Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to begin the third reading debate on Bill the ending the long-gun registry act. I thank the and the for allowing me the honour to lead off on this debate.
The legislation before us today fulfills a long-standing commitment of our government to stand up for law-abiding Canadians while ensuring effective measures to crack down on crime and make our streets and communities safer for all Canadians. The bill before us today is quite simple. It would put an end to the need for law-abiding hunters, farmers and sports shooters to register their non-restricted hunting rifles and shotguns. It is nothing more and nothing less.
For those who are not familiar with this issue, there were two requirements to gun ownership in Canada. One was registration and the other was licensing. I am sure by now that my hon. colleagues on both sides of the House are very familiar with my position on Bill . I feel that laying a piece of paper beside a firearm, which is called registration, does nothing to improve public safety.
Instead of explaining my position over again, I have decided to simply highlight testimony from several expert witnesses who appeared before the public safety committee as it studied Bill last November. There is a recurring theme in all of their remarks and the four elements of that theme are: First, the long gun registry has been a colossal waste of money; second, it has targeted law-abiding gun owners, not the criminal use of firearms; third, it has done nothing to enhance public safety; and fourth, the data is so horribly flawed that it must be destroyed.
For the rest of my remarks, I will read into the record witnesses' testimony. The first person I will quote is Mr. Greg Farrant of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters who had this to say about Bill :
A paper trail of trained, legal, licensed firearm owners does not address the real problem. Even a well-run registry, which this is not, will not prevent random violent crime. Believing in that ignores the glaring reality that the vast majority of criminals don't register firearms; and in the rare case when they do, a piece of paper and the creation of a system where possibly 50% of the firearms in Canada are not included does nothing to anticipate the actions of an individual, nor do anything to prevent such actions in the first place.
In the case of the long-gun registry, there's a glaring absence of fact-based evidence to support its existence. Suggestions that gun crime in Canada has declined since the introduction of the long-gun registry under Bill C-68 ignores the fact that gun crime, particularly gun crime using long guns, has been on the decline in this country since the 1970s, two decades before this registry ever came into being. Crimes committed with long guns have fallen steadily since 1981. Bill C-68 was not introduced until 1985 and wasn't mandatory until 2005.
The present system focuses all of its efforts on law-abiding firearms owners and includes no provisions for tracking prohibited offenders, who are most likely to commit gun crimes.
This should be about who should not have guns rather than about who does.
Another prominent argument we've already heard here today is how many times per day the system is used by police. ... We've recently heard 14,000 and 17,000. ... The vast majority of so-called hits on the registry have little or nothing to do with gun crime. The majority of these are cases of an officer maybe stopping a vehicle for a plate identification or an address identification, which automatically touches all databases, including the long-gun registry, despite the fact that the check has nothing to do with firearms in the first place.
The next quote I will read is from Solomon Friedman, who is a criminal defence lawyer. He stated:
You will no doubt hear in the coming days and weeks from various interest groups about how the long-gun registry is a minor inconvenience, merely a matter of paperwork. We register our dogs, our cats, and our cars, they say. Why not register our shotguns and rifles, as well? As you know, the registration scheme for non-restricted long guns, and for prohibited and restricted firearms as well, is enacted as federal legislation under the Criminal Code and under the Firearms Act.
With the criminal law power comes criminal law procedure and, most importantly, for the nearly two million law-abiding licensed gun owners in Canada, criminal law penalties. Unlike a failure to register a pet or a motor vehicle, any violation of the firearms registration scheme, even the mislaying of paperwork, carries with it the most severe consequences: a criminal charge, a potential criminal record, detention, and sometimes incarceration. This is hardly comparable to the ticket under the Provincial Offences Act or the Highway Traffic Act....
In addition, registry violations are often grounds for colourable attempts on the part of police, the crown, and the chief firearms officer to confiscate firearms and revoke lawfully obtained gun licences. ...long-gun registry violations used as a pretext to detain individuals, search their belongings and their homes, and secure evidence to lay additional charges.
Parliament ought not to be in the business of transforming licensed, law-abiding, responsible citizens into criminals, especially not for paper crimes.
There are millions of Canadian gun owners who will be glad to know that in the halls of Parliament Hill, hysteria and hyperbole no longer trump reason, facts, and empirical evidence.
...the registration of firearms, aside from having no discernible impact on crime or public safety, has merely alienated law-abiding firearms owners and driven a deep wedge between gun owners and law enforcement.
The next quotation is from Sergeant Murray Grismer of the Saskatoon police service. He said:
...the registry for non-restricted rifles and shotguns...should be abolished. Thousands of police officers across Canada, who are in my opinion the silent or silenced majority, also share this position.
...the Canadian Police Association...adopted their position without ever formally having polled their membership.
The Saskatchewan federation is the only provincial police association that polled its entire membership on the issue of the registration of firearms. When polled, the Saskatoon Police Association was 99.46% against the registry, while our compatriots in many of the other Saskatchewan police forces were 100% in opposition to the registry.
...the registry can do nothing to prevent criminals from obtaining or using firearms. École Polytechnique, Mayerthorpe, Spiritwood and Dawson College are synonymous with tragic events involving firearms. However, the firearms registry for long guns would not, could not, and did not stop these tragic events. The retention of the firearms registry or records will do nothing to prevent any further such occurrences. ...even Canada's strict licensing regime and firearms registry cannot prevent random acts of violence.
For the officers using the registry, trusting in the inaccurate, unverified information contained therein, tragedy looms at the next door. ... Knowing what I do about the registry, I cannot use any of the information contained in it to square with a search warrant. To do so would be a criminal act.
