An Act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms)

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Bob Saroya  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Jan. 27, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-238.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that a person who is charged with an offence in respect of the possession of a firearm that is alleged to have been unlawfully imported into Canada is required to demonstrate that their pre-trial detention is not justified. It also increases the mandatory minimum penalty for the possession of such weapons.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Jan. 27, 2021 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-238, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 25th, 2021 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Madam Speaker, I wish everyone a happy new year. It is very good to be here in the House again virtually, and I certainly hope that 2021 will be much better than 2020.

Today I am here to speak about Bill C-238, a bill that talks about the possession of unlawfully imported firearms.

I represent a rural riding. I grew up in a household where several of my family members were legal gun owners. They followed the rules, and I was taught gun safety as a matter of respect. I grew up eating wild meat, and hunting was a significant part of my family life.

I have met with many legal gun owners in my riding who have talked about the frustration they feel about the rules always focusing on them rather than addressing their legitimate concerns about illegal guns and how they get into our communities. This is such an important subject.

I have also heard from constituents across Canada who are very concerned about gun violence in their communities. We heard a couple of examples earlier today. We look at the realities of domestic violence when guns are used and the awful violence we have seen across Canada, and I believe that all Canadians really want to see this addressed.

Today I am here to specifically discuss the bill before us, which would amend section 96 of the Criminal Code to impose a mandatory sentence of three years for possession of a firearm known to be illegally imported to Canada, increase the maximum sentence from 10 to 14 years and a few others things. This is an offence that I agree should be taken very seriously. In fact, an amendment like this to the Criminal Code would be something I could discuss and agree to. However, this bill is written in a way that will lead it to follow the same path a similar bill did in 2013, and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional.

I have worked with the House of Commons legislative team to write several pieces of legislation. This is a lot of hard work, and I know that the amazing folks here provide feedback about what will work and what may have some potential challenges for the legal system in Canada. I am very curious about why the member has brought forward legislation that is unconstitutional, when the need to bring forward laws to improve this gap is so very important. I am not interested in supporting legislation that will be defeated in the Supreme Court of Canada, cost a lot of taxpayer dollars and not support the safety of communities.

Not too long ago, I met with a group of gun owners in my riding. It was a very informative meeting, and what I heard repeatedly were two main points: One, when we look at gun policy in Canada, we must have a renewed focus on keeping illegal guns out of our country; and two, we need more education in Canada about the strong rules we have around guns, which would allow people to better understand the rules and hopefully create a sense of increased safety. I will address both of these points today.

I agree that keeping illegal guns out of Canada must be something we see an increased investment in. Between 2011 and 2015, we saw the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA, under the previous Conservative government, cut over 1,000 positions. This is important because it has left a significant gap in the capacity of CBSA to do the work to reduce the number of guns being smuggled into Canada illegally. This concerns me greatly.

About two years ago, a constituent invited me to come to the shooting range with him in the riding. He wanted to showcase the rules and how he followed them. I agreed so that I could learn the realities of these folks in my region.

The first thing he told me was that I would have to come to his house to ride with him, as he could not stop his vehicle to pick me up with a gun in his vehicle. The rules in Canada meant that he had to go straight to the range. At his home, he showed me the way he stored his guns, separate from ammunition and with everything locked away. He also showed me how guns were safely transported. I learned a lot that day, and I really appreciate the time he took with me.

He also shared that he felt very concerned about gun violence in Canada. He knew that the things that had happened across our country, that had seen people killed and had brought fear to our communities, were very concerning and needed to be addressed in a meaningful way. He also felt that the majority of gun owners follow the rules very carefully. Figuring out how to identify the ones that did not and stopping the movement of illegal guns were his main priorities.

In 2018, our leader wrote a letter to the Prime Minister challenging the government to address the root causes of gun violence in our communities, the key things that really should be addressed in a meaningful way, such as poverty, substantive housing, and addressing people before they get to a place where violence has become an everyday reality. He also asked the PM to increase supports to the CBSA to give it the capacity to stem the illegal flow of guns from the United States into our country. What have Canadians seen? At this point, the Liberals have only returned 200 positions of the 1,000 the Conservatives cut. That is simply not enough.

I also want to say that I agree with my constituents and the idea that Canadians need to better understand the rules legal gun owners follow in this country. A few years back, I took a course required for Canadians to receive their possession and acquisition licence. Sid Nielsen, a constituent of mine, has been teaching this course for many years and has done a fantastic job.

My classmates were a wide variety of people. I remember one in particular was a woman who had no plan to ever use a gun, but her husband owned several, and they wanted to make sure that, if anything happened to him, she could follow the rules of keeping the guns safe. I think this speaks to a really important point, which is that there are many important stories of how people are trying to be safe in Canada.

It is time to take a stand that is meaningful. I hope this member takes the intent that I believe he meant and creates legislation that is actually constitutional, so we can start to address in a meaningful way how to stop illegal guns from coming into our country.

I also hope to continue to push the Prime Minister to make sure that our communities are safer and provide more resources where they are needed in the front lines to stop gun violence and also to make sure that we have more CBSA agents to stem the flow of illegal guns into Canada. Gun violence is very scary. I think when Canadians across this country look at some of the terrible realities we have faced, we want to make sure that the laws are there to protect us all. Let us work on that together.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 25th, 2021 / 11:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise and speak on Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the possession of unlawfully imported firearms. I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, for his thoughtful and hard work on this critical issue.

I am extremely proud to represent the people of South Surrey—White Rock and to call this beautiful part of our great nation my home, but despite the many great things about this vibrant, wholesome community, my constituents and I share a growing concern about gang-related gun violence on our streets. Over the holidays, tragedy struck our community and nearby. On December 28, Tequel Willis was shot eight times as he exited a taxi in Surrey. Tequel was 14 years old. He was pronounced dead on the scene. He is believed to be the youngest-ever victim of gang violence in B.C.

