Debates of June 12th, 1995
House of Commons Hansard #216 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-68.
- Firearms Act
- Public Service Awards Of Excellence
- Canadian Occupational Health And Safety Week
- Robert Paul Thompson
- Robert Sherren
- George P. Morrison
- Scott Edward Goodridge
- Status Of Women
- Transport Canada
- The Environment
- The Philippines
- National Public Service Week
- Quebec Sovereignty
- Liberal Party Of Canada
- Gun Control
- Unemployment Insurance
- Code Of Ethics
- Unemployment Insurance
- Minister Of Canadian Heritage
- Human Rights
- Job Creation
- Income Tax
- The Economy
- Bovine Somatotropin
- Unemployment Insurance
- Indian Affairs
- Law Of The Sea Convention
- Presence In Gallery
- Committees Of The House
- Questions Passed As Orders For Return
- Firearms Act
- Business Of The House
- Firearms Act
- Motion To Adjourn
Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB
Madam Speaker, I will just take a few minutes to address my amendment here. It has to do with the subject of decriminalizing the offences that are now in the Criminal Code.
If we look at sections 91 and 92, we see that the penalties under indictment of both of those sections are absolutely draconian. Section 92 allows for an individual who knowingly refuses or neglects to register his or her firearm to be sentenced to a term of ten years. Under section 91 if they proceed by way of indictment they can be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of five years.
There has been a new section put into the act at committee stage, I think it is 107.1, which makes it a summary conviction offence. However, the police will have the authority to arrest anyone in possession of a firearm under any of those sections, even the most draconian, which is under section 92. They can arrest them. It is an indictable offence. They can charge them, fingerprint them, and then they can reduce or withdraw the charge afterwards, while that person's fingerprints are on file.
We see the same kind of thing occurring to a certain degree under section 85 of the Criminal Code, where they lay charges against individuals for using a firearm in the commission of an offence and then later withdraw those charges as a plea bargaining tool. I see the same kind of power and authority being granted through these sections.
Therefore, the purpose of our amendments is to eliminate the draconian measures and penalties that are included in this bill. I might bring to everyone's attention that the idea of sentencing someone or making them liable to a penalty of ten years for
deliberately neglecting to register their .22 or their shotgun is absolutely absurd and unacceptable.
We all remember Mr. Lortie, who went into the Quebec assembly and murdered three people. He served ten years. To equate that kind of an act and that kind of punishment with the failure to register a rifle or a shotgun is to me beyond comprehension and absurd.
These amendments are designed to decriminalize offences where there is no mens rea involved, no intent and no overt act to endanger anyone. It is simply that they have failed, whether deliberately or inadvertently, to fulfil an administrative act, which is to register. It should not be a criminal offence and there should be no means whereby the police can arrest the person under those circumstances and have that person face an indictable offence where the punishment is as much as ten years or five years, depending on whether it is under section 92 or 91 of this act.
Those are my comments on that.
Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the amendments to Bill C-68. The reason I am so delighted is that since the government invoked time allocation last Thursday, I find myself being one of the chosen few who will be able to speak at report stage.
The government's motive is one of fear. It knows that many of its backbenchers are already going to vote against the bill and they are afraid that if Bill C-68 is not dealt with before summer, many more of their backbenchers would find themselves having to commit that greatest of all sins a Liberal member can commit, the sin of representing one's constituents.
That is what I am attempting to do with this bill. I am trying to gauge the sentiments of my constituents. The bill is one of the few issues where people have expressed a great deal of interest. In my recently released householder I provided each side of the argument with the opportunity to state the case for or against the bill. Representing those who support the bill is none other than the Minister of Justice.
My householder is in the homes of my constituents. While I have started to receive responses, the government's artificial deadline will prevent many of their voices from being heard. If the majority of my constituents wanted registration, given the opportunity, I would support the registration portion of Bill C-68.
It seems the government wants as few voices heard as possible. The bill has been rushed through the entire process. The schedule to hear witnesses was fixed in advance, ignoring hundreds of requests by groups and individuals to appear.
The timeframe to enter amendments was rushed, not allowing sufficient time to have legislative counsel prepare amendments. The clause by clause consideration was rushed, forcing the committee to sit until one o'clock in the morning.
What can one say about report stage and third reading? The tactic of introducing time allocation before debate even starts is a tactic that would have made the Mulroney administration blush.
The Liberals always complained when the Tories introduced closure but they have fully embraced the concept themselves. What is interesting is that there has never been a hint that the Reform Party or anybody else was attempting to filibuster the bill.
We have played by the rules, trying to improve a poorly drafted bill in case it passed third reading. How badly drafted was this bill? Let me say that during the clause by clause consideration the member for Crowfoot noticed that the wording of one clause would make it necessary for anybody wishing to buy a box of ammunition, even a box of .22 shells, would have been required to obtain prior approval of the chief firearms officer of the province.
It was interesting to see the look of confusion on the faces of the parliamentary secretary and the assistant deputy minister when they quickly realized that that was not their intent.
The bill has been amended but this is an example of the poor quality of legislation that goes through when Parliament rushes. Another example of the quality of this bill is the list of 37 amendments that the Minister of Justice is making at report stage. This is in addition to approximately 80 amendments that the government made in committee during clause by clause.
Government members say: "So what? Who cares? We are sitting so high in the polls". One wonders if they will remember that the Ontario Liberals went into their provincial election riding high at 53 per cent in the opinion polls as well. Probably not, since Liberals have very short memories. After all, it was only in the last Parliament when Liberals were loudly protesting over rules by the Tory government to introduce more legislation where Parliament would be bypassed with orders in council.
However, these protests are now silent as the government has created unprecedented provisions for government by order in council. There are 75 instances in this bill that call for regulations to be introduced. The government's attitude is forget Parliament, the cabinet knows what is best for Canada. After all, if amendments had to come through Parliament there may be
more of those Liberal backbenchers who may try and represent their constituents. The government would not want that to happen, would it?
Its attitude is: "Trust us. We know what is best". Having sat through the committee hearings on Bill C-68, it is apparent that the government does not know what it is doing.
The pretence under which this bill was introduced was that it would reduce crime and save lives. Unfortunately there was no such substantive evidence presented that indicated this bill would do either. The bill was purported to go after the criminal use of firearms, yet most of the bill is directed against the ordinary law-abiding gun owner.
Those aspects of the bill that do deal with the criminal use of firearms are insignificant. That is why I have introduced the amendments I have.
The government chose to identify 10 serious crimes such as manslaughter, attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault, robbery and to create a minimum four year sentence if a firearm was used. However, what difference will these minimum sentences make? Not very much because the down side of minimum sentences is that they all too often because maximum sentences. Unless the minimum sentence is raised to a level that is sufficiently higher than the current average sentence, there will be no deterrent effect.
Will a four year minimum sentence for manslaughter with a firearm prevent any deaths? The average sentence for manslaughter in British Columbia is currently four years. Under current law, if a firearm is used in a death an additional one year sentence is added under section 85. How is it possible that a four year minimum sentence could have any deterrent effect when the average sentence is already five years?
That is why I have entered amendments that would increase the minimum sentence for manslaughter to eight years. For eight other crimes it would be increased to six years and for one crime, criminal negligence causing death, we are suggesting the minimum sentence should be reduced.
Another flaw in the bill is that under these 10 specific crimes, it is necessary to prove that the object used in the crime is a firearm. While this may not be difficult in manslaughter cases or those charged with causing bodily harm, what about cases involving sexual assault, kidnapping or robbery? If the gun is not fired or if it is not recovered, how does the crown prove that the object used meets the legal definition of a firearm? The short answer is that it cannot. Thus, in many of these cases there will never be a charge of using a firearm because the crown simply will not be able to prove that a firearm is used.
That is why I am moving the second set of amendments. It will no longer be necessary to prove whether the object used was a firearm or just an imitation firearm. The victim of a sexual assault may not know if the object used is a real firearm or just a replica. The terror is equal in any event. To let a sex offender walk away from this crime because the victim is unable to state whether it was a real firearm or just an imitation is wrong. These clauses must be amended.
