Vol. 151, No. 11 — May 31, 2017

Registration
SOR/2017-87 May 12, 2017

CRIMINAL CODE

Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2017)

P.C. 2017-506 May 12, 2017

His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice, pursuant to subsection 117.14(1) (see footnote a) of the Criminal Code (see footnote b), makes the annexed Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2017).

Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2017)

Definition non-restricted firearm

1 In this Order, non-restricted firearm means a firearm other than a prohibited firearm or a restricted firearm.

Amnesty

2 (1) The amnesty period set out in subsection (3) is declared under section 117.14 of the Criminal Code for an individual who, at any time during the amnesty period, is in possession of a non-restricted firearm and who holds or held a licence to possess firearms or a licence to possess and acquire firearms

  • (a) that expired during the period beginning on January 1, 2004 and ending on May 16, 2017; or
  • (b) that expires during the period beginning on May 17, 2017 and ending on December 31, 2017.

Purpose

(2) The purpose of the amnesty period is to permit the individual to

  • (a) obtain the licence;
  • (b) deactivate the firearm so that it is no longer a firearm;
  • (c) export the firearm in accordance with all applicable legal requirements, including the legal requirements of the country to which the firearm is exported;
  • (d) turn in the firearm to a police officer or a firearms officer for destruction or other disposal;
  • (e) sell or give the firearm to a public service agency, as defined in section 1 of the Public Agents Firearms Regulations, to a business, including a museum, that holds a licence authorizing the acquisition of firearms or to an individual who holds a licence to possess and acquire firearms; or
  • (f) possess the firearm before doing one of the things described in paragraphs (a) to (e).

Amnesty period

(3) The amnesty period begins on May 17, 2017 and ends on December 31, 2017.

Coming into force

3 This Order comes into force on the day on which it is registered.

REGULATORY IMPACT ANALYSIS STATEMENT

(This statement is not part of the Order.)

Issues

The Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2015) (see footnote 1) [Amnesty Order] expires on May 16, 2017. The Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2017) will extend the Amnesty Order until December 31, 2017, after which date it will expire permanently. The extension of the Amnesty Order provides time for individuals in possession of non-restricted firearms with expired licences to come into compliance with federal firearms legislation, which enhances public safety through Continuous Eligibility Screening.

Background

The purpose of firearms licensing is to ensure, in the interest of public safety, that individuals are properly trained and screened to possess firearms. Licences are valid for five years and specify the privileges to possess and acquire a specific class of firearm (i.e. non-restricted, restricted, prohibited). To remain lawfully entitled to possess firearms, individuals must renew their licence prior to expiry.

There are currently approximately 2 077 000 firearms licences in Canada, of which 1 504 000 are licences for non-restricted firearms.

An earlier version of the Amnesty Order was first introduced in 2006 for one year as part of a broader set of three temporary measures (the Amnesty Order, a fee waiver for licence renewals and temporarily allowing individuals to renew expired Possession Only Licences) to provide incentives for individuals to come into compliance with the requirements of firearms legislation. The effect of the Amnesty Order was that non-restricted firearms owners who did not meet registration or licensing requirements, and who were taking steps to comply with these requirements, were protected from criminal liability. In 2006, the Government also introduced the two-year fee waiver for firearms licence renewals.

Prior to the coming into force in 2015 of Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, there were two types of licences for adults:

  • Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL): This is now the only type of licence that is available to new applicants. Generally, to be eligible to apply for a PAL, which permits both firearms possession and acquisition, individuals would successfully complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, or pass the associated test without taking the course. The cost to obtain or renew a PAL is $60 for non-restricted firearms and $80 for restricted/prohibited firearms.
  • Possession Only Licence (POL): The POL was available to individuals who lawfully owned a firearm when the Firearms Act came into force in 1998 and allowed them to continue to possess firearms without completing the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, but not to acquire firearms. The cost to renew a POL was $60 regardless of the class of firearm (non-restricted, restricted or prohibited).

In 2008, the Government added a one-year measure allowing individuals to renew expired POLs. Prior to the POL renewal measure, firearms owners could only renew their POLs if they had not expired. Otherwise, to legally retain their firearms, they were required to pay for and successfully complete the requisite firearms safety training course(s) and/or test(s), and obtain a PAL. The fee waiver and POL renewal measures are the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety, while the Amnesty Order is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. These three measures (fee waiver, the Amnesty Order, and POL renewal) were extended several times.