A day earlier, emergency services responded to a call for help in Surrey and found 19-year-old Harman Singh Dhesi with gunshot wounds. He later died in hospital. Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. In a four-day stretch earlier this month, 28-year-old Dilraj Johal from Surrey was found dead with gunshot wounds in neighbouring Richmond; Anees Mohammed, 29, was shot and killed in Steveston Community Park, which is in a riding close to mine; and Gary Kang, 24, was gunned down in his parents' Surrey home, which is actually very close to where I live. Something needs to be done to address this grim reality.

Our hard-working Canadian border agents who process around 100 million travellers annually have seized more than 4,200 guns at the border since 2014, but despite their best efforts, which I commend them for, experts believe many smuggled guns go undetected. While it is difficult to know exactly how many firearms get through customs illegally, some estimates suggest 70% or more of crime guns in Canada are smuggled in. We also know that two in five homicides committed in Canada in 2019 were committed with a firearm, 60% of which were handguns.

I am concerned not only because of the recent violence in my community, but also because my Lower Mainland riding shares a border with the United States. Along that border are two legal border crossings, Douglas and Pacific Highway. My community is also home to the Peace Arch Provincial Park, which runs along the border and allows visitors from both sides to visit without officially making entry into the neighbouring country. In addition to the southern border, B.C. shares a second border with Alaska, and the harbours along our Pacific coast receive international shipments every day.

Our neighbours to the south are our closest allies, our biggest trading partner and, in many cases, our friends and family, but the fact remains that it is much easier to access guns south of the border and too many of those guns are winding up on Canadian soil. That is why I support my Conservative colleague's private member's bill to increase the penalties for the possession of unlawfully imported firearms. Bill C-238 would address the problem in two ways: by increasing mandatory sentencing and making it more difficult for persons charged to be released on bail.

Let us first consider the mandatory sentencing. If one is prosecuted by indictment, this bill would raise the minimum sentence for possessing an unlawfully imported firearm that the person knows was obtained by the commission of a crime from one to three years, and the maximum sentence from 10 years to 14 years. Section 718 of the Criminal Code sets out six objectives for sentencing. The first three are (a) denouncing unlawful conduct, (b) deterring offenders and (c) separating offenders from society. The increased sentences under Bill C-238 would accomplish all three.

The longer sentences would make clear to all Canadians that the possession of a smuggled firearm is a serious offence that will not be tolerated, effectively denouncing the activity in the clearest of terms. The threat of an increased penalty would deter some criminals from possessing these smuggled arms. This deterrence, in effect, should also affect the supply chain. Less demand for smuggled guns should mean less smuggled guns in the first place. As for separating offenders from society, those convicted of this dangerous crime would be kept off the streets for longer, ensuring that they are unable to commit additional, potentially dangerous, crimes.

Last October, the NDP member for St. John's East argued, as did the member for North Island—Powell River today, that the mandatory minimums in this bill are unconstitutional. Both members pointed to the 2015 Supreme Court decision in R. v. Nur.

In that case, the court struck down the minimum sentence for possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with access to ammunition, but the law in that case is distinguishable from the bill at hand.

In Nur, Chief Justice McLachlin, writing for the majority, reasoned that the three-year minimum sentence for possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with access to ammunition violated section 12 of the charter as cruel and unusual punishment, because when applied not to the actual facts of that case but to reasonably foreseeable facts, the sentence would not fit the crime.

One reasonably foreseeable scenario the court used as a hypothetical was “the licensed and responsible gun owner who stores his unloaded firearm safely with ammunition nearby, but makes a mistake as to where it can be stored.” The court explained that in this reasonably foreseeable hypothetical, the minimum sentence would be grossly disproportionate to the crime. According to the court, the “bottom line” was that the possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with access to ammunition offence “foreseeably catches licensing offences that involve little or no moral fault and little or no danger to the public. For these offences three years' imprisonment is grossly disproportionate to a fit and fair sentence.”

Clearly, the court's reasoning in Nur would not apply here. The possession of an illegal smuggled firearm that the accused knows was obtained through crime is not a mere licensing offence involving no moral fault or danger to the public. There is no reasonably foreseeable scenario in which someone, by licensing error or otherwise, accidentally violates the law against possession of a smuggled firearm that they knew was illegally obtained. To the contrary, these are guns that are bought and sold on the black market with their serial numbers shaved off, used in the commission of dangerous crimes. The mandatory minimums in the bill, I believe, are both constitutional and warranted.

The bill would also subject those charged with possession of a smuggled firearm to reverse-onus bail. For most crimes, the onus at the bail hearing is on the prosecution to show why the accused should be detained. However, subsection 515(6) would provide that for several enumerated crimes, this onus would be reversed, and instead the accused would have to show why they should be released.

Under the current scheme, several firearm-related offences already call for reverse-onus bail. This includes weapons trafficking and possession for purposes of weapons trafficking.

As mentioned earlier, my community has recently experienced a spike in gun violence, with victims tragically as young as 14 years old. As a member of Parliament and mother, there is no higher moral obligation for me than the need to keep our children and communities safe. Simply put, this bill would make my community and many like it across Canada safer places to live. That is why I support Bill C-238 and urge other members to do the same.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 25th, 2021 / 11:55 a.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, happy new year to you and to all my colleagues joining us virtually from around the country. It is a pleasure to see everyone and to reconnect in this format.

I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-238, which was introduced by the member for Markham—Unionville in February of last year and would propose to amend the Criminal Code, as we have heard throughout the discussions this morning.

First of all, I applaud the laudable objective of curbing illegal gun activity and I appreciate that the sponsor sees these measures as important for targeting organized criminal activity. Violence through firearms poses a real and significant public safety risk to many communities, including those that have experienced mass shootings. Nevertheless, I am of the view that this bill should not be supported, and I will explain why.

