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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

Access To Information

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the information commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1995, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act. Pursuant to Standing Order 32(5), this document is permanently tabled with the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Access To Information

10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I set my document down upstairs. I expect to have it in a few moments. I am sure that given the importance of the documents the hon. members opposite will consent to me reverting to those in a few minutes. Perhaps after the petitions are done that could be done.

Access To Information

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Access To Information

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present this morning.

The first petition that I have the duty to present is signed by quite a number of constituents from the communities of Meadow Lake, Loon Lake, Rapid View, Makwa, St. Walburg, and Dorintosh in The Battlefords-Meadow Lake constituency.

The petitioners draw to the attention of the House that the majority of Canadians are law-abiding citizens who respect the law and that the majority of Canadians believe that physicians in Canada should be working to save lives, not to end them. Therefore the petitioners call on Parliament to act immediately to extend protection to the unborn child by amending the Criminal Code to extend the same protection enjoyed by born human beings to unborn human beings.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

The second petition I have today, Mr. Speaker, is signed by Canadians who live in the town of Wilkie and the area surrounding the town of Wilkie in northwest Saskatchewan in The Battlefords-Meadow Lake constituency.

The petitioners note that the subject of pornography is a very controversial and complicated one, which poses a great threat to family life in Canada through negative images of women, men, and children, and note that the violent behaviour depicted by various media such as killer cards and video games have the potential of negatively affecting the attitudes and behaviour of children.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to take action toward ending pornography in all its various forms and call upon Parliament to pass legislation that contains clear definitions reflecting the advanced technological and rapidly changing nature of Canadian society and reflecting local community standards of tolerance.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I wish to present a petition that has been circulating across Canada.

This petition originates from the Surrey and Delta regions of Canada. The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession, which has not been recognized for its value to our society. They also state that the Income Tax Act discriminates against families who make the choice to provide care in the home for preschool children, the disabled, the chronically ill and the aged.

The petitioners therefore pray and call upon Parliament to pursue initiatives to eliminate tax discrimination against families who decide to provide care in the home for preschool children, the disabled, the chronically ill and the aged.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present a petition signed by numerous residents of Toronto, Ontario, who call upon Parliament to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and to adopt all necessary measures to recognize the full equality of same sex relationships in federal law.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 137 and 191.

Question No. 137-

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

How many full time and part time staff are involved in and what is the total cost of administering the current firearms laws and regulations for all of Canada and what share of the costs is borne by the three levels of government: Federal, Provincial and Municipal?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Cape Breton—The Sydneys Nova Scotia

Liberal

Russell MacLellan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

The federal cost of administering the current firearms control program is borne mainly by the Department of Justice Canada and the firearms registration and administration section of the RCMP. Federal expenditures and the number of staff in 1993-94, the last completed fiscal year, are shown in the following table. The provincial and territorial governments and the municipalities should be consulted directly in order to obtain their cost information.

  1. Department of Justice Canada

Staff (Full time and term employees)-10

Operating budget (including salaries)-$5.7 million

Money transferred to provinces-territories pursuant to financial agreements-$8.4 million

(2) Firearms registration and administration section, RCMP

Staff (Full time and term employees)-47

Operating budget (including salaries)-$1.4 million

Total federal cost-$15.5 million

  1. This figure includes certain one time only cost. Approximately $2 million were invested in the development of the Canadian firearms safety training course: a 1.2 million grant to provinces and territories to initially set up their safety training program and $1.4 million was spent on the development and implementation of the automated system for firearm acquisition certificates and accompanying forms.

  2. This amount represents the compensation to provinces and territories for 1993-94 as per new agreements.

Question No. 191-

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Of all the people travelling in their country of origin and referred by airlines to Canadian authorities abroad for the purpose of document verification in 1994, how many, in each country where such document verification took place, were, ( a ) permanent residents landed in Canada as convention refugees, or ( b ) persons residing in Canada after having made a refugee claim?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

York West Ontario

Liberal

Sergio Marchi LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Canadian authorities abroad do not routinely maintain statistical information on the number of persons referred by airline companies for the purpose of document verification, although it is true that certain individual missions abroad may choose to compile figures in order to audit their own workload, where such verifications constitute a significant proportion of mission immigration activities.

Consequently, the government is not in a position to provide country by country figures on the number of referrals involving convention refugees or refugee claimants in their countries of origin.