Projections from within the Canadian Firearms Centre privately state that it will take 70 years of attrition to eliminate all of the errors in the registry and to have all of the firearms currently in Canada registered. This level of inaccuracy is unacceptable for any industry, let alone law enforcement.
Constable Randy Kuntz of Edmonton stated that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said that police officers support the registry but that he was one who did not. He went on to state:
I conducted a self-funded survey of 2,631 heroes of law enforcement across this country. They were all identified by their police-issued e-mail. They were all serving police officers. Of the 2,631 who responded to me between March 2009 and June 2010, 2,410 were in favour of scrapping the long-gun registry. In April 2011, the Edmonton Police Association surveyed its members: 81% voted to scrap the long-gun registry.
I'm also a victim. In my personal life, I have 15 friends, teammates, classmates, and co-workers who have committed suicide with a firearm. I also have three friends who were murdered with a firearm.
I am still sitting here in front of this committee telling you that I do not support a firearms registry. I tell you that it does not save lives.
Ontario police officer Constable John Gayder had this to say:
The Firearms Act and its long-gun registry were marketed to law enforcement as a tool to target the criminal misuse of firearms, but only six of its 125 pages deal with increased penalties for criminals. The other 119 pages are aimed squarely at law-abiding Canadians who own or seek to own firearms....front-line officers...want funding to go toward things that have been proven to assist in the detection and apprehension of real criminals. They don't want money wasted on dreamy, ivory tower ideas like the long-gun registry, which are costly, ineffective, and drive a corrosive wedge between them and the public they are sworn to protect.
I have another quotation from police officer Sergeant Duane Rutledge of the New Glasgow Police Service in Nova Scotia. He said:
My experience is that these people take their weapons and share them with their friends and family. They have other people who will hold the weapons for them. That's part of the issue with the whole registry. An individual registers the guns, but there's no way to track where that person keeps his weapons....As a front-line police officer, I believe there are more hidden guns today...This, therefore, makes it more dangerous for me now, because I'm guessing every time I go to a house if I rely on the registry to give me the facts. I don't believe it can do that, simply because there are so many people who haven't registered guns.
I would like to continue with another quotation from Sergeant Rutledge. He said:
I'll go back to the female police officer who was shot in Quebec. She had full belief that the person was prohibited from having firearms and she let her guard down. Complacency is what gets police officers killed. I'd rather have no hope than false hope.
That one point alone is key to this debate. Could it have cost a life?
I would like to now quote from Linda Thom, the Canadian Olympic gold medal winning shooter, who said:
—I’m accorded fewer legal rights than a criminal. Measures enacted by Bill C-68 allow police to enter my home at any time without a search warrant because I own registered firearms, yet the same police must have a search warrant to enter the home of a criminal. I’m not arguing that criminals should not have this right—they should. I’m arguing that this right should be restored to me and all Canadian firearms owners.
Ms. Hélène Larente, volunteer coordinator of a Quebec women's hunting program, had this to say:
As a hunter, I don't think it is fair that we are being treated like criminals...the registry does not protect women any more than it does society as a whole. The fact that a firearm is registered does not mean that it will not be used, either against women or anyone else....I am in charge of an orientation program. Women who participate in that orientation learn how to handle guns and realize that the gun itself is not dangerous.
I asked Ms. Larente if the long gun registry had a negative effect on people getting into the hunting and shooting sports in Quebec. Her answer was:
That certainly has a negative effect...If we are stopped, we are seen as criminals because our gun is registered....We risk committing an offence if we forget our registration.
My next quotation comes from Ms. Diana Cabrera of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. She had this to say:
—I'm an international competitor shooter. Although I'm Canadian, I currently compete for the Uruguay national team...The challenge of obtaining the public safety goals of the firearms...are major concerns...the fear of confiscation, the perceived social stigma of firearm ownership and demonization, and the many costs and burdensome processes involved....There is no question that the long-gun registry has deterred individuals from entering their shooting sports....The main issue for competitive participants is the fear of imminent criminality. They may easily find themselves afoul of uniformed law enforcement or CBSA officers, even if all the paperwork is in order. Any paperwork error may lead to temporary detention, missed flights, missed shooting matches, and confiscation of property....Law enforcement and media coverage of firearm issues have made this situation even worse. Firearm owners are subject to spectacular press coverage in which reporters tirelessly describe small and very ordinary collections of firearms as an 'arsenal'....Will I be targeted at a traffic checkpoint if a CPIC verification says I possess firearms?
Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, talked about the number of firearms owners of guns in Canada. He said:
Based upon the Canada Firearms Centre's polling figures, in 1998 there were 3.3 million firearms owners in Canada. On January 1, 2001, 40% of Canadian gun owners--over 1 million people--became instant criminals.
Fewer than half the guns in Canada are actually in the registry....Getting the ones that are out there to actually come into the system would be like pulling teeth....To get those people to come forward now, you would have to go right back to the very basics of the act and change the very premise of the act; the first sentence says that it's a criminal offence to possess a firearm without a licence.
Professor Gary Mauser of Simon Fraser University introduced some interesting research findings. He said:
First, responsible gun owners are less likely to be accused of homicide than other Canadians. Second, the police have not been able to demonstrate the value of the long-gun registry. Third, the long-gun registry has not been effective in reducing homicide. Fourth, the data in the long-gun registry are of such poor quality that they should be destroyed.
Maybe I will have more time to deal with some of his statistics later.
From Greg Illerbrun:
I am a former RCMP officer as well as a past provincial president of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation...the thousands of people I represent support the permanent elimination of the registry.
