moved that Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to debate Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code.
Today I will direct my remarks first to the people who are concerned about their own safety from criminals, especially criminals who misuse firearms.
Hon. members can imagine what it must be like for senior citizens to suffer home invasion at the hands of criminals with firearms. That is becoming a common crime in our bigger cities. It is one that is starting to make everybody sit up and pay attention. It was bad enough when somebody's mother or grandmother was afraid to go out at night and walk to the corner store to buy a little milk for her tea. Now those folks are afraid inside their own homes. Where is this going to stop?
The government and the media like to claim that crime is decreasing. But people I talk to tell me that crime is so heavy where they live that police do not even show up to investigate a break and enter unless somebody has been injured. The police are just too busy.
A big part of the reason for such crime is the lack of teeth in the Young Offenders Act. That is another part of the crime story. It is a fact that no single change is going to make Canadian society safe again. It is going to take hard work by politicians to make Canada a safe place again for our citizens.
We need a new young offenders act. We need a victims bill of rights. We need, as my bill provides, tough penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms. Instead of enacting these useful measures, which would produce measurable results, the government chose to require law-abiding owners of rifles and shotguns to file papers, jump through hoops and pay fees in another Liberal tax grab.
My private member's bill would repeal Bill C-68 and replace it with real protection against criminals and the misuse of firearms by enacting minimum jail terms that cannot be plea bargained away.
My bill states that using, having or claiming to have a firearm during the commission of or the attempt to commit a crime or in flight after committing a crime would require a judge to impose a minimum of five years' imprisonment or not more than 14 years.
My bill also states that if a firearm is actually discharged, not just waved around or pointed at victims of crime, the penalty will increase to a minimum of 10 years or a maximum of 14 years and that these sentences will be served consecutively, that is, after or in addition to other sentences.
Some people argue that five or 10 years is too harsh and too long a time for the poor criminal to spend in jail. The way many of our prisons are run today it is really like a trip to the country club, not serious punishment. But that is another matter not directly addressed today. Prison reform is one more piece of the puzzle that the government could have enacted to achieve measurable results in the fight against crime, but it abandoned that responsibility and instead decided to target law-abiding citizens.
If my bill were passed at least convicted offenders would be deprived of their liberty and kept where they could not do more harm to society in general. If some people object to this as being too harsh, I remind them to look at the victims of crime. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, it sometimes takes a victim many years, sometimes a lifetime, to recover from the ill effects.
Let us remember the parents all across Canada who have lost a child through the criminal misuse of firearms. Or let us think of those who got shot themselves, sustaining such injuries as loss of sight or even paralysis. Think of the many fine police officers who have been shot in the line of duty. When the criminal gets out of jail their victim or victims will still be serving their sentences.
Even what passes as a small offence today, like the waving around of a shotgun during the commission of a crime, may lead victims to have to change jobs or take medication or even get counselling because they cannot cope with the endless nightmares which result from being threatened with a firearm in the course of their supposedly normal working day.
When we let people out of jail after they have committed crimes like this we send a message if the sentence has not been harsh enough.
In some countries the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime is treated as a terrorist act, punishable by death.
Perhaps we in North America have seen too many crime shows on television and tend to take such things for granted. That is unfortunate. The North American society would be much better off if we considered the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime as the terrorist act it really is. It strikes a blow against the very foundation of our law-abiding society when criminals armed with firearms can prey on law-abiding citizens and be released with little or no time in jail.
Society must take a much more serious attitude toward the use of firearms in the commission of a crime. The best way to demonstrate that serious attitude is to demand that significant penalties be imposed on the criminal. That would send a message strong enough to shrink the demand for illegal firearms and to help dry up smuggling. It would be much easier to reduce smuggling if the smuggled items were not in demand. Criminals would soon learn that they cannot use many aspects of the law and loopholes such as using young people in the commission of crimes because those young people are dealt with by the Young Offenders Act.
Enacting serious penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms is a key component of Bill C-236.
Another key component of my private member's bill is the repeal of Bill C-68. Today some of my colleagues will focus on reasons to repeal Bill C-68. For example, it will do absolutely nothing to stop crime with firearms. Its cost is much higher than the government promised. The stats used to support its passage have since been shown to be grossly inaccurate. The funds could be much better used. It gives cabinet excessive powers. It infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens to enjoy private property without government interference. It crosses the line into provincial jurisdiction. It provides police with the excessive powers of search and seizure. And it can hand criminals a computerized list of the homes that have firearms for them to steal.