The government has repeatedly acknowledged that gun violence and gun crime is an increasing problem in Canadian society that needs to be addressed with a comprehensive strategy. This was recently reiterated in the Speech from the Throne in September of 2020. That is why the mandate letters of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety have committed to the implementation of a robust set of firearms amendments, including the imposition of stronger penalties for gun smuggling. It is also why the government has already taken concrete steps to curb firearms violence, including the May 1, 2020, prohibition on military-style assault rifles with a two-year Criminal Code amnesty and a buyback program.

On May 1, 2020, the government delivered on its commitment regarding military-style assault weapons by implementing a regulation banning 1,500 models of assault-style firearms that pose a significant threat to public safety and are not necessary for hunting or sport shooting.

The government also issued an order to give law-abiding firearms owners a two-year amnesty period to protect them from criminal liability while they take steps to comply with the act. By so doing, the government was clear: It took measures to enhance public safety while reducing unnecessary risk for the public. As part of these measures, the government also sought to guarantee that law-abiding firearms owners would not be punished.

I strongly believe that this balanced and comprehensive approach is preferable to the narrower approach proposed by the bill. The illegal firearms market in Canada is primarily supplied by smuggled firearms or firearms stolen from private residents or commercial establishments. Given its proximity to Canada, the United States is the primary source of firearms for Canada, particularly handguns smuggled into Canada. The majority of illegal firearms in the U.S. originate in the U.S., but may occasionally come from other countries, such as Canada.

Reducing firearms smuggling into Canada is a key part in the fight to reduce access to illegal firearms in this country. Smuggled firearms that make their way into communities are a serious public safety issue and can be used to commit serious offences tied to organized crime. Bill C-238 proposes to increase the maximum penalty and the mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment for the possession of a smuggled firearm, prohibited weapon or other object. Bill C-238 would also impose a reverse onus on an accused in an application for judicial interim release, more commonly known as bail, when the accused is charged with the possession of a smuggled weapon. This means that unless the accused can demonstrate why their pretrial detention was not justified, they would remain in custody pending trial.

While the objectives of the private member's bill are well intentioned in that they propose to address firearms crime among other things, the government does not support the bill, as it raises serious legal and policy concerns, some of which have been addressed by earlier speakers. Given the scope of the offence, I am very concerned that the increased mandatory minimum penalties would lead to significant charter scrutiny, but just as important, mandatory minimum penalties generally produce system inefficiencies and delays in the criminal justice system. They are also known to have disproportionately negative impacts on indigenous peoples, Black and other visible minority Canadians, something that should be of key concern to all parliamentarians as we confront and seek to address the systemic racism that is pernicious in the criminal justice system.

In addition, the reverse onus would be novel in the current bail regime and would treat accused persons charged with the same offence differently, depending on how the possessed firearm was illegally obtained.

The government has been in the process of considering these important issues for quite some time. In October of 2018, the Minister of Public Safety began a series of consultations with Canadians on the issue of handguns and assault-style firearms. The consultations included eight in-person round tables with 77 stakeholders' written submissions, and almost 135,000 Canadians responded to an online questionnaire. The summary report published on April 11, 2019, indicated that Canadians believe that a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach is needed to combat firearms violence in Canada. Of note, firearms smuggling and border security were identified as among the most prominent concerns of Canadians.

The government has comprehensively set out a path forward to address gun violence, including banning assault-style firearms, providing an amnesty period and a firearms buy-back program, and working with provinces and territories to give municipalities the ability to further restrict or ban handguns. The government has taken other measures, such as the establishment of reporting legislation or a type of red alert to make it easier to remove firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, and measures to combat gun smuggling and trafficking.

Recently, in the Speech from the Throne of September 23, 2020, the government reiterated its commitment to combat firearms smuggling.

When the Minister of Public Safety announced the ban, he also announced that the government would be introducing other measures to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, including increasing safe storage requirements and strengthening the law around firearms smuggling and trafficking. The government has made funding of up to $327 million available over five years through the initiative to take action against gun and gang violence, combat gun-related violence and gang activities, including by supporting law enforcement in community-led projects focused on prevention.

It is my understanding that more than $200 million is now flowing directly to the provinces and territories to target initiatives that best meet the unique needs of individual communities to advance efforts in the areas of prevention, gang exit, outreach and awareness training, as well as enhanced intelligence sharing and law enforcement capacity. With the funding allocations, jurisdictions have made investments to support new law enforcement activities, including specialized training and education initiatives and improving data collection and information sharing.

As far as reducing gun violence is concerned, the government knows that a comprehensive approach must also include measures to remove from the market guns that present the biggest danger to public safety, as well as a combination of measures on the criminal use of firearms, including preventive measures and law enforcement, as well as harsher sentences.

Although the laudable objectives of this bill may be well-intentioned, I remain of the view that a more comprehensive approach, with the benefit of parliamentary review and debate in both Houses, would be the more appropriate course of action. I urge all members, therefore, to oppose this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 25th, 2021 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, it is good to be back and to see all members here.

I rise today to urge my colleagues to support my private member's bill, Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to possession of unlawfully imported firearms, a bill that would put the criminals using smuggled guns behind bars for longer and make communities safer by raising the standards on dangerous criminals being released on bail.

This is a bill that all GTA residents need and have been calling for. The numbers do not lie. Since 2015, gun violence has grown in Toronto. In 2018, there were record high numbers of deaths. In 2019, there were record high numbers of shootings.

The year 2020 should have been different, as COVID-19 forced people to work from home, and millions of GTA residents changed their routines. The active nightlife, festivals and events were all cancelled. Once very busy streets were now ghost towns. However, that did not stop the violence at all. In 2020, even with a worldwide pandemic, there were over 450 shootings and 40 deaths.

