House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was guns.

Topics

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

I said the name of the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker. Would it be okay if I said “Mr. Prime Minister” instead?

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Yes.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

I will therefore take his name out of the letter. I did not write it, obviously. I will continue reading:

Mr. [Prime Minister]: You have the power to maintain the firearms registry and even broaden its scope. Mr. Prime Minister, you have a duty to ensure public safety. You also have a duty to consider my requests, which support those made by a social movement that is concerned about the safety of women. As a Canadian, I am writing to ask you to keep the firearms registry.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, we listen to all Canadians. We know there are some police chiefs who say that the long gun registry is used. However, there are many police chiefs who suggest that it is ineffective or that it is not the best use of money.

I spoke with a sergeant this past weekend and he laid out very clearly that when police officers enter homes they assume there are firearms within those homes. They would never use the registry to make an assumption that because firearms are not listed on the registry there would be none in the home. The fact is that criminals do not register their firearms. The criminal entity in this country does not use this registry.

Therefore, how effective is it? We care about the lives of our RCMP officers. We care about all those who enter into difficult circumstances and put their lives on the line to maintain the peace in this country and this has not been effective at all.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Crowfoot for all the work he has done on this issue. When he talks about wasteful, taking a program that was costed at $2 million and is now $2 billion would be one good reason. Another one is that the Auditor General actually said that it was unreliable and flawed. Now we have people saying that we should give this to the provinces. The reality is that it would leave a false sense of security.

Is the database not the gun registry?

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, the registry is flawed. I know there are many people across this land who have never bought into this whole registry and have never complied with the law. Even though we may encourage people to comply with the law and we will change the law, many people have not. Therefore, the integrity of the registry is not there.

He mentioned the cost. This originally was going to cost $5 million. It became $80 million, $385 million, $790 million, $1 billion, $1.2 billion and it goes on. Most reports now suggest that it is $2 billion.

What could that $2 billion have done? It could have put more officers on the streets and more resources into the hands of those officers to fight crime. It could have cut down on the illegal guns that are coming across from United States and other countries. It could have been put toward fighting gangs and the criminal element that uses those firearms for perpetrating crime. It is a deep hole. A lot of money that has gone into it but it is something that we will bury and move on.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before we resume debate it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP), Service Canada; and the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Employment Insurance.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough Southwest.

I rise today to give voice to people at risk in my riding of Trinity—Spadina. Their lives may be at risk every day. They face a terrible threat. The risk they face will be even worse if the House proceeds with this piece of legislation. Let us be clear. If the House scraps the firearms registry and destroys the vital information that has been collected, more people will be in danger. More people will be at risk and the risk will grow.

Every one of us in the House, every member of every party has a solemn duty to protect these people at risk and to ensure the safety of all Canadians. Public safety is our responsibility. It does not seem possible that the government and the House would jeopardize safety for no reason at all.

Let me talk about some of the people at risk in my riding because they are like too many other people in every riding in this country. Let me give voice to their fears and concerns. Let me speak on their behalf.

I speak for the women at Interval House in my riding of Trinity—Spadina. Interval House is one of our desperately needed shelters for battered women and their children. These women have been victims of domestic violence. They are at risk of physical violence from their spouses. Let us face facts. These women fear for their lives and the lives of their children. They are vulnerable. They are at risk and they need protection from violence. It is our duty to protect them.

If we scrap the registry, we will turn our backs on these women and children at risk. That is not rhetoric, it is a clear fact. One out of three women who dies at the hands of an abusive spouse is shot. Almost all of the guns are legally owned rifles and shotguns. They are long guns. Those are the weapons that place these women at risk. That is a fact. It is also a fact that since the introduction of the gun registry, the risks have gone down.

More women have been protected. Gun-related deaths in domestic violence have gone down by 50%. That is 5 out of 10. The gun registry has saved women at risk from guns. That is a fact. We have helped protect the vulnerable. Why would we put them at risk again?

Let us look at others at risk. In my riding we have many youth at risk, many students and many children of immigrants who may face bullying because of their colour, religion or ability to communicate in English. We have many youths who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and many young girls who face hatred in their culture just because they are female. These young people are at risk of suicide. The guns that are most often used in suicide, particularly by youth, are rifles and shotguns. These long guns put vulnerable youth at risk. This is a fact.

