House of Commons Hansard #157 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was business.

Topics

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved that Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to debate Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code.

Today I will direct my remarks first to the people who are concerned about their own safety from criminals, especially criminals who misuse firearms.

Hon. members can imagine what it must be like for senior citizens to suffer home invasion at the hands of criminals with firearms. That is becoming a common crime in our bigger cities. It is one that is starting to make everybody sit up and pay attention. It was bad enough when somebody's mother or grandmother was afraid to go out at night and walk to the corner store to buy a little milk for her tea. Now those folks are afraid inside their own homes. Where is this going to stop?

The government and the media like to claim that crime is decreasing. But people I talk to tell me that crime is so heavy where they live that police do not even show up to investigate a break and enter unless somebody has been injured. The police are just too busy.

A big part of the reason for such crime is the lack of teeth in the Young Offenders Act. That is another part of the crime story. It is a fact that no single change is going to make Canadian society safe again. It is going to take hard work by politicians to make Canada a safe place again for our citizens.

We need a new young offenders act. We need a victims bill of rights. We need, as my bill provides, tough penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms. Instead of enacting these useful measures, which would produce measurable results, the government chose to require law-abiding owners of rifles and shotguns to file papers, jump through hoops and pay fees in another Liberal tax grab.

My private member's bill would repeal Bill C-68 and replace it with real protection against criminals and the misuse of firearms by enacting minimum jail terms that cannot be plea bargained away.

My bill states that using, having or claiming to have a firearm during the commission of or the attempt to commit a crime or in flight after committing a crime would require a judge to impose a minimum of five years' imprisonment or not more than 14 years.

My bill also states that if a firearm is actually discharged, not just waved around or pointed at victims of crime, the penalty will increase to a minimum of 10 years or a maximum of 14 years and that these sentences will be served consecutively, that is, after or in addition to other sentences.

Some people argue that five or 10 years is too harsh and too long a time for the poor criminal to spend in jail. The way many of our prisons are run today it is really like a trip to the country club, not serious punishment. But that is another matter not directly addressed today. Prison reform is one more piece of the puzzle that the government could have enacted to achieve measurable results in the fight against crime, but it abandoned that responsibility and instead decided to target law-abiding citizens.

If my bill were passed at least convicted offenders would be deprived of their liberty and kept where they could not do more harm to society in general. If some people object to this as being too harsh, I remind them to look at the victims of crime. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, it sometimes takes a victim many years, sometimes a lifetime, to recover from the ill effects.

Let us remember the parents all across Canada who have lost a child through the criminal misuse of firearms. Or let us think of those who got shot themselves, sustaining such injuries as loss of sight or even paralysis. Think of the many fine police officers who have been shot in the line of duty. When the criminal gets out of jail their victim or victims will still be serving their sentences.

Even what passes as a small offence today, like the waving around of a shotgun during the commission of a crime, may lead victims to have to change jobs or take medication or even get counselling because they cannot cope with the endless nightmares which result from being threatened with a firearm in the course of their supposedly normal working day.

When we let people out of jail after they have committed crimes like this we send a message if the sentence has not been harsh enough.

In some countries the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime is treated as a terrorist act, punishable by death.

Perhaps we in North America have seen too many crime shows on television and tend to take such things for granted. That is unfortunate. The North American society would be much better off if we considered the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime as the terrorist act it really is. It strikes a blow against the very foundation of our law-abiding society when criminals armed with firearms can prey on law-abiding citizens and be released with little or no time in jail.

Society must take a much more serious attitude toward the use of firearms in the commission of a crime. The best way to demonstrate that serious attitude is to demand that significant penalties be imposed on the criminal. That would send a message strong enough to shrink the demand for illegal firearms and to help dry up smuggling. It would be much easier to reduce smuggling if the smuggled items were not in demand. Criminals would soon learn that they cannot use many aspects of the law and loopholes such as using young people in the commission of crimes because those young people are dealt with by the Young Offenders Act.

Enacting serious penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms is a key component of Bill C-236.

Another key component of my private member's bill is the repeal of Bill C-68. Today some of my colleagues will focus on reasons to repeal Bill C-68. For example, it will do absolutely nothing to stop crime with firearms. Its cost is much higher than the government promised. The stats used to support its passage have since been shown to be grossly inaccurate. The funds could be much better used. It gives cabinet excessive powers. It infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens to enjoy private property without government interference. It crosses the line into provincial jurisdiction. It provides police with the excessive powers of search and seizure. And it can hand criminals a computerized list of the homes that have firearms for them to steal.

