Mr. Speaker, every time I rise in this House to support or oppose a bill, it is usually with great joy. Today, however, it is with great sadness that I am obliged to rise here today to tell the Conservative government that of course I oppose this bill.
I would like to begin by thanking the groups and individuals in my riding who took the time to write to me, asking me to stand up to the Conservative government and oppose this bill.
I would like to take a few moments to read some excerpts from the emails I received from my constituents, whose emails show that they oppose this bill and explain how afraid they are that this bill will pass.
A group from Montreal, the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, wrote the following: “Rifles and shotguns in the wrong hands are just as deadly as handguns. Strict controls are essential for all firearms. Registration holds firearms owners accountable for their firearms. It reduces the chance that their weapons will be diverted into the hands of individuals without permits, and helps curb illegal trafficking. Gun control works. Health and safety experts have shown that stronger gun laws have reduced gun-related death rates.”
Approximately 400 of my constituents wrote to me about this bill. Of those 400 people, there were perhaps seven who supported the government and 393 who supported the opposition. Many people wrote letters asking me to continue to fight the elimination of the firearms registry.
Here is an excerpt from a letter demonstrating the fear of which I spoke. “This sends a clear message to street gangs that they can buy a shotgun as easily as they can buy a package of cigarettes at the corner store. Then, they saw off the barrel and the butt to get a concealable weapon that is classified as restricted. Although the government is saying that it wants to maintain the prohibited weapons registry, it is leaving the door wide open for wrongdoers to make their own prohibited weapons without any constraints. It is complete nonsense to tell the public that the fact that a permit will still be required to purchase a restricted weapon will help to ensure their safety.”
Another individual wrote, “As soon as long guns no longer need to be registered in the name of a specific person, as is now required by this registry, anyone will be able to buy a firearm and then transform it into a restricted weapon. The police will no longer be able to find out who purchased and sold these weapons.”
Yet another individual wrote, “Abolishing the registry will give wrongdoers a new way to easily obtain very deadly, restricted weapons. We can thus expect an increase in crime and an increase in the cost of the justice and prison systems, which will exceed the cost of maintaining the current system.”
Finally, another one of my constituents wrote:
“It is for the general protection of the public and the public in general through the normal taxation provisions shall pay the cost of the supervision of the shooting range when it is required. The regular police forces will provide the service at very little cost. This will not deal with illegal arms trafficking, but it will help in many other cases of shootings and will narrow the field of inquiry in cases where an unregistered gun might have been used”.
This shows that my constituents are afraid. They are very afraid of what will happen in our country this evening, in a few hours. In my riding in particular, there is a high rate of crime. In Lachine, many murders are committed using firearms, sometimes long guns. I am sad to see that the government is not addressing victims' needs for protection.
Every time we ask questions in this regard, the government always responds that it is in favour of safety. The Conservatives all have that word tattooed on their foreheads. Whether they are talking about planes or prisons, safety is always mentioned. The government has introduced a bill that violates people's privacy on the Internet in the name of safety. In this case, they are proposing a bill that will make the people in my riding less safe.
Currently, the long gun registry is used about 17,000 times a day, yet the government says that it is useless. I do not understand its logic. Many suicides involve long guns. The registry can be a big help in dealing with such cases. When I was in university, I was part of an organization in my riding that people could call if they were contemplating suicide. We helped people. We started by asking callers if they knew when they were going to commit suicide. Then we asked them if they know how they were going to do it. About half the time—if I remember correctly, because I do not have the statistics here—people said that they were going to use a gun, often a long gun.
After finding out the how, the where and the when, if the caller planned to use a firearm, we checked the registry to find out if he or she owned a firearm. Knowing the caller possessed a firearm was very helpful to the intervention. As soon as we knew the how, where and when, we intervened. I know for a fact that police officers were very glad to know if the person whose home they were entering owned a firearm. Their lives could be in danger. The information helped officers plan their response.
I apologize. I am emotional because I have dealt with this in my life.
One of the government's arguments is that the quality of the information in the registry is poor. I was a teacher, and when a student handed in a bad test, I did not tell him or her to toss it, but to redo it. That makes perfect sense to me. The current registry may not be top quality, but it can be improved. The NDP proposed a number of changes to improve the registry so that all Canadians can benefit from the safety it affords. We wanted to make sure that the people for whom the registry is a problem were included in the process. Among other things, we proposed decriminalizing the failure to register a firearm for a first offence and issuing a ticket instead. That makes perfect sense.
When the registry was created in 1995, it was not perfect. We realize that now. It is our duty to improve it, not destroy it. We have also proposed that the bill indicate that long gun owners would not have to pay registration costs.
I hear the Conservatives saying that it is too costly for farmers and for those who use long guns in their leisure activities. So we have suggested a solution.
We also propose that disclosing information about the owners of firearms be prohibited, except for the purpose of protecting the public, or when ordered by a court or by law. We also propose creating a legal guarantee to protect aboriginal treaty rights. Those who represent aboriginal constituencies and are using this argument should have considered our amendments.
I have a lot more to say. I know I will not convince any government members to vote against their party today, but I will ask them two things, which will help me sleep better tonight. As we know, Quebec has asked the government to transfer the data. I hope the government will consider that. We know it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if the Quebec government decides to seek an injunction against the federal government. I therefore ask the government to at least save that money, since we are talking about budget cuts.
Furthermore, the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound told us yesterday that he plans to celebrate tonight. I really hope he changes his mind and foregoes the celebration.