Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill . This is an important legislative measure, since, for the first time in 20 years, it will make a significant change to the way in which firearms licences are awarded in Canada.
There are eight important measures in this common-sense legislation that highlight the clear approach our Conservative government is taking to firearms' policies, namely it is that policies should promote safety but that they must also be sensible.
I served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years, and in doing so acquired professional knowledge regarding firearms, firearms safety and firearms responsibilities. Now as a civilian, I have gone through the process of obtaining my possession and acquisition licence. As a firearm owner myself and as a sport shooter, I can say that the important changes contained in the bill are needed and much appreciated by law-abiding Canadian gun owners.
I can also say that these policies and, more generally, this bill, have the support of a large number of Canadians from coast to coast.
Before I get into the details, I would like to start by explaining where I stand on this debate. This is a debate about culture. Hunting, fishing, trapping and sport shooting are all proud parts of our Canadian heritage.
Were it not for these activities, the brave men and women who settled Canada would simply never have been able to undertake and sustain the exploration that has grown into the greatest country in the world. Not only that, many young Canadians can look back fondly on hunting excursions with their family.
We need to encourage this type of activity.
However, the firearms policies crafted by the previous Liberal government often served to dissuade people from engaging in these Canadian heritage activities. Policies that criminalize the ownership of firearms will simply discourage individuals from becoming involved. The same can be said for increased needless paperwork.
Former Liberal justice minister and father of the long gun registry, Allan Rock, said that he that he came to Ottawa with the firm belief that only police and the military should have firearms. On this side of the House, we could not disagree more.
That is exactly why we introduced the bill before us today.
As I said a moment ago, the bill continues to deliver on our record of safe and sensible firearms policies. These two themes run throughout the bill.
First, I would like to touch on how the bill would keep us safe.
Our Conservative government has a strong record in tackling the criminal use of firearms. We have passed a series of new measures to ensure that criminals who use firearms go to prison for a very long time. For example, we created a new offence to criminalize drive-by and other reckless shootings. The bill before us today builds on this with three key measures.
First, we will establish mandatory firearms safety training for first-time firearms owners. This is a very important change because, in the past, individuals were able to simply challenge the test, which did not ensure any level of consistency in knowledge of how to safely operate a firearm. This change is widely supported. For example, Pierre Latraverse of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs said, “This bill...simplifies the procedures for awarding a permit for users who follow the law, while strengthening safety and education”.
Second, in the area of public safety, the bill before us today would amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions relating to order prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person would be convicted of an offence involving domestic violence.
That is very important. I will repeat for emphasis. It will be mandatory to prohibit the possession of firearms in cases of serious offences involving domestic violence. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all those convicted of spousal homicide had a history of domestic violence. This change makes perfect sense.
Tony Rodgers, executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, had this to say:
|| The amended Criminal Code to strengthen the provision relating to orders prohibiting possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence is a step in the right direction.
The last public safety measure in this legislation that I would to address is the authorization of firearms import information sharing for restricted and prohibited firearms imported by business.
I would like to expand on this important point if I may. When a business imports a restricted or prohibited firearm, it has to complete forms and the merchandise has to be examined by the Canada Border Services Agency at the border. The business also has to register the firearms when they are received in the shop before they can be sold.
However, the two agencies are operating in silos. If a business tells the Canada Border Services Agency that it has 5,000 units but registers just 3,000 with the RCMP, nobody compares those numbers. Consequently, 2,000 units could end up on the black market. That is a big problem, especially in British Columbia. That is why this was raised during federal, provincial and territorial meetings, and that is why we are pleased to be taking action on this important issue.
I now would like to touch on our five measures to make our firearms policies more sensible.
First, we would create a six-month grace period at the end of the five-year licence. This would stop otherwise law-abiding individuals from being criminalized overnight for a simple error in paperwork.
Some people have wrongly claimed that this change was made just to satisfy the firearms lobby because no other permit has a grace period after it expires.
However, I would like to counter that argument with this point. If I let my driver's licence, my dog licence, my fishing licence or any other licence lapse, I may have to pay a fine or be subject to another regulatory punishment. If I let my firearms licence lapse, I could go to prison for a significant length of time. It is clear that the threat of prison time for administrative oversight deserves special attention for leniency.