All of those points are serious and deserving of many hours of debate in the House. However, I will talk about one aspect of Bill C-68 which may be more serious than any of the others. That point is based on the fact that normally law-abiding citizens have not consented to register their firearms and shotguns. When I talk to them most of them tell me that they will not do so. As with the legislation to enact the GST, Bill C-68 will have the rare distinction of turning literally millions of normally law-abiding Canadian citizens into criminals.
When the general public not only does not agree with legislation but believes it to be wrong, that lack of agreement creates a climate which broadly tolerates what some people might describe as civil disobedience. Firearms owners generally view Bill C-68 as bad legislation. I certainly agree with them, as do many of my colleagues, not only this side of the House but also on the other side of the House. I know many people in rural Canada and nearly everyone assures me that they will not comply with the requirement to register their rifles and shotguns.
We are already well aware that millions of Canadians have lost faith in our governmental process to such an extent that they do not even vote. Their parents or grandparents may have shed blood on foreign soil to defend our democratic rights. Nevertheless, millions are ignoring their right to vote because they have lost faith in government.
In addition to the falling percentage of voters, millions of Canadians see themselves as being so overtaxed that they cannot get ahead no matter how hard they work. There is a widespread trend of people doing anything they can to avoid paying taxes, especially the GST. We even have a name for it. We now call it the underground economy.
When I was a child the only underground economy was mining. Those were the days when the average Canadian regarded the responsibility to vote as a primary concern and no law was lightly broken. Average Canadians cared about their country and their government because they believed this country and its government cared about them.
Instead today a broad cross-section of Canadians believe we are politicians who only care about ourselves, not statesmen acting in the best interest of the country. That sad fact has become the source of many jokes. One of the most feared sentences today in Canada is: “Hello, I am from the government and I am here to help you”.
Due to the passage of Bill C-68 soon we will have buried rifles and shotguns in backyards all across Canada. Some people, especially those who suffered under totalitarian regimes in other lands, view their firearms as the last defence against tyranny. Others who learned to hunt with their fathers and grandfathers see firearms as a basic element in their family traditions.
Ranchers, trappers and farmers as well as sport shooters and collectors do not look at firearms as weapons for criminals to use. They look at them as tools and an essential part of their everyday lives. It is not only the first nations people who see Bill C-68 as a threat to their culture. For many, Bill C-68 is the latest example of the urban lifestyle and urban values being crammed down the throats of the people living in rural areas today.
Together with the majority of people who live in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap I see Bill C-68 as a sharp axe being used to hack at the base of the tree of our Canadian lifestyle. It is a solemn obligation of elected members of government to nourish that tree.
Instead we passed Bill C-68 which is helping to kill some of the most treasured aspects of our Canadian lifestyle. I believe every responsible member of parliament should work hard to repeal Bill C-68 to restore the Criminal Code to what it was before legislation was enacted and to pass tough new penalties for the criminal misuse of firearms.
As I mentioned, there are many other reasons parliament should repeal the act respecting firearms and other weapons, which is the formal title of Bill C-68 and which would happen by passing Bill C-236. First it was presented in parliament under false pretences. It was supposedly to reduce accidents by encouraging safer storage, but the fact is safe storage was already required by earlier legislation.
It was supposedly to reduce crime with firearms by requiring law-abiding owners of rifles and shotguns to fill out some papers and pay some fees. However the fact is that registration of handguns has been required for many years yet small guns remain the criminal's weapon of choice. It was supposedly to reduce the number of crimes in which firearms were involved. We have since seen RCMP Commissioner Murray write former Deputy Justice Minister George Thomson to take exception to how the 1993 stats of the federal police force were distorted to promote Bill C-68. Commissioner Murray wrote:
We determined that our statistics showed that there were 73 firearms involved in violent crime compared to the Department of Justice's findings of 623 firearms involved in violent crime.
Apparently some police forces consider a firearm to have been involved in a violent crime if a drug dealer happens to have firearms and ammunition stashed in his basement when he is arrested. Members of the House did not have such an interpretation in mind when they fell for the government's flawed arguments in support of Bill C-68. I will end on that note and hope everybody considers very carefully where Bill C-68 will take the country.