That, in the opinion of the House, the government should not extend the amnesty on gun control requirements set to expire on May 16, 2009, and should maintain the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety.
He said: Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like everyone listening to understand why we are presenting this motion. It is precisely because the government has three times extended the amnesty which allows people not to register long guns, while according to the law all firearms had to be registered.
No doubt the reaction from the other side of the floor will be that this was set out in the law under the Liberals. That is true, but at that time there was a good reason for amending the act in that way. So many people were registering their firearms at the last minute that the computer system was incapable of handling them all, and this would have meant that the people would have ended up registering too late. A decision was therefore made on the possibility of an amnesty to allow people who registered after the deadlines not to be guilty of any offence. That was the purpose of the amnesty.
When the Conservatives came to power, however, they systematically extended this amnesty when it no longer had any reason to exist. The amnesty serves just one purpose, therefore: to allow people unwilling to register their long guns to remain legal. So there is a negative outcome: the registry itself becomes less and less reliable, because there are more and more unregistered guns. By so doing, the Conservatives are hoping that the police forces,—a large majority of whom are the first to support the registry—will finally conclude that this registry is not reliable, and that will become grounds for abolishing it.
Why do we want to register guns? Because there is a direct relationship between gun control and homicide rates. There is, for example, a huge difference between the homicide rates in the United States and in Canada; the U.S. rate is three times the Canadian.
Incidentally, the U.S. homicide rate is by far the highest of nearly all western countries. No doubt it is higher in some other countries, but it is top ranking among the countries most like ourselves.
Why? Ask any intelligent American why there are so many homicides in that country, and he will tell you that the main reason is that it is so much easier to obtain firearms there. In Canada, we have had gun control for a long time, well before the registry was created. That makes us a different kind of society.
In my opinion, anyone who has travelled to the United States will have noticed that the gun culture there is not at all like the gun culture in Canada. I believe that most Canadians consider guns to be dangerous objects that should only be in the hands of responsible owners. That is the basic goal of the gun registry. And I think that most of the Conservative members support that. Guns should only be in the hands of responsible owners.
Obviously, gun control will not prevent all crimes committed with firearms. Such measures might not even have prevented certain tragic events that have hit our society hard, such as massacres. The important thing is for us to realize that there is a relationship among gun culture, lack of gun control and the homicide rate, and that is why the registry is a good thing.
The same could be said about drug laws. Drug laws do not prevent addicts from acquiring drugs illegally.
Does anyone think that we should therefore get rid of laws that prohibit the use of drugs? We do not want Canada to become like the United States when it comes to the prevalence of guns. We often hear people say that this will not prevent thieves from getting guns, but I want to point out that they are not the ones doing most of the killing anyway. People kill for all kinds of reasons: hatred, anger, vengeance. In one case, a lawyer killed his associate to collect the life insurance policy. People kill because they have a vested interest. In the United States, people in the middle of a fight can go out, get themselves guns, and come back to the scene of the fight. In Canada, people cannot do that. That is one thing that makes our two countries different. Guns are instruments of death. They are dangerous. The state should take charge, just as it takes charge when it comes to other dangerous objects, such as cars.
Guns are also the quickest and easiest way to kill, the one that requires the least effort. With the flick of a finger, someone’s life can be endangered or he can be killed. There is no greater way to intimidate than to threaten with a gun. All firearms are inherently dangerous, therefore, and should all be subject to controls.
Our resolution deals with the consequences of the amnesty because the less guns are registered, the more uncontrolled guns there will be and the less reliable the registry will become. It is also necessary to have a firearms registry in order for certain provisions of the act to be fully enforced—an act that was passed by the House and is still supported by many of the members here. For example, a street gang member who manages to acquire a firearms licence could be prevented from buying several guns to distribute or sell to fellow gang members who could not obtain a licence.
There are also some particular uses. For example, if there is an outstanding court order forbidding someone to own a gun, the authorities can check whether he has any and how many they should go and collect from him to ensure that the order is enforced. Some provisions of the act enable the police to take action, usually in marital situations that have turned ugly, for example when a woman fears for her safety because her husband’s attitude has changed completely over time and she is afraid he will turn his guns on her some day. That has already happened in Montreal. The Fraternité des policiers et des policières de Montréal told us about a case where the woman knew her husband had guns. She was afraid he would use them against her in one of his numerous rages, but she did not know how many he had. The police looked at the registry. Frankly, he had an entire arsenal. I have forgotten exactly how many, but it was more than 50 guns and ammunition of all kinds. Once they had obtained a court order, the police knew what to go and get. They could leave the woman’s house knowing all the guns had been removed.
Other provisions of the act are very effective at preventing suicide attempts. Seventy-five percent of the gun deaths in Canada are suicides. If a family sees a family member being overcome by depression and is afraid that he will use his hunting gun or another firearm but does not know what to do, the family can seek a court order.
The court order is issued and, again, the registry allows us to ensure that any firearms are indeed taken away from that person. That is why suicide prevention organizations are the strongest supporters of this legislation and of the fact that it covers all types of firearms. It is also important for planning police operations. That does not mean that police operations will never again end tragically, as it happens each year unfortunately, but it will allow the police to take precautions. All police forces want their officers to know how many firearms there are in a home when they respond to a call.
It must also be understood that the registry drew a lot of criticism. It was said to be a waste of money. I admit that establishing the gun registry was very costly. I will even admit that it was a fiscal scandal. But it is there and it is used every day. It would truly be a waste not to use it fully.
Would anyone think of destroying a bridge that cost 10 times the initial estimate, even if a scandal were involved, to build another one at a lower cost? Of course not. Now that we have it, let us use it.
What is the current cost of gun registration?
The RCMP tells us that it spent $9.1 million last year to register all firearms. It estimates that two thirds of that amount was for the registration of hunting rifles. So this means that it is now costing us $6 million to benefit fully from the law that was passed by this Parliament. No one can call that a waste. I do not want to go overboard here, but how much is a human life worth? I think that $6 million in the federal budget is a not very much when considering the objectives it allows us to achieve.
Since 2004, it no longer costs anything for people who must register their guns, and those who did pay have been reimbursed. Where is the disadvantage? It is very easy to register one's gun. First of all, it is very easy to register it at the gun dealer at the time of purchase or at any gun dealer when a gun is purchased from a private individual. One can go to the police station or do it over the Internet. It can even be done by telephone at the time of purchase. Of course, when someone has a gun registered in their name, it is very important to transfer the registration if someone else buys the gun. This also requires a certain amount of attention. An individual will not sell their gun to just anyone, knowing that it will not be registered, in case it is misused later on. The same is true with a car. We register our vehicles and we do not entrust them to just anyone.
Obtaining a firearm licence is more complicated. That said, obtaining a licence is not the subject of this debate, but even the Conservatives are in favour of maintaining that policy. Once again, registration is necessary to ensure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands.
Now, I know we are up against some tough opposition on the ground. The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful, well organized lobbies in the world. I know that, especially during campaigns, members are often bombarded with objections to the gun registry and much of what is said about it is simply not true.
I know that these lobbies are experts at making an impression on elected representatives, having delegations go to them and say that they voted for them in the past but will withdraw their support.
This may not be a good reason, but we too believe in polls. Even at the time of the scandal over the cost of the gun registry in 2006, a survey by a major firm—Ipsos Reid, if I am not mistaken—showed that, in Alberta, the province most hostile to gun registration, 51% of Albertans supported some form of registration for gun owners. Gun owners was the expression used in the survey. In Quebec, 76% were in favour. Understandably, a member of Parliament cannot poll his or her 85,000 constituents—that is the average number—and organizations sometimes come to us trying to scare us into voting differently on an issue.
To conclude, we all agree on maintaining this cultural difference between the United States and Canada with respect to weapons and gun control. As requested by many Americans anytime violent incidents happen, gun control legislation will have to be passed, which will apply to all firearms, even though we know that a majority of people will use them wisely and prudently. That is our goal: to have registration for all firearms the same way that there is registration for all cars.
The amnesty presented is a breach of this law, which has had such good results and is the envy of other countries. The registry must continue to be reliable for the purposes of preparing police operations and applying all court orders pertaining to firearms. I spoke about how the registry could be used to prevent domestic violence before it results in death. It can also be an effective tool for suicide prevention. The registry should continue to cover all firearms in order to make it more difficult for petty thugs to obtain guns from third parties.
We must also realize that the reason given the first time for such an amnesty no longer exists. Currently, there is no backlog in the computer registration of firearms and we do not believe that there would be one if the amnesty were not renewed. This reason, if given, borders on hypocrisy.
I can understand that MPs wish to be re-elected. There is something noble about that, because it means they wish to express the will of their constituents. However, we should not be the victims of lobbies. For my part, even if 75% of my constituents were against the gun registry, I would continue to support it. My professional experience with crime—as a young crown attorney, criminal lawyer, minister of public safety and minister of justice—has shown me that comprehensive gun control is one crime prevention measure that works.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to address the motion before us today which raises some very important issues related to gun control and effective gun crime prevention in Canada. Some hon. members will know that I served as a police officer for 30 years before entering politics, so today's motion is of particular interest to me as I know it is to all hard-working and law-abiding Canadians.
There is not one person in the House who does not want to make sure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands, the hands of criminals, the hands of criminal gangs, the hands of organized crime, and the hands of the mentally unstable. All of us on both sides of the House want to make sure that our streets are safe and that we continue to build safer communities for everyone. That is what our Conservative government has committed to since we were first elected in 2006. That is what we are doing and that is what we are going to continue to do through concrete and tangible measures designed to crack down on crime, and gun crime in particular, over the coming months.
That said, I would like to take the opportunity to commend the hon. member for his interest in crime prevention. Unfortunately, today's motion would accomplish neither. The hon. member has attempted to combine two very distinct concepts, that being the continuation of the one-year amnesty and the continuation of the ill-conceived and ineffectual long gun registry. These two concepts are unique to one another and not intertwined as the opposition would like us to believe.
