Feds table gun control bill to boost licence checks, record keeping
OTTAWA – The federal government has introduced a much-anticipated gun control bill that includes measures to broaden background checks for gun owners, toughens rules around the transportation of handguns, and tightens record keeping requirements for the sale of firearms.
The bill, sponsored by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Tuesday, makes changes to the Firearms Act, the Criminal Code, and repeals changes made by the previous Conservative government.
Specifically, Bill C-71, proposes to:
"Enhance" background checks for those who want to buy a firearm, by broadening the current requirement to consider matters from the last five years to considering information from throughout the person’s lifetime. This means that for prospective gun owners, and those who have to renew their gun licences, the RCMP is obligated to consider any relevant information from their past.
The factors considered when determining eligibility include: past convictions for offenses like harassment or drug trafficking; whether the person has been treated for a mental illness associated with violence or the threat of violence; and whether the person has a history of violence, or attempted violence.
Under this bill, commercial gun shop retailers will now have to keep information about sales and inventory for at least 20 years, including the firearm’s serial number, the licence number of the transferee, the reference number and the day the reference number was issued.
These businesses will be required to make these records accessible by police when warranted.
The bill requires that when a non-restricted firearm is transferred -- either sold or given -- the buyer has to show their gun licence, and the seller -- whether a retailer or private salesperson -- has to confirm it is valid with the Canadian Firearms Program before completing the transaction.
Currently, licence verification is voluntary for non-restricted firearms, and there are already additional validation steps in place for restricted and prohibited firearms, senior government officials told reporters during a technical briefing Tuesday.
The legislation also proposes new authorizations around the transport of restricted or prohibited guns. If the bill is passed as drafted, automatic authorization for transport will only be given when a gun owner is transporting their firearm from the place of purchase to their home and taking it from their house to a shooting range. Owners will need to get approval for any other transport purposes, like travel to a gun show, to a border, or for repair.
Bill C-71 also revamps the current way guns are classified in Canada. There are three types of guns in Canada: “non-restricted,” such as hunting rifles and shotguns; “restricted,” such as handguns and certain rifles and semi-automatic weapons; or “prohibited,” including some handguns, modified riles, and fully automatic guns. These classifications will remain but the bill restores the system that sees Parliament define the three classes, but then leaves it up to the RCMP to classify specific guns.
This move reverses changes made under then-prime minister Stephen Harper's government. No longer will cabinet have the ability to override classifications, and the bill reverses two Conservative-era classifications that downgraded two types of prohibited guns, to the restricted class.
According to government officials there are just under 700 of these two types of guns in Canada and the owners will have time to comply with the higher requirements for owning prohibited guns.
During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals pledged to introduce gun control legislation and have faced pressure from both sides of the issue leading up to Tuesday’s tabling.
In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the bill is about “taking action for common sense gun control, better background checks, and safer communities – while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Goodale, flanked by a handful of his caucus and cabinet colleagues to announce the bill, highlighted the "steady increase" in gun violence in Canada as part of the government’s motivation to table this bill.
Criminal violations involving firearms went up 30 per cent between 2013 and 2016, with 2,465 instances in 2016. Gun homicides have increased by two thirds during the same time period, from 134 in 2013 to 223 in 2016. “On this topic views among Canadians can be very deeply divided, but we have taken a practical, common sense, respectful approach in putting this package together,” Goodale said. “There will be those on one side who say it’s not enough, those on the other side who say it’s too much.”
Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said that based on her initial review of the bill, it doesn’t appear to address gun violence or propose tangible ways to keep guns out of the hands of gang members. She also expressed concern that “the Liberals are trying to create a backdoor registry,” by requiring retail outlets to keep records about their sales and inventory.
Bergen said many law abiding store owners already keep this information.
“We are concerned that this will now make this information accessible to whom? We’d like to know. We are wondering who is going to be able to access this information and under what means.”
Goodale has denied any characterization of the bill as a return to the contentious long-gun registry and said this information will not be accessible by government.
NDP public safety critic Matthew Dube said at first glance he is pleased with the proposed changes on more robust background checks, and giving the classification power back to the RCMP.
"But we do have questions when it comes to the cost and the enforcement and implementation of certain measures that we see in the bill," Dube said, adding that he is looking forward to further debate and committee study of the bill.