Bill C-68 is bad legislation. It does not do what it sets out to accomplish. If this law is not bad enough, the way the government has handled it is even worse. How can anyone justify closing down debate before it even started on legislation that will not come fully into effect for another eight years? They cannot. Arrogant governments believe they do not have to explain anything, except when they try to explain to themselves why they have been rejected by the voters and have fallen into oblivion.
Cape Breton—The Sydneys
Russell MacLellan Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Madam Speaker, in listening to the debate I cannot help but wonder why the opposition is all of a sudden so exercised about time allocation when in fact we dialogued about this bill for almost a year.
The Minister of Justice went from coast to coast to coast speaking to groups on the bill. The subject matter of the bill was brought forward on November 30 and the bill was brought forward based on that subject matter on February 14, 1995. There has been a lot of dialogue and a lot of consultation.
The committee has met, but not all the witnesses who wanted to appear could appear. There was a restriction on the number of witnesses, but it was done with the belief that those witnesses would have their points of view brought forward by either a national organization to which they belonged or a similar organization which would speak for the the interests of witnesses. There were individuals who wanted to come forward. That was not possible.
Many people wanted to speak to the bill as with most important bills. It is not democracy to hear everybody. That is not the way it has been practised since Athens and the days of Pericles. The way it is done is to choose representatives to come before the committee.
Also, we are talking about the amendments today at report stage. In some cases we are getting a point of view on these amendments and in other cases we are not. The fact of the matter is we have third reading yet to come.
Perhaps not everybody who wants to speak at third reading will be given the opportunity to do so. At committee stage we allowed members to have five minute interventions on points before the committee, which was requested.
Members will know that as speakers come before the House and speak at third reading that the first speeches are 20 minutes and then the other speeches are 10 minutes. Many members are giving those 10 minutes speeches here today.
Relating to the last speaker on minimum sentences, this area has been given a great deal of attention. The member is not satisfied that in 10 very serious offences the minimum sentence would be four years. She wants it increased to eight years in the case of manslaughter and six years in other cases. That is one point of view.
We have had witnesses before the committee who felt that a 10 year minimum, and in fact the previous speaker from the Bloc condemned the government for having a four year minimum in these cases, saying that the discretion should be allowed to go to the courts as is the case at the present time. We have heard it from both sides. We feel four years is a period of time that is defensible in this case.
Minimum sentences are never something that a government wants to bring forward because it takes discretion away from the courts. The courts are put in place to judge the actions of our fellow citizens in relation to the laws, both statute and common law. They are to use their discretion and they are trained professionals in the law and with experience on the bench.
To say that we are going to implement minimum sentences is a curtailment of that discretion and to say that we are going to have a minimum sentence of eight years is an absolute affront to that discretion. The question is, would a minimum sentence of that extent in fact not be challenged under the charter of rights and freedoms. Frankly I feel that it would.
We have have a minimum sentence for those 10 situations. We have a minimum sentence of one year for illegal importation and exportation of a firearm and also for other criminal offences as well. We have attempted to impress on Canadians the seriousness of the wrongful use of a firearm with these minimum sentences. There is a limit to how far we can go and many people and institutions have told us we have gone too far already. We do not think so but we do not think that going further will gain any respect for the law. It is only going to lead to a complete and utter disrespect for the law where the law arbitrarily is imposing extremely harsh sentences without the judge being able to have some latitude.
We talk about section 85 and plea bargaining and also about section 85 with respect to an imitation firearm. If we are going to give four years for a firearm, it is awfully hard to give four years to an imitation firearm that is not a danger to the person on the other side of the counter. There has to be some discretion. It is still possible for the judge to give a stronger sentence. That imitation firearm would still come under section 85 where robbery is included. There would then be a subsequent one year sentence for the imitation firearm.
The case is also put to the attorneys general and provincial ministers of justice as to why these extra charges are plea bargained away. This area is within their discretion. It does not have to happen in the provincial jurisdiction because the provinces have control over the administration of justice. As in the case of dangerous offenders they have to say these offences are not to be plea bargained away.
I want to mention Motion No. 133 as brought forward by a member of the Bloc Quebecois. Motion No. 133 would impose a simple fine for first and second offences. These are offences that would be under clause 107.(1), the new offence under the firearms bill which takes the possession of unregistered long guns out of the Criminal Code and puts them into the firearms act.
The member suggests a simple fine for first and second offences of not only illegal long guns but also for possession of prohibited fully automatic firearms, silencers and prohibited ammunition such as armour piercing bullets. Such a lenient offence would be a mockery of what we are attempting to do under this legislation. Clause 107.(1) attempts to treat leniently and with some kind of compassion those who honestly did not register their long guns. It is certainly not an intent to excuse people with prohibited fully automatic firearms from non-registration.
The penalties the member would impose under Motion No. 133 are much less severe than is the case right now. It would say to someone who blatantly violates the law that they would not be convicted of a criminal offence. As I mentioned, it would trivialize the severity of possessing firearms without a licence and a registration certificate.
We have attempted to bring forward laws and eventually regulations that will not minimize the seriousness of the offence but which will honestly recognize the honest mistake of non-registration. They will also allow those who are in charge of enforcing these laws to deal with the offences in a humane and a compassionate way relating to the facts of the situations as they see them.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Waterloo-national defence.
Pierrette Venne Saint-Hubert, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to speak to the motions before us in group No. 4, if I am not mistaken. I would like to point out that the Criminal Code currently provides a number of mandatory minimum punishments. The one of interest to us today is set out in section 85 of the Code. It reads as follows: "Everyone who uses a
firearm while committing [-]an indictable offence [-]is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment, in the case of a first offence, [-]for not more than fourteen years and not less than one year, and, in the case of a second or subsequent offence, [-]for not more than fourteen years and not less than three years".
As we can see, the Criminal Code already provides a mandatory minimum sentence of one year for the use of a firearm with criminal intent. It also provides a minimum sentence of three years for all subsequent offences. These sentences are served consecutively to any other sentence. That means that an individual found guilty of robbery, for example, would be sentenced for the principal offence-the robbery itself-and would then have this sentence extended by one or three years, as the case may be.
The proposal by the Minister of Justice to increase the minimum sentence to four years would not improve the situation in any way. At best, individuals would be given only the minimum sentence of four years. At worst, the Supreme Court would consider the provisions setting the mandatory minimum punishment at four years unconstitutional, because it would consider such punishment cruel and unusual under section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
At the moment, an individual found guilty of one of the offences set forth in the new section 85 could very easily be sentenced to a term longer than that contemplated by the Minister of Justice. In fact, the combination of a consecutive mandatory sentence and sentencing for the principal offence could easily exceed four years.
Section 85 of the Criminal Code is therefore amended in Bill C-68 with the addition of a list of ten violent offences to which the provision will apply. We have wondered about the seriousness of the minister in establishing this list. It includes manslaughter, a crime without criminal intent, but it does not include armed assault. Is punishment to be the same, regardless of whether the victim survives his or her wounds?
Forcible confinement is not on the list either, although kidnapping and hostage-taking are. I must say I have serious doubts about the deterrent effect of an increase in the minimum sentence provided in section 85 and related sections.
I would like to point out that the working document prepared by the Department of Justice on the present section 85, in particular, and on the imposition of minimum sentence in general, concludes that the public as a whole is not aware which offences carry mandatory minimum sentence. It is hard to see how such a measure would deter potential delinquents, since they generally do not know what the minimum sentence is.
In addition, the same document that the Minister of Justice should have examined more closely concludes that mandatory minimum sentences probably have very little effect as deterrents and on the rate of the commission of serious crimes. Robbery is a prime example. And what is worse, apparently juries are less inclined to find someone guilty if they know that the crime the defendant is accused of committing carries a mandatory sentence.
If judges choose not to allow sentences for multiple offences to be served concurrently, the result would be a substantial growth in the prison population. In fact, the minimum sentence of four years would be the starting point to which any additional period of detention necessary would be added, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offence.