The hon. member may not realize it, but if his two-headed motion were to pass into law, it would in fact only serve to weaken gun control in Canada by eliminating measures that the government has introduced specifically to increase the number of people who are in compliance with the law and therefore subject to the current automatic oversight provisions that exist. The motion, if passed, would also mean that we would continue to waste increasingly scarce resources on the long gun registry, something that has been proven to be a failure.
Our government's goal is to prudently address issues of crime and criminality and to use our financial resources in a responsible and effective manner. I am reminded of the words of the hon. member for when he stated, “We should be getting rid of the long-gun registry. A billion dollars would have been better spent on health care or education or, for instance, in the strengthening of the RCMP, which has been underfunded for several years”. We would agree with that. That clarity comes from hindsight that makes these words more true today than when they were first stated more than five years ago.
Over the last three years the Government of Canada has passed considerable legislation to tackle violent crime. We introduced mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes as well as reverse onus bail provisions for serious offences and these changes were long overdue.
I cannot escape the fact that despite having been in government for more than 13 years, the Liberal Party did little more than criminalize the actions of thousands of law-abiding hunters, sport shooters and farmers while doing nothing to deal with real criminals and real crime.
Our Conservative government has provided more money to the provinces and territories so they could hire additional police officers. The government has also committed to helping the RCMP recruit and train more personnel to which in excess of 1,500 new RCMP officers are now in a position to take up their duties all across Canada.
These two initiatives, which I know from firsthand experience, will by themselves do more to help prevent and tackle serious gun crimes in Canada, more than the long gun registry ever has or ever will. As well, the government has taken action to help young people make smart choices and avoid becoming involved in gang activities through programs funded through the National Crime Prevention Centre.
Most recently, the government introduced legislation that among other things will create a new broad-based offence to target drive-by and other intentional shootings that involve the reckless disregard for the life or safety of others. Anyone convicted of such acts would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison with a maximum period of imprisonment of 14 years. If these acts are committed by, or for a criminal organization, or with a restricted or prohibited firearm such as a handgun or automatic weapon, the minimum sentence would increase to five years.
This government has also introduced legislation to crack down on organized crime and drugs by imposing mandatory jail time for people involved in serious drug crimes. The new legislation proposes an escalating scheme of mandatory prison sentences, where there is an aggravating or safety factor, to reflect the increasing level of threats these crimes pose to our society.
Through these measures the government has shown that it is serious about getting tough on crime, especially on gun crime.
We also need to ensure that we have a system of gun control that is both effective and efficient. That is why the government has also invested $7 million annually to strengthen the front-end screening of first-time firearms licence applicants with a view to keeping firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them. This critical first step is essential with respect to any legislation looking to address the problems associated with gun crime and irresponsible gun ownership.
We have to ensure that our gun laws keep firearms out of the hands of those who threaten our communities, our safety and our lives. That is also why the government has undertaken a number of initiatives over the last three years to enhance compliance and public safety while easing administrative burdens for lawful and responsible firearms owners.
We have taken steps to help nearly 11,000 gun owners with expired possession-only licences come back into compliance with the current federal firearms legislation. We have made it easier for law-abiding Canadians to comply with the current firearms legislation. We have put in place an amnesty so that those people who are taking advantage of such measures to comply with the law are not criminalized in the process.
The reason we are doing all this is quite simple. It is to protect Canadians, making sure that as many gun owners as possible are properly and lawfully licensed and therefore subject to continuous eligibility screening. It is this critically important element of the amnesty that will come to an end without the extension. Without the amnesty, it means that overall compliance will dramatically drop and many fewer gun owners will be properly licensed.
The Government of Canada is determined to maintain an effective firearms control system while at the same time combatting the criminal use of firearms and getting tough with crime. We are also committed to investing in crime prevention measures that work and to doing away with the wasteful and ineffective ones that do not, such as today's long gun registry which penalizes law-abiding Canadians on the basis of where they live or how they earn a living.
Hon. members will know that the government has recently introduced legislation in the other place to retain licensing requirements for all gun owners while doing away with the need for honest and law-abiding citizens to undergo the burden of registering their non-restricted rifles or shotguns, a burden which has proven to have had no impact on reducing gun crimes or serious criminality within Canada.
Our government's approach to gun control is both balanced and prudent. What is proposed are changes that do away with the need to register legally acquired and legally used rifles and shotguns. The record shows that a great many of these firearms are owned by the honest and hard-working Canadians living in rural or remote areas. These people have never been in trouble with the law and are fundamentally different from the gangs and organized crime that have infested a number of our municipalities. The scarce government resources should be directed toward initiatives which actually make our streets safer. That is what Canadians want. They want policies that make sense. They want crime prevention initiatives that target criminals rather than farmers and duck hunters. They want effective gun control measures that improve public safety rather than unnecessarily criminalizing law-abiding citizens.
I therefore cannot support the motion put forward by the member for , a motion which is both ill-conceived and contrary to the best interests of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to debate this motion today. I want to thank my hon. friend, the member for , for bringing forward the motion.
I would respectfully argue that the motion brought forward for debate today is actually the reverse of what it should read. The current motion brought forward by the member states that we should eliminate the amnesty period and maintain the long gun registry. I would respectfully argue it should be reversed. We should maintain the amnesty and eliminate the long gun registry.
My hon. colleague from went over a number of points on the intent of the amnesty. Not to reiterate everything my hon. colleague said just a few moments previously, I will make a couple of quick points.
The purpose of the amnesty is quite clear. It is to try and get those firearm owners currently in non-compliance with the law back into compliance. In other words, all we are trying to do by having an amnesty for a year is to indicate to those firearm owners who are currently in non-compliance, those who have not licensed their firearms, that they would not be prosecuted if they renewed their licence. We are trying to encourage more people to become compliant with the law. That is the purpose of the amnesty.
The larger question, I would argue, is the long gun registry itself and why it is totally ineffective, and even more so, the abhorrent costs upon the taxpayers of this country.
I would also point out, just for the sake of putting things into context and perspective, that back in 1995 when Bill C-68, the original gun registry bill, was first introduced, members of the Bloc Québécois debated that very bill in this place. I would point out for the record that 18 members of the Bloc Québécois voted against Bill C-68. They knew even then that the registry would be ineffective because we have always had a licensing system in this country.
Hon. Marlene Jennings: They have evolved in their thinking.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Mr. Speaker, the member for is always interrupting. She cannot make an effective point in debate so she has to heckle from her seat, but that is fine. We will let her do that.
Let me point out though that the reasons Bill C-68 was ineffective are still valid today. The gun registry does nothing to reduce the threat to public safety. It does nothing to reduce crime. It does nothing to reduce violent gun incidents.
Time after time we have spoken in the House of the fact that criminals who commit the most egregious crimes against Canadians are using illegal guns, guns that perhaps were smuggled in from a different country. Criminals do not register their handguns. They do not register their long guns. Therefore, the long gun registry is only putting a burden on those honest citizens, the farmers, target shooters and hunters. They are not criminals but they are required under this abhorrent law to register their firearms when in fact they have no intention of ever breaking any law or using those long guns in an illegal fashion.
I come from a province in which our police association is dead set against the registry and for good reason. The police association recognizes the fact that the majority of legitimate law-abiding gun owners in our province use their long guns not as a weapon but as a tool. Farmers in my province, and I would suggest farmers across Canada, have long guns as part of their tool kit, literally. It is the same thing as the farm machinery they use to cultivate their land. A long gun in the hands of a law-abiding farmer is a legitimate tool. It is not used for any other reason. Yet they are the very people in this country who are being burdened by this cumbersome and expensive long gun registry. I said expensive, and darn right it is expensive.
Back in 1995 when the then Liberal government introduced Bill C-68, it stated that the registry would cost $2.2 million to be fully implemented and operational. We know how much of a fallacy that is. To date, according to the Auditor General of Canada, in figures that I would suggest are three years old, it has cost the Canadian taxpayer well over $1 billion in direct costs for the registry itself. That is not counting indirect costs; in other words, the costs of other departments that have to comply with the registry. It does not talk about compliance costs for the actual gun owners themselves.
Not only is the cost abhorrent, but the Firearms Centre itself, according to the Auditor General's report of 2006, stated that it could not provide one shred of evidence that the registry had anything to do with reducing the threat to public safety or reducing deaths or crimes. This is the Firearms Centre that was established to actually administer the registry. It could not produce one shred of evidence, according to the Auditor General, that it has been effective.
We have a situation in which Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill to the tune of well over $1 billion during the 15 years that the registry has been in effect. It is not proven to reduce the threat to public safety, to reduce crime or to reduce violent incidents, so I would argue, what good is it doing?
There is a big difference, I would argue, between licensing provisions and the registry. We have always had licensing provisions for long guns, always. It used to be called the FAC, the firearms acquisition certificate. Provinces used to administer this individually. I believe in Saskatchewan, to obtain an FAC back in the days when it was still called an FAC, one would apply through the Department of Environment. Speaking with many legitimate long gun owners in my province, it was entirely effective. A person could not purchase a long gun at any point in time in our history without getting an appropriate licence, in some cases called the FAC or a certificate. It was the same thing. Those are interchangeable terms.
We are not suggesting that be changed whatsoever. We continue to say that all long guns should be licensed, and licences are part of the culture of gun owners. They accept that. They approve that. They agree with that, but it is the registry that offends legitimate long gun owners because it is not required. It is useless. It is a bureaucratic exercise in waste.
I would also point out, as everyone in the House knows, that handguns and restricted weapons such as automatic weapons have always needed to be registered. That will not change by our call for the elimination of the long gun registry. We are not trying to eliminate the registry provisions for handguns. We admit and we agree that handguns and restricted weapons such as automatic weapons should be registered. That should be maintained.
