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House of Commons Hansard #217 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was guns.

Topics

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before we resume debate I understand the hon. Secretary of State for Financial Institutions wishes to table a motion.

Ways And MeansRoutine Proceedings

June 13th, 1995 / 3:25 p.m.

Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

Doug Peters LiberalSecretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1), I wish to table a notice of ways and means motion to amend the Customs Act and the customs tariff and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for the consideration of this motion.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons be read the third time and passed; and of the amendment.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on third reading of Bill C-68 on the final day of debate on this fine bill.

I am very proud to rise as a member of this caucus because I am proud not just of our position on this bill but also of the strength of our caucus in standing up to criticism which, although many times unfair and certainly very emotional, has been strong and relentless. I am also proud of the Prime Minister and particularly of the justice minister who has seen this legislation through from beginning to end.

I am proud also because I know I am representing the views of my constituents in Windsor-St. Clair. We have heard a lot of the importance of representing the views of our constituents today. We heard a lot from the third party about that. There are some very specific reasons the people of Windsor-St. Clair want me to vote for the bill.

In Windsor we enjoy a great deal of American tourism. We are less than a mile from the United States. When thinking where to go for lunch one can actually factor in restaurants in Detroit. One can go there and get back on one's lunch hour. That is how close it is. We have clean, safe streets. We have tremendous cross-border shopping in reverse and we have a casino which attracts 17,000 visitors a day, 90 per cent of whom are American.

People who are active in the tourist industry in Windsor, hoteliers, people at the casino and others, tell us one of the great reasons for the attraction of our community is that it is in Canada and people feel safe there. They tell us clearly and unequivocally that when they canvas their customers, when they talk to the patrons at the Windsor casino, gun control is a factor.

This bill in a very specific economic sense is good for my riding. The people of my riding appreciate it, understand it and want it. That is not my only reason for supporting it and certainly is not the only reason my constituents have for supporting it.

It is my view and the view of the majority of my constituents that the bill is not just about crime control. The people of Windsor-St. Clair and I as their representative suggest the bill is about the kind of Canada we want for the future, in our retirement for our children, for our grandchildren. It is about the values we share as a country.

There is no constitutional right to bear arms in Canada. There is no right to pack a pistol on one's hip or to hide one in one's car; nor should there ever be. On the other hand as a society we value hunting, sport shooting and aboriginal rights and we struggle to find the balance between those seemingly competing interests. In Windsor we know this very well. We also know what happens when firearms as a commodity go out of control.

As I said, we live less than a mile from a country with a very different view of this commodity, a country where firearms are indeed out of control. We watch the Detroit news in Windsor, and every night purposeful criminal shootings and accidental shootings are displayed on the air as though they were car accidents or as though they were just another fact of life. In those American cities they are.

I worked in Windsor in the criminal courts as both a defence lawyer and a prosecuting lawyer. Every Monday morning in bail court-court room number three, for those of you who are listening in Windsor-there would be a parade of American visitors to Canada who came into the country, passed that great big sign that says that firearms are prohibited in Canada, came across the border and had their firearms seized. Why? They would tell us they had forgotten they were in the car. They would be under the front seat, loaded, or in the glove box loaded or in the trunk loose and loaded, sometimes carelessly stored, sometimes kept loaded and right on hand.

Very often these same people would be offended by our laws and highly indignant, all of them feeling that they have a God-given right to carry a gun, and in spite of the warning at the border they were going to continue to carry it. Why do they feel that way? They feel that way because their culture is different from ours, but also because many of them feel a need to carry that gun. They feel they need protection. This is not the society or the culture the vast majority of Canadians want to live in.

I enjoy Americans very much. I like going to the United States. There is much to admire about their culture, their industry, their enthusiasm, their protection of individual rights. There is much to recommend in their democratic system. Yet last February the President of the United States came to this House and spoke to a joint sitting of the House and the Senate, and what did he talk about? He talked about our efforts to control firearms in our society. What did he talk about when he was introduced to our justice minister that evening? Both he and Mrs. Clinton wished him well in his struggle to control this commodity.

My friends opposite like to talk about democracy and about the need for us to represent our constituents. They like to talk about the importance of representing the folks back home in this House. I believe that is what I am doing. I believe that the constituents of Windsor-St. Clair support me, support this government, support the Prime Minister and the justice minister in this effort to control this commodity. I believe as well that the vast majority of the constituents of the members of the third party feel the same way.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech the member made. I know she has spent some time on this.

I feel very frustrated in trying to communicate to the Canadian people all of the things that are contained in this 128-page bill, so I took it upon myself for the last year and a half to regularly inform them through news releases. I think I have sent 31 or 32 news releases out informing them as to the contents of this legislation.

We have also promised that if it proves to be ineffective we would repeal it. We are quite confident that it will not meet the high expectations this government has put forth in this legislation.

My question for the member is simply this. Why did she oppose my amendment to have an independent auditor review this legislation after fives years to see whether it is cost-effective and whether it is meeting the goals this government claims it will meet? If they are so confident that it is going to make our society safer, why did they oppose that common sense amendment?

I also have another comment with regard to the comments made by the previous speaker.

I have many native people in my community and I regularly visit with them. They are strongly opposed to Bill C-68. And even with the amendments that were introduced yesterday, they are still going to be opposed to it, because they say they do not want more provisions in Canadian law that give them special status. They would like to see us move toward equality. They are not appreciative of what the government is doing by trying to tinker with C-68 to make it more palatable for native people. They are very concerned about that.

In light of the events of last night, I should review them for the people who are watching on television. Last night we sat here for hours and hours simply going over all the amendments that were made at the last minute, many of them by the government, to fix up this flawed legislation to make it a little more workable in their eyes.

