Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to finally speak to Bill C-21.
We had almost given up hope of hearing about a gun control bill before the end of the parliamentary session. The government finally introduced a bill last week, perhaps somewhat reactively. That is typical of the Liberal government, always reacting to events. Unfortunately, a few days ago, there was the massacre in Texas. Also a few days ago, shots were fired near a child care centre in Rivière-des-Prairies, in the greater Montreal area. I get the impression that these kinds of events are what finally pushed the government to act. That is fine, but it is unfortunate that violent events like these have to happen before the government introduces legislation that we have long been calling for.
My colleague from Rivière-du-Nord and I make it our mission during virtually every question period to remind the minister that taking action on gun control is important. That is our topic this evening, but legal weapons are not the only problem. Illegal weapons and arms trafficking, especially in Quebec, but also across Canada, are problems too. I think legislation is long overdue. The Bloc Québécois made it clear elsewhere, in the media for example, that it thinks Bill C‑21 is a step in the right direction.
Quite honestly, the previous version of the bill, which was introduced in the last Parliament, pleased nobody. Neither groups for gun control nor those against it liked the bill. It was flawed. I will say that the government really listened to groups advocating for women and victims of shootings. They came to talk to the government and tell it which important elements they thought should be included in the bill. Clearly a lot has changed since the first version, and that is great.
However, we need to point out some elements that are perhaps more negative. As I was saying, unfortunately, Bill C‑21 does not solve all the problems. Currently, one of the biggest problems in the greater Montreal area is the shootings being carried out by criminal groups. They are obtaining weapons illegally. There have been shootings in the past with firearms that were 100% legal and that belonged to licensed gun owners who had no mental health issues or criminal records. It does happen, but not very often. I have the impression that most of the shootings happening these days involve illegal firearms. We must find a way to address this problem.
There was talk earlier about how Quebec has been proactive and has almost done everything that we have been calling on the federal government to do for months. We were with the minister this morning at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security when the news dropped that Quebec will invest $6.2 million in the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. Representatives from this police department came to tell the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security about their particular situation. Akwesasne is an indigenous community that straddles the borders of Quebec, Ontario and even the United States. This requires collaboration among the different police departments. Smugglers are very familiar with this area, where trafficking is done by boat in the summer and by snowmobile in the winter. Weapons come through the area by the hundreds every week. The federal government needs to get involved because it is responsible for the borders.
This morning, Quebec announced $6.2 million for police services. This money will be used to hire five additional police officers and to purchase a new patrol boat, an all-terrain vehicle and snowmobiles to bolster the fight against gun smuggling in Quebec. This is great news. While making this announcement, Geneviève Guilbault, Quebec's public safety minister, said she was still waiting on the money from an agreement with the federal government. The federal government promised funding to help Quebec and the provinces crack down on firearms, but it seems they are still waiting for this money. They are anxious to receive it and continue this important fight.
Let us come back to Bill C‑21. This version is better than earlier ones, but there are still some flaws. Some elements seem poorly drafted. I think it is shameful that the government is rushing things and not letting us have the time to do our job as parliamentarians. I am guessing that is what it intends to do, since that is what has been happening in the House of Commons over the past few days. By constantly invoking closure, the government is trying to shorten debate by a few hours in order to move forward more quickly. However, it is actually our job as parliamentarians to take the time to study bills, debate them in the House, make amendments and improve them. That is what I intend to do with Bill C‑21.
I want to try to work constructively with the government to improve the bill. I want to come back to the motion my Conservative colleague wanted to move today at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I must say that she stated in good faith that there are some elements of the bill that we can all agree on. Let us move forward quickly with those measures, while taking the time to study the rest more closely.
The Liberals did not agree, obviously, for partisan political reasons. On the other hand, when the Liberals try to speed things along, the Conservatives oppose them. Let us try to be more constructive and work together like we do at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. As my colleague mentioned earlier, we very much agree on the firearms issue, to the point where it feels almost unprecedented. We have managed to work together quite well, which is important to highlight.
