Madam Speaker, the Conservatives have and will always support common-sense firearms regulations that keep Canadians and communities safe and respect their rights.
In Bill C-21, there are some things that the Conservatives have been calling for and can support. However, many things completely target the wrong people and the wrong groups, if the aim really is to improve and protect public safety. Also, crucial areas of concern are not addressed in the bill at all.
The Conservatives have always urged the Liberals to focus on and to target Canada's legislation and enforcement resources toward the primary source of most gun crime in Canada: illegally-smuggled firearms in the hands of gangs and criminals. That is why we support certain measures, like increasing the penalty for gun smuggling, something the Conservatives have advocated for years; authorizing disclosure to Canadian law enforcement agencies when there are reasonable grounds to suspect a firearms licence is used for straw purchasing; improving the ability of the CBSA to manage inadmissibility to Canada when foreign nationals commit offences upon entry into Canada, including firearms-related offences; and transferring the responsibility for transborder criminality from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
The Conservatives are committed to actually strengthening and securing public safety through real action to tackle gun crime head-on. The Conservatives have always said that we would increase funding and coordination for border security to clamp down on illegal firearms smuggling, restore mandatory minimum sentences to keep violent gang members off the street and focus on gangs and criminals instead of making life more difficult for law-abiding firearms owners and retailers by ending automatic bail, revoking parole for gang members and new and tougher sentences for ordering or involvement in violent gang crime.
The Liberals do the opposite. They are big on rhetoric but short on real action. In fact, the day after the Liberals announced Bill C-21, they announced Bill C-22, which, incredibly, would eliminate mandatory minimums for unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a weapon obtained by crime, weapons trafficking, reckless discharge of a firearm, discharge of a firearm with intent to wound or endanger a person and robbery with a firearm; so reductions for all of those sentences. Bill C-22 would reduce sentences for a number of other horrible offences, including sexual assault, kidnapping, human trafficking, abduction of people under 14, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The Conservatives focus on outcomes and whether laws will achieve objectives. What Bill C-21 proves is that the Liberals, as always, are more concerned with appearances. They play fast and loose with the facts, make up words to scare and ignore the actual problem. With Bill C-21, they would effectively trade on Canadians' fear and safety for short-term political gain. The reality is that taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals and gangs who obtain their guns illegally and already do not follow laws, do not get licences and do not care about firearms classifications. This just continues the Liberal government's ongoing preoccupation with taking firearms off of regulated ranges, while leaving illegal guns on the streets in the hands of those gangs and criminals who will never comply.
In June 2019, the former Toronto police chief was asked about banning handguns in Canada. He said:
I believe that would be potentially a very expensive proposition but just as importantly, it would not in my opinion be perhaps the most effective measure in restricting the access that criminals would have to such weapons, because we’d still have a problem with them being smuggled across the border
Of course, the former Toronto police chief to whom I am referring is the current Minister of Public Safety.
Bill C-21 would create conditions on federal firearms licences to restrict handgun storage or transport within municipalities that have passed such bylaws. Again, the bylaws would be conditions on licences. Therefore, this proposed measure literally, specifically and only targets lawful Canadians who already have the paperwork and comply with the rules. This section would lead to yet another layer of confusing, overlapping regulations and a patchwork of rules for already law-abiding Canadians within and between communities, while violations could result in two years imprisonment or permanent licence revocations and would do nothing to crack down on illegal gun smuggling, trading and gang crimes with guns.
Many law enforcement officials have already said that this measure would not be effective, including the current RCMP commissioner, the former OPP commissioner, the police chief of Vancouver, the former president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, representatives of the Winnipeg and Halifax police services and police chiefs of Regina and Saskatoon. Provinces are already speaking out against Bill C-21: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, whose premier said, “It's just not going to work.”
In 2019, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police did not support calls for a ban on handguns and the former president, Vancouver police chief, Adam Palmer said:
In every single case there are already offences for that. They’re already breaking the law and the criminal law in Canada addresses all of those circumstances...The firearms laws in Canada are actually very good right now. They’re very strict.
Former OPP commissioner Chris Lewis says:
This municipal handgun ban is ridiculous...It would only impact legal owners. The gangbangers are already possessing/carrying them in defiance of the Criminal Code and don’t fear police whose hands are tied and weak judicial systems.
Toronto Police Services president Mike McCormack says:
There's no way in my world or any world I know that this would have an impact on somebody who's going to go out and buy an illegal gun and use it to kill another person or shoot another person...
This is a classic Liberal smokescreen. There is absolutely no impact on the illicit use of illegal firearms in crime. Of course criminals and gangs do not carry licences or register their illegally obtained firearms and will not be deterred by municipal bylaws. They do not even care about the Criminal Code.
The fact that at least 80% of guns used in Canadian gun crimes are illegally smuggled in from the states shows that enabling towns and cities to demand handguns from licenced owners will have little to no impact on actual public safety.
