Evidence of meeting #47 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 keep.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone. We're in the second hour today, on Tuesday, June 19, 2012, of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

We have appearing before us the honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety and National Security. The minister has agreed to appear to assist us with the proposed firearm information regulations concerning non-registered firearms. This was referred to this committee on Wednesday, June 13, 2012.

Our committee very much appreciates having the minister appear. It seems as if he's here almost every week. We appreciate it, and we place a high value on our colleagues' willingness to respond to the request for the minister's assistance in our deliberations.

Minister, I would invite you to make your opening statements. Then we would move into our first round of questions. We're here for one hour. We're in public.

Welcome.

4:30 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'm very pleased to appear before you and committee members to discuss new proposed regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act.

Our government is once again standing up for law abiding Canadians, such as farmers, hunters, and sports shooters. We are standing up for rural, northern, and remote Canadians who use shotguns and rifles as tools in their day-to-day lives. But Mr. Chair, most of all, we are standing up for Canadians who do not believe that the state has a right to needlessly interfere with the private property of law-abiding Canadians.

The long-gun registry was a wasteful and ineffective creation. Mr. Chair, I'm very proud to note that our government's legislation to eliminate the federal long-gun registry came into force at the beginning of April. The Ending the Long-gun Registry Act not only repeals a requirement for individuals and businesses to register their non-restricted firearms but also requires the Commissioner of Firearms, and the chief firearms officer for each province, to ensure the destruction of all records and copies of those records under their control.

The regulations that are now before you will help to ensure that the will of Parliament to eliminate the federal long-gun registry is fully respected. Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to end the wasteful long-gun registry, and Canadians will not tolerate an end run around the law. Nor will many Canadians or the government tolerate the recreation, under federal authority, of anything that resembles the wasteful and ineffective federal long-gun registry, which only created hassles and red tape for hunters rather than improve public safety.

The regulations we have introduced will ensure that the federal long-gun registry remains in the past, where it belongs. Members of this committee will know that despite a clear direction from Parliament to put an end to the registration of long guns, CFOs, or chief firearms officers, in some jurisdictions have continued to require that businesses collect and store point-of-sale information concerning long guns. In particular, Ontario's CFO is requiring businesses to record a buyer's name, licence information, and the details of the firearm being purchased. This is contrary to the spirit and intent of C-19 to eliminate the federal long-gun registry, which received royal assent on April 5.

To reinforce our government's position on this matter, I wrote a letter to the RCMP commissioner and to all chief firearms officers on May 8 affirming that the Firearms Act does not authorize any measures that would facilitate the establishment of a provincial long-gun registry. I further directed that neither the Canadian firearms program nor the RCMP are to assist a province seeking to establish a long-gun registry in any way. At that time, I also made clear my willingness to consider all necessary legislative and regulatory measures.

Despite this attempt to clarify what is permitted under the law, Ontario's CFO continues to be of the view that it is his prerogative to require that businesses keep point-of-sale records.

Moreover, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, despite knowing the clear will of Parliament, as expressed through Bill C-19, has publicly stated that it will be up to the federal government to make it clear that businesses are not required to maintain registration-type records. This is what the proposed regulations our government has introduced will accomplish.

The regulations before you today make clear that businesses would not be required, as a condition of a licence, to collect or retain information regarding the transfer or purchase of a non-restricted firearm. While businesses may choose to keep point-of-sale records for their own purposes, such as inventory or warranty, they cannot be required, as a condition of their business licences, to keep records that link the long gun to a specific owner.

The regulations our government has proposed pursuant to the Firearms Act will remove any ambiguity with respect to the creation of a federal registry by the back door.

Our position on the long-gun registry is quite clear. It does nothing to help put an end to gun crimes. It criminalizes hard-working and law-abiding citizens. It has not stopped a single crime or saved a single life. According to the CBC, it has cost over $2 billion—money that is far better spent elsewhere.

Canadians do not want or need this boondoggle reintroduced under the guise of collecting and storing information concerning the lawful acquisition of legal firearms by law-abiding citizens.

Our government delivers on our commitments to Canadians, and this is what we have done with Bill C-19, which is now the law of the land. It is what we are continuing to do with the introduction of regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act.

The issue of effective firearms control is an important one—one that has been debated in this country for years. All of us see the fallout from gun-related crimes in Canada. Our government is committed to protecting Canadians and ensuring that people feel safe on their own streets and in their own homes.

In this light, it is imperative that we have effective ways of dealing with gun crime. Since we were elected in 2006, our government has been committed to doing just that, to making our streets and communities safer for all Canadians. We've followed up that commitment with concrete and tangible initiatives to get tough with criminals and to help prevent crime before it happens.

I'm certain that all Canadians are concerned with preventing crime. We all want to make sure that our streets and our communities are safe. We all want to ensure that guns don't fall into the hands of criminals or are used to commit grievous crimes.

That is really what the legislation to repeal the long-gun registry is all about. It's about making sure that we continue to preserve and enhance those measures that do work to reduce crime and protect Canadians. It's also about making sure that we don't necessarily penalize millions of honest and law-abiding citizens with rules that have little effect on crime prevention or on reducing gun crime.

Bill C-19 retains the existing controls for restricted and prohibited firearms, but it eliminates the need for honest, law-abiding citizens to register their non-restricted rifles or shotguns—a requirement that has no impact on reducing gun crimes in Canada.

The regime now in place, thanks to the royal assent of Bill C-19, is one that makes sense and one that our government and many law enforcement officials believe will work to effectively protect the safety and security of law-abiding citizens. The regulations pursuant to the Firearms Act, which we have introduced, will ensure this remains the case in the future.

Thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Minister.

