Bill C-230, tabled by MP Larry Miller in February, seeks to define the term “variant”. However, critics call it a risk to firearms in Canada.
Bill C-230, a private member’s bill introduced to the House of Commons by Larry Miller, a conservative MP representing Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, that sought to define the term “variant” in the Criminal Code. Initially this bill saw a lot of support from the firearms community in Canada, however it has begun to draw plenty of well-informed criticism from legal experts including pro-gun lawyers.
A criminal defense and firearms lawyer in Edmonton, Ian Runkle, took to social media to provide his in-depth critique of the bill. The criticism includes claims the definitions within the bill could actually be used to further restrict or prohibit many firearms and that the bill could have “grave consequences”. It is stark and very thorough analysis of C-230 and it serves as a reminder that gun owners and enthusiasts in Canada should be fully aware of the potential consequences of this bill despite its well-meaning nature.
The full text of Ian’s critique is republished here, with his permission, below or can be found on his Facebook page here. If you have any questions I highly recommend you ask him there.
|Bill C-230 Issues|
Bill C-230 is a quite concise bill, and can be summarized as follows:
– Paragraph 1 provides a definition of “variant”, which would thus clarify the term as it appears in the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms To Be Restricted Or Prohibited.
The Criminal Code provisions are written in a way that has a clear preference for greater restriction. The definition of restricted firearm excludes any firearm that is prohibited, but no opposing clause exists in the prohibited firearm category—so any firearm that would be both prohibited and restricted is simply prohibited instead. Similarly, non-restricted firearms are simply those that are neither prohibited nor restricted. Accordingly, if the law would otherwise put something into multiple categories, it falls into the most restrictive one. This is important in interpreting the legislation.
Under the current legislative scheme, the term “variant” does not appear in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is not currently part of the ‘base’ definition of what makes a firearm prohibited or restricted. Instead, it appears only in the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited, Restricted or Non-Restricted (SOR 98-462) [hereafter simply Regulations].
The current legislative scheme thus only bans or restricts a very small subset of variants—only those that are specifically named. This treatment is generally reserved for firearms that were considered a particular danger by whichever political official was responsible for the list of regulations. For example, the list of firearms prohibited by name (along with their variants), includes the MP5 submachine gun, the Barrett “Light Fifty” Model 82A1 rifle, the USAS-12 auto shotgun, the AK-47, the Thompson submachinegun, and others.
In the past, the RCMP has interpreted “variant” fairly broadly, and thus has captured firearms that have very little functional or mechanical similarity with the supposed original. This also makes things very uncertain for the average gun owner, who has little way of identifying which category a given firearm will go into.
The impact of this would be huge. For any firearm, one would have to look at all other makes and models of it in order to determine whether or not it is prohibited, restricted, or otherwise.
This would also end the current practice of retrofitting a handgun which is prohibited by barrel length with a longer barrel in order to make it legal. It would no longer matter that you had changed the essential characteristics of the gun that made it prohibited. The simple fact that the base model is prohibited would ensure that this version is prohibited forever, no matter what modifications one might make to it.
All of this is based on the most firearm-friendly interpretation. Let us instead go on to consider a far less friendly interpretation, but one that would, I suggest, likely be advanced by law enforcement.
Let us consider the Lee Enfield rifle—a popular rifle among Canadian shooters, and a piece of Canadian history. They are bolt-action, and about as innocuous as it is possible to get. In the original configuration, this is a non-restricted rifle, available to any Canadian with a firearms license. However, if it were modified with a hacksaw to cut it down to be less than 600mm in total length, or to have a barrel length of less than 457mm, it would become a prohibited firearm. This can be accomplished by modifying the stock of the firearm and the barrel of the firearm without ever damaging or modifying the receiver. Accordingly, this newly created firearm, of little value to anyone, would suddenly have a tremendous impact because it would be a variant of every existing Lee Enfield. Suddenly they can all be considered prohibited. Such modified rifles already exist for a number of different popular non-restricted firearms, generally created by criminals. Under the current rules, the fact that some criminal somewhere has cut down a shotgun or rifle is meaningless to the general public—that particular individual shotgun or rifle is prohibited, but the unmodified ones remain in their original classification. While this is certainly not the intent of the bill, firearm owners could expect to fight this issue out in court as an RCMP expert produced a modified firearm, explained to the court how the frame is identical in both the modified and unmodified version, and provided their opinion that this made the unmodified firearm a prohibited weapon. This would carry a fair bit of weight, and the courts have often taken stances that are highly hostile to the idea of firearm ownership. This interpretation, if adopted by the courts, could prohibit the vast majority of non-restricted rifles on the market, without any exaggeration.
Even with the stricter criteria of limiting things to their original manufactured configuration would subject Canadian gun owners to a great deal of uncertainty due to paragraphs 2 and 3. The creation of a new model of firearm could suddenly reclassify any firearm that shares the same frame or receiver. So a handgun that is currently legal could suddenly become illegal if the manufacturer suddenly introduces a compact (short-barreled) version for the U.S. market, where that model would be legal. A non-restricted rifle could suddenly become restricted if a shorter version is released.
In its present form, the current bill would likely have grave consequences, unforeseen (I believe) to its authors. I suggest that the revision is simple—keep paragraph 1, which is an entirely sensible and beneficial clarification to the definition, and eliminate paragraphs 2 and 3, which expand substantially the lists of prohibited and restricted firearms. This would be in keeping with the original intent of protecting firearms owners from the uncertainty and arbitrary reclassifications that have plagued the firearms community.
A special thank you to Ian Runkle for allowing me to republish his critique here so that it may reach a wider audience.