However, we can say that referrals either involve persons whose documents are subsequently found to be inauthentic and who are attempting illegal travel to Canada, or involve persons about whose documents there are doubts for one reason or another but who are later confirmed to be properly documented travellers. This latter group includes foreign visitors, foreign students, permanent residents and Canadian citizens. While some of those who are confirmed to be permanent residents are persons who were landed as convention refugees or are persons who had earlier made refugee claims, others are persons who were landed as independent immigrants, business immigrants or members of the family class. In addition, it must be appreciated that persons holding Canadian permanent residence documents, whatever the category of landing, are also referred for other reasons altogether, for example to establish whether following an extended absence from Canada they are still entitled to Canadian resident status.

We have no reason to believe that the numbers of referrals involving persons who were landed as refugees or who had earlier made refugee claims are in any way disproportionate to their share of the overall immigrant movement.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I note that Question No. 137 stands in the name of the hon. member for Yorkton-Melville. I know that he has been very anxious to get this reply before consideration of third reading of Bill C-68 is complete. I am very pleased that I am able to comply with his request and provide the answer today. I recognize that it is late, but we wanted a thorough, complete, and accurate answer for the hon. member.

While I am on my feet, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand and I ask for consent to revert to tabling of documents for the purpose of tabling answers to certain petitions.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for that information. I look forward to receiving it. It may be a little late for the debate today, as I see that Bill C-68 is

on the Order Paper, but maybe we can pass that information on to the Senate.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Shall all remaining questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Regarding the unanimous consent of the parliamentary secretary to revert to tabling of documents, is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 13th, 1995 / 10:10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Etobicoke Centre Ontario

Liberal

Allan Rock LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, this morning we embark on the final stage of a process begun over a year ago by which members of this House of Commons have studied and debated questions dealing not only with the regulation of firearms but questions that in a broader sense touch upon the kind of country we want for ourselves and for our children.

It is little wonder that the debate about firearms has at times been spirited, often clamorous, and sometimes divisive. There are many voices that want so much to be heard: the farmers, the ranchers, who must be permitted to continue to use their firearms as the tools of their trade; the hunters and the target shooters, whose choice of sport demands our respect; the outfitters and the townsfolk whose livelihood depends on the success of the hunting season; the sustenance hunter, who feeds a family with a firearm; the police, who like all law-abiding Canadians want the means to deter, to detect and to punish those who would use guns in crime; and Canadians everywhere, who want the government to preserve the civil character of our society and strengthen the values that have always set us apart as a nation, Canadians who have watched the American experience with sadness and who want our national government to chart a different course for our future.

I sincerely believe Bill C-68 now before the House has fashioned an instrument that will ensure a future in which we can preserve those unique Canadian values while respecting the legitimate interests to which I referred while also dealing effectively with the use of guns in crime.

The government believes that the primary objective of regulating firearms should be to ensure that Canada remains a peaceful and civilized country. Canadians firmly intend to safeguard and strengthen the exceptional civility which has always been their hallmark. Our policies attest to this government's commitment to this objective.

The components of Bill C-68 that we will be focussing on today are as follows: firstly, strict measures to counter the criminal use of firearms; secondly, specific penalties to punish those engaged in the smuggling of firearms; and thirdly, broad measures to define what constitutes the lawful use of firearms in a manner that poses no threat to public safety.

In the case of each component, universal firearms registration is a fundamental requirement for achieving the stated objectives.

The government has been consistent throughout in its defence of Bill C-68 with respect to the core principles of the legislation. We have made changes to reflect our response to constructive criticism when it has arisen and to respond to well founded concerns.

May I today express the gratitude I feel toward members of the Liberal caucus who have through their efforts reflected concerns in their communities and have caused us to make many constructive changes to this proposed legislation. May I also acknowledge the hard work done by every member of the justice committee of the House of Commons. Colleagues from all parties in their painstaking work examined clause by clause every aspect of this bill and brought their own scrutiny to bear. I am very grateful for and admire the work they did.

We have made many changes along the way. We have created a new Firearms Act to take the process of regulation out of the Criminal Code to respond to the concerns of firearms owners. We have changed the rules with respect to the use and disposition of those firearms that are prohibited either as handguns or otherwise so they can be traded within the class of existing owners.

