New regulations could have serious ramifications for industries like airsoft, laser-tag, paintball and even film/TV props. The vague legislation has left a lot of room for interpretation by authorities, prompting a petition campaign.
Following recent advances in the Liberal Party’s hardline gun policy, new expansions in firearms regulations have raised concerns by some about the extent to which the new laws will restrict recreational activities and create unnecessary consequences. One such example has drawn the attention of many parliamentarians from opposing colours. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety, has specifically aimed C-21’s legislation towards concerns over realistic looking items like airsoft and paintball products. In addition, some have pointed out that this will likely affect the way in which film and television utilize prop weapons in their productions.
For more information, we spoke to the owner of Frontline Action Tom Davis who described the situation in a serious light:
“Imagine being in business for 27 years… all your life savings, your life’s work, built up into a business and finding out that the government is going to close you down, not compensate you… leave you with nothing, and not care.”
As a result of industry concerns, the specific clause for concern has sparked bipartisan criticism. While Conservative MPs like Terry Dowdall have sponsored ongoing petitions to oppose the bill in its entirety, others like local NDP MP for St. John’s East, Jack Harris, have requested for the clause to be removed or amended in order to mitigate the ensuing collateral damage. Tom Davis added:
“At least with the assault rifles they’re going to buy them back… When it comes to airsoft… last year, my sales were down forty percent. But airsoft was up. It would normally be like ten percent of my business… I wouldn’t have survived last year without airsoft.”
Currently, there does not appear to be a buyback program and the mandatory shutdown of small businesses like Frontline Action would impact approximately 3000 industry employees across the country. In a recent letter sent to customers, the owner announced that despite their business surviving the struggles of COVID 19, the effects of Bill C-21 would spell disaster for their operations. In the letter, Team Leader Tom Davis stated that the company was not taking a protest against Bill C-21 but rather requested for the public to consider signing a parliamentary petition that has been circulating amongst those disapproving of the restrictions, to amend the bill and keep businesses like Frontline alive.
Currently, it does not seem that the Minister of Public Safety will be receptive to the outcries of hobbyists and collectors. With the ongoing pressure from hobbyists and small businesses, Bill Blaire responded to the airsoft industry by stating:
“Replica firearms, which are essentially exact replicas of highly dangerous firearms, we do regulate those firearms, but the exact replica can present a very significant challenge for police and for communities… it can create a very, very dangerous situation…. I’ve heard from some of the retailers that the exact image and replicating the real thing is part of the fun of these things but, quite frankly, I think we have to strike a balance and we have to consider the impact of public safety.”Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety
The specific instances of community outrage over these products, which the Minister is referring to, remains unclear. However, rather than maintaining strict product realism, Tom Davis appeared quite willing to adapt their business to new regulations, “We’re saying, make us put orange tips on the guns- whatever you need to be able to satisfy you.” While it seems that some of the now-hesitant parliamentarians weren’t alarmed until the second reading, Davis noted that the industry found out after the bill’s first reading and that “there was no pre-consultation [or] advanced warning.” When asked to clarify about whether the new restrictions might effect their laser tag operation, Davis illustrated the the issue of vagueness contained in the clause:
“This is where you get into the interpretation [issue], because they look realistic, but… it has to shoot a projectile, the way the clause is written. Which, technically, there’s no projectile unless you argue that beams of infrared are projectiles. But you know, again, they look realistic so if getting rid of realistic things is the objective then…
One of the challenges with this bill [is that] the way its written is very vague. It’s going to force the Canadian Border Security Agency and local law enforcement to interpret Bill C-21… They can make judgement calls and it can be very inconsistent, just like crossing the border can be inconsistent.
The way the bill is written, basically they can ask you to present a license, and if you cannot present a license (and you cannot get a license under any mechanism in the bill), then they can just seize the item. The vagueness can spill into unintended consequences. At the end of the day, the Dept. of Public Safety has admitted that they are targeting airsoft… and the chief of police has said this is a concern…
If law enforcement or even an individual officer in a particular region has a negative perception of paintball or airsoft… its really difficult to say [if the products will be allowed].”Tom Davis, Owner of Frontline Action
In addition to airsoft, little has been said by the current administration about the impact on businesses in the film industry and recreational sports. While these products themselves do have some dangers involved (namely improper use by owners), facilities like Frontline are typically very vigilant about safety of their customers. It should also be noted that these items cannot be adapted into actual functioning firearms, and a hyper-realistic airsoft product will likely cost a customer hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the quality and design.