All of those points are serious and deserving of many hours of debate in the House. However, I will talk about one aspect of Bill C-68 which may be more serious than any of the others. That point is based on the fact that normally law-abiding citizens have not consented to register their firearms and shotguns. When I talk to them most of them tell me that they will not do so. As with the legislation to enact the GST, Bill C-68 will have the rare distinction of turning literally millions of normally law-abiding Canadian citizens into criminals.

When the general public not only does not agree with legislation but believes it to be wrong, that lack of agreement creates a climate which broadly tolerates what some people might describe as civil disobedience. Firearms owners generally view Bill C-68 as bad legislation. I certainly agree with them, as do many of my colleagues, not only this side of the House but also on the other side of the House. I know many people in rural Canada and nearly everyone assures me that they will not comply with the requirement to register their rifles and shotguns.

We are already well aware that millions of Canadians have lost faith in our governmental process to such an extent that they do not even vote. Their parents or grandparents may have shed blood on foreign soil to defend our democratic rights. Nevertheless, millions are ignoring their right to vote because they have lost faith in government.

In addition to the falling percentage of voters, millions of Canadians see themselves as being so overtaxed that they cannot get ahead no matter how hard they work. There is a widespread trend of people doing anything they can to avoid paying taxes, especially the GST. We even have a name for it. We now call it the underground economy.

When I was a child the only underground economy was mining. Those were the days when the average Canadian regarded the responsibility to vote as a primary concern and no law was lightly broken. Average Canadians cared about their country and their government because they believed this country and its government cared about them.

Instead today a broad cross-section of Canadians believe we are politicians who only care about ourselves, not statesmen acting in the best interest of the country. That sad fact has become the source of many jokes. One of the most feared sentences today in Canada is: “Hello, I am from the government and I am here to help you”.

Due to the passage of Bill C-68 soon we will have buried rifles and shotguns in backyards all across Canada. Some people, especially those who suffered under totalitarian regimes in other lands, view their firearms as the last defence against tyranny. Others who learned to hunt with their fathers and grandfathers see firearms as a basic element in their family traditions.

Ranchers, trappers and farmers as well as sport shooters and collectors do not look at firearms as weapons for criminals to use. They look at them as tools and an essential part of their everyday lives. It is not only the first nations people who see Bill C-68 as a threat to their culture. For many, Bill C-68 is the latest example of the urban lifestyle and urban values being crammed down the throats of the people living in rural areas today.

Together with the majority of people who live in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap I see Bill C-68 as a sharp axe being used to hack at the base of the tree of our Canadian lifestyle. It is a solemn obligation of elected members of government to nourish that tree.

Instead we passed Bill C-68 which is helping to kill some of the most treasured aspects of our Canadian lifestyle. I believe every responsible member of parliament should work hard to repeal Bill C-68 to restore the Criminal Code to what it was before legislation was enacted and to pass tough new penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms.

As I mentioned, there are many other reasons parliament should repeal the act respecting firearms and other weapons, which is the formal title of Bill C-68 and which would happen by passing Bill C-236. First it was presented in parliament under false pretences. It was supposedly to reduce accidents by encouraging safer storage, but the fact is safe storage was already required by earlier legislation.

It was supposedly to reduce crime with firearms by requiring law-abiding owners of rifles and shotguns to fill out some papers and pay some fees. However the fact is that registration of handguns has been required for many years yet small guns remain the criminal's weapon of choice. It was supposedly to reduce the number of crimes in which firearms were involved. We have since seen RCMP Commissioner Murray write former Deputy Justice Minister George Thomson to take exception to how the 1993 stats of the federal police force were distorted to promote Bill C-68. Commissioner Murray wrote:

We determined that our statistics showed that there were 73 firearms involved in violent crime compared to the Department of Justice's findings of 623 firearms involved in violent crime.

Apparently some police forces consider a firearm to have been involved in a violent crime if a drug dealer happens to have firearms and ammunition stashed in his basement when he is arrested. Members of the House did not have such an interpretation in mind when they fell for the government's flawed arguments in support of Bill C-68. I will end on that note and hope everybody considers very carefully where Bill C-68 will take the country.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, in Canada we acknowledge and respect that there are legitimate uses of firearms by responsible and law-abiding Canadians. That is not at question at all.