Would it not make sense to postpone this, in light of the fact that it will not take full effect until the year 2003 anyway? Would it not make sense to postpone it a few more months to make sure it is workable? Because we have pointed out many flaws in it.

Would the member object to those two amendments? We feel it is really important to look at these things. I would like some good answers from the government. Maybe the member can address those two questions.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there were basically two questions asked. The first was the question of whether I would agree with my hon. friend that there should be an audit of the situation in a few years.

I think the hon. member is confused about the nature of the bill. This bill is about cultural values, crime, and a variety of issues, none of which are capable of being dealt with in a financial audit. It is not an economic bill.

With respect to the second question, about postponing the legislation, the people of my riding do not want the legislation postponed. They want us to get on with it and get on with our agenda.

I would suggest to my hon. friend this his constituents probably have concerns other than guns as well.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did not mention specifically the costs of the bill. It is a significant factor, but the member is trying to portray it as simply a cost item.

I am asking whether she would agree to an independent audit to see if it would be cost-effective, but also whether it was meeting the targeted government claims that it will reduce crime. That is the question I asked.

I also asked if she would agree to postpone it for a few more months. It does not even begin to take effect until 1996, so why rush it through now? If there are this many amendments coming at the last minute, we have a serious problem in the justice department. If they have to propose this many amendments and all the things that need to be addressed, would it not make more sense to wait and get it right the first time? I think this is something she should address.

I would like to make another comment. We have listened to all the rhetoric coming forth from the government. I would like to remind the Canadian people that we heard exactly the same rhetoric before the Young Offenders Act was introduced. So the same people who brought us the Young Offenders Act are now bringing us this gun control legislation, the same people who ran up the debt.

This bill is going to be a horrendous cost. I wonder if the hon. member would rather spend the money on crisis centres or counselling for families at risk, rather than on this legislation? Would it not make more sense? We are running further and further into debt. I do not think we need more legislation like this.

The same government that is giving criminals more rights than victims is also bringing us legislation that will put a heavy burden on law-abiding gun owners rather than criminals. I cannot see how we can accept that.

I would appreciate the member looking at and fairly dealing with the questions that I have. Let us wait a bit. This time line does not mean that we have to pass it today. Would it not make more sense to wait? That is the amendment we are debating before the House. Maybe she has forgotten that.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response I would say that I did answer the hon. member's two questions before, but apparently he did not like the answers.

We have never sold this as a bill to reduce crime by reason of its existence in Canada, although it is being used as such on a faulty basis for argument by the opposition. This bill will provide the tools to law enforcement agencies and the cultural

basis that will enable us to have less crime in the future. There is a substantial difference.

Also, with respect to the issue of delay, the hon. member should give his head a shake and realize that the people of Canada want us to get on with the business of governing. The people of Canada are not obsessed by guns. The people of Canada are worried about jobs and unemployment. Equating money for gun control with money for crisis centres is unfair, particularly coming from a party whose members tried to turn down summer grants for those very services in their ridings.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate, at third reading, of Bill C-68, the gun control legislation. My short experience as a parliamentarian has made me more familiar with the whole enactment process, and also more aware of the importance of lobbies.

There is a lobby in favour of gun control and one opposed to it but, in my opinion, the only lobby that really matters is my constituents. Consequently, my position on this issue, which is also that of the Bloc Quebecois, reflects the discussions which I had with my constituents. I am thinking in particular of the residents of Saint-Médard, in the Rivière-du-Loup area, the community health department official who came to my office to discuss the impact of that legislation, and also those representing shooting clubs and firearms merchants. This is not a black and white issue.

In this case, I believe that the approach is very different from the one used with the social program reform, when the government tried to impose a UI reform on the backs of the unemployed and seasonal workers. In that case we had no choice but to oppose such measure.

This is the first time in 18 months that I have had to really weigh the government's intentions and the real impact of its legislation, including in rural areas, which have the highest rate of accidents related to the use of firearms, even though the use of such firearms, including by hunters, is generally much more in compliance with the legislation.

In terms of its purpose, this bill seeks to reduce the number of deaths and injuries related to firearms, as well as to ensure legitimate, controlled and prudent ownership of such weapons, even though it will not prevent certain uncontrollable, impulsive reactions leading to tragedies. The objective is no doubt very laudable. However, is universal registration the solution? Given the increasing number of acts of violence in today's society, it seems that we have to use a curative approach and see if we get good results.

My philosophy regarding this bill is the same as the one which prevails in the occupational safety and health sector.

The basic principle we must consider is that in order to prevent crimes or accidents involving firearms, an effort must be made to eliminate the problem at the source, as with any accident at work.

Take noise, for example. In certain cases, we can completely eliminate the noise made by a firearm with a silencer or another similar device, and, when that is not possible, people can wear earplugs to protect their hearing. Using this model, the question in the case of firearms is how to cut down on the number of deaths.

The first approach that I think is important and that is not the focus of this bill, but should be taken into consideration, is to eliminate problems at the source. We must have information about the kinds of accidents that are associated with the use of firearms, how criminals go about smuggling firearms, how, in cases of domestic violence, one of the spouses uses a gun with results that are irreparable and final, how many hunting and other accidents take place. This is how we can reduce the number of mortalities from the outset, by eliminating the problem at the source.

This is an area in which Western society has not been too successful. We have an increase in violence, a very high rate of unemployment, a growing need for the services of psychologists and too much violence on television. These are all significant factors that require a systemic approach.

With particular respect to firearms, we have a situation where we cannot solve the problem at the source, but we must try to reduce the negative effects of firearm use. We can say that the purpose of the bill should be to ensure that firearms are not available to someone wishing to take an irreparable step.

In order to achieve this goal, and that is the purpose of registration, we must know who possesses firearms. Are they legally entitled to do so? We must ensure that people with firearms are honest people, in so far as possible, and that they are capable of using those firearms correctly. Will the method proposed, registration, be effective? We shall see.

