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[English]

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Friday, May 19, 1995

.0900

The Chair: I'd like to call the meeting to order. The Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs will continue its examination of Bill C-68, An Act respecting firearms and other weapons.

This morning we have our last witness before dealing with the bill on a clause-by-clause basis. Our witness is the Honourable Allan Rock, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Mr. Rock, you are our 70th witness since April 24. You were the first witness and now you are the 70th and the last. We've had a wide range of views presented before this committee from all the various interests that have shown concern about the bill. Members of the committee have been accumulating their various concerns and questions and they will be putting them to you today. But we want to hear from you first. You and your staff have been following the meetings as well and you know the major points that have been raised. In any case, we'll have an opening statement from you and then the members will proceed to put their questions to you. I give you the floor.

[Translation]

The Honourable Allan Rock (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First I'd like to express my appreciation for the excellent work made by the committee. You are saying that you heard 70 witnesses in the past weeks. It's incredible!

During the past month, you heard dozens of witnesses, practically days and nights, and you dealt with some of the most controversial issues of our times while doing your hard work as members of Parliament.

[English]

Mr. Chairman, after all that's been said before this committee, after all of the commentary on Bill C-68 and its provisions, I wonder if I might begin my brief opening statement this morning by bringing us back to basics, by reaffirming the government's deep commitment to the essential elements of Bill C-68.

In our judgment this legislation delivers what's needed to preserve the kind of country we want and to reflect the values of Canadians. It proposes tough penalties for people who choose to commit crime with guns, it contains measures to address the issue of smuggling firearms into Canada, and it provides rules governing the private ownership of firearms in Canada, which are sensible and fair.

More specifically, Mr. Chairman, the government remains firmly committed to the universal registration of all firearms as the cornerstone of this strategy. We stand solidly with the Canadian Chiefs of Police, with the Canadian Police Association, with the Canadian Association of Police Boards, with physicians who practise in the area of trauma and emergency room medicine, people in the medical profession who deal with suicide, all of whom deal daily with the issue of firearms in large and small communities in the west, in the east, in the north, and in the southern parts of this country.

Mr. Chairman, I'm often asked about consultation and the kind of consultation in which the government engaged in the preparation of this legislation. May I say that perhaps one of the most effective forms of consultation that the government conducted occurs every week in the caucus of the Liberal members. Every Wednesday morning members of Parliament from across this country meet to discuss, among other things, the legislation that's before this committee.

[English]

That process serves to keep the government closely in touch with the views of Canadians on these issues, including the most controversial of them.

.0905

The committee heard many of these members of caucus yesterday. You saw for yourselves how effectively they articulated the concerns and put forward constructive suggestions coming from their communities. I know the committee will consider what those members said, Mr. Chairman. I certainly have.

But let me deal briefly with one particular area of consultation that has been mentioned more than once before this committee; that is, the consultation with the aboriginal communities of Canada. Consultation in this context is particularly important because the Supreme Court of Canada has spoken in the past about the role of consultation in determining whether the government in enacting legislation has been sufficiently sensitive to aboriginal rights.

Now, I start by acknowledging that there are treaty and aboriginal rights, including the right to hunt, that may bear with them the right to use firearms for that purpose. That's beyond question. But I say as well there's no constitutional right to any specific form of consultation. What the Supreme Court of Canada said in Sparrow and in other cases is that if it can be shown that a piece of legislation infringes upon an aboriginal treaty or other right protected by the Constitution, then, among other things, the court will look at whether and what kind of consultation occurred in determining whether that infringement is justified.

I say it cannot be demonstrated under Bill C-68 that there is an infringement. But that's not the important point. The point is that this government recognized an obligation to consult with the aboriginal communities and we did so.

I begin with reference to my own travels. Mr. Chairman, among other things, I went to the Yukon last year. I met with the chair of the Council of Yukon Indians, Judy Gingell. I met with Chief Keenan of the Teslin Tlingit Band, one of the four bands in the Yukon who have now entered into self-government agreements. I was in the Northwest Territories and met with Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus. I visited the Yellowknife Dene Band. I appeared before the members of the Northwest Territories legislature. I met with Stephen Kakfwi, the Minister of Justice. I had a session in the legislative assembly in which I answered questions about the objectives of the firearms proposals we had under consideration at that time.

The action plan I tabled before Parliament on November 30 last made reference to some of this consultation and also committed the government to a continuing process of consultation with aboriginal people.

On December 23 a letter went from the Department of Justice to 690 aboriginal communities, including the James Bay Cree and the Council of Yukon Indians. On January 20 another letter went from Justice to 690 aboriginal groups across Canada and in the territories referring to the proposals and asking for a response. On March 28 we wrote again, in particular on this occasion to the president of the Cree Trappers Association of Quebec. On April 19 the Department of Justice sent out 68 letters to aboriginal leaders across Canada for the purpose of starting to shape a framework for consultation in 9 regions across Canada.

We encouraged groups to appear before this committee to express their views, and after consulting with the leadership of aboriginal communities, we put together a process by which a team from the firearms task group at Justice is visiting 9 regions of this country to engage in direct discussion with aboriginal representatives of both urban, rural and reserve communities to deal with these issues.

The first of those direct discussions, Mr. Chairman, took place in the eastern Arctic just two weeks ago. There's an initial meeting with the B.C. aboriginal leaders next week, and there's also an initial meeting planned with the Alberta tribal chiefs.

.0910

[English]

This process through the nine regions will continue until about July or August at which time we will conclude the first stage of the consultation. The second stage will involve the drafting of regulations under paragraph 110(t) of Bill C-68, which will be distributed by September or October to these same groups for their comment. Only after we have their comment, and of course once the legislation is enacted, will we then table the regulations after the bill is in place, and they shall be before Parliament for the usual process.

Against that background, I find it very difficult to conclude that there has not been continuing and effective consultation with aboriginal communities. We have a long list of issues to discuss with them. Some of them they have brought forward to this committee, and we are confident that through frank and constructive discussion we can indeed reach an accommodation that allows us to deal fairly with all Canadians, to have one set of principles throughout this country, but to implement those principles and this program in a fashion that is respectful of aboriginal and treaty rights.

[Translation]

Mr. Chairman, when I appeared for the first time before the committee, last 24th of April, I specifically asked to appear again. Thus I wanted to give you the opportunity to ask me other questions after having heard the diverse opinions of a great number of witnesses who came before the committee.

I found the evidence given by the witnesses very useful. Citizens from every region of the country, with very different perspectives, had a chance to discuss the details of our propositions. It was for me a very instructive and rich experience.

[English]

I'd like to speak to a couple of specific items in respect of which you've heard proposals for change in the bill. May I say that each of these items has been brought forward by members of the Liberal caucus in very forceful and effective terms during the past weeks.

May I begin with the regime for inspection, which is contained in clause 98 of Bill C-68 as it creates the Firearms Act. I continue to believe, as I asserted on April 24, that this inspection regime is an entirely valid and constitutional set of provisions that are simply ancillary to the registration and safe storage requirements. There is much precedent for exactly this kind of approach in federal and provincial statutes. I also believe that much of the criticism that's been levelled against these proposals is overstated and incorrect.

I have also been impressed with the genuine expressions of concern about whether these provisions are over-broad. I listened yesterday as my colleague Andy Mitchell expressed his concern that they might be subject to abuse and as my colleague Reginald Bélair asserted that in his view they were too broad. Yesterday, you recall Harry Verran was before the committee talking about how careful we must be when we provide for the right to enter someone's home, and Derek Wells and Walt Lastewka were here yesterday to speak of the uncertainty that these provisions might raise in their present form.

May I communicate to this committee for its consideration some proposals that originated in discussions in my caucus for changes to this inspection regime. I have reviewed these proposals that my colleagues in caucus have provided and I've given careful consideration to them. I think they are thoughtful and constructive proposals that will improve the bill and make it stronger while leaving the principles of the bill intact. In short, I suggest the committee consider that the inspection sections be amended to remove the power of inspection for the private dwelling where the owner keeps a hunting rifle or a shotgun. Rather, that the committee consider adding a section providing that owners can be required on reasonable notice to produce their firearm to allow the verification by a firearms officer of the registration information.

.0915

[English]

I would also ask that the committee consider that the inspection powers in the bill be narrowed so that they apply only to businesses, including museums, gun collectors, owners of prohibited firearms, and any person who owns over 10 firearms of any description. Now, businesses and gun collectors are already subject to inspections under the current law, including owners of automatic and converted automatic firearms. The only extension of the inspection process beyond the present regime would be to people who owned 10 guns or more, and that for the purpose of safety, and surely that's justified in the circumstances.