Gun violence has become all too common in places that used to be considered safe. The stories of people waking up to gunshots or being called about loved ones' deaths are heartbreaking. Those people have been promised action but have not seen any results.

I believe the Liberal government has approached this issue in the wrong way. It has focused on gun bans. For its plan to work, violent criminals would have to suddenly start following the law. We know that criminals are not getting a licence to buy firearms that would require taking a course and having a background check. Criminals are buying smuggled guns, just like they are buying smuggled drugs. A gun ban would do little, if anything, to stop them.

The former chief of police of Toronto stated that 82% of handguns used in crimes are smuggled in from the United States. The Ontario solicitor general put the numbers at 84%. More recently, Peel Regional Police reported that 74% of the guns they seized were from south of the border.

The problem is not just smuggled guns; it is also about how we treat criminals who are caught with these guns. The truth is that when they are arrested, they are released on bail within days. They can have a smuggled gun back in their possession within hours.

We need to target the criminals using these guns. Criminals need to know that the use of smuggled guns is a serious offence and that they will do real time behind bars if they are caught. As I have said before, there is no excuse for criminals to have these weapons. If someone has a smuggled gun, they are a real threat to public safety. When they are arrested, neighbours do not want them to get out on bail. The former chief of police reported that criminals getting arrested and being released on bail is far too common.

No one bill will stop the gun violence in Canada, but Bill C-238 is an excellent first step to making my riding of Markham—Unionville and all Canadians safer. I encourage every member to vote for this bill. It would keep dangerous criminals off the streets and save lives. If there are any concerns regarding Bill C-238, they can best be handled in committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 27th, 2020 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

moved that Bill C-238, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, today, it is my pleasure to rise to introduce Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code, regarding the possession of unlawfully imported firearms. This bill would help make my community of Markham and communities across the country safer places to live. The bill would do that by increasing the mandatory minimum prison time for criminals in known possession of a smuggled gun. It would also make criminals charged with this crime less likely to be released on bail.

To understand the bill, members need to know how community safety in the GTA has changed over the years. That history is something I know very well.

Like many immigrants, I came to Canada and settled in Toronto as a young man. Back in the seventies, I lived in a rooming house in downtown Toronto with five other tenants and the landlady. My rent was $10 per week and no key was ever issued for the front door, since the door was always left open. There was no crime around my area, and no one was afraid to walk alone at any time of the night. However, over time, Toronto developed some problem areas.

Many years later, I owned several businesses, and some of them were in the most difficult part of town. I was always afraid for the safety of my staff and my customers. Police regularly came to download the security video from my business, since there were many crimes committed in the area.

This is one of the reasons I got involved with politics. I know what it is like to lose sleep over crime concerns. I want all Canadians to feel safe in their community. That is why I am always talking about safety and security.

As time went on, even the bad parts of Toronto felt safer. People worried less about their kids walking home at night and whether they remembered to lock their doors. I would proudly tell people that Toronto was one of the safest major cities in the world.

Over the past five years, that has changed. Gun crime has risen to new highs year after year. What once felt like a safe city no longer feels that way. Shootings are happening almost daily. Even with multiple lockdowns in Ontario this year, there were reports of nearly daily shootings, each more horrible than the last. It is easy to see this trend by following the news. In 2018, the headlines, day after day, were about horrific shootings. It was a record year for shooting deaths. In 2019, there were even more shootings. Things are not getting better.

Speaking to my constituents only confirmed what I believed about gun crime. When I go door to door, people tell me that they are afraid. I hear stories of gunshots close to parks where children play. The stories I heard last October, before COVID struck, are the same as what I am hearing now.

I will read some more recent headlines from our local paper. On June 21, it says, “York police investigate incident of gunshots fired at Markham residence”. On June 28, it says, “Man found dead behind wheel after shooting, crash in Markham”. On September 11, it says, “Police investigate several incidents of gunshots fired in Markham as 'possibly connected'”. On October 23, it says, “Second man arrested after shooting in Markham”.

The statistics published in the 2019 York Regional Police “Statistical Report” point to a growing problem in York Region. There are similar headlines from the rest of the GTA and across Canada. When I talk with MPs of all stripes, they are on the same page. I think it is very clear that the problem of gun crime is not getting better, and that needs to change.

Last year, I met with community leaders and law enforcement. I asked them what concrete steps the federal government needed to take to make the community safer. The thing I heard over and over at these meetings was that organized crime was behind the shootings, and the streets are flooded with guns smuggled from across the border. Mostly they are handguns because they are easy to smuggle, hide and carry. That should not be shocking news to anyone. Our farmers, hunters and sports shooters are not fuelling a crime wave. The shootings are gang-related, with innocent people getting caught in the crossfire.

The former head of the Toronto Police, my friend Chief Saunders, said last year, “Gun violence is getting worse, there is more access to firearms”. He also said that his sources show 82% of the guns picked up by police in Toronto are smuggled into the country.

Ontario’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, has said that provincial numbers show that 84% of the guns used in crime are being smuggled into the country. She has said, “We need to actually crack down on that because that ultimately will keep our community safer.”

It makes sense. Canada shares the longest undefended border in the world with the United States, and in the United States it is very easy to purchase a gun. Smuggling guns is good business.

Let me quote directly from a CBC article. Superintendent Jason Crowley, with the Windsor police department, says that the appeal of smuggling guns is pure economics. He says, “You will see a gun, a firearm purchased in the States for potentially $200 to $300, and they'll go on the streets [in Canada] for $3,000.”

That is a return on investment that is hard to beat, but it gets worse. The industry is so profitable that criminals are even renting these guns. Why sell it for $3,000, when they can rent out the same gun for $2,000, multiple times?

I know that some members on the other side of the House may bring slightly different figures to this debate. However, I want to focus on the fact that smuggled guns are being used regularly in the GTA and across Canada. Many of the bullet wounds that send people to the hospital and the morgue come from smuggled guns.