We have phased in the process of licensing and registration over eight years to minimize inconvenience for firearms owners. We have changed the nature and effect of the penalty for the first time a person inadvertently fails to register a firearm under the scheme. That will only become compulsory in 2003.

We have changed the inspection powers to respond to those who saw room for abuse. We have provided for relics and heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation and kept in families for their sentimental or historical value.

The core principles of this legislation have remained constant: stiff criminal penalties for those who would use guns in crime; the longest mandatory minimum penitentiary terms in the Criminal Code for those who use guns in any one of 10 listed serious crimes; cracking down on smuggling by reinvigorating our efforts at the border, by investing in means to reduce smuggled firearms coming into this country; taking handguns out of circulation that have no place in legitimate sports and target shooting; providing for renewable licences for those who own firearms; and the mandatory universal registration of all firearms. We have done this so that as a nation we might have some meaningful control over guns while respecting the legitimate uses of firearms for traditional purposes.

It is the registration of firearms which has attracted the most intense controversy. Many criticisms have been levelled, unfortunately too often without foundation in fact. It is said that before we proceed with such a measure the government must satisfy a heavy onus of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that mandatory universal registration will reduce the crime rate, that we must establish how many lives will be saved by such a measure.

I reject that false premise. I say it applies no more to this proposal than to any other. The government has by the evidence it has proffered to the committee, to the Commons and to the public, met any reasonable standard of proof required to justify legislation which would regulate the conduct of human affairs.

We tender the evidence of the chiefs of police. We rely upon the views and the opinions of the Canadian Police Association. We put forward the convictions of the Canadian Association of Police Boards. We stand with the victims of violence who have lost family members to crime. We stand with the physicians in the emergency rooms of this nation, with the trauma doctors, with suicide therapists, all of whom contend with one voice that mandatory universal registration of all firearms is nothing more than common sense in the regulation of property in this country.

There are those who attack the concept of mandatory universal registration by trafficking in fictions, and those fictions must be addressed. It is said that registration means nothing because criminals will not register to which I respond: That is the very point. Criminals will not register and by that act will identify themselves. When universal mandatory registration is fully in place as a seamless system for the registration of firearms, the criminals will be identified by exception.

I refer to an anecdote described to me by my colleague, the hon. member for Waterloo. He spoke last week in his riding about an incident where police entered a place on a raid because they had reasonable grounds to believe there was criminal activity going on inside. They found long arms and they were unable to tell whether those long arms were possessed unlawfully or whether they were lawfully in the possession of the people who were arrested. With registration the authorities will have the means to determine just that.

I call to mind the jury in the inquest into the death of Jonathon Yeo who was implicated in the shooting death of Nina de Villiers, the young woman whose life was tragically taken in her youth by crime. At inquest the jury heard months of testimony about those events. Among its many recommendations for strengthening the system to prevent such tragedies in the future, that jury recommended the mandatory registration of all firearms including rifles and shotguns.

While they are trafficking in fictions, those who oppose registration contend this is an effort to solve an urban concern about crime on the backs of the rural part of Canada. I point out that time after time it has been shown that the fatality and injury rates from firearms are significantly higher in rural areas in this country than they are in the cities.

The majority of the people in this country, when they die by firearms, die at the hands of someone they know. Preponderantly firearms are used as the weapon of choice when there is death in the context of domestic violence. On average a woman is shot to death every six days in this country, almost always in her home, almost always by someone she knows, almost always with a legally owned rifle or shotgun.

What has that to do with registration? The police tell us that with a mandatory system of universal registration in place over time they will have the means to enforce court prohibition orders made against people who have shown a propensity for violence. Lives will be saved if those guns are collected in that kind of situation.

Those who would oppose this system traffic in fictions by pretending that the cost is an impediment. They throw around numbers like $1.5 billion to establish the system, $100 or $300 per rifle to register. They are trafficking in fictions.

Someone on the west coast did a study for the Fraser Institute pretending that the cost of registration would be $1.5 billion because the cost to register a handgun under the existing system is on average $82. Factoring in the present antiquated system and individual police inquiries about the background of the applicant, it works out to $82 per handgun on average.