This...targets law-abiding citizens, but does little to stop the criminal use of firearms. That approach is fundamentally wrong.... Registries do not work to stop crime....Government inspectors--not police services--can enter your home without a warrant based on the suspicion that there is a firearm, ammunition, or documentation of a firearm....the Firearms Act removes your right to remain silent. Inspectors can demand that you tell them where your firearms are...and if you do not assist them you can be charged and put in jail....We're all criminals, because the mere possession of a firearm makes you a criminal....Criminals enjoy more rights than firearm owners....We support gun control; we just support gun control that is effective and focuses on the real problem, not the legal and law-abiding owner.
There are so many quotations that I would still like to read. Maybe I will do some of them in questions and comments.
Dr. Caillin Langmann, an emergency medicine resident in Hamilton noted:
I treat suicide and violence on a daily basis....the money that has been spent on the long-gun registry is unfortunately wasted; however, we can prevent further waste by taking the money we currently spend on the long-gun registry and spending it on...women's shelters; police training in spousal abuse; and psychiatric care, which is sorely lacking in this country. We are not winning the battle against suicide.
I would like to quote from Mr. Donald Weltz. He is a retired Ontario conservation officer with 32 years of service. He said:
—the registering of long guns does nothing to increase the safety of the public. The fact that a long gun has been registered does not prohibit that firearm from being used by an individual with criminal intent. It is not the long gun that commits the criminal act, but the individual in control of that long gun...I have heard people ask why individuals would be upset with registering their long guns. We have to register our vehicles, they say, so what's the difference?...I would ask this question: has the fact of registering our vehicles he number of impaired drivers? In an impaired driving situation, is the vehicle the problem or is it the driver who decided to drive while their ability was impaired with alcohol?...even though I probably had the ability to check that registry ahead of time...I chose not to, and I did so specifically so that my mind would not have some kind of little innuendo hiding there that would lead me to take my guard down for a split second....If you have the perception that there is nothing there that really can hurt you, you have a tendency to not be as careful as you should be.
I have more comments but I will have to finish them later.
Mr. Speaker, I think I am even sadder than the member opposite who just spoke to be talking about Bill for what is probably the last time before it goes to the Senate, which is overrun with partisan Conservative appointees. The Senate is supposed to be above partisanship but I will not waste my breath talking about that.
First, I would like to point out that I am one of the people who participated in all stages of Bill . I was there at first reading. I participated in the debates at second reading. I sat on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which examined Bill . This committee is not very aptly named, nor is this bill even related to public safety. I am not questioning the words of the member opposite who just said, with a straight face, that he changed his mind on the subject. I do not know what hit him but it must have been quite heavy.
From the outset, I have been in favour of maintaining the firearms registry. In fact, I was in favour of creating it. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to quickly forget history, and that is why we keep making the same damn mistakes all the time. We are forgetting why the registry was created. The firearms registry was created under Bill C-68. I would like to give a short history lesson. I would like to tell you what really happened, since the Conservatives like to reinvent history.
This bill was introduced because, in 1989, a deranged man entered the École Polytechnique with the expressed intention of shooting the young women who were going to school there. He had mental health problems, but whatever the reasons, this crazed gunman entered the school, targeted people and killed them. We must remember this. My heart bleeds for these victims. Yet since that time, the Conservatives have been constantly using the issue of abolishing the firearms registry to gain political advantage. They have turned it into their pet issue, as though Canada would crumble if we kept the firearms registry.
All this time, the parents, friends, sisters and brothers of Geneviève Bergeron, Nathalie Croteau, Anne-Marie Edward, Maryse Laganière, Anne-Marie Lemay, Michèle Richard, Annie Turcotte, Hélène Colgan, Barbara Daigneault, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Leclair, Sonia Pelletier, Annie St-Arneault and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz have not forgotten them. We have not forgotten these women either.
But that does not mean that the NDP proceeded blindly with respect to the gun registry. Our caucus examined the issue carefully. Some members did not want to change a thing, but other members from other regions saw things differently. We have to remember how the legislation came to be. When politicians are inspired by historic events like that one and begin a crusade to create related legislation, the result is not always well thought out. That is not to say the legislation cannot be improved down the line.
The goal was for our society, our country, to have a record of who owns guns and how many they own in order to ensure that the individuals have the right to own those guns, that they are storing the weapons safely, and that they do not intend to use them for criminal purposes. Is it a threat to public safety for a society to seek that assurance? If so, what a terrible society. This is not a perfect system, but if we have to choose between scrapping it entirely and improving it, I think we would be better off improving it.
Yes, it was expensive to develop and implement, but I am tired of hearing Conservative members repeat, ad nauseam, that the registry cost $2 billion.
Once and for all, can they stop treating us like imbeciles? The registry as a whole, and its implementation, have been exaggerated and decried by everyone. You do not, however, throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the Liberals did not know how to do their job. You try to improve things.
That is what we strove to do, on our side of the House. We listened to people with completely opposing points of view. We listened to those who said that the registry must not be touched. That is what we do in the NDP: we listen to what people have to say. We do not listen only to one category of individuals in society, as the members opposite have done on this issue. We listened to the concerns of hunters, aboriginal people, first nations and police chiefs. We listened to the concerns of almost all stakeholders so that we could attempt to eliminate the irritants.
Obviously, if you are a hunter, you do not want to be labelled a criminal for forgetting to register a weapon. However, what our colleagues opposite do not admit is that the irritants have been largely removed. There are now fewer complaints because of the armistice and the fact that there are incredibly generous time frames for the registration of firearms.