Responsible law-abiding firearms owners have nothing to fear besides the fearmongering on the other side from the new Firearms Act. Canadians do not want to live in a country in which people feel they want or need to possess a firearm for protection. Further, if we in Canada want to retain our safe and peaceful character as a country—and it is the best country in the world to live in for the fifth time in a row—we should signal in every possible way that we will not tolerate and we will severely punish the use of firearms in the commission of crimes.

It is unfortunate the hon. member of Okanagan—Shuswap did not recognized that Canadians understand the Firearms Act and that the amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada which comprise Bill C-68 are an investment in crime prevention which will help build upon the culture of safety practised by responsible law-abiding firearms owners in Canada.

It might be a surprise for the opposition that 82% of all Canadians support the registration of all firearms, a majority in every province.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Of course they find this very funny. Seventy-two per cent of rural Canadians approve of registration. There is strong support for the universal registration of firearms across Canada. Bill C-68 establishes a framework to achieve a number of goals that relate directly to the safety of Canadians in their homes and on the streets.

It creates stiff sentences for those who use firearms in the commission of a crime. It creates systems and sanctions to deal with the smuggling of guns into Canada. It provides that all firearms in Canada must be registered, a cornerstone measure that will help police fight smuggling and do their job more effectively. It does all these things within a framework that respects the rights of responsible law-abiding gun owners.

Let us review for a moment the background of how the legislation came to be. The opposition keeps forgetting how many times we have debated the issue in the House. We were elected on the second mandate because of that piece of legislation. It was introduced into the House of Commons on February 14, 1995 through successive debates including an extensive list of amendments brought to the bill by committee and debated at third reading.

On and on we have debated the issue in the House of Commons. It has gone to committee. Canadians have had a chance to bring forth their opinions. Two major sets of regulations have been processed, the first being tabled in November 1996 and the second set being tabled in October 1997.

The standing committee reviewing the first set of regulations made 39 recommendations, 30 of which were accepted in whole or in part. The government accepted more than 93% of the justice committee's recommendations following extensive hearings on these regulations.

My point in this brief review is to ask the opposition why, in view of the extensive parliamentary involvement in both the legislation and the regulations and in view of the number of changes in accommodations which were made as the legislation passed through the House, we would even consider repealing Bill C-68, legislation that enjoys the support of 82% of Canadians.

Bill C-236 would have us believe that parliament's legislation does nothing to address the criminal misuse of firearms. Opposition members may wish to consult the Criminal Code in this respect. A significant number of offences in the code were modified to carry a minimum punishment of imprisonment for four years.

A significant number of offences in the code were modified to carry a minimum sentence of four years' imprisonment. These Criminal Code offences are found under the headings of causing death by criminal negligence, manslaughter, attempt to commit murder, causing bodily harm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery and extortion.

Other offences are found for a variety of criminal offences including activities such as weapons trafficking, possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking, manufacture of automatic firearms, automatic firearms importing and exporting when knowing it is unauthorized, and tampering with the serial number of a firearm.

We were very attentive to criminal activities in formulating the offence provisions of Bill C-68. Increasing the minimum terms, as the bill proposes, would add nothing useful to the general approach approved by parliament when it passed Bill C-68.

If the supporters of Bill C-236 really took the time to study the issue, they would also find that there have been a number of appeals of the four year minimum sentences over the past two years. All of them have been upheld on appeal as appropriate sentencing, expressing the will of parliament. They also express the will of the Canadian people, 82% of whom support this legislation, as I mentioned.

The licensing of firearms users is one of the central features of this legislation. Under Bill C-68, only people who are responsible and have not within the past five years been convicted of Criminal Code offences, of an offence involving violence against a person or the threat of such violence, of an offence involving criminal activity or of the contravention of the Food and Drugs Act or the Narcotic Control Act are eligible for licensing.

Registration is an important component of the act. Let me remind proponents of Bill C-236 that this aspect of the legislation was recently validated by the Alberta court of appeal. People who sell guns should know to whom they are selling. If the person buying the gun has a licence, there is some reasonable assurance that the person is a law-abiding, responsible person.