That person has taken that number and applied it directly to the six or seven million long arms in the inventory existing in Canada today. However, he has overlooked the fact that in the registration of the existing inventory of long arms we are going

to ask only that the owners mail in a card to identify themselves and their firearms. There will be a simple CPIC check to ensure that there is no order prohibiting the owner from having firearms and then he or she will be licensed and registered. This will cost nothing like the $82 which this man pretends is going to be the cost of registration in Canada. This is trafficking in fictions and not meeting the point on the merits.

It is also said by those who oppose registration that the system has been tried in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere and has been found not to work. That is not so.

In New Zealand the registration system was established in 1920. It was carried out through handwritten cards. It was abandoned in the early 1980s when the volume overwhelmed the system. In any event, New Zealand does not sit on the border of the world's most gun preoccupied country. It does not have to deal with the challenges we face in Canada. The system in New Zealand was rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the argument in Canada.

As for Australia, five of the eight states and territories have mandatory registration of long arms now. In 1990 a national committee on violence recommended it be extended to the whole of the country. Those are the facts. It is time we stopped trafficking in fictions.

Testimony before the House justice committee established that in those European countries where mandatory registration of all firearms is in place, the accident, injury and death rate from firearms is lower compared to countries where that is not the policy.

As to confiscation, those who oppose registration allege that it is the first step to confiscation. To them I respond that in 1940 the government of this country introduced mandatory registration of rifles and shotguns as part of the war effort. There was compliance and no confiscation. To those persons I say that in 1977 when the present system of firearms acquisition certificates was introduced, the voices again were raised that confiscation would be the inevitable result, but there was no confiscation. This is the position of the people who have run out of real arguments against gun control. They are trafficking in fictions.

I would like to spend just a moment on those who have made themselves conspicuous in this House by their opposition to this bill. I speak of course about members of the third party. I bear in mind as I do so that the third party came into this House 18 months ago as the party of the people insisting that the positions its members took, the policies they supported and the views they expressed would reflect the values and views of Canadians in general.

I well recall the days sitting in this place when hon. members of the third party would rise in question period to put questions that were inspired by members of the public. They wanted so much to reflect the views of Canadians in the work they did in this House of Commons.

Some of the members of the third party have stuck to those principles and are going to stick with them. They are going to vote for this bill because they know the majority of the people in their riding support it. To those members I offer my congratulations for their consistency in their principles.

However, the third party, the party of the people, the party of law and order, the leader of this third party and the majority of its members have said they will vote against this bill and against what the majority of Canadians want. As recently as two weeks ago a poll showed that 74 per cent of the people in British Columbia, 58 per cent of the people in Alberta, and 72 per cent of the people in Ontario support registration. Two weeks ago an Angus Reid poll demonstrated consistently that the people of Canada want Parliament to pass the legislation.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph—Wellington, ON

We represent Canada.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Alberta is 50:50.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

I call on the third party to stand with the government, with the police, with the emergency room physicians, with the victims of crime, and support this bill in the name of the people of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, today we have the opportunity, on behalf of the Parliament of Canada, to speak out on the kind of Canada we want for ourselves and for our children and on the efforts that we are prepared to make to preserve the peaceful and civilized country in which we take pride, and to show just who exactly controls firearms in Canada. Is it the groups who support firearms or Canadians in general?

Today, June 13, I have two little boys who are turning eight years old. They join with their 10-year old sister in wanting to grow up in the kind of country we enjoyed in our youth, a country that is safe, a country that is civil. Those qualities can slip away so easily. They slip away incrementally over time. They require constant reaffirmation of our basic principles as a nation if we are going to keep that unique quality that sets us apart. We must always focus on what is the predominant value for Canadians.

In Bill C-68 we have just such an opportunity to focus on those values. The bill is respectful of the legitimate interests of those who use firearms, but its predominant purpose is to preserve what is uniquely ours. My children, all of our children

and our grandchildren deserve nothing less for their future in Canada.

Firearms ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Lac-Saint-Jean Québec

Bloc

Lucien Bouchard BlocLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, it is not every day that a bill before the House generates the kind of public debate that we have seen in the past few months, a debate that will end with the vote scheduled for the end of our proceedings today.

This bill has prompted a public debate because it brings into focus the values that we hold as a society. Before I go any further, let me say-and I am certain there will be no disagreement-that our society is undergoing rapid change, and not always the kind of change we want to see. Violence is on the rise.

