Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'm very pleased to appear before you and committee members to discuss new proposed regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act.
Our government is once again standing up for law abiding Canadians, such as farmers, hunters, and sports shooters. We are standing up for rural, northern, and remote Canadians who use shotguns and rifles as tools in their day-to-day lives. But Mr. Chair, most of all, we are standing up for Canadians who do not believe that the state has a right to needlessly interfere with the private property of law-abiding Canadians.
The long-gun registry was a wasteful and ineffective creation. Mr. Chair, I'm very proud to note that our government's legislation to eliminate the federal long-gun registry came into force at the beginning of April. The Ending the Long-gun Registry Act not only repeals a requirement for individuals and businesses to register their non-restricted firearms but also requires the Commissioner of Firearms, and the chief firearms officer for each province, to ensure the destruction of all records and copies of those records under their control.
The regulations that are now before you will help to ensure that the will of Parliament to eliminate the federal long-gun registry is fully respected. Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to end the wasteful long-gun registry, and Canadians will not tolerate an end run around the law. Nor will many Canadians or the government tolerate the recreation, under federal authority, of anything that resembles the wasteful and ineffective federal long-gun registry, which only created hassles and red tape for hunters rather than improve public safety.
The regulations we have introduced will ensure that the federal long-gun registry remains in the past, where it belongs. Members of this committee will know that despite a clear direction from Parliament to put an end to the registration of long guns, CFOs, or chief firearms officers, in some jurisdictions have continued to require that businesses collect and store point-of-sale information concerning long guns. In particular, Ontario's CFO is requiring businesses to record a buyer's name, licence information, and the details of the firearm being purchased. This is contrary to the spirit and intent of to eliminate the federal long-gun registry, which received royal assent on April 5.
To reinforce our government's position on this matter, I wrote a letter to the RCMP commissioner and to all chief firearms officers on May 8 affirming that the Firearms Act does not authorize any measures that would facilitate the establishment of a provincial long-gun registry. I further directed that neither the Canadian firearms program nor the RCMP are to assist a province seeking to establish a long-gun registry in any way. At that time, I also made clear my willingness to consider all necessary legislative and regulatory measures.
Despite this attempt to clarify what is permitted under the law, Ontario's CFO continues to be of the view that it is his prerogative to require that businesses keep point-of-sale records.
Moreover, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, despite knowing the clear will of Parliament, as expressed through Bill , has publicly stated that it will be up to the federal government to make it clear that businesses are not required to maintain registration-type records. This is what the proposed regulations our government has introduced will accomplish.
The regulations before you today make clear that businesses would not be required, as a condition of a licence, to collect or retain information regarding the transfer or purchase of a non-restricted firearm. While businesses may choose to keep point-of-sale records for their own purposes, such as inventory or warranty, they cannot be required, as a condition of their business licences, to keep records that link the long gun to a specific owner.
The regulations our government has proposed pursuant to the Firearms Act will remove any ambiguity with respect to the creation of a federal registry by the back door.
Our position on the long-gun registry is quite clear. It does nothing to help put an end to gun crimes. It criminalizes hard-working and law-abiding citizens. It has not stopped a single crime or saved a single life. According to the CBC, it has cost over $2 billion—money that is far better spent elsewhere.
Canadians do not want or need this boondoggle reintroduced under the guise of collecting and storing information concerning the lawful acquisition of legal firearms by law-abiding citizens.
Our government delivers on our commitments to Canadians, and this is what we have done with Bill , which is now the law of the land. It is what we are continuing to do with the introduction of regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act.
The issue of effective firearms control is an important one—one that has been debated in this country for years. All of us see the fallout from gun-related crimes in Canada. Our government is committed to protecting Canadians and ensuring that people feel safe on their own streets and in their own homes.
In this light, it is imperative that we have effective ways of dealing with gun crime. Since we were elected in 2006, our government has been committed to doing just that, to making our streets and communities safer for all Canadians. We've followed up that commitment with concrete and tangible initiatives to get tough with criminals and to help prevent crime before it happens.
