Unilaterally, without consultation with the minister or any other Canadian, a change had been made to the Firearms Reference Table. There was no legislation, no regulation, not even an order-in-council that authorized this change. There was no way of fixing it, and that is why this bill is so important.

I am pleased to reconfirm, as the Minister of Public Safety has said numerous times, that as soon as this legislation receives Royal Assent, the government will restore the non-restricted classifications of the Swiss Arms and CZ858 families of rifles.

This bill also proposes important changes to the broader firearms controls regime. It would allow for improved information-sharing between the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP about the commercial importation of restricted and prohibited firearms into Canada.

This is important because, under current law, when a business imports a restricted or prohibited firearm, they must fill out forms and be checked by the Canadian Border Services Agency on entering the country and then must register the firearms with the police when they are received at the store before they are sold, but no one matches the numbers of firearms imported at the two locations. This is a particular problem in British Columbia and Bill C-42 will allow police and the CBSA to share information.

Bill C-42 would also clarify that the discretionary authority granted to chief firearms officers under the Firearms Act can be limited by regulation. This will help ensure, as appropriate and as needed, that the Canadian Firearms Program is applied fairly across the country.

Finally, consistent with the government's strong commitment to support families and to stand up for victims of crime, we have also proposed a meaningful change that will allow us to better protect victims of domestic violence. Specifically, this bill would amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions prohibiting the possession of weapons, including firearms, when a person is sentenced for an offence involving domestic violence. In this way, we can ensure that the firearms regime is actually targeting those we need to target in the name of public safety — those who have demonstrated that they pose a threat to society, particularly to women and children in their homes.

To conclude, we believe that the measures proposed in this bill are common sense and balanced. Moreover, they will enable us to better protect public safety and, at the same time, alleviate administrative burdens on law-abiding gun owners across the country.

Thank you very much, honourable senators. I look forward to your support.