This debate is taking place because we are cognizant of the fact that danger threatens our society at every turn. Danger is not a problem found only in cities. It affects people everywhere. It is a problem observed not only here in this country, it also touches our neighbours and friends to the south. In the United States, increasing social problems have led to an upsurge in violence and we are now beginning to witness the same phenomenon here. This is not a trivial matter that we are discussing, nor something that should leave us indifferent. It is an extremely important issue, both for the present and for the future.

Violence can manifest itself in many ways. The use of firearms is not the only factor associated with violence. Very serious social problems can lead to a sense of frustration which in turn, can breed various forms of violence. Psychological, domestic, personal and community problems can all lead to the use, among other things, of firearms.

However, there is nothing trivial about firearms. They represent one of the most significant ways of manifesting the violence to which I alluded. I think we would all agree on this, regardless of the party to which we belong, that a society such as ours which claims to be reasonable, vigilant and civilized, has a responsibility to ensure that the use of firearms is better controlled.

So far, so good. I do not believe that even our friends in the Reform Party would oppose legislation that gives the state the ability to control violence and to intervene to stop its spread. If they would oppose it, I am certain that they will let us know. In any event, I would be surprised if the Reform Party opposed some control over firearms, given the social context. In a society such as ours, it is essential that the state be allowed to step in and assume its responsibilities in the area of gun control.

The bill now before us is a reflection of the government's vision of gun control. What course of action is the government advocating? The key feature of its proposed legislation is firearms registration. Many of the bill's provisions relate to registration. Some reforms were introduced in 1992, primarily to ban certain types of assault, prohibited and military weapons. Some administrative controls regarding storage and so forth were also introduced. This series of reforms will complete the cycle of government action in this field. The central element of the reform is the universal registration of all firearms, essentially those used for target shooting, hunting and so forth, since other kinds of weapons are already prohibited.

The debate has, without a doubt, been controversial, since very opposite views have been voiced. I do not think that we can accuse anyone of failing to understand the validity of the other party's arguments. Clearly, we are dealing with a clash of two different value systems. On the one hand, we have an overwhelming majority of citizens who are concerned about violence in society and recognize the need to control guns, one of the instruments used to commit violence. On the other hand, we have those who perceive the intervention of the state and additional restrictions as an unnecessary attack on individual freedoms.

We cannot dismiss the reaction of the second group lightly. Honest citizens own firearms. The fact that they own guns does not make them any less honest. I would even venture to say that the vast majority, if not virtually all, of the citizens who own guns, who use them for sporting purposes and who have done so for generations, are upstanding citizens. The introduction of these measures has made them somewhat uneasy. They are upset to see the state interfere once again in their affairs and this has a great deal to do with their attitudes.

Although this country has existed for several hundred years, ours is still a young society, still close to its roots, to the time when vast territories had to be conquered and people had to tame, colonize and settle this vast land. Obstacles had to be overcome. Wild animals roamed the landscape and people needed to defend themselves. Trapping and hunting were important survival tools.

It is well known that beaver trapping was a very important activity in Canada. It was the basis of the country's economy. In other words, the country's origins are closely linked with firearms. To many, firearms symbolized-and I would imagine this still holds true today-freedom and man's dominance over an often hostile environment. The issue speaks to long-standing, profound values. Then there is the issue of hunting. The hunting instinct is one of the first known to man. Had men and women not been hunters, humankind as we know it would not have survived to this day.

Therefore, this issue is complex and it is understandable that the debate has been controversial and quite emotional. Another reason why opponents have reacted so negatively and have

expressed outrage from the moment the bill was tabled in the House is because the state has already intervened a great deal.

Individual freedoms have already been restricted considerably by the administrative and bureaucratic actions of the state, so much so that many citizens are quite fed up with what they view as government harassment and red tape.

Some dream of returning to the free, somewhat bucolic society of yesteryear in reaction to the excessively large public service and the systems and networks springing up everywhere. The bureaucracy has exploded, particularly in the last 20 years. People are very leery about more government intervention, particulary now when they feel that their civil liberties are been affected.

Moreover, many people live on large tracts of land or own farms. That was true of my ancestors and of my father. I myself was born on a farm. These people accept that there is a government, a country and law enforcement agencies, but their farm is their domain. When they are at home on their farm, they cannot fathom that someone should be able to interfere and restrict in any way their right to do whatever they want on their own property, their right to use firearms to hunt and so forth.

