Firearms control: Canada lowers the bar, again

Conventional Weapons, News

UPDATE: Since the following blog was written, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced that the government will postpone implementation of Canada’s Firearms Marking Regulations until December 2013, more than seven years after they were meant to come into effect. According to press reports, in an announcement to the Conservative Party caucus on November 2 the Minister cited the need to hold consultations, as he has done in earlier deferral announcements.

This month the federal government proposed an amendment to national firearms regulations that further weakens the ability of Canadian police and other authorities to trace firearms. The amendment, which will come into force on December 1, establishes marking requirements for firearms that are significantly weaker than emerging international standards. And despite government claims to the contrary, the new regulation will make it more likely that Canada will fail to ratify important international firearms treaties.

For the third time this year Canada has bucked the international trend and reduced national standards for firearms control. In April the federal government’s Bill C-19 ended the long-gun registry, the system for licensed firearms owners to register the “non-restricted” firearms that account for 90 per cent of all firearms in Canada. The clear intent of the Bill was to remove all evidence of the nature, number, or whereabouts of most of Canada’s firearms, including notorious semi-automatic firearms that have been used in mass shootings. In June Bill C-19 was reinforced by new federal regulations to eliminate the mandatory records kept by gun dealers of sales of non-restricted firearms. Now, because dealers no longer are obligated to keep such sales records, most firearms will become untraceable in Canada. If a rifle or shotgun is found at a crime scene, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for police to trace the weapon to its last legal owner.

According to analysis published in the Canada Gazette, the latest amendment requires “that firearms manufactured in, or imported to, Canada” be marked to distinguish them from other firearms.  But wide gaps are created by three words in the analysis: “with certain exceptions.” The first major exception is that the amendment drops the existing (although not implemented) requirement that imported firearms bear the word “Canada” or “CA” and a mark indicating the year of import. This requirement was consistent with international marking norms to ensure that under-marked firearms bear clear, standard markings. The requirement was to have come into effect in April 2006, but has been postponed by the government several times. Now the postponement is permanent.

The analysis also notes that “there is no requirement under the proposed Regulations to submit reports showing compliance with having marked the firearm.” Moreover, because there is no mechanism to report compliance, the regulations do not contain enforcement measures. This is the largest and arguably the universal “exception” in the regulations. If firearms importers are not obligated to report compliance with the new regulations, they cannot be held to account for fulfilling or penalized for not fulfilling their obligations. In effect, this makes all firearms imports exempt from marking.

The Gazette analysis states that the government is of the view that neither the proposed amendment nor “its decision to repeal the long-gun registry” will prevent Canada from ratifying two important firearms treaties — the UN Firearms Protocol and the Organization of American States Firearms Convention known as CIFTA. A simple reading of the Conventions will quickly dispel the accuracy of this view. Along with the earlier steps to weaken firearms regulations, the latest amendment is contrary to the provisions of the treaties. Canada falls short on core requirements for information-sharing, record-keeping, and marking of firearms.

This latest amendment is another made-in-Canada blow to international efforts to bring the proliferation and misuse of firearms under control. It will add to the burdens of Canadian police forces when they seek to trace weapons used in crimes in Canada or when they attempt to assist international colleagues in tracking firearms across borders. Canada soon will be recognized for hosting some of the lowest firearms control standards in the industrialized world. As a result, responsible foreign firearms suppliers will have more reason to reconsider, and deny, exports of firearms to Canada.

You can e-mail your concerns to Lyndon Murdock, Director, Firearms and Operational Policing Policy Division, Law Enforcement and Policing Branch, Public Safety Canada, citing the Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 146, No. 41 (October 13, 2012) (e-mail: firearms/armesafeu@ps-sp.gc.ca).We also suggest that you copy Public Safety Minister Toews (vic.toews@parl.gc.ca) and Foreign Affairs Minister Baird (john.baird@parl.gc.ca).

1. See http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2012/2012-10-13/html/reg3-eng.html

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