Obviously, an individual accused of several offences could serve sentences consecutively. The Minister of Justice seems to believe naïvely that detention centres will be able to hold more inmates. He argues, in fact, that his bill will be a deterrent and will decrease the number of crimes perpetrated with a weapon.
He has no way of knowing what impact his bill will have on the number of convictions made under his reformed system in the future. Let us not forget that a chain is only as strong as the weakest of its links.
If we increase the minimum sentence provided for in section 85 of the Criminal Code, we must expect the prison population to swell although we do not have the facilities needed to accommodate the new inmates.
The warning issued by Université de Montréal Professor Pierre Landreville is worthy of consideration. In an article published in the December 23, 1994 edition of Le Devoir , Mr. Landreville outlines the danger of such legislation, and I quote: ``[-] every year in Quebec, some 1,500 individuals are convicted and could eventually be sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison, in addition to the sentence given for the main offence. Quebec's prison population, which is now around 4,000, would almost double in the first four years following the implementation of this measure''.
The increase in the prison population would lead to an increase in related costs. Did anyone bother to find out how much Bill C-68 would cost, when we know that, in 1992-93, the annual cost of keeping a single inmate averaged $56,000 in maximum security and $36,000 in medium security?
The mandatory minimum sentence is the minimum number of years to be served. In a so-called clarification effort, minimum punishment was included in the wording of the offence itself. That is why we find the phrase "to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years" in 10 different clauses
listing possible sentences for the offences in question. I am talking about clauses 135 through 144 of Bill C-68.
The amendments put forward by the Bloc Quebecois in Motions No. 182 and following are all aimed at eliminating the mandatory minimum sentence by revoking these clauses. Significantly increasing mandatory minimum sentences is an ill-advised public relations exercise. There is no better way to score points.
The Minister of Justice wanted to ease the fears of a generally misinformed public and to make the pro-gun lobby swallow the pill by claiming that Bill C-68 does not deal with the registration of long guns. He failed miserably in both cases.
Increasing mandatory minimum sentences involves far too many uncertainties, considering eventual tangible benefits. Bill C-68 is a bill on public safety and not a marketing operation. The Minister of Justice would have been better off explaining his bill and answering gun owners' legitimate questions. Had he done so, he would not have provoked such a general outcry.
I therefore urge the House to support the Bloc motions, which reflect the kind of society we all want to live in.
Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to express my support for the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois and put them into the context of this debate.
In this instance the emphasis is mainly on decriminalization, and that is entirely in line with the position taken by the Bloc Quebecois which is to make this a balanced piece of legislation. This seems to have been a rather difficult debate, with some very active lobbies on both sides, and I must say that in my case, I got some firsthand experience of this in my riding, and with citizens who want to make sure that this process produces some effective results.
So with this in mind, the Bloc worked on this bill and tried to come up with some satisfactory results.
What is the primary objective? Basically, to improve gun control. Prevention is the main thing, in other words, we want to ensure that now and in the near and not so near future, we can improve the situation. Through better control, we also want to reduce the number of guns that are out there but are not being used, and a number of examples come to mind. Everyone knows people who, somewhere in a closet, have a gun they inherited and which they still have but do not use. They still own it but hardly ever use it. There are a lot of guns around.
This bill is rather well received by the general public, especially in Quebec. However, the groups that are directly affected are more sceptical. They have expressed certain reservations and, in some cases, out and out dissent. Generally speaking, the people most likely to be affected-and I am thinking of hunters, of whom I represent a certain number in my riding-are wondering what will happen. There are a lot of rumours about what it might actually cost them. They have sometimes felt that the government was out to get them.
Many people who use guns, either hunting rifles or revolvers, use them responsibly. So we do not really want to brand them as criminals, and that is why we would like to see some flexibility with respect to criminalization. We are suggesting ways to make this position more flexible.
In the case of Quebec, the registration of firearms, including hunting rifles, has been in effect for a number of years. The problem is how the process is used. Now the government wants to create a national registry. I realize some people are going to say that it is like starting all over again. They say: when I bought my gun at the store, they took down the serial number and all that. Now, when they want to set up a national registry, for Canada, in this case, we have to more or less repeat the same process. I agree there are some costs involved in implementing the system. The bulk of the cost would be during the start up phase, but subsequently, we can assume that the system would become much simpler and far more flexible. Nevertheless, there are some questions about these new measures.
I want to make it clear that we in the Bloc Quebecois support the principle of improving gun control. However, we want to minimize the impact on the individual, and in this case, the user. Since this bill is intended to benefit the general public, it would perhaps make sense for everyone to contribute to the start up costs. I do not own any firearms and it would not bother me to contribute as a citizen, as a taxpayer, to this system's start up or to pay for a firearm's registration, if one day I decide to purchase one, on the condition, of course, that the fees are reasonable.
Throughout the process, we have maintained pressure on the government to banish the rumours regarding figures and to reassure people that the cost would be reasonable. Because a bill is just a bill, its effectiveness relies on the decision of individuals to respect the system and the law. It is they who ultimately determine how effective a law is going to be. When the majority of people respect it, it becomes a standard for society. At that point, it becomes easier to enforce. The best way to have people respect a law is peer pressure.
Therefore, I agree with the statement that we all have to contribute and that users also have to do their part. Under the current proposal, a $10 fee will be imposed for the registration of the first 10 firearms. Most Canadians do not own more than 10 firearms. These fees seem reasonable. Some people do have more than 10, for example collectors, but there are special provisions for them. Now, an ownership certificate is also involved. To be able to own a firearm, people will have to purchase a certificate at a cost of approximately $10 per year, payable for a period of five years. It is important to note that this
ownership certificate replaces a certificate that already exists, the firearms acquisition certificate.
For a good many people, the only fee involved will be the initial cost of registering their firearms, $10. I think that this is reasonable and so do a good number of my constituents. The fear they have is that an amendment will be introduced later which will raise costs exponentially. They want reassurances, like the one discussed in committee, that the government will not pull a fast one on them.
In this regard, we suggested indexing it to the cost of living, which would appear to be one of the most reasonable proposals made. We cannot, however, use the same formula, because of the way the House works. So, I now propose, instead, that these fees be frozen for 20 years, although I still think our first position was better and more acceptable to the government.
However, we make the point again to the government that this would be one way it could ensure the greatest support and the least resistance for its bill. I think the people in my region and in other regions will accept this system, so long as it means the least possible inconvenience for them, including any financial inconvenience that may be involved. The registration fee must not be seen as a disguised tax on firearms.
The other point is to ensure as well that an inefficient bureaucracy is not created with the legislation. As members of the opposition, we must ensure over time that the system exists without accompanying machinery of no practical value and that the people working in the system do what they are supposed to be do, that is, control weapons, so that we do not end up with a system costing more than it should.
If these points can be assured, I think the bill will be more saleable. Of course, there has been considerable debate about the effectiveness of registration. Will it really meet the prevention goals? This is, I admit, where debate was perhaps the most difficult. People, experts from both sides testified for and against registration. We as legislators must make up our minds after listening to experts who disagree on this subject and to people from both sides who lobby hard to get their message across. Some of them even resort to threats, linking this to election and political issues, which I find somewhat regrettable because there are other, more important matters.
That said, we must make up our minds, and I am now one of those who have come to support this bill, because I think that we must take this step in our social development. Although we may have some doubts, are these doubts enough to abstain, in my case, or dissent? I think not, and that is why we must support this bill.
But-and I will conclude on this-we are asking the minister to be a little more flexible to ensure that people will rally behind this bill, and that any negative impact on those affected will be minimal. In this regard, I think that their only concern at the present time is the matter of costs. I feel that going along the lines of the amendments that follow would allow us to take a very important step while being a little more flexible on decriminalization.
Jim Abbott Kootenay East, BC
Madam Speaker, I heard earlier in a speech by one of the government members that the objective of the legislation was to improve public safety on the streets and in our homes. Every single Reform member in the House is out for exactly the same objective, to improve public safety on the streets and in our homes. Unfortunately the bill has very little to do with that.
I have asked a number of people, including members of the House, to explain what they think the bill is all about. One member suggested that it was the warm fuzzies, the warm fuzzies simply being that it makes us feel good, that it makes us feel better.
