Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue. It is one that has created a lot of debate in the House over many years. I will start by explaining how my opinions have been shaped on the issue of guns overall.
My grandfather was a hunter. He had a hunting camp. I had the opportunity to go there and fire a gun with him. I have come to learn a lot about gun ownership, hunting and how important that was to his life. I also learned a lot about how important it is to be a responsible gun owner and how seriously he took that commitment and how important it was to him that the guns were stored safely. Like most gun owners, when he was alive, he was incredibly responsible and was very careful with the weapons that he had. I got to see that side of it. I appreciated how much that meant to him and how much that experience was valued by him.
The other experience that formulated my opinion on this was my time on the Durham Regional Police Services Board. I had the opportunity of working with front-line police officers to see how the registry really worked, how it is put into motion and how it is actually used when we strip away all the rhetoric and the arguments and we talk about what is the real purpose of it.
One of the most defining moments for me when I was on the police services board was when I talked to an officer about going into a domestic violence situation. The police were able to use the registry to confirm that a weapon was present. He explained how it changed his approach in that situation. He explained that most violence, particularly domestic violence, is not planned a long time in advance, but is in fact violence that occurs spontaneously in the heat of the moment. When there is a weapon in the house and there is someone who has never committed a crime before, there is an incredible additional danger both to the police officer and to the person who is the subject of domestic violence.
We do not know who is going to get into this situation and who is not. It is much like when we ask people to register a car. We are not saying that everyone is going to get into a car accident, but we are saying that cars can pose a serious threat to society and other people's lives and it is important to register them and to make sure that those who drive them have the needed skills.
It is the same thing with weapons. Most people who own guns are not going to get involved in crime. Most are going to be responsible. However, we do not know in advance who is going to commit a crime and who is not. It is extremely important that the people who have those weapons be properly trained, that we know where those weapons are and when there is a situation such as domestic abuse that we know whether or not a weapon is present.
When I hear from those officers about how important that tool is, I have to say that it resonates with me. As a legislator I listen to police officers on the front line. It is not just that police officer who shared that experience with me or my time on the police services board. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been extremely strong in saying the registry is an essential tool to protect police officers and also to protect the public. If that were not enough, the Canadian Police Association expressed the same opinion in a letter. The Canadian Police Association has made it very clear that it is an essential tool for its members. This is something they use more than 9,400 times a day. This is a tool which in the last year was used almost 3.5 million times. The police officers do not use this tool for something to do or because they are bored. They use it because it is an essential tool in crime fighting and in keeping the public safe.
To me, the debate should end there. If police officers are speaking with that degree of unanimity, and that many are saying it is an essential tool and they are using it with that kind of frequency, one would think that should probably end the debate, but unfortunately it has not. In fact, it has mischaracterized this debate as somehow being against hunters or against people who have weapons.
I have never heard anyone make the argument that licensing cars and asking people to get driver training is going against drivers, that we have something against drivers in this country. It is a ridiculous and preposterous argument. If we were against hunting, we would make it illegal, but of course it is not. If we were against long guns, we would make them illegal, but of course we have not. It is a false argument. It is designed to create a wedge and to play games. We should be clear on that. That is what this has really been used for, to create false arguments, false divisions, to create wedges that should not be there, to create clouds around what should be clear arguments.
In that regard, I am going to read some statistics with respect to long guns. There is a lot of talk about excluding the long guns, but let me read some statistics.
Spousal homicides involving firearms occur twice as frequently with long guns than with handguns. Suicides are five times more likely to be committed with long guns than with handguns. The majority of guns recovered or seized by police are non-restricted long guns. Murders with rifles and shotguns have decreased dramatically since 1991, in no small part because of stronger controls on firearms. In fact, the number of murders in 1991 by long guns was 107, and the number for 2007 is down to 32.
People who do not believe the police and want to ignore them, the mass majority, are left with those statistics. In fact, in talking about police safety, police officers report that in the last decade, of the 15 officers who were killed, only 2 were killed by handguns. The remaining 13 police officers were killed with rifles or shotguns.
