Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to express my support for the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois and put them into the context of this debate.
In this instance the emphasis is mainly on decriminalization, and that is entirely in line with the position taken by the Bloc Quebecois which is to make this a balanced piece of legislation. This seems to have been a rather difficult debate, with some very active lobbies on both sides, and I must say that in my case, I got some firsthand experience of this in my riding, and with citizens who want to make sure that this process produces some effective results.
So with this in mind, the Bloc worked on this bill and tried to come up with some satisfactory results.
What is the primary objective? Basically, to improve gun control. Prevention is the main thing, in other words, we want to ensure that now and in the near and not so near future, we can improve the situation. Through better control, we also want to reduce the number of guns that are out there but are not being used, and a number of examples come to mind. Everyone knows people who, somewhere in a closet, have a gun they inherited and which they still have but do not use. They still own it but hardly ever use it. There are a lot of guns around.
This bill is rather well received by the general public, especially in Quebec. However, the groups that are directly affected are more sceptical. They have expressed certain reservations and, in some cases, out and out dissent. Generally speaking, the people most likely to be affected-and I am thinking of hunters, of whom I represent a certain number in my riding-are wondering what will happen. There are a lot of rumours about what it might actually cost them. They have sometimes felt that the government was out to get them.
Many people who use guns, either hunting rifles or revolvers, use them responsibly. So we do not really want to brand them as criminals, and that is why we would like to see some flexibility with respect to criminalization. We are suggesting ways to make this position more flexible.
In the case of Quebec, the registration of firearms, including hunting rifles, has been in effect for a number of years. The problem is how the process is used. Now the government wants to create a national registry. I realize some people are going to say that it is like starting all over again. They say: when I bought my gun at the store, they took down the serial number and all that. Now, when they want to set up a national registry, for Canada, in this case, we have to more or less repeat the same process. I agree there are some costs involved in implementing the system. The bulk of the cost would be during the start up phase, but subsequently, we can assume that the system would become much simpler and far more flexible. Nevertheless, there are some questions about these new measures.
I want to make it clear that we in the Bloc Quebecois support the principle of improving gun control. However, we want to minimize the impact on the individual, and in this case, the user. Since this bill is intended to benefit the general public, it would perhaps make sense for everyone to contribute to the start up costs. I do not own any firearms and it would not bother me to contribute as a citizen, as a taxpayer, to this system's start up or to pay for a firearm's registration, if one day I decide to purchase one, on the condition, of course, that the fees are reasonable.
Throughout the process, we have maintained pressure on the government to banish the rumours regarding figures and to reassure people that the cost would be reasonable. Because a bill is just a bill, its effectiveness relies on the decision of individuals to respect the system and the law. It is they who ultimately determine how effective a law is going to be. When the majority of people respect it, it becomes a standard for society. At that point, it becomes easier to enforce. The best way to have people respect a law is peer pressure.
Therefore, I agree with the statement that we all have to contribute and that users also have to do their part. Under the current proposal, a $10 fee will be imposed for the registration of the first 10 firearms. Most Canadians do not own more than 10 firearms. These fees seem reasonable. Some people do have more than 10, for example collectors, but there are special provisions for them. Now, an ownership certificate is also involved. To be able to own a firearm, people will have to purchase a certificate at a cost of approximately $10 per year, payable for a period of five years. It is important to note that this
ownership certificate replaces a certificate that already exists, the firearms acquisition certificate.
For a good many people, the only fee involved will be the initial cost of registering their firearms, $10. I think that this is reasonable and so do a good number of my constituents. The fear they have is that an amendment will be introduced later which will raise costs exponentially. They want reassurances, like the one discussed in committee, that the government will not pull a fast one on them.
In this regard, we suggested indexing it to the cost of living, which would appear to be one of the most reasonable proposals made. We cannot, however, use the same formula, because of the way the House works. So, I now propose, instead, that these fees be frozen for 20 years, although I still think our first position was better and more acceptable to the government.
However, we make the point again to the government that this would be one way it could ensure the greatest support and the least resistance for its bill. I think the people in my region and in other regions will accept this system, so long as it means the least possible inconvenience for them, including any financial inconvenience that may be involved. The registration fee must not be seen as a disguised tax on firearms.
The other point is to ensure as well that an inefficient bureaucracy is not created with the legislation. As members of the opposition, we must ensure over time that the system exists without accompanying machinery of no practical value and that the people working in the system do what they are supposed to be do, that is, control weapons, so that we do not end up with a system costing more than it should.
If these points can be assured, I think the bill will be more saleable. Of course, there has been considerable debate about the effectiveness of registration. Will it really meet the prevention goals? This is, I admit, where debate was perhaps the most difficult. People, experts from both sides testified for and against registration. We as legislators must make up our minds after listening to experts who disagree on this subject and to people from both sides who lobby hard to get their message across. Some of them even resort to threats, linking this to election and political issues, which I find somewhat regrettable because there are other, more important matters.
That said, we must make up our minds, and I am now one of those who have come to support this bill, because I think that we must take this step in our social development. Although we may have some doubts, are these doubts enough to abstain, in my case, or dissent? I think not, and that is why we must support this bill.
But-and I will conclude on this-we are asking the minister to be a little more flexible to ensure that people will rally behind this bill, and that any negative impact on those affected will be minimal. In this regard, I think that their only concern at the present time is the matter of costs. I feel that going along the lines of the amendments that follow would allow us to take a very important step while being a little more flexible on decriminalization.