You don’t even have to be a firearms owner to be even remotely interested in the laws regarding firearms ownership and usage in Canada, but it cannot hurt to be counted as one. There are roughly two million (2,000,000) adult citizens of Canada who have a firearm license of some sort. Most are likely the hunters and long distance shooters having a Possession and Acquisition License, aka PAL, for non-restricted firearms. Those who practice action shooting, whom are more tactical firearms enthusiasts and handgun owners, have a PAL for both restricted and non-restricted firearms, affectionately known as an RPAL. There are also PALs which are for firearms designated for one or more of the several prohibited classes that exist. Currently however there are Possession Only versions of the aforementioned licenses as well, and these are short formed to POL holders.
Now some of you may have heard about the introduction of the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. The new agencies were very tight lipped it seemed about the proposed legislation tabled by the current government as very little news made it into the mainstream media. Perhaps there was too much bad news for firearms owners as good news in the bill to make it unable to bash the CPC government with? The Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Steven Blaney, made the announcement on October 7th, 2014, in the House Of Commons. It has been given the Bill number of C-42 and has passed first reading.
The bill in itself has many sections and covers a fair range of sections and we at TPF will go into the nitty, gritty summations for both good and bad for those who do not want to wade through legalese of a bill. TPF will discuss each of the points and rate them appropriately, but obviously it is the opinion of the author and please feel free to agree and, or, disagree; aka comment. Please recall that this is the first iteration and the bill itself may change during subsequent readings and from committee recommendations. Also note that the intent of the bill cannot be changed over it’s travels through the procedural system, otherwise the bill becomes null and void.
The following are the main points that are contained in the current iteration 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; whose short title is the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act.
- Create a six-month grace period at the end of the five-year license period to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for paperwork delays around license renewals;
- Streamline the licensing system by eliminating the Possession Only License (POL) and converting all existing POLs to Possession and Acquisition Licenses (PALs);
- Make classroom participation in firearms safety training mandatory for first-time license applicants;
- Amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions relating to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offense involving domestic violence;
- End needless paperwork around Authorizations to Transport by making them a condition of a license for certain routine and lawful activities;
- Provide for the discretionary authority of Chief Firearms Officers to be subject to limit by regulation;
- Authorize firearms import information sharing when restricted and prohibited firearms are imported into Canada by businesses; and,
- Allow the Government to have the final say on classification decisions, following the receipt of independent expert advice.
Lets start with #1. Currently the instant your license expires, all you are in illegal possession of every single firearm you own. ALL OF THEM. This also means that for those with a prohibited class firearm license will instantly lose that status and not be able to renew them as one of the conditions is to have a continuous ownership status. Expired license means a break in that requirement. By including a 6 month grace period, it gives those forgetful individuals time to renew and not be caught by any sudden changes. This is a good thing. No real downsides to this. 3 of 5 stars
#2 is converting the existing POLs into PALs. Back in the original legislation which introduced the possession only aspect of firearms, only those who already had a firearm were able to get a POL. The idea is that for nearly 20 years, these POL holders have not had any sort of notable record of criminal activity or misuse of firearms. Plus it only makes sense to reduce the number of license types and cutting the license types in half is a good way to reduce bureaucratic exercises. There are nearly six hundred thousand (600,000) POL holders in the system. This is a huge added benefit to the firearms industry as it opens up an additional 40% more consumer market for firearms sales. That is a huge step forward. 5 of 5 stars
Mandatory safety training is the third point and is a contentious one. Removing the ability to challenge the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, aka CFSC, is not making it easier to own a firearm. For urban areas and nearby rural areas the ability to schedule and attend a CFSC is not a difficult task… And for extremely remote locations such as those found in the Territories, instructors are flown into those areas just as they do today. The problem is that you are now forced to take safety training which has never been a means to eliminate irresponsible and accidental misuse of a firearm. The biggest complaint would be that prospective individuals now need to pay more money and more time dedicated to firearms safety training. Where a CFSC challenge was merely $50 and roughly an hour of your time, the course is 8-12 hours and now also has to pay for books and instructor times which elevate the costs to $75 or more. More of an inconvenience than a negative, but still… 3 of 5 stars
Domestic violence is one of those nasty occurrences that many people to not care to mention. Point four introduces the option for a lifetime firearms ban for those who commit domestic violence on spouses, kin, parents and other household residents. On the surface this sounds like a good addition, but recall that these prohibition can occur to any individual charged with an indictable offense but has not been cleared of wrongdoing. An unconditional discharge will still net you a possible firearms/weapons prohibition order! So don’t be one of those idiots who would intentionally cause grief and damage to others, let alone to family and children. The issue in this case is the duration, as a lifetime sentence for incarceration may still allow the individual to leave prison on parole, which is never ending with a life sentence. It is obviously situational however, an example being if a drunken, stupid nineteen year old and his father have a fight; the teenager subsequently receives an assault charge and an unconditional pardon to it, is it reasonable to punish him for life with some form of restriction, be it a firearm or whatnot, forever? Either make it lifetime ban upon a conviction, or a sensible number that works with our current laws. 1 of 5 stars