The group of members opposite see this as an opportunity to rejoice, as if abolishing the long gun registry were going to be the biggest victory seen this century in Canada. That is the plan, according to certain people on Twitter. I hope that the Conservatives will be humble in their victory because there are victims involved. I am not going to repeat the names of these people. I could speak about the Dawson College tragedy. The wounds are still fresh for those involved. We have heard that there will be a big party on February 15 because we will be gagged from that date onwards. We certainly will not have enough time to all be able to speak one last time on the issue. My crystal ball tells me that our friends across the way are going to silence us sometime soon. That is unfortunate, because there are still voices that have not been heard. I am not just talking about members. We do not speak just for ourselves; we speak on behalf of the constituents in our ridings.
The Conservatives are speaking on behalf of a minority of people and the National Rifle Association. There is perhaps no hard evidence that this is the case, but there is something fundamentally bizarre. As a lawyer, I know that when something factual seems to point to but one conclusion, even if not by direct association, there is a good chance that it will be fact. Given that the witnesses who appeared before us in committee are the same people who travel around the United States advocating that every American citizen should carry a weapon in their pocket, I can put two and two together and work out what truly motivates them.
When I talk to hunters—and there are many in my neck of the woods—I ask them what is the matter with the gun registry. The have told me that, at first, it was cumbersome, and that they did not know how it worked. They do not seem to really understand how it works. They also told me that, with time, they have gotten used to it, have registered their guns and do not talk about it.
In a similar vein, I can just imagine the debate that took place when the lawmakers introduced automobile licensing. People travelled by horse and buggy, and I am sure that there was not much registration. How did we establish the registration system when we began driving cars? I am trying to imagine the debates that took place in the early days of Confederation.
That said, we do not have to get rid of something just because it irritates people. After conducting studies and having discussions with various people who were for or against the registry, we presented some very reasonable proposals to remove the irritants.
From the outset, I have tried to understand why our friends opposite have mounted such a visceral attack on the registry. Thinking of the victims does elicit great emotions in me and I do feel very sad. But I can still take Bill , read it and ask myself, what complaints do our Conservative friends have? First, they say that it does not save lives. No one here can confirm this.
When I asked the question in committee, it made the government's witnesses uncomfortable. It bothered them when I asked them whether they could tell me with certainty and with evidence to back their claims, that not one life had been saved thanks to the firearms registry. Chiefs of police came to tell us that they were using the registry. People in suicide prevention came to tell us that since the registry was established, suicide rates had dropped. Generally speaking, long guns are used for suicide. A smart person can put two and two together and realize that the number of suicides with a long gun goes down when there is a registry. The problem was that no one was able to tell me that the registry had not saved at least one life. Saving a single life is certainly worth $1 million or $2 million a year. If we can save a few lives a year, then so much the better.
Whether some people like it or not, the registry is that and more. I would not base my entire argument on the fact that the registry saves lives because often, people will counter the argument by saying that the registry did not prevent a man from gunning down women at the Polytechnique. That is the type of debate we are having. No one on this side of the House is claiming that the registry is going to prevent a mentally ill person from walking around with a legally obtained gun and doing whatever he wants with it. That is one of the Conservatives' arguments. However, evidence shows that the police have used the data in the registry in their investigations in order to find out how many guns a person possesses, and so forth.
After listening to about 10 witnesses who all had to answer the same question—if the registry saved even only one life—the Conservatives asked another person to appear. That individual came and told us with a straight face that, on the contrary, a police officer from Laval, from my province, had died because of the registry. The Conservative member said it himself earlier. It was the last straw. It is indecent to say such a thing. Not only is it indecent, but it demonstrates a total lack of respect for the person who died. There is so much evidence in this case. The people of Quebec know full well what happened. No one said that the police officer consulted the registry and determined that, because the individual did not have a weapon, because he did not have the right to own one, and because the court forbade him from owning a weapon, she could enter his residence, where she was then shot. Come on. How can someone say something like that? That is not what happened. A young police officer arrived at the individual's residence—and perhaps she did not have a lot of experience—and was the victim of a heinous crime. An individual who was not supposed to have a firearm had one. That is not something that could have been prevented, registry or no registry.
The government claims that it wants to protect public safety, but it is not doing the Canadian public any favours by using that kind of argument. I cannot tell the House that we will all feel safer if we pass Bill . After all this time, all these debates and all these studies, the Commissioner of Firearms submitted a nice report. The government made sure that it did not send us the report quickly enough so that we would have time to consult it when we were examining Bill C-19. I encourage the members opposite to read that report, particularly those who will be called upon to speak on the subject, so that they have something to say other than the registry is no good and the data are not valid. Why are the data not up to date? Because the Conservatives imposed a moratorium. It has been a number of years since anyone has registered, but the existing data are necessary.
Quebec wants to have the data transferred to it. How does transferring the data to Quebec hurt anyone? The province does not want to use the data to criminalize people. It has no jurisdiction when it comes to the Criminal Code. The friends of the members opposite who are hunters will not have a problem. If Quebec wants to legislate in this area and ensure that people with long guns are registered and wants to know how many weapons the registrants have, then the data will be useful.
Clause 11 of Bill includes a shocking loophole: I could own a legally obtained weapon and transfer ownership to my colleague on my right, and the only question I would be asked would be whether I had reason to believe that my colleague should not have a weapon.
Some people might contradict me on this, but honestly, I do not really get the sense that he should not have a weapon, so I transfer ownership of the weapon because I do not feel like having it anymore and I need the $300. So I give the weapon to my friend. If the Conservatives cannot see the loophole in that, then there is a problem. It is not safe.
