Attention Canadian gun owners: The Conservative government wants to lighten your load, at least as far as firearms-related paperwork is concerned.
Long-awaited amendments to Canadian gun laws — including an extended amnesty for Swiss Arms rifles — were introduced in the House today by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
"I heard one complaint this summer," Blaney said at his press conference outside the Commons. "Firearms law needed to make sense to the ordinary Canadian while keeping public safety as our top priority."
"There may be some gun owners who will be dissatisfied with the bill," he admitted. "What is our foremost concern is public safety, but we believe that the common sense measures that we are bringing forward to cut into red tape are balanced and we have received support from many organizations."
Just after tabling the bill, Blaney posed for a photo alongside several Conservative caucus colleagues, including Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen and MPs Roxanne James and Robert Sopuck, who have been active campaigners on behalf of gun owners in Canada.
"Good day for law abiding firearms owners," tweeted Bergen, who seconded the bill.
Sopuck tweeted that it was a "historic day for Canadians."
Sopuck chairs the Conservative "hunting and angling" caucus and introduced Blaney at his news conference following the tabling.
More than a dozen members of the caucus flanked Blaney as he met the press to explain the bill's contents.
Licences merging, grace period introduced
The legislation introduced Tuesday will:
- Change the licensing system to merge possession-only licences and possession and acquisition licences, giving new rights to firearms owners.
- Implement a six-month grace period for individuals to renew their firearms licence without fear of becoming a "paper criminal."
- Make classroom participation in firearms safety training mandatory for anyone who wants to possess and acquire a firearm.
- Make authorization to transport restricted firearms a condition of a restricted firearms licence.
The bill also reclassifies some firearms, including the Swiss Arms rifle for which the Conservatives earlier granted an amnesty after a controversy over its reclassification.
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Blaney said the legislation to amend the Criminal Code would give elected officials the final say over classification decisions based on technical advice.
"No longer will Canadians be denied property rights, or worse, turn [into] a paper criminal overnight due to the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen," the minister said.
"Any such decision will be based on consultation and independent expert advice. While this might seem like common sense it does not exist today," he said.
Provincial firearms officers authority cut
Blaney said the bill will improve "information sharing" between the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP.
It also ends the "arbitrary and discretionary powers of the chief firearms officer to make it clear that elected government can set national standards that must be abided by around the country," Blaney said.
The Harper government has clashed with provincial firearms officers over policy in the past.
The minister said the legislation also contains measures to better protect victims of crime by banning gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence
Alberta MP Blaine Caulkins, who has also been a vocal supporter of the changes, said he was confident that law-abiding gun owners will be happy with the "balanced legislation" and called on his opposition colleagues to support it.
Not everyone is cheering the proposed changes, however.
In a written statement, the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control says it has not had a chance to "study the fine print of the bill," but is already concerned.
"At first glance, it appears that the federal government's new proposals will make it easier to transport restricted firearms such as handguns," the coalition notes.
"By reducing the powers of the chief firearms officers, the federal government may make it difficult for provinces to strengthen their legislation within their powers. There are also plans to reduce the screening processes needed for some licences."
The group also points out that the legislation was tabled the day before the Supreme Court of Canada is slated to hear the Quebec government's appeal on getting access to data from the now dismantled gun registry.
"The coalition has been granted intervenor status on this case."
New Democratic public safety critic Randall Garrison told CBC News his party is reviewing the legislation closely.
"But let's be clear — when it comes to firearms, the Conservatives have shown that their primary interest is in playing politics, not public safety," he added.
Changes 'restore sensibility' to gun laws: Nova Scotia hunters
The press release accompanying the bill's introduction includes laudatory comments on the bill from several high-profile advocates of firearms owners' rights, including the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association and the Quebec Hunting and Fishing Federation.
"The Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters would like to thank the Harper government and in particular the Hon. Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who has today started a process for restoring sensibility to Canadian firearms laws," reads one endorsement.
"The proposed legislation has the ability to improve the shooting opportunities for both hunters and target shooters. It will also allow thousands of gun owners to purchase new firearms and that will have a positive impact on the economy of rural Canada."
Blaney first telegraphed the proposed changes during a visit to a North Bay, Ont., shooting range in July, when he pledged to bring forward the "common sense firearms licensing act" this fall.
Although the proposed legislation was tabled in the House this morning, MPs likely won't start debating it until after the Thanksgiving recess.
Common Sense Firearms Licencing Act 2014
Common Sense Firearms Licencing Act 2014 (PDF 100KB)
Common Sense Firearms Licencing Act 2014 (Text 100KB)