The justice minister has been very interesting in coming forward with a figure of $85 million to make his creation work, $85 million to register seven million guns. We are taking at look at the imposition of registration and we are taking a look at the expenditure of $85 million. It reminds me an awful lot of the idea of what it would cost for transportation of a particular entity.
If we take into account only the capital cost of the car and not any of the actual running expenses, we might get a rather distorted picture.
I do not buy the justice minister's estimate of $85 million by a long shot. I do not think it is anywhere even remotely close. At best, even if that was the federal cost, what about the provincial cost?
I asked the justice minister about a situation where environmental activist Paul Watson talked about the fact that he had used a stun gun in either New Brunswick or the province of Quebec, I cannot recall. He rose in the House and made the very clear point that the administration of justice was a provincial issue, a provincial responsibility.
Even if the $85 million figure were believable, which I do not think it is, the real cost of administering this useless program will fall to the provinces.
I also cite from page 13480 of Hansard , June 8, wherein the Speaker of the House made a ruling on a point of order raised by the House leader for the Reform Party. I recognize that clause 98 was dealt with in Motion No. 3. Nonetheless this is germane to my argument. He said:
Clause 98 as introduced in the House had the concept of "police officer" for which the concept of "inspector" has been substituted by the committee. It still remains a provincial ministerial responsibility as to which class of individuals shall be so designated. It may well be that a provincial minister decides to recruit an entirely new class of individuals for the purpose of clause 98, but it clearly remains the decision of the provincial authority to do so. Whether the class of individuals are called inspectors or police officers has no direct impact on the royal recommendation attached to the bill.
He was ruling on the fact, in the judgment of the Speaker, that the costs of the program were actually going to be borne by the provinces in the same way as the cost of driving the automobile once it is purchased are borne by the owner. In actual fact the cost to the Canadian taxpayer, even if we could believe the $85 million as a starting point, is $85 million to buy into the initial registration of the program. The enforcement of the program will be something quite different.
Let us deal with the $85 million figure. I want to restate for the third or fourth time that I do not buy the $85 million figure even at the federal level. What could we do with money equivalent to that?
I read in the June 10 Gazette :
The RCMP will spend $68 million over the next few years in an attempt to curb smuggling along the 700-kilometre border between Quebec and the U.S.
The largest number of new officers will go to the Valleyfield detachment, near the Akwasasne Mohawk reserve.
Akwasasne, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border and incorporates parts of Quebec and Ontario, is considered a key crossing point for contraband.
If we are to spend $68 million in that case or if we are to spend, as the justice minister has suggested, this impossible figure of $85 million, would it not be good if we could actually spend it on something that would accomplish that for which it is being spent?
It seems rather illogical when one refers to the polls that the justice minister and parliamentary secretary keep referring to. They say that 60 per cent, 68 per cent or 75 per cent of people are in favour of registration. That is terrific, except invariably-and I will make up a figure-68 per cent of people are in favour of registration but 72 per cent of people do not think it will do anything. What is the point of the registration program if in the belief of Canadians it will not do anything? Why are we getting into it in the first place? Why are we harassing ordinary law-abiding Canadians?
With respect to the source of weapons coming into Canada, I will read a small part of a very profound report by the MacKenzie Institute. It is rather detailed but is also quite enlightening.
By the time of writing, 102 weapons which have been sold to the four Mohawks were recovered by Canadian police forces. Details on these firearms include the following: 65 light semi-automatic pistols; 32 semi-automatic pistols; four revolvers; one submachine gun; at least another 21 light semi-automatic pistols, 39 semi-automatic pistols and four Cobray submachine guns pass through this connection into Canada.
What possible effect did or would the registration program have on the passage of this arsenal?
Other weapons that were not traced to Vermont but were seized along with those 102 weapons included five assault rifles, two submachine guns, a sawed off shotgun, 14 other pistols and 23 unspecified weapons. At least five of these were also smuggled in from the United States. Of the 102 weapons, various Canadian police forces have provided information on the crimes the firearms were associated with, and/or the history of the suspects who had been in possession of the firearms.
The arms provided by the four Mohawks were linked to the following crimes and criminals. Again, I am only going to read a small part of the list. "Thirty-five were associates and/or members of the Russian Mafiya, Armenian thieves", and it goes on and on.
The connections are amazing. The point I am trying to make is that our border at this point is no bar to guns. A registration program is going to have no effect in changing that situation. This is underscored and underlined even by the Canadian Police Association.
My point is why are we going after targeting law-abiding Canadian citizens when the surveys themselves which supposedly support registration say that people recognize registration will make no difference. We are going after the wrong people.
Gilbert Fillion Chicoutimi, QC
Madam Speaker, I am far from happy with Bill C-68 in its present form. As usual, I think the government has turned a deaf ear to the various motions in amendment put forward by the Bloc Quebecois. Once again, the government has missed a wonderful opportunity to improve its bill by incorporating the findings of the various committees, the conclusions reached at public hearings or quite simply the views contained in letters sent in by our constituents throughout this country.
One thing is for sure: for or against, this bill leaves no one indifferent. I have said it before, and I will say it again, although this is a very controversial bill, it is, in my view, essential and in the interests of all Quebecers and Canadians that the govern-
ment pass it so that citizens are better protected against the upsurge in crime and violence that can strike anyone at any time.
I cannot, at this time, go into all the details of this bill, but it is clear from the controversy surrounding it that it has some major flaws. I will mention just two in particular. First, in a move designed to impress the public, the Minister of Justice included in his bill a minimum sentence of four years, in lieu of the provisions of section 85 of the Criminal Code. In its present form, section 85 provides that a criminal who uses a firearm while committing an offence will have to serve an additional consecutive sentence of one year. In the case of a second or subsequent offence, the additional sentence is three years.
Surely the Minister of Justice cannot seriously think that a minimum sentence of four years on top of the original sentence will have a dissuasive effect. It will not. It will merely serve to worsen the already serious problem of overcrowding in Canada's prison system.
Furthermore, I would remind you that members of the Quebec bar told the committee that a minimum sentence of four years for use of a firearm in committing an offence could result in something like an additional 250 people a year joining the prison population. When you think about how much it costs taxpayers to keep one offender in jail, I do not know whether this country, which is bankrupt, currently has the means to support another 250 people in jail. The auditor general also spoke of this subject.
My colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hubert, the Bloc Quebecois justice critic, is proposing to simply drop clauses 135 to 144, which merely list ten crimes with a minimum sentence of four years. I think that we should stick to the current rules established in the Criminal Code. It should be up to judges to set the sentences for the various crimes committed by offenders.
Would it not be wiser to follow Quebec's example in justice matters, and to channel our efforts towards better understanding, by putting emphasis on prevention and bringing in measures which promote rehabilitation, instead of giving in, like this government has, to repressive movements from all over the country, which are expounded mostly by the Reform Party.
Another point that is of particular concern to me is that section 106 of the current Criminal Code stipulates that people who make a living from hunting do not have to pay the licencing fees related to firearm ownership.
I know very well that we have grown accustomed to the government's double standards over the past two years, but this bill is too serious and important for that kind of game. Clause 110 of the bill would effectively allow the governor in council to introduce discriminatory regulations uniquely for the benefit of aboriginal peoples. I fail to see why belonging to a certain class of persons changes the application of the legislation.
It is therefore imperative that any person who owns a firearm be obliged to pay registration fees, whether that person lives off the proceeds of the hunt or is a native. This government must not allow the creation of different classes of citizens. It is not helpful at all and merely creates conflicts within our society.
Guns must be controlled and regulated by laws that are logical, sensible and apply to all citizens of this country, irrespective of their age, sex, occupation or cultural heritage.
I know this bill does not enjoy unanimous support, but we must remember that as elected representatives, it is our duty to protect our constituents, often from themselves.
This bill should respond to the main concerns which have been raised constantly in the past five to ten years with respect to gun control.
We know this bill is not a panacea for the crime and violence that exist in our society. However, it is time to acquire the additional tools we need to deal with these problems. I think this bill is a tool that will help society evolve, and that a few years from now, it will be too late.
