House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was gun.

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Government Orders

March 25th, 2003 / 10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved:

That, as this House supported the reduction of funds for the firearms program in the Supplementary Estimates on December 5, 2002, this House should continue to support the reduction of funds for the firearms program in this supply period and subsequent supply periods until the government can provide a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for the program and provide an accurate total of expenditures to date and a realistic estimate of future costs of implementing the Firearms Act including the total cost:

(a) to fully enforce the Firearms Act;

(b) to verify the 5 million unverified firearms in the registry;

(c) to verify and correct the information in the 4 million records in the Firearms Interest Police database and to bring it into full compliance with the Privacy Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

(d) to register the ten million unregistered guns in Canada;

(e) to licence the half million unlicensed gun owners in Canada; and

(f) to the economy and jobs.

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time, as will all Alliance members today.

No program has been a bigger failure or a bigger embarrassment for the government than this seven year old billion dollar firearms fiasco.

The Auditor General said that Parliament was misled. We need to go back to the drawing board because that is true.

Today Parliament can decided to stop the misleading. Today is the day the process to uncover truth about the gun registry can begin. Today Parliament can do the job we were sent here to do; to start taking control over the waste of money on useless government programs. Now is the time to do what is right and that is the purpose of our debate today.

The Auditor General made it clear that the cost of the gun registry would be more than the billion dollars that she reported. The President of the Treasury Board admitted that she still did not know the total cost of the gun registry to date when she appeared before committee last week.

Before the Prime Minister whips his MPs into tears and forces them to vote for another $59 million tonight, should he not tell them how much the gun registry has cost so far and how much it will cost to fully implement? None of that has been told here. If the members opposite would listen to the debate today they might learn something.

Today we are asking the government to stop pouring good money after bad. We are asking the government to stop registering guns until a cost benefit analysis has been completed or at least cabinet releases the one that has already been done. How can we support a program if we do not know what this cost benefit analysis is?

In March 1994 the justice minister was clearly told in a briefing note from his own officials, which we obtained through access to information:

Accurate information about costs and benefits must be obtained before any firm commitment can be made....

That was in reference to the gun registry. That was never done.

Why should we approve more money when we do not have that information? The sad fact is that the cost benefit analysis was done. It just has never been released by cabinet.

Last week the new CEO of the Canadian Firearms Centre admitted, in a briefing for opposition MPs and senators, that cabinet has refused to release the cost benefit analysis. All Canadians must wonder why it would want to hide this information. All Canadians must wonder what the Liberal government is hiding, not just why.

Given the reality of violent crime in Canada, taxpayers would have to wonder why the government has chosen to go down the gun registry trail of wasted loonies. Why not spend the money in the most cost effective manner: target the root causes of violence and of crime in our society?

Some past justice ministers have claimed that the gun registry is saving lives, but every year Statistics Canada data proves the opposite. In 2001 only 31% of homicides were committed with a firearm and almost two-thirds of these were with handguns. The RCMP has been registering handguns since 1934 but 74% of the handguns recovered from firearms homicides were not registered. Therefore it is obviously not working. Surely 69 years of registering legally owned handguns is long enough to prove the registry is a failed policy option.

In December, Toronto police chief, Julian Fantino, confirmed this when he said “A law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped solve any of them”.

In 2001, 65% of the persons accused of homicide had a Canadian criminal record and 58% of these had previously been convicted of violent crimes. Over half of their victims also had a criminal record. Known criminals are the problem, not millions of responsible firearms owners.

The justice minister even trots out a police chief every once in a while to say that the billion dollar registry is worth it even if it saves one life. This is precisely why we need a cost benefit analysis. Without that cost benefit analysis we cannot make a proper judgment.

On March 17 the newspapers reported that there were an estimated 10,000 deaths in Canada each year because of medical mistakes. How many of these lives could the million dollars a year wasted on the gun registry have saved if the money had been spent to mitigate these mistakes?

Finally, here are the main reasons that the justice department's future cost estimates are so wrong. I will focus on this for the next few minutes.

First, there are more than five million firearms registered in the system that still have to be verified by the RCMP. What will it cost to go back and fix that? We have never been told.

Second, up to four million records in the RCMP's Firearms Interest Police database, called FIP, have to be corrected in order to comply with the Privacy Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are four million Canadians on that list. What will it cost to go back and fix it?

Third, 78% of the registration certificates have entries that were either left blank or left unknown and they still have to be corrected. What will it cost to go back and do that?

Fourth, there are more than 540,000 gun owners who still do not have a firearms licence and they cannot register their firearms without a licence. What will it cost to go back and fix that?