In fact, handguns have been registered in this country since 1933. We are only talking about long guns, because the registry, at such a cost to the Canadian taxpayer, which has been proven to be totally ineffective, is not required. It is absolutely useless. We could be using that money, well over $1 billion over the course of the last 15 years, for more effective crime prevention policies, or one could even argue, if we did not want to put it into crime prevention measures, we could put it into another government initiative, such as health care.
It is quite clear to me and quite clear to hundreds of thousands of rural residents across this great country that the long gun registry should never have been introduced. The legislation should never have been passed in the first place, and now is the time to get rid of it.
I would also argue that if all opposition parties were allowed to vote freely, if their members were allowed to vote freely on a bill brought forward to eliminate the long gun registry, the elimination of that registry would occur in a heartbeat.
Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to comments and questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I am rising in this House, on behalf of the Liberal caucus, to support the motion tabled today by the hon. member for . That member has a long and distinguished career in the area of public safety. He is one of those people here who really knows what must be done to improve public safety and, for example, to fight organized crime, as he did for so many years during his tenure at the Quebec National Assembly. Today, I salute him and I am telling him that the Liberal caucus will support his motion.
I also want to stress the important work done by many Canadians on the very complex issue of gun control. For example, Suzanne Laplante-Edwards, who is the mother of one of the victims of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, has done a lot to promote gun control. She is in Ottawa today to remind parliamentarians of the importance of supporting measures that will help control guns and increase public safety, and also to remind us of past tragedies that show the importance of continuing to fight to improve all these measures, which are so critical to ensure public safety. Gun control and the gun registry are undoubtedly two initiatives that help us achieve these goals.
I want to be very clear. Liberals will be supporting this motion tabled by our colleague for . We believe gun control and the firearms registry are essential elements in the effort to improve public safety across Canada. However, Liberals also recognize that there are persons across the country and in rural communities such as the ones I represent who legitimately use firearms, non-prohibited weapons, for sporting purposes, hunting and target practice.
We recognize and respect that some Canadians have a legitimate need for firearms, but they must also recognize that the legitimate need to protect public safety and to follow the advice of Canada's front-line police officers and police chiefs across the country requires that all firearms need to be part of an effective firearms registry that serves as an essential element of the police officers' work to protect public safety.
In a question a few moments ago, I think my colleague for reminded the House of a very important document that was sent to our leader by the Canadian Police Association, a group that represents 57,000 front-line police officers. The elected president of this association wrote to the leader of the Liberal Party on April 7 and asked the Liberal Party to continue to support the firearms registry. He asked members of our party and members of Parliament in other parties to oppose Bill , currently sitting in the Senate, and to oppose Bill , a very irresponsible private member's bill that sits on the order paper of the House.
I want to quote from the letter from the Canadian Police Association, where the elected president said:
It would be irresponsible to suspend or abandon any element of [Canada's firearms program]
In 2008, police services used the firearms registry, on average, 9,400 times a day. They consulted the firearms registry over 3.4 million times last year alone. In that year, 2008, they conducted an inquiry of the firearms registry on over 2 million individuals and did over 900,000 address checks at the firearms registry.
Another organization that in our view is eminently qualified, more so than government members of Parliament, to speak on the issue of public safety is the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. In a letter sent to our leader on March 9, they also said they were asking members of Parliament to oppose Bill and to maintain the registration of all firearms.
That is precisely the thrust of the motion tabled today in this House. It is important to maintain the integrity of the gun registry and to end the amnesty which, in our opinion, has watered down the integrity of the registry, something which certainly does not help public safety.
The government across the way claims to be interested in public safety. Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you have often seen cabinet ministers and government members wanting to be photographed with police officers. These people make announcement on various bills, or on amendments to the Criminal Code. We often see police officers standing behind the minister announcing such changes to the Criminal Code.
It is obvious that Conservative members view the support of police officers as something symbolic, but also very important for their so-called improvements to the Criminal Code. However, when these same officers, through the duly elected officials representing their associations, ask them to put a stop to a policy which, in their opinion, is irresponsible and goes against the goal shared—I hope—by all members in this House, namely to improve public safety, government members do not agree with the people with whom they had their picture taken just weeks earlier.
There is no doubt, in our view, that extending the amnesty poses a threat to public safety. That is why we will oppose the idea of extending or renewing the amnesty.
If we think about the whole idea of an amnesty with respect to a Criminal Code provision, it is a rather bizarre way to make criminal law in the country. For a government to simply decide that it will suspend the application of a particular section of the Criminal Code or another criminal law is, to me, not a very courageous or legitimate way to make public law in Canada.
If the government had the courage to table a bill in this House that would do what so many government members in their speeches or in their questions and comments claim they want it to do, it knows very well that the bill would be defeated. What does the government do? It signs an order in council or a minister simply directs crown prosecutors that, for this or that reason, for a period of time they should not enforce the criminal legislation.
That is as irresponsible as deciding that the sections of the Criminal Code, for example, that apply to impaired driving would be suspended for two weeks around Christmas. It is the same sort of notion that the government can tell prosecutors or justice officials that we are going to provide an amnesty.
Earlier we heard members claiming that this was only so that firearms owners would come forward and voluntarily choose to register their firearms. If that were the original intention of the one year amnesty when it was announced almost three years ago, why was there a need to continually renew it? The reason the amnesty was renewed is because the has made it very clear that he does not support effective gun control in Canada and he wants to find a way to do what he cannot do legislatively in this House, which is to weaken the firearms registry that is so important for public safety.
The government's true agenda with respect to gun control and public safety is found in two measures. It is found in private member's Bill . The government likes to say that it is a private member's bill but it is the first time I have seen the address a large gathering of persons in front of the media and urge members of Parliament to support a private member's bill, as the did in support of Bill .
However, when the 's office realized that it was an irresponsible and appalling piece of legislation, which, for example, as my colleagues have identified, would allow people to transport automatic weapons such as machine guns through neighbourhoods on their way to a target range, it then said that the government would not support the bill on the same day the publicly called upon members of Parliament to vote for it. However, as a way to sort of recoup the embarrassment, the government then presented in the other place Bill .
It is pretty transparent why the government did that. It is because it does not have the courage to move legislation in this House of Commons that would weaken public safety and compromise the safety of police officers and Canadians by weakening gun control measures across the country.
The government likes to use this issue to try to drive a wedge between rural and urban Canada and has done so on many occasions.
I have been fortunate enough to be elected four times in a rural riding in New Brunswick. The largest town in my riding is probably Sackville, which has about 5,000 people. The rest of my riding consists of small towns or unincorporated areas that do not have a municipal government.
So I have been elected four times in a rural riding and I have visited hunting and fishing clubs there. Where I live, in the Grande-Digue area of New Brunswick, the local hunting and fishing club organizes a community lunch once a month on Sunday morning. I have gone to it many times.
It is not true that our position in favour of registering all firearms means we are against the legitimate use of hunting rifles in parts of the country where hunting is a common sport.
The tries to use this issue to divide people. I can assure the House that the Liberal Party fully respects the legitimate use of firearms, whether for sport or by people who simply collect guns. We also value the lives of the people who are responsible for ensuring the safety of Canadians all across the country, including in rural areas, and who want us to keep the firearms registry.
The idea that rural areas are safe from threats to public safety and tragedies involving guns is also not realistic. Just a few months ago in the town in Shediac, where I have my riding office, someone died as a result of a crime. Three people entered a house and killed a young man with a hunting rifle. Criminal charges were laid a few weeks ago and the case is now before the New Brunswick courts.
Public safety definitely matters to people in the town of Shediac, New Brunswick, on the banks of the Northumberland Strait, just as it interests people in such big Canadian cities as Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg or Montreal. We are all affected by measures to improve public safety, but it is in the interests of us all to preserve a balance between the legitimate use of firearms and the need to have a full and complete registry that is used more than 9,400 times a day by Canadian police officers who need to consult the registry for their own protection and to conduct criminal investigations.
The Liberals are interested and will always be interested in ways to improve the registration process for firearms. We acknowledge that over a number of years there have been some improvements but there can continue to be ways to make registration easier and simpler for those who legitimately have firearms that are not prohibited weapons for legitimate purposes.
To have an interest in seeing how we can improve the firearms registry for those who apply to have firearms registered is as legitimate as the desire to want to preserve the integrity of the firearms registry and not allow an amnesty, which is an irresponsible back door measure to do what the government does not have the courage to do legislatively, which is weaken the firearms registry across the country.
We spend a lot of time in the House talking about public safety and about ways improve criminal legislation. We have seen a number of examples where Liberals have worked with other parties in the House and the government to make amendments to the Criminal Code that will improve public safety.
Yesterday, the House passed Bill at second reading and it will now go before the justice committee. That was important because it would reduce the two for one remand credit which will improve public confidence in the justice system. We also supported Bills and . Yesterday evening, I, along with my colleague who chairs the justice committee and committee members, passed Bill C-14 without amendment and it will be referred back to the House. That bill attacks some of the difficult problems of organized crime. It would the police increased ability to lay criminal charges to deal with some of the tragedies in some of the difficult situations that we have seen in places like Vancouver.
On this side of the House, the Liberals are very interested in working in ways that are responsible, balanced and recognize the importance of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms but we also recognize that the Criminal Code needs to be modernized and strengthened and to give police officers and prosecutors the tools they need to preserve and improve public safety.
One of those tools is a national system of gun control. Canadians across the country support the idea that there should be effective gun control measures in the country. Much to the chagrin of Conservative members, that includes, in the opinion of police officers and police chiefs, the registration of all firearms in Canada as an essential tool in the pursuit of improved public safety.
Our hon. colleague from was right to introduce this motion and we intend to support it.
We will be supporting this motion when it comes before the House for a vote because we will not play the games that the Conservative Party wants to play in pretending that this is a great divide between rural and urban Canada.