Plenty of time has been allowed for implementation. There will be no change for three years. After that, there will be a five year period, taking us to the year 2003, during which registration can be carried out. That is when we will see whether values have changed in our society, because that is really what this bill is proposing, a change in values. Because our society views violence differently, a long established practice needs to be changed to ensure adequate control over firearms.

We will see whether or not this goal is achieved in concrete terms. I will remind you that success will have to be determined by taking into account all the actions taken. Last week, I learned that additional resources will be allocated to the RCMP to fight smuggling. Will these resources be enough? I do not know. This measure must be part of an action plan and I think this is an interesting idea.

On the other hand, as you solve one problem, you want to make sure you are not creating new problems in the process; in the case in point, this means not making life impossible for honest citizens who use firearms correctly. In that sense, it is a shame that the government did not see fit to incorporate some of the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, particularly with regard to having the legislation apply equally to everyone.

It says that the First Nations, aboriginal peoples can be exempted by cabinet decision from the application of any or all provisions of the act. It seems to me that creating two classes of citizens like that is unfair.

With respect to cost control, we were assured that it would not cost more than $10 to register up to 10 weapons per owner and that this registration would be good for life.

We, however, put forward a proposal to ensure that, for example, the next government would not suddenly be tempted to do what was done in many other registration systems like those in the auto industry and other sectors, to turn this into a cash cow for the government through very substantial cost increases. I think that this would be inappropriate and that the government would have to be accountable for its actions should it do so in the future. We would have liked this to be included in the bill, but it was not.

Another amendment called for a minimum four year sentence, provided for in the bill, for crimes committed with weapons. We think that this will create a double standard and that judges will have a hard time implementing this provision because crimes committed with firearms will have to be treated differently from those committed with other tools or instruments. I think that the government should have spent more time considering this.

In the debate on the firearms bill, the Bloc Quebecois's policy has always been to ensure that we have a balanced bill at the end of the day. Will it be sufficiently balanced for us to vote in favour? In this regard, the amendments deliver a number of gains.

For example, with regard to decriminalization, converting a Criminal Code offence to a statutory offence, which does not involve fingerprinting, mug shots, and entry into the police electronic network for first time offenders, is an interesting gain, because those who forget to register during the five year period would not be considered to be criminals but simply citizens who forgot to do something and who must rectify the situation.

Another element on which gains were made is the decision to issue licences. We do not rely only on reports from other people, we take into account the place of residence of the person. A person will not be kept from owning a firearm on the ground that he or she is in contact with a specific individual. Rather, the decision will be related to that person's place of residence, and whether interdictions apply to other individuals in that residence. That is, in our opinion, a valuable gain.

Another important issue raised by several hunters is the fact that the firearm handling courses which they took under the Quebec legislation were not recognized. Again, an important gain was made regarding this issue and the situation will now be more acceptable to Quebec hunters. That change is a good one. It does not go against the principle which underlies gun control, but it eliminates the frustrations experienced by hunters who use firearms for an honest purpose, their hobby.

I also want to point out that, after a few years, only those who have a valid license will be allowed to buy non-prohibited ammunition. This will surely help avoid accidents which occur, for example, when young people go out and buy ammunition. Indeed, this type of situation often results in accidents, and that is unacceptable.

We are dealing with a bill which, in my opinion, is not perfect, a bill which has been the object of numerous debates. This legislation led us to examine the pros and the cons of an interesting principle, a principle which is aimed at reducing violence as well as the number of accidents and tragedies which we hear about on the news, including violence against one's spouse. This is not to say that all accidents and tragedies will be eliminated. People will still be able to use other means of violence.

We have witnessed this recently, but the use of a firearm has such a devastating and often definitive effect that we hope that implementing this bill will have positive effects.

I would like to conclude by saying that I drew my reflections on this bill today from personal experience, and I tried to see the bill's everyday implications. I still remember a story I was told, like the one about one of my uncles who died in a hunting accident years ago. At the time, no training courses were given to hunters to inform them regarding the proper use of firearms. Courses were introduced to try to remedy this situation. I could also talk to you about one of my friends who was in a corner store when suddenly, in came a gang of robbers. I hope that this law will correct situations of this kind.

The most obvious goal for me is preventing people from using a firearm to commit suicide. Often, access to a firearm is the definitive, deciding factor on the outcome of the situation. Although the Firearms Act will not directly help people who are contemplating suicide to deal with their crises, it will at least save some lives by barring access to firearms in cases where people are refused licences for justifiable reasons.

In conclusion, I believe that this law is not the best firearms bill we could have introduced, but that it is better than none at all. I want to ask those people who have been long-time regular users of firearms to calm down and consider what the actual impact will be on their daily lives.

As I said earlier, for three years there will be no impact as such. After that, a person has five years to register his firearm. We will have plenty of time to find out whether there will be any negative impact.

If firearms registration is done properly and if in eight, ten, fifteen or twenty years we as a society are able to show that our statistics on the number of accidents, the type of accidents and the number of suicides have gone down, then it will have been worthwhile. From this point of view, aside from the constraints on lawful users of firearms, I wish they would think about that other aspect and realize that, in the best interests of our society, it would be advisable to support this bill and provide for adequate supervision.

For instance, the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, which were defeated, made provisions for Cabinet to use its regulatory authority with respect to aboriginal people. We need practical applications to ensure that the department is sympathetic to certain needs and to ensure that the bill passed in this House makes our society different from other societies where there is a lot more violence and, in the process, ensures that we have a quality of life and a social model that is far superior.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is one statement my hon. colleague from Quebec has made that I strongly disagree with. He said that the bill was flawed but it was better than no bill. That is one of the problems in the country. Bad laws are worse than no laws.

Why can he not agree with the amendment we are debating this afternoon to wait for at least six months and work on it to make it not such a bad law?