Along comes this bill which challenges long-standing beliefs and deep-seated cultural reflexes.

Here we must appeal to reason. It is alright for those who oppose the bill to say so. While the vast majority of people support the bill, the Bloc Quebecois included, we must try to convince those who are against it, particularly the hunters who are directly affected by its provisions. We must try to convince them to accept the government's intervention in this area for the sake of higher principles. The citizens of this country are all reasonable people and they will reflect upon this and understand. However, it still comes as a cultural shock.

When the use of seat belts in automobiles became mandatory, I remember clearly my reaction to this announcement. I was a young man at the time, driving my first automobile. All of a sudden, I was required to buckle up. As a young man, owning my first car symbolized freedom. Everyone remembers how important their first car was, what colour it was, how much it cost, and so forth. Not everyone was pleased, myself included, to see the government legislate seat-belt use.

However, I had to learn to live with the law. I have to admit that occasionally, in a moment of weakness, I neglected to buckle up. However, I have been using my seat belt for many years now and it has now become a part of our everyday habits.

This decision was initially viewed and dismissed by many people as government interference. Over time, seat belt use was accepted because it was proven to be in the common interest. Large fines were also imposed.

The same will be true for firearms registration. Registration as such is not something new. People are accustomed to registering their automobiles, their bicycles, even their dogs. They may not have been too pleased the first time that had to get a license for their bicycle-imagine, a teenager having to get a license for his bicycle-but they accepted it.

People have come to accept many things because it is in the common interest and I am confident that this is one such issue. I am confident that the government will work hard to convince people to go along with registration. I have no doubt that the minister, who is an intelligent individual with a good understanding of society, will see to it that these measures are implemented properly, by appealing to people's sense of reason, not by using a strong-arm approach. I am confident that he will proceed in a civilized fashion and be respectful of individuals who have different opinions.

Registration may well be a bother, but fundamentally, this is not a transcendental debate. There are no fundamental principles at issue. The resulting inconveniences will be very minor. After all, people will only be required to register the firearms they own once in their lifetime. Only once! Furthermore, the process will only begin in three years' time. Therefore, we have three years to think about this, three years to discuss the matter, three years to calm down, three years to analyse the situation, listen to others and try to understand the reasons behind this decision. Once the process begins, people will have five years to register their firearms.

In my opinion, this will facilitate the implementation of the legislation and give people time to accept psychologically these measures.

Having said this, I do not believe and our party does not believe that the bill is perfect. On the contrary, we would have preferred something different.

We would have liked to have greater power of persuasion over the minister, in order to make changes we thought were required. However, I must acknowledge that some changes we requested were accepted.

We in the Bloc Quebecois tried not to address the issue from an ideological point of view, not to make it a debate on principle or a debate on religion because, in religion, everyone is right and everyone is wrong. We tried to address it from a pragmatic point of view and to make a party contribution, through the parliamentary process, to bringing in a balanced piece of legislation.

We are in agreement with government intervention, and with registration, and we wanted-or at least we tried-to bring a certain balance to the bill tabled by the government.

We were successful with some amendments, including one essential matter, one essential aspect of the bill: decriminalization. We think this aspect is important, because it is essential that good citizens, the vast majority of hunters, for example, not have the perception that the law lumps them together with criminals.

It is important for honest citizens to be sure that the government does not treat them like criminals, and that hunting and using firearms for sports activities do not make them criminals or people who are reprehensible in the eyes of the government or of society. This is a fundamental right which, to this extent, must be respected.

That is why we thought the government had to be persuaded to make a distinction between people who use firearms to commit crimes and people who use them to behave like normal citizens, for sports like hunting. That is where we got the idea of not making failure to register a firearm, in the case of a first offence, a crime as such. We have never claimed that there should be no penalties. We have never claimed that there be no sanctions, that the first offence of failing to register a hunting firearm, for example, should not make someone liable to punishment. That act had to remain something against the law, a reprehensible act to be punished under criminal law. But there is quite a distinction between criminalizing and penalizing that has not always gotten through to the public.

We would have liked the first offence, someone who fails to register for the first time, to be prosecuted-that is summary conviction procedure-and convicted if guilty, but fined. We would have wanted a first offence not to be a crime within the strict meaning of the Criminal Code, but to lead to a considerable fine, say, from $500 to $1,250, confiscation of the firearm, and a requirement to register it within seven days: briefly, something reasonable and severe-quite severe-, but something that indicated this distinction between a crime as such and an offence to be penalized.

