Mr. Speaker, I see that Bill C-71 is before us again. I imagine the government felt somewhat embarrassed by how it managed this very important and sensitive file.
One thing that has become crystal clear over the last number of years when it comes to the issue of firearms in this country is that far too often, successive governments have played wedge politics with an issue that is fundamentally about respect for communities. It is about public safety, and more broadly speaking, about respect for all Canadians, including, of course, firearms owners.
When the Liberals come forward, as the minister has, with the intention of presenting legislation that seeks to provide, as he says, common-sense legislation, which is certainly, I would acknowledge, a step in the right direction, and then decide on time allocation before I, as the critic for one of the three recognized parties, have even had a chance to speak to the bill, it demonstrates, unfortunately, a lack of seriousness with respect to what is a very serious issue that we, as parliamentarians, must get right.
After less than one our of debate, the government allocated just one day of debate to this bill. The minister praised the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, saying that this committee has qualified members and that they could study the technical aspects of the bill. This is very flattering, since I am a member of this committee, but let's be serious. The vast majority of members in this House have concerns to share about this bill on behalf of their constituents.
The NDP recognizes that this bill is a step in the right direction, and we are generally in favour of it, but there are some questions we want to address in this debate, and this is not solely my responsibility, as critic. All members are responsible for raising questions. It is not just up to the members who sit on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to raise these concerns.
When the government moves a time allocation motion after so little time, it goes against the principles espoused by the Minister of Public Safety. As my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé mentioned in the debate on this motion, even the previous government, known for its record number of time allocation motions and gag orders, would not have done this.
Those principles come after excuse after excuse has been made. The Liberals have tried to blame the official opposition, saying that it moved a motion to adjourn debate yesterday. Notwithstanding whether one might or might not agree with the tactics being used in the House to make a point on certain issues the Liberals are running away from, the fact is that one party in the House voted in favour of adjourning debate on Bill C-71, and that was the Liberal Party. Despite the heckling, the Liberals perhaps should consult the Journals of yesterday's proceedings. They will see that they were the only ones in the House who voted to adjourn debate on the bill.
Moreover, last Friday members representing the Liberal Party made comments on panels, alluding to deaths in communities as reasons why we had not come to that debate, which is shameful. The Liberals have been in power for two and a half years and have not come forward with this legislation. Then they choose to blame everyone but themselves for the cavalier way in which the bill is coming through the House. That is extremely problematic. As I have said multiple times, and will continue to repeat both in the House and outside the House and at every opportunity I get, this issue should not be one in which we seek to create division and make it subject of procedural and partisan gain. It is one we have to get right.
I know the public safety minister has his heart in the right place on this. I would implore him to perhaps speak to his House leader to ensure his approach is the one being put forward, given the way the government runs the agenda in this place. We cannot afford to get this type of issue wrong. The New Democrats will work and strive in that regard, both here for the limited time we have, and in committee. I can commit that to Canadians without a shadow of a doubt.
Now that I have given an overview of the procedural issues and of how the file has been managed, I would like to focus on our concerns about Bill C-71.
Gun control is an emotional issue for many people, and with good reason. This is about showing respect for those who have had to deal with unimaginable tragedies. They see the bill as an opportunity to defend their community and neighbours and ensure that no one else has to endure such tragedies. There are also law-abiding citizens who hunt or practise shooting sports. We also want to show respect for them in the legislative measures put forward.
We therefore need to strike a balance between the two while protecting the public. That is the approach we need to take when we address these issues in the House. Instead, over the years, we have unfortunately seen more divisive approaches. Gun control has been used as a political fundraising tool, and some questionable action has been taken as gun control has been turned into a partisan issue.
For members of the NDP, one thing is clear. We want to keep the public safe while showing respect for every Canadian and community concerned by this issue.
I will, however, give the minister credit where credit is due since I think that this bill is a step in the right direction. It contains common-sense measures that we can support. I am thinking of the background checks in particular.
Currently, we only go up to five years for the retention and renewal of a licence. However, in a quick study of some of the jurisprudence, in some of the precedents that have been set by the courts, they have deemed it absolutely appropriate, legal, lawful, and respectful of charter rights to go all the way back in a lifetime examination for one's background check, whether it is criminal records or other pieces that are looked at as part of this process. Members on all sides have shown support for that. Both current and previous members from all parties have shown support for it. Essentially, when it comes to background checks, the bill would bring legislation in line with what is already appropriate practice, which has been deemed so by the courts. That is a reasonable measure to ensure we protect public safety.
The other element, one that has received a lot of attention and is a key piece of the bill, is records being kept by store owners who sell firearms to Canadians. On this, let me be clear. When it comes to maintaining those records, I agree with the minister that the vast majority of reputable businesses already do so. We are seeking to standardize the practice, because it will now become part of the law, and also protect that information from government and law enforcement unless law enforcement has a warrant obtained through the courts. That has been happening for a very long time in the U.S. Therefore, I do not see it creating an additional burden on businesses.
However, following the minister's speech before the time allocation motion, I asked him what would be done with respect to consultation with business owners to ensure the standardization did not carry an unreasonable cost and that it was done in a way that was respectful of best practices. Business people know best at the end of the day. Unfortunately, while the minister acknowledged that work had to be done to have that standardization and that it would come from best practices, the details were rather sparse. Therefore, we will be looking at that to ensure the standardization of those practices do not create an additional burden on businesses. Of course some businesses may have to modify their current practices in order to be in line with what will be a legal and government-mandated process. We will keep an eye on that, particularly through the committee process.
