Evidence of meeting #11 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was registry.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Minister.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Let's first look at your preamble to the question and then the question itself. You'll notice, whether it's deliberate or not, a mixing of terms. You talk about gun control and the registry interchangeably. You talk about it being unrestricted. It depends on what type of question you ask of victims' groups.

If you were to ask victims' groups, do you believe in gun control, they obviously all believe in gun control. I believe in gun control. I believe in effective gun control, and I listen to the victims who have indicated to me the best way of achieving an appropriate gun control system. But you're confusing--again, deliberately or not--the registry and gun control.

For example, I see gun control as including the reverse onus on bail applications when individuals are caught with an illegal firearm in downtown Surrey or Vancouver. The onus then is shifted onto them to demonstrate why they should get bail, as opposed to the crown doing it. That's a much more effective version of gun control than the registry itself. The fact that individuals who now smuggle firearms into the country are met with a much more serious penal sanction is a much more effective gun control measure than a registry that, again, does nothing to prevent the illegal acquisition of firearms, including those smuggled into the country, as many of them are, especially the hand guns.

I've listened very carefully and closely. I've worked with provincial governments. Your colleagues in the NDP government in Manitoba have clearly indicated that this is not an effective gun control measure. They oppose the long-gun registry and have specifically instructed their conservation officers not to enforce the registry, and have specifically instructed the RCMP in those ridings in that province that these are not effective mechanisms for focusing on the crime situations they're facing.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Toews, you're the Minister of Public Safety. We have the national police force, the RCMP, saying in a report last February that firearms registration is a critical component of the entire firearms program, and talking about it as an important tool for law enforcement.

In fact, as I'm sure you're aware, one particular aspect of firearms registration is the ability to trace firearms. In the unfortunate and tragic loss of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta--which was devastating to them and to everybody aware of this--the guns that were used were basically traced through the firearms registry, leading to the capture and conviction of two individuals. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have talked about the registry and the tracing element as an important investigative tool, a tool that they would use if someone, as you suggested, might be incapable of carrying a gun because of a mental disability or a court order prohibiting them from doing it. The police officials have the ability to find the guns, because they are required to be registered. They know what guns are available and can trace guns and do all of the other associated investigative work.

As Minister of Public Safety, why are you discounting that when it has in fact been used to prosecute people who've killed Mounties?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

We're already 20 seconds over the time on the NDP's question.

Make it a quick answer, please.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Let me very quickly state and quote the Canadian Police Association, which said:

We're quite satisfied with the efforts this government has made to work on behalf of front-line police officers, specifically with respect to the comprehensive justice legislation that has been a priority since the last election.

We're working on issues and on legislation that actually works, as opposed to that which does not.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

We'll move to the second questioner.

Mr. Rathgeber, please, for seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for your attendance here today and for your good work on this and other bills.

I always shake my head in disbelief when my friends on the opposite side of the table raise Mayerthorpe as somehow being an example of success with the long-gun registry. Although it is true that there was a weapon traced to the grandfather of an individual who was subsequently convicted of aiding and abetting four homicides, it was done through a very elaborate “Mr. Big“ sting operation, which was the likely real cause of that conviction—and a debate for another day. But the reality is that the long-gun registry did nothing to save the lives of four brave mounted police on that March morning in Mayerthorpe, Alberta.

My friend, Mr. Harris, in his premise to his question also referred to your preference for a so-called unregulated system. There's much confusion, and I suspect it's deliberate, from the opponents of this legislation, the people who support the long-gun registry, on the whole issue between licensing and registration.

As you know, Mr. Minister, I come from Alberta. In western Canada support for the long-gun registry is perhaps the lowest you'll find anywhere in Canada. Even in my province, some media sources, some bloggers and others, have envisioned people walking down the streets of Edmonton with concealed weapons or rifles, shooting them up in the air in a sort of wild-west scenario. But I think you and I know that nothing could be further from the truth.

For the people who are watching at home, I was wondering if you could once again clarify the issues as between registration and licensing.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you.

