Thank you, sir.
I am very pleased to be here today for this presentation. Good morning to all the committee members.
I am going to go over the various positions on the firearms registry. We know that, since 2006, the Conservative government's position on the firearms registry has been very clear. It has presented several bills to abolish the non-restricted firearms registry many times. But it is important to understand that in Quebec, our position is also clear. We believe in a universal firearms registration system, which is very useful for crime prevention and police work. This position is also unanimously shared by all parliamentarians from Quebec, Quebec police organizations, organizations that work in public safety and security and the families of victims of tragedies in Quebec.
In addition to the Conservative government's firm position on abolishing the registry, the federal government has had an amnesty on the registry of long guns, which has been renewed every year since 2006 and has contributed to weakening the application of the Firearms Act.
Bill C-19, as presented and studied, is aimed not only at abolishing the firearm registry, but also at destroying all the data related to the registration of non-restricted firearms entered in the registry since it was created, something we deplore.
Bill C-19 is even a step back in terms of the rules that existed before the Firearms Act came into effect in 1998. Actually, before that time, there was an obligation for the merchant to keep a registry of their firearm inventory and information about the firearm sales transactions, including information on the purchaser. Bill C-19 does not provide for keeping this obligation in place. According to Bill C-19, when someone who wants to purchase a weapon enters the merchant's store, the merchant will no longer have to verify whether the purchaser has a firearm possession and acquisition licence, which we think is a major step backwards.
If I may, I would like to give you some historical background on the events. Since 1984, several Quebec families have experienced tragedies involving firearms. There was the attack in the National Assembly on May 8, 1984; the killing at the École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989; the shooting at Concordia University on August 24, 1992; and the tragedy at Dawson College on September 13, 2006.
Since these tragedies, we have strengthened our measures to exercise better control over firearms in Quebec and participated actively in drafting the Firearms Act, which came into effect on December 1, 1998, as you know. After the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec also adopted the Act to protect persons with regard to activities involving firearms and modifying the Act respecting safety in sports, an act that was called “Anastasia's Law”, in memory of Anastasia De Sousa, a student who died during that incident.
Quebec has also put in place operational measures, which has included strengthening the Sûreté du Québec's cybersurveillance and monitoring unit. It implemented a joint unit against firearms smuggling. But it wasn't enough. The firearm registry is an essential tool for police investigations and interventions. According to the latest statistics from 2011, the registry is queried over 700 times a day by police officers in Quebec, not just automatically—I'd like to clarify—but through a voluntary query by police officers who need this tool.
Consulting the registry helps the police make informed decisions during their operations, particularly by making it possible for police to establish the number and type of weapons that the targets of interventions have, and to subsequently intervene.
Querying the registry may also be the starting point for an investigation, when a firearm has been found at the crime scene, and helps to establish the chain of possession. So far, 1,560,359 non-restricted firearms have been registered by individuals in Quebec, or 91.2% of all firearms. Abolishing the registry means that we would lose track of these weapons.
Spousal abuse is a phenomenon in our society, and the registry also contributes to preventing tragedies and crimes against the person. In Quebec, between 2006 and 2010, we counted 264 incidents of spousal abuse involving rifles or shotguns. The statistics show that hunting weapons are used more often than handguns when it comes to spousal abuse. When the police enter these types of situation, consulting the registry lets them know quickly whether a violent spouse is in possession of any firearms.
As a result, the police can tailor their interventions or even remove them for preventive purposes.
As for suicides, statistics from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec show that, of the 650 suicides committed using a firearm reported in Quebec over a four-year period, 565 of them involved a non-restricted firearm, so close to 9 out of 10 suicides.
So the firearm registry is a very important tool for suicide prevention. Registering non-restricted firearms makes them less accessible to people who are likely to misuse them, individuals suffering from depression, for example.
It also contributes to protecting individuals with mental health problems and their loved ones. Universal registration enables the chief firearms officer of Quebec to determine whether the weapons are in the possession of people under an application for an order to confine them to an institution, or calling for a psychiatric assessment.
Under Anastasia's Law, the chief firearms officer is systematically informed of these applications. Between January 1, 2008 and November 1, 2011, 18,661 applications for orders were reported to him, and consultation of the registry made it possible to conduct more than 1,000 interventions to ensure the safety of persons. I am convinced that many lives were saved because of this. Abolishing the registry will limit the application of Anastasia's Law.
For all these reasons and many others that I do not have time to list, I would like to repeat that the government is against the abolition of the firearm registry.
We are in no way questioning the legitimacy of activities such as hunting or target shooting, when practised in compliance with the law. Rather, we aim to raise citizen awareness of the need and importance of registering their firearms, as they agree to register their other personal belongings.
I would also like to mention that, in most cases, it takes only three minutes to complete the registration.
To conclude, the Canadian firearm registry is of considerable importance for Quebec. All Canadians, including Quebeckers, have participated financially in the program.
For all the reasons mentioned, I am reiterating the Government of Quebec's position and am requesting that the firearms registry be maintained in its entirety and that failure to register non-restricted firearms be decriminalized.
Failing that, I ask that you amend Bill C-19 by removing the provisions relating to the destruction of information and begin discussions as soon as possible to transfer the information to Quebec, information that the citizens of Quebec have paid for.
If the registration of non-restricted firearms were to save just one life, from a moral standpoint, we would be justified in continuing our efforts to keep it. But we already know that the firearms registry has saved more than one life. It has saved many.