Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise to speak on behalf of my constituents in Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and on behalf of the Bloc Québécois as the public safety critic.
Gun control is not a simple subject. People cannot seem to agree on it. It evokes strong emotional reactions from some people and brings up extremely bad memories for others. It is a sensitive subject that deserves proper consideration. Although gun control does not please everyone and there are different ways of going about it, we have a social responsibility to control firearms in order to keep people safe. That is our duty as elected officials.
I have to say that we have been waiting for this gun bill. We have been waiting for it because the Liberals clearly and unequivocally promised to improve gun control during the 2019 election campaign. It was a firm commitment that gave many people a glimmer of hope.
My thoughts go out to the survivors of the shootings our country has seen in the past few years. My thoughts are with the lives lost to handguns or military-style assault weapons. My thoughts are with the loved ones and families of these victims. We are fighting for them, but also to ensure that tragedies such as the ones at the Quebec City mosque, Polytechnique and in Nova Scotia never happen again. There are others, but I will leave it at that. In fact, over the years, there have been far too many lives lost to firearms that have no place in our streets, our homes or in the hands of violent and unstable people.
We were expecting this bill, but we were certainly not expecting it to be so flawed. It seems the Liberal Party did not consult anyone in drafting this bill, because nobody is happy. Not the gun lobby, not friends and family of victims of mass shootings and not law-abiding gun owners who feel their rights are being violated.
Unfortunately, this bill is nowhere near good enough. It just passes the buck to others, such as municipalities across Quebec and Canada. This bill does not fix a thing. The most it does is make a few improvements to existing laws. It has a number of flaws that I will get into, but before I go there, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle of the bill even though it is so deeply flawed for the reasons I mentioned.
I want to reiterate the importance of legislating gun control. Voting against the principle of this bill would mean tossing it in the trash without even giving it a chance to be improved and amended. The Bloc Québécois is willing to work and collaborate with the Liberal Party to make the bill more restrictive on some points and more logical on others. Despite our differences of opinion on how to get there, I think it is important that we come together and work together to ensure a safe environment for all Quebeckers and Canadians.
I truly believe in collaborative work. Perhaps it is my naivete, as I am still in my early days in politics, but I believe in it and I hope to never stop believing in it. I hope I never become a cynic, because the ultimate goal—I hope and believe—is the same for all parliamentarians in the House: to keep our people safe. We debate with one another through our ideologies, our politics and our turf wars, but what we ultimately want is for our constituents to be safe. However, as long as weapons that were designed specifically for the battlefield are in the hands of civilians on our streets and in our homes, no one is safe, unfortunately.
I want to thank the members of Poly Remembers. I communicate regularly with them, and I want to thank them for their long struggle. I want to speak on their behalf and say that they are so exhausted by this 30-year struggle. They feel betrayed by the Prime Minister of Canada, who obviously did not keep his word. On many occasions, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada looked the victims and their families in the eye and promised to prohibit military-style assault rifles.
Unfortunately, that is not what he is doing with this bill. Unfortunately, assault rifles are not banned, contrary to what the Liberal Party is saying. Only some popular models are banned. Most of these models will no longer be in circulation, but the current owners of these weapons will be able to keep them at home. The bill will not prevent someone who already owns one of these newly banned weapons from committing a crime. It is a half measure which, in my opinion, comes after another half-measure announced last May, prohibiting about 1,500 models of military-style assault rifles, while hundreds of models are still in circulation.
I should point out that there is no official definition of “assault weapon” in the Criminal Code, which makes banning them more complicated.
For examples, should all semi-automatic long guns be considered assault rifles, or only semi-automatic long guns with detachable magazines? This is a valid question and it should be clarified.
The government may have created its list based on the weapons used in mass murders in recent years, hoping to grab some headlines. However, based on the reaction from various groups advocating for controls on assault weapons, the government's announcement was clearly not a success.
When the government issued the ban last May, it committed to creating a buyback program. We figured that a federal government buyback program for military-style assault weapons would be mandatory for legal owners. We expected something similar to what was done in New Zealand.
In response to the Christchurch massacre in 2019, the government of New Zealand, a country of 4.8 million people, launched a buyback program that apparently brought in more than 61,000 firearms and more than 188,000 parts. Before the initiative, police had estimated that there were between 55,000 and 240,000 of the newly prohibited firearms in the country.
These newly banned weapons belonged to some 32,000 gun owners who received a total of $100 million New Zealand, or approximately $87 million Canadian, in compensation for complying with the legislation, so we see that the program was relatively successful. It is certainly better than a voluntary buyback program.
What guarantee is there that the owners will sell their weapons back to the government in good faith? The people who acquired these types of weapons completely illegally are certainly not the kind of people who are going to raise their hands and politely hand their guns over to the government in exchange for a few hundred dollars.
That is what I do not understand about the government's measure. By not making the buyback program mandatory, the government has made it completely voluntary.