I want to discuss all aspects of the bill, beginning with the measure about handguns. This is really the government's key measure, which proposes a freeze on the acquisition, sale and transfer of handguns by individuals. This was quite unexpected. I myself was surprised to hear this. I never thought the government would go so far.
It was the way it proceeded that surprised me a bit. The way this was announced at the press conference made it sound like the freeze was part of Bill C‑21. A little later, the government realized that it could proceed through regulations, which is a whole other procedure. It would be 30 business days before this came into effect. Those 30 business days left enough time for those who already had a licence to go out and buy more guns. Gun sales exploded across the country. I saw a B.C. gun seller on CTV News who said that the Prime Minister had become “salesman of the month”. That really is the message he sent to people.
The government's intention was to reduce the number of handguns in circulation, but it had the opposite effect. That is a shame, because I think there was another way to go about this. Take for example the assault weapons ban on May 1, 2020. The government compiled a list of 1,500 banned guns, and the ban came into effect immediately. People did not have time to go out and buy a gun before the ban took effect.
I wonder why the government chose a freeze instead of a ban and why it did that through regulations, when we were led to believe it would be in the bill from the start. Questions like that remain unanswered.
I think it is especially unfortunate that the government did not anticipate that people would rush to the store to buy more guns. Perhaps they should have taken more time to iron out all the details before presenting them.
Our understanding is that once the freeze is in place, handguns will eventually disappear because they can no longer be transferred to someone else. People who currently have a permit will be able to continue to use their guns. Of course, there are some exceptions for police officers and bodyguards who have a firearms licence. It is still unclear what will happen with sport shooters. We are being told that the government will establish by regulation what it all means, but questions are already popping up.
The procedures in Quebec are quite strict already. I get the sense that these regulations will not necessarily change much in Quebec, but I will come back to that.
I would like to say that I am not a firearms expert. It is easy enough to go on social media, demonize me and say that I have no clue what I am talking about.
Recently, I was asked if I knew the procedure for buying a weapon. It is actually fairly complex. I will give the people who asked me this: It may happen overnight in the United States, for example, but not here.
Gun culture is a thing in the United States, and it is pretty intense. We are worried it might spread to Canada. Acquiring a firearm, however, is very different. After the Texas shooting a few days ago, people from Le Journal de Montréal went down there to run a test and find out how individuals get firearms. What they found out is that all one needs is a driver's licence and 15 minutes to walk out of the store with a gun and ammo. In Texas, it takes longer to buy a car than a weapon. That is pretty unbelievable.
In Canada, the rules are stricter, and I think that is a good thing. People who choose to pursue their passion for firearms and make it their hobby need to understand that weapons are dangerous. That is why they need to be regulated. It all needs to be governed by regulations. I think we have to be cognizant of that.
If someone in Quebec wants to obtain a handgun right now, they have to complete several training courses. There is the Canadian firearms safety course, the Canadian restricted firearms safety course and the Bill 9 aptitude test. Next, they have to apply for a possession and acquisition licence. That can take around six months. Lastly, the individual has to join a shooting club. That is a requirement in Quebec.
I will admit that this is not a simple process and cannot be done overnight. I sometimes hear the rhetoric that guns are not dangerous, that the person pulling the trigger is dangerous. I have to disagree. Guns are dangerous.
As I was saying, anyone using this device or tool, I am not sure what to call it, needs to be aware that it is dangerous. Anyone choosing to use a firearm must be aware that it could be used by a person with bad intentions and that firearm regulations make sense.
What we understand is that with the freeze handguns will eventually disappear. We also understand that for people who train to use guns competitively, there may be a way to get around the rules. Reading legislation or regulations is rather complicated. However, when we take the time to read between the lines, we sometimes see certain details that may be questionable. That is true here, there are questionable details, and we certainly need to take this to committee to determine what it means.
