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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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Government Orders

March 25th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to start off by expressing absolute shock that the government members who have spoken, and particularly the last Liberal member who spoke, would try to defend the unbelievable cost overrun on this by saying that it is not 400 times what they said, that it is only 200 times what they said. It is absolutely astounding that would be a defence.

There are two fundamental things that the government has said, quite falsely I might add, that the bill would provide. It claims the bill would provide a reduction in crime. It also claims that it would save lives. I would like to touch on each one of those today. It seems woefully inadequate that I have 10 minutes to talk about something on which the government has blown $1 billion. It is 400 time or perhaps 500 times over budget to date and it still has a long way to go.

In terms of the reduction of crime, and we have heard it said often but it bears repeating because the Liberal members do not seem to be able to get it through their heads, criminals by definition break the law, so what good will it do to present another law for them to break? How will we reduce crime by telling them that they cannot use guns because it is against the law? The absurdity of that comment, of that very situation, should make the Liberals want to hide their heads in embarrassment. Yet somehow they keep crowing that same comment.

For 70 years we have registered handguns in this country and yet handguns are the firearms of choice for those criminals when they do use them to commit crimes. The next biggest ones are sawed off shotguns, sawed off rifles and automatic weapons, all of which are illegal in any case, so we do not need the registration of those items because they cannot be registered. In terms of a reduction in crimes, it is an absurdity.

One of the interesting things about Bill C-68 is that it makes illegal the small, purse sized pepper spray that some poor innocent woman, or perhaps man, who has to travel through a park or a dark parking lot late at night, could use as a defensive tool to try to get away from those very criminals, to use as a last resort as a defensive tool. The Liberals in their wisdom said no. They said that they were being hard on the criminals by making their guns illegal so they had to be fair. They had to take away pepper spray from the women and men who might use them for defensive purposes in order to get away from one of these criminals. The Liberals like to balance things so they have to do that.

In terms of saving lives, let us allow for the moment, and I do not volunteer this at all, that somehow, although it has never been explained, the bill would save some unknown percentage in some unknown way of the 1,300 some odd lives that the Liberals say are lost to firearms each year and, I might add, lives that are lost through suicide, homicide, accident, legal intervention and every method possible. That is what the bill is about and that is what justifies the bill.

I remember hearing that argument back in 1995 when the bill was brought in. I did a survey in my riding. I went to great lengths and sought assistance to have as neutrally worded a question for the survey as possible. The results were overwhelmingly opposed to the government measure but there were some who said they were in favour. I remember one woman who wrote me and said “Even if it only saves one life, is it not worth it?” As a result of that letter I built my entire speech in 1995 in Parliament around that very premise. Is it worth it if it saves one life?

At that time the minister, who has gone through various portfolios and who now I believe he is industry minister, acknowledged that it would cost $118.9 million gross, minus the fees that would be collected. I went to the head of the B.C. breast cancer detection program and I asked him to tell me something about breast cancer. He gave me some background: how many new cases there would be; how many of those would be fatalities. Having learned this, I asked him what he would do if I gave him $118.9 million and what results would I get. He conferred with his colleagues and got back to me a few days later. He said that they had talked it over and had decided that they would target thee early detection program for the high risk category of women. I said that was fine and asked him what results that would provide.

He said that statistically speaking they would save approximately one-third of the expected fatalities, which would be about 1,710 lives. There we have either saving some unknown percentage in some unknown way of 1,300 or saving 1,710 real lives. If the bill is about saving lives, there are a lot of better ways to spend that money. I am not picking breast cancer to be the be all and end all. Many different things have been mentioned here today, such as different hospital expenditures and crime prevention. We could spend the money in a number of ways, all of which would save far more lives than Bill C-68. I would remind members that was when it was at $118.9 million, not $800 million or even the $400 million the member grudgingly acknowledges, or the billion dollars plus that in reality it will cost.

We also have to go back and talk about the concept of the support the government said it had for the bill. The support it had for the bill was particularly from people in urban centres, people who maybe had a bad experience with a firearm or simply never had a firearm and thought that if the government could do something about them it would probably make their lives better.

