The Senate is often referred to as Parliament’s “chamber of sober second thought” in relation to decisions made by the elected members of the House of Commons. However, the red chamber not only gave the Liberal government’s gun control bill, C-71, third reading this week, but did so after rejecting a report from the Senate’s own committee that proposed significant amendments.
The Senate’s approval means that Bill C-71 is just short of becoming law (the final step, royal assent, is largely a formality).
The May 28 Senate vote followed a comprehensive hearing process earlier this year, in which the Senate’s Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence studied the bill and heard detailed testimony from over 80 witnesses regarding the policy, implementation, and effectiveness of C-71. As a result, the committee (across party and caucus lines) recommended a number of significant amendments, which were presented to the Senate in the committee’s report in April.
The committee proposed the removal of ten clauses in Bill C-71, including many key elements: the proposed “lifetime” background check for new applicants and licensees in clause 2 (the current review period is the past five years); clause 4’s “authorization to transport” restrictions (to keep the existing scheme in place); and clauses 16 and 18 (to maintain the authority of the government to “downgrade” classifications of firearms made by the RCMP).
The committee also recommended a new public transparency clause be added to the bill, to require the Commissioner of Firearms to report, annually, to the government on the reasons and impact of firearm classification changes. Finally, the report urged that the federal government consider the possibility of compensation “to ensure that businesses do not experience economic harm when firearms in their inventory are classified as prohibited” because of Bill C-71.
Unusually, though, on May 7 the Senate summarily rejected these amendments, along with attempts to reintroduce amendments individually during the debate.
The debate over the adoption of the committee’s report and third reading included an astonishing statement by Senator Josée Forest-Niesing. While admitting that she herself had enjoyed recreational shooting and hunting (including a “beautiful and romantic partridge hunting excursion”), she claimed that “guns exist for one purpose, despite being used properly or for illegal purposes: They kill.”
The discussion was further enlivened by Senator Lucie Moncion’s presentation on the “gun lobby,” “interest groups who oppose any form of firearm regulation,” and their alleged “failure to provide evidence-based information, which perpetuates misinformation inspired by the … National Rifle Association, or NRA.”
Her remarks included the statement that, “In Canada, the NRA has also funded research of Canadian gun owner, activist and former Simon Fraser University professor Gary Mauser.” Dr. Gary Mauser was a witness who testified before the Senate committee on Bill C-71. As it happens, the question of NRA funding (indeed, of any funding from U.S. sources) was specifically put to Dr. Mauser and other witnesses on February 25, 2019, during the hearing. The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence transcript records the exchange as follows:
Senator McPhedran: I have two questions for both of you. First, has any of your research at any time been funded by U.S. sources, including the National Rifle Association?
Mr. Mauser: Almost all of my research is funded by the Canadian government. One of my studies was funded by the Canadian American consulate, and it is an American source in that sense. None of my research is funded by the NRA.
Senator McPhedran: None of your research.
Mr. Mauser: None.
(Other witnesses likewise confirmed that they were not funded by the NRA.)
Senator Don Plett, who had participated in the hearing and who proposed many of the committee’s amendments, summarized the disappointing outcome in a news release following the May 28 vote. “Trudeau-appointed senators today chose to ignore the evidence and pass Bill C-71 without amendment.” Even though the witnesses testifying before the Senate committee had “identified clear problems with this Bill and begged us to fix them …yet every effort to make constructive changes was blocked by the government’s appointed Senators.”
Since Bill C-71 was introduced last year, politicians, gun rights advocates, and Canadians across the country have consistently maintained this “feel good” law will do nothing to address the real problems caused by gangs, illegal guns, and criminals. The Conservative Party of Canada has condemned the measure for targeting sports shooters, farmers, hunters, and other law–abiding gun owners –“the most-responsible and the most-vetted members of our society” – and has promised to repeal the law if elected.
While the opportunity for meaningful “sober second thought” at the legislative level is no longer an option, Canadians may decide how they feel about public safety and “empty, fluffy promises that deliver nothing” when they go to the polls on October 19.