Finally, I may recall that at the present rate, there will be about four million guns of all kinds in less than ten years. We cannot afford to leave this legacy to future generations. It is time to act now. This has gone on long enough.
Hugh Hanrahan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to discuss report stage of Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons. This is perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation the House has seen since the implementation of the GST. It is also a piece of legislation which has caused a great deal of debate and at times heated discussion since this issue was first raised in the House.
I have learned there is little or no middle ground on the issue of gun control. It is an issue that Canadians either do or do not support. I surveyed my constituents of Edmonton-Strathcona twice to gauge their feelings on this issue. I did this through household surveys and received conflicting results. Some individuals suggested the first question was too broad and all encompassing and others felt the second question was too narrow. This is a problem in which each side is divided into black and white; there does not seem to be any shade of grey.
How do we resolve this conflict in order to vote according to the wishes of the majority of our constituents? I felt the best way to resolve the problem was to bring in an independent third party. In this case it was an independent pollster. This polling
firm's objective was to find out how my constituents truly felt on the issue of gun control. The results were as follows.
Just under 50 per cent of the respondents said they believed the government's proposed gun control legislation should not be passed without modification or amendment, while only 28 per cent said it should be passed. Over 55 per cent believed that the potential benefits of the proposed legislation would not justify the cost of the bureaucracy required to enforce it compared with 30 per cent on the yes side. An astonishing 70 per cent believed that the authorities would be granted too many powers concerning the issues of search, seizure and compensation, while less than 25 per cent felt that the new powers would be justified. Finally, almost 80 per cent of the constituents from Edmonton-Strathcona believed that criminals would not comply with the justice minister's proposed gun control legislation compared with only 11 per cent who said that criminals would.
It is also interesting that this government seems to be travelling down the same road as the previous Conservative government. There was an outcry of self-righteousness from the Liberals while they were in opposition over the Conservatives' use of time allocation to ram through legislation.
The Liberals had managed to make the most faithful individuals of our democratic process turn into pessimists. This Liberal government is trampling on Canadians' democratic rights by limiting the time in which we as parliamentarians can debate legislation put forward in this House.
The Mulroney government used time allocation 35 times to pass 200 bills. That is 17 per cent of the Mulroney government's bills, which is shamefully unacceptable, as was indicated by the other side.
Now let us look at the government's record, in which time allocation has been used an unprecedented 14 times on only 59 bills, including this one, Bill C-68. On this bill time allocation has been used not once, not twice, but three times. In other words, the government has used time allocation 24 per cent of the time, 7 per cent more than the Mulroney government. That is totally unacceptable to me and to the constituents of Edmonton-Strathcona and I believe to all Canadians.
The government must start to listen to the people and not the spin doctors, or else it as well will be able to hold its caucus meetings in a phone booth.
The people of Edmonton-Strathcona have spoken out on this issue, and the majority concur with the Reform Party's position that registration is not the means to an end in which the end is a decrease in crime. It is for this reason that the Reform Party has brought forward amendments to split the bill during second reading. We would have passed the crime control measures immediately, which would have allowed us more time to spend debating the merits and pitfalls of a full scale registration plan.
We as a caucus applaud the justice minister's endeavour to curtail the deliberate criminal misuse of firearms. He has done this through increased penalties for criminal misuse of firearms and through an increased effort to further enhance controls on illegal border crossings.
Unfortunately certain aspects of Bill C-68 will have a detrimental impact on the competitive sports shooting group. If we are to believe the majority of shooting organizations, they feel there is a real possibility of the loss of Canada's sports shooting structure. Prohibiting or restricting firearms that are commonly used in legal, legitimate, recreational circumstances such as casual target shooting or in formally organized competition does not prevent criminal acts. It only further restricts the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.
As the Reform Party's critic for amateur sports, I feel obligated to speak directly to the specific sections of the bill that have the most direct effect on sports shooting organizations across Canada. We proposed amendments in committee that would have allowed those individuals who are members of the registered recognized shooting associations to be exempt from Bill C-68, and this was defeated. Our position is that we do not want to prohibit guns that are used specifically for competition and thereby prohibit those at the entry level from entering the sport.
Our reasoning is that you do not come into the world of competitive shooting with a $5,000 or $6,000 target pistol. You start off at the entry level with a very inexpensive firearm. You join a club and you take up shooting. Invariably these firearms tend to have barrel lengths of four inches or so and to be .32 calibre, which is what the Olympic shooters use.
It is a concern for me that the proud tradition that Canada has in competitive shooting may be lost. A perfect example was during the Commonwealth Games last year, an event that resulted in 43 medals for Canada. Twenty-two were shooting medals. That is over 50 per cent of Canada's total medals awarded. Under this bill, that number will decline dramatically.
Bill C-68 prohibits two-thirds of the pistols owned by law-abiding citizens. Many of these are collectors' items or are target pistols in current use in competitions such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Some of these firearms may be grandfathered, but that is simply a delay.
The majority of my constituents feel that Bill C-68 is an ineffective and intrusive piece of legislation. What Canadians, both rural and urban, want is crime control, plain and simple.
Until these types of problems which I, the rest of the Reform caucus, the people of my constituency and the people of Canada have raised are dealt with, we as a party and I as an individual cannot support this bill.
René Laurin Joliette, QC
Madam Speaker, I wanted to rise and speak on these amendments to Bill C-68, first because we supported the bill at first and second reading. We supported the principle, because we believe virtue is unassailable.
Surveys reveal that 79 per cent of Canadians and Quebecers agree with the adoption of measures making it more difficult to obtain firearms. We see this as a modern measure with an eye to the future. We want to take steps to limit violence, and this is why we approved the bill at first and second reading.
We also want to continue to support this bill. However, some amendments seem reasonable, and the government should permit some changes to the bill. In some cases, the changes sought are even more stringent than what was proposed. We want legislation that is more balanced and fairer for people.
It must be credible. The people governed by it must believe that it will improve things. If people do not believe in it, it becomes like other oppressive legislation, like burdensome taxes, which we already know about. When taxes become burdensome, what do people do? They start smuggling and black marketeering. They find a way to get around the law.
If people see this legislation, which is so important, as exploiting them, if some people, such as hunters, feel they have to pay a hidden tax, they, and there are more of them than any other group covered by the legislation, will probably be less likely to comply with it, because they find it oppressive.
We therefore proposed certain amendments, on decriminalization among other things, because someone who forgets to register a weapon is not a criminal. This person presents no danger to society. This person does not deserve to go to prison, as someone said before me, at a cost of $50,000, $60,000 or $78,000 a year in a federal penitentiary. This is what it costs to keep a person in prison.
It seems to us that certain sentences are not consistent with their intent or with the offence committed. We understand that a punishable offence must be tied to a reasonable sanction. The proposals we are making, however, seem more reasonable than what the bill currently provides.
We do not think that, if these amendments are voted down tomorrow morning,-or tonight, because we will probably vote tonight-that we will vote against the whole bill. No, that will not be the case. We want to play fair. We therefore propose to the government that it accept some of the amendments that will make it easier for people to accept the bill without putting their peace and security at risk and that will enable it to co-operate, to accept some help from the opposition so that this legislation may be civilized, modern and fair to everyone.
Other inexpensive measures could be implemented. Hunters have never been opposed to safety measures. Quebec already has a law requiring people to store firearms in a separate, locked cabinet, and to keep bullets in another room of the house. We proposed in amendment an inexpensive locking device that can be obtained for $10 or $15.
If the manufacturer were required to supply this device with the firearm, it would cost even less. The purchaser of a firearm would automatically have the locking device and citizens would be safer. This is a small, one time outlay, but the continuing costs of licences or registration certificates are much less acceptable to hunters. If, however, sportsmen in Quebec and in the rest of Canada were certain that, despite the cost to them, the bill would save lives, I think that they would throw their support behind it tomorrow morning. While there is still time, let us take the action that will make it easier for people to comply.
I hope that the government will see the validity of the amendments put forward by the official opposition and that it will vote in favour of these amendments this evening.