I stand before the House, as a member elected in a rural riding, as living proof that the people in my riding support effective gun control measures and understand that when the police officers across the country say to us that this is one of many tools they need to improve public safety, we should be careful before acting in an irresponsible way that would diminish and reduce something that I think we all share as a desire to have safer communities, safer homes and safer streets all across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I was having a discussion with my colleague from about the factual reality that we were still having a debate on the gun registry so many years after it was introduced into law.
I was telling him that for a while I had been studying the experience that Australia went through. It is similar in terms of its initiation into attempts at gun control, gun registration and regulation. Our attempt in Canada was prompted, to a significant degree, by the massacre at Polytechnique in Montreal. Australia's attempt was prompted by an incident on the island of Tasmania, where some 45 people were killed in one incident of mass murder. These incidents prompted governments to react.
The debate has ceased in Australia. Its gun regulation is stronger and more extensive than it is in Canada. However, we continue to have the debate and it is in part because of really gross incompetence on the part of the Liberal government of the day in the deployment of the gun registry, the long gun registry in particular, and its inability to bring provincial governments onside.
I do not know if this is accurate, but I am told that the decision made by the Liberal government of the day was to do this and that it did not need the provinces onside. There was an arrogance, as described to me, but I am not sure how real that was.
In Australia all six of the state governments were onside. Australia has a federated system like ours. It has legislation at the state level and at the federal level. As I said earlier, it has a much more stringent regulation of guns than in Canada.
While reading this material, one of the points I came across was the fact that for 10 years after the regulations and laws went into place, Australia did not have one incident of multiple murders. It was a whole 10 years before Australia had any reoccurrence and those incidents were minor by comparison to some of the experiences it had before the regulations and laws went into effect.
In terms of my analysis, this has become as much an emotional issue as a factual issue. It is unfortunate that we are at that stage, but I understand it in quite some depth.
I have rural areas in my riding. A number of my constituents are hunters and they have strong feelings against the registry. When I discuss it with them, the cost always comes up, the incompetence on the part of the Liberal administration of the day in allowing the cost to escalate to such a degree.
The Auditor General has said that the costs are under control. The RCMP has taken over and it has it under control. She says that it is an effective mechanism.
The anger on the waste that has gone on still overwhelms those factual arguments. I do not think those people hear me and unfortunately that is probably true of a number of members of the Conservative Party. They are overwhelmed by that history and cannot see their way through it.
Another very small group of people oppose the gun registry to a significant degree on principle and on their philosophy of life. These people are opposed to any control at all, whether it is handguns, or long guns, or rapid fire weapons or assault weapons. They do not want government involved in their use of weapons at all. Fortunately these people make up a fairly small percentage of our population, probably no more than 5%.
Then there is the third group. They have issues in the way the registry functions. I am thinking in particular of people from the rural areas and the northern part of the country. Our first nations are probably the best example. People in the third group feel that the system could perhaps be modified for those regions. I have some significant sympathy in that regard. I think that if in fact we are going to have any reform in the legislation, the Firearms Act, that is the area that we should be looking at.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for . I will only use half the slotted time.
Australia, a country that is similar to us, had the same experience. It is very true in Canada that the registry has been effective. It has reduced significantly, by as much as two-thirds, the domestic murders committed with long guns. Those are incontrovertible facts. The suicide rate with the use of long guns has reduced itself dramatically since the registry was in place.
The fact that I find perhaps as telling as those two is that the number of accidental deaths with the use of guns has dropped dramatically. That result has occurred because of the number of guns that have been taken out of circulation.
There was a survey done of gun owners around 2001-02. One of the questions asked of people was when they last used their guns. Over 50% of them said they had never used their long guns.
When the registry came into effect, people had to pay to register their long guns and a good number of them said it was no longer necessary, they were not going to use them any more, they were not going to put any money out, and turned their guns in. A huge number of weapons were turned in that were not stored properly and were not being taken care of properly from a safety standpoint.
When people had to meet the requirements under the act, they simply got rid of their guns because they were not using them. They were not real hunters and were not using them for recreational purposes. The effect of that has been to dramatically reduce accidental deaths, such as kids getting a hold of guns because their parents or custodians had not properly stored them.
It has had that impact in those three areas. Domestic murders are down dramatically, suicides with long guns are down dramatically, and accidental deaths are down dramatically.
The other point I want to make when I am assessing my position on gun control and the gun registry is to say there are arguments on both sides of this and they are valid. I do not want to take that away from the people who are opposed to the gun registry. Ultimately, as members of Parliament, we have to assess both sides and so we look to other sources, experts and knowledgeable people, to give us some direction. On this issue, I have looked to our police forces. They are the front line.
As everyone has heard today from other members, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is adamant that we need the kind of system we have in place now, that it is effective and usable, and police forces use it. We have heard in the last few days very strong language of a similar nature coming from the Canadian Police Association. We hear from the Conservatives in particular that it is leadership. It is not.
This morning I met with members of the CPA on the Hill regarding their lobby and efforts. These are people from Windsor. They are very clear that the rank and file and regular police officers are saying they need it, they use the system, they need it for their own personal protection, and for the protection of society. As a test, they are the people we should be listening to.
Mr. Speaker, there are these issues in our society that can be used to widen the divisions that already exist. The firearms registry debate is one of those issues. My colleague from has just given us a list, with the evidence, of the kinds of deaths that have declined as a result of the existence of a firearms registry, including registration of hunting weapons, rifles and so on.
He said that the number of murders in Canada is falling, and that is tangible. The number of murders with that kind of firearm is falling dramatically. The number of accidents, because the weapons were very often improperly stored, where young people found themselves with a gun in their hands, has also dropped dramatically. As well, the number of suicides with that kind of firearm has also radically declined.
When we see that an instrument of public policy can produce results like that, can reduce the number of murders, the number of suicides and the number of accidental deaths, it is entirely reasonable to expect to see complete unanimity in this House. And yet we see from the tone and content of the question the Conservative member just put to my colleague that once again, the Conservatives are pulling out all the stops to create a problem where there is none and to advance their extreme right-wing ideology.
What the question referred to was a sham, a pointless, redundant amendment proposed by the Conservatives, because there are already provisions in the Criminal Code that deal with this firearms issue. They want to be able to go back to their Reform Party base and say that they are proposing amendments and want to have longer minimum sentences for gangs with firearms, and the separatists and socialists are standing in their way.
That is completely false, however. The Criminal Code already addresses this. The minimum sentences are in the Code now. This was a purely partisan manoeuvre by them in the parliamentary committee this week. But that did not prevent them from rising and making their stand here in the House. They convince themselves they are here to protect, when abolishing the firearms registry will make it easier to get guns.
That does not mean that there are no irritants in the system and we certainly have no intention of denying the administrative boondoggle caused by the incompetent Liberals who put the registry in place. The Liberals show their incompetence every time they introduce a program. They signed the Kyoto protocol, but instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6%, they increased them by 30%. For them, it is always a matter of perception. Eddie Goldenberg, Jean Chrétien's former chief of staff, once said that the Liberals had signed the Kyoto protocol “to galvanize public opinion“. So it was just a public relations stunt. In this case, they brought in legislation to create a gun registry. The cost exceeded $1 billion. Let us think about that. Years later, it is still not quite done, it is very expensive and it is badly administered.
In Quebec, when the parental insurance program was brought in, it took no more than six weeks for the first cheques to be issued. That is good public administration, but people have a tendency to confuse bad public administration by the Liberals with the critical need to maintain the gun registry. True, there was incompetence in the way it was set up, but now that the registry is there, the argument is turning against the Conservatives. They are shooting themselves in the foot. They say that because of that incompetence, the registry has to be abolished. No, it cost too much money. Maybe the Liberals were incompetent in putting it in place, but it is there now. The last thing we want to do is to add insult to injury. Not only does the registry save lives, as was just shown, but it exists, it is there and it cost a lot of money. That is one more argument for maintaining the registry, for the sake of the taxpayers who paid for it.
There are people like Louis-Gilles Francoeur from Le Devoir, an avid hunter, who explains certain situations that may arise under the current legislation. For example, someone may drop a hunting rifle and damage it. That person may then have to borrow a rifle from a fellow hunter.
It could be a criminal offence if the papers were not handed on at the same time. This is the kind of thing which can be corrected. It is called an irritant. Removing it would never take away the obligation for one person or the other to register the firearms. There are fees. Are they too high? Perhaps. The question needs to be examined. Is there a way to make registering firearms easier and more accessible? We should make sure that there are more places where registration can take place or help can be obtained. All those irritants can be corrected. There is no need to abolish the firearms registry.
Some people in rural Canada are convinced that they are bearing the brunt of the problems in urban areas. However, the numbers given by my colleague from tend to show that this not only a matter of crime in urban areas. Even in rural areas, access to firearms is too easy, and accidents, suicides and murders can occur.
I will never insist enough on the advice of the police chiefs of Canada, who are dedicated to public safety. They are supposedly the typical supporters for Conservatives, who boast about being the great defenders of law and order. It they believe that police forces must be listened to, can they for once walk the talk and listen to the police chiefs? I have a son who is now a father and who has been a police officer for 10 years. He is a sergeant in the Laurentian region. When he approaches a house to which he has been called for a case of domestic violence, I like to think that he knows if there are firearms on the other side of the door. I attended the funeral of Laval constable Valérie Gignac. I was there. She was shot at close range, through a door and through her bullet-proof vest. That is the reality of police officers in Canada.
In the name of law and order, instead of satisfying their desire to pander to their Reform base, will the Conservatives listen to Canada's police officers, who are unanimous in asking them to maintain the gun registry? It is a question of public safety, which is supposed to be the Conservatives' be all and end all, so they should listen for once. But no. This is exactly the same situation as last year. They introduced a private member's bill to impose a double sentence if a pregnant woman is the victim of crime. It was clear; I was sitting next to them and Conservative back-benchers openly said that their ploy was meant to re-open the debate on abortion legislation in Canada. It was patently obvious. It is always the same. Under the guise of doing something else, they try to introduce the policies and social objectives that stem directly from the Reform wing of what was once the Progressive Conservative Party. The word “progressive” was removed, and rightly so.
