TRUDEAU JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REFUSES TO CLARIFY FIREARMS LAW

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Via Email from the CSSA

MP Bob Zimmer, co-chair of the Parliamentary Outdoor Caucus, grew more and more annoyed with the federal government’s refusal to answer one simple question during a November 23, 2017, meeting of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations.

He simply wanted to know why the Trudeau government refused to clarify the term “variant” with respect to firearms.

“I’m still having a hard time understanding why clarifying firearms regulation is somehow a problem. It would simply make it more accurate,” said Zimmer. The way that firearms are classified should be based on the receiver. That is the global understanding about how firearms are defined.”

A rational person presumes legal clarity is a good thing, especially when it comes to law that can send people to prison. Liberal government representatives insisted such clarity is silly, unnecessary and sloughed off Bob Zimmer’s concerns saying, “adding a definition of ‘variant’ in the regulations could perhaps create new loopholes in the regulations.”

Say what?

Here is MP Bob Zimmer’s proposed definition of “variant” with respect to firearms. It’s the same definition MP Larry Miller put forward in his recently-defeated private member’s bill C-230, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (firearm – definition of variant).

“Variant, in respect of a firearm, means a firearm that has the unmodified frame or receiver of another firearm.”

“It doesn’t get any clearer than that,” Bob Zimmer said.

Department of Justice Senior Assistant Deputy Minister Donald K. Piragoff admitted the current situation is unacceptable while reiterating there are no plans to define the term in the regulations,.

Said Piragoff, “[T]he term ‘commonly available in Canada’ is vague; and the phrase ‘variant or modified version’ is also vague.”

With his very next breath, Piragoff declared: “adding a definition of the terms ‘variant’ or ‘commonly available’ would not be significantly helpful in assisting the public to understand whether or not a particular firearm is a variant of a listed firearm. The Minister of Justice has written, on October 10, 2017, to inform the committee that the government has no plans at this time to add these definitions.”

Assisting the public to stay on the right side of the law and, by extension, out of prison, would “not be significantly helpful?

The CSSA takes issue with the government’s position.

We require clarity in law specifically so people know where the line is drawn between legal and illegal behaviour. It is reprehensible, not to mention irresponsible, for our government to say otherwise.

It’s easy to understand why Bob Zimmer grew more and more frustrated with Mr. Piragoff’s responses on behalf of the Justice Department.

Piragoff’s statements make no sense.

Conservative MP Kerry Diotte shared Bob Zimmer’s frustration.

Said Diotte: “I still don’t understand what you’re saying. It makes no sense when you say that adding a definition of variance could create more loopholes and lead to more variance. It’s circular logic if you define what a dog is in legislation and then worry that that’s bad and that somebody will find a loophole. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

Only in our up-is-down, wrong-is-right Canada would our government believe keeping Canadians OUT of prison is a bad thing. Only such an Orwellian state could believe clarifying criminal legislation is “not significantly helpful.”

The Mossberg Blaze .22 calibre rifle is available in a variety of configurations. While most models of The Blaze are classified as non-restricted, the RCMP Firearms Lab classified the Blaze 47 as prohibited, based solely on its cosmetic similarity to the AK-47. The .22 calibre rifle shares no common parts with the AK-47. Its receiver cannot accept the AK-47’s ammunition, nor can it be modified to do so.

Bob Zimmer explained to Mr. Piragoff how the government’s refusal to define the term “variant” results in absurd firearm classifications.

“The Blaze 47 trades the conventional stock for a plastic kit designed to emulate the appearance of an AK-47. This rifle, although being internally identical to The Blaze (the AK-47 style stock and conventional stock are interchangeable), was recently classified as a prohibited firearm,” noted Zimmer.

When confronted by this asinine classification decision, Assistant Deputy Minister Donald K. Piragoff abdicated all responsibility, saying: “These are questions that should be directed to the RCMP and to Public Safety as they are responsible for making these determinations.”

Piragoff repeatedly insisted clarifying the term “variant” in law was unnecessary, a position he defended with four illogical statements:

  1. “[A]dding a definition of the terms ‘variant’ or ‘commonly available’ would not be significantly helpful in assisting the public to understand whether or not a particular firearm is a variant of a listed firearm.”
  2. Defining “variant” in the regulations “could perhaps create new loopholes in the regulations,” giving firearm manufacturers “loopholes through which they could introduce new firearms that are largely similar to existing restricted or prohibited firearms.
  3. Bill C-230, which sought to define “variant” in law, was defeated because its definition “was not accurate and could not be precise.
  4. The current regulations “are legal and can be administered by law enforcement. The RCMP is able to interpret them and the courts have been able to interpret them.”

In many cases, when courts interpret these regulations, they rule the firearm classification is “unreasonable,” just as Justice Alan D. Cooper did in relation to another .22 calibre firearm bearing only cosmetic resemblance to an AK 47, the Armi Jager AP80. The RCMP classified the AP80 as a prohibited firearm because it was an “unnamed variant of the AK-47.”

From Justice Cooper’s decision in R. v. Henderson:

“It is my conclusion, because of the reasons set out above, that the decision of the Registrar of Firearms was unreasonable. Under section 76 (b) of the Firearms Act, I am directing the Registrar of Firearms to issue a registration certificate to Mr. Henderson for his Armi Jager AP80 firearm, as an unrestricted firearm.”

What we will never comprehend is our Liberal government’s insistence that clarifying criminal law is “not significantly helpful.”

It appears we labour under the misconception that a government’s duty, first and foremost, is to serve its citizens, not trip them up and send them to prison.

We thank Conservative MPs Bob Zimmer and Kerry Diotte for their diligence and tenacity to inject a little common sense into the Trudeau government.

While they haven’t succeeded on this particular front yet, they refuse to give up the fight, and for that we are truly grateful.

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