In 2016, a father of four for two years, whose children were only six and five along with one-year-old twins, was enjoying a night out with friends in Toronto when he was shot and killed by a stray bullet. Now a mother of three, carrying the lifetime grief from the loss of her child, his mum, Evelyn Fox, advocates to support at-risk youth and prevent youth involvement in gang activity. She believes that banning handguns in Canada is “nonsense” because “street level wise, they'll get access to the handguns anyways.”. She says, “I also would like to know how it is that penalizing law-abiding gun owners with a gun ban is going to deter gun violence on our streets when 80%, if not more, is coming across the border?” She is right.
In Toronto, despite the new Liberal order in council prohibition of thousands of firearms, there were 462 shootings in 2020, an increase over 2018 when there was no prohibition order. The year 2019 was a record year.
Since 2014, shootings in Toronto have increased 161%. Obviously residents and family are worried about this reality, causing sleepless nights, untold heartbreak and anxiety about security, and whether kids can grow up carefree in peaceful neighbourhoods. How galling that Bill C-21 would do nothing to make it more safe, while the Liberals claim otherwise.
In 2019, Toronto's police chief, Mark Saunders, reported that most guns using crime were illegally smuggled in. He said, “When it comes to the handguns, I believe, 82 per cent...of the ‘crime guns’ in the city are coming from the United States.”
Peel Police Association President Adrian Woolley says, “There are a lot of guns out there and they are not legal ones from target shooters but illegal ones smuggled in from the United States.”
For the 2017-18 year, CBSA seized 751 illegal firearms at the U.S.-Canada border, 696 the next year and 753 for the year after that. The CBSA has already seized 166 firearms for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Canada's border agents should be commended for that good work and lawmakers should support their efforts to improve public safety by getting tougher on gun criminals and gun smugglers when they are caught. That is exactly what our Conservative colleague from Markham—Unionville tried to do when he proposed Bill C-238, which would have cracked down on gun smuggling, knowingly possessing illegally smuggled guns by increasing sentences and making it harder for gun runners to get out on bail. However, the Liberals and the NDP voted against that public safety legislation a week before the announcement of Bill C-21.
When asked why the government is not getting tougher on criminals, the Liberal default is to say that they implemented a prohibition on “military-style” assault rifles. First, the term “military-style” assault rifle is of course invented with no legal definition, but it does sound scary. The reality is that fully automatic fire rifles have been prohibited for use outside of the military since the 1970s. The Prime Minister said that he made a law so people could not purchase firearms without purchasing a licence, but that is false.
Along the spirit of making things up, just last Saturday, the member for York South—Weston told a crowd of gun crime victims and families that his Liberal government's gun grab included “AR-135” submachine guns, except they absolutely do not even exist.
Unfortunately, it is easy to see why lawful, well-intentioned urban and rural firearms owners, collectors, hunters, sport shooters, enthusiasts and retailers, people who enjoy this Canadian heritage, are skeptical of the Liberals, to say nothing of the radical shift in Bill C-21. It would create a one-sided guilty-until-proven innocent-ask questions later regime, focused on Canadians who already did a filing and have the licences under Canada's stringent regulations and vigorous vetting processes for prohibition orders and warrantless search and seizures.
That is ripe for abuse and conflicts while bogging down already backlogged courts and law enforcement resources when right now there are multiple overlapping systems to ensure that law enforcement can respond to urgent situations involving threats to personal and public safety, as they must. The new approach actually may even take longer and could easily have unintended consequences and deliver the opposite outcomes. This pattern of saying one thing and doing another, of literally making things up, of not having the evidence to support the legislation to show it will achieve stated outcomes should make every every single Canadian question and challenge the Liberals to prove that their laws will actually make a difference for public safety, and combat gun crimes, too.
That brings me to the framework for the voluntary confiscation program. A 2018 Public Safety Canada paper entitled “Reducing Violent Crime: A Dialogue on Handguns and Assault Weapons” explained why confiscating firearms from lawful licensed owners would be ineffective at reducing gun crime in Canada. The report states:
The vast majority of owners of handguns and of other firearms in Canada lawfully abide by requirements, and most gun crimes are not committed with legally-owned firearms....
In most cases, individuals own handguns either in the context of sport shooting activities or because those handguns form a part of a collection....
Any ban...would primarily affect legal firearms owners,...
The public safety minister recently said that the government does not know how many firearms will fall under the confiscation program, but claims it is in the range of 200,000 and says that at an average price of $1,300 per firearm, it will cost taxpayers in the range of $250 million to $260 million. Of course, experts say that the Liberals are way off and that this confiscation program could cost as much as $5 billion when all is said and done. The fact is that the Liberals do not have any structure in place because no private sector proponents have agreed to run the program after two public requests for bids. It really does say something when highly reputable major firms look at the government's purported analysis and cost assumptions and decide they will not touch it with a 10-foot pole.
The Liberals still have not been clear on how they will address retailers left holding the bag with inventory they cannot sell or return to manufacturers either. Phil Harnois, the owner of P&d Enterprises in Alberta, says that 40% of his annual sales were of firearms that are now banned and that thousands of dollars of inventory became worthless overnight. The president of the National Police Federation, Brian Sauvé, says that “the evidence is that illegal gun trafficking leads to criminals owning guns, which leads to crimes with firearms.... [W]e need to look at the source of the problem.” The vast majority of gun crime committed in Canada is by gangs and criminals using already illegal guns, most often illegally smuggled in. That needs to be reiterated because Bill C-21 clearly misses the mark.
