POLITICS

C-51 Hearings: National Firearms Association Pulls Out

03/23/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/22/2015 05:59 EDT

The National Firearms Association, which had been scheduled to speak against the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill, has pulled itself off the list of witnesses scheduled for Monday's public safety committee meeting on Parliament Hill.

The group has not been rescheduled, the committee clerk confirmed to CBC News.

The NFA's lawyer, Solomon Friedman, had been scheduled to share a panel with Open Media executive director Steve Anderson and was expected to raise concerns about bill C-51. The bill has already been roundly criticized for including measures that would let government departments share information, as well as for giving the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) broad powers to disrupt unlawful activity.

Open Media advocates for cheaper and faster internet, often taking on the wireless industry. The panel with the NFA seemed like an odd pairing, but both are part of the Protect our Privacy coalition and have raised concerns about the lack of oversight for Canadian intelligence agencies CSIS and CSEC, the Communications Security Establishment Canada.

The cancellation comes as gun owners grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress by C-42, changes to the Firearms Act that the government refers to as the "common sense firearms licensing act."

A press release distributed by Open Media before the firearms group cancelled said Open Media was sharing its time with the NFA "to ensure that the concerns of firearms owners about the legislation can be heard."

The NFA supports Liberal MP Joyce Murray's bill to increase oversight for CSEC and has come out against the Conservatives in the past, including on bill C-42.

Friedman was replaced on the shared panel with Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association​, and Connie Fournier, founder of the Free Dominion​ website, which describes itself as a forum for the discussion of conservative philosophy and activism​.

Gun owners not 'feeling the love'

Friedman and Clare did not respond to requests for comment. The NFA's spokesman said he needed to look into the cancellation, but did not call back, and did not answer follow-up emails.

Gun owners have expressed frustration with C-42 and with how long it's taking the government to move the legislation through Parliament. The NFA — with 75,000 members, the country's biggest gun owners' group — has criticized the bill for not proposing substantive enough changes.

Last year, NFA President Sheldon Clare said C-42 was more about "giving the appearance of doing something when, in fact, nothing much is being done."

"I would say firearms owners right now aren't really feeling the love."

Privately, another group that advocates in favour of gun-owners' rights has reassured its members that C-42 will become law before the current session is over.

Tony Bernardo, head of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, has told CSSA members that C-42 is "moving forward as expected."

Bernardo, in an email inadvertently sent to the entire CSSA email list last month, said the Firearms Act changes would go to committee at the beginning of March "and we are being assured it will be passed into law before the end of the legislative session."

But the bill hasn't moved since being introduced last fall.

It would be nearly impossible to bring into law any bill that doesn't pass by the summer break because of this year's federal election, which has to be held by Oct. 19, 2015.

That means Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have to go to the Governor General to prorogue Parliament in September at the latest, and Parliament likely won't return between summer and the election.

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