Philip Alpers is an associate professor at the Sydney School of Public Health in Australia and a gun control expert who has studied buyback initiatives. In a recent Canadian Press article, he said that optional programs, as opposed to compulsory ones, have a greater chance of missing the mark of making communities safer. In fact, many studies show that a voluntary buyback is the most likely to fail.
He talked about how arms buyback programs in Australia and New Zealand, for example, not only prohibited certain firearms but also included stiff penalties for those who did not turn in their weapons. The fact that these programs included penalties for those who did not turn in their weapons made all the difference in those two countries. Right now, as written, Bill C-21 would allow owners to keep their weapons under certain conditions, including safe storage. This clearly shows how important it is to make the buyback program mandatory.
During a press conference, the Minister of Public Safety said that the Canadian government did not know how many military-style weapons were in circulation in Canada, which is why it did not make buyback mandatory. That makes absolutely no sense because, if he is not sure those people will turn in their weapons, then what makes him think they would even register them?
PolySeSouvient called for a mandatory program last May when the new order in council was announced because, it held, “each weapon that remains in private hands constitutes a risk”. It is important to note that most of the mass shootings in Canada were committed by legal gun owners. That is important to keep in mind when deciding whether to make a buyback program mandatory or not.
Last March, exhausted by the struggle it had been waging for so many years, the group PolySeSouvient said that if the Prime Minister did not significantly amend his bill, he would no longer be welcome at the Polytechnique memorial ceremonies. PolySeSouvient sees the bill as a “smokescreen” that would place an additional burden on individuals, in other words, legislation that unfairly targets responsible gun owners but not criminals. I could not agree with them more.
Introducing Bill C-21 was nevertheless a great way to bring the ban full circle and move forward with a legislative ban on military-style assault weapons, as promised by the Liberal Party during the 2019 election campaign.
I will not mince my words. Not only does this show how untrustworthy the Liberals are on this issue, it proves that they are not taking it seriously. First, the Liberals are not keeping their word. Second, they continue to pretend that a voluntary buyback program will actually curb the gun problem in this country. We must not kid ourselves.
The fact that weapons do not need to be rendered inoperable for storage when people choose to keep them in their homes is also enormously problematic. At the very least, weapons should have to be disassembled before being stored, which would make their immediate use much more difficult.
Even if regulations prevent people from using their newly banned weapon, if they have it within reach when a conflict occurs, nothing would prevent them from causing irreparable harm.
That is not the only thing in this bill that does not make sense.
Members will recall the 2019 election campaign, during which the leader of the Liberal Party would tell anyone who would listen that he was the candidate who would bring in stricter gun control measures in Canada, unlike his Conservative opponent, who would eliminate these measures. That was an election promise, made to distinguish his party from the other major party.
Once the Liberal Party came to power, it started looking into how it could keep its promise and satisfy one side without losing too much support from the other. The Liberals then had a genius idea. Since they had committed to introducing gun control measures, they could simply delegate that task to municipalities. If that plan worked, all the better, because the Liberals would have kept their promise. If the plan did not work, it would be the municipalities' problem, not the Liberals'.
In Bill C-21, the federal government is asking some 5,600 Canadian municipalities to implement their own handgun storage measures in their jurisdictions, whether it be storage at home or within municipal borders. The ban could go so far as to prohibit the transportation of weapons within the municipality. This means that the 5,600 or so Canadian municipalities could decide to implement completely different measures.
There are about 1,400 municipalities in Quebec. In my riding of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia alone, there are 56 municipalities and two indigenous territories. You will travel 15 kilometres if you start at Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici in the interior and travel to Sainte-Flavie, which is on the river, going through the village of Saint-Joseph-de-Lepage and downtown Mont-Joli, which is one of the four largest cities in my riding. In those 15 kilometres, there could be four different handgun regulations.
It would seem that the government floated this idea without thinking it through. Also, I have to say that municipal budgets are quite tight. The government is ready to throw this whole thing in their court without telling them when, how or why. It would leave to others the task of passing thousands of totally disparate and inconsistent regulations. That would be a real fiasco.
The Liberal government is completely shirking its responsibilities. It is clear that it has no intention of banning handguns.
Right away, the City of Montreal criticized the fact that the government was missing a golden opportunity to enact legislation that would establish clear, consistent, effective rules for the country as a whole. Montreal mayor Valérie Plante reiterated her demand and called on the federal government to help implement better gun control measures just days after a 15-year-old girl was killed in a shooting in Saint-Léonard. That was Montreal's fifth homicide of the year. She was an innocent bystander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to media reports. The City of Toronto had more than 462 shootings in 2020. The problem of illegal weapons changing hands and often ending up in the hands of young people is now back on the agenda. This is a scourge, especially in Canada's big cities.
Bill C-21 does not resolve that problem. The government is promising to combat gun smuggling and trafficking, but it is not necessarily putting more resources at the border. Obviously, we know that guns do not magically find their way into the hands of young people. Nearly 250 prohibited weapons were seized in Dundee in March, and a 24-year-old man was arrested. He owns a house that straddles the U.S. border in an area that is historically known for smuggling because of its geographic location. Heaven knows what other young people could have ended up with those weapons. This shows just how real smuggling and trafficking are, and not just in the big cities. It is also happening in our regions, like in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.