Safety is an essential component, and this is why persons with licences will have completed and passed the Canadian firearm safety course and will have at least the basics in respect of the safe handling and use of firearms.

Many of the lost or stolen firearms eventually come to the attention of the police. A system of registration will assist the police in returning these firearms to their rightful owners.

Since licensed users will have shown they were not involved in criminal activity and are otherwise responsible, and since guns will be registered, the police will have an invaluable tool to assist them in their fight against crime.

Opponents of the legislation contend that criminals will not register guns. However, the licensing and registration provisions will assist the police by providing them with additional tools to charge criminals and to fight organized crime.

Many guns come to Canada from the United States. The attitude in the United States with respect to guns is significantly different from that in Canada. The illegal movement of firearms into Canada is a problem of considerable magnitude and we recognize that. The registration system will register guns coming into and leaving Canada and the movement of those guns within the country.

Illegal shipments will be easier to stop. Customs officers will be able to identify shipments against the registration database.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Obviously the opposition finds this very funny. This is not a funny subject as far as we are concerned.

It will be possible to track down any firearm imported into and sold in Canada. Contraband reduction is an important tool through which the Firearms Act can contribute to crime reduction.

The Firearms Act allows honest and law-abiding sportsmen to continue to practice their sport. It is possible to buy and sell firearms, to hunt with a gun, to target shoot, to collect firearms, to display them in a museum and to practice all sorts of other sound activities favoured by gun owners.

To counter criminal activities in the country, the Department of Justice is attending to a wide range of criminal justice issues such as our crime prevention program, our efforts to improve youth justice, our intentions to address organized crime issues, which we have done, and our approach to firearms control.

In short, Bill C-236 seeks to return the system of gun control to the status it held before Bill C-68. In so doing it ignores the benefits of better licensing screening. It ignores the benefits of registration. It ignores the cherry picking that members opposite are suggesting in terms of the legislation. It is simply regressive legislation. Above all it is not responsive to Canadian people.

I said before, and I will close on this point, that there is strong support across Canada for the direction we are taking. We were re-elected on that point. We are implementing a reasonable system that respects and encourages responsible firearm owners in the safe practice of their sport.

Our legislation, which was ruled upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal, respects the rights of responsible law-abiding gun owners at the same time as building a culture of safety in Canada.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we have the opportunity to discuss Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code.

This bill, sponsored by a Reform member, proposes the total repeal of the Firearms Act, nothing more and nothing less. Unfortunately, the hon. member seems unaware that there is a very strong consensus that a certain degree of firearms control is desired by the people of Canada and of Quebec.

Thus, in stating that the Firearms Act does not meet any real need, and consequently does nothing except unduly infringe upon the property rights of honest citizens, the hon. member is engaging in a debate that is pointless, to say the least.

Prudence is in order when addressing the matter of gun control—

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

—something the Reform members clearly lack this morning—in order to clearly grasp the issue as a whole.

It must be recognized that in proposing the repeal of the Firearms Act the hon. member appears to wish to defend a legitimate right, the right to unrestricted right of ownership. The importance of that right cannot be overemphasized. Enjoyment of property is a fundamental right, and one that is protected by a number of important legal instruments.

In Quebec, for example, section 8 of the charter of rights and freedoms recognizes the following: “No one may enter upon the property of another or take anything therefrom without his express or implied consent”. The protection of right of ownership is nothing new.

There is a common law principle four centuries old and well entrenched in law, which states “a man's home is his castle”. Therefore, one cannot intrude on someone else's property with impunity, without incurring the anger of his fellow men. However, it would be against good citizenship to contend that our rights can be exercized irrespective of the common good.

Gun use cannot be viewed from a strictly personal point of view. Any argument solely based on individual property rights would just not fly. Living in a community necessitates compromises and, sadly perhaps, gun registration is one of these compromises, these reasonable measures to ensure our collective safety.

Living in society requires limitations on the exercise of our rights. These limitations are justified when public interest is at stake. Combating crime is certainly a collective concern. Rights may legitimately be limited when the safety of our fellow citizens is the basis for the proposed measures. On the face of it, the firearms legislation met that criterion.

As lawmakers, we could legitimately pass legislation for greater firearms control. We had to do it to ensure the safety of our children and the people around us.