Fifth, more than 300,000 owners of registered handguns do not have a firearms licence authorizing them to own one and they cannot re-register their guns without a licence. What will it cost to go back and fix that? The government has never told us.

Sixth, up to 10 million guns still have to be registered or re-registered in the system. What will that cost to complete?

Seventh, the registry attempts to track two million completely honest citizens but fails to track the addresses of those persons who have already been proven to be most dangerous to society. This includes 131,000 persons prohibited from owning firearms by the courts; 35,000 people under court restraining orders; and more than 9,000 persons who have had their firearms licences refused or revoked. The government does not track them but if people are gun owners and they do not notify of a change of address in one month, they could get a criminal record.

I will not have time to list all these but I will just go to my tenth point. The Department of Justice has never released its calculations on the cost to the economy and jobs.

On August 16, 1999, the department denied Parliament and the public the entire 115 page report on the economic impact of the gun registry. It was declared a cabinet secret. This is a 115 page report on the economic impact of that registry, which the House is not allowed to see. What is the government hiding? This is a Liberal ram it down their throats federal-provincial relations plan. No national program can ever work without the co-operation and full support of the provinces.

The justice minister claims that the gun registry has refused and revoked more than 9,000 firearms licences but he refuses to admit that it did not even need a gun registry to do this. He gives the impression to the public that this is somehow part of the benefits of this whole program but he does not tell us that they never follow up to see if these people do not have a firearm. We do not have enough police resources to go after the criminals in our society today. Instead we waste it on a paper pushing exercise.

We need a better administered firearms licensing system. Administer that, ensure it is working and scrap the registry.

The justice minister also keeps Parliament in the dark by refusing to acknowledge that the statistics from his own department show that the firearms licence and refusal rate was twice as good under the old RCMP firearms acquisition certificate program, FAC, than it is now. The government gives the impression that somehow it is doing a better job with the billion dollars it is spending now. If we look at the facts, it is actually worse.

Finally, the gun registry is a joke, an expensive joke, perpetrated on taxpayers and a cruel joke perpetrated on law-abiding firearms owners. It is time to put an end to this. It is time to scrap the gun registry. By the time this debate is done today I want to see the cost benefit analysis. I want to see the government produce the study that shows this is worth the $1 billion, $2 billion, $3 billion which will be spent on that in the next few years.

I put out a report yesterday issued by the Library of Parliament. It clearly indicates that in the next few years $1 billion will be spent on enforcement alone. If only one-tenth of the gun owners in Canada, who now have not complied with the law, are charged, we will spend on average $1 billion more.

Before we do that, we should be saying no to the $59 million for which the government is asking. That is what the vote is about today. I hope that there are enough people on the other side of the House who will stand up on their hind legs and start to make democracy work.

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10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I highly appreciate the informative speech by the hon. member. He has done tremendous work on the gun registry issue. He has been following and carrying the ball on this issue for a very long time. In fact he is the only person in the House of Commons who has been pursuing this issue for so long. Still, I believe there is some misinformation and some of the facts on this issue are disputed.

I know that Parliament and Canadians were kept in the dark on the issue of violent crimes and the use of guns. I remember that in 1997 the commissioner of the RCMP wrote to the deputy minister of justice to complain about the department's misrepresentation of the RCMP's statistics on this issue.

Could the hon. member throw some light on that, with some facts and statistics on the use of guns in violent crimes, and the misrepresentation of facts by the government to Canadians and Parliament?

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10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, the member has asked an excellent question. It strikes at the very heart of what the government tries to do.

The government has tried to spin this out as a public safety measure, that somehow the gun registry is equivalent to gun control. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the statistics to which the member refers are precisely that the RCMP had investigated over 88,000 actual violent crimes, as an example. That was back in 1993, I believe. Of the 88,000-plus violent crimes investigated, only 73 involved the use of a firearm. If we put that in percentage terms, .08% of violent crimes involved a firearm. It begs this question. What good would a registry even do to prevent that .08%? It would do nothing.

The government continues to give Canadians the impression that this is somehow a public safety method of reducing violent crime. We could take the $1 billion, or $2 billion or $3 billion that will be spent soon on this and actually target it toward the root causes of violent crimes in our society. We ignore the other 99.92% of violent crimes and we zero in on that .08%. Even the registry would not have effect on that.

The point the hon. member should be making is that this really will not do anything to improve public safety. It is a waste of a billion dollars. We would better off to put more police on the street to go after the violent criminal.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the member. I just met with representatives of the Canadian Police Association. Today is the association's lobby day. In its kit is a very strong statement of support for this registry. In fact, in its press release it says that it would be irresponsible to scrap any element of it. Also included is a list of anecdotes of how this registry and system have enhanced public safety.

