Next Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal’s most infamous gun-related tragedy in recent memory: the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique. To this day, the events of December 6th, 1989, continue to conjure frightening images of the lone gunman’s hate-inspired actions directed towards women.
The semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 rifle used in the murder of 14 young women was obtained by the shooter legally. Following the incident, Parliament passed laws requiring the licensing of all gun owners, the registration of all firearms and a prohibition of assault weapons. Amidst subsequent gun-related tragedies in the United States and other parts of the world, Canada was heralded as a beacon of sensible gun laws.
However, gun restrictions in Canada have been steadily eroding since 2012. No longer do firearms require registration, and all records of registration (with the exception of those in Quebec) have been destroyed.
Firearms dealers are no longer required to see (or verify the validity of) a license before selling a gun, so long as they have no reason to believe the buyer is unlicensed.
In August 2014, the government implemented new Firearms Classification regulations prohibiting the classification amendments more than one year after the determination is made. The gun industry is known to make superficial design changes to guns in order to evade laws. Because these regulations were implemented before thoroughly updating the categories, some heavy-duty firearms currently fall under a “restricted” or “non-restricted” status as opposed to the more appropriate “prohibited” status for these types of weapons. The Mini-14 used in the Montreal Massacre is one such weapon that is classified as non-restricted.
At present time, gun laws may be considered even less stringent than they were at the time of the Montreal Massacre, with a pending bill potentially weakening restrictions further.
Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, was scheduled for its first parliamentary debate on the day of the most recent tragedy at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Some of the more widely publicized changes to the Bill include:
- Merging the possession and acquisition licenses into a single license;
- Implement a six-month grace period to renew licences without facing prison time;
- Mandatory firearms safety training courses in order to obtain a license; and
- Prohibiting offenders of domestic abuse from obtaining licences.
While some of these changes appear to be sensible, as the short title of the Bill suggests, a closer inspection of the Bill reveals a potential ulterior motive.
Since 1995, when gun licenses were implemented, there have been separate possession and acquisition licenses in order to allow previous gun owners to keep their guns without going through the new licence requirements. Merging the two licences together will create a legal loophole for these gun owners to bypass training requirements and screening processes.
Allowing a six-month grace period for expired licences will have a detrimental impact on the quality of information in the Canadian Firearms Registry On-Line (CFRO) system, which is the only reliable source of data that law-enforcement authorities have on potential owners of non-restricted guns. Although a prison sentence may not be the ideal method of addressing a lapsed licence, it is important that the CFRO registry be kept up-to-date at all times to preserve the integrity of this data, particularly as it applies to the gun owners’ addresses.
Prohibiting domestic abuse offenders from obtaining licences would be redundant – dangerous offenders are already identified in the screening process and barred from licensing. Furthermore, gun owners are already required to pass a safety examination to obtain a licence. This begs the question – why include these redundant provisions in the Bill?
These seemingly “sensible” provisions appear to embellish the following lesser-publicized amendments to the Firearms Act and Criminal Code:
- Weakened authority of the provincial Chief Firearms Officers (CFO);
- Relaxed controls on handguns and restricted weapons; and
- Granting of classification override powers to the Federal Minister.
Chief Firearms Officers are responsible for the administration and decisions related to licences, authorizations to transport/carry, transfers of firearms, and record keeping. Reducing the powers of the CFOs may make it difficult for provinces to strengthen public safety efforts within their power.
Bill C-42 proposes the unrestricted transportation of handguns by licensed gun within the same province without Authorization To Transport (ATT) certificates. Handguns could therefore be freely transported by any means without supervision.
Finally, by allowing government to make the final decision on the classification of firearms transforms decisions on public safety into political decisions. Such decisions are justifiable by discretionary power, increasing the influence of lobbies and political agendas in public safety decisions.
The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act presents a superficially “sensible” firearms legislation, but is merely the latest step in the progressive erosion of truly sensible gun restrictions the passed in the wake of the Montreal Massacre 25 years ago.
Second reading debate on Bill C-42 is set to begin on Wednesday, November 26th.