Let us not fool ourselves: firearms are not like any other property, firearms can kill. In many cases, firearms are manufactured for a specific purpose: to harm or even to kill. That is not insignificant. Few if any people will argue with the fact that, even in the hands of conscientious individuals like police officers or hunters, firearms have all the makings of dangerous and potentially lethal weapons.

Out of respect for the victims of the misuse of firearms, we had to do what was necessary. As legislators, we had to approach this issue responsibly.

I have no doubt that, deep down, the Reform Party member is, as I am, very concerned about the safety of his fellow citizens. But suggesting that the Firearms Act be repealed is taking this concern much too far. There is no denying—and I am choosing my words carefully here—that the legislation has a number of flaws, but this does not mean it should be repealed.

One flaw is undoubtedly the fact that the Liberal government is moving much too quickly, criminalizing something that should not be criminalized, in order to look good or cover up its failure to give the public what it wants.

The government's bill is poorly drafted, costly and unenforceable, and the government has failed to build a consensus among the main groups of firearms users, particularly hunters and suppliers, who are fiercely opposed to it.

Nonetheless, it is very important to remember that a gun control bill is primarily intended to reduce crime and bring about a drop in the number of accidents caused by the mishandling of firearms. It is thus possible to be in favour of gun control but to question certain important aspects of the legislation, the unfortunate effects of which could have been avoided. That is the position in which I find myself.

However, the Reform Party member questions the very legitimacy of the Firearms Act, and that is where he loses me. Repeal is not the same as improvement.

By suggesting that this legislation simply be scrapped, the member is closing the door to any constructive discussion that might lead to a workable consensus benefiting everyone.

In the circumstances, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have great difficulty supporting such a bill.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to my colleague's private member's bill which I support fully. Before going directly to the bill I think we should pass out some warnings.

On December 1 Bill C-68 will come into effect. We want to send a warning to all smugglers. Bill C-68 is coming in, so all smugglers beware. As of December 1 they can no longer smuggle guns as Bill C-68 will be in effect. But wait a minute. I thought smuggling was against the law long before Bill C-68 came in. This is what is so hilarious about this government. Suddenly it has come up with a bill that is probably going to cost $1 billion to implement. It is going to stop such things as smuggling.

We should send a warning out that effective December 1 all smuggling will cease. Mind you, we do not have any officers at the borders to prevent a lot of the smuggling from happening. We do not have money for that. We cannot supply any more police officers to enforce this because they are going to be very busy with the paperwork. They have to register all these guns that are causing such a problem. And according to their statistics that was totally false. The head of the chiefs of police was quite concerned that they supported this bill on false information put out by this government. He has been quoted from his letters to the justice minister as stating his disappointment about this false information being presented.

The idea that smuggling is going to be stopped because of Bill C-68 is just another farce. I imagine smugglers are having a good time laughing about that one. At no time has this Liberal government taken any initiative to put a stop to smuggling.

Standing on the bridge at Port Erie I watched the traffic coming and going across the border. I watched boats going across the river. I asked how they knew what was on the boats as no one was checking them. They said “We watch from the bridge. If they are like this, it is probably cigarettes; if it is like this, it could be booze; if it is like this, it is probably guns; and if it is like this, it is probably people. So if it is like this, maybe we will go after it”. They do not have any manpower. I asked what was on a truck that was going through the line and they said they did not know. I ask if there was somebody in pursuit and they said no, they did not have the manpower for that.

The government comes out with this huge document giving Canada's justice minister all kinds of power and authority through order in council to change things, that it will make a difference.

Two people were shot with shotguns in my riding. The people who did that are really going to be in trouble. They are going to face the Liberal law. They will probably get a life sentence, although wait a minute, they will be paroled in 25 years. I think that is mandatory. But who knows, even with Liberal justice, under section 745 of the Criminal Code, they could be out in 15 years. Yet we are getting tough with Bill C-68. Under Bill C-68 they will still get life and will have to be paroled in 25 years and they will still have the opportunity for a section 745 hearing. That is Liberal justice. And they wonder why people laugh.

In 1993 this government was elected and it was going to do something with the Young Offenders Act. It is almost 1999 and nothing has happened. The attorneys general across Canada are asking the Minister of Justice “When are you going to do something with that act?” Of course she is having a difficult time doing anything about it. I understand her caucus is not in agreement with it, but then I think she is glad they are balking about changing the Young Offenders Act. After all, it is a wonderful old Liberal document. It was enacted in 1984. Since then youth crime has escalated like we would not believe and it still is going up.