I look forward to hearing those business people, who are the experts, bring forward their perspectives, and how to ensure the minister's consultation is done appropriately, in a way that will ease the burden on small businesses, which is already, in some regards, far too large. I say that going beyond the issue before us today.
It is very important to emphasize the issue I raised a few minutes ago and that is obtaining a warrant.
At present, it is a standard practice for businesses to keep this data. After all, it is not unusual for them to keep records about large purchases. This is not just about firearms, and any responsible business owner already does this.
The important clarification made by the bill is that this information can only be obtained with a warrant, in the context of an open criminal investigation.
As I mentioned, we will ask questions so that the minister's consultations will ensure that the standardization of practices does not create an additional burden on businesses.
The other changes that would be brought in by this proposed legislation concern Bill C-42, which was brought forward in the previous Parliament under the Conservative government. It sought to give automatic licences for the transport, for any purpose, of restricted firearms. However, members of the law enforcement community saw that as problematic, because there would be all kinds of instances where it would be difficult for them to know whether individuals, who were stopped by roadside stops, had perhaps firearms in their vehicles, or an individual with unlawful intent, which is an important point to bring to this discussion.
One of the issues is how to find the balance for lawful purposes and more routine purposes. The legislation opens the door to that. Therefore, automatic licences for transport would still be given, for example, for bringing the firearm from the location where the purchase took place to the location where the firearm would be stored. It would be the same for an individual going from the location where the firearm was stored to a shooting range. However, we have other questions over the consequences of some of the administrative burden.
Guns shows are one example. In that context, people need to transport firearms. A number of people might want to obtain an authorization at the last minute.
The changes in this bill requiring that there be a process for obtaining such an authorization are quite appropriate. We now want to know how this will be administered.
In the technical briefing, the minister mentioned several options including an Internet portal. Naturally, any MP who does business with the federal government, for example when looking into matters for their constituents, knows that responses are not always timely. I am not referring only to matters related to firearms licences.
If an added burden is created, while entirely appropriate, it must be done as simply as possible and without creating too much bureaucracy that will make life difficult for anyone seeking to get such an authorization.
Of course, we recognize the relevance of the changes being made and the fact that this legislation repeals certain aspects of Bill C-52 regarding authorizations to transport restricted firearms in all circumstances. In the last Parliament, the NDP opposed Bill C-52, but the changes being made here are appropriate and will ensure public safety.
Another extremely important aspect of Bill C-71 is the issue of weapons classification. This issue has often been controversial, but the NDP's position has always been clear. We believe that the individuals best equipped to make those decisions are the men and women in uniform who keep our communities safe, in other words, the RCMP.
One of the changes made by the previous government gave cabinet the authority to reclassify restricted weapons. That was problematic, and brings me back to the point I made at the beginning of my speech. This issue is quite divisive and has too often been politicized. Previous governments have failed to respect the expertise of impartial individuals who make common sense decisions in the interest of public safety. That is why the NDP is pleased that the RCMP will finally be given the authority to classify firearms.
The bill does leave cabinet some power, so we will look at that in committee to make sure it does not open the door to policy decisions that could result in the kinds of situations that have come up before. It became apparent some time ago that politicians are not equipped to make those kinds of decisions and that if we wanted to ensure public safety in a way that was respectful of all Canadians and all communities, experts had to be the ones making those decisions.
The second part of the bill relates to the now-defunct Bill C-52, which this government introduced quite a few months ago. The government just added some elements that we support. It repeals the Conservative government's changes to access to information laws. The changes were made because the Information Commissioner took the previous government to court over access to information requests pertaining to the gun registry. When the registry was destroyed, the previous government began to destroy the data before the House of Commons and the Senate passed the bill.
Destruction of the data was found to be illegal. I do not want to get into the politics of the registry, but citizens did have the right to request access to that information. That led to legal action between the Information Commissioner and the government.
The government is now making these changes to the law that the Conservatives had put in place to legalize something that was illegal. By doing so, it is correcting the mistakes of the past to resolve this dispute.
There is also the fact that Quebec will be getting all of the former registry's records involving its population, the only data left from the registry. Quebec's National Assembly is entitled to continue the process as it sees fit and in accordance with the principle of asymmetrical federalism.
I would now like to return to the Supreme Court decision on this issue. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the right to destroy the data but, in the spirit of co-operative federalism, it strongly urged the government to return the data to Quebec. This bill does just that, giving the National Assembly the power to do what it wants with the data, as is its right, of course.
I will close by saying that the NDP will always support a common-sense approach that respects all communities and all Canadians and guarantees public safety.
These issues are too important not to get right. They are too important to be lost in a partisan black hole.
We will continue to strive in that direction. That is always what our approach has been, and it is what it will continue to be. I look forward to doing that both here in the House and in committee, working with colleagues in all parties, including colleagues in my own caucus, hearing the comments from their constituents, to make sure that we get this right. This is a good first step. Let us keep going in this direction.
If the minister's heart is truly in the right place, I ask that he pass that message to his House leader to make sure we have the proper time to take the necessary steps to make sure that we are addressing any questions that have been raised by me and those that will inevitably be raised by other colleagues.
There are good things here, things that we support, and we just want to make sure that we get them right.