However, we do not want this new measure to be abused. That is why, under the legislation, an individual would not be allowed to purchase new firearms or ammunition or even use their firearms during that time. However, a person would not become an overnight criminal as the result of a simple, honest mistake. That is common sense policy. No one who is not simply ideologically opposed to the civilian possession of firearms can disagree with this measure.
Even the NDP member for had to agree that this was common sense in committee. What did he have to say about the grace period? He said, “I do agree with some of our other presenters is that perhaps a failure to renew shouldn't result in an immediate criminal charge”.
The next measure to make our firearms policies more sensible is the merger of the possession-only licence and the possession and acquisition licence. Again, this makes good sense.
The possession-only licence was created by the previous Liberal government as a grandfathering system. Those who did not want to engage in the new bureaucratic regime would not have their firearms taken away, but they would not be able to purchase any new ones, either. This group of firearms owners averages approximately 60 years of age and has owned firearms in excess of 20 years. This group is clearly experienced in the safe handling and use of firearms. That is why this legislative change would give purchasing rights to nearly 600,000 individuals.
Let me again quote Pierre Latraverse of the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, who said:
|| It's a very positive measure, given that there will only be a single licence under these conditions. This is much more representative of what owning a firearm is like. Currently, there are two licences: a possession licence and a possession and acquisition licence. If you only have a possession licence, you cannot purchase firearms. You have to go back through the system to buy a possession and acquisition licence.
|| With the merger, a hunter won't have to go through the whole administrative process again to purchase another firearm.
The next sensible measure is the elimination of useless paperwork for authorization to transport restricted and prohibited weapons. Currently, an individual who wants to do target practice with a restricted weapon has to fill out forms when he wants to go to a firing range.
Sometimes provincial chief firearms officers, or CFOs, will allow for broader authorizations, but I will touch on that and on their discretion later.
This paperwork is then sent to the CFO, or the chief firearms officer, where it is filed in a drawer and never seen again. It is not shared with law enforcement and it is not searchable. Aside from the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, which our Conservative government proudly destroyed, this is yet another significant waste of taxpayer dollars within the entire firearms regime. It makes no sense to require all of this needless paperwork.
I would like to quote from a National Post editorial from earlier this month. It said:
|| The aims of our gun control system...are worthwhile and important. Our approach to achieving these ends, however, leaves much to be desired, and inflicts burdensome red tape on citizens well beyond what is necessary.
|| Take, for instance, the current system controlling the lawful transport of restricted firearms...The prospective buyer of a handgun most have a restricted-class licence, and must show he has a valid reason to buy it...The firearm must be stored, unloaded, inside a securely locked container or safe. And it must be equipped with a secondary trigger lock even when so secured. The only place the handgun may be legally transported is from the owner’s home to a firing range, or a gun repair shop, and back, by a “reasonably direct route.”
|| And that’s not the end of it. The gun owner must then apply for an entirely separate piece of paperwork — an authorization to transport, or ATT. This permit repeats what the firearms licence already establishes: that the lawful possessor of a registered gun can only transport it via a direct route from home to certain authorized locations.
|| What good is this? Anyone who qualifies to own a handgun clearly already meets the legal requirements of using it at a certified facility, and anyone who cannot legally qualify to transport a gun back and forth should not be authorized to possess one in the first place. The entire ATT system is redundant.
It simply does not make sense and it does not protect the public. These are two strong reasons to support this important legislation.
What else would this legislation do?
As I mentioned earlier, it would end the arbitrary powers of the chief firearms officers. Elected officials would take their appropriate place overseeing the decisions of CFOs that directly affect law-abiding gun owners.
The current rules and procedures have resulted in a nonsensical patchwork across the country. It is ridiculous that these would differ vastly between Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. There have to be harmonized standards across the country.
The final measure I would like to discuss is, in my opinion, one of the most important ones in the whole bill. We will enable a duly elected government to have the final say in classification decisions.
Why make such a big change? As many have pointed out, the government already has the power to further restrict the classification of a firearm, but it does not have the power to relax restrictions.
That problem became all too apparent on February 25, 2014. That was the day that tens of thousands of Canadians woke up to find that the Canadian firearms program had turned them into criminals with the stroke of a pen. Unilaterally, a change had been made to the Firearms Reference Table. The minister was not consulted, nor was any other Canadian.
There was no legislation, no regulation, not even an order-in-council that authorized this change.
Even more worrisome, there was no way to correct the mistake. That is why this bill is so important.