My first question is not the most important of my two questions. I have been working with the Senate; I have been a watchdog for a year and a half. Would he agree that we should allow the Senate to examine the matter very closely, to be a chamber of sober second thought? Does he feel that the Senate has a legitimate role to play in the legislation? Would he like to see a Senate that would be truly representative of Canada, all provinces, create equality and play a legitimate role in checking out the legislation?

My second question is the key question. I cannot figure out why the Bloc is not opposed to legislation that so clearly infringes on areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as education, requiring federal education courses to be taken in the provinces; regulation of private property, clearly in the Constitution as an area of provincial jurisdiction; and licensing, increasing provincial taxes.

I understand the Quebec government is looking for $300 million in compensation to implement the bill and the minister says it will only cost $85 million. How can the member go along with a bill that so clearly infringes on areas of provincial jurisdiction?

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer generally first on the matter of the Senate. I believe the Senate is outdated. The other House is an outmoded institution, which reflects the view of the 19th and earlier centuries that elected representatives lacked sufficient education and therefore needed the opinion of wiser individuals, advisers.

Today, with the quality found in the House of Commons, the Senate has become more of a political reward for those who have contributed in some way or other to the party in power. I hope elected officials will have control over this sort of legislation. If voters, in the end, had to decide on the basis of legislation we passed, they would decide on the situation as a whole.

However, as regards the six-month delay, I myself believe and I think the Bloc caucus agrees, I cannot speak for the other caucuses, that we have been very well informed on the entire question of firearms. Lobbying has been very strong from all sides, I daresay even exaggerated at times. We had to examine all of it. I met many groups of voters in order to form an opinion about what should be in the bill and I think I have all the information I need.

As for the matter of training, the bill provides that training courses given by the Government of Quebec will be accepted by the federal government and that hunters who have taken the courses will not have to take them again. In this regard, the Bloc has won a major point by protecting the lives of ordinary people from disruption, and this is one of the amendments that leads me to believe the bill is balanced enough for me to vote for it and promote it. With the support of the vast majority of Quebecers for gun control, this amendment, among others, serves the needs of the rural population, which I represent here, and which I believe will enjoy long-term benefit from this new bill.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Hon. members, perhaps I may draw your attention to Standing Order 18 which says we do not have

the right to criticize the other House. I realize very few people are aware of this rule, but I do want to point this out.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Harold Culbert Liberal Carleton—Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments on the bill by the hon. member across the way. The important discussion that is going on today has been going on for nearly a year now. I heard him mention the various things he has done in his area to garner input from all factions.

I would like to ask the hon. member a question from his perspective in the area he represents in Quebec. Knowing full well that Quebec has many hunters and many people who enjoy outdoor sports, especially in the wooded and northern regions of Quebec, has he received input from various groups that makes him believe the bill will impact on responsible firearms owners, owners of rifles and shotguns who are legitimate hunters in Quebec? Does he believe the legislation will impact on them, impede them or cause them any particular hardship in carrying out their sports and their competitions as target shooters as they have in the past?

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I met the people in my riding, I also spoke to members of the hunting community and people from the department of public health who argued in favour of the legislation. In the case of hunters and all people involved in outdoor activities who use firearms, there will be some changes that will be frustrating. That is quite true.

First of all, they will have expenses they did not have before, and they will have to understand the new rules and how these affect them. In this area, we have to deal with people's perceptions of the bill as well as with the bill itself. In fact, I hope that thanks to the timeframe provided under the bill, the first three years and then another five years to register, the government avoids what happened to the previous legislation, which was never operational mainly because the government at the time did not take the trouble to inform the public and make the legislation acceptable to all voters, to all citizens. I think this is a legitimate change that will require sensitive enforcement of the legislation.

I recall the amendment we proposed regarding criminalization and a number of other aspects, where we wanted to ensure that the minister would be flexible-I am thinking of the minimum sentence of four years. I think the minister will have to give this some serious consideration and perhaps, in the years to come, a number of technical amendments might be considered, because people may end up in the penitentiary system and become criminals as a result of a single misstep.

This morning the Leader of the Opposition gave the example of the young person who breaks into a cornerstore with a gun and as a result will get at least four years. Under the Young Offenders Act as applied in Quebec, under the previous legislation, he would have had a good chance of being rehabilitated. If he is sent to the penitentiary for four years, chances are he will acquire some bad habits before he comes out and by that time it will be too late. So there should be some flexibility on the part of the government to ensure the legislation is enforced correctly.

As for hunters who will have to change their habits, I think we have to look at the benefits to society as a whole.

We also have to be very clear about what the government intends to do about smuggling. If the money people spend on additional registration is used to cover the cost of the system, that is all right, but these people will need tangible evidence that they are not the only ones who are paying and that further action is being taken in society, so it is not just a matter of plugging one hole but making sure all the holes are plugged, like smuggling firearms into Canada across what is perhaps the longest border between two countries. The government has already announced significant initiatives, but I think that we will have to ensure that they are enforced because hunters will be most frustrated if they are forced to pay fees when, ultimately, all of the other measures end up not achieving their intended results.

We come up against the same things in this sector as we do in the environmental sector. The way I see it, to all intents and purposes, the real effects of a law are more evident 8, 10, 15, 20 years after the fact than they are immediately after its introduction. It is important to realize this. We are bringing in legislation today for the sake of future generations. We cannot talk about a piece of legislation like we talk about next year's budget, which can be corrected the year after.

This was one of the considerations which got me thinking and strongly defending the arguments put forth by the inhabitants of rural regions on the issue. All of this notwithstanding, I think that this legislation will allow us to distinguish ourselves, as a society, from the American model, for example, where violence is so widespread that certain states have decided to permit almost anybody to carry a firearm. I am not interested in this model. If I have a choice between the two, I would much rather choose the model proposed here.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Warren Allmand Liberal Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, as chair of the justice committee which intensely and thoroughly examined the bill for over seven weeks, I should like to report more fully to the House of Commons.