Even at that, I would ask the committee to consider, even where the inspection powers are available, adding a provision that the inspectors do give reasonable notice for the inspections to take place in a dwelling house, and that where the inspection is to take place in a dwelling house, that the inspection is to be confined to places in the home where the firearms are stored, and if there is a collector in a dwelling house, only where records in respect of the collection or the business are stored.

I would also ask the committee to consider removing the reference to part III of the Criminal Code in clauses 99, 100 and 101 and confining the reference to the Firearms Act itself.

I have been persuaded by members of my caucus that with those changes we could meet the concerns that have been expressed. At the same time, we can ensure safety. We could provide for the verification of registration, and of course, as the committee well knows, the general warrant procedures of the code are available in any case in which peace officers have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence may have been committed.

Let me speak briefly to the issue of the offence. The question I raised on April 24, Mr. Chairman, was whether some means might be found to deal with the first-time forgetful gun owner who did not register a long arm by reason of inadvertence. Yesterday, I listened as my caucus colleague Ovid Jackson urged us to find a different approach. I heard Harold Culbert express the concerns he and his constituents have about the current approach. Murray Calder very forcefully brought the committee's attention to what he thought was a disproportion between the objective to be achieved and the sweep of the current penalty provisions.

On April 24 when I was here I mentioned the guidelines that I suggested respectfully the committee adopt in looking for alternatives that apply only to long arms because handguns and other restricted weapons must already be registered; that an alternative approach be designed only for those persons who are truly forgetful or inadvertent but not to someone who is purposely burying guns with the objective of evading the statute; that whatever solution is devised cannot have the effect of making registration optional because it would make a mockery of all the work that you've done in this regard; that in designing a solution we remember the goals of this legislation, to have an effective registration system for community safety and, at the same time, to provide a way for the police to enforce the law in a way that's sensitive to otherwise law-abiding individuals who simply forget or don't know about the registration requirement.

I also note, Mr. Chairman, that any such offence would not be enforceable until after January 1, 2003, so we have six and a half years in which to educate and notify the Canadian public about these requirements.

May I respectfully suggest that the committee consider the following approach in dealing with this concern.

[English]

First, leave clauses 91 and 92 as they are but add a new section to the Firearms Act that would create an offence that would only apply to a first offender who is in possession of a long arm that was not restricted or prohibited. The section would provide for an offence that can be proceeded with only by way of summary conviction, not indictment, and the would offence carry, as a maximum penalty, a fine of $2,000 or six months in jail or both.

.0920

Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that if the committee would consider this, it would give the police a real charging option in the sympathetic case. We'd be taking this offence for the first-time offender with a long arm out of the Criminal Code and, in that way, overcoming the stigma of the Criminal Code as a part of our law.

Secondly, by providing that it's proceeded with only by way of summary conviction if it's a first offence, it will not be recorded on CPIC.

Thirdly, because it would be proceeded with by summary conviction, the persons would not be fingerprinted or photographed under the Identification of Criminals Act.

Fourthly, the possible maximum penalties would be reduced enormously.

Yet, in all of that we would still have a consequence of substance so Canadians would know that compliance with registration is essential.

Let me deal very briefly with one other subject before I conclude, because it has come up in a number of witnesses' testimony. That has to do with relics. Once again, I have proposals to communicate that originated in my caucus. Yesterday, the committee heard Brent St. Denis speak about the need to find a solution where people have a sentimental or family attachment to a specific firearm that may be prohibited. You heard Julian Reed describe how important it is to members of his constituency. Murray Calder very effectively communicated the concern I believe we must address.

Mr. Chairman, as I said on April 24, I think we should find a way in the bill to recognize that family heirlooms or relics can be very important to people. Many of the firearms to be prohibited might fall into that category. One thinks of the German Luger from World War II that, to some families, is important to keep. People who own them want to be able to hand them on to the next generation.

May I suggest that this committee consider provisions that would allow firearms, even if they're prohibited, if they were manufactured in 1945 and earlier, and if they were registered to the person in question on February 14, 1995, to be handed down upon the death of the registrant to a family member, who will of course then have to meet licensing requirements. The person who inherits these prohibited relic firearms would then be able to hand them down to that person's family members upon death, although they would not be able to buy more, nor sell to other grandfathered owners. But they could retain possession of them throughout their lives and hand them down to a family member.

Mr. Chairman, may I suggest that this approach might provide a way for us to respect the sentimental value that people develop to such heirlooms and relics, while acting in a fashion that's consistent with the principles of this bill.

There are two other matters that were put to the committee that I think deserve attention and I respectfully ask the committee to consider them. Those came from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. I think this first one may also have come from the Coalition for Gun Control.

The first was that the statute be amended to provide for the date by which licensure and registration will be fully operative - 2001 and 2003 respectively - so the legislation itself provides for the date by which both of those measures will be fully in place.

The second is the request by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police that in clause 5 of the Firearms Act we remove the reference to the five years when we're speaking about past convictions that can be taken into account when people apply for licensure.

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[English]

A recent and tragic example furnished evidence that sometimes that arbitrary five-year line is not appropriate. The chiefs felt strongly they should have the discretion to go beyond that and at least take into account events that occurred before that. I ask the committee respectfully to consider that proposal.

[Translation]

I will conclude where I began. We are strongly committed to the principles of this bill. We believe that the work done by this committee will result in a strengthened and improved piece of legislation. As the committee enters the final stage of its work and you prepare to refer the bill to the House of Commons let me assure you that the officials at the Department of Justice and I will give you our full cooperation.

[English]

I am very grateful to the committee for its very hard and careful work and I'd be pleased to respond to any questions that might arise.

The Chair: Thank you, Minister. We will now proceed with the usual rounds of questioning: 10 minutes for each of the three political parties associated with the committee, then 5-minute rounds alternating between members of the government and members of the opposition.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur, you have 10 minutes.

Mr. Bellehumeur (Berthier - Montcalm): I'm pleased to see you here today, Mr. Minister, because you will, among other things, be able to answer some of the questions we have raised this week. We have advised you about the amendments that we, the Bloc québécois, would like to see.

In your presentation, you alluded to the fact that this bill had been the subject of some hot debate within your caucus. I must tell you that we in the Bloc québécois also examined this issue very seriously. You will agree that, at first glance, this bill could lead to some conflicting opinions split along rural and urban lines. There is no doubt that, as far as this debate was concerned, the Bloc québécois was no exception to the rule. However, we did manage to reach a consensus without yielding to the demands of firearm lobbies and groups advocating absolutely no control over firearms.

I think that this accurately represents what Canadians are expecting from this bill. Most Canadians are for the principle of registration. However, we feel that the bill, as it is currently drafted, is not good.

Today, you demonstrated that you were somewhat opened to certain amendments that you yourself wish to make, amendments which, in both cases, reflect one of ours, particularly the amendment which would decriminalize long guns. I think that this is progress and that you should continue in this direction. I look forward to reading the text of your amendments to see whether they are along the same line as the first amendment we proposed.

However, you should make other amendments to this bill to strike a balance between the public's right to be protected and the rights of honest citizens who hunt, target shoot or participate in other similar sports. Thought must be given to the administrative workload that will result. You are still giving police officers rights that they don't need, rights which will lead to abuses as we have already seen in Quebec and other provinces.

You appear to be receptive to the idea of amending the articles that deal with the visits, namely section 98 and the following articles. You appear to be willing to amend the authority of these police officers to conduct visits without a warrant. I look forward to reading the text of these amendments, because they deal with a fairly important aspect of this bill. We cannot give police officers carte blanche when it comes to enforcing this law, and I believe that you have sensed the need to amend it.

Since you only touched upon two of the 14 items that we submitted to you, I would like to ask you some questions to obtain clarification.

[Translation]

You did not refer whatsoever to the four-year minimum sentence for certain offenses.

.0930

[Translation]

The Bloc québécois is against this minimum sentence, not because we believe that a crime with a firearm should go unpunished, but because we believe in the judicial system, in the role of the judges, in the discretion of the courts in determining sentences. You wish to impose a minimum sentence which, I believe, will lead to certain injustices.

I will give you a very precise example. What difference is there between someone who commits a rape with a firearm and another person who rapes using a knife? In one instance, the criminal will certainly be given a minimum four-year sentence, whereas in the other instance, this will not necessarily be so. Does that appear to be fair to you? Do you feel that this reflects the principles to which Canada has always adhered?