The government approached those people and told them that it had a program that it believed would reduce crime and save lives, erroneous though that statement may be, and that it would cost $2 million. It then asked the people if they favoured it.

If the government were to go back in time to 1995 and say, “We have a program that we at least claim will save some lives and we claim will reduce crime, although we can't explain how, and it will cost a billion dollars,” I wonder if the support would evaporate.

Even now, as the Auditor General has released these figures, that support is not only evaporating on the streets, it is evaporating on the government's own back benches.

The government has been dishonest with the people of Canada in providing the costs of this and in providing real, accurate information in terms of the effectiveness or lack thereof.

One thing that has been mentioned tonight is that this has cost a lot more money because those dirty, rotten provincial governments have not accepted this. I would remind the Liberals that when the Alberta court challenge took place, the split decision was that it was against the rights and the constitution of the province, but it overruled that in favour of the concept that if it overrode the government on Bill C-68 it would also override the handgun registry and it did not wish to do that. Therefore the court found in favour of the government, notwithstanding the fact that it agreed that it encroached on provincial jurisdiction.

Why should the provinces not accept it? The federal government was indeed encroaching on their jurisdiction. Now the government thinks the provinces should turn around and co-operate with it.

There are a number of things I would love to discuss tonight but I will end by making a couple of points. Some say that since we have spent a billion dollars already on this that it would be foolish at this point to stop. I think we should stop for two reasons: first, because of the ineffectiveness that I have outlined; and second, because this is not the end.

The government said in the beginning that it would cost $2 million. Its own department, whose figures we do not trust any more, say that it will cost $50 million to $60 million a year to maintain this. That is 30 times the whole cost just to maintain it on a year by year basis. We are a long way from finished with this program.

The final point I would like to leave is to throw a question to the Liberals. I know it is their turn to question me. Maybe they will respond to this in questions and comments. Why is it that we want to force the law-abiding citizens of this country to register their recreational firearms when the government does not have the courage or the fortitude to go to already convicted sex offenders and register them in the new sex registry program? Why is it they want law-abiding citizens to register their long guns when they are not prepared to register the sex offenders who have preyed upon innocent people in this country?

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Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I think we need to deal a little with the equality issue and the sentencing issue when firearms offences happen.

I have 10 first nation reserves in my riding and I know the member does as well. We had one case three years ago in Winnipeg when Chief Louis Stevenson from the Paguis First Nation was involved in pointing a firearm and subsequently shot a garbage can in a bar. He was convicted and received a fine. I heard other members talk about how they would be putting people in jail, but we seem to have a double standard happening here. Whether it was his political support or whatever, I am not sure why the sentencing was done like that, but that is a fact.

There is every reason to believe that Nunavut and the first nations across the country will not register. They already have special rules under the Firearms Act. Some things apply to non-natives and some things apply to natives. If, which seems likely, Nunavut will not have to register in the future or there will be new rules created that will give exemptions or whatever the government decides to do, this will further split and divide Canadians.

I believe the government is stirring up a hornet's nest when it does not treat Canadian equally, when it comes to what it proclaims is a serious law, like registering all the firearms in the country.

The member may wish to make additional comments in regard to that question.

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I have heard many people echo the sentiments that my colleague has just raised.

First, we can be assured that there will be countless court challenges as a result of this mixture of application of the law. If the government thinks the costs are already out of hand because of these things, why would it do something that is absolutely guaranteed to perpetuate this and cause more court challenges?

The second point is really important. The government either believes the rhetoric it has been spinning or it does not. It either believes that firearms are dangerous unless they are registered or they are not. If they are dangerous, then it should apply to absolutely everybody. If the government tells the Nunavut and the various Indian reserves, perhaps the Métis and who knows who else it may choose to exempt, that guns are not dangerous so they do not have to register, then obviously it should apply to everyone.

In fact, if we want to start talking in terms of people in the north and aboriginal people who face a lot of challenges, along with the rest of us, in terms of education, health care and a lot of provisions, then perhaps the government, if it is really interested in the needs of those and other people, should be redirecting this incredible amount of money it has wasted, not only in the past, because it already has wasted that and there is not much we can do about it, but surely it can see that the $60 million to $80 million that it says it will spend per year in the future, plus the unknown hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to finish this program, could be redirected to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, because we believe in equality, in order to deal with some of the social problems, some of the justice problems and the other challenges facing us, instead of squandering it on this useless program where not only is the government wasting the money but now it is dividing people.

