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Evidence of meeting #11 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was owners.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Barbara Byers  Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress
Greg Farrant  Manager, Government Affairs and Policy, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Solomon Friedman  Criminal Defence Lawyer, As an Individual
Sgt Murray Grismer  Sergeant, As an Individual

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

The last thing is the issue of licence verification. This has nothing to do with licensing. I don't know how many times I can say that, Mr. Chair.

This has to do with non-restricted firearms, which would then be owned by people who are licensed.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Madame, you have 30 seconds.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Okay, thank you.

You talk a lot about the confusion in the debate. But you also talk about working together with the provinces. The Province of Quebec has bluntly told you that it wants to get the registry data. But you want to destroy them. I can see that the feds no longer want the data to be available, but if a province decides to use the data from the registry, why would access be denied when it is entirely legitimate according to the Information Commissioner?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Madame Boivin.

We'll now move to Mr. Norlock please.

November 15th, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Through you, I want to say to the witness, thank you for coming.

Minister, there were so many questions that I wanted to ask, but I do want to perhaps assist my Liberal friend by telling her that it is the police who actually instigate section 100 orders. In other words, when they find....

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

This is in respect of a licence.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Yes, when they find a person who shouldn't own a firearm, they can make an application before the court. To suggest that a minister of the crown who comes before any committee and doesn't have every statistic available in their department.... Well, I'll just leave it as it is.

Wouldn't you agree with me, Minister, that the real filter, the real ability of the state to make sure that only the people who should own firearms do is that they be put through a process—and we already have that process—to make sure they're not mentally ill, to make sure they're not spousal abusers, to make sure they don't have a violent criminal background? That would be my first question. In particular, does this revocation of the firearms registry have any effect on that?

The other question, Mr. Minister, is this. You were talking to us about giving the police the tools to do their job. Would you not agree that most police officers agreed with or lobbied our government to hire more police officers, both provincial and municipal, as well as RCMP? I'd like to talk about whether the government is delivering on that.

Also, with regard to the registry and its accuracy, I can tell you, Minister, that shortly after being elected I had a constituent come to me with an envelope. They had registered their firearm, and attached to it, on a page stuck to it—and I represent a riding in Ontario—was all the personal information of someone who had registered two firearms through the Province of Quebec. Doesn't that indicate how inaccurate the firearms registry is? Why would we want to perpetrate an inaccurate registry and give that inaccurate information to a province for them to instigate something that doesn't work anyway?

I wonder if you could make comment on those questions, Mr. Minister.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Well, those are all very good questions.

First of all, of course I agree that it's important not to confuse licensing with registration, in the same way that we should not confuse gun control generally with the issue of registration. You'll see the proponents of the registry talking about gun control and trying to use studies from gun control matters generally on licensing and the like, and attributing those characteristics to the registry when they're quite frankly not attributable.

Secondly, our government took huge steps in hiring and facilitating the hiring of police officers by local jurisdictions—provinces and municipalities. That was a commitment our government made, and we delivered on that commitment. It was not only in the context of provincial and municipal police forces, but also in the context of the RCMP, which of course has an impact on many provinces who choose to have the RCMP as their provincial police or municipal police forces.

Back in 1998 when I was the attorney general of Manitoba, the former Liberal government shut down Depot, shut down the training of RCMP officers in this country, at a time when half of the RCMP officers would be eligible for retirement within five years. It was one of the most foolish things that could ever have been done, causing us huge problems in actually going after the bad guys and getting criminals. They shut down the police training.

When we came into government, on average we were only producing 300 officers out of Depot every year. I think to reach a break-even point there have to be around 1,000. We ramped this up to 1,800 coming out in the first year, because of the neglect of the prior government in actually getting police officers. They stressed things such as the gun registry and said that it was going to protect the public—that it was going to “make them feel safe”, as the NDP said—but they neglected to actually put officers out on the street.

Our government has consistently put out many troops through Depot, and we've encouraged provincial and municipal governments to hire more officers as well in order to meet the true criminal safety needs of Canadians.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Minister.

We'll now move back to the official opposition.

We'll go to Mr. Harris, please, for five minutes.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Toews, I've heard you say in the House, for example, that this is not about the changes that are going to affect the categorization of arms. Nevertheless, some of the consequences of your bill I find frankly irresponsible. There is the straight-up destruction of the registry and the destruction of the data when, first of all, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police say they want it and provincial governments such as Quebec's want it in the interests of public safety, and when the chiefs of police across this country have an important role to play in that.