More specifically, and you may have noticed this in other pieces of legislation, Quebec is ahead in the area of rehabilitation. Do you not think that a bill containing these minimum sentences will contradict certain programs that are underway in the country?

[English]

Mr. Rock: Frankly, I don't.

One of the things I heard loud and clear, wherever I went across Canada and from whatever groups I spoke to last year - and perhaps the committee's experience has been the same - was that we want the government to act now in a firm, decisive, and effective way to send the message that the use of guns in crime will not be tolerated and that the penalty will be swift, certain, and significant. We also heard that the effort made by Parliament in the past to achieve this same result, which is contained in section 85, has been ineffective for that purpose.

We conducted a study of the experience of the Canadian courts with section 85 and we learned that people were right and that in two-thirds of the cases charges under that section, once laid, were not proceeded with to conviction and that such charges were too often bargained away or that problems of proof made it impossible if the person was using an imitation firearm and not a real firearm.

The changes we propose are to deal with those weaknesses and to achieve the objectives Canadians want.

I must say that, philosophically, I'm as concerned as the next person about a mandatory minimum tying the hands of a judge, but I think we crossed that bridge with firearms. Many years ago we said, in section 85, that a mandatory minimum would apply if someone used a gun in an indictable offence. Guns are so lethal when used in crime and the need is so great to signal a commitment by the criminal justice system to reduce the use of guns in crime that, in my judgment, these measures are appropriate.

I know that some people appeared before this committee and talked about introducing an element of discretion, and that may be something the committee would want to examine. But in my judgment, Mr. Chairman, while resorting to the mandatory minimum should be rare, because it's not the way we should govern our criminal justice system, nonetheless, when it comes to the use of guns in crime, I think we're right to approach it in this way.

I remind the committee that we have already planned to spend money and effort to send out the message, loud and clear and in simple terms, that if you choose to use a gun in crime, this consequence will ensue. I deeply hope that this extraordinary measure will have the effect of deterring and reducing the incidence of guns in crime at a time in Canada when I think people want us to send just that signal and take just these measures.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur: Mr. Minister, are there any conclusive studies that have been done that show that we deter criminals by making the sentence harsher? I've always heard that minimum four-year or ten-year sentences or even life sentences had no effect whatsoever.

[Translation]

Remember the Narcotic Control Act. When we could get sentenced to 14 or 20 years of imprisonment for importing marijuana, trading increased enormously. When we reduced the sentence, we reduced at the same time the number of these kind of crimes.

.0935

It seems to me that the studies' findings are completely contrary to what you are saying,Mr. Minister. Did you see these studies?

[English]

Mr. Rock: Yes, we have. On April 24 I referred to some specific studies that we relied upon.

I know there's a controversy in the literature about the effectiveness of mandatory minima as a deterrent to crime. A lot of people - myself included - just believe intuitively and sensibly that particularly with a crime involving planning, like a robbery, which is the most common of the crimes with a firearm that's referred to in this connection...if at the planning stage when the person is undertaking the enterprise that person knows the law is structured in such a way that the result is going to be certain and significant, I believe it can indeed make a difference.

On April 24, I referred to specific studies. I referred to Vicher in 1987, who concluded that selected crimes could be reduced by 5% to 10% in this way; to McFeeders in 1984, who found that more severe penalties for firearms robbery did lead to a reduction in that specific type of crime; and McDowell, in 1992, who reviewed several studies on mandatory prison terms for firearms offences and found that gun homicides were reduced. I can make these studies available to the member if he would like to see them. I know there are studies to the opposite effect. It's not a settled question.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur: As for me, I'll present you studies which say the contrary.

The Chairman: That's all? Your time has expired.

[English]

Mr. Ramsay.

Mr. Ramsay (Crowfoot): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Minister, thank you for coming this morning...and for your presentation.

I'd just like to examine the track record of Bill C-68. It begins when we all first came to Ottawa, and you made the comment publicly that in your opinion only the police and the military should have firearms. This comment created a great deal of concern and alarm with law-abiding gun owners across the country.

You claimed widespread consultation, which certainly is laudable by myself and on this side. And yet we've had representatives of governments appear before this committee and give testimony that refutes this. In particular, you claimed to me and to other members in the House of Commons that you were in continuous consultation with the attorneys general of this country. We've had that claim refuted by attorneys general who have attended and submitted testimony to this committee.

We also have had the justice ministers from the Yukon and the Northwest Territories appear. We've had representatives from the governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. They have not been able to recognize the linkage between the registration of firearms, long guns and shotguns with the desired goal of all of us, which is greater public safety.

Are they unable to see what you see, Mr. Minister, or your government sees? That's the question. What is it? Or are you seeing something intuitively that they are not? They're looking for facts. As you mentioned, perhaps you're facing this with regard to the maximum sentence that it's something other than fact and maybe it's an intuitive feeling that you're basing this law on.

.0940

[English]

I come again to the consultative process. The aboriginal groups have appeared here and told us without any question or doubt that, as far as they are concerned, they were not consulted in the creation of this 124-page document. They had nothing whatever to do with the creation of this document.

In the case of the James Bay Cree and the Yukon Indian people, they claim a constitutional right to be consulted, not after, but they want the opportunity - and they quoted their rights - to be consulted in the creation of legislation that's going to impact upon them. This, to me, seems like common sense. I was amazed and alarmed that they would claim that that type of consultation did not take place.

We've done what we could to encourage your department to initiate and engage the clauses of those agreements that would satisfy not only their constitutional rights but also their own aspirations with regard to those rights.

Mr. Morin was here representing the Métis. He indicated the same thing. Mr. Mercredi of the Assembly of First Nations made the same claim, that there had been requests for consultation, and he claims that no consultation of any significant degree or in what is called in law the prescribed manner took place. This was claimed by the Yukon Indians and the James Bay Cree as well.

The fact that we have made agreements with our aboriginal people that they interpret as being violated causes me great concern. Surely something could have been done and ought to be done that would clear up this misunderstanding in their minds, if it is truly just a misunderstanding. If you have truly fulfilled your constitutional responsibility to engage them in consultation, surely communications should be ongoing that would satisfy them that you have fulfilled your constitutional and legal obligation to consult them. This, to my understanding, has not taken place.

They're functioning with the belief that you, your department and the Government of Canada have violated their constitutional rights. If we have any responsibility as members of Parliament, it's to protect the constitutional rights of Canadians.

I want to get more specifically to the bill and I have only a short time.

The Chair: Your time is running out.

Mr. Ramsay: Yes, I understand, and I have my clock running here, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: I see. I have mine running, too.

Mr. Ramsay: Yes, and I would appreciate you allowing me to continue.

The Chair: I just wanted to politely let you know that you have three minutes left.

Mr. Ramsay: Your politeness is appreciated, Mr Chairman.

I would like the request I made in this committee to be fulfilled, that you table the documentation or any other evidence that would indicate that you have fulfilled your responsibility to these groups of aboriginal peoples and that consultation did in fact take place according to their constitutional right.

Now, I'd like to get to the bill itself.

This bill contains 75 instances where regulations will be prescribed. What that means is that we are really examining a pig in a poke. This is an enormous regulatory power the likes of which I have never seen in any other bill. There are 11 provisions in the present gun control laws under the Criminal Code that allow for regulations. We have 75 in this bill. It means that in 75 cases we have not been able to examine the impact this legislation is going to have upon the people of Canada.

It grants enormous autocratic powers to yourself, Mr. Minister, through the Governor in Council. There are no provisions within the bill to bring those regulations other than before a committee and certainly not before the House where they can be examined by the elected representatives of the people.

.0945

[English]

In my final comment, proposed paragraph 117.15(2) grants the Governor in Council, by way of regulation, to prohibit any firearm in Canada and it removes the former entitlement to own firearms or to own long guns for the purpose of hunting and target-shooting. It removes that from the Criminal Code and leaves it up to the opinion of the Governor in Council. I'd like your comment particularly on that last aspect, together with any comments you might have with regard to the evidence you're prepared to submit to this committee that the constitutional rights of the aboriginal people have been fulfilled by your department. Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Rock: Mr. Chairman, I'm confident I can do that.

Let me first begin by referring to the oft-quoted statement of last April, when I was much younger and much less experienced. Outside the House of Commons one day, in speaking about guns, I said the first sentence of a short paragraph and that first sentence is often quoted. The second sentence isn't.

I think the record will demonstrate that on that occasion I said I came to Ottawa in November 1993 believing the only people who should have firearms in this country were police officers and soldiers, but in the last several months I've lived with members of my caucus who come from very different backgrounds and bring very different perspectives and my viewpoint has been broadened. The second half of that quote is not often included, but it's there and I think that's important.