I'm certain that all Canadians are concerned with preventing crime. We all want to make sure that our streets and our communities are safe. We all want to ensure that guns don't fall into the hands of criminals or are used to commit grievous crimes.
That is really what the legislation to repeal the long-gun registry is all about. It's about making sure that we continue to preserve and enhance those measures that do work to reduce crime and protect Canadians. It's also about making sure that we don't necessarily penalize millions of honest and law-abiding citizens with rules that have little effect on crime prevention or on reducing gun crime.
Bill retains the existing controls for restricted and prohibited firearms, but it eliminates the need for honest, law-abiding citizens to register their non-restricted rifles or shotguns—a requirement that has no impact on reducing gun crimes in Canada.
The regime now in place, thanks to the royal assent of Bill C-19, is one that makes sense and one that our government and many law enforcement officials believe will work to effectively protect the safety and security of law-abiding citizens. The regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act, which we have introduced, will ensure this remains the case in the future.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, thank you very much for attending committee today. I would like to say congratulations for your steps here in closing off what I think has been viewed by Canadians, particularly the northern Canadians I represent, and has been aptly described as a backdoor loophole to maintain a registry.
I think we were very clear with Canadians in our campaign commitments during the last election. You aptly described in your notes today that the spirit and the intention of Bill was quite clear. I think that was clear when we talked to our constituents about it. It was clear during debate. It was very clear during all the votes that took place in the House of Commons.
Now, unfortunately, we're having to go these extra steps because the spirit and the intention of what we put forward hasn't been respected.
When we look at which governments, which sides of the House, are committed to ensuring Canadians aren't needlessly turned into criminals or aren't treated in a criminal fashion, this is another example of our government being the only government with a crystal clear agenda to make sure that law-abiding Canadians aren't impacted by this kind of legislation.
I will say, with one caveat, we are the only government with a clear direction in that, but we aren't necessarily the only members of Parliament who believe the long-gun registry was wasteful, ineffective, and misguided. Members of the opposition stood and voted along with our government on that. One of the members, from , who sits on this committee but is conspicuously missing today, voted along with the government.
Can you expand on the history of this, from an 11-year-plus message that you would have from your experience as a longer-term member of Parliament and minister, how long this has been going on for Canadians, and what this will mean to finally bring this to an end?
Thank you, Mr. Leef, I appreciate the comments and the questions.
What I did want to say is that my involvement with this particular file goes beyond my experience as a federal MP and goes to the time when I was the Attorney General of Manitoba, where I told the federal government at the time that introduced this legislation, the long-gun registry, that Manitoba would not enforce this legislation and that if the federal government wanted the legislation enforced, it would be up to the federal government to do it.
At the time, Allan Rock, the minister who came to see me about that issue indicated that he would sue me if we didn't enforce the long-gun registry, and I said, “Fine, sue me.” So we're still waiting for that lawsuit, which has not occurred yet.
I would note, of course, that in Manitoba the government that succeeded our government, the NDP, have stood very firmly against the long-gun registry. They recognize that it doesn't do anything in terms of actually preventing crime, and I appreciate their support on that particular file.
As you have pointed out, there are people on both sides of the House who recognize, and will admit publicly, that this is not a measure that was effective at all. So we are simply carrying out our promise to eliminate the long-gun registry. We did that.
What bothers me about this particular regulation though is the fact that I think it's redundant. I think the legislation is clear in itself, but many store owners and gun ranges and the like are very concerned about the CFOs—who seem to be acting on some type of authority of their own, which is not supported by the Firearms Act—and they're asking for clarity. Even though we believe it is clear enough and we believe the CFOs have no authority to make these demands to collect information that would in fact recreate the long-gun registry, we agreed that we would bring in a regulation to make it absolutely clear that under the Firearms Act a CFO has no authority to link the purchase of a firearm with the licence that these individuals have to sell these firearms.
