Canada has modified its controversial position on a United Nations arms control treaty.
In a new position paper submitted to the UN, the federal government has dropped its proposal to exclude all sporting and hunting firearms from the international Arms Trade Treaty, an agreement that seeks to regulate the import, export and transfer of all conventional weapons.
Last summer Canada surprised many and attracted heaps of scorn from countries such as Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, when it changed its stance on the treaty and advocated for the exclusion of so-called "civilian" firearms.
In particular, the Mexicans said that in their experience, a great number of arms confiscated from its notorious gangs are sporting and hunting firearms that have been modified and transformed into assault weapons.
Some non-governmental observers predicted Canada's new position could have helped derail the entire process.
The proposal to exclude those weapons is absent from Canada's new position paper, submitted to the UN last month.
Instead, Canada recommends changes to the treaty's preamble to underline that the agreement "acknowledges and respects responsible and accountable trans-national use of firearms for recreational purposes, such as sport shooting, hunting and other forms of similar lawful activities, whose legitimacy is recognized by the States Parties."
Project Ploughshares, which was among the non-governmental organizations that registered its opposition to the exclusion of hunting and sports firearms from the ATT, said it welcomed the changes, calling it a compromise.
"We're pleased to see that Canada has toned down its call for exemptions on certain classes of firearms and is now calling for preamble language in the treaty that would recognize legitimate uses of firearms," said Ken Epps, a senior program officers with the group.
Epps said the new document is helpful.
"In fact it will help to clarify that the treaty is not about domestic gun ownership or use or even transfers of firearms within states like Canada."
Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, is also pleased with the changes.
"We would support this version of the Arms Trade Treaty document from Canada as it empowers independent nations to set their own discretionary policies regarding civilian-owned firearms within their borders."
Bernardo said his take on the preamble is that Canada does not want "civilian" firearms included within the scope of the treaty.
In its position paper, Canada says it supports the inclusion of small arms, light weapons and ammunition within the ATT, "in keeping with the principle of national discretion."
Epps said he feels that section needs tightening up, "because national discretion could be another term for states deciding whether or not to implement the treaty and that shouldn't be up for different interpretations."
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.