Liberal gun bill finally set to clear Parliament

A Liberal government gun bill that has drawn resistance from some gun owners since Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tabled it in the House of Commons more than a year ago is set to pass its final vote in Parliament this week.

The Senate majority of Independent senators, and a small group of independent Liberal senators still remaining in the Upper Chamber on Thursday voted to reject a version of Bill C-71 that had been stripped of its most significant clauses by Conservative senators in the Senate’s national security and defence committee.

The vote essentially cancelled the Conservative amendments and returned the legislation to its original form as passed by the Commons, with a final vote in the Senate on Thursday.

The Conservatives, a slim minority on the panel, had overcome the majority of Independents in the committee as nonaffiliated Senator David Richards sided with the Conservatives when they dismantled the bill in committee and Independent Senator Diane Griffin abstained on key votes that wiped out some of the most important clauses.

“By leaders’ agreement, we should have third reading by the end of this week,” said the leader of the government in the Senate, Senator Peter Harder, who is styled as a nonaffiliated senator under Senate reforms Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initiated after taking office in 2015.

The leader of the Independent Senators Group, who is styled as Facilitator of the Independents (now the overwhelming majority in the 105-seat Senate), confirmed a final vote could take place as early as Thursday.

Debate on the report began in the early evening.

“Everybody understands the different pathways that can be taken,” said Independent Facilitator Yuen Pau Woo. “We’re debating the report now, so there’s supposed to be a report on the report, possibly today, let’s see how it goes.”

“That was part of the arrangement. We either vote for the report or we vote against it. If we vote either way, we go into third reading and then the plan is to have the third reading vote on Thursday.”

The amended report from the committee was rejected in a 51-32 vote with three abstentions.

Conservative Senate whip Don Plett had earlier said there was no guarantee Bill C-71 would reach its final vote this week and made a list-minute appeal to the Independent senators to accept the version reported by the committee and sent the bill back to the Commons for the government to either reject or accept some of the Conservative amendments.

Goodale made his final appearance to defend the bill in the Senate daily question period on Tuesday, another change in Senate routines under the Trudeau government.

A shot from Plett during the question period — when he alluded to a recent news report that the government had vetted names of potential judicial appointments through a Liberal party database of supporters — drew a sharp response from Goodale.

“There are senators in this chamber who seem a bit squeamish about making significant changes to your legislation,” said Plett, a firebrand senator from Manitoba who is the lead Conservative strategist for bills going through Senate committee passage.

“I’m not sure if that’s because they were appointed from the Liberal list or they just don’t think you’re up to the job of defending your own legislation,” Plett said across the chamber aisle to Goodale, placed in a seat beside Harder.

“So to be clear, if this chamber chooses to respect the democratic process and adopt the committee’s report, your government has no problems with that, and you are prepared to consider these amendments in the other place and make any changes you feel necessary?” said Plett, a longtime president of the Conservative Party of Canada national council appointed to the Senate by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

“I think it’s always wise for the democratic process to take its normal course,” Goodale responded. “In both the House of Commons and in the Senate, people have the full and free right to debate within the rules of Parliamentary procedure and present their ideas.”

“Those ideas come to a vote at the end of the day and over the course of 153 years that process has served Canada rather well,” Goodale said.

“I think it’s also advisable for debate to remain civil and dignified and for the highest of decorum to be maintained in both houses.”

The new gun law, which still must pass the final Senate vote and receive Royal Assent before taking effect, proposes lifetime background checks for gun licence applicants and also for those renewing licences.

The bill primarily covers nonrestricted gun sales and sales records, but it also includes clauses dealing with restricted handguns and semi-automatic rifles that can be only used for shooting sports.

Gun owners were furious over the reinstatement of permits for each time a gun owner transports a restricted firearm to a gunsmith, gun show or border point.

Permits will not be required to transport restricted firearms to shooting ranges.

The bill also proposes to reverse a decision by the former Harper government to ease restrictions on certain imported semi-automatic rifles.

Before the 2015 federal election, the Harper government amended the Criminal Code to give cabinet the power to overrule an RCMP decision to reclassify the rifles as either restricted or prohibited, rather than nonrestricted or restricted, depending on the rifle make.

Gun owners and the Conservative party also oppose the reinstatement of mandatory records of gun sales, and a compulsory system for keeping track of whether gun licences are valid before sales go through.