There are cries all across Canada. There is a member yapping off on the other side of the House. People in his riding are saying do something about youth crime. Since 1993 the Liberals have done absolutely nothing. But we have Bill C-68. According to the auditor general it is going to cost probably $1 billion to bring it into force. That is the auditor general's figure. We have already spent several hundreds of millions of dollars.

Let us look at another thing. In 1993 the government announced that there were over a million young people starving and in poverty in this country. Guess what it will announce in 1999. There are a million young people still living in poverty. Why does the government not take the money it is wasting on such things as Bill C-68 and do something for the needy? Why does it not take hundreds of millions of dollars and do something for them, instead of wasting its money on a document that will not have any effect?

Going back to those two people who were shot by shotguns in my riding, the next sometime somebody shoots somebody with a shotgun it will be registered. That will make the victims feel much better. I am sure a husband or a wife will be very glad that their spouse was shot with a registered shotgun. And the government wonders why people laugh at what it says. Liberal justice is a joke and people laugh at jokes.

There was an incident in Saskatchewan. Mrs. Lorraine Dewetter's husband was out in the field and his half-ton pick-up got stuck. He died in the field from a heart attack. The police discovered the fellow had a .410 gauge shotgun in the pickup. They picked the shotgun up and rightfully so. They went to the house to inform Mrs. Dewetter that her husband had died from a heart attack in the field. While they were there, they searched the house and confiscated three more weapons: a .22, another shotgun, and I do not know what else, all because of such things as Bill C-68. That is what those things bring in.

If we want to look at the history of registration it is not too difficult. Look at it. The main purpose of registration, regardless of what the Liberals say, is confiscation. That is the final result. That is the purpose of it.

When the Minister of Justice is given the authority by order in council to declare which things are illegal and which are not, it is pretty easy to do. Just start snapping fingers and they will make things illegal as they go along. And then we are doing a great job of attacking the wrong people, the law-abiding people of Canada.

All the criminals must think this is funny. Sixty years of registration of handguns and we do not see much change. In fact it has gotten worse. It did not solve any problems. Then we heard from the parliamentary secretary. I remember. She had a great statement. It is really important to get these registrations done because if we find a stolen gun, then we know to whom to return it. That is worth a million or so. It is worth spending lots of money on documents and using up a lot of police time to make sure that happens.

I do not know what kind of a world the Liberals live in when they talk about justice. People across this land are not happy at all with Canada's justice system. They want it changed. If, as I just heard, somebody would say to hang them, I would certainly believe there are those who probably would do just that. Maybe we should ask the 11 or 12 families of the victims of Clifford Olson whether or not that should be the penalty. Maybe we should take a little more seriously how people feel about the justice system, but the Liberals do not.

The government came up with Bill C-68 which will not change anything. I have carefully gone through the present Criminal Code. We have a safe storage law. We have laws against the criminal use of firearms in the commission of a crime. All those things are covered. The only thing that is not covered is registration, and the government had to write a huge document full of gobbledegook which does not change anything except the registration of firearms. It spent over a billion dollars, according to the auditor general.

When children are still facing poverty, when we have poverty on Indian reserves and on city streets it is a shame that we are spending money for things that will not be effective.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the debate today.

The bill brought forward by the hon. member from the Reform Party is consistent with a long held position of the Conservative Party that the registry system under Bill C-68 is ill conceived and is in fact a reactionary piece of legislation that will not accomplish the goals it was set up to achieve.

Although the well intentioned persons who support the legislation have bought in the idea that somehow registering a shotgun will be an effective way for the government to respond to organized crime and violent crime, the sad reality is that this is not the case. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent by the government as a ruse to somehow hold itself up as being in favour of tougher legislation when it comes to the criminal use of firearms.

The reality is that the legislation focuses on law-abiding citizens. We have heard many members of the opposition and government members discuss who it will affect most. It will affect most farmers, fishermen, sportsmen, hunters, collectors, and individuals presently engaged in an activity which under the current law they are lawfully entitled to do. The legislation is now criminalizing with sanctions something that individuals participate in by their own free will, of their own volition.

In all reality one has to question the priorities of the government in the area of justice when it has decided to target law-abiding citizens as opposed to those who have been referred to on this side of the House as being the true criminals, those individuals who make the conscious decision to pick up a firearm and use it for an illegal purpose and not those individuals engaged in lawful activities which they are entitled to enjoy.