Here is another fact. Gun-related suicide declined in Canada from over 300 in 1995, to under 125 in 2005, after the registry was put in place. That is a drop of over 60%. The risk to youth has gone down. How could any member of the House even contemplate putting these young people's lives in more danger again? We must work to protect them more, not make them more vulnerable. I fear that the Conservative government may turn deaf ears to the voices of these people at risk, even though it is our duty to protect them.

It is not only vulnerable women, children and young people, who are at greater risk if we scrap the registry. It is not only the powerless. It is also the most powerful, and those who are empowered to protect us all. I am speaking of the police, the law enforcement officers and front-line people who have a duty to protect every Canadian.

I am speaking of those who must protect the Prime Minister and every member of this House. I am speaking of those who must protect all Canadians. This bill puts the police at greater risk.

Today, as well as giving voice to vulnerable women and children, I am giving voice to police officers and emergency workers in my riding of Trinity—Spadina. This is not some NDP partisan issue, believe me. Let me read into record the words of Police Chief Bill Blair of Toronto, who is also the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. These are not my words; they are his:

The registry gives officers information that keeps them safe. If the registry is taken from us, police officers may guess but they cannot know. It could get them killed.

The police chief of Toronto said that scrapping the registry could get police officers killed. That is terrible.

The Conservative government and the Conservative Prime Minister who claim to support the police and be big on law and order will put the police at risk if they proceed with this bill. I am not sure the members opposite could hear me because they said, “One more time.” It is true that if this registry is taken away and all the information is scrapped, the officers could be harmed. They could even be killed.

It is not just Chief Bill Blair, it is also Chief Daniel Parkinson, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. He said:

Scrapping the federal Firearms Registry will put our officers at risk and undermine our ability to prevent and solve crimes.

The police say they will be more at risk. Our duty is clear. We must protect the police. We must help them protect the vulnerable. We must not scrap the registry. We must make it better, fix the problems and make it stronger. We must not destroy the information that has been collected. We must let the police use it to reduce the risk of firearm deaths of police officers, of women and children, and of all Canadians.

How can the government and the House even contemplate putting people at risk? How can the House contemplate putting a single police officer at risk? These police officers risk their lives for us every day. It is a fact that the registry, even with its flaws, has helped protect our society.

The government is hiding behind the great big prisons it wants to build for many more billions of dollars than the gun registry has cost. The women of Interval House will not feel safer when the prisons are bigger. Bigger prisons will not keep them safe, and they will not keep the police safe.

We can keep them safe. Let us do our duty. Let us save the gun registry, fix it, strengthen it and work to protect the people we are elected to serve.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to say that as a former police officer the registry is not what saved my life. What saved my life was assuming there was always a gun in the residence. As long as police assume there is a gun in the residence, they will keep their wits about them.

My question to the hon. member is, what does she believe the registry brings to the police that they do not already know?

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the chief of police and the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police have a lot of experience. They would want to know what kind of a person has what kind of gun and how many. They could assume a person has only one gun but he or she may have several. They need to know what kind of firepower a person has. It would be useful to know a person's history and gun collection.

All of this data is in the gun registry. In fact, we are not spending an extra dime in having the registry protected. The Conservatives would destroy information that is already collected and used by police officers every day as they go into houses.

Knowledge is very important. The police could guess, but how would they know how many guns or what kind? I think it is important to have knowledge and not just guesses.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I applaud my colleague for her intervention in this debate. I want to focus on what she quoted Chief Blair as having said, as well as the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

We heard from members of the government that they have 12 police officers on their benches who support getting rid of the gun registry. That is all that really matters to them. We continue to bring forward people like Chief Blair and Chief Frank Beazley from Halifax. Yet the Conservatives keep saying that they are police officers and they know best.

Could the member comment on the fact that the government seems to be valuing the words of its own members rather than those of the tens of thousands of police officers across the country who do not agree with them?

