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.