I think it's an important step. It reaffirms our commitment in this respect. We don't want it to be ambiguous, therefore we're seeking to pass this regulation.
Thank you, Minister.
I didn't think I would have to come back here. After all the meetings we have held on Bill , I thought this case was closed. You have presented a notice of regulation. That is a bit of a surprise because, when we were debating Bill C-19, the government, you, your committee colleagues and the people strongly in favour of abolishing and destroying the registry data were saying that there was no need to worry. You were saying that what you call the ledger was there, that the information came from businesses that sell
the long guns and the non-restricted arms, and not to worry, we will be able to keep track without being a long-gun registry. So what became of that phrase? Are you standing by what you said before, which is, and I'll quote you,
They can still do that through the records of the shop that sold the firearms, the importer to whom that gun was sent. In the case you're mentioning, most of those guns would probably never even have been sold in that brief period of time.
Gun shops, in fact, keep records of their sales and those records can be accessed through a warrant or other appropriate provisions.
Will that still be possible with your regulations? Will we have the information needed, in case we need to be able to go back to a store and see who sold to whom and so on, or will your regulations just wipe everything out?
Hon. Vic Toews: Okay. Yes.
Ms. Françoise Boivin: That's where we have such a clear and simple answer. So you do think that it would be recreating it through a back door?
Hon. Vic Toews: Yes.
Ms. Françoise Boivin: Where is the criminal offence that used to be there with the gun registry, and so doing by your CFOs, which I've always understood was the main problem with your CSSA, who's part of your team of advisers and so on?
What was hurting at the time was that they felt criminalized. How come if I go to RadioShack and buy the computer that you talked about or even if I buy a non-restricted gun and they ask for my name, how does it make me feel as if I'm guilty of something? It's just keeping a record. Doesn't it make sense with guns?
I think the commissioner understood very clearly the intention of the legislation, and it's not the commissioner's role to determine policy. That's the role that we as parliamentarians have, and we bring various points of view to Parliament in order to pass that legislation.
Some of the CFOs are under more direct provincial control. Some are under federal control, such as in Manitoba where I said we wouldn't enforce the Firearms Act on the registry, and they then had to appoint a federal CFO as opposed to a provincial one.
What was quite astounding was that in the clear face of the spirit of the legislation, CFOs essentially said they were not going to respect that. They were going to demand the same information through a different vehicle, by attaching conditions to a licence, jeopardizing people's livelihood. It was quite astounding that a government regulator in the face of the legislation would say this is not what they were going to do. They were going to accomplish the same end through a different means. That's disrespectful of Parliament.
I think the commissioner saw that very clearly, and he issued a letter to all serving CFOs across Canada telling them they didn't have the authority to make the keeping of anything resembling the long-gun registry a condition of a gun shop's business licence.
As I indicated earlier to the NDP member, a general power to attach conditions to a licence cannot grant authority to specifically fly in the face of a specific legislative provision. I think that's what is very troubling about this particular case.
Even though I believe the regulation is redundant, I think it does give, not only additional clarity to the intent of the law, but the right for business shop owners to stand up when a CFO comes into their shop and say, “Look, I have this regulation here. This is what it says, and what you're telling me is directly contradicting this regulation.” It provides that business owner with a measure of protection.
As I've said, if the business wants to keep that information for its own purpose, whether it's a warranty purpose or tax purposes or whatever purposes, that's their business. If a province wants to regulate that business, they can bring forward legislation or appropriate regulations to require the keeping of that information. That's the business of the province. But they can't go on the back of the Firearms Act, which clearly prohibits the collecting of that information. It cannot be used.
The federal Firearms Act is criminal legislation. This gets back to the point here. In fact, it's a criminal statute. If a province wants to regulate it as property and civil rights, they can do that under section 92 of the Constitution Act and deal with it in that way.
