COMMENTARY: Where are the gun advocates on federal government’s firearms advisory committee?

The major organizations representing Canada’s gun owners are conspicuously absent from the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, writes Andrew Lawton.
The major organizations representing Canada’s gun owners are conspicuously absent from the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, writes Andrew Lawton. Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

Imagine an aviation working group that lacked pilots, or a doctorless task force tackling regulation of health-care providers.

That isn’t far off from the reality of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee (CFAC), the government-appointed panel charged with advising the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale, on changes to Canada’s gun laws.

As a gun owner, I’ve written about regulations that don’t enhance public safety in the least, but do pose a risk to otherwise law-abiding gun owners, who become criminals because of something as minor as missing paperwork.

The Liberals have previously suggested they’re open to rolling back some of the reforms enacted by the previous Conservative government, easing these restrictions.

They don’t seem too interested in listening to what gun owners have to say, however. Lawful gun owners have first-hand knowledge of the laws’ shortcomings, making us a valuable resource for lawmakers who are serious about enacting change.

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Yet, the major organizations representing Canada’s gun owners are conspicuously absent from CFAC.

It’s been noticed. Over 14,000 people have signed a petition sponsored by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, calling on the government to require each CFAC member to acquire “their Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), without which they lack a baseline understanding of the activities they are tasked with regulating.”

READ MORE: Canada’s gun laws aren’t saving lives — they’re just making them more complicated

The petition is being championed by Tracey Wilson, the outspoken spokeswoman of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR), who says Goodale has fallen short of his promise of a balanced committee.

Despite Wilson’s request for consideration of a committee seat, no one from her organization is on the panel, nor from the National Firearms Association or the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA).

In the interest of disclosure, I am a paying member of the CSSA, though I have no formal role, nor am I connected to any other firearms groups.

These groups have tens of thousands of members, but they apparently aren’t as deserving of a seat at the table as, say, an emergency room physician or the head of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. If the government is going to take a “the-more-the-merrier” approach to building the committee, why exclude the most obvious choices?

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The exclusion of these groups isn’t for lack of space. Only 10 of the committee’s 15 spots are filled, with half of its members connected to the anti-firearm Coalition for Gun Control.

The government does filter legislation through a gender-based lens, but there’s nothing balanced about women’s groups and public health advocates outnumbering those directly impacted by the laws in question.

READ MORE: Alarming number of Americans continue to carry guns into Canada

In response to the petition, Goodale’s office told me it would be too triggering for committee vice-chair Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the massacre at Montreal’s Polytechnique school, to learn about the firearms she wants to ban.

“It would be insensitive and inappropriate to require a survivor of the Polytechnique shootings to work with firearms in order to serve on CFAC. [To obtain a Possession and Acquisition Licence, you are required to pass a Canadian Firearms Safety Course. While this is classroom-based, it involves handling disabled and inert firearms and ammunition]” said Scott Bardsley, Goodale’s press secretary.

He didn’t dispute the importance of firearms knowledge, but said it already exists on the committee.

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“While we agree that members of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee (CFAC) should be well-informed about firearms safety training and licensing, we respectfully believe there are more appropriate means to achieve it,” Bardsley said of the petition. “Because decisions about firearms affect all Canadians, CFAC’s membership is representative of a broad range of interests — in addition to those who are part of the firearms community.”

Bardsley pointed to Olympic sport shooter Lynda Kiejko, Ducks Unlimited president and hunter James Ernest Couch and hunting lodge owner Barbara Genge in particular, as gun-savvy CFAC members.

“All are eminently capable of providing advice informed by the training the petitioners suggest,” Bardsley said.

In an interview on my radio show, Wilson said she’s not convinced.

“I understand that you’ve got to have some points of view on both sides, but there isn’t that existing on this committee,” she said. “The majority of gun owners may be hunters, but you’ve also got almost a million RPAL (Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence) holders. These are people who are handgun or black rifle shooters. We’ve got no representation on there.”

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It’s illegal for hunters to use the restricted guns of which Wilson speaks, so hunting advocates can’t really speak to the excessive transport regulations around them, for example.

The committee’s makeup suggests the Liberals are trying to stack the deck with those who will make the recommendations already desired by the government.

Appointing gun advocates to an advisory committee would be, at the very least, a commitment to listen. Though it looks like Trudeau and Goodale are afraid these groups might actually make sense.

READ MORE: Liberal bill not designed to restore long-gun registry: public safety minister

Andrew Lawton is host of The Andrew Lawton Show on AM980 London and a commentator for Global News.