I'm glad that you also caught that seemingly careless use of very important terms in the control of firearms. The licensing is one aspect; the gun registry is a different issue altogether.

Every individual, before they can acquire a firearm, whether it's restricted or non-restricted, must obtain a licence. You go through the testing process, and then there are other applications that you have to make, and your background is checked to ensure that we can, as much as humanly possible, weed out those who should not have firearms for one reason or another. I think those reasons are clear, and I don't need to go into them.

The gun registry has nothing to do with that. The gun registry is after the fact. It is about somebody who has a licence already and registers that firearm, or somebody who doesn't register the firearm at all and doesn't use the licensing provisions either. Most of the homicides are in that category, by individuals who are using handguns illegally and causing the concern that many citizens feel.

My wish is that we would have a clear discussion on the tremendous steps that we have taken as a government in terms of gun control and actually controlling guns from coming into the hands of criminals or of those who are otherwise unfit to own a firearm. It's disappointing that for political purposes, the distinction between the various components of gun control on the one hand and the registry on the other hand are blurred. That does nothing to forward a proper discussion about what the most effective mechanisms are for ensuring that gun crime is reduced.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

For further clarification, Bill C-19 does nothing to affect the licensing provisions that are currently in place?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

No, it does nothing to affect the licensing provision.

As I look at this memo that was produced for a newspaper in the last day or so, perhaps in anticipation that I would be here at committee, even it is based on pretty inaccurate assumptions that somehow the jobs of CBSA officers at the border are going to be changed by Bill C-19. Their jobs remain exactly the same. If you came across the border and you had a firearm, you would have to have a licence for it, whether it was registered or not. The registry has no impact on that scenario.

Unfortunately, it's a misleading discussion paper, which I saw only this morning.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Harris also talked about the police association's support for the registry—or which we anticipate, based on the experience with Ms. Hoeppner's bill and other attempts to get rid of this boondoggle.

I'm always perplexed by the following. When we talk to front-line officers—and as you know, I sat on this committee when Bill C-391 was here just over a year ago—they tell us that they cannot rely on the registry. It doesn't matter what situation they go into, they always have to assume the worst; they have to assume that there are firearms in a residence or a vehicle, and they have to be prepared. If they're not prepared for the existence of firearms, they do so at their own peril.

Why do you think the police association takes a contrary view when front-line officers invariably tell us that they cannot and will not rely on the accuracy of the long-gun registry?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Your experience is the same as mine.

I've never met a police officer who has seen registry data come up in his patrol car indicating that no firearm is associated with an individual in a stopped car, such that he would then approach the car as if there were no firearm in that car. It's simply foolish. No one would put their own life at risk by relying on the registry—or in fact put the life of their partner or a civilian at risk by doing that. It's simply foolish. In the same way, you don't go into a domestic disturbance and say, “Well, we're pretty safe here because there's no firearm licence or registry here”. Whether there's a licence or a registry is quite irrelevant. You go into a home expecting a firearm. That's the prudent and the proper thing for any officer to do.

I have met with officers on a daily basis who have talked to me about the issue. One thing they point out to me is that long-gun registry has created a division between law officers on the one side and ordinary law-abiding Canadian citizens who may own firearms on the other side. There's a mistrust of police officers because somehow people feel that the police are out to get their guns. It's really unfortunate because most of these people are exactly the kind of people who should be assisting the police in investigations of crime and yet now this long-gun registry has created a barrier between police and law-abiding citizens. That should never be the intent or result of the law.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, minister.

We'll now move to Mr. Scarpaleggia.

Mr. Scarpaleggia, you have seven minutes, please.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Thank you, Chair.

A few weeks ago, the RCMP recalled 50 long guns it had allowed into Canada as non-restricted weapons, only to change its mind after the fact, reclassify them as restricted, and then send letters to the 50 people who bought those guns that were later reclassified. Without the registry, how would the police know where to address those letters? Are you saying that from this point on it is absolutely impossible that the RCMP could make an error or decide after the fact to change the classification of a long gun—in other words, to second-guess its original decision? Are you saying that is impossible from now on?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

No.