Let us get down to the root of Bill C-68. It is a tax on a law-abiding activity. The cost of that bill has become somewhat prohibitive in the minds of Canadians when a person looks at what it will eventually attach as a price tag. The initial assessment of the Minister of Justice who first dreamed up the piece of legislation was to be in the range of $85 million. Within months of its passage and movement in the direction of the gun registry it became clear this was not possible.

By September, the opening session of this year, 1998, the tab had run up to $133.1 million. As we approach the start-up date of December 1, one can only assume that it is in the range of $200 million. As the hon. member for Wild Rose mentioned there are estimates in the range of $500 million to $1 billion, to which he received a lot of heckling and acrimony from the government side.

How much does it cost in human life? Not one iota of evidence suggests that the legislation will save lives. Not one bit of linkage, statistical or otherwise, shows that registering shotguns will somehow save lives. That is simply not the case.

The police reaction to Bill C-68 is quite interesting. There have been statistics from the Canadian Police Association. The Canadian Chiefs of Police have spoken in favour of it. However, frontline police officers, those who are tasked with administering and enforcing the legislation, will tell us very quickly that they would far rather spend their time and efforts fighting real crime, not going with warrants to individual houses based on some premise that they might have a gun stored there illegally or that they might have an unregistered gun. They would far rather spend their time and efforts fighting real crime, not going with warrants to individual houses based on some premise that they might have a gun stored there illegally or that they might have, more important, to tie it to the legislation, an unregistered gun. It will become an overbureaucratic, time consuming exercise. Police officers admit they could spend their time in a far more effective and worthwhile effort helping to keep Canadian streets free from crime.

One questions the priorities. One questions the emphasis the government has placed on Bill C-68. Let us talk about how the bill was originally sold to the general public. There were tremendous statistics showing that the criminal use of shotguns and long guns was impacting on a rise in violent crime. The assistant commissioner of the RCMP wrote to the government and said “Wait a minute. These statistics are wrong. This is not true”.

These statistics were spun to effectively support the government's position that these guns had to be registered. These statistics were wrong. They were grossly exaggerated 10 or 100 times. The same statistics were used in the Supreme Court of Alberta in arguing a case which favoured the government by a slim three to two majority. It has now been appealed further to the Supreme Court of Canada. It begs the question why the government is to go ahead with the registry on December 1 knowing that it is before the courts?

It is always possible when a case goes before the court that judges in their wisdom decide legislation is unconstitutional. It appears that more and more of the provinces and the territories are joining in this effort, this court action, to somehow question the government priority on the issue. If that happens, why would we spend more money? It is another blatant waste of money by the government, throwing bad money after bad to somehow preempt the court. One has to question why the government is choosing to do this, knowing that a court challenge is pending.

It is interesting to note the absence of members of the NDP from this debate. They have been all over the board when it comes to gun registry. It would have been interesting to hear their remarks with respect to this bill.

The spin doctoring that has taken place is something of note. It is increasingly discouraging for Canadians to hear the government misquote statistics and their wishes in the Chamber and outside the Chamber when it comes to gun registry. One can always find statistics to support a position. That is not a difficult thing to do. However when one goes into the court of public opinion, one hears a completely different version of what Canadians want with respect to gun registry.

I want to be very clear in stating that the Progressive Conservative Party is very much in favour of gun control and gun registry, for that matter, when it comes to pistols, the weapon of choice, but registering long guns is simply asinine. It is going in the wrong direction when it comes to trying to fight crime, organized crime or otherwise.

Efforts should be put into shoring up our borders, into putting more money into policing budgets which we know have been drastically cut, and into better legislation aimed at organized crime or more sanctions for the criminal use of firearms. I am sure Canadians would applaud the government for those efforts if it were moving in that direction, but that is not the case.

The spin doctoring that has gone on is remarkable. The government has become very good at it. It has high priced individuals who spin its positions and tell Canadians effectively what it wants Canadians to believe. This is incredibly irresponsible on the part of the government.

The benefits of Bill C-68 are very negligible. One only has to look again at the government's use of statistics. Where are the statistics the government is relying on to say that it will save lives? They are completely absent from the debate because they do not exist. Is that not what it is all about? Should criminal justice not be about protecting people and saving lives?