In 2012, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act (ELRA) received royal assent and came into force, removing the requirement to register non-restricted firearms. The ELRA also required the destruction of all registration records of non-restricted firearms under the control of the Commissioner of Firearms and chief firearms officers. In 2012, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) destroyed these records, with the exception of those belonging to Quebec due to a legal challenge. As a result, firearms owners in Quebec continued to register their non-restricted firearms and the RCMP maintained the registration of non-restricted firearms related to Quebec.

In 2013, the fee waiver for licence renewals was repealed but the Amnesty Order and the POL renewal were extended until May 2015. The rationale for extending the Amnesty Order after the coming into force of the ELRA was to maintain the status quo in Quebec during the court action brought by Quebec. In March 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada reached a decision in the Quebec court case, which ended the registration of non-restricted firearms in Quebec. As a result, the provision of the Amnesty Order which protected individuals in possession of an unregistered firearm from prosecution became obsolete.

The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act received royal assent on June 18, 2015, and included provisions to reform firearms licensing, among other things. It amended the Firearms Act to eliminate the POL by converting all valid POLs to PALs without requiring POL holders to take firearms safety training (POL/PAL conversion).

The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act also provided that a firearms licence (with prohibited, restricted or non-restricted privileges) that is not renewed before five years is automatically extended for an additional six months (the grace period) to eliminate the possibility that a delay in filing could result in a prison term. During the grace period, the licensee would not be able to acquire a firearm or ammunition, use their firearms, or transport them, unless it is to change residence or to dispose of them through sale or exportation, until the licence has been renewed. The grace period has not yet been brought into force.

At the time of the May 2015 expiry of the Amnesty Order and the POL renewal measure, there was some concern that firearms owners would be unclear on their obligations when their firearms licence expires because the POL/PAL conversion and the grace period were not yet in force. Therefore, on May 17, 2015, the Amnesty Order and the POL renewal measure were extended for two years, to May 16, 2017. While the grace period is not yet in force, the POL/PAL conversion came into force on September 2, 2015, making the POL renewal measure redundant.

The main objective of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) is to enhance public safety. This is achieved, in part, by maximizing the number of firearms owners who comply with the licensing and registration requirements set out in the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. Such individuals are subject to Continuous Eligibility Screening (CES) as a condition of possessing a firearms licence. The establishment of CES recognizes that an individual’s circumstances, including the appropriateness of ongoing firearms possession, may change over time. This screening ensures that police-reported violent and other designated criminal behaviour on the part of a licensee is immediately brought to the attention of the relevant Chief Firearms Officer for review and investigation. CES reduces the likelihood that a licensee who has come to the attention of police and who may be a risk to public safety will be permitted continued lawful access to firearms. When firearms owners become non-compliant (i.e. do not renew a licence), they are no longer within the ambit of the CFP’s jurisdiction. As a result, the Privacy Act, among other legislation, prevents the RCMP from conducting further CES, thereby withdrawing a meaningful tool enabling the CFP to take pre-emptive measures in dealing with higher-risk firearms owners.

Objectives

The objective of this proposal is to extend the Amnesty Order, until December 31, 2017, in order to encourage compliance with the licensing provisions of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code prior to its expiration. The Amnesty Order will continue to protect individuals in possession of non-restricted firearms, who are taking steps to comply with federal firearms legislation.

This is consistent with the main objective of the licensing regime, which is to enhance public safety. This is achieved, in part, by maximizing the number of firearms owners who comply with the licensing requirements set out in the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. Such individuals are subject to CES as a condition of possessing a firearms licence.

Description

The Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2017) extends the Amnesty Order, which protects non-compliant owners of non-restricted firearms from criminal liability, while they are taking steps to comply with the licensing requirements of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code, until December 31, 2017.

“One-for-One” Rule

The “One-for-One” Rule does not apply to this initiative, as there is no change in administrative costs to business. These compliance measures apply to individuals only.

Small business lens

The small business lens does not apply to this initiative, as there are no costs to small business. These compliance measures apply to individuals only.

Consultation

The following is a history of public input to consultations via the Canada Gazette on the firearms compliance measures. It illustrates that the initial prepublication of the compliance measures drew the largest number of respondents. In 2007, at the first prepublication of the Amnesty Order, 80% of 566 respondents were in favour of the Amnesty Order; in 2008, at the first prepublication of the three compliance measures, 79% of 131 respondents were in favour. The number of respondents in subsequent consultations on extensions of these measures dropped dramatically (0–41).

