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gun control

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday March 7, 2013.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Conservative government has cut loose three members of a firearms advisory committee criticized for its pro-gun perspective and replaced them with hand-picked police representatives.

But at least two of the new appointees have previously spoken out against the long-gun registry, suggesting their views on gun control could be similar to the individuals they are replacing.

The committee, which advises the Minister of Public Safety on firearms issues, has long been dominated by gun enthusiasts and sports shooters. Members say they believe they are in a good position to offer policy advice because they are experts on firearms and have the interests of law-abiding gun owners in mind.

The new appointments come three months after Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly admonished the firearms advisory committee for its most recent set of recommendations to loosen gun control, which included eliminating the prohibited firearms category.

"I'm obviously very concerned with some of the recommendations made in that report, and I think the committee does need some re-examination in that light," Mr. Harper said in the House of Commons last December.

A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday that the government had "strengthened" the committee's membership with the three additions. "We look forward to hearing the advice of the committee to further strengthen our firearms laws through common sense reforms," Julie Carmichael wrote in an e-mailed response to questions.

Joining the committee will be Rick Hanson, chief of the Calgary Police Service; Bob Rich, chief constable for the Abbotsford Police Department; and Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association. Chief Hanson and Chief Rich both testified against the long-gun registry before a parliamentary committee.

When contacted on Monday afternoon, representatives from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association said they were unaware that new police representatives had been selected for the committee.

NDP MP Françoise Boivin said she would feel more confident in the changes if she knew that the police associations had been consulted first. And she said there should be more balance on the committee, "otherwise it's not an advisory, it's just a lobby."

Linda Baggaley, who runs a gun auction company in Red Deer, Alta., and served as the committee's co-chair, said she received a letter from the federal Public Safety Department two weeks ago, thanking her for her work and informing her that she was no longer a part of the committee. Kerry Higgins, who works as a gunsmith in Saskatoon, and Gerry Gamble, from the Sporting Clubs of Niagara, were also removed from the committee.

Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control and a past member of the firearms advisory committee, said she is disappointed that the committee won't include a broader range of views as a result of the changes.

"It signals that the advisory committee continues to represent only views of those that oppose strong gun control in Canada," she said. "Even under prime minister Brian Mulroney, there was room on the advisory committee for diverse opinions, which are absent in the current system."