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 owners.

A recording is available from Parliament.

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11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good morning, everyone.

We will call this meeting to order. This is meeting number 11 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Tuesday, November 15, 2011.

This morning we begin our consideration of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. We will be hearing from the Hon. Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety.

Before we proceed to the panel of witnesses in our second hour, I'll just remind our committee that we're going to pause for about five minutes to do some committee business and ratify our steering committee report. Then we will move to our first panel of witnesses on this very important study that we begin this morning.

Our committee welcomes the minister and thanks him for appearing this morning and for the many times he has appeared before our committee in the past. We certainly look forward to his presentation this morning.

Mr. Minister, we invite you to make your opening comments, and then we'll move into a number of rounds of questions.

11 a.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My comments this morning will be relatively brief, and if there are no questions after that I'll be out of here very quickly.

I want to thank all of the honourable committee members for the invitation to appear here before you today to help with your deliberations on Bill C-19, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act. So if there are any committee members with some questions about where they stand on this bill, I'd be more than happy to answer those.

For too long, law-abiding farmers, duck hunters, and sports shooters have been criminalized by the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry. Bill C-19 is fulfilling our government's long-standing commitment to scrap this failed boondoggle once and for all.

For many years it has been clear that the long-gun registry does not work, does nothing to prevent crime or protect front-line officers. We have, on record, testimony after testimony by police officers who have told us in no uncertain terms that they do not trust the accuracy of the registry, and they openly question its value as a tool to protect police officers responding to a house call. These witnesses have provided eye-opening accounts of how truly flawed the registry is. One officer went so far as to say that he wouldn't risk the lives of his own staff, based on the results of a registry search. That is very troubling, Mr. Chair.

Furthermore, we know that the long-gun registry has no ability to prevent crime, and there is no evidence that it has stopped a single crime or saved a single life. It does not prevent anyone from using a firearm for violence and it does not keep guns out of the hands of criminals. It is clear that on all fronts it is a failure.

Our government believes in measures that actually protect law-abiding Canadian families. As committee members are aware, we have taken decisive action to ensure that those who commit serious crimes face serious consequences. This includes putting in place tough punishment for gun-related crimes such as drive-by shootings and gang-related violence. It includes increasing the minimum penalties for specific offences involving firearms, including attempted murder, sexual assault, and kidnapping, among others.

We have also introduced legislation that requires people charged with serious firearms offences to show the court why they shouldn't be kept in jail while awaiting their trial. They will not benefit from a presumptive entitlement to bail.

We believe that these amendments are starting to have a positive impact on homicide rates in this nation. The fact remains, however, that even one murder a year is too many and we must continue to work hard to improve our laws and focus on the most effective measures to crack down on crime.

It's telling that in a place like Winnipeg, which has the highest per capita murder rate in Canada, the provincial NDP government does not support the long-gun registry and views it as a waste of time, a waste of resources. And it's clearly onboard with our government in respect to the amendments that we're bringing forward in Bill C-10, which police officers admit would do a much better job of focusing on criminals and preventing crime.

It is our belief that laws should protect and not burden law-abiding citizens. That is why, with Bill C-19, we are moving to scrap the failed long-gun registry once and for all.

First of all, Bill C-19 will eliminate the requirement for firearm owners to register their long guns—in other words, their rifles and shot guns.

The second part of Bill C-19 would see the destruction of all records related to the registration information on long guns in the Canadian Firearms Registry and under the control of the chief firearms officers. This item has been the subject of much discussion since we tabled this legislation, but we have plainly stated that we will not share the personal and private information of more than seven million Canadians who have registered their long guns.

These, in simple terms, are the proposed changes to the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.

I'd like to take just a moment to mention what will not change under Bill C-19.

What will not change, Mr. Chair, is the current and strict licensing system that is in place for controlling firearms. Firearm owners will still require a valid licence to purchase or possess firearms and to purchase ammunition. They will still be required to undergo background checks, pass the Canadian firearms safety course, and comply with firearm safe storage and transportation requirements. We believe this to be a reasonable requirement for those who want to legally acquire and use firearms. Moreover, owners of restricted and prohibited firearms will still be required to register their firearms with the RCMP.

We believe that this is the most effective measure of control regarding restricted and prohibited firearms such as handguns. Handguns are the firearms of choice in homicide crimes in Canada. It's time to stop burdening legal long gun owners with red tape. When you step back and think about it, the long-gun registry isn't actually targeting criminals. Rather, it targets the law-abiding Canadians who own long guns and who have to jump through various bureaucratic hoops to register a rifle or shotgun for which they already have a legal licence. It's an unfair burden, and it does nothing to stop criminals from using illegal or smuggled handguns to commit violent crimes in our community.

In closing, I would urge all committee members to consider carefully the important amendments we are proposing to this bill. After a legacy of waste that has lasted almost 17 years, it is time to swiftly and decisively end the long-gun registry once and for all.

Thank you, and if there are questions, I will take them now.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Minister.

We'll move into the first round of questioning.

Ms. Hoeppner.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister Toews, I want to thank you personally for your persistent support for those like me in our caucus who stand against the long-gun registry.

Bill C-391 and C-19 are both straightforward bills that end the requirements for individuals and businesses to register non-restricted, non-prohibited firearms. I was concerned this morning when I read media reports of an analysis done by officials. A certain official thought that both C-391 and C-19 could have a number of unintended consequences, including the trafficking of firearms at the border.

I was concerned about this report. Is it accurate? Can you comment on this official's opinion?