Sylvia Jones, spokesperson for Ontario's solicitor general, agrees. She says that “As law enforcement experts routinely highlight, it has not been demonstrated that banning legal firearms and targeting law-abiding citizens would meaningfully address the problem of gun violence.” The Liberals have shown, of course, though, that they do not really believe that their list of banned firearms in the hands of licensed law-abiding firearms owners are a real threat either. Otherwise, why is there this confusing step of banning them, but allowing Canadians to keep them in their homes so long as the guns are registered with the government? It is very confounding.
However, what is clear is that Bill C-21 finds a way to create a boondoggle that will result in the creation of another long-gun registry because some of the now-prohibited firearms are long guns and it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars while delivering no concrete results to improve the public safety of Canadians suffering at the hands of gangs and criminals carrying out the vast majority of gun violence and crime in Canada.
Another measure that is glaring in its obvious irrelevance to improving public safety in Canada while also imposing major consequences on everyday people is the prohibition of the importation, exportation and sale of all non-regulated air guns that look like modern firearms. Here is the deal. The Liberals are actually imposing a ban on Airsoft and a partial ban on paintball. Any rational, common sense person can see that toy guns are not responsible for the shootings are causing death in Canadian cities. Criminals and gangs with illegal guns are tragically ending the lives of Canadians. This provision in Bill C-21 would end hundreds of livelihoods, legacies and jobs and outlaw an entirely harmless hobby enjoyed by more than 60,000 Canadians.
Airsoft in Canada says the Canadian Airsoft market is worth $100 million and over 260 businesses in Canada are linked to the paintball or Airsoft community. The Quebec Airsoft Federation estimates that the industry brings in over $10 million per year in Quebec alone. Distributors and retailers are uncertain about what to do with the current stock and stock on order because all of it would be rendered worthless immediately, with no option to offset losses because the bill would prohibit sales. It will not only impact businesses that directly sell hobby and competition practice guns, but also the retailers of protective equipment and accessories, as well as the clubs and owners of sports facilities that have focused their businesses largely or solely around these activities.
This whole industry would be devastated. Matt Wasilewicz, who owns Canadian Airsoft Imports, says that the ban “confirms our worst fears”. Frank Chong, who owns Toronto Airsoft, Canada's largest airsoft retailer, says “It looks like it's doomsday for us at this point". Ziming Wan of BlackBlitz Airsoft in Waterloo says that “We're basically all going to have to shut down.... It's the death of the sport, as we know it”. Joe Kimpson of Flag Raiders in Kitchener says “You'll see the demise of airsoft in Canada”.
Seventy-four per cent of these businesses expect to lose over half their revenue because of Bill C-21 and 47% of them expect to be out of business for good. There are approximately 3,000 employees working in those affected businesses. It is unconscionable that half of them would lose their jobs and not a single life be saved for it.
It is hard to see how the Liberals are materially protecting the well-being and safety of Canadians by banning toy guns, shuttering more businesses and killing 1,500 jobs while Canada's unemployment rate is already the highest in the G7.
Mark from Motium Manufacturing in Lakeland says, “I was given no notice, no warning, no consultation. The hard work I've put in for over 8 years has been erased and my customers wrongfully criminalized. Why aren't criminals being as negatively impacted as my small business?”
A petition called “Stop Bill C-21” is circulating in the hobby community and 30,000 Canadians have already signed it. That is because Canadians know what experts have been saying all along, which is also what the Conservatives have been saying. What is missing from these Liberals is any meaningful emphasis or major legal framework targeting the main source of gun crime in Canada.
It is good to see some measures to help the CBSA and a small increase in penalties for gun smuggling, but those aspects of Bill C-21 appear more like a footnote in what seems to be a broader strategy primarily concerned with targeting already law-abiding members of Canadian society. One would read this bill and assume that the main goal is to be a nuisance to the legal firearms community. It is not at all obvious that the aim of Bill C-21 is to improve public safety.
The tragedy is that for all the big words and tough talk from the Liberals, it is the very real victims of growing gun violence and Canadian citizens and their families who are forced to bear the brunt of these failed Liberal policies and experiments. What is worse is that the evidence is available for all of us to see. Experts, law enforcement and policy-makers all agree that concrete strategies and legislation must be directed at criminals and gangs and supports for at-risk youth.
Conservatives will always support a common-sense approach to firearms legislation with concrete outcomes that protect personal and public safety. Bill C-21 does not get to the bottom of addressing the major cause of gun crime in Canada and all MPs really owe it to the victims of violent crime in Canada, past and future, to get serious about gun smuggling, gangs and criminals.
As Evelyn Fox says, “I see the homicides happen and it’s almost like a retrigger for me to think that another mother has to go through this and another mother has to deal with the fact that they aren’t going to see their children again.” Because Bill C-21 will not actually make any difference to that, Conservatives will strongly oppose it, and if it passes, repeal Bill C-21.