Eliminating the gun registry would be a clear step backwards for our society. We are up against one of the most powerful lobbies there is. The gun lobby is a well-oiled machine with solid financial backing. It has been operating across the United States for years, and it is now well established in Canada. Furthermore, it has its henchmen, the Conservatives, to do its dirty work here.
Persuaded by the wisdom of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which supports maintaining the gun registry, the NDP members will rise in this House to say no to the Conservatives as they try to eliminate this tool to protect the public, and we will say yes to any amendment that could make this registry more accessible, simpler, more flexible and less expensive for our citizens, while guaranteeing the protection of Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for on his excellent speech, but most of all, I would like to congratulate the member for , who has been involved in this public safety policy for several years.
This public safety policy reminds us that registering guns is of vital importance because it enables police officers to make well-informed decisions when responding to situations in which such knowledge can make all the difference. I will talk more about that later.
As I listened to the members, I remembered that some of our fellow citizens sometimes say that all politicians are the same. Sometimes I hear that when I am meeting with my fellow citizens. Some people say that all of the political parties are the same too. People listening to today's debate—we will be debating this issue from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.—will become aware of a few things.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from . We will speak for 10 minutes each.
Today, those of our fellow citizens who think that all political parties are the same will see that there is indeed a difference. Some parties believe that it is neither a constitutional right nor a privilege to have a firearm. It is a responsibility that must be controlled. Of course, many people can own firearms and be completely responsible and diligent about it. However, that does not make it a right; it is a privilege.
For public safety reasons, we have asked our fellow citizens to register their firearms and to hold a possession licence. I just want to point out that, as my colleague from said, there is no fee associated with registering. The fee is charged for the firearm possession licence, not for registration itself.
I would like to give only one statistic. For the fourth consecutive year, we are asking for a firearms registry including restricted firearms, but also, ideally, unrestricted hunting rifles. That is not insignificant. Since 2006 it has not been possible to prosecute hunters who own unrestricted firearms and who, for one reason or another, did not register them. They have been repeatedly granted amnesty. The Bloc Québécois is calling today for an end to the renewal of the amnesty for unrestricted hunting rifles.
Let us now take a closer look at the situation. I was a member of this House when the debate started with Mrs. McLellan, who was then replaced by Mr. Allan Rock. There were extremely passionate statements from both sides. At the time, my colleague Mr. Michel Bellehumeur was the spokesperson on this issue for the Bloc Québécois. My party had in mind the need for public safety.
What kind of judgment should we now make about the existence of this registry and the obligation to let the mandated authority know about the presence of firearms in a given place?
Since the registry was first created, some 20,000 licences have been cancelled, always for the sake of public safety. The individuals who lost their licence were believed for good reasons to be people who might misuse firearms.
I am not talking about revoking 1, 2 or 3 firearm licences but, rather, 20,000.
I also have a brother who is a police officer. He is my oldest brother and he was the biggest one when we were growing up. I came in second, and I hope no one doubts what I am saying. As we know, it is now harder to enrol in the police techniques program—and I hope I am not disappointing the hon. member for when I say that—than to be admitted to the faculty of law. Fewer candidates are accepted in the police techniques program than in the law schools of major Canadian universities. Being a police officer is an extremely important responsibility. It requires judgment, intellectual dexterity, and the ability to think quickly. Being a police officer is not merely a matter of physical strength. Police officers are very important front line workers in our communities.
My brother is a police officer and I would not want to know that he has to intervene urgently in a serious domestic dispute. I think it is useful, necessary and critical to know whether there are guns in a house where an officer is sent. I was told about a case that I would like to share with parliamentarians in this House.
In the winter of 2003, officers from the Montreal police department had to intervene in a case of domestic violence. Quebec has a zero tolerance policy regarding violence, but we are even more vigilant in the case of domestic violence, because there is a very real risk of the situation deteriorating. The spouse who called the police department was afraid because her husband, who had been hospitalized, was now coming home. He was in possession of a real arsenal that included 26 handguns, 16 hunting weapons and 45,000 rounds of ammunition. Surely, it was important for the officers who went to that house to have this information. In this specific case, action was immediately taken to seize those guns. If the search had proven unsuccessful, the officers could have done some research. Thanks to the gun registry, they knew that this individual was in possession of the arsenal that I just described.
These are reasons that lead us to be very supportive of this initiative, as we have been since the very beginning of this debate, when Bill C-68 was introduced by the previous government. As parliamentarians, we do not have the right to question the existence of such a tool, or to remain passive when the government is contemplating to extend year after year the amnesty on hunting weapons, as if these firearms did not have a harmful potential, as if they could not kill someone, be used to commit a homicide, be discharged accidentally, or be used by someone who is suicidal. These are exceptional situations, but they do exist and they are very real.
I will conclude by saying that the issue of costs is not a good argument. Of course, the Bloc was here when these costs were estimated at $1 billion, and then at $2 billion. But the Auditor General confirmed to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that these costs are now under control, and she provided guarantees to parliamentarians. That is the kind of guarantee that we must have, and we have it.
I am concluding by congratulating my party for using its allotted day to put this issue before the House. I hope that all parliamentarians will support this motion from the Bloc Québécois.
Madam Speaker, a few weeks ago I went to see the movie Polytechnique
, which will be shown here tonight and which is a painful re-enactment of the Montreal massacre that devastated the victims' families.
After that tragedy, in early 1994—I arrived in 1993—the legislators in this House began to look for solutions to these problems and to try to put in place as comprehensive a system as possible to keep unwanted guns out of circulation.
In rural areas such as mine, which are not exempt from the possibility of violence, especially spontaneous violence—domestic or family violence, for example—there has been a very significant reduction in the number of deaths caused by guns after the registry was established and the system implemented.
Today, the Bloc Québécois has a consensus to inform the government through the motion moved that states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should not extend the amnesty on gun control requirements set to expire on May 16, 2009, and should maintain the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety.
To ensure the effectiveness of registration, we must maintain the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety. I believe it is important to be able to continue doing so.
This morning we heard from representatives of police associations, among others, who showed us how useful this tool is for police. It allows them to intervene in a much more sensible and logical way, and to have as much information as possible about the state of the people they will encounter and the potential presence of guns in a given situation. I believe we absolutely must be able to continue gong in this direction.
In the second part of my speech, I will attempt to debunk some of myths that exist around this. First there is the supposedly high cost of the gun registry. In her first report on this, the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, indicated that costs of the gun control program have been under control since 2002. So that problem no longer exists. The annual costs of the gun control program has markedly decreased, from $200 million in 2001 to $73 million. What is more, while the program costs $73.7 million a year, the annual cost of registration is $14.6 million, or $10 million less than the upper limit of $25 million set in 2005-06. So that deflates the first argument: gun control is not all that costly, given the results it allows us to achieve.
Then there is the second myth: abolishing the registry would enable the government to save millions of dollars, which could be invested in more effective crime prevention programs. This is not so. According to the plan announced by the Conservatives, amendments to the registry to exclude long guns should allow the government to save a little over $10 million annually, because the registry would continue to operate for handguns and prohibited weapons. That is not enough money to fund better initiatives to reduce crime. In the end, the effect would be a negative one.
It is not true that abolishing the registry would allow the government to save millions which could be invested in more effective programs. The registry's very existence is an effective prevention program in itself.
According to the third myth, the Auditor General has supposedly indicated that the gun registry is useless. The Auditor General said nothing of the sort. She did identify certain flaws in the quality of the data contained in the gun registry. She did raise those points but she could not have made it any clearer as far as the registry's effectiveness is concerned: “We did not examine the effectiveness of the Canadian Firearms Program or its social implications.” The claim that the Auditor General indicated that the registry is useless is absolutely false.
It is important to dispel these myths because we are dealing with an issue about which the public hears all kinds of information, even things that have nothing to do with the reality. The motion brought forward by the Bloc today gives us an opportunity to dispel these myths.
Here is the fourth myth: there is an increase in violent crime, which shows that the registry simply does not work and that more effective measures need to be put in place. That is totally false. Even though the media coverage of violent crime may lead us to believe that the number of such crimes increases every year, the reality is totally different.
We see a disproportionate number of reports on violent crime in relation to what is really happening. In the 1990s, there was a steady decrease in crime in Quebec as well as in Canada. Statistics Canada even confirmed recently that, for 2006, the overall crime rate in the country was at its lowest level in more than 25 years. And that is not all. Quebec had its lowest homicide rate since 1962. Another myth dispelled.
The fifth myth is that gun registration is a long, costly and complicated process. That is not the case.
I am having a problem with my voice and I will have to end my remarks before my time is up. However, it has been shown that the situation has improved thanks to the gun registry.
Madam Speaker, I am rising to debate the motion tabled by the hon. member for the riding of .
I am fully aware that the issue of gun control, like all crime-related issues, is of great importance to this hon. member and all the hon. members of the House.
The government has established a balanced approach to gun control in Canada, an approach that does not try to criminalize legitimate owners of firearms or to impose an additional burden on them.
Canadians and Quebeckers have, to a large extent, put their trust in this government because it has undertaken to stand up to criminals to ensure the integrity of and respect for victims’ rights. Our balanced approach is part of a comprehensive plan which also aims to make our streets and our communities safer.
The government has made major investments in crime prevention in the last three years and has provided law enforcement services with new and improved tools. The government is taking action against gangs and those who commit drug-related crimes. We are transforming the way that the justice system deals with criminals, while seeing to it that their victims receive all due respect.