I know what I am. I'm an urban dweller. I'm a person who doesn't use firearms. I knew going into this, Mr. Chairman, that if I was going to have any basis at all on which to speak to these issues, I had to develop a personal familiarity with what it's all about. That's why I didn't publish a discussion paper last year and ask people to mail in responses. I didn't send Mr. Mosley and other members of the team out around the country to meet with groups.

What I did was this. I spent the whole summer on airplanes going to every province and territory until October. At a certain point, I went to meetings hearing people tell me the same thing about their views on firearms that four or five others in different parts of the country had told me. I listened patiently to all that.

I purposely went to the remote communities in the north to see what guns are to aboriginal communities. I went to northern Saskatchewan. I went to Manitoba with Glen McKinnon. I went across the country because I knew the only way I was going to have any credibility - and some may suggest I still don't - in speaking to these issues was to say that I personally met with these people and I personally looked them in the eye, listened to what they had to say and took it on board.

So the second sentence of that paragraph is even more true today than it was last April. My viewpoint has been broadened. I do understand the importance of firearms to people who have legitimate uses for them. I hope you believe that I very much respect those legitimate interests.

Let me move along to consultations with aboriginal groups. I will provide to Mr. Ramsay a chronology of communications and consultations with provinces and territories on this legislative initiative, starting in March 1994 -

The Chair: I will ask you to do that for all the committee and not just for Mr. Ramsay.

Mr. Rock: Sure, that's fine. We'll get it translated and we'll do exactly that, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Rock: It refers to correspondence, meetings with senior officials, meetings with deputy ministers, meetings with chief provincial and territorial firearms officers, and conference calls with provincial firearms officers. Naturally, it won't be enough. It's never enough unless we do exactly what participants want us to do, but it is a record of solicitous involvement by the federal government of our provincial counterparts, telling them as we went along what we had in mind, involving them in the discussions and listening to their views.

In addition to that, of course, this legislation didn't come out of the blue. Last November 30 I tabled an action plan to which we then got reams of reaction from our provincial counterparts.

The next point Mr. Ramsay makes is the linkage and the fact my counterparts in the western part of Canada couldn't see the linkage between what we're proposing and bringing down crime or improving safety.

.0950

[English]

I think this is a very important point, Mr. Chairman. At least at this stage of the debate - and many would say throughout it - those of us who argue for the registration of all firearms are being put by our opponents to a level and a standard of proof that is unreasonable. We had a brief exchange with Mr. Bellehumeur concerning the mandatory minimum, but not very many people have held me to the same standard of proof to demonstrate that the mandatory minimum four-year penitentiary term is going to bring down the crime rate. Yet, before we require gun owners some time over the next seven years to mail in a couple of forms and $10, I have to demonstrate on clinical data that universal registration is certainly going to save x number of lives. That's not reasonable.

I think common sense should prevail. You've listened to people such as Scott Newark and Neal Jessop from the Police Association, Chief MacDonald and other representatives from the Association of Chiefs of Police, people who are on the front lines who say registration is important, along with Mr. McNamara, Priscilla de Villiers, and Mr. Hogben, who were here the other morning to talk about the effect of losing family members. Combining common sense with that perspective and measuring against it the mere inconvenience of mailing in a form with $10 some time over the next seven years, I wonder what kind of proof is needed beyond that, Mr. Chairman.

So if my western counterparts can't see the linkage, I'm sorry, but many Canadians do, and we firmly believe it's there.

Now, in terms of the Cree and the Yukon, Mr. Ramsay feels strongly about this. He has raised it a number of times. I'll take just a few moments to deal with it directly, if I may.

I've referred to the process of consultation, including the Council of Yukon Indians. I must say that although I met with Matthew Coon-Come last year, the issue of firearms did not come up. However, they have been the recipients of the correspondence to which I referred. Later this morning I'm going to table with the committee copies of all of the letters I've referred to so that you can see what I sent them and the topics I raised for discussion.

For the 4 of the 14 Yukon nations in the council that have self-government agreements, there are specific provisions in sections 16.3.3 and 16.3.2 that deal with consultation. Consultation is defined as ``notice of a matter to be decided in sufficient form and detail to allow that party to prepare its views on the matter, a reasonable period of time in which the party to be consulted may prepare its views on the matter, an opportunity to present those views, and full and fair consideration by the party obliged to consult of any views presented''.

Mr. Chairman, by visiting last summer and fall, by providing them with the action plan on November 30, which signalled what we were considering, by writing to them directly to ask them to participate in the process that's now going on in their communities whereby we are sending a team to speak to them, and by including in the bill a specific provision allowing us to implement the principles in a method that's sensitive to aboriginal communities, I say we've complied fully with that obligation.

As to it being constitutional, I think that's an overstatement of the point. It's only if a piece of legislation infringes and the court's obligated to consider the effect of that that in doing so the court will look at the nature of consultation to see whether we have respected existing rights.

Lastly on this point, Mr. Chairman, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement provides that the right to harvest shall include the right to possess and use all equipment reasonably needed to exercise that right, but the whole is subject to the laws of general application enacted for public safety, such as Bill C-68.

In terms of consultation, I can say there is obviously an effort under way directly involving the Cree to whom we've written to get them to discuss with us once again the manner in which these principles enacted for public safety can be implemented in their communities in a fashion consistent with their rights.

Now, let me go to the regulations and the so-called pig in a poke. Mr. Chairman, this committee is considering a bill the principles and framework of which are clear. They're on the table before you. The regulation power is subject to clause 111 of the bill, which provides that I'm obligated to have each proposed regulation laid before each House of Parliament. In accordance with the ordinary procedure, Parliament will have the opportunity to look at every one of these regulations.

So far as Order in Council is concerned, the change we seek is intended to meet the situation, which I'll now describe.

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[English]

At present the power to prohibit certain firearms by Order in Council is in respect of those firearms, except guns that are commonly used for hunting and sporting purposes.

Now, at the moment it's possible for someone to bring a firearm into Canada - most people would agree that is not appropriate for such purposes - and then, using that firearm, to create shooting events, and then to rely on that event as evidence that it's commonly used, in order to defeat the prohibition power.

The change is intended to overcome that tactic by providing that the order may be made to prohibit firearms that are not reasonable for such purposes.

I think that reflects what Canadians want to see. We don't want to have military-type assault weapons in this country that are justified only because someone has invented a shooting contest to rely upon as evidence that they can't be prohibited.

Mr. Chairman, I hope that responds to the principal elements in Mr. Ramsay's questions.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Wappel, you have ten minutes.

Mr. Wappel (Scarborough West): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning, Minister. Obviously I won't have time to ask everything. I want to make sure we in the committee fully understand what you're saying with respect to this first offence.

In that regard, I wonder if I might first ask you specifically about proposed sections 91 and 92 in part III of the bill.

The sidebar description of proposed section 91 is ``Unauthorized possession of firearm''. The sidebar description of proposed section 92 is ``Possession of firearm knowing its possession is unauthorized''.

Now, to the ordinary person that might look like a lawyer saying the same thing two different ways. Indeed, if you look at the two sections side by side, Minister, as I'm sure you have, you'll note that the first lines are identical word for word. The third line is identical until you get to the word ``knowing''.

Therefore, the way I look at it, in proposed section 92, there's a requirement of mens rea - if we can get legal - and in proposed section 91 there is no requirement of mens rea.

So am I right in assuming that because the word ``knowing'' is in proposed section 92, is not in proposed section 91 and the wording otherwise is exact, there is no requirement of intent in proposed section 91 and therefore proposed section 91 creates a strict or absolute liability offence?

Mr. Rock: Except that in proposed section 91 it will be necessary to prove that you were knowingly in possession.

In other words, if someone slipped a firearm into my house and I didn't know about it, that would be an answer to a charge in proposed section 91.

Mr. Wappel: So then you would not be adverse to an amendment to proposed section 91 to put in the word ``knowingly'' in front of the word ``possesses''? In other words, the phrase would read ``who knowingly possesses a firearm, unless the person is the holder of''.

Mr. Rock: I think you might find that the word ``possesses'' has been judiciously considered. In order to establish possession within the meaning in this context the Crown would have to establish that the person was aware of the fact that the object was there.

Mr. Wappel: But in proposed section 92 that's exactly what you do. You've used the word ``possesses'' and ``knowing'' together when you put ``knowing'' after ``possesses''.

Mr. Rock: Yes.

