Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for their speeches.
The issue of gun control is never an easy one to debate. After all, there are law-abiding gun owners. However, victims of gun crimes have told us tragic and horrible stories. We cannot just lump everything together. We have to respect both sides of the debate, which can be very emotional.
Unfortunately, over the course of the past 15, 20 and 25 years, the debate has been politicized, and that does not serve public safety nor the making of good public policy. The debate on Bill C-71 is proof of that. After this bill was introduced, the Liberals sent out fundraising emails. In the House, we also heard Conservative members whisper their thanks to the Liberals for providing a quote to be included in their solicitations. Political fundraising on the backs of victims of gun crimes and gun owners who simply want an acknowledgement of their views can lead to problems and does not advance public safety and public policy.
Let us put this aside and consider the facts before us.
Notwithstanding Bill C-71, I want to start by recognizing something that everyone in this House agrees on, which is this disturbing trend we are seeing in particular in urban centres, in Canadian cities. It is a trend that is so problematic we have seen violence in Toronto, Surrey and other communities such as those.
I was proud to work with our leader, Jagmeet Singh, in writing a letter to the Prime Minister recognizing that more needs to be done to address the root causes of what is causing this violence, whether it is the radicalization of young vulnerable people who are facing all sorts of issues, mental health issues, extreme poverty, victims of the housing crisis, who are being recruited into gangs, their vulnerability being preyed upon by these types of organizations, or whether it is the fact that cities want to see the federal government do more. What form that will take remains to be seen. We will be very engaged in that debate. However, the fact of the matter is that there is a serious issue in this country that needs to be addressed. When I hear what the Conservatives say, the Liberals say, and we as New Democrats say, it is something we all agree on and will be moving forward on in the following months.
As pleased as I am to hear the minister raise the issue of what needs to be done at the border for firearms coming in from the United States, what needs to be done to address the spike in rural crime that is leading to, among other things, the theft of firearms owned by law-abiding firearms owners, or dealing with those issues I mentioned a few seconds ago relating to what is happening in cities notably with regard to gang violence, while the minister is saying the right things and seems to be on the right track, it is clear that more work needs to be done. Arguably, what the government is proposing is not enough. More needs to be done not only to invest in these things but also to tackle them in a more surgical way.
To come back to Bill C-71 specifically, there are several elements I want to discuss.
The first is the least controversial. The way I see it, everyone agrees, or at least should agree, on background checks. There is one thing that I think needs to be cleared up: contrary to what the Conservatives have claimed in committee and in the House, background checks already cover more than the required five-year period, owing to several court rulings. This is already being done by default. The only thing Bill C-71 does is enshrine lifetime background checks in law.
As my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue just mentioned in her question to the previous speaker, background checks are not meant to punish people or to block someone from buying a gun or getting a licence just because they shoplifted a bag of candy from a corner store 30 years ago. They are meant to identify someone who might have been arrested 15, 20 or 25 years ago on domestic violence charges or for uttering threats against women.
That is the kind of person we want to identify, not someone who was arrested at 16 for simple possession of cannabis or for shoplifting, like the example I just gave. I am talking about much more serious crimes that can represent a major threat to public safety and security. As we learned from the studies that have been presented to us on violence against women and self-inflicted violence, the suicide rate is extremely high, and firearms are a commonly used method. These are the issues we need to seriously examine. We all agree on background checks.
As for the issue of retailers keeping records, the opposition wants to portray this as a backdoor registry. Let me be clear. Such records have been kept in the United States for a very long time, and even in Canada, before the gun registry was created in the 1990s, record-keeping was already required under the law.
As the retailers who appeared before the committee said themselves, every respectable business owner who wants to maintain proper records already does this, for accounting purposes, for example. The bill is only meant to ensure that the few non-compliant businesses—which is a very small minority, I might add—are brought into line. The records also need to be standardized, to make it easier for police officers to do their jobs, which is central to this matter.
When the registry was abolished in 2012 by the Conservative government, there was one witness in particular whose testimony stood out to me. Calgary police chief Rick Hanson, who was brought to committee by the Conservative members, spoke in favour of abolishing the registry. He pointed out two things. The first was that while he was favourable to abolishing the registry, there needed to be more robust PAL verifications, which included background checks. The second was that when one firearm owner is transferring to another, whether through a private sale or otherwise, and I will come back to that in a moment, because that is part of Bill C-71, he stated, “We must reinstate point of sale recording. This existed prior to the gun registry”, which is an important distinction, not that it is another registry but existed prior to the gun registry, “and was useful for two reasons. The first is that it allowed for proper auditing of gun stores to ensure that they are complying with the law requiring them to sell only to those with proper licences. That is a starting point should that gun be identified as being used in a criminal offence.”
One element that someone playing devil's advocate to this point might want to raise is to ask about the costs imposed on a business by doing so. The fact of the matter is, to go back to a point I made earlier and a point that everyone in the House should agree on, all reputable businesses already do this. Apart from some minor tinkering, as the process goes forward through regulation for ensuring that the record-keeping is uniform, for all intents and purposes, any costs associated with this change to the law will be minimal, particularly considering that the law already required this prior to the creation of the gun registry in the 1990s.
This is very important. The police officer I quoted earlier emphasized that. When representatives of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, they made it very clear that this is an important tool in the work they do. They said that when retailers maintain standardized records, they feel a little more confident when they have to go and talk to a retailer as part of a criminal investigation for a crime involving a firearm.