Tackling the illegal use of firearms is one of the pillars of the government’s public safety agenda. We have introduced longer mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes, and we have put tough new rules in place for the release on bail of persons charged with a serious weapons-related offence.
We are also strengthening the police presence in communities to fight armed crime with the aim of increasing the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians and their families. As a woman and a mother, I support my government’s approach, particularly so that victims can finally hope to see the light of day and feel safe in our country.
We have invested $7 million annually in tightening up the front-end screening of first-time firearm licence applicants, in order to keep firearms away from untrustworthy individuals. Just recently, we tabled a bill which, among other things, creates a new criminal offence for drive-by and other intentional shootings that involve reckless disregard of the life or safety of others.
In addition to taking these long-overdue actions, the government has proposed fundamental changes to gun registration laws. As members know, it is our intention to take an approach that aims for effectiveness without imposing an additional burden on farmers, duck hunters and other law-abiding Canadians, coupled with specific measures to prevent gun crime.
For example, we are going to fund initiatives designed to strengthen front-line policing, border security and the fight against organized crime. We feel that the gun control laws have to target the criminals, not the thousands of honest Canadians and Quebeckers who use rifles or shotguns to protect themselves, hunt, and otherwise earn a living.
Our goal is to prevent criminals from getting their hands on guns, not to create bureaucratic nightmares and needless costs for legitimate owners of non-restricted firearms.
With this objective, the government has introduced a number of measures to make it easier for gun owners to comply with the existing legislative requirements, since firearms owners whose weapons are registered are subject to continuous eligibility screening.
The motion currently before the House, which was put forward by the hon. member for , seeks to eliminate one of these measures.
In 2006, the then minister of public safety announced a one-year amnesty period to shield from prosecution those owners of non-restricted firearms whose license had expired, provided that they take the necessary steps to meet compliance requirements again within that period. This amnesty period, which the member seeks to eliminate, has since been extended, and the government recently announced plans to extend it further, up to May 2010.
I should point out that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
This amnesty is one of several measures taken by this government to enhance compliance with the law. In 2006, the former public safety minister also announced that license renewal fees would be waived. In other words, individuals would not have to pay a fee to renew or upgrade existing licenses or to replace expired licenses. Those individuals who had already paid such fee were reimbursed. It is important to note that new license applicants are still required to pay a license fee. Like the amnesty, the fee waivers was extended for one year.
In May of last year, the government introduced yet another measure to support compliance through a regulatory amendment that enables individuals with expired possession-only licences to apply for a new license without taking the Canadian firearm safety course. Most of the affected individuals are over 50 years of age, and they often reside in rural or remote areas where access to training is limited.
Collectively, these three measures form a comprehensive regulatory package intended to increase compliance levels, and they appear to be working. In just three years, from 2006 to 2008, the rate of renewal of possession-only licences increased by 15%. The initiative introduced last year to make it easier to renew these licences led approximately 11,000 holders of expired possession-only licences to comply once again with the Firearms Act.
As I mentioned earlier, the government plans to extend these measures for another year, until May 2010, to give more people the opportunity to comply with the gun control measures in the act. That is the government's goal, and the members opposite should want the same thing. This extension will also allow the government to develop and introduce long-term measures to help increase public safety and reduce the administrative burden on gun owners.
As I noted at the outset, the government has taken a balanced approach to gun control. We are absolutely committed to protecting the safety and security of Quebeckers and Canadians while ensuring that law-abiding citizens are not subjected to unnecessary registration procedures for legally acquired, non-restricted firearms.
Unfortunately, the motion before us is not prudent. The measures proposed by the hon. member would unnecessarily criminalize thousands of farmers, hunters and rural residents who are responsible gun owners. We would do better to work to protect victims of crime in this great country of ours.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to also have the opportunity to take part in this debate on the motion moved by my colleague, the hon. member for .
Quebeckers, like all Canadians, remember the tragedy that took place at the École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. We were all deeply affected by that incident, which, to this day, serves to remind us of the need to establish effective gun control measures and to understand the importance of fighting crime. Tragic incidents that have occurred in other places also remind many of us that much more needs to be done to fight crime and to ensure that guns do not find their way into the hands of people who pose a threat to the safety of our families, our streets or our communities.
The government has already done a great deal in this regard and we intend to do a lot more. I hope the motion moved here today is a sign that the members across the floor understand how important it is to implement effective measures for preventing crime and to cooperate with the government to get tough on crime, especially gun crime.
I would like to congratulate the hon. member for for moving his motion, which, despite its good intentions, has some major flaws.
In fact, this motion seems to suggest to the government that it should abandon all the measures brought forward over the past three years to ensure that gun owners comply with current gun legislation—measures that enhance public safety and prevent gun crime, while ensuring that more gun owners are subject to continuous eligibility screening.
By abandoning these measures, more Canadians would be at risk of being the victims of gun crime and this would weaken, rather than strengthen, gun control in general.
We know now that many owners of non-restricted firearms, such as shotguns and hunting rifles—long guns—do not renew their licences when they expire, in large measure because of the cumbersome process established by the previous government, which turned out to be an administrative failure.
We also know that most of the people concerned are more than 50 years old and live in rural or remote areas, where access to training is more limited. Finally, we know from experience that only a small number of these people will comply with the firearms registration program, unless a special effort is made to facilitate registration.
That is why our government introduced a series of administrative measures in May 2006. We simplified the firearms licence renewal process by providing a temporary dispensation for two years and by looking into the renewal fees, and by reducing the fees that Canadians have to pay. As part of that initiative, people who had already paid the higher fee received a refund.
The government also declared an on criminal charges against owners of non-restricted firearms who take the necessary steps to comply with licensing requirements.
In 2008, we extended the amnesty period for another year, while undertaking measures intended to encourage a larger number of firearms owners to renew their licences and to register under the Canadian Firearms Program by allowing holders of possession-only licences to submit a new application. In that way, we eliminated the tedious requirement for experienced owners to take the Canadian firearm safety course to obtain a possession and acquisition licence.
What results did these measures produce? This targeted initiative led to an increase in compliance in some cases, even in the preliminary stage. For example, the renewal rate for possession-only licences increased from 50% to 65%.
Nearly 11,000 holders of expired possession-only licences are now in compliance with the federal legislative measures on firearms. There are more registrations under the Canadian Firearms Program. A greater number of owners of non-restricted firearms are in the process of renewing their licences, which involves ongoing verification of their eligibility.
The point of the review is to ensure that all known high-risk behaviour is automatically brought to the attention of chief firearms officers and law enforcement officers. More Canadians are being protected from potential gun crimes. That is what we were hoping to achieve with our initiatives and our commitment to implementing gun control measures. In light of these positive results, in March of this year, our government announced that it planned to extend these measures for an extra year until May 2010.
Our government is determined to ensure that our country has an effective gun control system. That is why we have taken the necessary measures to bring more gun owners into compliance with existing laws.
We are investing $7 million per year to ensure more thorough screening of people requesting an initial firearms permit and to keep firearms out of the hands of untrustworthy individuals. We have to make sure that firearms control measures keep guns out of the hands of those who threaten our communities, our safety and our lives.
Firearms control measures must enhance public safety and community safety by preventing dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms and by imposing serious consequences if they use them to commit crimes. That is what Quebeckers and Canadians want.
The government is committed to maintaining an effective gun control system while tackling the use of firearms for criminal purposes by getting tough on criminals. As such, I cannot support my colleague's motion because it would weaken gun control and expose us all to greater risk.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion moved by the Bloc Québécois. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should not extend the amnesty on gun control requirements set to expire on May 16, 2009, and should maintain the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety.
I will use my personal experience to explain my arguments with regard to this motion. I own long guns, am a hunter and now a guide because politics prevents me from practising the sport of hunting as I would like.
My friends know my position on the registry very well. When we go on a hunting or other trip, the vehicle is registered and so is the boat, quite often. We have hunting licences that we pay for before we leave. We have to report the game taken but we do not have to register the guns used to hunt. I have a great deal of difficulty with that.
By declaring this amnesty, the government is keeping the registry in limbo. That is the Conservatives' goal. They have always been against the gun registry and this is their way of ensuring that the system does not work. Much has been said in this House about duck hunters, among others. We should put the duck hunter myth to rest. You hunt ducks with a 12 gauge shotgun. That type of gun can be sawed off and used in armed robberies. We have to stop with the duck hunter myth. I want hunters to be seen as honest people. My friends and I are honest hunters. We use our guns to go hunting. These guns can be used for purposes other than the ones for which they are purchased and used.
I said I would refer to my personal experience. A few years ago, as legal counsel, I had to advise a couple that was separating. The husband owned guns. One of the wife's recommendations was that, given the couple's situation, the husband should get rid of his guns.
I met with the husband and assessed his condition. In my opinion, he was in no condition to have weapons in his possession. He agreed, but at the time of handing in his weapons to the Sûreté du Québec or court designated custodians, there were weapons missing. Good thing that the registry was there. The wife knew little about what weapons he might have owned. These are not easy situations, and people who are afraid of weapons do not go around their homes making a list of all their contents. If only for that reason, there has to be a way for those who enjoy hunting to feel comfortable. I speak with hunters and women, who are increasingly taking up hunting. People have to act responsibly. One responsible thing to do for those who practice that sport is to register all their weapons so that, should anything happen to the family or should their health deteriorate, they do not become a menace to those around them. That is reality, and that is acting responsibly.
I have a big problem with the Conservative line because, often, what the Conservatives talk about is the need to protect our property. I especially have a problem with it when defending our property requires us to arm ourselves. This means that, if the purpose for the long guns we buy is to defend our property, then they ought to be registered. In my notarial practice, I saw my share of disputes between neighbours, and I could not say that all neighbours deserve to own weapons with which to defend their property. We can see people making a big fuss over nothing and witness situations which are an absolute shame. Some neighbours feud over really trivial stuff.