The government did not accept the Bloc Quebecois vision but, on the other hand, it did take a step in the right direction. It made a first offence a new, special offence, ensuring that people will be prosecuted under a statute and not under the Criminal Code; the summary conviction procedure will be used, but the first offence will not be a crime as such-although it is not clear what will happen with the criminal record. There will not be a criminal record in the traditional sense, but it does seem that there will be a register in which offences, even first offences, will be noted. Still, this flexibility is welcome, since I believe it will also give the Crown an option when prosecuting. If a person who has not registered a firearm is a habitual criminal, it is not the same thing as if the person were an ordinary hunter; the Crown can prosecute under another statute. There is discretion that could make it possible to eliminate the aspect we criticized.

Another amendment we proposed has to do with that prohibition on a person who wanted to obtain a firearm licence, if the person was an associate of some other person prohibited from possessing firearms. There, the problem with the initial bill was quite far-reaching, since it had to do with association.

Basically, it was a problem of guilt by association. As soon as you were "an associate"-as defined, an extremely vague, very elastic expression that could have led to witch hunts-of a person who had been prohibited from possessing firearms, you could be prohibited from owning them as well.

So, what we proposed was to keep the expression "an associate", of course, but to specify an associate living under the same roof. If you live in a house where someone prohibited from possessing firearms lives, it would be rather stupid and irresponsible for you to be given a firearm, when the other person living there, in the same house, could have practically the same access to the firearm as you do-even though elsewhere the bill prohibits that person from possessing firearms. The government accepted this amendment.

By means of amendments we proposed two days before the government's amendments, we also persuaded the government that there should be a grandfather clause, that is, a clause recognizing firearms handling courses people have already taken. We know that Quebec in particular has had a system of firearms handling courses, as a prerequisite for firearms licences, for quite some time now. So these courses that people had taken had to be recognized. We must not require people who have already taken courses in Quebec-very well-designed courses, by the way-to take them again. So the federal government agreed to recognize these courses and not require people to take them again under the bill.

We also requested an amendment to tighten up the bill in order to limit the government's former discretion to make regulations allowing the purchase of non-prohibited ammunition starting in the year 2001, during the transition period. The government agreed to tighten up the bill and make those regulations much stricter.

Another aspect to which we drew the government's attention was the power of inspection contained in the first version of the bill. We were not the only ones to make this point; in our society and in all regions, a great many worries and complaints were expressed about the excessive extent of the power the bill conferred on police officers: they were given practically the power to search and seize, without being required to follow the procedures that limit the action they take in other situations, such as the requirement to obtain from a judge a warrant citing a reasonable ground for carrying out a search. Now, in the bill, no

warrant is required, but police officers' power is limited to places other than dwelling-houses, strictly to places where there is reason to believe that there are 10 or more firearms, and the ground must be a reasonable ground, not just an opinion a police officer might have before taking action.

But there are other amendments with which we were not successful. We regret that, although those amendments are not as significant; the issue of fees is an example. We would have liked the government to provide a legal control, a guarantee of its political commitment to act reasonably and not raise fees unduly. We therefore proposed an amendment adding to the bill a mechanism limiting increases to registration fees. We know that the government is in power and we know the present minister's intentions; but there are the public service, the apparatus of government, circumstances and changes in the situation. In five years, who is to say that a deputy minister will not convince a minister to double registration fees? There is no legal guarantee. We would have liked there to be one in the bill. The minister is showing the best of intentions. We hope they will be repeated, but we really would have liked there to be this kind of control; one possible way of providing it would have been, say, to index changes in registration fees to the consumer price index. But the government did not want any such hindrances, and we regret that that was the case.

We also proposed something we think made a lot of sense: a requirement to lock, to install a locking mechanism on, any firearm manufactured or sold in Canada, so that if you are a hunter and you show up in a firearms store to buy a .12 or a .20 or a .22 rifle, you will automatically be sold a firearm on which a locking mechanism has already been installed, for greater safety. We hear that there is nearly consensus on this point, and that even many organizations representing hunters agreed with it. The government did not agree to this request, and we wonder why not. Would the manufacturers' lobby have been that powerful? We do not know. It would have been advisable for this amendment to be accepted, but it was not.