After the bill was sent to the committee on April 24, we held 52 meetings lasting until June 5. In that time we heard 70 witness groups.

While I am and always have been a strong supporter of gun control and a supporter of Bill C-68, I took the position as chair of the committee that I would bend over backward to accommodate those groups which opposed the bill, to accommodate those members of Parliament and parties who had concerns about or opposition to the bill. I did this because I think the credibility and integrity of the parliamentary system take precedence over partisan views and behaviour. As a result, approximately two-thirds of the witnesses who appeared before the committee were in opposition to the bill and 61 amendments were made.

Further amendments were made last night at report stage. Of course not all amendments were accepted, which is normal in a democratic society where there are opposing views. Some of the amendments would have cut out the essential elements of the bill, and therefore they were opposed. Other amendments which were directed to major and minor improvements in the bill were not convincing to the majority on the committee.

Now I should like to take off my committee chairman's hat and put on my House of Commons hat and show my support for the bill. Ever since I was elected in 1965 I have been a strong supporter of gun control. Nearly all the elements in this bill and in Bill C-17 from 1992 were contained in one or other of my private member's bills from the late 1960s and early 1970s. With this bill nearly all the proposals I made 30 years ago will have been legislated.

Over and over again, before the committee, witnesses opposing the bill said there was no evidence that the licensing of gun owners and the registration of guns would reduce crime. That is not correct. There is overwhelming evidence that where guns and gun owners are more strictly controlled there is less crime with guns.

If we examine the situation in western Europe where in nearly all countries guns are registered, they have a much lower rate of crime with guns. In Canada, where we have had the registration of handguns for many years, we have had a lower rate of crime with handguns than in the United States where handguns or no guns are registered at all.

Some people might refer to some of the states of the United States that have very strict gun laws, but we cannot really consider them because in the United States there is no border control between the states. For example, if one is in New York State one can very easily travel to a neighbouring state where guns are easily available. Therefore the strict gun laws in one American state do not have very much impact on the control of crime with guns.

However, in Canada, as I say, we have had very strict control on handguns which have been restricted weapons since 1934. In Canada 53 per cent of our crimes with guns are with long guns, whereas only 17 per cent of crimes with guns are with handguns. It is interesting to note that in the United States the statistics are exactly the opposite where two-thirds of its crimes with guns are with handguns. This demonstrates that where we control handguns we have a much lower rate of crime with handguns. Because we have no control on long guns most of our crimes with guns are with long guns.

The purpose of licensing is to screen out irresponsible, imbalanced reckless persons who might acquire guns, to screen out people who have problems with alcohol or narcotics. The licensing system in the bill is merely an extension of what we have already had for several years with firearms acquisition certificates.

The registration system will require more responsibility from gun owners and provide police with more tools for crime prevention and crime detection. The purpose of both of these measures is public safety. The bill requires no more of gun owners than we already have in varying degrees for automobiles, boats, aircraft, ski-doos, dogs and bicycles. In other words, the measures in the bill with respect to licensing and registration are for preventive policing, the approach of the police these days, to prevent crimes than after the crime applying a harsh penalty. It is much better to prevent the crime by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous, irresponsible people than to punish them after they have committed the crime.

Furthermore, I want to make absolutely clear there is no intention at all by me or anybody else in government to ban all guns or ban hunting or competitive shooting.

This is my fourth gun bill debate since I came here in 1965. On those four occasions this fear was raised by opponents of those bills. It never happened. We have as many or more hunters today than we had in 1965 when we first started introducing bills to control guns.

On the other hand, while there has been no real reduction in the number of hunters or competitive shooters there has been a gradual reduction of crime with guns. In 1974, 47.2 per cent of homicides were with a firearm. In 1976, we passed a law that brought in a certain restriction on firearms. That was the year we brought in the firearms acquisition certificate. By 1980 only 32.9 per cent of homicides were committed with a firearm. In 1992 we had Bill C-17 with further restrictions and further controls on firearms. In 1993, the last year for which we have statistics, only 30.6 per cent of homicides were with firearms.

In that period homicides have declined as well. The highest rate for homicides in recent years was in 1975 when we had 3.02 homicides per 100,000 population. In 1993 there were 2.19 per

100,000, a considerable drop after stricter controls on guns and as well the abolition of capital punishment in 1976.

I will deal with some of the myths raised during the hearings of the committee, one being if we control guns more strictly only criminals will have guns. Sixty-six per cent of homicides are committed by people with no prior criminal record. In other words, 66 per cent were law-abiding until they committed homicide. Marc Lépine, who killed 14 women at l'École polytechnique, had no prior criminal record. Valery Fabrikant, who killed four professors at Concordia University, had no prior criminal record.

We will never control professional gangsters or professional criminals; they will always get their guns. The great majority of our murders are not committed by those people but by people who were previously law-abiding.

The other myth is that guns do not kill, people kill. That is true but people kill more easily and more effectively with guns than with other weapons. Guns are the most lethal of weapons. When a gun is readily available what might have been an assault becomes a murder.

There is considerable evidence from Canada, the United States and all over the world that where guns are more available there are more crimes with guns. The bill will restrict the availability of guns to many who might use them criminally. It will also put barriers in the way of those who want to acquire them quickly and irresponsibly. The bill will reduce crime with guns. It will control not only guns but crime.

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4:20 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member.

I find it very interesting how they can look at some of the statistics from around the world and twist them to suit their own purposes. The member cited statistics from Europe. England embarked on a campaign against guns and he is perfectly aware that violent crime increased in England as these laws were put into effect. I am making him aware that it depends on how one twists these statistics.