To say that long guns are not part of the equation of public safety is a false argument. The statistics bear it out and the police repeat it. Yet what we see is a continued misrepresentation of the facts and people trying to pretend that the registry has no function.
If all of that were not enough, let me read directly from a letter dated April 7 from the Canadian Police Association. In this letter the association clearly articulates the reasons that the registry is so important. These are the words from front-line police officers:
Registration is an Important Component of the Canadian Firearms Program.
Licensing firearms owners and registering firearms are important in reducing misuse and illegal trade in firearms, for a number of reasons:
1. Rigorously screening and licensing firearms owners reduces the risk for those who pose a threat to themselves or others. Already there is evidence that the system has been effective in preventing people who should not have guns from getting access.
2. Licensing of firearm owners also discourages casual gun ownership. Owning a firearm is a big responsibility and licensing is a reasonable requirement. While not penalizing responsible firearm owners, licensing and registration encourage people to get rid of unwanted, unused and unnecessary firearms.
3. Registration increases accountability of firearms owners by linking the firearm to the owner. This encourages owners to abide by safe storage laws, and compels owners to report firearm thefts where storage may have been a contributing factor. Safe storage of firearms:
--Reduces firearms on the black market from break-ins;
--Reduces unauthorized use of firearms;
--Reduces heat of moment use of firearms; and,
--Reduces accidents, particularly involving children.
4. Registration provides valuable ownership information to law enforcement in the enforcement of firearm prohibition orders and in support of police investigations. Already we have seen a number of concrete examples of police investigations which have been aided by access to information contained in the registry.
In fact, one of the prime examples that I would point to was a situation involving the shooting of four officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in 2005. In that instance the evidence that led to the arrest and conviction of two men was directly related to the registry. The registry helped convict those two individuals. The letter further states:
5. While police will never rely entirely on information contained in the registry, it is helpful to know if guns are likely to be present when approaching a volatile situation, for example, in responding to a domestic violence call. The officer, in assessing threat and risk can weigh this information.
6. Registration facilitates proof of possession of stolen and smuggled firearms and aid in prosecutions. Previously it was very difficult to prove possession of illegal rifles and shotguns.
7. Registration provides better information to assess an investigation of thefts and other firearm occurrences.
8. Recovered firearms can be tracked to the registered owner using firearms registration information.
9. Registration is critical to enforcing licensing. Without registration, there is nothing to prevent a licensed gun owner from selling or giving an unregistered weapon to an unlicensed individual.
10. Illegal guns start off as legal guns. Registration helps to prevent the transition from legal to illegal ownership, and helps to identify where the transition to illegal ownership occurs.
We should look at the overwhelming body of evidence showing how important this tool is for police. As I said, these are not my words or something that I concocted. This comes directly from the Canadian Police Association telling us why it needs the registry to continue.
With all the evidence I have just presented, it seems that this would be a moot matter, that we would not need a motion from the Bloc to try to protect the registry or deal with the issue of amnesty. I think most reasonable people looking at that overwhelming body of evidence would realize that any wedge or distinction was really just manufactured. In fact, that is the case.
The Conservatives, instead of abiding by this overwhelming information and working with law enforcement officials and legitimate gun owners to ensure the program works as effectively as possible, are trying to get rid of it. In fact, a private member's bill, Bill C-301, not only deals with long guns, which I have been talking about for a few moments, but would actually gut the registry for prohibited and restricted weapons. It would cut the registry on things like handguns. In fact, the individual who presented this bill to the House of Commons was first going to be a speaker at an event celebrating the death of the registry where the door prize was a Beretta. This was not just any Beretta. It was a Beretta that was advertised for its stealth.
Why would a marksman who wants to shoot at the range need a Beretta that is advertised for its stealth? The insensitivity is monumental. Where was this event? It was in Mississauga, in the GTA, in our neck of the woods where we have seen an incredible amount of gun violence. One can imagine the reaction.