We consider that another aspect of the bill raises an issue of principle, a much more important one: the legality of law enforcement. By means of this bill, the government is giving itself an arbitrary power to make regulations that would allow it, for example, to exempt aboriginal people from respecting the bill and from the constraints the bill imposes on other citizens.

I am not saying that the government will avail itself of that power and exempt aboriginal people but, since the bill includes express mention of this point, we fear that inequitable treatment of citizens under the same law will be set up. It would be a real shame, and terribly irresponsible, to do that.

I do not see how aboriginal people are threatened by the enforcement of this bill. If the bill is acceptable for other citizens, it is acceptable for them, too; they, too, have the right to ensure their safety. The problems of violence exist in their communities, as they do in ours. I do not see how the government can give itself that power. Why is the government giving itself that power?

That point makes me think-in a much less significant vein-of the debate that took place during the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, when it looked as though the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would not apply in aboriginal communities. I remember that even Mr. Trudeau-on that point alone, I must admit-agreed with the Quebec sovereignists who were saying that made no sense.

We agreed that, under the rule of law, as is the case in Canada, where we favour law enforcement that is equal for everyone, there simply had to be equitable treatment of all citizens, and that it was inconceivable that we could accept that outrageous, incredible, irresponsible concession made by Mr. Clark and Mr. Rae in particular, excluding aboriginal people from the application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have somewhat the same thing here.

If this bill is so important, if it is so deeply rooted in respect for citizens' rights and obligations, why would aboriginal people be exempted from its enforcement? We were not successful on this point, but we do count on the government, and on the minister, to reassure us and tell us that citizens will be equal under this bill, as they are under any law, as is appropriate in any democracy.

Lastly, we would have liked to have another amendment passed, and we are very worried that it was turned down. We are really upset about that amendment; it raised considerable debate within the Bloc Quebecois. People in caucus took very strong positions on this point, and we understand them. This point is the requirement that any court impose a minimum four-year sentence on any offender who commits a crime with a firearm: a four-year minimum.

I consider that the minister has lapsed into political correctness and let himself be swept along by the lobbies that have sometimes gone too far. We are going to vote for the bill, but we, too, have been buffeted by headwinds. Outrageous things have been said by both lobbies. The pro-gun control lobby itself has sometimes gone too far.

I feel that, in this instance, the minister may not have maintained a balance. I feel that the minister should have resisted those excessive pressures, which are not at all progressive, which will fill up the penitentiaries with 18-year-olds with no chance of rehabilitation and, further, which will introduce inequity and disparity in sentencing.

Let us take the example of an 18-year old committing his first offence. We do not know what incites an 18-year old to hold up a corner store-we are not justifying it, it is completely unacceptable, serious things happen in those situations-but we do know that often these young people are grappling with drug problems, are in withdrawal, are in fact very well brought up-it happens everywhere-; for the first time in his life he goes and uses a firearm to hold up a corner store, and automatically gets four years in prison.

There is no possibility of the judge looking into the case, making distinctions, taking circumstances into account, or trying to give that young man a chance. When you are 18, you can be rehabilitated after a first offence and become a very good citizen. But with this bill, I tell you, I hesitated before taking a position. I deeply regret that the minister, who appears to be progressive in all respects, has made this abusive lapse, which will mean automatic prison sentences.

Incarceration becomes the only means of rehabilitating young offenders, of reintegrating them in society. That is serious. That smacks of a philosophical conception which worries me a lot. I am surprised that the gun control lobby would have steered the minister in that direction. I am truly astonished because I believe that the forces which impel us to adopt this bill are progressive forces, but not in this case. In this case, there is something absolutely deplorable and senseless, there are things that defy comprehension.

For example, if a sharp 12-inch dagger is held to the throat of a convenience store clerk to commit the same crime, the offender will get the minimum, not four years. I do not see the difference between a dagger and a gun-the clerk might not have his throat cut. It is the same thing with rape. These are dreadful acts. What is the difference between using a dagger or a gun to commit rape on a young woman? The two acts are absolutely abominable. And yet, in one case, it will be four years, automatically, and in the other not.

It seems to me that the minister in charge of developing the Criminal Code could have had a common sense reflex. It is not too late, by the way. I sincerely believe that this is something that should be fixed.