That brings me to the next point, the question of transferring from one firearm owner to another, in a private sale for example, and the need to verify that the person's licence is valid. One of the concerns that was raised in committee was the generation of more than one reference number during such a transfer, so a reference number for each firearm transfer. For example, if individual X is transferring to individual Y, each firearm would generate an individual reference number. When one read the legislation as it was originally drafted, before being sent to committee, the plural was used. Officials comforted us by saying the plural was always used in drafting legislation and, unless otherwise specified, could mean the singular and therefore only one reference number.
Putting aside all that technicality, I proposed an amendment so that only one reference number would be generated per transfer, regardless of the number of firearms being transferred from one individual to another. That amendment was adopted unanimously by all members of the committee.
To create greater certainty in law, it is not a question of registering the reference number to ensure the individual is respecting their moral and public safety obligations, but now also an obligation under the law to simply verify the validity of another individual's licence. I would argue 99.9% of responsible firearm owners in Canada already do that anyway. It is to make sure that the reference number is not portrayed as some kind of bogeyman, it is simply a tool used by the chief firearms officer to ensure that individual is respecting the law. That amendment is extremely important to make sure we have that certainty and that the intention behind the generation of that number is extremely clear.
Some proposed amendments regarding authorization to transport firearms were not adopted. This was a highly controversial issue. We realize that in the bill that the Conservatives introduced at the time, automatic authorization was almost always a problem. Police forces and other stakeholders brought up these problems.
The government made a change to stop the automatic authorization for every case, even though it still happens in some cases. One important point came up. Currently, there is automatic authorization to transport a firearm from the store to the location where the firearm will be stored, for example, the owner's home. An authorization would also be automatically issued to transport the firearm to a shooting club or range, so that the owner can practice shooting. One important point is missing, which is the transportation of the firearm from the location where it is stored or the shooting club or range to a government-approved businesses that services firearms. This is extremely important because, as we heard, a damaged weapon can be a safety hazard and can be dangerous.
We were told it is important to be able to transport a firearm from the place where it is stored or used legitimately, such as a gun club, to the place where it is to be repaired. Interestingly, an amendment was proposed by a Liberal member, an associate member of the committee who was not present for our deliberations. The New Democratic Party, represented by me, and the Conservative Party supported the amendment, but unfortunately, the Liberals rejected it. That is one aspect of the bill that still needs work.
I want to emphasize that there is an extremely important public safety element here, one we have to take very seriously. I mentioned it earlier in my speech when I talked about tragic situations related to street gang violence and horrific experiences that victims shared with the committee. PolySeSouvient was formed after the horrifying events at École Polytechnique, and in the years since, it has taken on the tremendous task of making sure elected representatives understand the importance of implementing appropriate rules for the use of firearms.
A retired RCMP officer told us the story of her daughter, who was murdered by her ex-spouse. His campaign of harassment turned violent, and a gun was used to commit the crime.
In those situations, it is important to be respectful of those victims and to understand the advocacy work that they are doing to make sure that the gun control that we adopt as legislators is appropriate, ensures public safety and achieves those objectives.
At the risk of repeating what I said at the outset of my speech, for too long there has been a division. Different political parties, which have been in power at different times, have put into confrontation the needs of these victims for better gun control to ensure public safety and the advocacy work they are doing against the advocacy by law-abiding firearms owners, who are simply trying to make sure that the regulations and laws that are adopted do not create an overbearing burden and a cumbersome system on sports shooting, hunting or the different activities that take place in our constituencies. This is not just in rural constituencies, but even in suburban areas such as mine where individuals who will not necessarily be hunting in the riding, but who will go to other areas to engage in sports shooting.
It is important that we stop putting these two groups as being in constant confrontation, that we stop trying to exploit one group or another. If we really want to adopt good public policy and ensure public safety, we need robust background checks to make sure that individuals who have serious mental health issues, those with a history of violence against women and who make misogynous threats of awful violence, do not obtain firearms. We must also listen to individuals who respect the law and are willing to work with government and elected officials to make sure that we are adopting good, sound public policy that does not go in one direction by creating a specific burden that does not enhance public policy. We need to create awareness among elected officials that we are not constantly fighting with one group or another and that we recognize as elected officials that none of that is achieving the objectives that we all say we want to achieve.
We will vote in favour of Bill C-71 for the simple reason that most of the provisions it introduces were already part of the legislation before the registry was created, including provisions on record-keeping by retailers. As far as background checks are concerned, we are simply codifying what is already being done. Lifetime background checks are already being done in some cases. They go back further than five years if there are any red flags. We can support that part of the bill, since these are good measures and they are not that onerous.
However, to truly address the problem of gun violence committed by street gangs or other individuals in major cities and in our communities, such as Toronto and Surrey, we have to acknowledge that a lot remains to be done. We also have to do more to address the suicide rate, which is extremely high, especially since suicides are often committed with firearms. One suicide is one too many. Even though we support Bill C-71, it does not go far enough in that respect.
I urge the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Prime Minister to acknowledge that there is a lot more work to be done and to work with us and all stakeholders on ending the partisanship that has marred this debate for far too long and prevented Canadians from having a healthy debate on the issue of firearms. That would allow us to adopt effective public policy to ensure public safety.