So I guess even if it is regulatory under the harmful products act, just the fact that somebody can come into my home, if I'm running a business in my home, on the basis of a suspicion that the product I'm selling is not safe...that's a fairly serious infringement. Now, maybe it's reasonably justified, but here's what I'm trying to get at. Yes, I understand that gun-shop owners don't want to feel intimidated. I understand that, but we're not dealing with an innocuous product here; this is a.... I understand that 99% of gun owners, long-gun owners, are law-abiding citizens. I know many myself, and I've said in the House that they're the pillars of the community.
On the other hand, we're not dealing with an innocuous product. It's something that could be misused. My understanding was that the green book was a way of encouraging or even requiring a gun-shop owner to check if the purchaser of the gun has a valid licence, because I think they have to enter that information. Now, the law requires that someone be sure that the buyer has a licence before they can sell them a gun. But what you're doing, it seems to me, is that you're making it more likely that somebody won't check if there's a licence.
I'll give you an example. In the United States, you cannot sell a gun to somebody who is not lawfully entitled to own one, so you would think that a seller would verify that the person has a licence before selling to them. But an investigative reporter did a story wherein he posed as someone who wanted to buy a gun over the phone or on the Internet and sort of hinted to the seller that he didn't have a licence. What he said to the seller was, “Look, I'm just telling you, you wouldn't want to necessarily sell me a gun if you knew...”. The seller went ahead and sold anyway.
So I'm just a little concerned that there are some retailers.... And I'm not impugning all retailers, but we know there are retailers who sell to underage kids. Some retailers might say that they're not really going to check whether that person has a licence or not, and by getting rid of the green book you're essentially making it easier for them to get away with that. I think that's a concern. That's a valid concern. That has to be weighed against the desire to not have retailers feel intimidated by the state.
I think that's a valid concern and I'd like your comment on that.
I find that last comment interesting, because now I feel like you're shifting your interest in the sense that all through Bill it was about the hunters, the good law-abiding hunters, about the sportsmen, about the collectors. Now I feel that where you're going is that you're now the protector of the gun shops, which, we can agree, is a totally different situation, because if the onus to keep the ledger.... It's not an infraction on the person who buys; it's an infraction on the gun-shop owner, who is not asking or keeping.
Where I have a hard time following your government's position on this is that even those who were your advisers—and am I mistaken when I say—like Mr. Bernardo, who was super happy the day you filed those regulations? He has said throughout, through all the meetings he went through all the years, through all shape and form of the different types of bills you presented.... He said, “That green book has been the status quo for at least 30 years.”
I mean, it's a long time that the green book has been there. It's still there now, to this day. Even with the registration, merchants still have to do that. They have to maintain that book.
And even in front of the Senate standing committee:
Remember that all businesses are required to keep records mandated by the chief firearms office of the province that they live in. To remove the record from this registry does not remove their obligation to keep business records. Business records are mandated by the chief firearms office in the issuance of a business permit.
As well, “The RCMP only runs part of the program.” And I could go on and on.
Gun-shop owners have been highlighting the importance of the ledger. Brad Thomas, owner of Lake Huron Rod and Gun, talked to the Owen Sound Sun Times:
“You talk to any gun store, they are happy with the ledger,” said Thomas. “I don’t want this ledger to go away and I don’t know too many businesses that would.”
In a sense, as my colleague previous was just saying, it's kind of a protection on the gun-shop owner. If there's something happening with some long gun, some non-restricted gun, wouldn't you prefer to be on the safe side? And that we had, because all your....
Despite all your arguments for abolishing the gun registry—you said it would not have protected a single life, since someone with a gun would have committed murder anyway—this registry has still had a positive impact. We have seen evidence of that here in the committee. We have learned that, in an investigative context—after the fact—the registry has been useful.
The registry no longer exists, but at least, certain information on guns sold is kept, even if those are non-restricted guns.