To come back to handguns, we see that, once again, the government did not consult anyone before introducing the bill, certainly not the cities. The Union des municipalités du Québec, or UMQ, also spoke out against some provisions of the bill, including the fact that the government is attempting to transfer responsibility for handgun control to the cities when that does not fall under their jurisdiction. The cities obviously do not want to take on that responsibility. The UMQ joined its voice to that of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, which has also spoken out against this tactic. Others quickly joined them, including the mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, and the mayor of Gatineau, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who said they were disappointed with Ottawa's plans. That says a lot.
Then the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously approved a motion calling for this power to be delegated to Quebec City rather than to the municipalities. The idea of implementing a single regulation that would apply to Quebec as a whole, rather than thousands of different ones, has been relatively well received. That would obviously suit the federal government, which would get to offload its responsibility either way, so that seems to be the ideal situation.
There is a problem though. The Government of Quebec appears to have agreed to the motion too hastily and may not be too keen to re-engage in this kind of debate after the intense negotiations over the gun registry a few years back.
Furthermore, the Quebec government, like that of any other province, can already pass legislation or regulate handguns within its borders if it wanted to. The federal government would not necessarily have to delegate that power. It should be noted that this is not on the Quebec government's political agenda either.
As a member of the Bloc Québécois, I would normally be in favour of delegating more powers to Quebec. This time, however, this really bugs me. I get the impression that the federal government wants to cut and run. The government was the one that committed to controlling handguns, so it should be the one taking action, instead of punting responsibility to whoever will take it. It should just keep its promises.
I want to come back to the problem of illegal guns. Most of the handguns used by gangs and criminal groups are illegal, whether they have been stolen from citizens or not. We need to make these weapons harder to access here, while also stopping imports of illegal firearms at the U.S. border.
Leaving it up to municipalities or provinces to ban guns within their borders does not solve the problem. Ottawa would have to ban handguns nationwide to have any effect. However, Ottawa does not have the political courage and prefers to delegate.
I just want to clarify that since the beginning of my speech, I have been talking about handguns and military-style assault weapons. Twelve-gauge and 10-gauge hunting rifles are not covered by last May's ban or this bill. Hunters can continue to hunt without fear. Killing an animal for food is not the same as using a weapon that is capable of firing off dozens of bullets within seconds and that is explicitly designed to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time.
We are also talking about guns that can easily be modified to make them even deadlier. Those are the guns we want banned, and I completely agree with the government on that score.
However, the bill sidesteps the problem. The point is to ban assault weapons, not for the purpose of preventing sport shooters from using them at shooting ranges, but for the purpose of preventing people from being killed. Unfortunately, we see that this bill only prevents sport shooters from safely using their guns and does not prevent massacres.
I also want to touch on another problem created by this bill. We were shocked to see that the government was trying to restrict paintball and airsoft activities through a provision that considered certain replica guns used in these activities as prohibited weapons.
Once again, the government made things up as it went along and did not consult stakeholders, which is what I heard from the Fédération Sportive d'Airsoft du Québec. Gun shop owners were not consulted either. They often sell their products to police forces, but overnight, they found themselves saddled with hundreds of newly prohibited weapons, with no instructions from the government on what to do with them. The bill was introduced quite some time after last May's ban. It has been a few months since the bill was introduced, and gun shop owners still do not know what to do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of stock gathering dust on their shelves.
Coming back to replica assault-style weapons, there is some basis for the government's desire to ban them. Police officers could resort to lethal force if they are called to a scene where they believe a real weapon is being used, which means there is also the risk of collateral damage to innocent people. We owe our police forces our unwavering support.
The government could have looked at what is being done elsewhere. For instance, in the United States, air guns must have an orange tip on the barrel, which helps identify them as imitation firearms. Requiring clear markings on replica guns would be an adequate compromise, and at committee, we will definitely ask the government to look at this possibility rather than abruptly banning an activity enjoyed by hundreds of Quebeckers. I agree that the government must provide greater oversight over the sale of paintball and airsoft guns, but it could do that while respecting those who practise these activities safely.
After consultations with Quebeckers from across the province, gun control advocacy groups, gun rights groups, gun shop owners, hunters, sport shooters, paintball and airsoft enthusiasts, and firing range owners, it is clear that this bill is definitely flawed.
To reiterate what I said at the beginning of my speech, even though we would like to throw this bill in the trash and start over, time is running out and we should at least give it a chance. That is what we will do in committee. However, I want to be transparent. If significant changes are not made to the bill, or the bill is not changed at all, and the buyback program for military-style assault weapons is not made mandatory, we will simply vote against the bill.
I would like to remind members that the Liberal Party promised many times to ban assault weapons and restrict handguns. It is not keeping either of those promises with this bill as it now stands. The Bloc Québécois is prepared to work with the government to keep our fellow citizens safe.