Let us turn to the Commissioner of Firearms' report. From what I know, the commissioner is not a hysterical person or someone who is out of touch. The commissioner's report includes facts and is based on factual data collected year after year demonstrating how the registry works and how it is useful. I would encourage hon. members to read this report, because having read it, members cannot in all decency rise in this House and vote in favour of Bill because we know what steps have been taken to address all the irritants. And that is all the hunters, aboriginal peoples, first nations, gun collectors and the rest were asking us for: to have a way of registering a weapon without it being more worrisome and damaging than necessary. Everything is there, everything is permitted and registration hardly takes 15 minutes. Hold on. We may want to prevent the proliferation of weapons in circulation, but we will no longer be complying with our international treaties.
I am absolutely stunned that our friends across the way cannot see all the problems with Bill . I just cannot get over it.
They are doing this just so they can tell a few people in the Minister of Public Safety's circle that they went through with it. Some people have a visceral feeling about this. An athlete who appeared before the committee thinks it is appalling that she would be asked to register her weapon to take part in the biathlon. For crying out loud. I register my car. It is not a problem for me as long as it does not take two hours of my time and the process is simple. Every time we made this case to the Conservatives, it seemed less and less clear that registration was a problem for them.
In closing, there are so many things that need to be said. People write to me about this every day to share data with me. The public health authorities in Quebec are calling unanimously for the registry to be kept. This is important, and it has been proven that the registry has had an impact when comes to long guns.
I say to my colleagues once again, do not get caught up in the rhetoric from the Conservatives who like to amuse themselves by saying that the astronomical costs are associated with long guns. This is not true. The cost is for the registry as a whole. There are still other weapons that are included in the registry. The registry has not been abolished.
Some of the Conservatives in charge of the firearms file have no doubt been telling people that they will get what they want, and so, anyone listening now who believes those Conservatives is going to wake up with one heck of a headache the morning after the party on February 1. I guarantee it. There will still be a gun registry.
That $2 billion was spent setting up the entire registry. That is not the true cost since then. The cost is somewhere between $2 million and $4 million. When I calculate what has been spent on the anniversary of the War of 1812, when I see the millions spent on all kinds of celebrations for the Queen—though I have absolutely nothing against the Queen—I have to say that, in terms of logic, and as a legislator who wants her constituents to be safe, my heart bleeds today. What are we supposed to say to the people who worked from 1989 to 1995 to set up the registry? It will take nearly as much time to dismantle it as it took to create it. Wait and see how long it will take to destroy the data. That does not happen at the touch of a button. It will cost billions, and one day, people will talk about how much money the Conservatives wasted dismantling the long gun registry.
Mr. Speaker, this is the third time I have risen to debate this bill.
Before getting to the heart of my speech, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to three women, two of whom I have known since the 1990s. I am talking about Wendy Cukier and Heidi Rathjen, who, in the 1990s, spearheaded the movement to create a long gun registry. At the time, I was a political assistant to a member of the House, Clifford Lincoln, my predecessor. I did a lot of work with these two women, who obviously have continued the battle. However, their efforts are now taking a turn and are focused on protecting the gains we have made in the past 15 years or so.
The third woman I would like to pay tribute to is Suzanne Laplante-Edward, who also fought for the creation of the registry and who continues to fight to maintain it. Ms. Laplante-Edward, as we know, is the mother of Anne-Marie Edward, who was a victim of the massacre at École Polytechnique. I have gotten to know Ms. Edward in the past two or three years through the fight against the government's efforts to take this important public safety tool away from us.
I also have the honour of representing Ms. Edward in the House of Commons because she is one of my constituents. Ms. Edward is an iron lady in the best sense. She has a lovely personality, a tremendous heart and a strong social conscience, and she is as tenacious as a bulldog. I salute her work.
I want Ms. Laplante-Edward, Ms. Cukier and Ms. Rathjen to know that their efforts have not been in vain. Naturally, they must be discouraged to see the fruit of their labour destroyed. Still, like so many people across the country, I truly believe that, during its time, this registry no doubt saved lives that would have been lost to suicide or murder. Yes, lives were saved. Once again, I want to honour the work of these three women, but I should also point out that many others were part of this movement and made major contributions.
I would like to tackle what I would call the myths perpetuated by those seeking to dismantle the gun registry, or perhaps I should say, the false arguments advanced by some. The first myth, the first false argument, is that the long gun issue is relevant only to people living in rural parts of Canada and that the gun problem in urban areas is mostly about handguns.
Presenting the issue like that is cunning and very effective in terms of communications. I mentioned that the government had about 1,500 communications professionals on its payroll. That is very clever in terms of communications, but it is still a false dichotomy.
The government has been very shrewd in presenting this issue in very simplistic black and white terms, namely that the problem of guns in cities is a problem of handguns and that when we talk about long guns, we are talking about rural populations who need the long guns either to protect their agricultural operations or to pursue their traditional culture of hunting, as the hon. member across the way mentioned before. However, as I mentioned in my speech on second reading, this is a false dichotomy because more and more urban dwellers are buying long guns and replicas of guns they see in movies and video games. In fact, in the metropolis of Toronto alone, not a rural region but the great metropolis of Toronto, there are 287,000 non-restricted firearms registered. To say it is just a rural versus urban issue is a false argument.
The second myth or false argument is that all of these inquiries to the gun registry, some estimated to be as high as 17,000 per day, are a function of routine or perfunctory inquiries, for example, of a driver of a car who is receiving a parking ticket. In other words, all of these queries are said to be automatic and secondary to the rather routine and mundane primary queries. However, that is not what the committee heard from Mr. Mario Harel, chief of police of the Gatineau police service and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who told the committee:
There is truth to the fact that a number of these are what has been referred to as “auto-queries”. However these cases are rare, which we believe is an endorsement of the fact that law enforcement views this information as a valuable tool, a bit of information that, when combined with other information, assists in assessing a situation an officer may face.
