Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the debate today.
The bill brought forward by the hon. member from the Reform Party is consistent with a long held position of the Conservative Party that the registry system under Bill C-68 is ill conceived and is in fact a reactionary piece of legislation that will not accomplish the goals it was set up to achieve.
Although the well intentioned persons who support the legislation have bought in the idea that somehow registering a shotgun will be an effective way for the government to respond to organized crime and violent crime, the sad reality is that this is not the case. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent by the government as a ruse to somehow hold itself up as being in favour of tougher legislation when it comes to the criminal use of firearms.
The reality is that the legislation focuses on law-abiding citizens. We have heard many members of the opposition and government members discuss who it will affect most. It will affect most farmers, fishermen, sportsmen, hunters, collectors, and individuals presently engaged in an activity which under the current law they are lawfully entitled to do. The legislation is now criminalizing with sanctions something that individuals participate in by their own free will, of their own volition.
In all reality one has to question the priorities of the government in the area of justice when it has decided to target law-abiding citizens as opposed to those who have been referred to on this side of the House as being the true criminals, those individuals who make the conscious decision to pick up a firearm and use it for an illegal purpose and not those individuals engaged in lawful activities which they are entitled to enjoy.
Let us get down to the root of Bill C-68. It is a tax on a law-abiding activity. The cost of that bill has become somewhat prohibitive in the minds of Canadians when a person looks at what it will eventually attach as a price tag. The initial assessment of the Minister of Justice who first dreamed up the piece of legislation was to be in the range of $85 million. Within months of its passage and movement in the direction of the gun registry it became clear this was not possible.
By September, the opening session of this year, 1998, the tab had run up to $133.1 million. As we approach the start-up date of December 1, one can only assume that it is in the range of $200 million. As the hon. member for Wild Rose mentioned there are estimates in the range of $500 million to $1 billion, to which he received a lot of heckling and acrimony from the government side.
How much does it cost in human life? Not one iota of evidence suggests that the legislation will save lives. Not one bit of linkage, statistical or otherwise, shows that registering shotguns will somehow save lives. That is simply not the case.
The police reaction to Bill C-68 is quite interesting. There have been statistics from the Canadian Police Association. The Canadian Chiefs of Police have spoken in favour of it. However, frontline police officers, those who are tasked with administering and enforcing the legislation, will tell us very quickly that they would far rather spend their time and efforts fighting real crime, not going with warrants to individual houses based on some premise that they might have a gun stored there illegally or that they might have an unregistered gun. They would far rather spend their time and efforts fighting real crime, not going with warrants to individual houses based on some premise that they might have a gun stored there illegally or that they might have, more important, to tie it to the legislation, an unregistered gun. It will become an overbureaucratic, time consuming exercise. Police officers admit they could spend their time in a far more effective and worthwhile effort helping to keep Canadian streets free from crime.
One questions the priorities. One questions the emphasis the government has placed on Bill C-68. Let us talk about how the bill was originally sold to the general public. There were tremendous statistics showing that the criminal use of shotguns and long guns was impacting on a rise in violent crime. The assistant commissioner of the RCMP wrote to the government and said “Wait a minute. These statistics are wrong. This is not true”.
These statistics were spun to effectively support the government's position that these guns had to be registered. These statistics were wrong. They were grossly exaggerated 10 or 100 times. The same statistics were used in the Supreme Court of Alberta in arguing a case which favoured the government by a slim three to two majority. It has now been appealed further to the Supreme Court of Canada. It begs the question why the government is to go ahead with the registry on December 1 knowing that it is before the courts?
It is always possible when a case goes before the court that judges in their wisdom decide legislation is unconstitutional. It appears that more and more of the provinces and the territories are joining in this effort, this court action, to somehow question the government priority on the issue. If that happens, why would we spend more money? It is another blatant waste of money by the government, throwing bad money after bad to somehow preempt the court. One has to question why the government is choosing to do this, knowing that a court challenge is pending.
It is interesting to note the absence of members of the NDP from this debate. They have been all over the board when it comes to gun registry. It would have been interesting to hear their remarks with respect to this bill.
The spin doctoring that has taken place is something of note. It is increasingly discouraging for Canadians to hear the government misquote statistics and their wishes in the Chamber and outside the Chamber when it comes to gun registry. One can always find statistics to support a position. That is not a difficult thing to do. However when one goes into the court of public opinion, one hears a completely different version of what Canadians want with respect to gun registry.
I want to be very clear in stating that the Progressive Conservative Party is very much in favour of gun control and gun registry, for that matter, when it comes to pistols, the weapon of choice, but registering long guns is simply asinine. It is going in the wrong direction when it comes to trying to fight crime, organized crime or otherwise.
Efforts should be put into shoring up our borders, into putting more money into policing budgets which we know have been drastically cut, and into better legislation aimed at organized crime or more sanctions for the criminal use of firearms. I am sure Canadians would applaud the government for those efforts if it were moving in that direction, but that is not the case.
The spin doctoring that has gone on is remarkable. The government has become very good at it. It has high priced individuals who spin its positions and tell Canadians effectively what it wants Canadians to believe. This is incredibly irresponsible on the part of the government.
The benefits of Bill C-68 are very negligible. One only has to look again at the government's use of statistics. Where are the statistics the government is relying on to say that it will save lives? They are completely absent from the debate because they do not exist. Is that not what it is all about? Should criminal justice not be about protecting people and saving lives?
Bill C-68 does not measure up. It does not meet those requirements. That is why we are supporting the private member's bill that has been brought forward. Let us end it now. Let us stop spending money and throwing bad money after bad to try to register long arms and shotguns that are not weapons of choice when it comes to crime.
The cost is only one aspect of the legislation, the cost and the use the government has made of these statistics. Thousands and thousands of Canadians appeared on Parliament Hill at the beginning of this session to express their outrage as to what would happen with this tax, this burdensome bureaucracy that will be put in place.
Bill C-68 is not indicative of what Canadians want. If anything, Canadians are crying out for a system that is simpler, more direct and delivers what it is supposed to deliver to Canadians.
Bill C-68 certainly does not deliver justice. It creates a false expectation for police and citizens. Police officers are already labouring under a CPIC system that they cannot rely on to be accurate. To suggest that we will have a national gun registry which will prevent a police officer from going to a house and knocking on the door, knowing there is or is not a gun behind that door, is completely asinine. It will not give the confidence police officers need to carry out their task.
Those are the reasons I put forward to support this private member's bill and I urge other members, particularly my colleagues in the NDP, to do the same.