Mr. Wappel: All I'm suggesting is that we put ``knowingly'' in front of ``possesses'' in proposed section 91 so there's no doubt whatsoever in any court's mind that you must have intent.

Mr. Rock: But do you mean you must knowingly possess the firearm in proposed section 91?

Mr. Wappel: That's right. In other words, you can't be convicted simply because you have a firearm that is not under licence unless you knew that to be the case.

Mr. Rock: I don't think that.... I think the minimum level required is recklessness; in other words, if I was reckless about whether a firearm was in my car as I drove away from a place where they were being commonly handled and put in places.

But I respectfully suggest that it's not necessary. We'll take it under consideration. Give me a chance to speak to more knowledgeable people of the department.

Mr. Wappel: But just for clarification, it's your view as the Minister of Justice that it is not a strict or absolute liability offence in proposed section 91? Is that correct? There has to be some intent?

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[English]

Mr. Rock: The intent has to be to have the firearm in your possession. If someone hid a gun in my car and then I was stopped and the police found it and said ``You are in possession of a firearm without a licence or a registration'', proposed section 91 could not be made out on those facts, subject to recklessness.

Mr. Wappel: Thank you.

You then said that while leaving 91 and 92 in part III, you would suggest that an offence for a first-time offender in connection with registration be in the Firearms Act and not in the Criminal Code. Is that correct?

Mr. Rock: Yes.

Mr. Wappel: The first question I have is, would that first offence you're referring to be a first offence under the Firearms Act, or would that be any first offence?

Mr. Rock: The first offence, as I see it, would be in relation to the possession of unregistered firearms.

Mr. Wappel: So in theory, I suppose, a career criminal who failed to register would in fact be a first offender.

Mr. Rock: Except that I think there's a charging discretion we're creating by providing for the alternative way of proceeding.

The Chair: Would not the police officer have the right to lay charges under 91 or 92 or under the Firearms Act if it were clear that it was a criminal - the example given by Mr. Wappel?

Mr. Rock: That's exactly right. If you look at the code at the moment, we have, for example, coexisting charges for auto theft and for joy-riding, with different penalty provisions. Depending on the facts - if it's a sixteen-year-old kid who's on a lark or a hardened criminal who wants it for parts to sell on the underground market - a police officer can choose one or the other section.

You're right, Mr. Wappel, in theory, but the whole idea is to create a discretion for the police, which we know they'll exercise responsibly. If it's a person whose spouse died and the late spouse had a .22 rifle in the house and the surviving spouse, distracted by grief, hasn't gotten around to registering it in their own name or getting a licence, but it's still in the house, then surely we should have a way of dealing with that.

I should think the proposal we've put forward provides that avenue.

Mr. Wappel: So if a person were found guilty under this proposal that you're suggesting under the Firearms Act, would that produce a criminal record?

Mr. Rock: If Mr. Bodnar were here, he'd be able to give us a much more authoritative response than I can muster. Indeed I've discovered in examining this very question that it could be the subject of another whole month of hearings.

I'm not sure there's a conclusive response. I think it depends on what you mean by ``record''.

Mr. Wappel: Well, let me give you an example. If a person were applying for a job that required bonding, I believe there's a question that says.... I don't know what the question is. I'm going from intuition. I think you did, so I can. It asks something to the effect of ``Have you been convicted of a criminal offence?'' It may say ``Criminal Code''; I don't know.

Or if someone is going down to Florida in February and happens to be asked by the United States customs officials ``Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?'', what would you, as Minister of Justice, say to a person who's been convicted of that under that section of the Firearms Act? How should they respond?

Mr. Rock: I think they should consult a lawyer.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Wappel: All lawyers will be happy to hear you say that.

Mr. Rock: Happily I have my lawyer here today.

The Chair: No commercials in this committee.

Mr. Wappel: Of course you recognize that it's a very serious concern of people.

Mr. Rock: Sure I do.

Mr. Wappel: I'm just wondering what your response would be or what Mr. Mosley or your department would say.

Mr. Rock: It's a serious concern and it's one that I raised. I raised that very question of what happens with the passport application, with the employment application or trying to get down to Florida for a holiday. I've been told the following.

Generally speaking, a summary conviction offence is not entered in CPIC. I say ``generally speaking'' because if the person is a career criminal who has some indictable offences already on the record and there's a CPIC file on that person, they might toss in the summary conviction record as well so that when the person is next sentenced, it's there as part of a lengthy chronology.

But generally speaking, a summary conviction offence is not registered in CPIC.

Again generally speaking, in such things as border crossings, when a check is done, it's only for CPIC.

[English]

It's only for CPIC. Local police may have more elaborate records or files of their own, which might indeed pick up a summary conviction in a person's past. That's why I say it depends on what you mean by ``criminal record''.

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On the other hand, the question commonly asked these days in an employment application is, ``Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence in respect of which you haven't been pardoned?'' As I've discovered, the pardon provisions are important in this regard. Where the offence was summary conviction, the pardon is much more readily available than it is if it's an indictable offence.

Lastly, may I observe two things? First, we're talking about an offence that will only become relevant six and a half years from now. If the people of Canada don't know about the prospect of the registration of all firearms by now, and if firearms owners don't know about the registration of all firearms right now as a prospect, they sure as heck will in six years.

Last, let me say that in this connection as well, there's discretion. If it's the grieving widower who hasn't gotten around to registering, the court has the discretion to grant a discharge, assuming that person's charged. And as you know, the discharge, whether it's conditional or absolute, means no conviction is registered. That means there is no record. I hope that responds to your question.

The Chair: He may not lay a charge.

Mr. Wappel: Minister, I know it's hard to believe, but there are people in this country who don't even know who the Prime Minister is. And some of them may even own firearms. I doubt very much that your comment about everyone knowing about the registry provisions in six and a half years is entirely accurate.

To continue, if a person were asked by the U.S. border patrol, would you say that the answer to give would be, ``no, I have not been convicted of a criminal offence''? In his mind, he was convicted under the Firearms Act.

Mr. Rock: I can't speak for what people might do. I can give you only my understanding of what the effect of such a conviction would be. As I said, the practice at present, generally speaking, is not to record such convictions in the CPIC system.

[Translation]

The Chairman: Mr. Caron.

Mr. Caron (Jonquière): Mr. Minister, I agree with you on the importance of establishing mechanisms to control firearms in Canada. I understand that our society no longer tolerates certain forms of violence that are often closely linked to firearms.

One thing I have more trouble understanding is the delay you are requesting for registration. You have put off the deadline to the year 2003. Given the importance of this bill, don't you think that this deadline is a little too far? Our society is technically equipped to set up the necessary infrastructure. Our society is also well equipped to publicize the act, to inform the Canadians that an act has been passed by Parliament and that people are going to have to register their firearms.

I don't understand this deadline. Why not 2001 or 2002? The people who will fail to register might do it through ignorance, but they might also do it because they are against this measure, because, not necessarily out of criminal intent, they want to continue using their firearms irresponsibly. I would think that the most dangerous people are those who will wait until the last minute. Why wait until 2003? Why not 2001 or 2002?

Mr. Rock: We figured out how long was necessary to set up the system. We think that we need some time to prepare the forms and train the public servants who will manage the whole system.

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[Translation]

We took two things into account to determine when that universal registration system would be presented: first, our estimation of how long we will need to set up the system and secondly, the time that will be necessary to get firearm owners to involve themselves in the registration system.

[English]

I suppose that, first of all, in terms of licensing, as you know, it's intended to start that on January 1 of next year, so that's pretty immediate. It's true to say that it will be phased in over five years, but as Mr. Wappel said, we have a job of work to do to communicate to people the fact of the system, the obligation to comply with it, and we're also phasing the FACs, which have a five-year life span, into the new system, the FPCs.

It will be entirely lawful until December 31 of this year for someone to be issued an FAC and that FAC will have currency for five years. So as not to derrogate from substantive rights that exist under those FACs, we need the five years to go to the new system.

As to the registration of firearms introduced on January 1, 1998, that bid has been selected based on our assessment of what time is needed to perfect and put in place the hardware and the software capable of doing all that we want it to do. Again, the five-year period moving forward from 1998 is intended to, first of all, pick up the five-year implementation of licensing - we have to combine them - and to allow enough time that we can make everybody aware of the obligation and give them a reasonable period to comply.

Could it be done more quickly? Theoretically I suppose it could. Should it? I don't believe so because I believe that having regard to the complexity of the task, having regard to our need to bring people on board gradually, I think it's the right balance. While I have read with interest the proposals that you have made in this regard, I continue to believe that we're taking the right course.