The problem is deeper than just the guns. When the police catch the criminals using these guns, they end up right back on the street, sometimes within hours. While I know that some people may be concerned about criminals' rights, I want to be clear that criminals do not have the right to terrorize their community. When dangerous people are arrested for shootings and they return to the community within a day, there is a strong message to the community. That message is that people cannot depend on the justice system to keep them safe.

This is not an exaggeration. When I spoke to the police about this, they said it was a problem. Just having someone in jail for a couple of days can help them cool down and put a pause on the cycle of violence. They are not alone in this.

The Premier of Ontario has said, “somebody gets arrested on a Friday night and they get bail and are back out on Wednesday for retribution. That’s absolutely unacceptable”. Ontario municipal leaders, including the mayor of Toronto, are calling for tougher bail for those accused of gun-related offences and longer sentences for those convicted. There are too many stories of dangerous criminals receiving bail only to commit more crimes within hours.

My private member's bill would help tackle both smuggled guns and dangerous criminals on bail. As members may know, possession of an unauthorized firearm that was obtained in crime is covered by section 96 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is one to 10 years, or a summary conviction. That does not go far enough. My bill will distinguish known possession of a smuggled firearm as a more serious offence.

This offence would come with three to 14 years in prison on the first conviction and five to 14 on the second and subsequent convictions. This charge is comparable to the prison time for illegal firearm importing and exporting.

Possession of a smuggled firearm is a serious crime. That is why people charged with this new offence would face reverse onus bail, which requires criminals to tell a judge why they should be let back into the community on bail. This type of bail is already in the Criminal Code for multiple crimes such as hostage-taking, armed robbery or extortion with a firearm. This bill would make sure the punishment fits the crime of carrying around a smuggled gun.

I know there are some concerns with respect to my bill. Normally, with legislation on firearms, people are concerned about the unintended effects: that, instead of the law cracking down on criminals, it would be used to punish hunters who file paperwork a little too late. We have seen this before in the long-gun registry, which cost about a billion dollars but did not seem to make anyone safer. This bill would avoid that. It is only focused on weapons that are smuggled and on known possession.

I know other members will be concerned about mandatory minimums. They believe that taking the decision out of the hands of a judge is wrong and is a question of human rights. Some might consider three years in prison to be cruel and unusual punishment, especially for a first offence. I disagree. People in known possession of a smuggled gun have the gun for a reason. Even someone who hands off a smuggled gun is putting the safety of the community at risk. At worst, they are assisting with a shooting or a murder. I think members need to focus on how criminals are driving away jobs in our own communities. Some of these criminals may be able to turn their lives around, but that will not happen without serious consequences for their actions. Dangerous criminals learn nothing when we slap them on the wrist for terrible crimes. When they are in prison, I am happy to support programs that can give them a better future. Recent attempts by the Liberal government have not been able to get at the root of the problem. This bill strikes at the people who we know for a fact are criminals.

This bill is one of many steps that need to be taken to make my constituents, and millions of other Canadians, a bit safer. I urge all MPs to vote for this legislation and to continue to do the work needed to make Canada an even safer place to raise a family.

If members have any questions about the legislation, we can iron it out at committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 27th, 2020 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, I confirm that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We will do so in good faith once again. We believe that increasing penalties for crimes such as the possession of unlawfully imported firearms is the right thing to do.

At first glance, the bill is not creating new rights; it is just saying that committing this offence will result in harsher penalties for subsequent offences. One can hardly be against such a proposal.

However, I believe that we should be cautious on two counts. I said I would vote in favour of this bill, but I keep thinking that we must be vigilant about one thing. Personally, I am not keen on the idea of minimum sentencing for crimes. I think that we should trust our justice system and our judges who are capable of assessing situations on a case-by-case basis.

It is rare to find two cases that are exactly the same. There are always subtle differences. These differences must be taken into account, and judges are usually in a position to do so. Yes, it takes mandatory minimums. We are here to legislate, we want to create a legal framework and we agree on that. However, I do have a caveat. Mandatory minimums are not a cure-all. We must be very careful that we do not restrict in any way a judge's latitude to make important distinctions.

I have another caveat. We must not think that by increasing penalties for the possession of illegal firearms we are addressing all problems related to gun control. The opposite is true. This measure will likely have an impact, or at least we hope it will, since we do not want to create legislation for no reason. Still, the impact will be relatively marginal.

The Toronto chief of police recently said that more than half of the gun crimes committed in his city involved guns that were legally purchased. Illegal guns are obviously not a good thing, but although our own firearms market here, in Canada and Quebec, is subject to some restrictions, it enjoys permissions that must be controlled.

Last spring, on May 1, an order was made, and the Canadian government created a regulation that added some 1,500 types of firearms to the prohibited assault-style firearms registry. At the time, it was argued that assault-style firearms were not meant for hunting. Nobody wants to stop a hunter from bagging a deer every year, but nobody needs a machine gun to hunt deer. Many a good hunter will hunt with bow and arrow. The government does not want to ban hunting, but it says that assault weapons, weapons used to kill other humans, weapons of war, do not belong in Quebec or in Canada. The government therefore decided to ban them by order in the spring. Almost all of us agreed on that.

That being said, we look forward to seeing what happens as a result of this ban. I look forward to it, in any case, since the result will be the mandatory buyback program for firearms. Now, we heard our Prime Minister dither on that, and he spoke about an optional buyback program at one point. Someone who purchased an assault weapon that is now banned would not be forced to bring it back if they bought it before it was banned. The government is removing the teeth from this worthwhile gun control process.

This buyback program must be mandatory, and I hope that the government will soon introduce a bill for the optional buyback program. This must be done through a bill. I have not heard any talk about that yet. However, I invite our Liberal colleagues to introduce one as quickly as possible so that we can work on it and finally have a logical next step. We started off in the right direction, but now it seems we are zigzagging a little. I want us to continue in the right direction. I do not want to see any dithering.

