Canada axes gun show laws on advice of controversial committee

As the Conservative government repeals gun show regulations, Ontario's chief firearms officer says he fears the decision will eventually bring American-style gun-show problems to Canada.

Decision may bring American-style gun show problems to Canada, says firearms officer

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected some of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee's recommendations to loosen some gun laws earlier this month. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The Conservative government has repealed gun show regulations, on the advice of the same controversial advisory committee the prime minister recently distanced himself from.

Meanwhile, Ontario's chief firearms officer said he fears the decision will bring American-style gun-show problems to Canada.

The changes kill a set of rules that were introduced by the Liberals in 1998, but never brought into force after years of consultations and deferrals.

The regulations would have required the sponsor of a gun show to notify local police and the chief firearms officer of the province before an event, and to ensure the security and safety of the location and the firearms.

The government says it consulted Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, whose members felt that gun owners already abided by a set of existing rules.

The decision was published Wednesday in the Canada Gazette, but did not appear on Public Safety Canada's website. It notes that MPs and senators were given 30 days to request changes to the repeal, but neither House did.

"Canada has a strong gun control system and we will not weaken these protections," said Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Toews.

"The purchase, transport and storage of firearms continues to be strictly controlled in Canada and these strict rules apply to gun shows. Our government has taken concrete action to strengthen our laws and to stop violent crime and illegal firearms."

Committee criticized for being stacked with gun enthusiasts

But earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper candidly rejected some of the committee's recommendations to loosen other gun laws.

The Coalition for Gun Control has criticized the advisory committee for being stacked with gun enthusiasts, including firearms dealers and representatives of the Canadian Sport Shooting Association. A representative from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been unable to get on the committee.

Committee member Greg Farrant, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said under the Liberals the same group was stacked in the other direction — with gun opponents.

He said that two police officers among the current group provide balance and valuable front-line viewpoints.

"There's not always unanimity on the committee," Farrant noted.

"There are varying degrees of support for certain measures, there are things that are discussed by the committee and put forward to the government for consideration."

Theft, illegal sales concerns at gun shows

Ontario firearms officers have told the government that they wanted the regulations to come into force, particularly in light of the fact the gun registry was being shut down.

The registry made it necessary for long-gun transactions to be cleared first — the registrar had to verify the licence of the purchaser and then issue a new registration in that person's name.

Ontario's Chief Firearms Officer Chris Wyatt said there is now no official way to ensure sellers are verifying licences, and nothing on the books that requires a gun show sponsor to tell police an event is being held.

Wyatt said there are genuine concerns about theft and illegal sales at gun shows.

"Gun shows are a major source of illegal firearms in the United States, and that could happen here. That's why we thought there should be greater regulation of gun shows now that the registry is gone," said Wyatt.

"Some of these gun shows, they have hundreds of vendors and thousands of firearms. It might be an attractive target for criminals to steal firearms or acquire firearms. With long guns, the standard is now very low for accountability."

Canada's National Firearms Association hailed the decision Wednesday.

"In short, the Conservative government recognized that the gun show regulations were an unnecessary part of an ideological liberal agenda to gradually eliminate firearms ownership and cleared out this ill-intentioned piece of legislation for which there was no justifiable need," said Sheldon Clare, president of the association.