As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain government services have been scaled down or downright shut down, for the duration of the pandemic. The provincial Chief Firearms Officers as well as the RCMP (Canadian Firearms Program) are amongst the affected services. Further, when activities resume, there will be a significant backlog. Further, in most provinces, ranges are shut down.
As a reminder, the role of the Chief Firearms Officers is to:
- process firearms licence applications;
- process firearms licence renewals;
- issue authorizations to transport restricted and prohibited firearms;
- issue authorizations to carry restricted and prohibited firearms (This affects mostly professionals who need to carry a firearm in connection with their lawful profession (i.e. trappers, security guards, prospectors, etc.)
- approve transfers of restricted and prohibited firearms;
- Approve and oversee the operation of shooting ranges.
Hereafter are our recommendations for dealing with the ongoing situation and staying on the right side of the law.
- Q: Does the COVID-19 Pandemic affect my Firearms Licence expiry date?
Answer: Until further notice, it does not. Your licence expiry date is spelled out on your licence card. Your licence is typically valid for five (5) years and it expires on your birthday.
- Q: What if I was not sent a renewal notice?
Answer: It does not change anything. There is no legal obligation for the Canadian Firearms Program to send you or anyone else a renewal notice. Renewing your licence in a timely manner is your ultimate responsibility.
- Q: Could my licence expiry date be extended by the Government?
Answer: That is a possibility, but by no means a certainty. Since a firearms licence is a temporary immunity from prosecution, the Government could arguably use its amnesty powers to extend firearms licence expiry dates, because of the prevailing circumstances. To this day, there has been no indication that the Government intends to do so.
- Q: My firearms licence has recently expired, what should I do?
Answer: If your licence has expired within the last six (6) months, it is still time to send a renewal application. Send it ASAP. Do not wait for the end of the pandemic, or for the re-opening of the CFO’s or RCMP office. You may file an application online or send it by mail. In either case, make a copy of the application and keep a record of the mailing (registered mail or tracking).
If more than six (6) months have elapsed since your licence expired, you will have to send out a new application. In the latter case, if you never did the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, because you were exempt as a previous FAC holder, you will need to do the course and challenge the test. You may not continue to possess firearms while your licence is expired. (See applicable Q and A below)
- Q: My firearms licence has recently expired or is about to expire, what should I do with my firearms?
Answer: First and foremost, send out a renewal application as soon as possible (See the answer to Question # 4 above). Since 2015, the Firearms Act provides licensees with a six (6) month grace period following the expiry of their licence. Therefore, you may keep your firearms during the six (6) month grace period. However, you cannot use them. (See Question 6 below)
Once the six (6) month grace period expires, you may no longer continue to possess firearms. However, if you have sent out a renewal application in due course, and the Canadian Firearms Program has not processed it because of a backlog, wait for the outcome of the renewal application and do not use your firearms in the meantime. (See Question 7 below).
- Q: Is my Firearms Licence still valid during the six (6) month grace period?
Answer: Yes, but there are restrictions. As a result of the grace period, you may still possess your firearms, but you cannot use them. Therefore, you cannot take them to the range, or go hunting. Neither can you acquire new firearms, nor acquire ammunition. Further, any authorization to transport or to carry expired with your licence and are not extended for the duration of the grace period.
- Q: The six (6) month grace period has expired, what should I do?
Answer: If you have indeed sent out your renewal application before the end of the grace period, just sit tight and wait for your licence to be renewed. In the meantime, do not use your firearms. If you get charged for possession of a firearm without a valid licence (section 91 CC), you may use the fact that the Canadian Firearms Program failed to renew your licence in a timely manner as a defense.
If you omitted to send out your renewal application before the end of the grace period, you may no longer continue to possess firearms. You should legally dispose of them ASAP. If you had 12(X) grandfathered rights to certain types of prohibited firearms, those privileges will likely be lost.
- My range is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can I go shooting on Crown Land, or on private property?
Answer: It depends upon the type of firearm and other factors! Restricted and 12(6) prohibited firearms may only be discharged at CFO approved ranges. Therefore, you cannot use them on Crown land or private property. Other prohibited firearms may not be shot at all!
As far as non-restricted firearms are concerned, you may shoot them on Crown land or private property, if it is legal to possess and shoot a firearm in such a place. Restrictions may be found in provincial legislation and municipal regulations. If you intend to shoot on private property, you will also need permission. It is your responsibility to determine whether you can legally shoot at a given location. Remember: ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Finally, once you have determined that you can legally shoot in a given location, it is your responsibility to ensure that you can do so safely. Always ensure that you have a safe backstop, and that no persons, property or animals will be endangered.
- Q: My firearms licence is not due to expire for several months, should I be concerned?
Answer: Yes, you should indeed be concerned. Renewal applications processing times will likely be longer than normal because of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Send out your renewal application earlier than you normally would. Do not wait until the last minute to do so, unless you absolutely want to compromise your hunting season and other shooting activities.