Cliff Breitkreuz Yellowhead, AB
Madam Speaker, it is quite clear that the Liberal government has bitten off a lot more than it bargained for as it proceeds to ram Bill C-68 through the House.
The government contends its gun control bill will do wonders to prevent gun related crimes. The government contends that Canadians from coast to coast want Bill C-68. The government contends that the cost for tighter gun control is minimal. While the government contends, Canadians are learning the facts about gun control and the facts about gun related crimes.
Let us start with the government's premise that gun control will reduce violent crime. Statistics Canada reported in 1991 that a total of 753 homicides were committed. Two-thirds of the murderers had prior criminal records. Almost half, 46 per cent, of those homicides were committed during the perpetration of another criminal offence, and only 36 per cent of these homicides were committed with firearms, half of which were committed with handguns, which are already required to be registered. If we look further into the statistics we see that 71 per
cent of these homicides were committed by individuals who could not even legally obtain a firearm.
Despite the fact that Canadians have been required to register their handguns since 1934, gun related crime has remained relatively constant over the years. That is because those restrictions have not prevented criminals from getting handguns. Tougher gun control will merely drive up the street value of weapons, making gun smuggling more lucrative than ever.
Bill C-68 in all likelihood will actually increase the criminal element in our society instead of reducing it.
It is worth mentioning that New Zealand abandoned firearms registration in 1983 after the police there said that registration diverts police away from more important duties. In Australia more than 40 per cent of firearms have not been registered, even after decades of requirements that they do so. The justice minister would do well to look at the experiences with gun registration in other countries.
The Liberals also contend that Canadians from coast to coast want Bill C-68. The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and a host of provincial governments are not in favour of the very contentious provisions of Bill C-68.
Polls show that as more people learn about Bill C-68 the support drops. That is why the government is ramming Bill C-68 through the House by invoking closure.
There is the cost of universal registration of guns. The Liberals will have Canadians believe that registration will only cost $85 million. That is totally and completely erroneous and the justice minister knows it. The government bases its cost on the premise that there are only about 6.5 million firearms which would need to be registered at a cost of $85 million. The facts speak for themselves. Why does it currently cost $82 to register a handgun and why would it be only $13 to register long guns?
In 1976 the Solicitor General of Canada estimated Canadians owned ten million firearms. Each year approximately 200,000 additional firearms are legally imported into Canada, suggesting there should now be at least 14 million guns.
A 1992 United Nations survey found that over seven million Canadians, 26 per cent, own firearms. At the same time a justice department study showed that each owner had an average of 2.7 firearms for a total of 19 million. In April 1995 the deputy commissioner of the RCMP stated that there could be as many as 25 million firearms in Canada, two and a half times the 1976 figure.
If high firearm numbers equate with high crime then the crime rate should be two and a half times higher than it was in 1976. In fact, justice department statistics show that the crime rate in all categories has been stable with only minor fluctuations over the same period. Despite the claim that gun control impacts directly on crime, neither Bill C-51, the Trudeau bill nor Campbell's Bill C-17 have had any observable affect on this trend. What is the justification for more gun laws?
The people of Yellowhead want a criminal justice system which works for them. They want tough laws to deal with young offenders and they want tough laws to deal with the criminal element. They want their property and their rights protected. They will not be punished for not registering their firearms. They want the bad guys punished.
Under this terribly misguided gun control bill those who inadvertently fail to register their firearm face a summary conviction offence which would result in, at the very least, a criminal record, and at the most it could end up in a five year jail sentence. If a person knowingly fails to register their firearm they could face a maximum of 10 years in jail. That is for law-abiding citizens, but the thugs who steal firearms face a maximum of two years in jail. What kind of country are the Liberals building for the future?
Section 99 of this ill conceived Bill C-68 puts at risk fundamental liberties handed down from the Magna Carta, going all the way back to 1215. Section 99 allows for warrantless searches to be conducted. Section 107 criminalizes non-co-operation with police. Sections 91 and 92 enforce harsh penalties for non-compliance with gun registration. All of these single out law-abiding citizens. So much for almost 800 years of judges and scholars; 800 years of jurisprudence. This firearm legislation has the potential to abrogate and trample Canadians' liberties and freedoms, not only for gun owners but non-owners as well.
I speak on behalf of the majority of my constituents when I say that the bill will do little to protect them from the criminal use of firearms. I have stacks of anti-gun control letters and scores of petitions signed by thousands of constituents who want the government to reconsider the legislation. I will quote from a couple of these. Mrs. Dorothy Harrison of Barrhead, Alberta writes: "The criminals will not register their guns and law-abiding citizens will be penalized. The present justice industry is a gold mine for lawyers and totally inadequate".
Mr. John Rae of Whitecourt, Alberta writes: "As a concerned citizen of the Yellowhead riding, I am alarmed at the number of
flaws in the gun control legislation that will turn law-abiding citizens of this country into law breakers".
This bill is more than just about firearms legislation. It is really about raw political power exercised by the state over its citizens.
If the government was really serious about reducing crime it would look at the causes of crime and the causes of urban violence. But to do so, the government would have to tackle some very holy sacred cows, sacred cows that this government along with previous governments helped to build.
June 12th, 1995 / 5:50 p.m.
Stephen Harper Calgary West, AB
Madam Speaker, this will be the only opportunity I have to address Bill C-68 in the Chamber. I was not able to speak to the bill at second reading because there was time allocation then. Now there is time allocation at report stage and time allocation again at third reading. There has been time allocation at every stage of the bill. It is unfortunate that in the end most members will be lucky to have 10 minutes to speak to this bill.
It is my intention to oppose the bill at report stage and at final reading unless substantive amendments are made. I have mentioned before that in the last election I made certain commitments to represent Calgary West in the House of Commons and to do so on the basis of Reform principles and policies. All Reformers ran on those principles.
Among those principles and policies is a commitment to ascertain the views of our constituents and to vote those views where they can be ascertained. Specifically, on moral issues and on the issue of gun control, I have made a particular commitment to discover and to vote the wishes of my constituents. I have followed a process in attempting to do that.
Through my householder I surveyed the general opinions of my constituents on gun control prior to the tabling of Bill C-68. That survey covered three general areas that are included in the bill. It covered the area of registration of all weapons, tougher penalties on gun crime and also the area of further restrictions and prohibitions on various classes of weapons. All of those things were supported in principle by a large majority of those who responded to the survey. That was prior to the tabling of Bill C-68. Consistent with that I supported Bill C-68 at second reading despite my own misgivings about some elements of it.
At that time I sent out a second survey to my constituents giving a little more information on the bill and asking very specific questions about the contents of Bill C-68 as well as giving my own views on it. Those questions, which were much more complex, asked about elements of the bill. As well they asked for their overall feeling on the bill. It came back with a somewhat different result that I think reflects not only greater knowledge of the bill but a change in public opinion that has occurred in Calgary in the past few weeks.
While some elements of the bill remain strongly supported by the population I should say that both my householder survey and the scientific survey I have conducted have indicated that there is still broad support for the general principles of the bill. However there are some very severe concerns about specific matters, about some of the penalties for non-registration, the confiscatory elements of the legislation and the cost concerns.
Some areas are supported and some are not. In the end the households that replied indicated about 60 per cent overall disapproval of the bill. I will reflect that in my vote.
From my own personal standpoint I believe there are elements of gun control and specifically of this bill that could be helpful. The government has over reached in a number of areas of the bill and it is unfortunate that we cannot get a more modest package.
Let me make some comments from my perspective as intergovernmental affairs critic of the Reform caucus because there are several areas of the gun control package that deserve some comment. We know that the Department of Justice retains overall responsibility for gun control but the program is predominantly administered by provincial and territorial governments, through chief firearms officers and local police agencies.
In 1993, the auditor general concluded that delays in reaching financial agreement with the provinces and territories under the authority of section 111 of the Criminal Code could well weaken the gun control program. Financial agreements had been initiated in 1979 and extended several times. The agreements expired on March 31, 1993 and now new agreements have been signed only with the maritime provinces.