I would just like to say that, on the record, Thomas Mulcair came out and said that he would bring the registry back, so I don't know what we're hearing right now.
At any rate, I'd just like to say that there are a lot of socialists, a lot of free enterprisers, and a lot of communists in northern Ontario, but they're all united on one thing, Mr. Minister. This is the most popular legislation—and I'm speaking about Bill —that probably was ever passed for the residents of northern Ontario, so on behalf of the residents of northern Ontario, thank you very much for leading that legislation.
We know as well that there's a lot of pushback on this. The Ontario premier has not been exactly cooperative. Would it be accurate to say that actions such as these of the CFOs like Mr. Wyatt forced you, really, to act on behalf of law-abiding Canadian gun owners in terms of further regulations introduced?
You know, I wouldn't even attempt to guess that. I remember when, of course, Allan Rock brought forward the long-gun registry, and he said it would be a net of $2 million. That ballooned. You have estimates from $1 billion to the CBC's estimate of $2 billion. I don't know who's right on that, but certainly it's north of $1 billion.
People have said to me, well, by just simply getting rid of it, aren't you wasting an asset that's worth $2 billion? In fact, just because you pay $2 billion for something doesn't mean it's worth a dime. This is truly the case with the long-gun registry. It is so out of date. It is so full of errors. There isn't, to my knowledge, a police officer in Canada who would, on the basis of the registry, say, “I'm going to go through that door. The registry says there are no guns in this house, so therefore I don't have to worry about a gun.” There is a not a police officer in Canada who would be foolish enough to think that.
In terms of real security, the best security is good training of police officers on the ground to deal effectively with these criminals who, in fact, use guns against their fellow citizens.
Well, look, if we're getting back to the cost, obviously in a province like Ontario the cost would be staggering in terms of recreating a long-gun registry.
I think if Ontario is really concerned about cracking down on crime, then police officers, and stronger laws, in certain respects, as we have given them.... The reverse onus on bail, for example, for those who use firearms in the course of a robbery is I think a very effective tool. It's a very subtle tool but a very effective tool. Police in Vancouver are telling me now that criminals simply don't go out carrying a gun just for show. When they carry a gun, it's for a specific purpose.
Now, that's not good either, but the point is that we reduced the number of people actually carrying guns out on the street because they fear that if they're caught with guns, they won't get bail. And if they don't get bail, they can't go about their drug and other racketeering.
I just have one little statement here. I've been elected five times as a member of Parliament, and this has been, to my constituents, a major issue. My riding very clearly wanted to see the end of the long-gun registry.
This week I was approached by an individual who came up to me and showed me his firearms acquisition licence. He showed it with a great deal of pride. When he brought it up to me, I looked at it and wondered why he was showing it to me. Was there an error on it? Did he have to get it renewed? I didn't know what it was.
Really, he came up and showed it to me because he was proud that he had gone through the process of receiving a licence. He'd had a criminal check done and he'd had a safety course. He'd gone through this and he was now licensed to have it. But he was very pleased that there was no registry. He even asked that we thank the government and thank you specifically for that.
Mr. Minister, thank you for appearing here.
Ms. Hoeppner has her hand in the air.
Just a second, please, if you don't mind.
The Chair: Go ahead.
Ms. Françoise Boivin: I see that you're quick. You're as quick as a firearm.
I just have an amendment, if possible. I would amend...because I do think that the minister, solely, is not enough. The parliamentary secretary talked about having discussed with stakeholders, and I would love to see who was consulted before they presented those regulations.
I do think there is a need, just to be on the safe side. I cannot believe that the government wants to wipe out a big, important factor for gun shops without hearing at least from the police association, or anybody from the CFOs, to see exactly what's happening. I don't think it's very prudent or wise or even “sane”, in some aspects.
I'm sorry for the word. It's not the word I'm looking for in English.
It is not very wise or reasonable. We can have another meeting to talk to a few other witnesses or have the list before we can make a decision.