Sunday October 26, 2014

New gun law looks good


Last week, Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz issued a press release announcing public safety minister Steven Blaney intended to introduce the Common Sense in Firearms Licensing Act in the fall. Given that the Harper government has mastered the art of Doublespeak like none other in Canadian history, I expected the content to be the exact opposite of common sense.

In general, I don’t like the term “common sense,” anyway, because it lacks context. In my circles, for example, it might mean that you examine all of the best current available evidence and come to a reasoned policy on that basis. In Stephen Harper’s circles it appears to mean you dogmatically stick to your ideological principles no matter how badly they are compromised by the best available evidence and/or eliminate the capacity to obtain evidence in the first place.

To cite just one of myriad examples, let’s take Bill C30, officially the Protecting Children Against Internet Predators Act. Essentially, the proposed legislation had little to do with protecting children and everything to do with granting law enforcement the power to trample on Canadians’ privacy rights by forcing Internet service providers to allow the interception and tracking of online communications without a warrant.

The bill quickly became almost universally maligned outside Conservative circles and referred to as the “online surveillance” or “warrantless wiretapping bill.”

When challenged by an opposition critic, then justice minister Rob Nicholson infamously told the MP he could “either stand with us, or stand with the child pornographers,” another favourite illogical tactic of Conservatives to try to establish untenable false choices for dissenters as if defending privacy rights and abhorring child pornography are mutually exclusive.

When the Conservatives were finally forced to abandon the bill because it was blatantly unconstitutional, the minister promised the government would not try to bury it in future legislation that would “modernize” the Criminal Code.

The use of the term “modernize” is another great example of Conservative Doublespeak because their legislative record with respect to the Criminal Code demonstrates a regressive attitude toward crime and punishment.

Nevertheless, in the interest of fairness, and bearing in mind we have not seen the actual full text of the firearms licensing bill, only the bullet points they chose to release July 25, I would say that some of it makes a lot of sense.

The first point, that they will merge the Possession Only Licence (POL) and Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) seems logical. Maybe I’m looking at this too simplistically, but it occurs to me that if I am to be permitted the privilege of possessing a gun, I am going to have to acquire one. It does seem like unnecessary bureaucracy to have both.

Similarly, making the authorization to transport a condition of the possession licence makes sense. If I’m going to own a gun, I am going to have to be able to transport it to where I can use it. Again, I might be thinking too simplistically. Maybe there are circumstances in which I would only have a gun for use on my own property, but I don’t have a licence to own my car and then a separate authorization to drive it, although it can be just as lethal a weapon as a gun in the wrong hands. As long as the safety regulations of ownership and transport are strict enough and enforceable, why have all these separate levels of red tape for law-abiding owners?

I am somewhat agnostic on the provision of a grace period for gun owners who let their licence lapse. There is no grace period for letting your vehicle registration or driver’s licence lapse. I have been in court when many people have received fines for driving an unregistered vehicle or driving without a licence even when they were on their way to renew them. I don’t know that a grace period is necessarily appropriate, but a temporary lapse should probably be a regulatory offence rather than a criminal charge.

The point that I have to question is restricting the ability of chief firearms officers (CFO) to make arbitrary decisions. This provision is almost certainly a response to an RCMP decision to put a couple of popular semi-automatic assault-style rifles on the prohibited list, which caused a furor among some gun enthusiasts. First, it is ridiculously vague; what do they mean by arbitrary and what kind of decisions are they referring to? Secondly, it suggests that CFOs are or have been making arbitrary (whatever that means) decisions (whatever that means), which the Conservatives have presented no evidence to support. Finally, who, if not the chief firearms officer, should be charged with the responsibility of making decisions?

We will have to wait and see what the actual legislation looks like, however. So far, it looks pretty reasonable, but the Conservatives are notorious for obfuscating the true intent of bills with reasonable sounding titles.

To put a blunt point on it, I just don’t trust them.

The thing that really bothered me about the announcement, however, was Breitkreuz’s statement: “Like me, [Blaney] believes that owning a firearm is a right, but a right that comes with responsibilities.”

We live in Canada. There is no right to bear arms. It is not a matter of “belief,” it is a matter of law, which the Supreme Court has upheld against all challenges to date.

It is appalling that the minister of justice and our elected MP of 20 years do not understand this fundamental fact or, even worse, they do, but choose to intentionally mislead Canadians and disrespect the Constitution and Court.



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