We'll now move into the first round of questioning. The first question goes to Mr. Leef, please, for seven minutes.

June 19th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, thank you very much for attending committee today. I would like to say congratulations for your steps here in closing off what I think has been viewed by Canadians, particularly the northern Canadians I represent, and has been aptly described as a backdoor loophole to maintain a registry.

I think we were very clear with Canadians in our campaign commitments during the last election. You aptly described in your notes today that the spirit and the intention of Bill C-19 was quite clear. I think that was clear when we talked to our constituents about it. It was clear during debate. It was very clear during all the votes that took place in the House of Commons.

Now, unfortunately, we're having to go these extra steps because the spirit and the intention of what we put forward hasn't been respected.

When we look at which governments, which sides of the House, are committed to ensuring Canadians aren't needlessly turned into criminals or aren't treated in a criminal fashion, this is another example of our government being the only government with a crystal clear agenda to make sure that law-abiding Canadians aren't impacted by this kind of legislation.

I will say, with one caveat, we are the only government with a clear direction in that, but we aren't necessarily the only members of Parliament who believe the long-gun registry was wasteful, ineffective, and misguided. Members of the opposition stood and voted along with our government on that. One of the members, from Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who sits on this committee but is conspicuously missing today, voted along with the government.

Can you expand on the history of this, from an 11-year-plus message that you would have from your experience as a longer-term member of Parliament and minister, how long this has been going on for Canadians, and what this will mean to finally bring this to an end?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you, Mr. Leef, I appreciate the comments and the questions.

What I did want to say is that my involvement with this particular file goes beyond my experience as a federal MP and goes to the time when I was the Attorney General of Manitoba, where I told the federal government at the time that introduced this legislation, the long-gun registry, that Manitoba would not enforce this legislation and that if the federal government wanted the legislation enforced, it would be up to the federal government to do it.

At the time, Allan Rock, the minister who came to see me about that issue indicated that he would sue me if we didn't enforce the long-gun registry, and I said, “Fine, sue me.” So we're still waiting for that lawsuit, which has not occurred yet.

I would note, of course, that in Manitoba the government that succeeded our government, the NDP, have stood very firmly against the long-gun registry. They recognize that it doesn't do anything in terms of actually preventing crime, and I appreciate their support on that particular file.

As you have pointed out, there are people on both sides of the House who recognize, and will admit publicly, that this is not a measure that was effective at all. So we are simply carrying out our promise to eliminate the long-gun registry. We did that.

What bothers me about this particular regulation though is the fact that I think it's redundant. I think the legislation is clear in itself, but many store owners and gun ranges and the like are very concerned about the CFOs—who seem to be acting on some type of authority of their own, which is not supported by the Firearms Act—and they're asking for clarity. Even though we believe it is clear enough and we believe the CFOs have no authority to make these demands to collect information that would in fact recreate the long-gun registry, we agreed that we would bring in a regulation to make it absolutely clear that under the Firearms Act a CFO has no authority to link the purchase of a firearm with the licence that these individuals have to sell these firearms.

I think it's an important step. It reaffirms our commitment in this respect. We don't want it to be ambiguous, therefore we're seeking to pass this regulation.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

You have another minute and a half, Mr. Leef.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

You touched on it right there toward the end, Minister.

We've talked a lot about the need for Bill C-19 to protect individuals, hunters, and farmers who utilize long guns as tools; aboriginals and first nations people in the north who utilize them as day-to-day tools in their way of life; athletes who represent our country in sport shooting events; collectors. But you touched on, right at the very end, how the requirement to bring in this regulation is now to add further protection to retailers and to the people in that business.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

That's correct, because a lot of the retailers are worried about arbitrary actions by government officials. They recognize that their businesses, to a great extent, depend upon cooperation with those who are the regulators, and they don't want to be offside with the regulators even if the regulator is wrong. So this sends a very clear message, and I think would give these businesses the legal authority to stop and perhaps even initiate a legal action, if a regulator stepped out of line in terms of demands that they're making as a condition to the licence that these shops own.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

I'll move back to the opposition side.

Ms. Boivin, you have seven minutes.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister.

I didn't think I would have to come back here. After all the meetings we have held on Bill C-19, I thought this case was closed. You have presented a notice of regulation. That is a bit of a surprise because, when we were debating Bill C-19, the government, you, your committee colleagues and the people strongly in favour of abolishing and destroying the registry data were saying that there was no need to worry. You were saying that what you call the ledger was there, that the information came from businesses that sell

the long guns and the non-restricted arms, and not to worry, we will be able to keep track without being a long-gun registry. So what became of that phrase? Are you standing by what you said before, which is, and I'll quote you,

They can still do that through the records of the shop that sold the firearms, the importer to whom that gun was sent. In the case you're mentioning, most of those guns would probably never even have been sold in that brief period of time. Gun shops, in fact, keep records of their sales and those records can be accessed through a warrant or other appropriate provisions.

Will that still be possible with your regulations? Will we have the information needed, in case we need to be able to go back to a store and see who sold to whom and so on, or will your regulations just wipe everything out?

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

The regulation wipes out the registry for non-restricted firearms. That's correct. It wipes it out completely. It should have happened under C-19. However, we know that businesses still keep these records. When you go to a store and buy a computer, the store will keep a record of your sale—most stores will do that—for warranty purposes usually. As I say, you can access that kind of information with a warrant.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

You don't have details, Minister, because I can go and buy with cash, and unless I activate the warranty, they will have no information on me.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

That's correct.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Is it possible there will be no information, no names, no address, no nothing on the non-restricted?

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

That's absolutely possible, and if the province wants to make laws and regulations in that respect, it can. But there will certainly not be a federal registry that will mandate the keeping of that information.