I can reconfirm, as the has said numerous times, as soon as the legislation receives royal assent, we will restore the non-restricted classification of the Swiss arms and the CZ858 families of rifles.
It is clear that our Conservative government is standing up for law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters. However, what about the other political parties? Well, I expect that we will hear for the remainder of this debate how awful firearms are and how they ought to be further restricted. That should come as no surprise, given that both the Liberals and the NDP have committed to bringing back a wasteful and ineffective long gun registry should they ever get the chance.
What has struck me, however, is the degree of contempt for gun owners. The member for alluded to some sort of moral equivalence between hunters and terrorists. That is the same member who said in the past that emotional arguments from hunters were not enough to justify not banning the sale of ammunition.
In case anyone thinks this is a rogue junior member, let us listen to the words of the Liberal leader. He said that this bill:
||would allow handguns and assault weapons to be freely transported in a trunk anywhere within a province, even left parked outside a Canadian Tire or a local hockey arena.
He even put out a fundraising advertisement with the same comments. This is patently ridiculous. The Liberal leader is either trying to fearmonger or he simply does not have a clue about how firearms are regulated in Canada, or it could be both.
I was pleased to see Conservative members of the public safety committee ask Tony Bernardo, one of Canada's foremost firearms experts, about this advertisement and whether it was accurate. Here is what he had to say: “I've seen the advertisements and they are incorrect”.
What is more, the question was also put to non-partisan public servants. The assistant deputy minister of public safety answered with a simple “no” when asked by committee members if the advertisements were accurate.
The facts are these. Despite the claims of the Liberal Party, firearms issues are serious issues. Any serious leader must stand up for these rights, and it is clear that the only leader who will do so is the .
In closing, I would like to remind the members of the House that we are talking about Canada's hunting, fishing and sport shooting culture. We are talking about important outdoor activities that are enjoyed by over 4 million Canadians. We should be promoting those activities, not making them less accessible.
Before my colleagues opposite rise to ask questions about why the so-called gun lobby has so influenced the bill, I would like to remind them of something. There are simply ordinary Canadians who enjoy these activities.
I would like to remind my colleagues of the words of Greg Farrant, from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, who said the following:
|| Firearms owners in Canada are judges, lawyers, farmers, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, accountants, even federal politicians...who live in and represent urban ridings. They are not criminals. They are not gang members. Rather, they are lawful firearms owners who obey the law.
I hope that members heed those words when they vote on this important legislation, because I know that the individuals who care about firearms issues and property rights issues will be watching this debate closely.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill , the government's so-called common sense firearms licensing act, at third reading.
After introducing the bill in October and letting it languish on the order paper, in April the government suddenly found it urgent to press ahead with the bill. I still wonder why that was the case. However, the result clearly is that we now have a bill before us that has received very rushed consideration here in Parliament.
The government used time allocation to push Bill through second reading and then gave very severe limits on the time to be spent in committee, guaranteeing we would have poor consideration. We ended up having only two days for witnesses, April 28 and April 30, and a very short window of opportunity to even invite witnesses. It was just three days from when time allocation was proposed to when the first witnesses appeared.
As a result, we have Bill back in front of us without hearing from many important potential witnesses, including front-line law enforcement officers or law enforcement officials of any kind.
This is particularly disturbing, as there does not seem to have been any consultation with the law enforcement community before the introduction of the bill. Any consultations that did take place took place well after the bill had been introduced and took place in private. No one else was consulted, and clearly not any of the victim groups that the government always claims to keep top of mind when it comes to crime.
The parliamentary secretary has tried to characterize this poor consideration as somehow a failure of the opposition to do our job, which is a curious charge that implicitly admits that the bill has not received the consideration it should have. However, that is disingenuous for many reasons, foremost among them the limited and rapid timeframe that the government imposed for consideration of the bill in committee, resulting in a single week, take it or leave it, for witnesses to appear.
We are now faced with another troubling phenomenon, and that is a reluctance of witnesses to appear before the public safety committee. Perhaps that is a result of the experience of some of the witnesses on the hearings for Bill , where they were insulted and had their integrity challenged by government members. Perhaps it is a concern over funding, since we have seen groups that have opposed the government find that funding for their programming has been chopped. Perhaps it is a concern over charitable status, because if the witnesses happen to represent a charity, their organization may end up being audited by the Conservative government. Whatever the cause, the result is that we have Bill back from the public safety committee unchanged, apart from a technical amendment regarding the number of sections.