Mr. Gallaway (Sarnia - Lambton): I wanted to ask you firstly about clause 5, specifically paragraph 5(2)(c), where it talks about whether a licence might be issued to an individual and that person has a history of violence or threatened or attempted violence against any person. I'm trying to think of a person who has owned a shotgun for 25 years and has this one problem in his life. It's a neighbour. Let's assume there's been a long-standing quarrel over a fence line, because that's very common in this country, and they've had some really good battles. That neighbour, however reasonable or unreasonable the individual might be on either side of the fence, uses that and calls a firearms officer and says that he doesn't think this individual should be issued a licence because he or she has threatened him with violence. What is there in the act that will reflect that this person has owned a gun perhaps for 25 years and that this is, for want of a better word, a very commonly occurring type of behaviour in this country that neighbours don't get along? There's a great deal of subjectivity that's then introduced into the system.

Mr. Rock: Well, first of all, Mr. Chairman, may I observe that such facts are to be taken into account, but they are not determinative of the person's entitlement to licensing. There is an element of discretion. It is by necessity subjective and we invest in these authorities some level of confidence that they'll act responsibly.

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[English]

May I also point out that persons have the right to appeal the refusal of a licence and can bring before a provincial court judge an assertion that undue weight was given to a relatively trifling consideration, particularly if someone can demonstrate that they've had a firearm for an extended period and, as in your example, that such an event was isolated, common and relatively unimportant. I would think on the facts of that case if they didn't persuade the initial decision-maker they'd have a powerful case on appeal and that it should be seen in a somewhat broader context.

Don't forget it's in the existing law, too, Mr. Mosley points out. I think we have found that over the years it has worked out pretty fairly to people.

Mr. Gallaway: With respect to the inspection provisions in clause 98 and thereafter, you indicated a number of changes that you would like to see occur. Might I ask you with respect to clause 98, where it refers to a police officer, what your feeling would be if that were to read a firearms officer? As I understand it, there's a firearms officer in every geographic jurisdiction. That would then eliminate all police officers being the inspectors and it would limit it to one person or perhaps two people in certain areas.

Mr. Rock: I didn't mention it in opening because I didn't want to take time enough to go through everything in detail, but in fact one of the changes in this section that we have put together is that the committee might consider referring to an inspector in that inspection regime. Clause 98 now talks about a police officer or a member of a class of persons designated by the minister.

If we could refer to inspectors and define that person as a firearms officer or a member of a class of persons designated by the provincial minister, then police would be eligible but they wouldn't automatically be the people conducting the inspection. If you're dealing with a firearms officer, it might be someone who works more commonly with these matters more sensitive to the realities of the firearms owner, the collector or the business person and it might be an improvement.

Mr. Gallaway: Clause 18, transportation and the carrying permit, refers to restricted weapons. If we know who the person is, if we know what weapon or weapons they might have, what guns they might have - and I'm assuming this applies principally to members of gun clubs who have pistols - why not allow them to have what I would call a three-destination carrying permit? Perhaps we could limit the number to three.

I have been contacted by a number of individuals, both within my riding and outside of my riding. This applies in border areas where an individual must go to the police station to get a carrying permit every time they cross the border to go to a shoot in the U.S. I'm told that if they were to have a multi-destination carrying permit - and that would be a permit to carry it all the time - surely the authorities could determine if a person is going to the border. Would you be in agreement if we were to limit the number of destinations?

Mr. Rock: I'm told by Mr. Mosley that it is permissible under this proposal. May I invite Mr. Mosley to speak to this issue?

Mr. Richard Mosley (Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Justice): Mr. Chairman, I think it would be possible under clause 18, as it now provides and indeed under the existing law, to specify two or more occasions when the firearm could be transported.

Mr. Rock: We haven't got a lot of time on this, but if Mr. Gallaway still has concerns, perhaps he could raise them during clause-by-clause. My officials will be there and we'll take a closer look at what he thinks might solve this problem for people.

Mr. Gallaway: Very good.

Ms Meredith (Surrey - White Rock - South Langley): I'd like to thank you for appearing before this committee this morning, Mr. Minister.

I would like to think in your comments about the reasonable and reasoned amendments, which you're considering and which have come from your Liberal colleagues, that I haven't been wasting my time over the last three months and that you are also considering reasoned amendments presented by my Reform colleagues.

I have been a little concerned because most of the attention on the debate of this legislation has dealt with the registration component.

[English]

I am very concerned that part III is being rewritten here. It's going to have some very definite changes to the way we deal with the criminal use of firearms. I am very concerned with a couple of aspects. I feel that there are some reasoned amendments that should occur in the part III portion of this particular legislation.

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The one that concerns me the most is you have added replica or the replica firearm as a separate charge, but you haven't included it as one and the same thing. The onus is still going to be on the Crown or on the law enforcement officers to prove that a firearm was either a firearm or that it was a replica. I believe it will confuse the situation, where it will still give an opportunity for somebody to have their firearm charge plea-bargained away because of the onus of proof. I would like to think that the courts have at their discretion the ability to give a lesser sentence if the firearm or a replica was used. It should be one and the same thing under a one-time charge, rather than separating it into 85(1) and 85(2). I'm really concerned that this legislation is not going to change the situation where all firearm charges, or most firearm charges, are dropped because they cannot go through the court process.

The other thing that concerns me is the minimum sentence for the 10 most dangerous uses of firearms. There is a lot of misconception in the community. They think it's a consecutive sentence and it is not. I have discovered where minimum sentences become the normal sentence that's handed out. It concerns me that a person who commits manslaughter or who commits sexual assault on an individual using a firearm might only get a four-year sentence, whereas now he might get a seven- or an eight-year sentence. That concerns me where we may see a reduction of the sentences handed out because of this legislation.

Those are two areas that I would like your department to consider amendments to, which would allow clarification of the seriousness of anybody using a firearm or anything that looks like a firearm in the commission of an offence.

Mr. Rock: Mr. Chairman, we'll look at the transcript afterwards to make sure we have the point.

Let me see if I'm addressing the right point, because I may not have understood the first one on imitation. At the moment, under the criminal law, section 85 only applies to real firearms, not imitation. If I go into a corner store with a plastic firearm and do a stick-up, they cannot use section 85 to seek an additional penalty against me when I'm sentenced for robbery. But the person at the other end of that water pistol can still be as terrified and as traumatized by the event.

Furthermore, sometimes at the moment people go in and use a real gun but the Crown can't prove it was a real gun, so the section 85 charge dies. What we've done in section 85 - I would have thought this would meet the concern expressed by Ms Meredith - is we've said, you're facing the section 85 sanction whether you use a real gun or an imitation. So we've gone beyond the present law. We have said if you use an imitation in the commission of an indictable offence, you can still be subject to that automatic consecutive penalty.

Ms Meredith: For clarification, if somebody is pictured on a video camera as having something in their hand resembling a gun, and this was the evidence that was used in a court of law, they would be charged with the possession of a firearm, a replica.... What would they be charged with? They have nothing but a picture -

Mr. Rock: They could be charged with the use of an imitation in the commission of an indictable offence.

Ms Meredith: What if they proved in a court of law that it was a real gun? They could be charged twice for the same event?

Mr. Rock: No. If it was one of the offences for which we've prescribed a mandatory four-year minimum for the use of a real gun, they could face a mandatory four-year minimum for that offence.

May I just say one other thing.

The Chair: Complete the answer.

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Mr. Rock: Ms Meredith is concerned about the four-year mandatory minimum and whether that's going to become the maximum. I emphasize this is the starting point for the court. We're signalling to the courts in this very unusual measure that this is the starting point for these serious offences when committed with a firearm. At the moment, the four years is higher than what people are getting on average.

I put those figures before the committee on April 24. My own expectation and that of the Department of Justice is that they will not become maxima, but will be seen by the court as this message from Parliament that we want to get tough with the penalties for guns in crime.

The Chair: I have a couple of questions. I'll take the next five-minute round.

Minister, three provinces and two territories have come out very strongly and clearly that they oppose this legislation. You've consulted, as you've said, with all provinces. Could you tell us if any provinces have come out clearly and specifically in favour of the legislation? Ontario, by the way, wrote to this committee indicating that they supported the legislation, but have any others verbally or in writing indicated to you that they support the legislation in as clear terms as those three western provinces who've said they don't support it?