I agree with him when he says we need to get at the root of the problem. This is not getting at the root of the problem. We are simply seeing someone bleeding on the rug and we are saying please bleed over here. Instead of trying to stop the crime, instead of trying to stop the problem we are simply shifting it somewhere else. We are not targeting the problem of crime.

Prevention is the principle. If we are to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and save lives, which the government stated is the intent of the bill, would it not be better to spend it in some other way? Would it not be more cost effective?

Why does the member oppose my amendment to have a review of this legislation by an independent auditor to see whether it is meeting the goals and objectives the government has set? I cannot understand why he would object to that.

The statistics he quotes beg the question of how many more lives could be saved if we would spend the money in other ways. Another key question the government has never addressed is how many lives will this cost. I presented evidence to the government that showed guns have saved many lives.

This legislation will tie up our police. How many lives will it cost because the police are no longer on the street but are tied up with law-abiding citizens registering guns? How many jobs will be destroyed because of the increase in taxes this will make necessary? What will those people without jobs do? Some of them may possibly turn to a life of crime.

We as parliamentarians sometimes forget to look at the secondary aspects, the secondary effects our legislation has. Could the hon. member address those two questions I have raised?

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Warren Allmand Liberal Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what statistics the hon. member is looking at. I do not have them here before me today but I looked at some this morning because I have to give another speech tonight on homicide at another place.

The rate of murder in the United Kingdom is less than 2 per 100,000; less than in Canada where it is 2.19 per 100,000. In the United States the rate of murder is 9.6 per 100,000. I do not know what the hon. member is talking about. Let us hear his figures.

The rate of murder in the United Kingdom is lower than in Canada and the rate of murder with guns is much lower than in Canada and much lower than in the United States.

The member has not presented us with any facts. I challenge him. I will come back to the House tomorrow under a standing order and put the facts on record. In all of Europe the rate of crime committed with guns is substantially lower than in the United States and in Canada. He cannot state otherwise. There may have been a slight increase, but the slight increase is nowhere near that of the United States which has open access to guns.

He asked why we do not spend the money on other programs which might deal with the causes of crime. I am rather surprised by that. Every time the government has put proposals to the House in that direction members of his party vote against them. Not only do they not approve of the cuts the government has made in social programs, they want to cut them even further-what hypocrisy.

The people who will pay for the registration system and the licensing system will be the gun owners, just like those of us who own automobiles have to pay for the registration system and the licensing system. The general taxpayer should not have to pay for the gun control system. It should be paid for by the people who own and use guns, and rightly so. The moneys we would use for general social programs to attack the causes of crime will come out of general tax revenue. They should not be played one against the other.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Payne Liberal St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons.

I congratulate the Minister of Justice on his efforts and perseverance in bringing this important and timely matter to the House of Commons. More important, I commend the minister for his willingness to listen and to respond to the comments of all Canadians regarding the bill without sacrificing the major goals and initiatives of it.

I do not believe any other bill in this session has generated as much discussion and debate among Canadians as has this one. However, as I have listened to the discussion and the debate some of the major aspects of the legislation are being overlooked. I will comment on some of the issues I feel have not been adequately highlighted.

The legislation sends a clear message to criminals, judges and the public. If a person uses a gun while committing a crime they will be punished. The Criminal Code will be amended to provide that when a person has committed one of the ten listed serious crimes with a firearm they will be subject to a minimum sentence of four years in prison. In many cases the actual punishment will be more severe. If a person uses a gun in the commission of a crime they will be punished. No matter what other mitigating factors are involved, a judge will have no choice but to sentence people guilty of these offences to four years in a federal penitentiary.

The message is clear. The protection of the public must be the main goal of our penal system. In addition, people convicted of these offences will be banned from owning a firearm for life. I believe it is important to reflect on these provisions because they highlight the central goal and purpose of the legislation, to ensure Canada remains a safe place and that Canadians continue to enjoy protection from gun related crime.

The provision aimed at tighter border controls was referred to earlier by my hon. colleague with respect to the importation of firearms. One need only look to the south to see the dangers guns pose. It is with great pride that many Canadians compare the relative safety of our cities and towns to those of the United States. Given the easy availability of firearms in the United States it is clear any legislation aimed at controlling the use of guns must address the importation of guns.

Import-export controls for firearms are presently based on the premise that guns are a commodity and therefore are subject to the same trade controls as any other commodity. Under Bill C-68 changes will be made to provide for a fundamental reorientation of the policy toward firearm imports. In particular, the legislation will recognize that importing firearms may have important consequences in terms of public safety and crime control.

Under Bill C-68 for every firearm coming into Canada the person responsible will be required to have either an import permit for commercial use or a customs declaration for personal use. Every gun coming into Canada will now be tracked. These import declarations and permits will only be issued to those individuals and companies who have the necessary permission to possess firearms while in Canada. These controls form part of the bill's effort to reduce the underground market for guns and provide for the accurate tracking of all guns in Canada.

Of course, in conjunction with these new measures, the act provides also for penalties for those individuals who do not obey the import guidelines. Under Bill C-68, the Criminal Code will be amended to provide for a new offence of importing a firearm without the proper customs declaration or permit. This offence will be punishable by a minimum of one year imprisonment if prosecuted on indictment. In addition, the court has the power to prohibit the offender from possessing a firearm for up to 10 years.

Again, the theme underlying Bill C-68 is clear in these provisions. The theme is the protection of the public and the reduction of crime.

The bill also recognizes the legitimate use of guns, but at the same time it is aimed at limiting the use of guns by those people who have no legitimate purpose to do so. This will be done by reducing the underground market for guns, the place where criminals get their guns, and by increasing the penalties for those who use guns for illegitimate purposes.

