OTTAWA – This week’s traumatic shootout on Parliament Hill has prompted the Harper government to put off debate on a controversial gun bill.
Debate on Bill C-42 had been scheduled to take place in the House of Commons on Thursday — just one day after Parliament’s Centre Block was sprayed with bullets as security officials confronted a gunman who had just killed an honour guard at the National War Memorial.
The government quietly dropped the bill from Thursday’s lineup; it is not clear when the debate will be rescheduled.
Dubbed the “Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act,” the bill was introduced earlier this month with the aim of simplifying the gun licensing process.
Among other things, it would reclassify some firearms — including the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle — which the RCMP had banned for fear that they can be easily converted into fully automatic weapons.
The government last winter reversed the RCMP ban, complaining that the decision was made “by bureaucrats and not by politicians.”
Just last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated that complaint as he courted gun owners in northern Ontario at a question-and-answer session hosted by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
“I don’t want to feed paranoia, but as prime minister I can tell you I share the frustrations of our caucus members,” said Harper, whose government scrapped the controversial long-gun registry.
He pointed to “bureaucratic initiatives that we think are effectively trying to put the long gun registry back in through the back door.”
“This is not something we can tolerate,” Harper added, promising to ensure that reclassification of firearms in future “can’t be done without some degree of political oversight.”
After introducing Bill C-42, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney posed for pictures with Conservative MPs who’ve championed the rights of gun owners.
“No longer will Canadians be denied property rights or, worse, turn (into) a paper criminal overnight due to the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen,” Blaney enthused.
“Any such decision will be based on consultations and independent expert advice. While this might seem like common sense, it does not exist today.”
Government House leader Peter Van Loan’s office did not respond when asked to explain why Thursday’s scheduled debate on C-42 was dropped.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting spree, the Conservatives may have calculated it would be politically damaging to be seen to be advocating relaxation of gun laws in any way.
However, New Democrat and Liberal MPs, still reeling from the shock of the shootout, declined to ascribe a political motive to the change in schedule.
“In public space, you sometimes have to make judgments about just symbolism,” said NDP MP Craig Scott, adding that Thursday “just wasn’t the time” to discuss any legislation about firearms.
That said, he added that the NDP has “concerns about the bill because we do feel it produces a relaxing of some of the control mechanisms on firearms.”
“The government must know that it’s relaxing firearms regulations at a time when news was coming out that the rifle that this guy seems to have used was not one he legally owned.”
Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale said time won’t resolve the problems he sees with the bill. But he too didn’t question the government’s motives in putting the debate on hold after such a traumatic incident.