The other thing is that the freeze may not do anything beyond what Quebec is already doing, in other words require that a person be a member of a gun club before being able to acquire a handgun. If a person is already a member of a gun club then there will be no real change. They will be grandfathered and allowed to continue using the handgun. These are questions I will have to ask during study of the bill.
I want to come back again to the fact that people have been rushing out to purchase handguns, because they know the regulations are not yet in effect. This shows that Bill C-21 will not solve the problem in the short term, so it does not meet its own objective. Guns continue to be a problem on our streets and in our municipalities, which is why people are increasingly concerned. We are reminded of this every day, given current events.
There was another car chase in broad daylight in a residential area in greater Montreal yesterday. Dozens of shots were fired. People were eating on their balconies and walking down the street, and they witnessed this first-hand. Fortunately there were no casualties, but there could have been injuries and even fatalities. It has practically become the norm in Montreal, in Quebec. It is scary when you think about it. It is also scary for parents to send their children to school, to go to work, or to go anywhere for that matter, because in the last few months, there have been shots fired near a day care centre, near schools and even in a library. The library's windows shattered because of the gunfire. It is unbelievable.
This notorious gun culture, which I mentioned earlier and is entrenched in the United States, seems to be gradually taking hold in Canada, and no one wants that. Unfortunately, Bill C-21 gives us no reassurance that it will solve this problem. It might solve certain things and it might be a step in the right direction, but the terrible problem of gun trafficking remains prevalent. Bill C-21 does not address this.
I want to share some statistics. According to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, 95% of handguns used in violent crimes come from the black market. During question period we often hear that organized crime uses illegal weapons and that members of these organizations are the ones committing crimes most of the time.
I often hear people say that we are going after good, law-abiding gun owners. This is true in some cases, but not always. As I said earlier, mass shootings with legal firearms are rare, but they do happen.
We made a lot of proposals that were not included in Bill C‑21 in an attempt to find a number of measures that would work best together. My colleague from Rivière-du-Nord introduced Bill C‑279 to create an organized crime registry.
The way we see it, giving police officers more tools and means to act is another way we can control firearms. Why is being a member of a terrorist group illegal but being a member of organized crime is not? This is a fair question because organized crime groups are behind the violence we are seeing in the big cities right now. I think that this bill could be a worthwhile, easy-to-implement tool, and I urge the minister and his colleagues to read it.
We have heard a great deal about investments at the border, and I just mentioned the investments made by Quebec. We must not forget that the border is under federal jurisdiction and that there is work to be done there. Witnesses told us about what is actually happening at the border. Even border services officers told us that they were ready for their mandate to be expanded and that they would like to patrol the areas between border crossings, which they currently cannot do. It is true that the Canada-U.S. border is so long that it is almost impossible to have officers covering every kilometre of it. However, the mandate of these officers could be expanded so they could go on patrol.
My colleague also reminded us earlier that smuggled guns and drugs arrive in Canada by boat and by train. We do not have the tools we need to search these conveyances. These types of measures could certainly help the fight against firearms, especially those that are illegal.
Thanks to a motion that I moved a few months ago in the House, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security was able to study this problem. It was the topic of its first report, which was tabled recently in the House. The report contains several recommendations for more resources and more collaboration. On that subject, the RCMP commissioner admitted to the committee that police forces could talk to each other more and share more information.
Experts from public safety agencies agreed with every point and argument we made and told us that we do indeed need to provide more financial and human resources. It is a problem that we will not be able to fix in the short term, but we should start working on it immediately.
The National Police Federation told me that the police forces are short on officers and will not be able to get more overnight. I learned that dozens of officers are deployed every week to Roxham Road to receive irregular migrants. The Government of Quebec and the Bloc Québécois have been calling for that road to be closed so that the migrants can be received the regular way through a safe, normal process. This would allow these officers to be reassigned to the fight against guns.
Madam Speaker, since you are signalling that my time is up, I will end there and I look forward to my colleagues' questions.