The third myth or false argument is the idea that the registry has not been proven to save lives. There was a study presented to the committee by Étienne Blais, Ph.D., and Marie-Pier Gagné, M.Sc., and Isabelle Linteau showing that the registry does save lives. Let us put that aside for a moment, because we can get into a battle of studies and the hon. member for will bring up Dr. Gary Mauser's study and others. We can get into these battles between studies, but let us look at this from a logical, practical or common sense point of view. I know the party opposite likes to focus on practical, common sense arguments.
It is very hard to prove that the registry saves a life. Theoretically, it makes sense. Practically, it is very hard to prove. For example, it is impossible to prove that I made it to Ottawa via the highway today and remained alive because of the 100 kilometre an hour speed limit, which, by the way, I respect. It is very hard to prove that is why I am here speaking to the House today. In fact, there will be no headline tomorrow saying that the life of the member for Lac-Saint-Louis was saved because of the 100 kilometre per hour speed limit. I will not be a statistic, but we know that this speed limit saves lives. It is something that makes sense and it is very hard to prove that someone is alive because of either this speed limit or the registry.
A fourth myth or false argument is the idea that people are still killed with long guns even though we have a registry. I would stress that there is no policy instrument that can fully prevent that which it aims to prevent. It can only control that which is socially undesirable.
This is what I would call an ironclad law of public policy. Public policy is almost always based on the findings and recommendations of social science which itself by definition comes with associated margins of error.
I can boldly predict based on this ironclad law of public policy that dog bites will continue into the foreseeable future even by dogs that have been registered with city hall. I can put my money on that. I will also predict that car theft will continue into the future even though cars are registered with the province.
Unfortunately, it is clear to all of us that gun crimes will not disappear even should the registry by some miracle survive. There will be, unfortunately, future gun crimes, some of which will be quite heinous. It is unfortunate and this will happen even if the registry were to survive.
It is interesting that members opposite will say that registering guns just does not work because criminals do not register guns. I can see that point. Criminals do not register their guns. Therefore, that means criminals do not register their handguns. The only people registering handguns would be law-abiding citizens, as the members across the way like to invoke. As I said in my speech at second reading, the people in my riding who are gun owners are sterling citizens. They are the most active volunteers, conscientious and responsible, but that is not the point.
The point I am trying to make with respect to the handgun registry is that if the Conservatives were logical, they would say that registries do not work because criminals do not register firearms; therefore, they are getting rid of the long gun registry and they are getting rid of the handgun registry. Thankfully, they are not getting rid of the handgun registry. That points out the fundamental contradiction in their thinking on gun control.
The fifth myth or false argument is that the registry is wasteful and useless. I have heard that many times. We hear that from the on a continual basis. We have evidence from the police, including the RCMP. If the government does not buy the RCMP's evidence, then there is a problem between the government and the RCMP. There is a lack of faith in the RCMP by the government. There is concrete evidence that the registry helps with police investigations.
I will quote Mr. Mario Harel, the chief of the Gatineau police service and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who said that the elimination of the gun registry will add significant costs to their investigations, costs which will be downloaded to police services and lead to crucial delays in gaining investigative information.
The word “downloading” seems to come up a lot with the government. It downloads costs of the prison agenda and all kinds of other things to the provinces. Here is an example where again the government will be downloading costs, in this case to provincial and municipal police forces.
One does not have to take Mr. Harel's word for it. One just has to listen to what Matt Torigian, the chief of Waterloo Regional Police, has said about the long gun registry's usefulness in police investigations. He has given a couple of concrete examples. One is real and the other is more hypothetical, but based on typical cases that the police are involved with. He said:
We came across a crime scene recently with a man who was obviously deceased by gunshot and a long gun was at the scene. Because of the registry, we were able to trace the weapon to the person who had just sold it to the man who was deceased. We determined it was a suicide and the investigation stopped there.
We know from this example that if there had been no registry the police would have thought that maybe it was a crime and would have had to open up an investigation. Many hours of valuable police time would have been wasted looking for a perpetrator of a crime that was really a suicide.
Another example given by Chief Torigian is more hypothetical but no doubt commonplace. Say a group of thieves break into a farmhouse near Montreal and steal a shotgun. They saw it off to conceal it better under their clothes. They drive to Windsor, Ontario, where in the course of committing a bank robbery they drop the gun and flee the scene. Because of the registry, the police find out that the gun is owned by a Montreal man, a victim of theft. This might give the force a lot more leads to go on. For example, there might be witnesses to the break-in in Montreal. The registry would thus allow coordination of efforts between police departments in order to efficiently resolve the case and move on to something else.
There is more anecdotal evidence. The following example is from the 2010 RCMP firearms report, the one that was ready a while back but was only released on January 19 after the committee had finished its hearings on the bill:
A large municipal police force contacted CFP NWEST for assistance in recovering obliterated serial numbers on two firearms seized in a robbery and kidnapping investigation. After the serial number of one of the guns was restored, NWEST used the CFP’s Registry database to determine that the gun was registered to one of the suspects and had not been reported lost or stolen.
In another example the registry helped police link a grandfather's gun to his grandson who had perpetrated a gun crime. Again, I quote from the RCMP report:
CFP NWEST was asked to assist in a shooting investigation. They confirmed, through the Canadian Firearms Information System, the firearm was one of seven registered to the same individual, and it had not been reported lost, missing or stolen.
RCMP investigators met with the registered owner who was able to account for only four of his seven firearms. The subject was interviewed in order to establish a possible link between him and the shooting suspects.