Turning back to the content of Bill more directly, some on the government side have taken issue with a statement I made in debate at second reading when I said that the bill before us only looks like common sense when viewed from the point of view of the gun lobby. I stand by that statement, but I would point out that the Conservatives have tried to ascribe a very broad meaning to the term “gun lobby” that few others would actually use.
What we on this side of the House mean when we use the term is not all gun owners, not all hunters and fishers, but a small group of people, including some gun dealers and manufacturers and some paid lobbyists, who spend their time hanging around at Parliament to promote a very narrow agenda. That agenda is to remove all restrictions on guns in Canada.
The first target of this narrow lobby was the gun registry, which is now gone and will not be coming back. However, they have now moved on to other goals, and this bill is a part of that lobby effort. It is an agenda that very few gun owners would actually know anything about, and the shorter the time we spend on it in Parliament, the less they will know.
The Conservatives continue to promote the dangerous ideas of this gun lobby. They represent a small minority of Canadians, and, I would argue, a minority even among gun owners. This is the idea that any regulations at all on firearms are so-called red tape that pit the interests of law-abiding gun owners against the government and police and amount to nothing more than restrictions on rights or freedoms.
As I have pointed out before, and like his gun lobby allies, the has fallen into the habit of using U.S. rhetoric in his comments on firearms. This was never so clear than on July 23 of last year, when the minister said, “To possess a firearm is a right, and it's a right that comes with responsibilities.”
Here we have a minister of the crown, one of the government's chief legal ministers, directly contradicting the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1993, the Supreme Court found in the case of R. v. Hasselwander that:
|| Canadians, unlike Americans do not have a constitutional right to bear arms. Indeed, most Canadians prefer the peace of mind and sense of security derived from the knowledge that the possession of automatic weapons is prohibited.
Therefore, what the minister's comments last July clearly indicate is that we unfortunately have a government that likes to pander to this narrow gun lobby, and in this case the government does so fairly transparently in order to generate political support from their base.
The Conservatives like to talk about the Liberals doing mailings on gun registry and gun regulations, and they themselves do exactly the same. However, let me remind the House of a few of these initiatives regarding specific firearms regulations wherein the influence of the gun lobby is quite apparent.
In 2011 the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness drafted new regulations for gun shows that would have required things most Canadians would actually see as common sense, such as notifying local police of gun shows to be held in their jurisdiction and requiring tethering of guns on display just as is done with cellphones in sales kiosks. These gun show regulations would have been brought into force in 2012, but no, that did not happen. Instead, the Conservatives junked the proposed regulations altogether after complaints from the gun lobby that the new requirements would be too onerous. I guess we should have seen this coming when the gun-lobby-dominated firearms advisory committee called for the scrapping of gun show regulations in its March 2012 report.
Regulations were also due to come into force in December 2012 to require each gun manufactured in Canada to have an individual serial number, something actually required by international treaties to which Canada is a party and again something that seems like common sense when it comes to police being able to trace guns used in crimes or in the fight to combat the illegal international trade in small arms. In November 2013, and for a second time, the Conservatives quietly implemented a regulation delaying the coming into force of this requirement until December 2015, after the next election.
When it comes to Bill , I guess we should be glad that the government abandoned the most extreme recommendations of its firearms advisory committee. These were the proposals for 10-year licences and proposals to allow the resale of seized weapons by police forces. We know that the police community very strongly opposed both of those measures, but now we are seeing complaints in the media from the narrow gun lobby that Bill C-42 does not go far enough in that direction.
New Democrats have a different view, one that clearly puts public safety first. New Democrats believe that public safety must always trump politics when it comes to firearms licensing and regulation. The Conservatives like to pose as the ones who understand rural Canadians, but let me say that many MPs on our side also come from rural backgrounds—I am one of those—and many represent rural ridings. I myself represent a riding that stretches from downtown Victoria all the way out to the West Coast Trail trailhead at Port Renfrew, so I do know something about law-abiding gun owners for whom hunting is much more than just a prop to use in arguments about gun registration and licensing.
Most curious, from a government that claims to put the interests of rural areas first when it comes to gun regulations, was the rejection of the NDP amendment proposed in the public safety committee to preserve the right of those in rural and remote areas to challenge the firearms exam without completing a safety course.