The member accuses the government of leaving Canadians with the impression it is a public safety issue. How does he reconcile that view with the fact that not only is the government saying this but the association that represents the frontline police officers in the country is saying it as well?

I know he is very good at referring to anecdotal evidence but at the end of the day that party is very quick to cite police support in its criminal justice public policy issues. That is all well and good. Could he explain to the House and to Canadians if the police confused? Are the police acting in a political way? Do they not understand the issue as well as the member?

I am having a hard time, when I get very clear signals from not only the Canadian Police Association but from the chiefs of police and the coalition of issues for--

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10:25 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

The member may not want to hear this but he is the one who talked about a responsible debate. There is a gap in what he is saying and the reality we as members face.

Could he specifically address the position by the Canadian Police Association? Without attacking the association, as they sometimes do, how does he reconcile the fact that frontline police officers, through their association, have said it would be irresponsible to scrap any element of this program?

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10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

We have run out of time but I will allow the member, if the House so wishes, a minute to answer.

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10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I need quite a bit of time to answer the question properly. Let me give the hon. member one example. The RCMP in Saskatchewan took a survey of their frontline police officers. Over 90% of them said to scrap the registry, get rid of it.

I am really questioning what the member is saying. I have talked to frontline police officers. I have even had reports. This month the Regina police have put out a--

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10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Provencher.

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10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the motion presented today by my colleague, the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville. As members have heard from my colleague, the purpose of the motion today is to compel the Liberal government to determine the total cost of the firearms program and to provide a comprehensive cost benefit analysis for the program.

As for the question from the member opposite about why the CPA and the executive might be supporting this particular program, I think it is clear that if they actually had a copy of that cost benefit analysis they would soon change their minds about this horrible waste of money.

Minister after minister responsible for the Firearms Act has failed miserably to inform not only our front line police officers but Canadian taxpayers generally how much money this wasteful registry will cost and will continue to cost. Even the numbers that were eventually provided by the justice department were called into question by Canada's top auditor last December.

I can understand the police saying, “On the basis of what the Liberals have shown us, it seems to make sense”, but since the Auditor General has specifically stated that the Liberal government has misled Parliament, I think the CPA needs to re-examine its position. Let it be told the truth. We would not have a worry about debating this issue if the truth were told. Unfortunately, as the Auditor General said, we are not getting the truth from the government. Canadians are starting to wonder who exactly is minding the shop and why they should trust the Liberal government with their money.

Events and revelations during the last number of months have shown that the law concerning firearms registration in Canada is so dysfunctional, so unrelated to the actual task of tracking down and eliminating gun related crime, and such an embarrassing example of government mismanagement that to consider putting more money down a black hole would be absurd.

I ask members to look at some of the editorials put out today. The National Post of Canada: “$59-million more down the hole”. The editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press : “It's still a waste”. No one who thinks about this in any rational way can in any way justify the expenditure of government money--no, better put, taxpayers' money, because that is whose money it is.

Although the Canadian Alliance has held this position in opposition to the firearms registry, it is clearer than ever that funds flowing into the firearms program must be reduced until a total cost benefit analysis and accurate cost projection has been completed.

When the Canadian Alliance claims of over-expenditure and mismanagement of the registry were finally confirmed by the independent Auditor General last December, the Liberal government was at a loss as to how to respond because the facts were impossible to deny. Canadians know that this registry has been riddled with administrative errors, budget overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability since it was implemented in 1995.

We also know that the costs have ballooned to almost $1 billion. We must remember that when the Auditor General said $1 billion, it was not in fact $1 billion: That is where she ran out of paper. There simply was no paper to confirm any of the other expenditures. She has stated that she needs another three to four years to determine what these costs are because she has to wait until the program is implemented. The program will not be implemented for another three to four years. A Library of Parliament research paper now has stated that the registry is likely to cost an additional $1 billion over and above the current $1 billion, just over the next five years. Let us think of it: another $1 billion over another 5 years, or $200 million a year. Given the track record since last December, it has spent over $60 million. I am beginning to mix up my m's and my b's because the expenditure is so unbelievable, but it has spent $60 million just since last December, so the projection of $200 million a year is not unreasonable.

Most people simply cannot imagine how much money that really is. To put it in real terms, a billion dollars could have, for example, financed the purchase, installation and operation for one full year of 208 MRI systems in cash strapped Canadian hospitals. At least we know that in that context the money would have saved lives. Instead, we have individuals in Winnipeg and Manitoba hospitals dying in waiting rooms because they cannot get treatment. This government and this justice minister are pumping money into a gun registry that is not preventing crime and our citizens are dying in waiting rooms in our hospitals. It is shameful. The solicitor general, who has been dumped on with this unfortunate project, is now trying to say, as he has to, that it is a great system and “I am there to make sure it works”.