As a result of the interview, the owner's grandson was identified as one of the accused in the shooting, and all seven firearms were accounted for in the follow-up interview of the accused. Numerous firearms-related charges were laid in relation to this incident.
The police caught the grandson. If the police had not caught the grandson by using the registry, the grandson might still be wandering around with a gun. Who knows what might have happened.
This is another point I would like to make about those who want to dismantle the registry. They will not admit to possibilities, and this is a fundamental error when it comes to social science. It is all about probabilities and possibilities.
Dr. Gary Mauser made a fine presentation at committee. It was quite rigorous and he was a very agreeable witness. This is not an attack on Dr. Mauser. After I gave him some examples of how it was plausible the registry might have saved lives, I asked him, in his opinion, in the 10 years the registry has existed is it not possible that one life may have been saved. I was not even asking Dr. Mauser was one life saved; I was asking him if it is not possible in this universe of probabilities that one life may have been saved. His answer was a categorical, “It's impossible”.
This is what we are dealing with. We are not dealing with open-minded thinking on this issue. We are dealing with categorical statements that actually are nonsensical when we really think about it. Ending the registry would be a mistake.
The Liberal Party in the last election campaign was quite cognizant of the fact that some legitimate law-abiding firearms owners feel criminalized by the system, that first-time failure to register not be a criminal offence, thereby compromising with one of the points the government is making. There was some movement on the issue. It would have solved the problem and it could have kept the registry. People would not have felt criminalized and Canada would be safer.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Prince George--Peace River.
It is a privilege to contribute to this debate and to speak in support of Bill the ending the long-gun registry act.
My riding of Okanagan--Coquihalla is a very diverse one. There are large urban cities, such as Penticton and West Kelowna, resource communities like Merritt and Okanagan Falls, and many rural regions, such as Logan Lake, Meadow Valley, Faulder and Willowbrook. For rural residents, this is an issue of great importance to them. It is one that I hear about weekly, and sometimes even daily. They ask me when the government will fulfill its commitment to end the long gun registry and why has it taken so long. I expect that I am not the only member of the House to get these kinds of questions.
I believe it is important to share with the House the frustration that I hear from the rural residents in my riding. They are law-abiding citizens and they are taxpayers, and yet they are forced to comply with a system created out of Ottawa that does nothing but inconvenience the lifestyle they work hard to enjoy.
Everyone in the House knows that criminals do not register their guns. It is often a repeated point in this debate but it is the truth. However, more important, we need to recognize that there are times when a registered gun is used to take a life. Recently, in my riding, a family lost a loved one as a result of domestic violence. Did the registered gun stop the alleged murderer from pulling the trigger? Sadly, it did not. For those people in society who are capable of taking a life, the fact that a gun may or may not be registered means nothing to them. The simple fact of the matter is that the long gun registry has not stopped crime, nor is it saving lives.
I have also listened to the opposition arguments in favour of the long gun registry. The opposition suggests that its greatest contribution is that it provides law enforcement with a record of where guns are, and not just where they are but what kinds of guns they are.
Those who followed the committee hearings for Bill last year will know that members heard testimony from numerous respected and experienced police officers. Those experienced officers told us that the information provided by the long gun registry was not reliable. I have met with many front-line officers who have made it very clear that they cannot rely on the registry to confirm if a gun may or may not be at that address. In fact, if officers were to rely solely on the long gun registry, they would be putting their life and the life of their colleagues at risk.
We also know that there are long guns that have never been registered and those that have not been registered properly, and situations where model numbers or catalogue numbers were used instead of serial numbers.
The long gun registry has been in place for over a decade. What are the results? The registry has not stopped crime, nor has it saved lives. Millions of dollars were spent on the registry and what are the results for the taxpayers? We have a database that front-line officers tell us that they cannot depend on.
I understand that most members of the opposition choose to ignore how this registry has adversely impacted many taxpayers in rural Canada. However, I will recognize the opposition members for and who have to date respected the wishes of their constituents.
This has been a difficult issue for many members of the opposition who come from rural ridings. It does not need to be difficult. Admitting that the long gun registry has been a failure is not an opinion, it is a fact. Rural Canadians know it and residents in my riding, who live in communities like Merritt, Logan Lake and Okanagan Falls, know it as well.
One of the challenges that many communities in my region are facing is an overpopulation of deer. On the surface it may not seem like a problem, however, deer destroy small gardens and can be aggressive to small animals and even adults. They also present a real danger to motorists. The reality is that fewer people are hunting these days, in part because of the burden and costs of dealing with issues like the long gun registry. In my riding, many residents have told me that they feel the quality of life in rural Canada is threatened. That is why I believe it is important we take action on their issue.
On May 2 of last year, Canadians made it clear that they were supporting a platform that would put an end to the wasteful spending of tax dollars on failed programs like the long gun registry. Therefore, let us instead work together on more effective gun control, like the requirement for people to have a licence before they can buy a rifle or a shotgun. We also need to ensure that before people get a licence they need to pass the Canadian firearms safety course. We also need to ensure that before people get a licence to own a rifle or a shotgun they must pass a background check. A background check involves things like a criminal record check and ensures that people are not under a court order prohibiting them from possessing a firearm.
I am proud to say that our government is now investing $7 million a year to make the screening process for people applying for a firearm's licence stronger. Bill would not change any of those requirements. In fact, no one would be able to buy a firearm of any kind without passing the Canadian firearms safety course, the background check and without having a proper licence.
I support the bill because it would eliminate a law that places an unnecessary burden on law-abiding Canadians. The bill would also free up resources that could be better spent on anti-crime initiatives to help make our streets safer.
