Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise tonight to speak to this important legislation.
During the last election, we made a promise to take pragmatic action to strengthen the laws governing firearms use in Canada. Bill C-71 upholds this commitment to introduce sensible new measures on firearms, and that includes the commitment not to reinstate a federal long-gun registry. From the start, the bill has been guided by the priorities of protecting the public and communities, supporting law enforcement, and ensuring that law-abiding firearms owners are treated fairly and reasonably. I am pleased to note that, through the bill's progress, those priorities were reaffirmed by a broad range of stakeholders, partners, and individual Canadians.
Before the bill was introduced, the government heard from many groups and individuals with diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. That includes members of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee and consultations with many groups, both in person and by phone. In March, the government took the additional step of hosting in Ottawa a national summit on gun and gang violence, with stakeholders and partners from across Canada.
All of this engagement helped to shape not only the bill itself but also the package of new measures complementing it. That package included committing up to $327.6 million over five years, and $100 million a year thereafter, to support a variety of initiatives specifically aimed at gang activity and gun crime. Bill C-71 is only one part of the package, but it is a critical part of it. I am pleased to see that it has now been strengthened through the House debates and committee review.
I was personally very pleased to introduce an amendment to the bill in collaboration with my colleague, the MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, which addresses the need to protect survivors of intimate partner violence and reduce the lethality of suicide attempts. In my research on firearms in Canada, I realized that there were two very important aspects of the firearms debate that were not being talked about enough: intimate partner violence, commonly known as domestic violence, and suicide.
In its 2016 annual report on domestic violence, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario reported that 26% of deaths related to intimate partner violence involved a firearm. I also heard from stakeholders that 80% of all firearms-related deaths in Canada are suicides. Clearly, both of these factors need to be a central part of any conversation around Bill C-71.
I had numerous conversations with many national stakeholders, as well as local stakeholders in my riding, Oakville North—Burlington, which helped shape this amendment, and I would like to thank those who provided thoughtful and important insights.
Specifically, my amendment would add to the criteria that must be considered when determining eligibility to hold a firearms licence. The amendment would add the criteria of threatening conduct and non-contact orders, and add more explicit language around risk of harm to self and to others. Officials confirmed that the amendment would strengthen the criteria around licensing and add greater clarity to existing laws, so that people who are considered to be at risk of harming themselves or others would be prohibited from owning guns.
For example, if a woman has a restraining order against her abusive ex-partner, and the ex-partner legally owns firearms that he uses to threaten her safety, the chief firearms officer would now be explicitly required to take this into consideration when reviewing his eligibility for a licence. The amendment also specifies that violent or threatening conduct can include threats made on social media and other online forums.
To be clear, the amendments specify that, when considering eligibility for a firearms licence, what must also be considered are expired orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where there was an offence in which violence was used, threatened, or attempted against an intimate partner or former intimate partners.
This should reassure Canadians that, in the interest of public safety, the process through which a person could obtain a firearms licence includes a more comprehensive consideration of eligibility factors. Explicitly including the concept of harm on that list, which includes self-harm, may also have important impacts.
It is an absolute tragedy that 80% of firearms deaths in Canada are suicides, and while suicide prevention is a whole-of-society issue, there are meaningful actions we can take through legislation. This is one of those actions. Prevention experts agree that limiting access to guns for those at risk of suicide is part of the solution, along with access to mental health support. I was very proud to introduce the concept of harm through my amendment, so that it is clearly identified in the bill before us.
I will also point out that the additional new criteria introduced in the amendment reflects the types of violence that predominantly target women, for example, harassment and cyberviolence. In the online space, women are often targets of intimidation and propaganda. Young women and girls are impacted disproportionately by cyberviolence, bullying, and harassment. Adding these new factors updates our laws to reflect and address today's realities. It is consistent with the government's gender-based violence strategy.
Other amendments add some clarification to the bill. For example, the committee amended clause 1 to make it clear that the government will not recreate the federal long-gun registry. This was an important amendment put forward by the Conservative public safety critic and accepted by the committee. We now have that clarification right in the text of the bill. Indeed, the member for Red Deer—Lacombe stated during committee proceedings, “Everybody at this table agrees that this is not a registry”.
I will point out that the bill never included any components that would have permitted or required the registration of non-restricted firearms. While this amendment does not change the effect of the bill, I am confident it can provide reassurance that the long-gun registry will not be reinstated.
Finally, another amendment to clause 5 adopted at committee will help clarify that a person meeting the conditions to transfer a non-restricted firearm can transfer more than one. In practice, the amendment changes the word “a” in the bill to “one or more”. In fact, it is proposed that the bill does not limit the number of non-restricted firearms that can be transferred providing the conditions to do so are met, but once again, the bill is now clearer on this issue. It now spells out specifically that a valid licence and valid reference number attesting to the licence's validity can support the transfer of ownership of one or more non-restricted firearms.
I am grateful that all parties have played an important role in the close scrutiny of this bill. The bill started off on a solid footing. It already strengthened current laws around eligibility to hold a firearms licence. There is a new requirement for licensing authorities to consider specific information from the applicant's history throughout their whole life rather than the previous five years, as was the case prior to Bill C-71.
Bill C-71 improves licence verification, requiring anyone selling or giving a non-restricted firearm to verify the validity of the recipient's firearms licence. It improves record-keeping requirements among firearms businesses, requiring them to keep records of sale for non-restricted firearms. Responsible vendors already do this. However, making it mandatory will not only set in law what they already do, it will also provide police with an additional tool to track non-restricted firearms used by criminals.
The bill strengthens the regime around the transportation of restricted and prohibited firearms. It creates a more consistent approach to classification, responsibly leaving technical determinations on the classification of firearms to experts.
Today we have new measures with added benefits: enhanced background checks, greater certainty that no federal registry will be created, and welcomed clarification on the transfer of non-restricted firearms.
Canadians from all walks of life have told us this legislation will make a difference. It is one part of a larger package that will help make our communities safer and give law enforcement officers the tools they need to do their job.
I want to thank the members on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, all those who provided testimony and comment, and my colleagues in the House for helping shape this important legislation along the way.
I want to give special thanks to the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for working with me to ensure that the amendment we put forward was reflective and would ensure that intimate partner violence would be fully recognized in Bill C-71.
I encourage all members to join me in supporting this bill.