Three justice ministers have been unable to do anything with this and what the government is now doing is dumping it onto the solicitor general, the new guy on the block. Why is it doing that? The government is doing it so that it can hide the true operational costs of the registry in operational programs.

What it will do is pump up the budget for the RCMP and then tell all Canadians to look at how much money is being given to the RCMP. As it pumps up that budget, it will use the money not for front line policing but for the gun registry and it will at the same time say, “Look how supportive we are of the police”. These are the kinds of devices that mislead not just front line police officers but the Canadian taxpayer generally, and it is disgusting.

Why is the government not prepared to show that cost benefit analysis? It is not prepared to show that cost benefit analysis because that would expose what it is doing in terms of hiding where this money is going.

Statistics Canada told us that the implementation of Bill C-68 has not resulted in any quantifiable decrease in gun related crime. We remember the former justice minister, the current industry minister, saying that it saved 300 lives a year. Pure rubbish. Pure nonsense. And yet these kinds of statements are made deliberately without any basis in fact. Statistics Canada does not support it. The justice minister's statistics do not support it, and indeed, the cost analysis the government is hiding from the Canadian taxpayer will not support it.

Why will the government not show the analysis if it demonstrates money paid for good value? Why will the government not show it? Because it realizes that it has gone down the road of blowing a billion dollars here and a billion dollars over the next five years, and it is too ashamed to show Canadians. The government simply wants to get past the hump of the next election and then let the thing fall apart.

Madam Minister, why cannot Canadians see the facts today? Why?

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Outremont, QC

Madam Minister? A promotion?

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10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Well, she certainly has been more attentive than any minister has ever been, so I am confused. I am sorry, Madam Speaker.

Clearly the Liberal government has from the beginning been more interested in the appearance of public safety rather than public safety itself. The current justice minister, the solicitor general and their Liberal colleagues continue to politicize the ideal of public safety, which all Canadians support, by suggesting that gun control did not exist before this government came along.

Everyone knows that is ridiculous and it is nonsense, yet the government continues to criticize the Canadian Alliance, which wants to bring in a responsible mechanism to ensure that guns stay out of the hands of criminals. Why do the Liberals not do that? They are simply too proud to now admit that they have made a mistake.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the member from the Canadian Alliance who just spoke. He said a few minutes ago that this program costs $1 billion a year. I would like to ask that he correct this information because I believe that the $1 billion to which he is referring is actually over a projected 10 year period. I think it is important that we talk specifically and accurately about the amount of money involved.

I would agree that there have been a lot of issues around the management of this program, but it is also fair to say that something like two-thirds of the costs that have been spent or are anticipated actually have to do with the licensing under this program. The Alliance always likes to focus on the issue of the registry, but in actual fact about two-thirds of these funds are associated with the licensing.

Is it the position of the Canadian Alliance that it is also wanting to scrap the licensing that applies to people who own firearms? Is the Canadian Alliance in favour of scrapping the licensing program when it refers to this $1 billion?

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10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, if in fact I said $1 billion a year, that was a mistake. It was $1 billion up until this year, that we know of. That is what the statistics are. That is where the Auditor General ran out of paper to confirm this. Clearly the new estimate of the parliamentary research is somewhere in the range of $200 million a year.

In respect of the licensing program, the statistics are that the federal government spent, prior to this, about $10 million a year on licensing. We have gone from $10 million a year on a licensing program to now $200 million a year. Something is very, very wrong. Indeed, the member should be asking and joining with us to ask for this cost benefit analysis that the Liberals are hiding from Parliament. The Auditor General has already stated once that the government misled the House. Now it is trying to do the same thing again.

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10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I would just like to say quickly that I spent 30 years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with 14 years on uniform duties and 16 years on plainclothes work, dealing with the proceeds of crime, the financial drug business, so I know a little bit about the subject. My friend from Provencher was the attorney general of Manitoba, a justice minister, so over here we have the expertise to make a proper assessment.

I supported and support the firearms acquisition certificate program in Manitoba. I am a holder of an FAC, now of course a licence to possess and acquire firearms. My expertise is in the area of justice. What I have recommended to my party, and the reason that we support the licensing of individuals, is that the registry has absolutely zero use in fighting crime. I know that from personal experience. The statistics that are coming out today, if we look at what the police are putting forward, show that in most instances it has nothing to do with the registry and has a lot to do with other criminal activities.

Right now police resources are being wasted on the firearms registry. What we need is to have more put into the child pornography fight, which is something that could use $1 billion.

I would ask the member, based upon his experience as a justice minister, is there not a better use for this money than this stupid registry?