We need to be honest with ourselves about the real gun problem in Canada. It is not just the legally acquired shotguns and rifles in the hands of our farmers and hunters that is the problem. While we continue to penalize them, it may seem like a solution to some members opposite, but doing so does not stop crime. A failed registry and a flawed database is not an answer.
Between 2005 and 2009, police in Canada recovered 253 firearms that had been used in the commission of a homicide. Some of those guns were registered, most were not. However, we need recognize that the registry failed 253 times to prevent crime, much as it failed in my riding last year. As a result, I cannot support a process that requires law-abiding, tax paying citizens to continue to dump money into a system that offers no tangible results.
Does it really makes sense to the opposition to continue to penalize rural taxpayers who often legally purchase a rifle for the protection of livestock or hunting game with family and friends? The long gun registry continues to penalize these citizens and yet it does nothing to address any of the real problems. We do have some real problems, such as the flow of illicit firearms being smuggled into Canada, and the firearms that are used as a commodity for criminal purposes.
I am convinced that we all want to reduce crime, especially gun crime, but the long gun registry is a failure and it is time we respect rural Canadians and admit it. That is why I speak in support Bill . We need to invest in programs that are effective and eliminate those that do nothing.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and participate in the debate on the ending of the long-gun registry act. My constituents have consistently told me to abolish the long gun registry. As we finally approach that goal, I am proud to support the repeal and the destruction of the registry.
Our Conservative government places a high priority on the safety and security of Canadians. However, we also place a high value on their freedom and ability to enjoy that safety. We have been working hard on initiatives and legislation to that end. Repealing the long gun registry is one of those efforts.
Supporters of the long gun registry often hold up the legislation as a key tool for keeping Canadians safe. In reality, it is nothing more than a costly database of information about law-abiding Canadians. It is essentially incapable of preventing any crime from occurring. I have yet to see a single piece of evidence that this has stopped a single crime or saved a single life. It is wasteful and it does not achieve its goals. It is time to get rid of it so we can focus on issues that will actually have a practical impact on the safety and security of Canadians.
The long gun registry has been expensive. This is an indisputable fact. The CBC, not known for its Conservative bias, has estimated a total cost of over $2 billion over the 17 years of the registry. Let me remind members that the former Liberal justice minister, Allan Rock promised it would not cost a cent more than $2 million. That is a hefty price to pay for a an inferior product, as we can all agree. The $2 billion could have gone a long way in other safety initiatives, including preventive action or rehabilitative programs.
Across this country, Canadians are working hard to provide for their families. They do not throw money away on items or services that are not beneficial or practical for them or for their families. It is time that we follow their lead and do away with the needless spending on the registry.
The long gun registry does a fine job of collecting the names of those using their long guns for sport and protecting their livestock. It does an awful job at stopping illegal activity, using guns that were never legally purchased or registered in the first place. That is because the people listed in the registry are individuals who have acquired and wish to use their long guns in legal ways.
They have followed their government's requirements. They comply because they wish to abide by the law. These people are not the ones committing gun crimes in Canada. This is the key reason that the long gun registry is an ineffective piece of legislation.
This is not a surprise to me, yet I suspect it will come as one to the opposition. Most criminal activity naturally operates outside of the law, hence its criminality. Guns used in crime are generally not legally purchased or registered. More often than not, they have been brought into Canada for criminal use and for that reason are never registered. This renders the registry useless in both tracking down criminals and protecting Canadians from harm.
The majority of Canadians have had enough of the long gun registry. I know that our government knows that. If my colleagues across the aisle were honest with themselves, they would be well aware of it, too. In fact, there are ridings all over Canada clamouring for this change regardless of the political party of the member they have elected to represent them.
I would like to focus on one riding in particular. The member for travelled across the Northwest Territories. He told all who would listen that he would stand up for northern values and vote to end the long gun registry. He even stood in a debate and said, “Vote for me, vote for the Conservatives. It is the same thing. We both will vote to end the long gun registry.”
Well, it is clear that the electoral promises of that member do not mean a whole lot.
To all reasonable people, this bill should be a win, win situation. It would lessen the constraints on our fellow Canadians and allow hunters, farmers and sports shooters to continue their lawful activity in peace.
Having discussed the costly nature of the registry, the ineffective structure of the registry and the Canada-wide request to repeal the registry, the conclusion of this debate should be obvious to all. It is essential that the long gun registry come to an end, and that it happen soon.
We are looking forward to the day that law-abiding Canadians can relax and know that their information has been completely destroyed. That is why Bill also includes a provision to destroy all data collected by the registry in the last 17 years. This aspect is extremely important, as it is necessary to protect innocent citizens from ever being targeted by their government again.
Canadians gave their support for the abolition of the registry last May. Our government stands by our promise to remove it from the federal level forever.
This is not a new issue in the House of Commons. Throughout the debate the word “ideology” has been bandied about quite a bit. At the end of the day, this war of words leads us nowhere.
Let us ignore ideology for a moment and summarize the simple facts. The long gun registry has never stopped a single crime or saved a single life. Billions of dollars have been spent. Members of Parliament on both sides of the aisle have heard from Canadians that they want the registry to be gone. Now is the time to do what we came here to do and serve Canadians by abolishing the long gun registry once and for all.
I and our Conservative government made a promise to the Canadian people that the long gun registry would be repealed and all data related to it would be destroyed. We stand firmly behind that promise and are dedicated to seeing that through. I encourage all members, especially those from rural and remote ridings, including those across the way, to stand up and speak for their constituents and vote in favour of ending the long gun registry once and for all.