I hope it is not Conservative ideology to say that when you keep weapons, they need not be registered because people have the right to protect their property. Not everyone protects their property the same way, and I find this worrying. What the Bloc Québécois is calling for is simple. Putting an end to the amnesty means telling all hunters that they will have to register their weapons.
Of all the friends I know and all the persons I have met as a regional member of Parliament, and although I have been lobbied by hunters’ groups, I have never had a hunter come up to me who had not registered his guns. But they were quite aware that a large percentage of their colleagues in western Canada, among others, had not registered their guns. It is not by chance that they have not registered their guns: it is because the Conservatives decided not to support this registry from the outset and are encouraging their fellow citizens not to register their weapons.
I have a problem with my Quebec colleagues when they support this philosophy, and I challenge them to talk to some hunters and ask they whether or not they have registered their firearms. They will find that in Quebec, 99% of citizens abide by the rules, have registered their guns, and have the necessary licences.
They have no difficulty, they have had no difficulty, apart maybe from a little at the beginning. In fact what they found most irritating was the fee to be paid, but that has been abolished, which is good. Those who wish to register their weapons may do so for free. Once again, it is our duty as responsible citizens to register our weapons if we want to practice a sport like hunting and keep those around us safe. If one day a problem should arise in our personal life such that people might have doubts about our capacity to use firearms, those people would be able to file the necessary complaints. In the case of a separation, weapons are often placed in the custody of a third party who keeps them until an authorization is obtained, and that is how it should be.
I have explained this situation to the citizens and hunters who have had the opportunity to talk to me. In Quebec, given that hunters’ firearms are already registered, the registry does not pose a problem. In fact it is working well.
Naturally, if you tell these people that the registry is going to be abolished, everyone will be in agreement. In my opinion, it is no fun to fill out a form, but once a hunter understands that a vehicle or a motor launch has to be registered when it is being used, everything is fine. The same applies for a hunting licence: it is necessary, so you have to register. You also have to report game taken. It is not clear to me why people do not understand the necessity of registering weapons.
That is why I am very comfortable about voting for the Bloc Québécois motion. I am happy to vote in this House against any law that would set aside the firearms registry, imperfect as it was when it was created. It is true that there was waste by the Liberals at that time, but that is the Liberals’ problem. There were repeated computer contracts, etc. They paid the price in Quebec and they will continue to pay it.
However, since the system was introduced, and because the representatives of law and order tell us they need this system, in my experience and from what I have seen, this register has not caused me any problems. Personally, I registered my weapons and I obtained the necessary permits, and I have no problem with it. Even though not all my friends necessarily like having their name registered, now that it has been done, they are reasonably accepting of the system. They understand very clearly that to be responsible we must register our weapons, just as we register a vehicle or boat or report game taken, and just as we need to obtain a hunting permit.
This system is well accepted. However, as long as the government decides that it is not interested in the system and lets it be known that there will be changes for long arms, it will not work. It is certain that there will always be people—especially in the west—who, from the beginning, have not registered their weapons, and who continue to oppose having this register in place. Often, as several Conservative colleagues have told us in this House, they will tell us it is to protect their property. Right away, I have a problem with the protection of property because not everybody protects their property in the same way.
So I hope that our colleagues will understand, especially those from Quebec. As far as those from the west are concerned, I understand that they do not understand. Nevertheless, our colleagues from Quebec should be able to follow our lead on this matter and to recognize the fairness and justice of what we are proposing.
Madam Speaker, I am sure that you yourself are quite sure that I am going to speak in support of my party’s proposal.
I believe we should not extend the amnesty on gun control requirements set to expire on May 16, 2009, and that we should maintain the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety—I repeat: in its entirety.
The Bloc Québécois is the federal party that best represents the interests of Quebeckers and that calls for the consensus in Quebec to be respected. As a result, the Bloc Québécois is firmly committed to improving firearms control and maintaining the registration of all types of firearms in its entirety, as I said.
For the umpteenth time, the Conservative government is attacking the firearms registry; it wants to exempt unrestricted firearms—rifles and hunting weapons. This stubborn persistence, which can only be described as ideological, is hard to justify when we see how the gun registry has led to a drop in tragic events involving firearms. But the Conservatives do not care about that.
We already knew that when it comes to justice and public safety, the Conservatives care only about their partisan interests. Was it not the who said, on July 17, 2008, “We do not govern by statistics. We are governing by what we promised Canadians in the last election and what Canadians told us”?
The bills that are currently before Parliament regarding the registry quite simply provide the evidence that the Conservatives are wilfully blinding themselves to reality. It is not the Bloc Québécois members who see the benefits, it is police services in Quebec and Canada, which say that the registry is a useful and effective tool; it is public health agencies, which report the situation on the ground and observe the significant declines in homicides, suicides and accidents involving firearms; and it is the statistics—and this is very important—that show that firearms control reduces the number of crimes, including the most violent crime, murder.
This is obvious when we compare Quebec’s track record to the United States. The rate is five times lower in Quebec than in our neighbour to the south.
When it comes to justice and public safety, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is still and will always be prevention. This means that we have to tackle the root causes of crime and the conditions that lead to tragedies in the home. We have to tackle the causes of youth crime and violence, rather than waiting for things to get broken and then trying to fix them, that is the wisest and most importantly the most profitable approach, in both social and economic terms.
This can be clearer, and I will spell it out. First, we have to tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which provide fertile ground for frustration and its manifestations: violence and crime.
And in addition, we have to limit access to the firearms that make it easier to commit serious crimes. The evidence is in on this point: gun control is one of the most effective ways of preventing crime, particularly the greatest danger of all, homicide.
There is a direct connection between the homicide rate and how easy it is to acquire guns. They go hand in hand. Now that the cost of setting up the firearms registry has been covered and the actual registration only costs about $15 million a year, it would be a huge mistake to deprive ourselves of a tool that has proven its worth.
Most importantly, it is wrong to assume that removing non-restricted firearms from the registry would result in fantastic savings. That is totally false. Somehow the Conservatives need to understand that the cost of registering hunting guns is only a small fraction of the total cost of the registry.
The Bloc Québécois was in favour of removing certain obstacles that might annoy hunters and target shooters, including making registration free. That was done back in 2004. Considering the advantages of a gun registry, its low annual cost and the lack of any serious disadvantages to people who meet their obligations, the Bloc Québécois is convinced that the registry should be maintained and gun control should be improved. I want to point out as well that the Quebec National Assembly has twice expressed its unanimous support for keeping the gun registry.
The Government of Quebec has also indicated its intent to assume more responsibilities in the area of gun control. On May 17, 2007, the Quebec public safety minister sent his federal counterpart a letter asking him to amend the Firearms Act to give Quebec and the provinces that so desire more regulatory authority over firearms. The Government of Quebec asked specifically for the power to tighten the rules governing the control and storage of restricted firearms. On the same occasion, Quebec repeated its support for keeping the firearms registry in its entirety. The Quebec government reiterated this stand during the last election campaign when the Premier wrote to his federal counterpart asking him to continue registering all firearms.
This is the text of the document included in the Premier’s letter to the Prime Minister of Canada.
To prevent events such as those at the École Polytechnique and Concordia from happening again, the Government of Quebec has taken steps to protect the people of Quebec.
Recently, the Government of Quebec passed the Anastasia Act. This act is designed to protect the people of Quebec by tightening gun control, regulating gun ownership in certain places and creating a system to control the practice of target shooting with restricted or prohibited firearms.
The Government of Quebec would have liked to do more to protect the public, but as you know, criminal law comes under federal jurisdiction. After consulting with the province's police forces, the Government of Quebec asked that the gun registry be maintained.
The Government of Quebec is calling on the federal government to make a commitment to maintain the gun registry.
The Government of Quebec is also calling on the federal government to make a commitment to strengthen gun control by tightening the rules for transporting and storing firearms.
In conclusion, the Premier of Quebec said:
If you [at the federal level] do not want to proceed in this way, we [in Quebec] ask for a delegation of powers so that we can achieve the objective stated above.
We must act accordingly. We must maintain the registry of all guns.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue. It is one that has created a lot of debate in the House over many years. I will start by explaining how my opinions have been shaped on the issue of guns overall.
My grandfather was a hunter. He had a hunting camp. I had the opportunity to go there and fire a gun with him. I have come to learn a lot about gun ownership, hunting and how important that was to his life. I also learned a lot about how important it is to be a responsible gun owner and how seriously he took that commitment and how important it was to him that the guns were stored safely. Like most gun owners, when he was alive, he was incredibly responsible and was very careful with the weapons that he had. I got to see that side of it. I appreciated how much that meant to him and how much that experience was valued by him.
The other experience that formulated my opinion on this was my time on the Durham Regional Police Services Board. I had the opportunity of working with front-line police officers to see how the registry really worked, how it is put into motion and how it is actually used when we strip away all the rhetoric and the arguments and we talk about what is the real purpose of it.
One of the most defining moments for me when I was on the police services board was when I talked to an officer about going into a domestic violence situation. The police were able to use the registry to confirm that a weapon was present. He explained how it changed his approach in that situation. He explained that most violence, particularly domestic violence, is not planned a long time in advance, but is in fact violence that occurs spontaneously in the heat of the moment. When there is a weapon in the house and there is someone who has never committed a crime before, there is an incredible additional danger both to the police officer and to the person who is the subject of domestic violence.
We do not know who is going to get into this situation and who is not. It is much like when we ask people to register a car. We are not saying that everyone is going to get into a car accident, but we are saying that cars can pose a serious threat to society and other people's lives and it is important to register them and to make sure that those who drive them have the needed skills.
It is the same thing with weapons. Most people who own guns are not going to get involved in crime. Most are going to be responsible. However, we do not know in advance who is going to commit a crime and who is not. It is extremely important that the people who have those weapons be properly trained, that we know where those weapons are and when there is a situation such as domestic abuse that we know whether or not a weapon is present.