On April 7, 2007, the proposed Order Amending the Order Declaring an Amnesty Period (2006), which sought to extend the amnesty for one year to 2008, was prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 15-day public comment period. This was the first prepublication of one of the compliance measures. During this period, 566 comments were received: 558 from individuals, 7 from organizations and one from the Attorney General of Ontario (AGO) in correspondence with the Minister of Public Safety. Four hundred and fifty-two respondents supported the proposal, 72 were opposed to it, and 42 did not take a position on the proposal itself but provided general comments. The AGO commented primarily on then Bill C-21, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (non-registration of firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted), which the AGO considered inconsistent with the purpose of the amnesty.

On March 1, 2008, the regulatory amendments were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. During this period, 131 comments were received from 126 individuals, 4 organizations and one provincial government. Overall, support for the regulatory amendments was high, with some of the respondents indicating that they thought the initiatives were a positive compliance incentive. The majority of those in favour also noted there is a need to focus legislative measures to control firearms on criminals rather than otherwise law- abiding Canadians, while also expressing concern over the amount of money spent on the Canadian Firearms Program. Nine respondents (one province, four organizations and four individuals) who did not support the combined initiatives in 2008 expressed specific concern towards the amnesty extension. The Attorney General of Ontario was of the opinion that repeated extensions to the amnesty were leading to a deterioration of the data currently available to police in the Canadian Firearms Information System.

On March 28, 2009, the regulatory amendments were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. Four comments were received, two from organizations and two from individuals. Of the respondents, two supported the proposed extension of the firearms compliance measures, while two were opposed to the extension of the amnesty. Supporters stated that these measures were part of the Government’s commitment to repeal the long-gun registry, while opponents expressed concern that the amnesty was reducing the effectiveness of the firearms registry.

On March 20, 2010, the previous regulatory amendments to extend the suite of measures to increase compliance were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 15-day public comment period. Fifteen comments were received from 12 individuals and 3 organizations, including the Coalition for Gun Control. All the respondents were opposed to the extension of the amnesty, expressing concern that the amnesty was providing immunity to long-gun owners from non-compliance with federal firearms legislation. There were no comments directed towards the fee waiver.

On April 9, 2011, regulatory amendments to extend the firearms licence renewal fee waiver were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, to invite public comments for 15 days. There were no comments received.

On April 13, 2013, regulatory amendments to extend the POL renewal and the Amnesty Order were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, followed by a 15-day public comment period. The Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement indicated that the remaining fee waiver would not be extended. During this period, 13 comments were received from 9 individuals and 4 organizations (e.g. chief medical officers, the Coalition for Gun Control). Of those who responded, all were opposed to a further extension of the Amnesty Order. Comments suggested that the continuance of the amnesty could serve as a disincentive to comply with legal requirements. The Government elected to move forward with the POL renewal measure and the Amnesty Order. The fee waiver for non-restricted firearms was not extended.

The regulatory amendments were prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on April 5, 2014, followed by a 15-day comment period. During this period, 41 comments were received from 30 individuals and 11 organizations (e.g. the Coalition for Gun Control, public health directors). The majority of individuals who responded were opposed to a further extension of the Amnesty Order on public safety grounds. Responses also included a concern that the amnesty creates confusion among firearms owners about their legal obligations. Four respondents supported the extension of the amnesty.

In all consultations mentioned above, the Government considered the views of all stakeholders. Given the importance of advancing these measures from a public safety perspective (e.g. increase licence compliance), the Government elected to move forward with the regulatory amendments.

Rationale

Extending the Amnesty Order until December 31, 2017, is necessary in order to provide an opportunity for unlicensed owners of non-restricted firearms to come into compliance with the licensing requirements of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. By extending the Amnesty Order, this protects individuals from criminal liability for possession of a non-restricted firearm with an expired licence, provided these owners take steps to come into compliance before the Amnesty Order expires.

Implementation, enforcement and service standards

Communication efforts focus on informing the public of the expiration of the Amnesty Order, who can avail themselves of the Amnesty Order, and measures that must be taken in order to come into compliance with the licensing requirements of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code in order to enhance public safety.

The extension will allow for a proactive communication strategy by the Department of Justice, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program, to inform the public of the expiry of the amnesty period and the obligations of firearms owners.

Under federal firearms legislation currently in force, to be in lawful possession of a firearm, an individual must at minimum hold a licence issued under the Firearms Act and, in the case of a restricted or prohibited firearm, a registration certificate.

Owners are expected to take positive steps to comply with the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code, as set out in the Amnesty Order.

Contact

Paula Clarke
Criminal Law Policy Section
Department of Justice
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H8
Telephone: 613-957-4686
Fax: 613-941-9310
Email: paula.clarke@justice.gc.ca