Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Burlington.
To restart this debate, members opposite from the third party have called on the government to apologize to families of murder victims. One cannot appreciate nor can one understand what sort of grief and suffering the families of those who have been murdered go through.
At the same time it is a sad commentary if this debate has been raised today simply on the basis of scoring some political points if that is the only motive. There is no reason for this government to apologize. And I do not think there is any reason why the government would want to get involved in all of this to make these people, the families, political pawns.
We know from earlier debate raised by my friend from Rosedale that criminal law is not there just to punish. Punishment is part and parcel of the criminal law but it is not the sole factor. Punishment does not bring back victims. Locking up offenders is not the sole answer and there is a cost factor attached to it. We also believe that while people are incarcerated we should look at rehabilitation with a view that some of these people may be put back into society.
The law requires that those who are convicted of first degree murder must serve a minimum of 15 years. We also know that most people convicted of first degree murder serve a full life sentence. We do know that after 15 years release is only possible after a very thorough review process. This is not just a review by the Minister of Justice or by the courts. Ordinary Canadians have a say as well.
The Criminal Code requires that offenders must serve their full 25 year sentence unless a jury decides that they should be allowed to apply for parole. First they have to serve at least 15 years of their sentence. Then they must go to the jury and if and only if that jury approves can they apply to the parole board in the same way as other inmates. This is not a green light from the beginning and this is not an easy process.
We on this side of the House believe that Canadians are best served by a complete criminal justice system, not by a system that says the only factor in sentencing is punishment. The criminal law has greater width than that and the ultimate purpose of criminal law is to make Canada a safer place.
We have talked about punishment and we have heard about deterrence but we also believe that we are here to protect Canadians from violence and by preventing violence. Every murder that we can prevent means that one less family is victimized. A criminal justice system is not just about deterrence and incarceration. Everything possible must be done to prevent crimes from happening in the first place and to deal with those who commit them so they will not reoffend again.
The safety of Canadians requires that offenders be rehabilitated if possible and if it is not possible then they will not be released. The possibility of release after 15 years instead 25 years is a part of rehabilitation. It offers a reward to those who modify their behaviour. The strict review process ensures that those who do not change will serve out their sentences.
The interests of all Canadians are better served by preventing crime than simply by punishing people. That is why we have brought in legislation to prevent murder and other violent crime.
In Canada one-third of all homicides are committed with firearms. In recent years more Canadians have been killed with a gun than any other type of weapon. We listened to the families of
young women killed at the Montreal University Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 and the families of victims of firearms violence all across Canada. We believe that the families of these victims want more than anything to see that it does not happen to someone else.
That is why the government has enacted new gun control legislation. If someone is shot the whole family is victimized but Canadians are also victimized.
Unfortunately the new decorum in the House means they keep talking but we have to keep the killer in jail. It also costs about $50,000 a year which is over $1 million for every offender. If murders can be prevented from happening everyone benefits. Sadly the members opposite disagree. They voted against gun control. They would rather lock up murderers than prevent people from being killed in the first place.
I ask: who voted against measures that would allow us to identify illegal firearms so that the guns could be seized and those who import and sell them to Canadian criminals could be prosecuted? Who voted against measures that would ensure that police officers could find out whether a gun is in the house before they knock on the door? Who voted against laws that would control imports to ensure that guns that enter Canada are sold only to those who have been screened and have been issued a permit for them? Who voted against measures that would make sure that only those who owned their guns legally and had them registered could go into a store and buy ammunition for them? Where do the members opposite stand?
Earlier in debate today, members talked about accountability. Earlier today they talked about how they stand in solidarity on this issue. Yet they also talked about accountability. We also heard the talk, and it is only talk, of how they are accountable and how they go out, in this infinite wisdom of theirs, and discern how people feel.
However, members opposite know that three of their members voted for the gun legislation. They spent taxpayers' money to do a poll in their ridings. They knew all along that this was a way of preventing victims, of protecting families and of preventing murder.
Does the hon. member and his colleagues opposite, with the three exceptions who spent the money to do a poll, oppose all of these things because they think it will cost too much money? It is okay if it is out of the member's budget. They want to spend money on prisons but not on preventing crime. They are not willing to spend money on saving lives. They also oppose it because it is inconvenient for their supporters. They oppose holding gun owners responsible for gun storage requirements that would help keep guns from being stolen and keep them out of the hands of children.
Some of their supporters object to registering their firearms. They object to the idea that they should have to keep their guns locked up. They think that they should all be allowed to have assault rifles and machine guns. They think they should have the right to have any kind of gun. They would like to see everyone with a loaded gun to protect themselves from criminals. They have adopted the American principle of the right to bear arms. Those are simplistic and unrealistic policies.
The hon. member and his colleagues do not seem to be very concerned that we would also have the kind of homicide rates that would inevitably result from their policies. They would like to repeal gun laws. They say they would do it all if elected. They say they care about the families of those who were shot yesterday but they do not seem to care very much about the families of tomorrow's victims.
One-third of Canadian homicides are committed with guns. That means that one-third of the families about whom the hon. members opposite are so concerned lost their loved ones to gunshot injuries. However, they do not worry about that as long as the killer spends 25 years in jail. In that way their consciences are clear and their supporters are happy. What about the families? They are still victims. Their loved ones are still dead and their lives are still devastated.
I would suggest that the shame is on that side. They should be embarrassed for calling on the government, which is trying to prevent similar killings in the future, to apologize fully to the families of the victims. If anyone should apologize it is those on the other side of the House, not here.