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Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to talk about the cost, the user fees and the fees that are applied for registering a firearm or transferring it. I have heard the government members talk today about who should pay the cost, whether it is the federal government, the provinces or the police force. These are all funded by one person: the taxpayer of Canada.

Unfortunately, firearms owners are paying twice because firearms owners have to pay when they register a firearm or when they transfer one. In my riding, a lot of people on some of these farms and in other low income situations, or, in many cases, no income, are going to find this an onerous cost to their operations. As a result, some of them will just not register because of the cost.

The user fee is not for the firearm owner. The user fee is for Canadians generally, if we listen to the government's argument. It would seem strange why firearm owners are being penalized twice. It looks to me as though the real purpose of the legislation is to get rid of all the firearms in this country and get them out of the hands of private citizens.

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Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, what the hon. member said is right. In essence this is a download onto the provinces. The softwood lumber problems have been mishandled by the government. The fisheries problems in B.C. have been mishandled by the government. There are health care problems. The government promised 50% and it is down to 14%. There are problems with post-secondary education. I know the hon. member's riding has agricultural problems which have been mishandled by the government.

Now the government wants to come out with this ludicrous wasteful bill. It has little to endorse it and will download the cost of enforcing this unenforceable program onto our provinces. I think it is despicable.

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Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Tobacco Industry.

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Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my esteemed colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine.

About nine years ago, soon after the election, the Liberal Party of Canada held a very large convention in Ottawa. I was privileged and honoured to be asked to second the resolution on gun control which was put forward by our Liberal women's commission. The resolution asked the government to see that gun control become a priority in the legislation program. I was extremely pleased, as were many of my colleagues, to see that the government brought forward a gun control bill, Bill C-68.

The present Minister of Industry who was minister of justice back then has been criticized very strongly about the gun registration program. I would like to place on the record here that his courage and determination to bring in the gun control legislation in spite of fierce opposition, sometimes from our own colleagues on the Liberal side, was praiseworthy. He stood the course. I rejoice that the bill became law.

We are now talking about the registration system and the huge cost overruns that were involved with it. The Auditor General produced a report. We have to be fair and frank. It did create a lot of disdain and shock. A great many Canadians, many from my own riding who wrote to me and called me, said it was unacceptable. After all of these years we never knew that the gun registration system would suddenly balloon into a huge expense.

The Auditor General criticized us as a government for not bringing forward to Parliament the various requests for additional funding. We should not shy away from saying that a mistake was made. We do not want to hide behind some sort of rhetoric that would avoid this question. I find that even the supporters of gun control separate the gun control issue from the fact that there were flaws in the registration system and that the costs ballooned beyond reality.

At the same time, I also note that the Auditor General never criticized the merits of the policy itself. Although she criticized the financial administration of it and the fact that we did not bring it before the House as we should have on a regular basis, she never at any time criticized the merits of gun control.

In 2001, 85 people fell ill in a meningitis epidemic in my province of Quebec. In 2002, the government justifiably spent $125 million on an inoculation program to try to eradicate, or at least reduce, cases of meningitis.

In New Brunswick, on a highway where 43 people met their deaths in four years between 1996 and 2000, the federal government alone will spend $400 million to widen it and prevent future deaths.

So we need to put things in perspective. Every year, 1,000 Canadians die because of firearms. Compare that to the 3,000 Canadians who die on our highways. Think of all the money, the huge amounts we spend to make our Canadian highways safe. Compare that to the money we are earmarking for firearms control. Compare that to the amount we put into preventing death and disease.

Just think how much is spent in all of the provinces of Canada on the administration of drivers' licences. What is the cumulative cost of drivers' licences? What is the cumulative cost of this huge administrative system? This is something we are totally open about because we feel it is a way to finance safer roads.

Without in any way minimizing the errors made in connection with the firearms program, it must be realized that there were some additional reasons for the shortcomings.

First of all, we thought the provinces would come in with us to create a joint registration system, but many of them refused.