Combining ATT’s for common purposes instead of having several individual requests on a recurring basis sounds like pretty common sense. With this portion of the bill, your long term ATT will now be good for border crossings, guns smiths, gun stores, and gun shows and all approved ranges in the license holder’s province or territory. They are also must issue instead of shall issue. That’s a pretty big change for the better. However it is tempered with some changes that have negative effects on some firearms owners. Some provinces already have multi-province long term Authorizations to Transport to various ranges, this bill in it’s current form would curtail the ability of those firearms owners to participate in events and competitions in neighboring regions. So far this is good in scope but limits others. The biggest hurdle is the fact that non-handgun prohibited firearms will NOT be issued any authorizations to transport to approved ranges. Despite CFOs not issuing a Special Authority to Possess, aka SAP, for the last decade; which means all prohibited rifles have been safe queens for that duration. Bill C-42 states clearly that prohibited rifles will remain safe queens. Great for restricted rifles and hand-gunners in general, but imposes definite territorial limitations and misses two important issues. For transport to and from a post office, plus how it deals with people who travel across a provincial boundary to shoot at their primary range. 4 of 5 stars
Point six is simple yet confusing in nature. Provide for the discretionary authority of Chief Firearms Officers to be subject to limit by regulation. What this means is that the Chief Firearms Officer may only impose any additional requirements on a license/ATT/etc… that are specifically allowed in legislation. This means that the CFO cannot attach a condition to an ATT or license such as requiring an invitation in order to attend an compete in matches hosted by another club. Anything that restricts arbitrarily imposed conditions is a good thing. Again however, many provinces have decent CFO. 4 of 5 stars
The data sharing mentioned in the seventh point is a very interesting one and has zero effect on the average firearms owner. The current problem is that the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) are not authorize to communicate with other for the purposes of data sharing. When CBSA gets firearms imports it needs to ask the RCMP for clarification and data through convoluted channels and the formatting of the information is less than “easily manipulated” to perform customs work. This section is to create a frame work of communication that is easily accessed by customs to expedite information required to process restricted and prohibited firearms. There has been mention of a new undefined form being utilized, which has not been created, nor determined if it replaces the existing customs form. This proposal is both good and bad as anything that helps get firearms through customs faster is good, but additional paperwork is not fun for businesses. 3 of 5 stars
The final point, number 8, is one that is the least explained and the most feared for some reason. If you read all the changes in the proposed bill, the definition of non-restricted is defined and introduced throughout the bill and also creates the ability of a government to reclassify restricted and prohibited firearms into non-restricted classifications. That is HUGE! This becomes the means with which firearms like the newly prohibited Swiss Arms series of rifles can be classified as non-restricted. This is the first step towards reclassifying firearms which should be non-restricted by the current definition of firearms as set out in law. This is a huge plus. 5 of 5 stars
Total rating out of 40 possible points? 28 out of 40. It is a passing grade but only a C overall regarding the proposed changes contained in the Bill.
There are still issues with the CSFL act in that it does not address the multitude of other issues that are significantly deeper and more fundamentally wrong with the firearms act and it’s associated regulations. These are the more commonly stated naysayer lines that are floating around the online Canadian firearm forums CGN and GoC being the two largest.
- It is still a criminal offense to possess a firearm, in that firearms are illegal to possess UNLESS you have a POL or PAL of the appropriate class.
- ATTs should be worded to cover any and all legal purposes.
- Licenses should be lifetime in duration.
- Classifications should not exist!
- CFOs should be abolished entirely or made to assist shooters/businesses
- It is small little tweaks instead of wholesale change
Unfortunately as the old quote states,
“It’s easier to take than to give.”
Expecting politics to not be about compromise is pretty foolhardy. If there was no such thing as compromise, C-68 would have ended all civilian gun ownership. An additional tidbit of information is as follows.
As part of Mr. Peter VanLoan’s, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, statement recently:
“Starting on Wednesday, October 22, the House will consider Bill C-42, the common sense firearms licensing act at second reading. This bill would cut red tape for law-abiding firearms owners and provide safe and simple firearms policies. I would note that this legislation has already been endorsed by a number of key groups, such as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, la Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, and the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, among others.”
That is extremely fast paced for a Bill in the House of Commons. Remember that this write-up is about the legislation as written itself, not as a grand overall status of the Firearms Act and the infamous Bill C-68/etc…
As this is a political review of a newly introduced bill, it is hard to give definite evaluations as the bill’s content may indeed change. We can hope that some wording and content will be improved in the future…So, instead of the usual TPF options, we ask if you the reader believe the contents of the bill are beneficial, superficial, or detrimental to firearms owners in the context of the bill.