OTTAWA — A prominent gun-control group is accusing the federal Liberals of endangering public safety by backpedalling on a pledge to ensure firearm buyers have a valid licence.
In a written submission to the government, PolySeSouvient says proposed regulations to flesh out federal legislation do not go far enough to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
The group, which pushes for more stringent firearm controls, includes students and graduates of Montreal's Ecole polytechnique, where a gunman killed 14 women in 1989.
When Bill C-71 received royal assent in 2019, the government said it would require sellers to verify the validity of a firearms licence before selling a non-restricted firearm, such as a rifle or shotgun.
Confirming the validity of a potential buyer's licence is a fundamental component of any credible gun control regime because stolen, revoked or counterfeit licences can be used to illegally purchase firearms, PolySeSouvient argues.
However, the planned regulations do not prevent such abuses, the group says.
It notes there is no obligation on the part of a seller to check with the federal firearms registrar to see if a prospective gun buyer actually has a valid licence.
While the regulations spell out that a potential buyer has to provide all the information set out on the front of their licence, including the buyer's photo, to a potential seller, nowhere does it state that the seller must provide this information to the registrar.
"This is exactly what the gun lobby wants: for the government to have as little information as possible related to transactions of non-restricted firearms," said PolySeSouvient spokeswoman Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times during the 1989 assault at the engineering school.
"Looks like they got their wish, once again, at the expense of public safety."
The registrar would only issue a reference number green-lighting a sale if convinced the buyer was eligible to hold a licence, said Tim Warmington, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada.
But he acknowledged the act and proposed regulations "do not explicitly specify what information the seller must provide" to the registrar when a reference number is requested.
Warmington said examples of information required by the registrar could include the seller's licence number and name (to allow the registrar to ensure that the seller has a valid firearms licence), and the licence number, name and expiry date of the buyer (to ensure the licence number provided for the buyer is accurate).
The seller would also need to confirm they had taken reasonable steps to verify that the buyer is the holder of the licence, he added.
PolySeSouvient allows that the registrar might request licence information before granting a reference number.
"The point is that this is discretionary and not required by law," the group says. "A future government that aligns with the gun lobby could just as well instruct officials to rubber stamp such requests or applications, thus the importance of specifying such details in the law."
Bill C-71 also expands background checks to determine eligibility for a firearms licence to a person's entire life, not just the last five years, and broadens grounds to cover an applicant's history of intimate partner violence and online threats.
In addition, the legislation requires vendors to keep records of non-restricted firearm transactions and forces owners to have a separate Authorization to Transport (ATT) when taking restricted and prohibited firearms to any place except an approved shooting facility.
PolySeSouvient also has serious concerns about these elements, arguing in its brief:
— The lifetime background checks remain discretionary and do not address more important flaws in the screening process, such as known risks that are dismissed or ignored;
— the usefulness of the sales records is undermined by the need for police to obtain a search warrant in order to access them; and
— the authorization to transport allows an owner to take a handgun to and from any gun club or range in their province, even if they are not a member.
"While C-71 and the proposed regulations may move gun control in the right direction, it does so in a way that can only be described as baby steps riddled with concessions to the gun lobby," the submission says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press