You are also weakening the international obligation on tracing. That is also necessary for our own public safety, and the chiefs of police have pointed that out.

Thirdly, you are weakening the transfer requirements. That's what my colleague, Madame Boivin, was getting at—the weakening of the licensing verification requirements for transfer, thereby allowing guns to fall into the wrong hands. This is in clause 11 of the bill.

Importantly, you're also ignoring the consequences of no longer having merchants required to keep track of the guns they're selling, who they're selling them to, and the serial numbers and all of that, which was in place before the registry was there. By destroying the registry, you're not putting back that requirement.

You are going to be allowing semi-automatics such as the Ruger Mini-14. We're going to be allowing sniper rifles. We even have a sawed-off shotgun for sale that's manufactured as a sawed-off shotgun with a twelve-and-a-half-inch barrel so that it's not illegal. It's actually marketed as the Outlaw shotgun and is a double-barrelled 12-gauge shotgun on sale in this country for $325. These will not be restricted weapons; these will not be prohibited weapons. They will not be required to be registered or tracked in any way.

That, sir, is irresponsible. I'd like you to respond to those comments.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Minister, please.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

All I can say is that if you have concerns about firearms that should be restricted and are not, that is outside the context of this bill. This bill does not change the classification system.

I don't know about all of the firearms you're talking about, but it is something that the experts do in classifying firearms. If you think there is a problem with that classification, we can have that discussion, but it has nothing to do with Bill C-19, and we shouldn't confuse the registry and the classification of firearms.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

They're now required to be registered.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

On the issue, though, of the registry, if that's what the question is, we have made our position very clear on the registry's ineffectiveness. But we're not changing the classification of that firearm or the necessity of someone obtaining a licence to possess that firearm.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Quickly, Mr. Harris.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Yes, Mr. Chair.

Very quickly, you've complained about the inaccuracy of the registry, yet you've had an amnesty in place for a number of years and, therefore, the records are obviously incomplete. You've also discouraged, through your political activity, people taking seriously the need for gun control, so it's not a surprise that the registry would not be complete. That's your fault. You have to take responsibility for that.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

All I can say is that we made our position clear on the registry. There were certain amnesties that were put in place, and at least you're being frank with the committee in admitting that not only is the registry incomplete, it's inaccurate.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Minister.

We'll now move to the last question of the day and go back to Ms. Hoeppner for five minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

I'm quite surprised by the opposition members' lack of understanding of the Canadian firearms program and the classification of firearms. If you saw off a shotgun, it becomes an illegal weapon. If you change a semi-automatic firearm into an automatic firearm, it becomes a prohibited, restricted firearm automatically. The long-gun registry deals with non-restricted, non-prohibited firearms.

Mr. Scarpaleggia talked about licensing. When an individual has his licence revoked, police officers are able to go in and apprehend the firearms in that individual's home. If two individuals have a licence to own firearms, the registered firearms can be transported between both places. So police officers could go out to a home where there are five firearms registered, and those firearms may not be legally stored at that individual's home. That's why police officers are telling us that when they go to someone's home, they don't look at the registry and say, “Well, there are two guns, so we'll go and apprehend those two guns from this individual whose licence was revoked, and then we'll know we're clear”. No, they sweep the home and make sure that all weapons, all firearms, are accounted for.

I'm wondering, Minister, if you can talk a little bit about what front-line officers are doing when it comes to gun crime and what they're telling you when you meet with them. We have 11 police officers in our own caucus.

Can you tell us what they are actually doing when it comes to fighting crime and what they're asking us for, because the registry is not helping them? It's inaccurate. They can't count on it. And the way the system is set up, firearms can be stored at different locations.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

The point you make about the presence of 11 police officers in our own caucus is a good one. It's not a coincidence that police officers, generally speaking, support our political party because of the effective measures that we take on crime and gun control. This is a caucus of 11 that I consult with regularly, because they are the experts. They have that background and they have their ears to the ground in ways that I simply cannot match.

I hear on a regular basis from law enforcement officers who strongly support the legislative initiatives we have taken. Bill C-10 is generally supported by the police officers, the police chiefs. They are frustrated that for years this legislation has been stalled in the House of Commons because, prior to the last election, the Liberals and New Democrats consistently found ways to thwart the passage of legislation that would not just make people feel safe but would actually make them safer.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you. That's all.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have another minute.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

That's all I have.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

All right, does anyone else want to conclude in that minute left? I think our time is coming to an end.

Ms. Young, please make just a summary comment.