Let us make no mistake about it: New Democrats support the requirement for completing a safety course. However, we acknowledge that there are vast areas of this country where these courses are simply not available on a practical basis. We are glad to see that the bill would preserve the exemption for aboriginal people, but we ask why the government rejected our proposals to accommodate other remote rural residents with a similar exemption.
Let me turn back once again to the contents of the bill we have before us and make some of the arguments I made at second reading.
For me, despite the short title of the bill, there is nothing common sense about the bill's two major provisions: making gun classification a political process and removing the requirement for a transportation permit for restricted firearms to be present in any vehicle carrying them. These two proposals have no public safety purpose and instead respond to explicit complaints from the narrow gun lobby. All the other things the Conservatives want to address in this bill could have been accomplished without these two provisions.
Let me discuss the first change proposed, a change in the way weapons are classified as either non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited.
Right now, recommendations on classification, under the definitions contained in law, are made by firearms experts from the RCMP. The minister's signature is required, but there is no discretion for the minister, providing the recommendations he receives fall within the scope of the existing legislative definitions. What is interesting is to hear the members on the other side say that bureaucrats made this decision and that bureaucrats could not be overruled by the minister. However, the existing legislative definition actually does allow the minister to overrule that recommendation for weapons that have a legitimate hunting or sporting purpose.
Why was the minister unable to overrule this reclassification? It was clearly because the Swiss Arms Classic Green does not have a legitimate hunting or sporting purpose once it is modified to be a semi-automatic weapon.
What Bill suggests is that cabinet should be able to ignore classification recommendations from the experts charged with keeping the public safe, the RCMP, and substitute its own wisdom about how weapons should be classified. The members on the other side say yes, the minister would be allowed to consult whomever he wants, and some Conservatives have even suggested that the proper people to consult would be gun manufacturers, who could advise cabinet on the classification of the weapons they are trying to sell.
Bill goes even further by allowing cabinet to grant exemptions for guns and ammunition that would otherwise be prohibited weapons.
Where did this perceived need for change come from? It came from that single case that has been referred to, the reclassification of a single weapon, the Swiss Arms Classic Green, as it is sometimes called. These are military-style weapons that had originally been sold in Canada as a semi-automatic weapon limited to firing five rounds. Before 2013, there were approximately 2,000 of these in Canada, worth about $4,000 each. Why, then, were they reclassified?
It came about because the RCMP found that so-called refurbished models were showing up in gun shops in Calgary, but they were now operating as automatic weapons. This meant these weapons were now being converted to automatic weapons capable of firing a long series of shots from a single trigger pull, exactly what the designation of “prohibited” was designed to keep off the streets in Canada.
When an outcry resulted from this reclassification, the Conservatives were quick to grant a two-year amnesty in March 2014, an amnesty for which I believe the legal authority is doubtful at best. Now we have Bill before us as the longer-term solution, since this bill would give the current Conservative cabinet the power to decide if these dangerous weapons should remain on our streets.
Quite apart from the danger of ending up with automatic weapons on the street, there is another important principle at stake here. When we make laws, we make them in public, after public debate, and they stay in force until there is another public debate about changing them. In fact, what we have in this bill is the creation of a process whereby cabinet can in effect change our gun classification system and the classification of individual weapons and ammunition by making decisions behind closed doors and without any public debate.
Who knows who will be serving in cabinet after the next election? Whoever that is, I know I do not want decisions to be based on political considerations, but instead on the professional recommendations of public officials charged with keeping Canadians safe.
The other major change in Bill is removing the requirement that exists in most provinces to have a permit in any vehicle transporting restricted firearms and prohibiting any province from reimposing such a requirement. Currently, permits must specify a reason for transporting a restricted firearm and specify that the travel must be from a specific point A to a specific point B. This makes it relatively easy for police to enforce the prohibition on the illegal transportation of firearms.
Bill rolls transportation permits into the licence to own firearms. This would automatically allow the transportation of firearms between the owner's home and a list of five categories of places: to any gun range, to any gun shop, to any gun show, to any police station, and to any border post for exiting Canada. In my riding alone, this would create hundreds of possibilities for those who wish to violate the law to make excuses for having the weapons in their vehicles, and this change would make the prohibition on the illegal transportation of weapons virtually impossible for police to enforce. Unfortunately, the committee did not hear from the law enforcement community, for a variety of reasons that I addressed earlier.