There are other measures which I would like to briefly highlight. Any future sale or importation of handguns that have a barrel length of 105 millimetres or less will be banned. In addition, the definition of firearm in section 85 of the Criminal Code will be expanded to include imitation firearms so that those who simply use or threaten with a fake gun will not escape the penalties under the Criminal Code.

I would now like to take a few moments to comment on the section of the bill that has by far generated the most public debate, the system of universal gun registration. In my conversations, letters and meetings with constituents, it is this section of the bill that has been the focus of much discussion. Before understanding the purpose of universal gun registration, one must be cognizant of the other initiatives contained in Bill C-68 which I have previously touched upon. I repeat, Bill C-68

is about increasing public safety and controlling the criminal misuse of guns.

The universal registration system supports and supplements the other provisions of the bill. The registration of all firearms enables Canada to control and track the flow of firearms across its borders. Without registration, the increased penalties for illegal importation would be unenforceable. It enables Canada and its police forces to address the issue of criminal misuse of guns by helping enforce prohibition orders issued by the courts, by helping police to trace stolen guns and guns used in crimes and by helping increase compliance with safe storage requirements. Registration is the backbone of this bill and it is the section upon which the rest of the bill can be effectively implemented.

Many critics of gun registration have argued that registration will not work because criminals will not register their guns. Frankly, this misses the whole point. Criminals obtain their guns from the underground market which is fed by smuggled and stolen guns. Registration will help eliminate two sources of supply for this market. It will enable police to accurately track the point at which the guns enter the underground market.

Police have been calling for a form of gun legislation for years. If anyone is in a position to say whether gun control will effectively assist in the prevention of crime, I believe it is the police.

I would like to quote from a letter from Chief Vincent MacDonald, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Speaking on behalf of the association, Chief MacDonald stated: "We view the registration of all firearms as pivotal to the entire package, critical to controlling the illegal gun trade, to supporting preventative action and to enforcing the law".

It is for these reasons that the registration system contained in Bill C-68 is both necessary and desirable.

Many of the concerns with the registration system rest on what I believe has been a lack of accurate information. For instance, the cost of implementing the registration system will be funded 100 per cent through fees charged for licences and registration certificates. There will be no drain on existing police resources as a result of the implementation of the registration system.

The cost of registration for individual gun owners will not be excessive. For owners who wish to register currently owned firearms, a registration certificate will cost between zero and $10 in the first year of availability. Additionally, a non-acquisition firearm licence will cost between zero and $10 in the first year of availability. The actual process to acquire certificates and licences will be straightforward and quick.

In addition to my own views on gun registration, like other members of the House I have consulted and listened to my constituents. I have received many telephone calls and letters. I have attended town hall meetings and have spoken personally with constituents.

I believe in this bill. I support it fully and I am very pleased at this time to have the opportunity to say so in the House of Commons.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce for getting this bill successfully through committee and back into the House. As a member of the committee I know we worked very hard to make the bill suitable for everybody in Canada and easily adaptable to the desires of most people.

I would like to refer to a letter I received by fax today. This letter was sent to the Minister of Justice from the Federation of Medical Women of Canada and states: "The Federation of Medical Women of Canada support the gun control legislation Bill C-68 now being debated and voted on by Parliament".

The letter goes on to state that in 1990 Statistics Canada reported 1,400 deaths per year involving firearms. Research has shown that the risk of homicide and suicide is greater for people who live in houses with firearms. The federation also states: "We view domestic violence as a social and health issue which requires an effective preventative approach with a combination of education and legislation. As an organization, we recognize that we have a role to play".

It is about the role to play that I would like to make a further comment. I am pleased that most Canadians are not the source of the problem for which the law is geared. This makes Canada unique. We have an abundance of law-abiding citizens but an additional attribute of Canadians is that even Canadians who are not directly affected do share a common sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.

To those who oppose the bill on the basis that they are good citizens and need no laws, I appeal to their higher sense of responsibility for they could make true models for all others. They could accept the bill as it is, respect it and set a model for those who are not law-abiding citizens. I am asking all who oppose the bill to act as good citizens and accept their responsibility and do what the bill asks.

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not think there is a question in the member's comments. If the member for St. John's West wishes to reply briefly she may.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Payne Liberal St. John's West, NL

No, Mr. Speaker.

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4:35 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to participate in what will really be the closing debate on the government's controversial gun control Bill C-68.

My colleagues, under the able direction of the hon. member for Crowfoot, have put forward a host of arguments concerning the defects of the bill and over 200 amendments to endeavour to correct the worst of those defects. I wish to commend each and every one of our Reform members for the quality of their contributions and the conscientiousness with which they have made them.

Although these seeds of gun control reform may have fallen on barren ground in this Chamber, I can assure the government that those seeds are falling on fertile ground in the country at large. Within a year they will bring a crop of public discontent which will cause the minister and the government to rue the day they rammed this ill conceived legislation through their own caucus and through Parliament.

As the debate winds up, I do not want to dwell any longer on the details of the bill but instead on the bigger picture. What are the characteristics of a good law and does this bill possess them?

The short answer is that a good law must have at least three characteristics. It must be within the constitutional competence of the government. It must be effective in achieving the objective for which it is introduced. Above all it must be capable of carrying the judgment of the people who will pay the bills and for whose benefit it has been introduced. In other words, a good law must pass the test of constitutionality, effectiveness and democratic consent.

Let us look at the big picture. Will Bill C-68 if enacted be a good law or a bad law?

First is the test of constitutionality. This bill will be challenged constitutionally. It will be subject to constitutional challenges to which it would not be subject if the minister had carried out more genuine consultations, listened to the advice he had received and given greater care to the issue of civil liberties when he first conceived and drafted the bill.

With respect to potentially damaging constitutional challenges, I refer to the following. There is the contention of the James Bay Cree and Yukon First Nations that the minister did not comply with the provisions of constitutional agreements with themselves in framing the legislation. I refer further to the fact that several of the provinces consider the onerous regulatory aspects of the act an imposition and an intrusion into their provincial jurisdictions. They may very well challenge the constitutionality of the act once the regulations are proclaimed.