In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois would be prepared to vote in favour of a mandatory buyback program for illegal firearms; in fact, we would like that to happen as soon as possible.

In short, we will support my colleague's very virtuous Bill C-238, noting that minimum sentences are not a cure-all. I still have reservations about that, but I think it is justified in this case. We will support it.

Let me add another caveat. Bill C-238 must not be used as an excuse to not go further when it comes to the mandatory buyback program for the firearms that were banned last spring. That is essential in our society.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 27th, 2020 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am here to speak to Bill C-238, which introduces an amendment to section 96 of the Criminal Code to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of three years for possession of a firearm known to be illegally imported into Canada and five years for a second offence. Second, it would increase the maximum sentence from 10 to 14 years and then impose a reverse onus for bail conditions for those who are charged.

We are very concerned about gun violence in our streets. We have heard descriptions of it from the member for Markham—Unionville. We know about the terrible situation in Toronto in particular. We have talked about it a lot with the member for Spadina—Fort York and the member for Markham—Unionville. We hear about it all the time.

We want stronger laws to keep guns off our streets. There should be much stronger laws and enforcement to prevent smuggling. We are very concerned about this but nothing is being done about it.

We also believe that it is the job of parliamentarians to pass legislation that is consistent with the Constitution of our country. People have talked about misgivings around mandatory minimums. The problems we have with the bill are not simply matters of misgivings. We know there are certainly problems with them with respect to the application of the laws to different individuals. It is also the obvious and well-known idea that racial discrimination occurs with mandatory minimums. It is one of the reasons why there are more Black and indigenous people in our prisons. That has been spoken about many times.

However, the real reason is that it is unconstitutional. The legislation to increase the length of the sentence from 10 to 14 years shows the courts and the judges that these are to be taken seriously and will result in higher sentences. When we talk about section 96 of the Criminal Code, section 95 of the Criminal Code on guns and possession of guns obtained by crime has similar mandatory minimums: three years for possession of a gun obtained by crime, or prohibited weapons that were armed or loaded or had ammunition readily available. Those mandatory minimums were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Therefore, they are unconstitutional. They have no force and effect. They will not be given effect. We as parliamentarians ought not to be passing legislation that is clearly unconstitutional.

What is interesting about the case, R. v. Nur, is that the individuals who went to the Supreme Court of Canada had been sentenced to six and seven years in jail. The defence argued that the law was unconstitutional and the court agreed. It threw out the mandatory minimums in that case, but it upheld the sentences for the individuals because they were deemed appropriate. The court also threw it out because there were cases where that sentence would not be appropriate. Therefore, that law was not constitutional.

We have to make laws that are effective but that are also in keeping with our Constitution. In this case, increasing the sentence shows the seriousness of the crime. In fact, by increasing the sentence in Bill C-238, the maximum sentence one could get is up to 14 years. That sentence is higher than the sentence for the smuggling.

The law is a bit odd for that reason. It is unusual to see a law for possession of a smuggled gun to carry a higher sentence than for smuggling itself. However, that is the way the legislation is written. Perhaps that could be dealt with in the committee. The signal it sends with respect to the seriousness of the crime is very important.

To get back to the issue, we want to pass laws that are effective. We want to find ways of stopping gun violence in our cities. We know, of course, that most of the handguns we are talking about come from smuggling, so how do we get them away from the cities? They are not smuggled in Toronto. They are smuggled at the border.

We have seen a few things happen in the last number of years. One is that the number of border guards was drastically reduced by the Conservative government. Over 1,000 border guards were laid off, which was a reduction in the number of members of the CBSA whose job it is to look out for smuggling, and we have not seen any significant programs to tackle that. If we are going to tackle the crime, and if the crime is smuggling, we need to be tackling that crime at the border where the smuggling takes place.

We have not seen any action on that. We need an effective law to actually stop the smuggling, and we need enforcement by officials, police forces and the CBSA to actually do that. We try to stop drugs from coming over the border, and we should be putting an equal effort into ensuring that guns are stopped at the border as well.

In the case of sentencing, of course, it must fit the crime. This is a significant and serious crime, and it is up to the courts to do that. However, if the law we are passing is going to be deemed to have no force or effect, and there is very little doubt that this is an unconstitutional law, then we should not be passing it because it is not going to do any good.

There is little evidence that these mandatory minimums actually act as a deterrence. In fact, we heard the member for Spadina—Fort York talk about the cycle of people coming out of prison every five years and committing crimes again. Obviously, it is not doing any particular good if being in jail for several years is not doing anything other than turning people back out to the streets to commit crimes again.

We have to deal with the root causes of these problems, and they have to be rooted out with the kind of programs that we have been talking about. We also need the efforts by the police to ensure we have less smuggling going on and treat organized crime in a much more serious way.

Another thing that happened in the last five years was that several hundred serious investigations into organized crime by the national police force were laid to one side after the tragic shooting in Ottawa in 2014 of Nathan Cirillo and the subsequent attack on Parliament Hill. Resources from the RCMP were diverted to look out for similar activities across the country, and they were diverted away from the organized crime files they were working on.

In fact, instead of putting more resources in place to do that, they were actually taken away from organized crime files. The result was, and this has been demonstrated, over the next several years gang activity, mafia-style activity and organized crime activity actually increased. There was more access to guns and cash, and that increased as a result of a lack of enforcement.

We have to deal with enforcement. We have to deal with the root causes of gun violence, and we have to make sure we have laws that are actually constitutional. We are members of the Parliament of Canada. We must have respect for the constitution of our country and pass laws that are actually effective and that deal with the problem. Let us do that.