When I hear from those officers about how important that tool is, I have to say that it resonates with me. As a legislator I listen to police officers on the front line. It is not just that police officer who shared that experience with me or my time on the police services board. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been extremely strong in saying the registry is an essential tool to protect police officers and also to protect the public. If that were not enough, the Canadian Police Association expressed the same opinion in a letter. The Canadian Police Association has made it very clear that it is an essential tool for its members. This is something they use more than 9,400 times a day. This is a tool which in the last year was used almost 3.5 million times. The police officers do not use this tool for something to do or because they are bored. They use it because it is an essential tool in crime fighting and in keeping the public safe.
To me, the debate should end there. If police officers are speaking with that degree of unanimity, and that many are saying it is an essential tool and they are using it with that kind of frequency, one would think that should probably end the debate, but unfortunately it has not. In fact, it has mischaracterized this debate as somehow being against hunters or against people who have weapons.
I have never heard anyone make the argument that licensing cars and asking people to get driver training is going against drivers, that we have something against drivers in this country. It is a ridiculous and preposterous argument. If we were against hunting, we would make it illegal, but of course it is not. If we were against long guns, we would make them illegal, but of course we have not. It is a false argument. It is designed to create a wedge and to play games. We should be clear on that. That is what this has really been used for, to create false arguments, false divisions, to create wedges that should not be there, to create clouds around what should be clear arguments.
In that regard, I am going to read some statistics with respect to long guns. There is a lot of talk about excluding the long guns, but let me read some statistics.
Spousal homicides involving firearms occur twice as frequently with long guns than with handguns. Suicides are five times more likely to be committed with long guns than with handguns. The majority of guns recovered or seized by police are non-restricted long guns. Murders with rifles and shotguns have decreased dramatically since 1991, in no small part because of stronger controls on firearms. In fact, the number of murders in 1991 by long guns was 107, and the number for 2007 is down to 32.
People who do not believe the police and want to ignore them, the mass majority, are left with those statistics. In fact, in talking about police safety, police officers report that in the last decade, of the 15 officers who were killed, only 2 were killed by handguns. The remaining 13 police officers were killed with rifles or shotguns.
To say that long guns are not part of the equation of public safety is a false argument. The statistics bear it out and the police repeat it. Yet what we see is a continued misrepresentation of the facts and people trying to pretend that the registry has no function.
If all of that were not enough, let me read directly from a letter dated April 7 from the Canadian Police Association. In this letter the association clearly articulates the reasons that the registry is so important. These are the words from front-line police officers:
Registration is an Important Component of the Canadian Firearms Program.
Licensing firearms owners and registering firearms are important in reducing misuse and illegal trade in firearms, for a number of reasons:
1. Rigorously screening and licensing firearms owners reduces the risk for those who pose a threat to themselves or others. Already there is evidence that the system has been effective in preventing people who should not have guns from getting access.
2. Licensing of firearm owners also discourages casual gun ownership. Owning a firearm is a big responsibility and licensing is a reasonable requirement. While not penalizing responsible firearm owners, licensing and registration encourage people to get rid of unwanted, unused and unnecessary firearms.
3. Registration increases accountability of firearms owners by linking the firearm to the owner. This encourages owners to abide by safe storage laws, and compels owners to report firearm thefts where storage may have been a contributing factor. Safe storage of firearms:
--Reduces firearms on the black market from break-ins;
--Reduces unauthorized use of firearms;
--Reduces heat of moment use of firearms; and,
--Reduces accidents, particularly involving children.
4. Registration provides valuable ownership information to law enforcement in the enforcement of firearm prohibition orders and in support of police investigations. Already we have seen a number of concrete examples of police investigations which have been aided by access to information contained in the registry.
In fact, one of the prime examples that I would point to was a situation involving the shooting of four officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in 2005. In that instance the evidence that led to the arrest and conviction of two men was directly related to the registry. The registry helped convict those two individuals. The letter further states:
5. While police will never rely entirely on information contained in the registry, it is helpful to know if guns are likely to be present when approaching a volatile situation, for example, in responding to a domestic violence call. The officer, in assessing threat and risk can weigh this information.
6. Registration facilitates proof of possession of stolen and smuggled firearms and aid in prosecutions. Previously it was very difficult to prove possession of illegal rifles and shotguns.
7. Registration provides better information to assess an investigation of thefts and other firearm occurrences.
8. Recovered firearms can be tracked to the registered owner using firearms registration information.
9. Registration is critical to enforcing licensing. Without registration, there is nothing to prevent a licensed gun owner from selling or giving an unregistered weapon to an unlicensed individual.
10. Illegal guns start off as legal guns. Registration helps to prevent the transition from legal to illegal ownership, and helps to identify where the transition to illegal ownership occurs.
We should look at the overwhelming body of evidence showing how important this tool is for police. As I said, these are not my words or something that I concocted. This comes directly from the Canadian Police Association telling us why it needs the registry to continue.
With all the evidence I have just presented, it seems that this would be a moot matter, that we would not need a motion from the Bloc to try to protect the registry or deal with the issue of amnesty. I think most reasonable people looking at that overwhelming body of evidence would realize that any wedge or distinction was really just manufactured. In fact, that is the case.
The Conservatives, instead of abiding by this overwhelming information and working with law enforcement officials and legitimate gun owners to ensure the program works as effectively as possible, are trying to get rid of it. In fact, a private member's bill, Bill , not only deals with long guns, which I have been talking about for a few moments, but would actually gut the registry for prohibited and restricted weapons. It would cut the registry on things like handguns. In fact, the individual who presented this bill to the House of Commons was first going to be a speaker at an event celebrating the death of the registry where the door prize was a Beretta. This was not just any Beretta. It was a Beretta that was advertised for its stealth.
Why would a marksman who wants to shoot at the range need a Beretta that is advertised for its stealth? The insensitivity is monumental. Where was this event? It was in Mississauga, in the GTA, in our neck of the woods where we have seen an incredible amount of gun violence. One can imagine the reaction.
If all of that gutting and undoing of all the good work I just talked about was not enough, this bill would go even further. This bill would make it legal to transport a fully automatic machine gun. If people have an Uzi, this bill would allow them to drive it through the streets on the way to the range. An Uzi, an fully automatic machine gun is what we are talking about and that is what the Conservatives are introducing.
That did not go over so well In the Senate. As everyone can imagine, a lot of people were upset about this so the Conservatives tried it again and introduced a bill in the Senate to try to gut the registry another way.
I will refer again to the Canadian Police Association's specific comments about the impact of Bill , which, conveniently, was introduced in the Senate where it stands almost no chance of being passed. It makes one wonder whether the Conservatives really are just playing games or what their motives are. However, the following are the words of the Police Association:
Bill S-5 Will Make it More Difficult for Police to Investigate Gun Crimes and Compromise Public and Police Officer Safety.
Repeal the requirement to register non-restricted firearms...and the offences and penalties for failure to register non-restricted firearms. In recent years the current government has allowed those who have disobeyed the law to avoid compliance and prosecution by creating successive amnesty periods. We fail to understand why the government would relax controls to favour those who deliberately choose to avoid accountability for their firearms.
The second major point it makes is:
Eliminate the requirement for persons wishing to transfer non-restricted firearms to notify the registrar, and introduce a new requirement that the individual seek authorization from the Chief Firearms Officer.... This will devolve the responsibility from the provincial CFO's, who will be required to verify the recipient is licensed to possess the firearm and verify that the firearm is non-restricted. ... --this verification [will be] for each and every transfer. It will be impossible to determine, however, whether or not such requirements are complied with, as records linking firearms to owners will no longer be retained.
The comments go on to explain in many other terms why Bill is so destructive.
Why exactly are the Conservatives seeking to gut and destroy something that is so evidently needed for public safety and is such an important tool for police?
The reality is that there is a divide between the Conservative rhetoric on crime and the Conservative reality on crime. While the Conservatives talk about being tough on crime, what they are really talking about is creating wedges, about being dishonest on crime, about trying to frame issues in a way that is all about politics and not about making our streets safer. This is a perfect case in point.
I will give the House another case, the crime prevention budget. The crime prevention budget for last year was $43 billion and, of that, only $13 billion were spent. They talk about being tough on crime and yet the Conservatives underspent that budget by half. In fact, when this party left office, that budget was well over the amount that it is right now and was fully deployed and fully spent.
The Conservatives talk about ending the two-for-one remand credit, which we support, but they are not doing anything with respect to addiction in correctional facilities which creates a deadly cycle of people coming back in and out of the system. They are not doing anything about mental health issues. About 60% of those who are incarcerated are facing addiction issues and yet we just keep throwing them back in jail and they come out and reoffend and we throw them back in jail. Nothing is being done.
The Conservatives can talk about being tough on crime. We are not afraid of being tough on crime, but they need to be even tougher on the causes of crime. They need to be tough at ensuring there are not victims in the first place, and that is the abysmal failure of the government and where its rhetoric does not match up to the reality.
We need to ensure that we ask gun owners to be responsible. No one likes to have to register their car, register their pet or file taxes but if the government says that we do not need to do that because it is not important, then people, naturally, get conflicted and get angry. What we should do is go to the good men and women who own firearms and present them with all the facts that I gave today. We need to collectively say as a body that this is something we need for public safety, that we need to work with people to ensure our communities and streets are safer, that we need to prevent things like domestic abuse, that we need when responding to a suicide call and that this is information that is vital. If we present it in that way, we will be doing the right thing and we will be responsible.
Instead, the choice to this point is to use this issue as a wedge, as a divide, to create false divisions and separate rural and urban Canada. The issues that face public safety, whether it is in a small town in Alberta or in my hometown of Ajax or in Pickering, are the same. It is time we were honest and responsible and it is time we cut through the nonsense rhetoric used on this issue.