Mr. Rock: Many provinces regard this as a matter in the federal domain and a matter that should be left to the federal authorities. The committee is as aware of the public record as I am. I'm not aware of any public statements that haven't been referred to here, but I don't think we should take silence on the part of provinces as opposition. Many provinces simply say, we're not going to get involved in this debate; it's a matter of the federal government to worry about. I can quite understand that.

I can tell you that in our ministerial meetings and in the work we've done with the provinces in this regard, we've found a very satisfactory level of cooperation. Throughout the country, there are great numbers of people in provincial governments who strongly agree with this legislation and its objectives.

The Chair: I'm going to go to another question.

I refer you to page 98 of the bill, proposed section 117.15 of the Criminal Code. Several witnesses coming before this committee - I think without reason, but nevertheless that's what they've been saying - fear that the government will use 117.15 to continually put more and more guns on the prohibited list. It has been suggested that because of the statement you made - which was referred to, you say, when you were much younger - sooner or later we're going to ban all guns under this section.

I have argued in response that proposed subsection 117.15(2) puts a limit on what guns you can prohibit. It says you may not prescribe anything that is reasonably used for hunting or sporting purposes. However, that's not a very clear section because it says:

in the opinion of the Governor in Council...is reasonable for hunting or sporting purposes.

Since I know you don't intend to ban all hunting guns, rifles and shotguns that are reasonably used for hunting purposes, why couldn't we clarify proposed subsection 117.15(2) or put at the beginning of the bill, as several witnesses have suggested, a statement of principles, as we've done in other bills, that you recognize hunting and competitive sports as a legitimate past-time in Canada, especially for sustenance purposes, but we implement these measures for public safety.

I'm summarizing in a brief way, but to make it clear that you have no intention to ban all ordinary hunting shotguns and rifles and that you recognize hunting and competitive sports. On the other hand, you want to make sure that public safety is dealt with, either by amending proposed subsection 117.15(2) of this article or by having a statement of principles that would alleviate a lot of fears.

There is a lot of paranoia out there. A lot of people think we are going way beyond what's in this bill, and it may be worthwhile making it clear.

Mr. Rock: On the other hand, Mr. Chairman, if you look at the firearms that have been prohibited by the exercise of this power, you'll find that they are invariably paramilitary-type assault weapons, emblematic of military use, designed only for the purpose of combat and killing, by their appearance, by their properties and by their function totally inappropriate for hunting and sporting purposes in Canada.

[English]

Let the record speak for itself. That's true of the ones that we said we would ban January 1 of this year and it's true of the ones we announced an intention to prohibit in the coming months, if and when this section becomes operative.

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The Chair: Let me interrupt. But we're now going to ban certain handguns, and while you said you only want to ban the so-called Saturday night specials or the chief handguns that are not really used for competitive purposes, there have been questions about the way you do that using barrel length rather than gun length. In other words, you're catching some competitive guns.

Mr. Rock: Mr. Chairman, that's through legislation, not through Order in Council.

The Chair: I know.

Mr. Rock: I'm now referring to what's done through Order in Council.

If you look at the firearms prohibited by the Governor in Council under this power, you'll find those are paramilitary assault weapons that have no place in Canada. But the handgun prohibition has gone through the laborious process of full-blown legislation. It's been before this whole committee for a month. It's going before the House for the usual three reading process.

While it sounds easy and desirable to include a statement of purpose and principle or a preamble, I would caution the committee because I've been down that road.

In the preparation of Bill C-68 we looked at the prospect of a preamble. We even took a hand to drafting one. What we found is that it's a bit like the Charlottetown experience. As soon as you include reference to one interest, the other interest wants to be involved. So if you refer to hunting and ranching, aboriginal people are going to want their rightful place in that list, and then you had better be careful how you express that. Don't forget collectors and target shooters. What do you mean by sport shooting? By the way, don't forget the health authorities. They want to make sure you emphasize public safety. Then there's the interest who wants to talk about police enforcement and the balance between collective and individual rights.

Mr. Chairman, I suggest it's an exercise that would require this committee to spend much more than another month on its work. The team at the Department of Justice who worked on this concluded that we would need vastly more time available to us and a very elaborate process to hammer out words that would respect all the interests that arise when you discuss this topic. It just was not doable. That's a word of caution from someone who's been down that road. It's tough.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur: Mr. Minister, I thought I had understood, in your opening remarks, when you mentioned some of the amendments you were going to bring to that bill, that the person found guilty of a first offence for not having registered a firearm and charged with a similar offence would not have a criminal record. In other words, he would not have to ask for a pardon, according to that act, and to be more explicit, he wouldn't have to report that offence if he went to the United States. But after the explanation you have given to Mr. Wappel, it seems it's quite the contrary. According to the Criminal Records Act, that person will have to apply to get a pardon. You also have said that it would be easier because it would be a summary conviction. What is exactly the situation? Can you tell me if, yes or no, a person convicted for a first offence for omitting to register a firearm will have a criminal record?

[English]

Mr. Rock: The practice is not to record summary conviction events on CPIC if they're the first time unless there is some other reason.

Mr. Bellehumeur, it depends what you mean by record. I'm telling you my knowledge of the reality. If you're asked whether you've been convicted of a criminal offence, if you've been convicted of the offence that I proposed under the Firearms Act, you will have to say yes. But it's not a record that goes into CPIC for a first-time offender such as the record for robbery.

On the other hand, Mr. Bellehumeur, we're talking here about a very important government objective that's getting people to comply with registration. We're talking about a section that's only going to become relevant six and a half years from now. We've removed it from the Criminal Code, we've drastically reduced the potential maximum penalty, and we have provided it can only be proceeded with by way of summary conviction.

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[English]

Bear in mind that there's a discretion on the part of the court as to whether to allow a conviction to be registered, because they can provide for a discharge, either conditional or absolute. I believe that's a very reasonable way of responding to these concerns.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur: This is quite clear. There is some sort of criminal record and that person will have to apply for a pardon.

One of the questions we've asked your representatives unto which they have not given a very clear answer is about the recognition granted to the courses attended by individuals, at the present time, in some provinces. Will those courses be recognized? For example, will it be recognized in the case of somehone who has owned a firearm for 20 years, or for one who's had it for five years but who attended all those courses in Quebec to have all the licenses necessary to use his firearm?

I know that parts of section 7 deal with that. What I want to know is if those courses will be recognized. The public servants have not been able to tell us if they would be recognized. Can you, Mr. Minister, tell us today that all the persons who have taken courses in Quebec and in other provinces, all those who have obtained the necessary licenses, will be able to see those courses credited and won't have to take other courses because the federal government requires it?

Can you tell us if that will be recognized, yes or no?

[English]

Mr. Rock: The clarity the member requests is furnished by clause 7 of the firearms bill, which is found on page 6. It's there provided that an individual is eligible to hold a licence if the individual successfully completes the Canadian firearms safety course or, as in paragraph 7(1)(c), successfully completed before January 1 of this year a course approved by a provincial attorney general and given during the period from January 1, 1993 to December 31, 1994 for the purposes of section 106 of the former act.

So if a provincial attorney general, say the attorney general in Quebec, had approved such a course and it was taken during that period for that purpose, it would satisfy the training requirement prescribed by clause 7. Does that furnish the clarity the member requires?

The Chair: Well, the time is up.

[Translation]

Mr. Bellehumeur: I wish your representative would say the same thing as you do, Mr. Minister.

[English]

The Chair: If you require further clarification, can you do it between now and the clause-by-clause?

Ms Phinney for five minutes.

Ms Phinney (Hamilton Mountain): Welcome, Mr. Minister. I just want to follow up on the two questions we've already had on registration.

I'm not familiar with CPIC and how they communicate with the border, but I want to make it clear. If it's found out that I didn't register my gun but I'm not charged, when I cross that border is there any way for the Americans to have a record that I at one time was...whatever you say is going to happen to me? Is my name going to be in some kind of record, or is the only record they have what's in CPIC?

Mr. Rock: Typically the checks done at the border would not pick up a summary conviction if it were the only offence in the person's past.

Ms Phinney: Where do they get their information from?

Mr. Rock: Typically in CPIC.

Ms Phinney: Is that the only source?

Mr. Rock: I invite Mr. Mosley to respond.

Mr. Mosley: The Americans have a national police information system similar to our CPIC system, and they can access CPIC through that. So the data they would have at the border would be based primarily on CPIC.

They have other sources of information, but their concerns are primarily with other types of crime, such as drug crimes. They would not have access to local police records, where the record of a summary conviction offence is most likely to be held for any length of time.

Ms Phinney: Are you guaranteeing that at no time would it be in any record on the border? Can you guarantee that?

