Bill C-51 hearings: National Firearms Association pulls out

The National Firearms Association, which had been scheduled to speak against the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill, has pulled itself off the list of witnesses scheduled for Monday's public safety committee meeting on Parliament Hill.

National Firearms Assocation was to appear along with internet advocacy group Open Media

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, left, talks to reporters on Parliament in Ottawa as Justice Minister Peter MacKay, right, looks on. Blaney's proposed legislation to give a Canadian intelligence agency sweeping new powers will be the focus of the public safety committee Monday evening. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The National Firearms Association, which had been scheduled to speak against the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill, has pulled itself off the list of witnesses scheduled for Monday's public safety committee meeting on Parliament Hill.

The group has not been rescheduled, the committee clerk confirmed to CBC News.

The NFA's lawyer, Solomon Friedman, had been scheduled to share a panel with Open Media executive director Steve Anderson and was expected to raise concerns about Bill C-51. The bill has already been roundly criticized for including measures that would let government departments share information, as well as for giving the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) broad powers to disrupt unlawful activity.

Open Media advocates for cheaper and faster internet, often taking on the wireless industry. The panel with the NFA seemed like an odd pairing, but both are part of the Protect our Privacy Coalition and have raised concerns about the lack of oversight for Canadian intelligence agencies CSIS and CSEC, the Communications Security Establishment Canada. 

The cancellation comes as gun owners grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress by Bill C-42, changes to the Firearms Act that the government refers to as the "common sense firearms licensing act."

A press release distributed by Open Media before the firearms group cancelled said Open Media was sharing its time with the NFA "to ensure that the concerns of firearms owners about the legislation can be heard."

'Crucial' parliamentary hearings

The NFA supports Liberal MP Joyce Murray's bill to increase oversight for CSEC and has come out against the Conservatives in the past, including on Bill C-42.

Friedman was replaced on the shared panel with Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association​, and Connie Fournier, founder of the Free Dominion​ website, which describes itself as a forum for the discussion of conservative philosophy and activism​.

Friedman and Clare did not respond to requests for comment. The NFA's spokesman said he needed to look into the cancellation, but did not call back, and did not answer followup emails.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney would only say that "committees are master of their own business."

Anderson said it's a pity the firearms association withdrew from its slot at the committee.

"I hope the government will clarify whether it played a role in pressuring the NFA to withdraw," he said in an email to CBC News.

"Legitimate firearms owners are one of many groups concerned about how Bill C-51 will undermine privacy and our basic democratic rights. These are crucial parliamentary hearings and the voices of all Canadians deserve to be heard."

Gun owners have expressed frustration with Bill C-42 and with how long it's taking the government to move the legislation through Parliament. The NFA — with 75,000 members, the country's biggest gun owners' group — has criticized the bill for not proposing substantive enough changes.

Gun owners not 'feeling the love'

Last year, NFA President Sheldon Clare said Bill C-42 was more about "giving the appearance of doing something when, in fact, nothing much is being done."

"I would say firearms owners right now aren't really feeling the love."

Privately, another group that advocates in favour of gun-owners' rights has reassured its members that Bill C-42 will become law before the current session is over. 

Tony Bernardo, head of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, has told CSSA members that Bill C-42 is "moving forward as expected."

Bernardo, in an email inadvertently sent to the entire CSSA email list last month, said the Firearms Act changes would go to committee at the beginning of March "and we are being assured it will be passed into law before the end of the legislative session."

But the bill hasn't moved since being introduced last fall.

It would be nearly impossible to bring into law any bill that doesn't pass by the summer break because of this year's federal election, which has to be held by Oct. 19 of this year

That means Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have to go to the Governor General to prorogue Parliament in September at the latest, and Parliament likely won't return between summer and the election.


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