There are other provisions in the bill about which New Democrats have questions. Members on the other side have raised the question of the grace period. I want to state once again that New Democrats have said that inadvertently forgetting to renew one's licence should not always result in a criminal record. However, the government has gone whole hog the other way and removed any penalties for people failing to renew their gun licences. We have suggested that if it is truly inadvertent, a lesser penalty than a criminal record could be imposed, but a penalty should still exist.
Does anything in this bill look good to New Democrats? Certainly measures that make prohibitions on gun ownership easier in cases of domestic violence are welcome, as are the expanded requirements for gun safety courses.
Clearly, public safety is not the central priority for the Conservatives in Bill . In fact, its two main provisions seem to pose new threats to public safety.
Media interviews with the government's friends in the gun lobby have made several things clear. One is the close links between this narrow gun lobby and the Conservative Party, especially in terms of fundraising, as I mentioned, the other is that they will not be satisfied to stop with Bill , and they intend to demand more in the future. This close relationship between the Conservatives and the gun lobby is why no one should trust the Conservatives any longer when it comes to putting public safety first on licensing gun owners and the regulations of guns. In the end, that really is the reason why we will be voting against this bill.
We had a chance to have a full and fair debate here in Parliament. We had a chance to hear a full range of witnesses. The government had already decided that neither of those things was going to happen with this bill. As I said, it sat on the order paper from October and it is inexcusable to me that the government should then suddenly whip the bill through in such a short time. It needs full consideration. We need to hear from the law enforcement community about the impacts of this bill, and we need to hear from more Canadians and from disparate kinds of groups. The government did a good job in bringing hunting and fishing groups before the committee. They are legitimate stakeholders and we were glad to hear from them. However, hearing from just one side in this debate does not make for the best legislation.
The government accuses us on this side of fearmongering, and I guess we throw the same charge back at it. The fearmongering we are talking about is based on real concerns about public safety, so I would argue that fearmongering is not the right word. We are talking about what happens in many municipalities, in many cities around the country. We have the example of Surrey, B.C. where we have had a number of murders in that community, which I believe is now up to 25 in two months. There are very high levels of gun violence, so we have to make sure that any of the changes we make to a bill like Bill do not inadvertently contribute to these high levels of violence. We have seen similar problems with gun violence in downtown Toronto. We see now in British Columbia the gun violence extending to the community of Abbotsford. It is like a cancer that spreads throughout the community. We have to do all we can to ensure that reasonable regulations, and the things that I talked about, such as having serial numbers on guns manufactured in Canada, are in place to help police officers do the work they need to do to keep our communities safe from gun violence. This is not just about hunters and fishers, although we do have to make sure that we have a law in place that is practical and reasonable for them. It is also about safety in our main communities. In this case, I would argue that the government has not found a balance, instead it has gone for one side of the debate only.
What will the government say to families in Surrey? What will it say about the need to attack gun violence there? We heard the minister say in question period today that sometime in the future the government will provide more RCMP. He could not say exactly when, but that there would be money in the future. We have the government saying that the budget has been increased for the RCMP, for CBSA and for CSIS. However, when we actually look at the budget, as the minister invited me to do, we find that the level of cuts since 2012 will not even be made up for another four years. How do our law enforcement agencies cope with these epidemics of gun violence that are happening in urban areas?
Because of the high level of resources required to meet terrorist threats, we have seen just this week that the RCMP has been forced to cut such programs as the Condor program, which targeted those offenders who left a halfway house or escaped custody and were illegally at large. There was a special task force to make sure that those people who belong behind bars end up back behind bars. However, the RCMP had to cut that due to a lack of funding.
Once again we have come around full circle here for a government that likes to talk tough on crime but not provide the resources needed and, inadvertently, through its ideological approach to gun licensing and regulation, may actually make things worse in our urban areas.
Therefore, once again, the New Democrats will stand up and call for a gun licensing and regulation regime that puts public safety first, and that is not Bill .
Mr. Speaker, over the weekend, I had the opportunity to hold a town hall in my riding of Winnipeg North, and no one raised the issue of the gun registry, or gun control or Bill . In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of my constituents who, over the last number of years, have raised this issue.