It has been suggested, for example, by the member for Markham—Unionville, that it is effective to have people in jail for a few days after being arrested for these things. Well, that is a very easy thing to fix, is it not? We do not have to put in laws that are unconstitutional to do that. If it is demonstrated that there ought to be a cooling-off period, that could be put into law as well.

Let us find the tools to do the job. Let us try to ensure we have laws that are not only effective, but also constitutional. Let us do the job right, and see if we can work together to make that happen.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 27th, 2020 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise for Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon to speak to Bill C-238, put forward by my colleague from Markham—Unionville. I want to thank the member for his work on this file and the speech he gave earlier this evening.

Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code, would increase the mandatory minimum penalty for the possession of a smuggled firearm to three years for the first offence and to five years for the second and subsequent offences, with a 14-year maximum. It would also amend the Criminal Code to automatically deny bail for these offenders in order to stop the catch and release of criminals, a circumstance that our hard-working police and Crown prosecutors experience far too often. If someone is arrested carrying a smuggled firearm, they would be required to make the argument to a judge as to why they deserve to be let back into the community. Quite frankly, they should not get to go home. They deserve jail, not bail.

Some of my parliamentary colleagues may have issues with the implementation of mandatory minimums, as we have heard this evening. I must echo the sentiment of my colleague from Markham—Unionville. Those in known possession of a smuggled firearm have it for a violent reason and their ill intent is to cause harm or death to another. That is a good enough reason for me. This cannot be tolerated in our society, and the prison time is more than warranted.

Indeed, this type of bail is already in the Criminal Code for other crimes, such as hostage taking, armed robbery or extortion with a firearm. This private member's bill ensures the punishment fits the crime. It is a common-sense approach to addressing real threats to Canadians' public safety.

Unlike the Liberal government, the Conservatives know that law-abiding firearm owners are not the problem. Contrary to Liberal claims about our approach, we know there is a problem, and we are putting forward real solutions to address it. Gun violence affects far too many people in our communities.

We heard the reports from my colleague about the untenable situation in the greater Toronto area. Sadly, on the other side of our country, even in Abbotsford and Mission, circumstances are similar. I personally know too many families who have tragically lost loved ones to gun violence.

The perpetrators of this violence did not go through the Canadian firearms safety program. They did not take the courses required to apply for a firearms licence. They did not apply for a possession and acquisition licence or a restricted possession and acquisition licence. They did not have their background investigated, their mental health checked or their domestic partner consulted. The perpetrators are not subject to the continuous eligibility screening that Canadian firearms licence-holders undergo constantly, where their names are run through the RCMP system daily to ensure that no crimes have been committed. They did not purchase their firearms from a Canadian retailer. We already have a robust gun control system in place that works, and the members opposite need to look at the way we treat criminals.

We all know that firearms laws are much less stringent in the United States. We also know that the border between Canada and the U.S. is the longest undefended border in the world. In my hometown of Abbotsford, B.C., the border is literally a ditch separating parallel farm fields in the two countries. My opa's farm straddled the border, a field on the Canadian side and a field on the American side. As kids, we would hop back and forth for fun. It does not take a genius to realize these two realities are ready for abuse and conducive to gun smuggling.

No matter how draconian the Liberal government gets with domestic firearms regulations, no matter how much they trample on the freedoms of law-abiding Canadians, the reality is that the U.S. is our neighbour. It will always be easier for criminals to source weapons from the U.S. and illegally import them to Canada.

The federal government must act accordingly. In the last election, we heard from officers of the Canada Border Services Agency that they did not have the tools to effectively interdict illegal weapons at the border. Recently, the Minister of Public Safety stated that his government would be doing more on this issue. I look forward to seeing that progress.

The Liberal government can move rapidly to prohibit Canadians from using legally acquired private property in the middle of a pandemic, doing so because it was politically expedient, but it moves like molasses when it comes to addressing this real issue.

This is an emotionally charged matter, and it is for my constituents, but for that very reason it needs to be addressed in a thoughtful, targeted manner based on real data and not emotion. We owe that to those who have been killed by gun violence and to their families. As legislators we are tasked with the honour and privilege of enacting legislation for the betterment of Canadians. However, that comes with the responsibility to ensure that legislation is sound, that it addresses an actual issue and that it will deliver the results it is intended to.

Part of that legislative process is the opportunity to debate the legislation in this place, at committee and in the other place. Such a debate was not able to take place, however, when on May 1, the Liberal government's order in council turned hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Canadians into criminals. However, Canadians are pushing back. Over 58,000 of them signed a petition tabled by the member for Cariboo—Prince George, highlighting the ridiculous and internally contradictory May 1 OIC and calling for its repeal.

Another 230,000 Canadians signed a petition tabled by the member for Calgary Nose Hill, which also called for the federal government to scrap the OIC and instead pass legislation actually targeting criminals that stops the smuggling of firearms into Canada and goes after those who illegally acquire firearms. This sounds a lot like what we are proposing in this legislation.

Numerous legal challenges against the Liberal government's firearm ban also continue to pile up, arguing among other things that the Prime Minister contravened the Firearms Act when he immediately outlawed more than 1,500 firearms through regulatory decree rather than a legislative process, and that governments cannot use an order in council to outlaw firearms used for sporting or hunting purposes, which would include the vast majority of firearms listed in the May 1 directive.

The impact of this ban on small businesses has also been devastating, as if COVID-19 restrictions were not bad enough. With all of these shortcomings, I and my Conservative colleagues are committed, as the government-in-waiting, to engage with difficult issues, to consult with Canadians and to take hard decisions. That is why I solicited my constituents for their input on Bill C-238. I distributed a survey and requested their feedback. Eighty-four per cent of respondents ranked stopping illegal guns from being smuggled into Canada as very important. The remaining 16% ranked it as the second highest level of importance when it came to their safety and that of their families.

