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.

Topics

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Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I commend the hon. member's attention to the 1993 red book which contained the proposals for gun control. The 1993 red book was probably the most focused document of all documents in that election. It included a significant component with respect to gun control.

I do not know where the hon. member was in 1997, but I remember knocking on doors and I can recall a couple of incidents quite vividly for me, both in 1997 and in 2000, where certain individuals would respond at the door or on the phone, and they were implacably opposed to gun control. To argue that gun control has not been a part of the previous three elections is simply not right.

I take exception to the hon. member continuing to say that $1 billion is being spent here. At least the Auditor General is honest about it. She said that if we were to accumulate all of the moneys over the past 10 years, this fiscal year, and the year 2004-05, then there would possibly be an expenditure of $1 billion, which sounds like a lot of money. When that money is broken down over the number of years, it is not nearly as significant. Had my hon. colleague been listening to my speech a bit more carefully, he would have recognized that this is a cumulative figure and one which the department is trying to address. He is also ignoring the cost recovery program and the moneys already spent on the firearms acquisition certificates.

The debate is about whether the licensing part of the program is a public safety benefit to Canadians.

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Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member basically contradicted the Auditor General who said $800 million to date. He said that was not right, it was $688 million. Of that we have to take $75,000 that we got in fees, another $210,000 that we would have spent anyway, and that magically is $400 million.

I would like to ask the hon. member, according to his figures, which is accounting magic even if we accept it, is his government proud of the fact that it is 200 times over budget instead of 500 times over budget?

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I made the point that the difference between the $2 million, to which the hon. member is referring, and the $1 billion is quite a gap. I am perfectly prepared to concede that. I also made the point in my speech that I thought the government should have anticipated, with that implacable opposition from over there, in provincial capitals, and among gun enthusiasts, that costs would get run up and that it would not be able to--

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4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Lanark--Carleton.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan.

In starting my comments I will just continue some of the discussion that has been going on here with regard to costs. The Liberal member opposite has just referred to the cost overruns and has asserted the fact that, by his math, the cost overruns are only several hundred millions, not the full $800 million measured by the Auditor General, and that this somehow excuses things. I thought my hon. colleague on this side of the House was quite right in pointing out that it is not acceptable to have an overrun by 200 times. It would not be acceptable to have an overrun by two times, quite frankly, and it certainly would not be acceptable to withhold this information from the House as the government has done. These are all problems with the government's approach.

However, the member said something that was quite extraordinary. He said that, after all, these overruns were not really the government's fault, that they were really the fault of the various players who got involved in arguing that aspects of this law were unconstitutional, who fought against this law, and the fault of various provincial governments that opposed this law as being essentially unenforceable and an infringement of the federal government's competence and jurisdiction.

We could probably save a lot of money if people who were accused of criminal offences did not trouble us by pleading not guilty and defending their rights. We could probably save a lot of money if people who are unjustly accused of offences did not defend themselves. We could probably save a lot of money if whenever the government said jump we simply all obeyed, but that is not the way the system runs. When something is set up that is as badly designed as this firearms registry and with the extensive infringements upon personal civil liberties and upon the jurisdictions of other levels of government that this gun registry includes, it is only natural that opponents would attempt to stop it.

Of course the government could have on its own undertaken ahead of time to seek a Supreme Court reference, for example, as to the constitutional validity of the registry. That would have eliminated costs associated with this. It could have had a period of waiting prior to implementing the registry. That would have eliminated some of the costs to which the hon. member refers. Therefore I want to suggest that for all the costs included here, and quite frankly I think that the Auditor General was correct and the hon. member is incorrect as to the level of those numbers, that is to say, it really was an overrun by 400 times, those costs really do all lie at the feet of the government.

The prepared remarks I have with regard to this legislation and today's motion deal with three topics. First I want to go through and discuss the problems in principle with the idea of a registry of this nature. Second, I will discuss the problems that exist with this particular registry. Finally, I want to cite examples that indicate that there is strong public opposition to this particular gun registry and its implementation from members of the Canadian public at large and also from members of various police forces.

Let us start with the question of problems in principle. Placing a gun in a registry by definition is going to be at best a very ineffective way of reducing or eliminating fatalities. The claim is sometimes made that if this registry would save a single life then it would be worthwhile. I am inclined to think that if the money used for this registry were invested so as to save many lives, that would be a proper use of the money, but in fact I cannot even find evidence that any lives are saved. I know that the members on the opposite side have various arguments that they present, but they are very unconvincing arguments.

The fact is that some of the lives that can be saved by proper firearms regulation are saved by, for example, safe storage practices and the encouragement of safe storage practices and by requirements for people to seek out and gain training prior to using firearms and so on. That is very much different from a registration of firearms themselves. For example, the registry does not and cannot prevent thefts. Moreover, it does nothing in terms of tracing firearms that are stolen. Safe storage practices would reduce thefts somewhat and do reduce thefts somewhat, but not the firearms registry.

The use of firearms in moments of anger or the use of firearms that have been improperly stored and result in accidental fatalities are again safe storage issues. Regarding the use of firearms in suicides, clearly firearms registration will do nothing about that.

The problem that exists in a country as large as Canada, with as porous a border as Canada has with the United States, ensures that we can never prevent the illegal importation of firearms through a registry, both in classifications of firearms that require registration and in firearm classifications where they are completely banned. This is simply a fundamental problem that no registry can overcome.