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, before Chief Blair became the chief he had 20 or 30 years of experience on the streets of Toronto. He was the superintendent in the area of Regent Park in Toronto and in some of the project areas where there are higher rates of crime and gun crime. He and many other officers are not just speaking hypothetically, they are speaking from experience. That is why they are the chiefs. They became chiefs because they have their own experience and that the front-line officers.

By and large, when we ask the front-line officers, chiefs, superintendents and inspectors, they tell us that they need this registry. They want to know precisely what is in the houses they enter. They say that if they do not know it could get them killed. Putting officers at risk undermines the ability to prevent and solve crimes.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will follow-up on my hon. colleague's point. It behooves us that we would take tools away from police officers rather than give them more to fight crime and keep Canadians safe.

If the government is so adamant about the ineffectiveness of the gun registry, why has it been hiding a report that shows the public safety value of the long gun registry for two years in a row? It is not enough that the Conservatives are going to destroy a tool that police use thousands of times a day and all the data along with it, but they have also been holding back crucial information from the committee that has been examining the bill.

A lot of talk was had both in committee and in the House suggesting that law enforcement was not consulting the registry, but rather consulting CPIC, which has registry information on it. That is where the spin was given.

The RCMP report dated November 2011, which was signed by previous RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, was not released until last month. It was not made available to the committee examining the bill and the House did not ask for it. However, it was made available to the Minister of Public Safety.

The report outlines just how often police officers refer to the registry for inquiries. This raises at least two issues. First, does the report show how useful the instrument is for police forces across the country? Second, why is the government not disclosing important information, a part of a larger pattern?

It would seem that the Conservatives do not want people to know the facts because they do not want the facts to get in the way of the baseless arguments they keep making time and time again. This is yet another example of the government choosing ideology over fact.

Destroying the existing information in the registry will not bring back the money spent to set it up. Why is the government going to have a billion dollar bonfire with the data Canadian taxpayers have already paid for, especially when provinces and police forces are telling us that it does have public safety value?

Let us consider some facts. Approximately 1.9 million Canadians are licensed firearm owners. The number of registered non-restricted firearms in Canada as of September 2011 was 7,137,386. As of September 2011, the Canadian firearms registry was accessed an average of 17,402 times per day. That does not sound ineffective or wasteful to me.

In one survey, 92% of general duty police officers said they used the Canadian firearms information system and 74% said that query results had proven beneficial during major operations. We know that 15 officers serving on the government benches make up part of that 8% minority of general duty officers who disagree and the 26% who do not think it is very useful.

A study conducted by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec estimates that 2,100 lives have been saved since that legislation came into force. One-third of women killed by their spouses are killed by a firearm. Nearly nine out of 10 of these women, or 88%, were killed by a long gun, or a legal, registered hunting rifle. Since the registry was created, firearms-related domestic homicides have decreased by 50%. Make no mistake about this: it works.

Furthermore, rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in suicides, particularly those involving youth. These types of suicides had decreased 64% in the last nine years, from over 300 in 1995 to 121 in 2005, suicides that were prevented as we were not able to find any evidence of substitution with other methods. Experts in the field of suicide will certainly back up that often when people's first attempts are thwarted they do not look for an alternative.

Lastly, long guns were used in the killing of 10 of the 13 police officers killed in the last 10 years.

Rather than getting tough on crime, the Conservatives are taking away precautions that have proven to keep our communities safe. If the Conservatives want to state that the registry is a waste of money and exaggerate the costs, they should at least get their facts straight. We recognize that while there were significant cost overruns in the initial phase of the registry setup, as highlighted by the Auditor General's 2006 report that revealed that the costs of the Canadian firearms program hit $946 million by 2005, by 2010 the cost of the registry had stabilized to about $4 million of the total $76.5 million annually spent on the Canadian firearms program.

Let us also not forget that registration is a one time only procedure. It is free and never expires unless registrants transfer their firearms to new owners. Registrations or transfers are done over the phone or online in a matter of minutes. In fact, 97% of firearms transfers are completed within 30 days. If only Service Canada could say the same about processing claims for EI.