I have been told the funds that the provinces received are not adequate to cover their costs. For example, in the case of Saskatchewan, it has not received payment for its administration of existing gun control programs since April 1, 1993 and it appears that little progress toward resolving this conflict has been made.
The federal government's latest offer amounts to only about two-thirds of the actual cost incurred for these programs. Agreements with the provinces are also mandated under section 108 of the Criminal Code to ensure maximum co-ordination with regard to administration of gun control.
We know that several of the provincial and territorial governments, and I include here Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon territory, the Northwest Territories and now Ontario are not supportive of the bill. Clearly a high degree of provincial support is needed if this program is to be implemented with any degree of success.
Many amendments have been suggested to the bill, including the creation of a new level of bureaucracy, gun control inspectors, for which no cost estimates are available and about which all provinces are very concerned.
It would seem to me that a government that wanted to have its provincial counterparts on side would slow down and consult with them more on the bill, on the amendments and on its implementation. Instead we have a situation where at least two provincial governments, Saskatchewan and Alberta, are considering constitutional challenges or perhaps even refusing to administer gun control programs. That is unfortunate but it is part of what I talked about earlier in my speech where we have a situation where in many areas the government has over reached itself. In some cases it raised some very legitimate areas of concern and in other areas raised concerns where concerns were not necessary.
My own feeling, having talked to many people in my riding about this, people who own guns and do not own guns, people who are for the bill and who are against the bill, gun owners who are for and gun owners who are against, non-gun owners who are for the bill and non-gun owners who are against it, is that there is a fairly broad consensus on the kind of gun and crime control that is needed.
Many citizens would be more than willing to register their weapons and co-operate with police if they felt that in so doing this would affirm the legitimacy and respect for their responsibly used property rights and for responsible gun ownership.
Unfortunately there has been a pattern of legislation in the past decade where registration has been followed by increased regulation, ultimately by restriction, prohibition and then by confiscation, often without compensation. This has led to fears that some may say are unfounded but which do have their grounding in people's experience with gun laws.
These are people who have tried consistently to obey the law. That is unfortunate. Government has reinforced that impression by concentrating on the issue of gun control. Most people see a role for gun control but we have a government that refused to move in most areas of criminal justice reform.
The Young Offenders Act remains unreformed. Sentencing remains not reformed satisfactorily. We have ongoing debates about capital punishment and other areas of the criminal justice system which the government has not touched at all.
All in all, the government's fairly one dimensional determined agenda in this area has probably cost it the support of many Canadians who might otherwise support this legislation.
I will be the first to admit that it is very difficult to measure public opinion on this bill. Certainly when this bill was originally brought before the House my constituents were overwhelmingly in favour of its general direction. There has been a shift in public opinion. That shift has been away. The fact of the matter is that no clear consensus now exists for many of the measures in this bill. For that reason, I will be supporting a wide range of the amendments to the bill, and if those amendments are not adopted I will oppose the bill on the final vote.
Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to participate in today's debate at report stage of Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons. I already had an opportunity to speak on February 16, during the second reading debate on this bill. I then supported this bill and I-like my party, the Bloc Quebecois-continue to do so. I would, however, like the House to adopt the amendments proposed by my Bloc colleagues, the hon. members for Saint-Hubert and for Berthier-Montcalm.
These amendments would decriminalize the failure to register a firearm, impose a 20 year freeze on licensing and registration fees, ensure that all parties are treated fairly in this matter, and eliminate the minimum four year sentence for some criminal offences involving a firearm.
I generally agree with the institution of a national system to register all firearms and the inclusion of new offences in the Criminal Code, except for the amendments proposed by my Bloc colleagues. I think that we must staunch the illegal flow of firearms into and within Canada and tighten border controls. We all know that enormous quantities of firearms are imported into Canada every year.
The debate on Bill C-68 has been and still is too emotional, in my opinion. The discussions so far have been very heated. I have received hundreds of letters, protesting this bill I must admit, most of which are from English Canadians. I think that the campaign against this bill was mostly orchestrated by the firearms industry. I also believe that the Reform members gave in too easily to the lobbying of firearms manufacturers.
I consulted my constituents in the riding of Bourassa. An overwhelming majority recognizes the need to bring in stricter gun control laws. Over the past year, firearms were used in some crimes in my riding, which has swayed public opinion towards better protection of the public. Of course, stricter firearm controls cannot in themselves resolve the problem or all of the problems associated with criminal activity. We must admit however, that they will, however, be of great help.
The registration of all firearms is a positive move. Gunowners will also have to find ways of storing them safely. I support Motions Nos. 84 and 135 in particular, which were proposed by the hon. member for Saint-Hubert, and which would oblige the manufacturer, importer or exporter of firearms to equip them with a safety lock.
I think that these amendments markedly improve this bill and would be relatively inexpensive to enforce. After consulting with the citizens of my riding, I can state that they support the main points in this bill. I think that this piece of legislation is a step in the right direction, despite its omissions and shortcomings.
The number of deaths caused by firearms is unfortunately still too high. In Quebec alone, between 400 and 450 deaths are caused by firearms per year. Firearms are the weapons used in most homicides and in three out of four suicides in Quebec, which total approximately 300 per year.
Therefore, we must combat the criminal use of firearms more effectively. According to the polls, Quebec shows the strongest support for gun control. This is particularly true within the labour movement where I come from. Quebec's three labour congresses support the broad principle of this bill, as do the municipalities, the Quebec Bar Association and public health experts.
However, I have serious reservations about several provisions in Bill C-68, especially those dealing with procedures and registration costs. The government claims it will cost $85 million, spread over seven years, to set up this system. However, the Government of Quebec has already indicated that in Quebec alone, it will cost more than $300 million.
Why does the Minister of Justice refuse to give us the figures for the real cost of registration? The minister said that on average, a woman dies of gunshot wounds every six days in this country. Guns are used in most domestic murders.
The government has a right and a duty to protect citizens against the unlawful use of firearms. Public safety must be better protected. I will therefore vote in favour of the amendments presented by my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois.
Ray Speaker Lethbridge
Madam Speaker, I want to make a few remarks with regard to Bill C-68 and the amendments put forward by my colleagues.
On time allocation, we must understand in this assembly that there are many Canadians interested in this subject, and to set a time limit on the amount of debate when we have such an important bill before us is not the act of a responsible government.
Look at the number of amendments that have been placed before this Parliament. There are 267 different motions before us right now. What does that say about the bill? In a very clear way, this to me says that the bill is inadequate. It says that the bill does not meet the needs of Canadians. From those 267 amendments that are before us, there are all kinds of ideas that are expressed by Canadians as to ways and means by which the bill could be adjusted to better meet the objectives, whatever they are.
However, the government has not listened to the 267 motions that are here. We have had very little debate today by the Liberals. They have made up their minds. They are determined to ram this thing through and put closure on it. Tomorrow we will have third reading. The bill will then go on to the Senate, and supposedly the government has done its job. It has not. That is one of the things I have concern about.
The second thing is who really asked for this legislation? What were Canadians asking for? They were asking during the last campaign for legislation that would be tougher on the criminals. That was their major objective.
If we listen to all the debate that is going on in this House, what are we talking about? We are talking about the registration of guns, which is a major concern supposedly, but it is not the first priority. It has been the focus of the discussion. We have set aside a major, thorough, knowledgeable, good discussion on the first priority of Canadians, and that is legislation and laws in the country and actions of the court that will punish the criminal and protect the responsible citizens of this country.
We have mixed up the priorities. We have before us poor legislation, which is not doing the job. We have a government that is focused on registration, which is unacceptable to the Canadian public and is not meeting the needs.
There are three areas I will concentrate on. First, we have to look at the question, which has been raised in the House a number of times, of whether it will prevent crime. Will this legislation prevent any harmful act occurring to another citizen? Second, what about the cost of this legislation? Will this registration be worth the cost to the Canadian taxpayer? Whether they pay it because of their licence fee, whether they have to pay money for registering their gun, it is still a tax. It is still a cost to the Canadian taxpayer. Is that cost going to be worth while and bring about the benefits we want? Third, what about the freedom of responsible individuals in Canada? Does this legislation infringe on their rights and their freedoms to act as responsible citizens? I would like to address those three items
with regard to this legislation and also relative to the amendments that are before us today.
