by Edward L. Burlew LL.B., Firearms Law Specialist
The COVID-19 crisis has created concerns among the many PAL and RPAL holders. The RCMP/CFC stated on March 30, 2020 that the production of firearms license cards is on hold until further notice,
In respect of renewals the RCMP/CFC advised,
“the processing of firearms licence renewal applications submitted by mail is on hold until further notice.
We recommend submitting your application to renew your firearms licence via Individual Web Services (/en/firearms/individual-web-services)
Individuals can check the status of their firearms licence application via Individual Web Services (/en/firearms/individual-web-services).”
This does not fully answer all the concerns of PAL and RPAL holders whose licenses are about to expire.
The first step is to understand the state of the Firearms Act. A PAL or RPAL is required to legally possess firearms, be they non-restricted, restricted or prohibited.
When a license expires your possession of your legally acquired firearms becomes illegal and you can face charges under Section 91 or 92 of the Criminal Code for unauthorized possession of a firearm.
Please note that ammunition and propellants for reloading are treated differently. You do require a PAL or RPAL to legally acquire ammunition and reloading propellants however when your PAL or RPAL expires you can continue to legally possess what you legally acquired.
Note that true antique firearms as specifically set out in SOR/98-464 and firearms having a velocity of under 500 FPS (152.4 m/s) and less than 5.7 joules of energy do not require a PAL or RPAL to acquire or possess.
There is a Grace Period of six (6) months that extends the expiry of your PAL or RPAL under the Firearms Act that has limited application but is very important.
On November 15, 2017 an order of the Governor General in Counsel was published in the Canada Gazette as SI/2017-70 that fixed November 30, 2017 as the date the six (6) months Grace Period as set out in Section 14 of the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, ch. 27, S of C.2015 came into effect. The change is seen in Section 64(1.1).
This extended the validity of a PAL or RPAL for six months, but not all of the privileges associated with a PAL or RPAL are extended.
You cannot use your firearms, you cannot acquire ammunition or reloading gun powder, the authorities that are attached to your PAL or RPAL are not extended past the original expiry date, see Section 64(1.2, 1.3, 1.4). This restriction on your authorities can lead to serious problems.
This means you cannot transport your restricted or 12(6) to the shooting range. If you do such and have ammunition for that restricted or prohibited when transporting you will face a Criminal charge under Section 95 of the Criminal Code, that is a very serious offense.
If your license is expired and the Grace Period applies you can still apply for some special authorities to transport your restricted or prohibited to a new residence, to police themselves, or sale or disposal by export.
You may not have another RPAL holder apply for a temporary storage authority or transport for repair to a gunsmith.
This Grace Period allows you to apply for renewal of your PAL or RPAL. Now with the RCMP/CFC not processing mailed-in renewals you must use the internet portal to renew. That is a very accessible and easy to use service. You can use a credit card or debt account to pay and a selfie will update your picture.
An issue can arise if for some reason the police find you have firearms and the face of your license shows it is expired. We advise you to document your renewal application with some page print out or a digital photo and print of that photo to show the police that you have applied for renewal. You should also have a copy of S1/2017-70 or Section 64(1.1) of the Firearms Act available for the police because not all officers will know of this Grace Period.
A serious and yet unresolved situation is the Criminal liability of PAL or RPAL holder who has applied for renewal and their Grace Period is coming to an end without a renewal Firearms License card being produced and delivered. At present there is no answer for this issue. The RCMP/CFC says this is an evolving situation. Perhaps they will have an answer.
My advise is to be cautious and do the following:
If you are facing the expiry of the Grace Period and have no evidence of your PAL or RPAL being renewed you may have to take action to lawfully transfer your firearms to another person who has a valid PAL or RPAL.
In the case of non-restricted this is simple. Prepare a Bill of Sale for a nominal amount and record the name and valid license of the person receiving your non-restricted. You will have to relinquish possession to that person. Once your PAL or RPAL is renewed you can have another Bill of Sale for a nominal amount prepared and the non-restricted returned to your possession. Note that Bill C-71 has not been made law and that Section 22 of the Firearms Act still applies to firearms transfers among PAL or RPAL holders.
If you have restricted or prohibited the situation is more complex. The registrations of your restricted or prohibited will automatically expire (Section 66) at the end of the six (6) months Grace Period and you will be in unauthorized possession contrary to Section 91(4) of the Criminal Code. Further, if you have ammunition for that now unregistered firearms in your home you will face Section 95 charges under the Criminal Code.
To avoid this you have to transfer the ownership, and possession, to an appropriately licensed person. This can take some time because of the general slow down at the RCMP/CFC and CFO offices. I suggest that if you have the Grace Period expiry close in time that you expressly inform the RCMP/CFC of this when you begin the transfer.
If you have a prohibited firearm then such transfer of all your prohibited class firearms will end the grandfathering you have worked hard to keep, once you have transferred the last prohibited of that class to another person the grandfathering is lost. You cannot have it revived.
If you hesitate and do not transfer then the registration certificate of your prohibited firearm will be expired and cancelled and you will not be able to have it re-registered to yourself and your grandfathered status will be lost.
Now take your PAL or RPAL out and look at expiry date. Put that on your calendar with a reminder date a few months before expiry and take steps to begin the renewal process early to avoid these problems.
Edward L. Burlew LL.B., Firearms Law Specialist
Tel: 1-888-GUN-LOSS, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org