Then, there were the numerous court challenges, which caused several years' delay.

On top of that, a number of opponents of the program, often with the support of colleagues in this House, deliberately made mistakes in their registration form. According to the Auditor General, 85% of forms had to be done by hand rather than computer because of errors, often deliberate ones.

The whole issue here is gun control above all, although we are using the financial administration as a cover to avoid the fact that many people who oppose it, or all that oppose it, are against gun control itself. I am going to stand here and say I am for gun control. Gun control saves lives. Even if it saved one life, gun control would be worth it.

I hope when we vote for the additional estimates that many of us will stand tall and vote for it because gun control is part of a fair, just and secure society. This is what we should want here on this side of the House.

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Government Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant Hill Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the way, whom I admire and find to be a very thoughtful, careful colleague, has said that the Auditor General did not criticize the principle of firearm registration. I make quite a differentiation between gun control and firearm registration. I noted he did not make that. That of course is not the Auditor General's mandate. The Auditor General has one mandate and it is to look at the financial matters relating to firearm registration. I want him to admit that this was not the mandate of the Auditor General.

The member knows that I come from a medical background. He knows that as a surgeon I had the opportunity to deal with lives on a regular basis. I believe that the funds spent on firearm registration would be far better spent on medical issues if we went to another issue that would truly save lives, or to front line police officers if we just stayed in the realm of security and safety.

Could he admit that the Auditor General does not have a mandate to go down the road of making any pronouncement on firearm registration? Could we not have spent that money and saved more lives in other areas?

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a fair point. It is not the duty of the Auditor General to comment on policy. I just wanted to make that point. The comment related strictly to financial administration and that the issue of gun control was far broader than this, but I concede that point made by my colleague.

At the same time, should we spend that money somewhere else? I noticed my colleague referred to police services that we might put this money into. What I notice is the overwhelming members of the police organizations, all the chiefs of police, the police almost everywhere in Canada back gun control registration very strongly because they say that it is an indispensable tool to take care of the inventory of guns in our midst.

I do not want to criticize in any way but at the same time it is a fair comparison that the places where they do not have gun registration and a lack of gun control, for instance our neighbours next door, it is a free for all. I do not want to see us get into that society. The police chiefs themselves have pleaded with us for registration.

Therefore I really believe registration is an essential system and I back it 100%. If we can rectify the cost, as we will, make it accountable to Parliament, as we will, and reduce the cost of it so it is reasonable, fair and accountable, then that is the answer.

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5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of quick questions. I saw in the spending estimates of the departments that the chiefs of police received $100,000 from the government for some program or the other that in essence really was just a contribution to their association. I do not doubt that the same thing is happening with the Canadian Police Association. The executive needs the money from the government. The payment may be hidden in some kind of a program but that is what it is really for.

Then the member mentions the Liberal ladies club that got this thing going. That is fine and dandy for the Liberal ladies. I was never in politics before 1997. I joined the party, and the reason that I was asked to join and to run as the member of Parliament for Selkirk--Interlake was because our member, Jon Gerrard, the current Liberal leader in the province of Manitoba, was in favour of gun control and our election was fought strictly on gun control. That member, Jon Gerrard, lost the election. I would suggest that Canadians are not universally in favour of this as the member is saying.

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I find it very sad to impugn a motive on the police associations that they would take a stand because they are receiving $100,000 or whatever money for their associations. I really believe police associations and their chiefs are honest people. I do not think they would take a policy decision as important as this on the basis of some grant that they might be receiving from one government or another. I find that offensive and I think they would as well.

As far as the Liberal ladies, I think the Liberal ladies will find that also pretty amusing. The polls show an overwhelming number of Canadians, 70%, support gun control. It could be that in certain ridings, yes, Canadians are against gun control. We have some ridings here among our colleagues where a majority are against gun control. However the great majority of Canadians show in poll after poll that they are for gun control. That is a reality. All the polls have showed it right along the way for years now and it continues that way.

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have has been consultation between the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion: That, at the conclusion of debate on C-280 all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill be deemed put, a recorded division requested and deferred until the end of Government Orders on Wednesday, March 26, 2003.

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Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

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