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Senator Don Plett defends firearms owners and debunks changes to Automatic Authorizations to Transport

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: 

I would like to add my voice to the debate and thank Senator Richards for this amendment. It’s a great amendment, and it’s probably no surprise to anyone here that I support it.

Changing the authorizations to transport is probably the most ludicrous part of this legislation, because it is completely unnecessary. If you bear with me, I would like to briefly explain why it is unnecessary. Senator Richards already touched on some of these areas, but I would like to expand upon his comments a bit for further clarification.

First of all, this issue has been very misrepresented by the government. In their election platform, the Liberal Party of Canada made the following promise:

We will take pragmatic action to make it harder for criminals to get, and use, handguns and assault weapons. We will:

"...repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit..."

Colleagues, this is very misleading, because under the existing law, the transportation of restricted and prohibited weapons already requires a permit. It is already illegal to transport a restricted firearm without a permit to do so. So the government’s suggestion that it will "repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit" is complete nonsense. It misrepresents what is in place right now.

What the government is actually doing is quite different. Currently, there are two classifications of permits for transporting a restricted firearm: a long-term authorization to transport and a short-term authorization to transport. Some destinations require a short-term authorization, and some destinations require a long-term authorization.

Let me repeat: You cannot now transport your restricted firearm without one of these permits. When someone receives their licence for a restricted firearm, that licence carries with it an authorization to transport that firearm to six destinations as long as the licence is valid. Those six destinations, as noted by Senator Richards, are: a home or shooting range in the same province; a police station or Chief Firearms Officer for verification, registration or disposal; a gunsmith for repair or a gun store for the purposes of appraisal or sale; a gun show; a border point, such as border crossing or international airport; and from a place where you purchase a firearm to the home.

The firearm cannot be carried around in the trunk of a car wherever the owner goes. It can only be transported to one of those authorized destinations. Any destination other than those six requires the gun owner to contact their firearms officer in order to obtain a short-term authorization to transport.

Bill C-71 removes four of those six destinations from the long-term ATT and transfer them to the short-term ATT. It does not, as the Liberals claim, "repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit," because there were no such changes in Bill C-42.

A restricted weapon already requires an authorization to transport in order to transport it anywhere.

Second, not only has this issue been misrepresented by the government, it has been very misunderstood by the public. Let me give you an example of this. Last month, a survey released by Leger asked the following question:

The Senate is currently studying a new piece of legislation, Bill C-71, which would modify the current legislation on firearms in Canada. Please tell me if you are in favour or opposed to the following proposed changes. . . .

Making it mandatory for owners of restricted firearms (handguns for example) to obtain an Authorization to Transport before they travel or transport their restricted firearm.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents said they were “strongly” or “somewhat” in favour. But how many of those respondents knew that authorizations to transport are already required in order to transport a restricted firearm? And how many of those respondents understood that in order to transport a restricted firearm you not only need a permit to do so, but you also must meet the following eight conditions?

The firearm can only be transported by the owner; the owner must have a valid, unexpired firearms licence for a restricted firearm; they must have the licence with them at all times when they are transporting the firearm; the firearm must be transported unloaded; it must be trigger-locked; it must be in a locked case; the owner must be travelling to an authorized destination as defined by the act; and the owner must be travelling by a reasonably direct route.

I suspect that if the poll question had been asked in a manner that represented these facts about the transportation of restricted firearms, the answers would have been substantially different.

It is very difficult to imagine how a person could believe that after a firearms owner jumps through all these hoops mentioned, requiring a short-term ATT rather than a long-term one will somehow increase public safety. Holding that position requires a lot of faith because there is absolutely no evidence to support it.

Thirdly, this issue has been previously addressed by the courts. In 2012, licenced gun owner Daniel Balofsky took the Ontario Chief Firearms Officer — CFO — to court because he was denied a long-term authorization to transport. Under section 74(1) of the Firearms Act, anyone who is refused an authorization to transport can refer the matter to a provincial court judge for a decision.

During the hearing, the CFO indicated that he was prepared to grant a long-term authorization to transport to Mr. Balofsky for travel to a gun club, but this would exclude travel to a gunsmith. He could take it to a gun club but he could not take it to a gunsmith, not unlike what the government is proposing today in Bill C-71.

Mr. Balofsky won the case. In his decision, Justice R. Khawly said the following:

"...the authorization [to transport] should include the transport to gunsmiths or verifiers. Logically, it is in the public interest in terms of safety that firearms are in proper working order. It is nonsensical to deny such authorization on the basis of infrequency as the CFO has done."

Colleagues, this was in 2012, and I am told that it was partly due to this court case that the government extended long-term ATTs to cover trips to the gunsmith in Bill C-42 of 2015. Reversing this decision does seem to be nonsensical, to use the word chosen by Justice Khawly.

In closing, let me just sum up by noting the following. Gun control advocates and some senators in this chamber repeatedly suggest that firearms owners should be prepared to accept a few more public safety measures in the interests of flushing out rogue or criminal elements.

Last week, Senator Deacon used the example of increased security screening at airports to illustrate this point. The problem with this is that unlike airport security screening, the steps gun owners are being asked to take are completely meaningless from a public safety standpoint. If they had some public safety value, believe me, gun owners would be more than willing to adopt them, but they do not. All they do is cast a shadow of suspicion over all gun owners, and gun owners resent this.

Revoking long-term authorizations to transport is the very worst part of Bill C-71, and I encourage all senators to vote in favour of Senator Richards’ amendment.

Thank you.

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