The same high number, 84%, agreed with the bill that bail should be revoked for those charged with the possession of an illegally smuggled firearm. The Conservative Party has a plan to safeguard Canadians' public safety and reduce violent gun crime. Unlike the Liberal government, we would not waste time and money harassing law-abiding gun owners and confiscating their legally acquired private property as part of a virtue-signalling exercise that will have zero impact on reducing crime.

What percentage of respondents agreed with the Liberal approach? It was 5%. The NDP's approach, a carbon copy of the Liberals', received the same level of support, 5%, whereas 60% of respondents agreed with the Conservative Party of Canada's plan.

This private member's bill is just one important component of a broader plan that needs to take place to protect public safety. I encourage my colleagues from all parties to review Bill C-238 on its merits and send it to committee for further study.

National Framework for Diabetes ActRoutine Proceedings

February 27th, 2020 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms).

Mr. Speaker, people from across the GTA and my riding are scared. Every day the media reports new shootings that are more horrible than the last, and this weekend was no different. In 2018, shootings reached an all-time high. In 2019, the record was broken again. We know that organized crime is behind most of the shootings and innocent people get caught up in the violence. According to the Toronto chief of police, smuggled guns are the weapons of choice for these criminals.

When I spoke with members of law enforcement, they said they were frustrated. Police pick up dangerous offenders and they are back on the streets the next day on bail. When convicted, serious criminals are getting a slap on the wrist.

There is no reason to have smuggled guns. Today, I am proposing a bill that would have the punishment fit the crime for this dangerous offence.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Alleged Premature Disclosure of Private Member's BillPrivilegeGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2020 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege respecting the premature disclosure of the contents of a bill between the notice and introduction period.

The member for Markham—Unionville gave notice of a bill entitled “an act to amend the Criminal Code (unlawfully imported firearms)”, on Friday, February 21. On February 24, the member for Markham—Unionville, in an article published on iPolitics, disclosed the contents of the bill.

The article in question revealed the following. It states:

[The member for Markham—Unionville] is introducing legislation that would amend the Criminal Code to increase the mandatory sentence to three years for someone found in possession of a gun illegally brought into Canada. If an offender were found guilty of owning a smuggled gun a second time, their prison sentence would be a minimum of five years.

The article continues to disclose the content of the bill. It states:

[The] proposed law changes would also see the maximum amount of prison time that could be awarded to somebody who owns a smuggled gun increased to 14 years, both the first time they break the law and in every offence that follows.

On Tuesday, February 25, the member for Markham—Unionville gave notice of a new bill entitled “an act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms)”. Today, February 27, the member introduced the bill as Bill C-238. While I would note that there was a slight change to the long title, Bill C-238 accords directly with the details of the bill that were published in the article by iPolitics on February 24.

Clause 2.1 of Bill C-238 states:

Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) when the object in question was obtained by the commission of an offence under subsection 103(1) is, if prosecuted by indictment, liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of

(a) in the case of a first offence, three years; and

(b) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, five years.

The provisions of Bill C-238, which I just quoted, accord directly with the characterization in the iPolitics article on February 24, which was provided earlier in my intervention. While I do not want to impute unworthy motives on the part of the member for Markham—Unionville with respect to his bill, it does raise certain questions.

I submit that the member for Markham—Unionville is attempting to do indirectly what he knows he cannot do directly. I submit that the practice of placing a bill on notice, making public the content of the bill, then placing another bill with a slightly different title to avoid a charge of premature disclosure of the content of a bill would set a dangerous precedent. In short, using this approach would subvert the principle that members should be the first to see the contents of a bill.

I would also like to draw the attention of members to the Speaker's ruling earlier this day concerning two bills that were substantially similar, despite a different long title.

The Speaker stated, “I would like to take a few minutes to inform members of an error on the Order Paper. Two private member's bills, which are substantially the same, are currently listed under Private Members' Business. Items outside of the Order of Precedence, specifically Bill C-221 on the Employment Insurance Act standing in the name of the member for Elmwood—Transcona was introduced and read the first time on Thursday, February 20, 2020, and Bill C-217 standing in the name of the member for Salaberry—Suroît was introduced and read a first time on Monday, February 24, 2020.

“Pursuant to Standing Order 86(4), the Speaker can refuse notice if he determines the two items as to be substantially the same. As a result, Bill C-217 is currently before the House in error. I therefore direct it that the order for the second reading of Bill C-217 be discharged and the bill be dropped from the Order Paper.”

It would be interesting to see if the first bill that the member for Markham—Unionville had placed on notice, if introduced, would be determined to be substantially similar to Bill C-238. While I cannot confirm this to be the case, it certainly gives rise to the assumption that the bills would be substantially similar.

I further submit that if this practice was determined to be an acceptable practice, I can only assume that this approach could become common practice. Imagine the government placing a bill on notice, then making a public statement which comprehensively discloses the content of a bill, then make a slight change to the long title and place this new bill on notice followed by its introduction. This would be seen by members and perhaps by you, Mr. Speaker, as a clear departure from the long-standing principle that members should be the first to see the contents of a bill.

I will not waste the precious time of the House reciting the numerous precedents that support the conclusion that the premature disclosure of the contents of a bill between the notice and introduction period has been determined to be a bonafide question of privilege.

I do not begrudge the member for Markham—Unionville for his attempt to get out his message about what his bill would accomplish and to provide the details of his bill to solicit the public's support for the bill. The fact remains that it is an affront to the privileges of the House to disclose a bill's contents before members of the House have had the opportunity to see the bill once introduced.

I understand that there was a very similar issue raised on February 25, with respect to the unfortunate premature disclosure of the medical assistance in dying legislation. As a result, if you determine, Mr. Speaker, that this matter is a prima facie question of privilege, I would suggest that both matters be heard together at the procedure and house affairs committee.

Mr. Speaker, I await your decision, and if you agree, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion at the said time.