Bill C-68 does not measure up. It does not meet those requirements. That is why we are supporting the private member's bill that has been brought forward. Let us end it now. Let us stop spending money and throwing bad money after bad to try to register long arms and shotguns that are not weapons of choice when it comes to crime.

The cost is only one aspect of the legislation, the cost and the use the government has made of these statistics. Thousands and thousands of Canadians appeared on Parliament Hill at the beginning of this session to express their outrage as to what would happen with this tax, this burdensome bureaucracy that will be put in place.

Bill C-68 is not indicative of what Canadians want. If anything, Canadians are crying out for a system that is simpler, more direct and delivers what it is supposed to deliver to Canadians.

Bill C-68 certainly does not deliver justice. It creates a false expectation for police and citizens. Police officers are already labouring under a CPIC system that they cannot rely on to be accurate. To suggest that we will have a national gun registry which will prevent a police officer from going to a house and knocking on the door, knowing there is or is not a gun behind that door, is completely asinine. It will not give the confidence police officers need to carry out their task.

Those are the reasons I put forward to support this private member's bill and I urge other members, particularly my colleagues in the NDP, to do the same.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate although I must say that was not my intention when I arrived here a few minutes ago.

For six weeks all parties on this side of the House have been engaged in directing questions toward the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and solicitor general about what he did or did not say on October 1 on that now infamous airplane ride.

Frankly a lot of us, certainly in our caucus and in I suspect in other opposition caucuses, would have preferred to talk about other things than whether the solicitor general would stay in his post.

A farm crisis is going on in Saskatchewan. There is the employment insurance issue which my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is trying to raise. What should we do with budget surpluses? There are any number of questions, but because of the intransigence of the government we have been stuck dealing with the future of the solicitor general.

Here we have a private member's bill which talks about something that will not be decided by the House of Commons until the Supreme Court of Canada rules some time down the road. The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled after September 21. The Reform opposition party members could not wait. Never mind uniting the right. They were busily concerned about uniting themselves by having the motion on firearms.

The case is going to the Supreme Court of Canada. It will not be decided here. It was decided here between 1993 and 1997 when Bill C-68 passed the House of Commons. I was not in the House at that time. I do not know whether it is a good bill or a bad bill, but I know that it will not come back to the House at least until the Supreme Court rules against it. Why are we wasting the time of the House of Commons and of the people of Canada talking about something that is totally irrelevant?

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is no surprise to me that the NDP member who spoke to bill has not even read it. That is quite typical.

Bill C-68 was sold to the Canadian public and the House under extreme false pretences. We like to talk about the Alberta court and what happened there. Need I remind the House that four of the five judges said that it was an infringement on provincial jurisdiction. Due to the government saying that it was a criminal act they decided three to two that the federal government had that right to infringe on provincial jurisdiction under a criminal act. Even that was sold as a guise to the Canadian public.

We will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to enact legislation that most law abiding citizens who own firearms will probably not comply with in the first place. While we are doing this I remind the government of its responsibility. The government's foremost responsibility is to the safety and well-being of its law abiding citizens.

What did the government do when it was at fault in terms of the legislation to compensate all hep C victims who contacted hep C through the tainted blood system? It said that we had no funds. It said it could not afford to pay them, but it can afford to put hundreds of millions of dollars into firearms registration while those with tainted blood are dying. I have to ask where the government's priorities are.

For years navy merchant marines have been fighting to be duly compensated for their war efforts. These people have suffered, been left maimed and some have died in acts of war in order to feed our troops, yet this government has stated time after time that there are not enough funds to pay these people but it can spend hundreds and millions of dollars on a useless act causing total disagreement across the country.

I have to wonder where the government's priorities are. Government members will say anything to be re-elected, in order to come back to the House, but they think nothing at all of the true victims. Instead they would impose another tax or levy on law abiding citizens of Canada, which is shameful. I hope those people on the other side can sleep at night when they enforce this act after they read the letters of those suffering from hep C. It is a disgrace.

Firearms Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

Canada Small Business Financing Act
Government Orders

November 23rd, 1998 / noon

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That in relation to Bill C-53, an act to increase the availability of financing for the establishment, expansion, modernization and improvement of small businesses, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the report stage of the bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the said bill and, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for government business on the day allotted to the consideration of the report stage and on the day allotted to the third reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interpreted if required for the purpose of this order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.