If all of that gutting and undoing of all the good work I just talked about was not enough, this bill would go even further. This bill would make it legal to transport a fully automatic machine gun. If people have an Uzi, this bill would allow them to drive it through the streets on the way to the range. An Uzi, an fully automatic machine gun is what we are talking about and that is what the Conservatives are introducing.
That did not go over so well In the Senate. As everyone can imagine, a lot of people were upset about this so the Conservatives tried it again and introduced a bill in the Senate to try to gut the registry another way.
I will refer again to the Canadian Police Association's specific comments about the impact of Bill S-5, which, conveniently, was introduced in the Senate where it stands almost no chance of being passed. It makes one wonder whether the Conservatives really are just playing games or what their motives are. However, the following are the words of the Police Association:
Bill S-5 Will Make it More Difficult for Police to Investigate Gun Crimes and Compromise Public and Police Officer Safety.
Bill S-5 will:
Repeal the requirement to register non-restricted firearms...and the offences and penalties for failure to register non-restricted firearms. In recent years the current government has allowed those who have disobeyed the law to avoid compliance and prosecution by creating successive amnesty periods. We fail to understand why the government would relax controls to favour those who deliberately choose to avoid accountability for their firearms.
The second major point it makes is:
Eliminate the requirement for persons wishing to transfer non-restricted firearms to notify the registrar, and introduce a new requirement that the individual seek authorization from the Chief Firearms Officer.... This will devolve the responsibility from the provincial CFO's, who will be required to verify the recipient is licensed to possess the firearm and verify that the firearm is non-restricted. ... --this verification [will be] for each and every transfer. It will be impossible to determine, however, whether or not such requirements are complied with, as records linking firearms to owners will no longer be retained.
The comments go on to explain in many other terms why Bill S-5 is so destructive.
Why exactly are the Conservatives seeking to gut and destroy something that is so evidently needed for public safety and is such an important tool for police?
The reality is that there is a divide between the Conservative rhetoric on crime and the Conservative reality on crime. While the Conservatives talk about being tough on crime, what they are really talking about is creating wedges, about being dishonest on crime, about trying to frame issues in a way that is all about politics and not about making our streets safer. This is a perfect case in point.
I will give the House another case, the crime prevention budget. The crime prevention budget for last year was $43 billion and, of that, only $13 billion were spent. They talk about being tough on crime and yet the Conservatives underspent that budget by half. In fact, when this party left office, that budget was well over the amount that it is right now and was fully deployed and fully spent.
The Conservatives talk about ending the two-for-one remand credit, which we support, but they are not doing anything with respect to addiction in correctional facilities which creates a deadly cycle of people coming back in and out of the system. They are not doing anything about mental health issues. About 60% of those who are incarcerated are facing addiction issues and yet we just keep throwing them back in jail and they come out and reoffend and we throw them back in jail. Nothing is being done.
The Conservatives can talk about being tough on crime. We are not afraid of being tough on crime, but they need to be even tougher on the causes of crime. They need to be tough at ensuring there are not victims in the first place, and that is the abysmal failure of the government and where its rhetoric does not match up to the reality.
We need to ensure that we ask gun owners to be responsible. No one likes to have to register their car, register their pet or file taxes but if the government says that we do not need to do that because it is not important, then people, naturally, get conflicted and get angry. What we should do is go to the good men and women who own firearms and present them with all the facts that I gave today. We need to collectively say as a body that this is something we need for public safety, that we need to work with people to ensure our communities and streets are safer, that we need to prevent things like domestic abuse, that we need when responding to a suicide call and that this is information that is vital. If we present it in that way, we will be doing the right thing and we will be responsible.
Instead, the choice to this point is to use this issue as a wedge, as a divide, to create false divisions and separate rural and urban Canada. The issues that face public safety, whether it is in a small town in Alberta or in my hometown of Ajax or in Pickering, are the same. It is time we were honest and responsible and it is time we cut through the nonsense rhetoric used on this issue.