However, something that is consistently raised is the issue of crime and safety. Crime and safety affect all of us, whether we are in urban or rural areas. It is an area about which there is a great deal of discussion. I suspect I am not the only member of Parliament who has been approached by their constituents. Our constituents want to hear from the government about what it is prepared to do to try to improve the safety conditions of our communities, regardless of the region in which they live.
Certain aspects within Bill are positive and would make a difference, and I will go into that. However, other aspects of the legislation raise a great deal of concern regarding the issue of public safety. Again, I will get into that issue shortly.
Unfortunately, when I look at Bill , I wonder why we have it before us today. What is the motivation behind the government bringing forward this bill?
It is interesting to note that back in 2014 the RCMP firearms program made a relatively quiet change to the status of the Swiss Arms brand rifles and certain Czech-made CZ858 rifles from non-restricted to prohibited. The guns had been legal in Canada for many years. A headline in the Montreal Gazette on August 30, 2014, read, “Conservatives restrict RCMP’s ability to reclassify firearms; Tories aim to woo gun enthusiasts”. There is a great deal of merit in what the article reported, which is one of the biggest flaws within the legislation proposed by the government today. It is politically motivated legislation, with which the government is trying to woo gun owners.
The government has been fairly successful in trying to keep the issue of the gun registry alive, because it believes it is in its best political interest to do so. What seems to play second fiddle is the issue of crime and safety within our own communities. When Conservatives speak out on this issue, we often hear about the hunting, trapping and fishing industries, sport firing and things of this nature, and that is great. Again, I will provide some additional comment on that. However, we do not necessarily hear the other side. We do not hear about the importance of safety. There are aspects of the legislation that would touch upon that, but that is not necessarily what the government likes to highlight.
Let me go through what the legislation proposes to do. It creates a six-month grace period at the end of that five-year licence period to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for paperwork delays in licence renewals. That has already been talked about, and it has a great deal of merit.
The legislation would streamline the licencing system by eliminating the possession-only licence, known as the POL, and converting all existing POLs to possession and acquisition licences.
The legislation would make classroom participation in firearms safety training mandatory for first-time licence applicants.
On a couple of these points, I had the opportunity to not only to talk to a couple of individuals, because I anticipated I would be speaking to this legislation, but I also took advantage of visiting a hunting store to get a better sense of its take on the legislation. There are certain aspects of the legislation, especially around safety, in which there is a great deal of support, even from gun enthusiasts who want more gun control. Aspects of the legislation are supported from all sides.
It would amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the provisions relating to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person would be convicted of an offence involving domestic violence.
It would decrease needless paperwork around authorizations to transport by making them a condition of a licence for certain routine and lawful activities. Again, concerns have been raised in regard to that issue.
It would provide for discretionary authority of the chief firearms officer to be limited by regulation. Again, it is of great concern and I will provide further comment.
The legislation would authorize firearms import information sharing when restricted and prohibited firearms were imported into Canada by business.
Finally, from what I understand, it would also allow the government to have the final say on the classification decisions following the receipt of an independent expert's advice.
It is very important at the beginning of the debate to state clearly that the Liberal Party cannot support the legislation as proposed. I think the government was already somewhat aware of the fact that opposition parties, particularly the Liberal Party, would have a great deal of difficulty in supporting the legislation. It is questionable whether it would make our communities safer. Certain aspects of the legislation do not make our communities safer. Therefore, it is very difficult for me as an individual and for the Liberal Party, if we put the safety of Canadians first and foremost, to support Bill .
The Liberal Party, through our critic, has been very vocal in recognizing that if the government truly wanted to do something positive with Bill , it should have been prepared to allow the legislation to be broken into two parts. I suspect certain parts of the legislation would pass unanimously. It could have been passed quite a while ago. By not recognizing that, the government now finds itself in a position, as we have seen with a lot of legislation, where it continues to pass legislation through time allocation, or closure, to get its legislative agenda passed.
Unfortunately, that limits debate for members of Parliament to contribute and share concerns of their constituents with regard to important legislation that ultimately impacts our communities, such as Winnipeg North and all regions of Canada.
It would eliminate the need for owners of prohibited and restricted firearms to have a transportation licence to carry those guns in their vehicles. This means they could freely transport handguns or automatic weapons anywhere within their province, whether it is to a grocery store or a soccer field. Members have made reference to the leader of the Liberal Party talking about a Canadian Tire store.