In general, the basic problem is that if we want to cause the criminal use of firearms to be decreased, we have to deal with the problem that criminals have certain incentives. We must change those incentives by providing greater certainty of sentencing for those who commit criminal offences with firearms and greater certainty in terms of the length of time they will serve in prison prior to being released. As long as we are lax in our policing, as we underfund our police, and as long as we are lax in sentencing and our sentencing rate is uncertain, we are going to find a situation in which firearms crimes will continue to escalate, notwithstanding any restrictions being placed through a firearms registry on legal firearms use.

Of course this is not the first firearms registry we have had in the country. I want to read a quotation from the man who set up Canada's handgun registry in the 1930s. In the 1970s, former RCMP Commissioner L.H. Nicholson had the following to say about the handgun registry that he had set up in the 1930s, and I think this indicates the fundamental problem. He said, “Had I known in 1934 what I know today, I would have had nothing to do with [the handgun registry]. Mere registration has never solved a crime and only harasses the legitimate gun owner”. I think that principle applies equally, indeed more so, to the long gun registry that we are discussing today.

I want to turn to specific problems with the registry. The most obvious one is cost. I have dealt with that a bit already. Of course cost overruns on this registry have become so enormous that they have become a metaphor for so many Canadians for the lack of control of spending the government has, and well they should; it has been a billion dollars so far for something that was projected to cost the public treasury only $2 million, the rest of its costs supposedly being financed through various licensing fees.

A further billion dollars, we are told, will very likely be needed over the next few years to complete the registration process. That is one problem. Of course that money could be used for purchasing MRIs, as was discussed earlier. It could be used for more money for better policing. Just before I came down to speak in the House today I was meeting with a couple of policeman from the Ottawa Police Service who live in my constituency. They expressed their frustration with the fact that there are insufficient funds for policing at the municipal level and also provincially and federally. Some of this money, or indeed all of this money, potentially could be used for that. That would have an effect on crime.

Also, there is another problem. Registering long guns does not solve the problem of violent crime in the country. It is simply the wrong focus. To make this point, I want to note that only 1.4% of violent crimes in Canada actually involve firearms, which suggests that simply providing for more certain sentencing and perhaps harsher sentencing for violent crimes in general would be the most effective way to reduce such crimes.

As for the number of robberies that are committed with long guns, in the entire country 1% of robberies are committed with long guns. Long guns are clearly not the source of that particular kind of crime. The number of robberies where victims are injured or killed with long guns is 0%.

So really this is not the proper focus. We are not achieving the goals the government set out to achieve. I think it is time to recognize that it simply does not work and I am not alone in thinking this.

I see that my time is coming to a close, so I will simply point out that the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Tom Kaye, has said that the firearms registry is unenforceable, that the president of the Vancouver police union has said that the government would get more bang for its buck by investing in staffing and equipment and in dealing with crimes, and that the president of the Winnipeg Police Association describes the registry as a “black hole”.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, most of the provinces and territories still do not support this registry system. They want changes to it. I speak in particular of the Territory of Nunavut. Nunavut is represented in the House by a Liberal member of Parliament, and I will leave that member to speak for herself. Nunavut has a court challenge currently going through the courts, saying that in Nunavut they do not have to register their firearms.

I remember hearing the member from Scarborough talking earlier about how the court cases had driven up these costs of this system. The court cases are not going to end. Nunavut, and possibly other provinces, will once again challenge this, so that will drive up the costs. No law-abiding firearms owner is going to plead guilty to the charge of an unregistered firearm, so there is going to be a court case on each and every one of those charges. The government does not seem to understand that this quagmire of expense is going to continue on and on. I wonder if the member has any thoughts in regard to the Nunavut court challenge and what effect that will have on driving the costs up. What are the effects, in that it is against the property rights of all Canadians, including the rights of natives, to have to register their rifles?

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, in response to my hon. colleague's question, I would simply observe that at this point anything that has the effect of stopping money from going to the firearms registry, far from costing the government money, would actually save a great deal of money. Quite frankly, a court challenge that had the effect of demonstrating that this firearms registry is unconstitutional in whole or in part would be of financial benefit to the country, as well as being of benefit in refocusing government attention upon the real criminal law enforcement priorities that exist in the country.

I do want to point out, of course, that it is not just Nunavut. There are many other provinces. In fact, eight other provinces oppose the firearms registry. That includes the Government of Ontario.

Just this weekend I was presented with a petition by Bob Runciman, the minister of public safety for Ontario. It was a 10,000 signature petition from constituents in his riding, in my riding and throughout eastern Ontario who are asking the federal government to abandon the firearms registry because it does not work, because it draws resources away from other priorities that are so much more important, and because it infringes upon our basic rights as Canadians. This is a widespread feeling. It is not just governments that feel this way. Citizens, rural and urban, young and old, of all races and of both genders, feel very strongly about this.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

March 25th, 2003 / 4:35 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think that if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study on the Atlantic Fishery, a group comprised of the chair, two government members and one member of each of the opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans be authorized to travel to St. John's, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Moncton, New Brunswick and Gaspé, Quebec, from May 4 to 8, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it agreed?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there are two more motions. I move:

That, in relation to its study on prescription drugs, a group comprised of five government members and one member of each of the opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel in one group to Victoria, Edmonton, and Winnipeg during the week of September 29, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it agreed?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That, in relation to its study on prescription drugs, a group comprised of five government members and one member of each of the Opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel in one group to Halifax, Québec and Toronto during the week of October 27, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?