According to Davis, Bill Blair cited domestic incidents involving ‘200 cases [in Winnipeg]… where replica-type firearms [were] involved in the committing of an offence’. Davis commented on the wide variety of products which Public Safety might have been pointing to, and stressed that the definition and description of those items was not made clear. Given that the 200 incidents could have ranged from a “cheap dollar store dart gun” to a “BB gun,” Davis said “[w]e don’t know what that is (Blaire’s replicas)…Out of all those things- if you are a desperate criminal, the single most expensive thing to buy- is the airsoft gun.”
Tom Davis explained that he has recently been in contact with almost all of the MPs in the province:
“I contacted all the MPs, the only one I didn’t talk to was Yvonne Jones. And none of them knew about this clause. None of them knew about the industry. All they knew was that it was going to help out with these prohibited assault rifles… help municipalities ban handguns (if they chose to), and that it was going to allow nuclear power plant employees to use prohibited weapons to defend the nuclear power plant.
They did not realize what was built into this. One implementation, to protect against domestic violence is, if you report that your neighbour has a firearm (or something that looks like a firearm) and they may be looking to endanger themselves or someone else, police can go into their house without a warrant and can seize whatever they want…
To me… the most terrifying and frustrating part about this, is that we employ a bunch of very well paid people in departments of justice and public safety and in the middle of a pandemic they’re prepared to shut down hundreds of businesses, thousands of employees, and don’t care at all. By now you’d think there’d be an acknowledgement.”Tom Davis, Owner of Frontline Action
We followed up by asking how he felt about the the future of the bill’s clause. He stated that he did feel “a little heartened”:
“…because the Liberals cannot pass this without the Bloc or the NDP support. Conservatives are all voting against it… This bill was on a fast-track, moving very, very, quickly. It got two readings in two weeks. It only needs three readings and it goes to senate. During the second reading, the wheels fell off because the NDP joined the Conservatives to a point, but not against Bill C-21, but against the amendment. The challenge is that now its going to the committee… [which is] at the best of times… a slow process- during COVID its apparently even slower.
If we get out of this session and get to the summer – the bill dies. If it doesn’t get passed before summer, it has to get reintroduced… but they’d have to start again.”Tom Davis, Owner of Frontline Action
Frontline also stated they believe the bill would not have gone to committee without the clause affecting airsoft. Perhaps surprisingly, Tom continued to observe positive reception from concerned Liberal MPs:
“I’m actually impressed. I spoke to Liberal MPs directly. Every one of them except for Seamus (O’Regan), I talked to his assistant. And they didn’t know anything about this the first time I talked to them. The second time I talked to them, they were like ‘Nope we’ve already reached out to Bill Blair, we want a special meeting with him.’ And so it became a problem within the Liberal Party too… [they] asked me for more information… But they were fired up about it to be honest. They heard from constituents directly, every one of them… which is pretty impressive because some of them represent some ridings that are pretty far away from St. John’s.Tom Davis, Owner of Frontline Action
Regarding the concerns raised by constituents, Davis added that while there were many young people who benefit from the time spent outdoors (in an era where video games are very popular) he added that “There’s a lot of veterans who are airsofters who have PTSD, who find it as a kind of stress relieving thing that they can go out and do.” Davis continued that, as a result, both youth and adults wrote their MPs in a mature and polite fashion, “Very professional, and non-aggressive… they didn’t attack them… They heard us. Our representatives heard us.”
While it may seem like a clear matter of safety to the Department of Public Safety (or perhaps a war on fun), it seems to spell doom for business and unemployment for many thousands working in related industries. Whether the bill will make it through the summer depends on a variety of factors; the first of which, could be inner-party dissent.