Mr. Rock: I don't think anybody can give any guarantees. We should keep this in perspective.

First of all, the proposal I've made this morning for the committee's consideration not only reflects the views I've heard from many of my colleagues in caucus, but also is close to the proposal made by the Canadian Police Association.

At its recent convention the Canadian Police Association endorsed registration. It did so on the basis that we find a way to provide the police, in their charging process and practice, a way to protect people they don't want to stigmatize because they're first-time, inadvertent offenders.

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Now, if we're giving forth a proposal that is close to the police association's, which was motivated by that very concern not to stigmatize people who want to cross the border, I think we should then recognize that in the charging and processing practices there is sufficient flexibility to accommodate the kind of concern being expressed.

Ms Phinney: I think what you've put in here is very fair. I'm just concerned...I've had people come to me who, 25 years after they had some minor offence, were planning to move down to take a job in the United States, and all of a sudden they can't because they said they didn't have a criminal record and some machine said, yes, you do have a criminal record, and it was something they'd totally forgotten about or didn't realize was a criminal record.

The Chair: Like possession of marijuana.

Ms Phinney: Yes. This is what I'm worried about. I just want to clarify with you that you are going to make sure with the border people and with the Americans that this summary offence does not get into some record somewhere. I don't know whether you can communicate with the Americans; it's just that I want to make sure that this person is not going to get their name in there somehow.

Mr. Rock: Well, there are the pardon provisions, and furthermore -

Ms Phinney: Pardon provisions take seven years.

Mr. Rock: Not for summary convictions.

Ms Phinney: How long do they take? Two years? That's a long time if somebody just wants to cross the border.

Mr. Rock: The other thing is the practice at the border among the American officials is very much related to what the offence is. If it's a drug offence they have zero tolerance. If it's impaired driving, for example, it's not something they can be concerned with. If it's a summary conviction offence for a first offender forgetfully not registering a longarm, I would venture to say that's not going to be something that's relevant to that purpose.

Ms Phinney: No, but they will go into the background of it and find out and it might be three days before they find out and you can't cross. That's why I'm want to make sure your department's communicating with the people at the border and clarifying this.

The Chair: On that question again, Minister, you made it absolutely clear - and we know, due to be sentencing bill and so on, that the police need not lay a charge at all, even under this new proposed section in the Firearms Act. They may decide the widow who finds out that her husband's left her a rifle or a shotgun and they find it...even with this section they may decide not even to lay a charge under that. Further, the court can give a complete or conditional discharge.

Mr. Rock: That's right. We're trying to do justice to the vast majority of people in this country who want a registration system of all firearms. We won't have that unless we have consequences for non-registration that are significant. At the same time, we want to provide flexibility to the responsible peace officers in this country who have to administer this regime, to ensure that they have methods by which they can deal with non-compliance where it's by reason of inadvertence, and not unduly stigmatize or punish otherwise law-abiding people by reason of technical infractions. By the proposal we made this morning we hope we have threaded that narrow needle, that we have furnished the committee with a suggestion it may find useful. I know it's not perfect, but I suggest it addresses most of the concerns, and I commend it to the committee for its consideration.

The Chair: Yes. We now go to Mr. Ramsay.

Minister, before I do so, I understand that for some reason or other you think you should go to Question Period and answer questions today. If that's the case, and maybe -

Mr. Rock: If Mr. Ramsay promises not to go, I won't go.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair: If that's the case then Mr. Ramsay will be the last questioner, so you both can get ready for Question Period.

Mr. Ramsay: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to take the first minute or so to follow up on Ms Phinney's concern. She's expressed this concern a number of times to witnesses who have appeared here, and it's a legitimate concern and it has to do with the possibility of law-abiding people being charged under summary conviction and attempting to resume their activities across the border and being stopped at the border.

The fact is that fingerprinting can be done on summary conviction with the consent of the accused, and it often is. From my own experience, in the fingerprinting of someone who is under arrest, if the peace officer asks if they will consent or says he would like to take their fingerprints and will they agree to that, and they grant that authority, that fingerprint and the relating information is then part of the system. The American authorities have access to that. I don't think, Mr. Minister, with all due respect, that you ought to be speculating as to the discretionary powers that will be used by the American authorities at the border.

[English]

I just want to put that on the record.

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I think there is a legitimate concern being expressed by Ms Phinney and I don't think it has been cleared up - certainly not to my satisfaction or to the satisfaction of a lot of people who may end up with a record and may not know whether it's going to appear on the screen of the American officials when they attend at the border. The minister may comment further on that if he wishes.

What I'd like to get back to is the question I raised in my first 10-minute address, the question that's been raised by the chair with regard to proposed subsection 117.15(2). This section clearly changes the present Criminal Code and it eliminates the entitlement under the old code used for hunting and target shooting. I hope my point is clear. All of the so-called assault rifles are now prohibited, so what do we have left to prohibit or restrict? We have rifles and shotguns, .22s, shotguns and high-powered hunting rifles. If we leave that the way it is, that sections allows the Governor in Council, the justice minister today or tomorrow or on down the line, the power to ban or prohibit the .22, the automatic or semi-automatic shotgun or the pump shotgun, which can fire three shots in somewhat less seconds than the semi-automatic.

Mr. Minister, you have the power, by way of regulation, to ban existing long guns in this country. If there is no intent to do so, then why is that power there. If your intent is not to do that, would you agree with an amendment to eliminate the power you or any succeeding justice minister will have if this bill is passed? Is that not fair if this is your intent?

Mr. Rock: It's not fair because I think what Mr. Ramsay has done is take the words and put upon them a construction that cannot reasonably bear. This section has nothing to do with hunting rifles and shotguns. Quite the contrary. It has to do with military-type assault weapons designed only for the purpose of combat and killing. It says on its face, Mr. Chairman, that if a firearm is reasonable in Canada for use in hunting and sporting purposes, it is not to be considered under this section. We have generations of Canadians who have used the firearms referred to by Mr. Ramsay precisely for those purposes and continue to do so. This government will never - no ensuing government could ever - in the reasonable use of this authority, interfere with the proper ownership and use of such firearms.

The fact is I told the committee what has led us to propose a change. What has led us to propose a change is that in the past Canadians have been subject to a system in which lethal combat-type, military-style weapons have been brought into Canada and then, because people who brought them in knew if they were commonly used in Canada for hunting or sporting purposes, as the present section reads, a contest or a competition was invented and they then relied upon their own invention to prevent the government from banning such lethal and unacceptable weapons of death. To overcome that ruse, we've provided that if it's not reasonable for use in hunting and sporting purposes, then it can be prohibited. Mr. Chairman, that's in the public interest.

The Chair: Mr. Ramsay, your time is up.

Mr. Ramsay: Well, Mr. Chairman -

The Chair: You'll have a chance to pursue -

Mr. Ramsay: I'm not finished with my questions to the minister.

The Chair: Yes, but you've used your time and we know -

Mr. Ramsay: I would ask that the minister return then, if that's the case.

The Chair: Well, no, Mr. Ramsay. I'm always very lenient with you because you represent a principal opposition party. The tradition is that we let you use up the allocation of time, five minutes or ten minutes, and then we allow the witness to answer even though it goes beyond the time. You went beyond the time and the minister has answered the question. The minister can continue to answer if he wishes, but you can't put any more questions at this time. We follow that throughout all the hearings.

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[English]

Mr. Ramsay: I understand that, Mr. Chair, and I respect that.

I'm saying to you and this committee there are questions I have that I would like to put to the minister that your time allocation prohibits me from doing.

The Chair: I think that's the same with many members. We all have many questions that we might want to put to the minister.

Mr. Ramsay: I recommend that the minister return.

The Chair: I don't know exactly when, but we've decided upon a schedule of meetings.

Minister, it is understood that during the clause-by-clause we'll have to be in touch with you. You or your parliamentary secretary and your officials will have to be here, because matters will arise on the amendments to be tabled where clarification will be sought. We'll have to seek advice on policy and on technical matters. So we need access to you in one way or another during that process to clarify whether amendments are in order or not, or what's your reaction to them, or whether they are technically possible and so on.

On that point I want to remind members that the clause-by-clause will start on Monday, May 29. I urge them to prepare their amendments in proper form and get them ready so that we can deal with them on that date. We're going to have two full days at least on clause-by-clause.

I want to thank the minister and his officials. The minister was here twice already on this bill, which is good. It is a complex and difficult bill, and we may still need some response from the minister during the clause-by-clause.

Mr. Rock: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: The meeting is adjourned.

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