The government is trying to give the impression that an automatic weapon would be carried from a home, from a locked situation, to a vehicle and to the shooting range, with no stops in between. That is ridiculous. I do not believe there is any true merit for that.
I used to be the justice critic in Manitoba a number of years back. If we take a look at the amount of automobile thefts in the province of Manitoba, either in 2003 or 2004, I believe 14,000 vehicles were stolen in one year. That means we could take the total number of vehicles in any other province, on a per capita basis, and we would still find that Manitoba had double the rate of stolen cars than any other province.
We aggressively pursued that issue and found that a large number of youth were stealing these vehicles. It was not uncommon to have one youth steal 30 vehicles in one year. We are not talking about a dozen; we are talking probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of a couple of hundred youth. It had a very profound impact.
If we checked with people, and it did not matter which region of a province, there was a great deal of concern, but there was a bit more concern in certain areas. When we get those kinds of numbers and hear why cars are being stolen, it is a concern. To be a member of a gang, youth had to steal a certain number of vehicles as an initiation. The number of individuals getting involved in gang activities skyrocketed during the 2002-03 period. To get hard numbers is very difficult. I speculated that it could range anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000, which is a very high number considering the population base. Imagine the number of vehicles being stolen. Where are they being stolen from? Throughout all communities.
If we relax certain rules that allow for easier transportation of prohibited weapons, we should be concerned. I should express the concerns my constituents have on this legislation. They should be asking me and the whether we are making our communities safer by passing the legislation that would allow easier transportation of automatic weapons and restricted weapons. That is one of the primary reasons why I am very grateful the Liberal Party has taken this position on the legislation.
Often we will hear the Conservatives say that police officers or law enforcement officers are on their side. I have worked with community police officers. I sat as a chair of a youth justice committee for many years. The issues involved with respect to gangs are very serious in nature. Also, I suspect that Winnipeg is not alone, that we would find there are other pockets in other communities where there is a higher element of risk. I think all communities are very much concerned with this.
I do not think we should take it as lightly as we have. Members say that it is just the “transportation of” or that people are are law-abiding citizens. Of course, they are law-abiding. Gun owners are law-abiding, wonderful citizens and they come from many different professions. However, they are not the ones who concern me and my constituents when it comes to violence or the potential risk of violence in our community.
It is also important to recognize that Bill would take the power to classify firearms out of the hands of police, the experts in keeping Canada safe, and would put it in the hands of politicians. I am surprised that there has not been more comment on that issue. I know that the Liberal Party critic has had the opportunity to raise it on a number of occasions. This is a very serious issue. We have a government that likes to think that it knows better with respect to what should be a restricted or prohibited weapon. It wants to make this a political decision as opposed to relying on experts.
I can recall having interviews on the changes in security here on the Hill and what the RCMP, local constables, and the fantastic security guards should be doing to ensure that we can protect the public, the staff, and members of Parliament.
When I asked about security, it was a fairly straightforward response. In dealing with security, we should be turning to and relying on the experts. They bring something to the table that we do not have as elected officials. If there are issues in terms of certain decisions, there are ministerial departments. The opposition parties have critics. Nothing prevents them from picking up the phone, sending emails, or writing letters. There are many different avenues they can use to get a better understanding of why a decision was made. Who knows? It could ultimately end up with the reversal of a decision.
Instead, what do we have? We have a who sees this as a win-win issue for him if he can bring in legislation and tell gun owners and lobbyists that the Conservatives stood tall for them. The government has not stood tall for us. It has disrespected the professional organizations, like the civil service, that understand. Will they make mistakes? At times, yes, but I can assure members that they will be fewer than the government's. Why would the government bring in legislation that would politicize it and allow the or the minister responsible to make decisions? I think that is wrong.
Let me conclude by recognizing that law-abiding gun owners are in all different professions. Liberals recognize that. We recognize the valuable contributions of hunters, trappers, fishers, and sport shooters. These things create economic activity. It is a wonderful lifestyle.
However, I will leave something with the government, and that is that there is another side to the debate. There is a safety element that needs to be talked about. Even though there are certain aspects of the legislation that are positive, if the government had brought them in as stand-alone legislation, they would have received the support of the Liberal Party of Canada. However, because of its attitude in trying to push the envelope and politicize the system, making our communities a little less safe in some ways, we cannot, in good conscience, support this legislation.