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

I had a chance to take a look at that article. I wasn't familiar with the memorandum, which an official in my department had prepared, I assume, for internal purposes. But now that I've seen it, it's clear that the analysis presented by this official is factually flawed; it's incorrect. I've asked my deputy minister to look into the matter.

Contrary to the suggestion made in the analysis, neither Bill C-19 nor Bill C-391 removes any controls on the importation of firearms. In fact, we have increased penalties for the illegal importation of firearms. Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to end this wasteful, ineffective long-gun registry once and for all. That's exactly what we're doing. We're not getting into the areas this memorandum suggested we might get into. I think the memorandum is phrased to suggest that if we did something else, the repercussions would be such and such. But we're not going down that road.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Just to be clear, C-19 doesn't change the way our border officials are able to monitor, track, or stop legal guns from coming into the country.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

No. The analysis of whether or not something is a prohibited or non-restricted firearm has nothing to do with the registry. That's an analysis that the officers make at the border and elsewhere throughout the country. Tying that to C-19 is a bit of a red herring. As I said, the analysis is quite flawed.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you for clarifying that. I'm sure it will be clarified in future media reports as well.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Don't bet on it.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

I also want to ask you about something else that's been discussed a lot.

Bill C-391, my private member's bill, did not explicitly contain a provision for destroying all of the data. Whenever I was asked if we were going to destroy the data, my answer was that we were ending the long-gun registry, of course we were going to end the data.

You've been criticized, our government has been criticized, for explicitly saying that we will destroy the data contained in the long-gun registry. Can you explain how the long-gun registry is not just a concept or something that happens in the future? It actually is the data. Can you explain why we're destroying the data and how it represents the long-gun registry?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

I don't know how much clearer I can be. The suggestion--and I think it's an artificial distinction without a difference--that somehow the registry is separate from the data.... The registry is the data; without the data there is no registry. So when our government and our party made the very clear commitment that we would scrap the long-gun registry, that we would end it, implicit in that, indeed explicit, is that we would be destroying the information that's been collected under the authority of that legislation. There's simply no other answer to that.

It's disingenuous for someone to say to Canadians that when we were going to end the registry, we were actually going to keep the information. I think if any politician had made that claim on the campaign trail, they would have been thoroughly discredited. This is a revisionist type of excuse that some are making in order to try to justify flipping their position on the registry.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

We've been told that the data is extremely flawed, and we're going to be hearing testimony later today from front-line officers who will tell us that they have great concerns about the data. Can you talk a little bit about your understanding of how accurate it is, in terms of how many long guns are actually in the country as opposed to how many are contained in the registry?

Can you talk a bit about the accuracy of the data as it is right now?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

I can only agree that the information is quite inaccurate. Indeed, the premise of the former government about the numbers of long guns in the country.... You'll notice that over the years it kept on reducing its numbers for how many long guns were actually in the country in order to show that the compliance rate was increasing more and more. If you say at one point that there are 14 million long guns, and you have only one million registered, you obviously have a low compliance rate. But if you lower the number of long guns, which you saw the former government doing consistently-- and I don't know what number they eventually ended up with--you could then show a much higher compliance rate. So it doesn't give you any indication of how many long guns there actually are in this country.

What we can say with accuracy is that when we license individuals, we know those individuals are licensed owners and that they are the ones who are qualified to own and use firearms. That is a much better system, a much better tool, and more accurate than the long-gun registry, which we know is not utilized by criminals. That being said, criminals don't license themselves either. However, I think that licensing is a much better screen of individuals who may, for various reasons, want a firearm, but perhaps because of a medical or other condition should not own a firearm. We can have that discussion in a very appropriate way in the licensing process.

The registry doesn't assist in that respect.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

We'll now move to the official opposition.

Mr. Harris, welcome.

November 15th, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair, and I want to thank the minister for coming to the meeting today.

Minister, we've heard from you and your government consistently over the past several years about your concern for victims and the importance of the position of victims in this country. Now, even allowing for a certain amount of hyperbole--you tell us that the opposition could care less about victims and they're really more interesting in helping criminals, etc.--this has been the general tone of some of your comments.

So I want to ask you why you don't listen to victims when it comes to the protection they're seeking, that they believe is received by having strict control of and registration of non-prohibited and non-restricted weapons, such as the long guns you talk about, but also semi-automatics and other guns? I'm speaking here of Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who says the majority of victims' groups they have spoken with continue to support keeping the long-gun registry; the victims of the École Polytechnique in Montreal, including individual survivors and their families, who are strongly supportive of strong gun control, including the ability to track guns and the registration of guns; the Dawson College victims; and Priscilla de Villiers, a well-known gun violence activist whose daughter, Nina, was abducted and killed with an unrestricted, legally owned rifle in 1991, who is also very concerned about a gun control law, including registration and rigorous implementation, making it harder for dangerous people to get firearms and for firearms to fall into the wrong hands.

Recently, Elizabeth Pousoulidis, the president of the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights last week in support of certain aspects of Bill C-10, is also adamantly in favour of the long-gun registry.

Why aren't you listening to those kinds of victims who say they are concerned and fearful of an unrestricted and unregulated system? Why aren't you adopting instead some of the approaches that were suggested by the NDP to achieve balance with the one-time, no-fee registration forever? It's not a massive red tape situation, as you've suggested. Why aren't you trying to achieve some balance in this to ensure the safety of Canadians as victims of gun violence, victims of domestic violence, and victims of others, with a registry that the chiefs of police, of course, have stated is a useful tool?

Why aren't you trying to fix it? Why aren't you trying to improve it? Why aren't you listening to victims?