First, will registration of long guns really fight crime and prevent crime? The answer is clearly no. That has been reinforced by the minister, not only in this House. It has been reinforced by the Minister of Justice making comments on radio, television, and through the written media that he can produce no evidence that registration will prevent crime and stop any harmful act in the streets of Canada, no evidence at all. So why are we doing it? There has not been any justification.
Second, has registration in the past of handguns prevented crime from happening in the streets? Has it controlled the use of these weapons in an offence? We had very strict comprehensive gun control legislation brought into this assembly in 1977 and again in 1991. We have found that legislation has had no effect, that the rate of crime has gone up. It has had no impact on the incidence of homicides, on suicides, on violent crime or crimes committed with firearms. It has had no effect at all.
Today we are trying to put another layer of legislation in that requires registration and licensing of Canadians who have guns, and no one has answered that basic question: will it help to fight crime and to reduce the amount of crime or the harm that occurs to individuals? Nobody can answer that. I am sure at the moment there is no answer.
We have been convinced as the Reform Party that registration is not the answer to crime control at all. I know many Canadians tell us that in a very clear way.
I wish to cover a second point with regard to cost. The conclusion is very clear. The registration of guns will be a huge waste of taxpayers' money. Whether taxpayers pay $85 million directly, whether taxpayers have to pay a licensing fee or a registration fee for one gun or a number of guns, it will be a huge cost to Canadians.
Estimates are $500 million. Others estimate it to be even more. It will be an unnecessary huge cost at a point in time when Canadians have a limited amount of money to spend on the extra things government would demand of them. It seems to be a very useless exercise to spend money on something that does not have results.
One of the authorities of the country who has been mentioned a number of times in this assembly, the auditor general, has said very clearly that before we pass new legislation we should look at past legislation to see whether it has met its objectives and has been cost effective in any way.
I have already cited the 1977 legislation and the 1991 legislation passed by the House. From all estimates or judgments the expenditure of money out of the public purse to put that legislation in place has not brought about the results Canadians want. It has not lowered the rate of crime or reduced it or stopped the number of killings that have been going on. It has done nothing.
Again Canadians are being asked to spend millions and millions of dollars, over half a billion dollars most likely when the bill is tallied, to try to register them and then supposedly reduce the amount of crime. It has not happened in the past and it will not happen in the future.
I asked my constituents, like everybody else has, what they thought of registering guns. Thirty-one per cent said that stiffer gun control would be effective, in other words registration, in reducing crime or crime related activities. Sixty-nine per cent said that it would not. Thirty-six per cent agreed with registration.
That was a reflection of southern Alberta attitude that was very accurate. When I walked around my constituency and went door to door, business to business, I found that 99 per cent of my constituents-and I talked to at least 200 or 300 of them on the street-came to me on a volunteer basis to say clearly that registration was not the way to go and that I should vote against it in Parliament.
With the government invoking closure, a government that has not allowed us to discuss it fully, how else can we vote?
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Madam Speaker, I want to make a couple of brief comments that I think are relevant to the debate as many Canadians are watching the deliberations of the House on Bill C-68.
The previous speaker mentioned that some 267 amendments would be considered at report stage. I took out the Order Paper and Notice Paper for today to find out the exact source of all the amendments. I found, even when reviewing the last 60, that some 45 of them were put before the House at report stage by two members of the Reform Party who were also members of the justice committee that dealt with the bill.
Motions at report stage are admissible if the committee has not dealt with the matter. I think there is another condition. However it raises an interesting question.
The previous speaker tended to indicate that all these items had to raised. If many of the amendments that have been raised before the House at report stage are still to be addressed by the House, it begs the question why members of the committee who were there to discuss the bill did not raise these questions and motions at the justice committee. Why are they now tying up the time of the House?
As I stated earlier, if all 267 motions were to be debated in the House with all the time members would want, we would be here until next Christmas. Frankly I think Canadians are saying that we have consulted more than enough on the gun control legislation.
The member also referred to the government ramming legislation through. It has been almost a year since the discussion documents were tabled by the justice minister. He has travelled from coast to coast. He has talked to Canadians about the issues. As a result of the committee work the justice minister has brought forward many extremely important amendments that respond to the concerns of Canadians. One example would be with regard to first time offenders and the non-registration of weapons. Those were positive and constructive changes with regard to the messages the justice minister heard.
Throughout the day I have seen the justice minister in the House and in the lobby. He has followed the debate very closely. He has listened to all hon. members whether it was in committee or in the House. He has certainly listened to Canadians.
I had an opportunity to be with the minister in Toronto. We went to Regent Park, a subsidized housing development, where there were ordinary people from a number of walks of life, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, who all had an opportunity to speak. It was a very interesting meeting. We heard from the people in that community that it was commonplace for them to hear a gunshot at night when their children were playing in the streets. They were very scared and concerned about what was happening to safety in our communities.
Considering the priorities of Canadians, community safety is certainly an important issue. One issue I keep hearing about from members of the Reform Party is the issue of registration. They proposed initially that registration and addressing the crime element should be separated, but the minister has explained clearly that there is an important and integral relationship between registration and crime control. One example concerns the importation of firearms.
Recently in Toronto there was a case where a gun dealer legally imported firearms but subsequently marketed them on the black market. Registration under the legislation, for instance, would require that on importation the weapons would be registered by the importer. There would be a clear trail of the weapons from the time they enter the country.
Another aspect concerns the importance of the relationship between Canada and the United States. Many members have suggested that we have to go after the criminals and those who are smuggling in firearms from the United States. Members know well that some 1,400 guns are reported lost, missing or stolen each year by Canadians. We can imagine how many weapons are actually lost, missing or stolen. Clearly those weapons are in the hands of the criminal element.
Therefore it is important to ensure that all Canadians who have firearms and register them are well aware of their responsibilities. In talking with gun clubs and other large gun owners I have found that the educational aspect of the consultative process has been extremely valuable to the Canadian public. Only about 10 per cent of Canadians actually own firearms. The other 90 per cent are probably not very familiar with the rules regarding firearms.
The comfort level of Canadians at large has been improved substantially because of education, knowing that there is licensing, knowing that there are courses, knowing that there are restrictions on transportation and ammunition sales, and knowing that registration will ensure gun owners have an opportunity to show they support law, order and safety in communities.
The whole issue of crime control comes down to whether we wait until we have a problem in Canada with regard to safety and crime in our communities or whether we respond proactively. If we took into account that for every one incident of a firearms related crime in Canada there are 100 incidents in the United States, and if we took into account the population differential of ten to one, for every incident in Canada there are ten in the U.S. on a per capita basis.
Could we imagine what the reaction of the Canadian public would be if the crime rate due to guns in Canada were to double? That would mean there would be only one incident for every five in the U.S. I dare say that most certainly the Canadian public would be extremely upset about the decay within society.
We have something in Canada of which we are very proud and must protect, that is safety in our communities. As we all know, the Prime Minister has boasted about safety in Canada. We can safely walk in our parks. As a result of initiatives such as this one we will ensure that Canada remains a safe country in which to live and a safe country for our children.
I do not think the honest hunter, gun collector or target shooter will be impacted in any material way by the legislation. The cost is not an issue. Ten dollars for 10 guns for five years is not an issue.
People in my own riding have come to see me and I have asked them how it would affect them. After we got over the cost issue it got down to the issue of confiscation. There are questions about confiscation. My constituents continue to raise the spectre that the government wants to register guns because it wants to take their guns away.
The justice minister has made it very clear that confiscation is absolutely not an objective of the government. Canada has a very vibrant economy in hunting, target shooting and collecting that will remain. When it gets down to paramilitary weapons, automatic weapons and guns that have absolutely no purpose except to hurt people, they are the ones Canadians say should be off the streets and out of the hands of those most likely to cause harm to our community.
It is clear the amendments brought forward by the committee are constructive. The vast majority of the 267 amendments presented by the Reform Party at report stage are nothing more than a disruption of the House of Commons.