In a quote from the 2010 RCMP evaluation of the Canadian firearms program, it states:

Canadians are receiving value for their tax dollars from the CFP. Overall...[it] is cost-effective in reducing firearms-related crime and promoting public safety through universal licensing of firearms owners and registration of firearms in Canada.

As my colleague for St. John's East pointed out a few days ago, there is no such thing as specifically a long gun registry. We have a registry of guns, which consists of various types of guns and rifles. There are prohibited weapons, restricted weapons and then all other types. Swept up in the all other types are the guns that the Conservatives have been referring to for years. They talk about the long gun registry as if it were a separate registry that makes law-abiding hunters and farmers feel like criminals.

I can honestly say that in my family there has been a great deal of debate over the years about the registry. My family likes to camp and we own a property together. Many of my family members are hunters and anglers. We have had a great many difficult discussions about the registry and disagreements, frankly, between my point of view and often many of theirs. However, not once has any of them thought that they were being treated like a criminal because they had to register their firearms.

Rather than working on fixing the problems and the anomalies that occurred as a result of the failed implementation by the Liberal Party, the Conservatives want to scrap a program that has been a crucial policing tool for provinces and communities.

The Conservatives like to go on ad nauseam that the registry does nothing to catch criminals, prevent gun violence or keep our communities safe. On the contrary, implementing Bill C-19 would risk public safety by treating all non-registered, non-restricted and non-prohibited weapons the same. We are talking about semi-automatic rifles, assault rifles, sniper rifles, guns that are very dangerous and can threaten our public safety. Gun shops, sporting goods stores, Canadian Tires and so on were required to keep a record of to whom they sold rifles, shotguns and even ammunition. That provision lapsed when the gun registry was brought in because it was deemed unnecessary since all guns had to then be registered. By removing the requirement for all non-restricted or non-prohibited guns to be registered, there will be no record. The government has not reinstituted the requirement for gun shops, sporting goods stores and the like to keep records of their sales.

I will close by blowing some holes in the argument that the registry cannot help catch criminals. Last week in the House the member for Yukon said that the committee heard evidence that the RCMP had heard that a manual search conducted discovered that 4,438 stolen firearms were successfully re-registered. Talk about being asleep at the switch. That is practically aiding and abetting criminals and legitimizing their activities.

What I would like to know is how many of those re-registered stolen firearms were found, confiscated, how many criminal investigations this triggered, how many convictions ensued and how many of these weapons ended up back in the hands of their law-abiding owners? More important, why did the government only find out during committee hearings on the bill and not before that?

That is why I say the Conservatives are asleep at the switch. They have such an ideological hatred of this law that they cannot see the good that could come of it.

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise. My position on the gun registry and eliminating the need for the long gun registry is well known, but I noticed earlier that the NDP had claimed two falsehoods, or at least misleading to some degree.

The first was that the minister had the opportunity to table the report from the RCMP well in advance. That is just not the case. The Minister of Public Safety received the report on December 16 at the end of the day. As we know, the House adjourned shortly thereafter. The minister actually tabled that on December 21, which would have been the first opportunity to do so because the House did not sit again until January 30. I would suggest that that is more than adequate time. The minister did table the RCMP report very quickly.

Second, Bill Blair has not been the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for some period.

I will ask the member three very quick questions. First, how many rifles does own? Second, how many times has he tried to register those rifles, because it does take numerous tries? Being from northern Alberta, with a lot of rifle owners, I can say that. Third, how does he respond to the statement that criminals do not register their firearms and will not register their firearms, so it cannot be of any help to any of them?

Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did address the issue of criminals registering their firearms. A manual search found that over 4,400 stolen firearms were re-registered. They did come back and register those firearms. Whether that is criminals, or law-abiding citizens who accidentally got a stolen firearm through various sales, the question is why has none of that been tracked back? Why has there not been any legwork done there? What is the police doing with that information?

The government has had stewardship of this registry for six years and it has sat on its thumbs. It does not agree with the law, so therefore it chose to let it go by the wayside. That is not how the government is supposed to work. We are supposed to be here to uphold the laws of the land. The government has not been doing that because it disagrees with the law. Now, six years later, it is finally, potentially, going to be getting rid of the law. However, up until now it should have been upholding the law and it has not. That is shameful.