BY BILL PHILLIPS
Stressing that it’s not a return to the long-gun registry, Justice Minister Ralph Goodale brought in changes to the nation’s gun laws yesterday.
Among the new provisions is that whenever a non-restricted firearm is transferred, the buyer must produce his/her firearms licence, and the vendor must verify that it is valid. In addition, commercial retailers must maintain adequate records of their inventories and sales. These records would be accessible to police officers on reasonable grounds and with judicial authorization, as appropriate.
“This is not a registry and there is no element of a long-gun registry contained in this legislation,” he said during a news conference announcing the change. “It is, in no way a registry, it’s simply the verification that the individual who is selling has the legal authority to sell and the individual who is buying has the legal authority to buy.”
The licences of sellers and buyers will be checked through the RCMP, which will ensure both the buyer and seller are legitimate.
He also stressed that records that have to be kept by retailers will not be available to government, only to RCMP which would have to have a warrant to access them.
“It’s a private property record that would be accessible to police when they are investigating a crime,” he said.
The new legislation also reaffirms the Liberals’ commitment to leave gun classification with the RCMP. The Conservative Party has pledged, should it form government, to remove the classification from the RCMP and turn it over to an ombudsperson.
“We want to make sure there is a consistent, professional, impartial system of classification,” said Goodale. “… We will rely on the technical expertise of the RCMP, not political considerations, to determine which guns belong in which class.”
The legislation will repeal cabinet’s existing authority to overrule RCMP determinations.
In Canada there are three types of firearms: “restricted”, such as handguns, certain rifles and semi-automatics; “prohibited”, such as certain handguns, fully automatic firearms, and sawed off rifles; and “non-restricted” such as ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns. The RCMP Canadian Firearms Program determines the technical classification of a firearm according to criteria in the Criminal Code. Restricted and prohibited firearms require additional safety training, must be registered and their use is limited to certain activities, such as target practice or as part of a collection.
The new legislation also proposes to eliminate the existing provision that focuses background checks primarily on just the five years immediately preceding a licence application and will require specific transportation authorizations to be obtained whenever restricted or prohibited guns are moved through the community, except between a residence and an approved shooting range. The rules for transporting non-restricted weapons (such as legally owned rifles and shotguns) will not change.
This legislation will complement prior steps to create a more balanced and representative Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee; to strengthen infrastructure and technology at the border to better interdict gun smuggling, to withdraw from manufacturers/importers the authority to determine in certain circumstances their own firearms classification, and support provinces, territories, municipalities, communities and law enforcement in local initiatives to combat illegal gangs and gun crime.
Items that aren’t contained in the legislation, but which will be discussed by authorities include storage regulations at retailers; is it reasonable to allow gun manufacturers to advertise their products in a way that glorifies anti-personnel violence and simulates warfare; developing a mechanism to identify large sales of guns; and should provinces require medical professionals to advise authorities of people who have diagnosed conditions, including mental illnesses, that could put people in danger.
“There will be those who will argue that what we’re doing today is not enough, there are those who will argue we’ve gone too far,” said Goodale. “We’re hopeful this will represent a consensus.”