Finally, I refer to the concerns of the civil libertarians that certain clauses, such as those pertaining to inspection, may very well contravene the charter of rights and freedoms, in particular, the rights of Canadians to privacy and security of the person.

It is with some bitterness I note that when these concerns with respect to the intrusion of the bill on civil liberties were first raised by ordinary citizens with their MPs, they were completely ignored by the government. When they were pointed out again by Reform MPs in this House and in committee, they were ignored by the government and the media.

It was only when more elite groups like the Canadian Bar Association or politically correct groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also made the same points months later that the civil liberties issue was even recognized as a potential flaw in the bill by the justice department. I say it is a sad day when the civil liberties of a people are taken for granted by the government and only judged to be at risk when the elites or special interest groups deign to acknowledge the risk.

I would also ask how the justice minister in introducing his first major complete legislative initiative to this House could have managed to get himself on to such shaky constitutional ground including potential violations of the charter of rights and freedoms. Bill C-68 fails the test of being on sound, and unquestionably sound, constitutional ground.

A second major test which any government legislative measure must pass regardless of whether or not it has sufficient support to pass in this Chamber is the test of effectiveness. Will it achieve the object, in this case an increase in public safety, which is its purported intent?

My colleagues have made the argument very effectively that Bill C-68 will not achieve the goal of increased public safety because it focuses less than 20 per cent on the regulation of the criminal use of firearms and over 80 per cent on the regulation of the non-criminal use of firearms. To be effective the emphasis of the bill should have been exactly the opposite.

There is another front on which this bill fails the effectiveness test. As all members know, the Criminal Code and a national gun registry is a federal responsibility but its administration is a provincial responsibility. To be effective a bill of this nature must have the full and positive co-operation of the provinces. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not the case. At least five provinces and two territories have indicated their profound unhappiness with the bill and the administrative obligations it imposes upon them.

The Government of Saskatchewan has gone so far as to introduce a motion in the Saskatchewan assembly urging the federal government to introduce amendments to Bill C-68, to allow provinces and territories to opt out of the provisions respecting registration and licensing. The attorney general in Saskatchewan has called on the federal minister to place higher penalties on criminals who use firearms in the commission of an offence and to withdraw all the remaining sections of the gun

control package. He has indicated his willingness to continue to oppose this federal legislation.

The minister has made it clear that he will proceed delicately with respect to imposing the administration of this gun control legislation on Indian reserves, many of whom are unalterably opposed to the provisions. This holds out the unseemly prospect of one approach for non-aboriginals, and another for aboriginals, in violation of the basic concept of equality of all citizens before the law.

From a political standpoint, no one in his right mind believes that the federal government, in association with the separatist government of Quebec, is going to vigorously and actively proceed to register every firearm in that province, including those on aboriginal reserves, during a period of constitutional uncertainty.

In other words, even a cursory examination of the practical aspects of administering the bill across the country by provincial governments, half of whom profoundly disagree with it, and on aboriginal reserves, the majority of which disagree with it, reveals profound weaknesses in the potential administration of the bill, profound weaknesses which will render it ineffective in achieving its purpose.

The third test of a good law is that it must be capable of carrying the judgment of the people who pay the bills and for whose benefit it has been introduced. In other words, it must pass the test of democratic consent and support.

Since the bill was first introduced, the government has maintained that it has vast public support, citing various public opinion polls in that regard. However, governments, especially elitist ones that boast of their ability to spin doctor the issues, have a habit of deceiving themselves on the subject of democratic support and their reading of the polls, as was profoundly illustrated in the country and in the House with respect to the Charlottetown accord.

Various polls have been conducted which ask the public whether they are in favour of gun control, and of course the majority answered in agreement. These polls usually fail to follow up that question with the more pertinent question: Should the focus of gun legislation be on punishing the criminal use of firearms or regulating the non-criminal use of firearms? If and when that question is put to the Canadian public, I submit that the majority favour coming down like a ton of bricks on the criminal's use of firearms which is precisely the Reform position.

Other polls ask whether the public supports the federal government's proposed gun control legislation, but fail to ask whether the respondents are in any way, shape or form, familiar with the federal government's gun control legislation. They completely miss the point that as the public gains more and more knowledge about this bill, its support for it declines rather than increases no matter what the initial level. This was precisely the same pattern of declining support which ultimately sank the Charlottetown accord.

Made in Ottawa solutions to national problems, if promoted and promulgated by governments with vast dollars to spend on public relations, initially receive a high rating-in the vicinity of 60 per cent to 65 per cent-with the public. However, as the public gets to know more and more about the legislation, as they examine it for themselves, as they discuss it, as they hear the perspective of the provincial and municipal politicians, the interest groups, the academics and their friends and neighbours, the track record is that public support declines in direct relation to increased knowledge about the legislation.

Any piece of public legislation is subject to declining public support, a trajectory which in the case of this bill will mean that less than 50 per cent of the public will support its provisions by late this fall. That is the sign of a bad law, a law which cannot be properly enforced and will not achieve the intent of Parliament because it does not carry the judgment of the people who pay the bills and whom it supposedly benefits.

I therefore submit in conclusion that Bill C-68, if passed into law, will not be a good law. It will be a bad law, a blight on the legislative record of the government, a law that fails the three great tests of constitutionality, of effectiveness and of the democratic consent of the governed.

What should be the fate of a bad law? It should be repealed, which is precisely what a Reform government will do when it eventually replaces this government.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, a point of order. If you would seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent that the vote initially scheduled to take place at 5.30 p.m. this day be rescheduled to 6.30 p.m., immediately after private members' hour.

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4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

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4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.