Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, presented on Wednesday, December 10, 1997, be concurred in.
At the beginning let me indicate that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Yorkton—Melville.
I rise today to concur with the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in as much as it attempts to make the unacceptable firearms regulations somewhat more palatable.
However I urge the House to vote against the fourth report of the justice standing committee. Valuable and insightful information regarding the legitimacy of the firearms statistics used by the former justice minister to support the regulations referenced in the committee's report have been called into question.
The competency of the Department of Justice and the current Minister of Justice to properly administer the firearms registry has also been questioned. The justice department's competency is being questioned by the police experts the former justice minister repeatedly referred to in the House to defend his ill-conceived firearms legislation.
To demonstrate the full extent of the apprehension expressed by the experts I would like to read directly from a letter addressed to the Minister of Justice dated March 30, 1998, signed by Mr. Scott Newark, executive director of the Canadian Police Association regarding “accuracy of departmental information concerning firearms related offences”. The letter reads:
Recently our office was supplied with a copy of correspondence dated July 21, 1997 between Acting Commissioner Beaulac of the RCMP and your deputy, Mr. Thompson, in relation to the above noted subject.
As I am sure you can appreciate, the contents of the letter are deeply disturbing to those persons or organizations involved in the C-68 debate and far more importantly to all of us that interact or work with the department of justice on an ongoing basis.
It would appear that the most senior management of Canada's national police force has found it necessary to urge correction of grossly flawed and misleading firearms data prepared by the justice department in relation to RCMP reported statistics concerning firearms used in the commission of crimes.
What is worse, as the RCMP letter points out, when the error became known to the RCMP following a request for an affidavit in relation to the material in the C-68 reference before the Alberta Court of Appeal and an attempt to meet with the Canadian firearms centre of the department was suggested, the RCMP were rebuffed in their efforts to correct the public record which they knew to be false. So serious is their concern that the RCMP appears to have taken the view that no such further data can be produced for use by the justice department's firearms centre until such time as this basic question of system integrity is resolved.
Assistant Commissioner Beaulac is also entirely correct to note that the situation is severely aggravated by the fact that both the previous minister and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police relied on and made public use of this false data during the C-68 debate and subsequent discussion.
I must confess to wondering whether the Alberta Court of Appeal was notified of the fact that it had inaccurate information before it once that fact became known, which according to the letter took place in February 1997. Failure to have done so would of course be deeply problematic, especially for the department of justice.
Our organization, as you know, is asked on a frequent basis to comment on the Criminal Code and Firearms Act provisions pertaining to the overall regulation of firearms in Canada. We view it as nothing short of imperative that there be a source of accurate, reliable information available to Canadians on crimes involving firearms and that the two leading public institutions in this area be in a position to guarantee that this is so. Failure to meet these most basic requirements will result in a justifiable lack of confidence among Canadians that our government knows what it is doing when it purports to regulate firearms in the fashion chosen.
Finally, and in our view equally seriously, an explanation from departmental officials as to how this massive discrepancy occurred is needed. Public policymakers have no choice at present but to rely on representations made to them by your departmental officials as accurate. In just the recent past our organization has felt compelled to seek independent legal opinions which were contrary to that put forward by the department. In addition, our warnings concerning the inevitable result of C-41's conditional sentencing provision and the victims evidence at 745 hearings and C-45 were ignored, only to be proven subsequently to be entirely accurate.
Both areas, as you recall, needed to be dealt with by amendments to “correct” what had been identified as unintended defects in the legislative intent of Parliament. This phenomena of unreliability, while annoying for us, is, of course, especially serious for the Minister(s) of the Crown who are called on for leadership in matters of criminal justice reform and who depend on the quality of information and advice given them by their officials.
Indeed, in light of the refusal of your officials to provide the legal basis for their position respecting the timing of taking of DNA samples in C-3, (despite independent legal opinion that they are wrong) and your apparent refusal to submit the question to the Supreme Court of Canada for constitutional reference, confidence in your department to properly design and administer a firearms registration system may be called into question.
In light of all of the above, we would seriously appreciate knowing what resolution, if any, has been reached concerning the matters raised in the acting commissioner's letter. We ask this as, like you, we are committed to ensuring that all of our decisions are based on accurate information.
The contents of this are very serious. Its suggestion of the consequences of proceeding and relying on information provided by the justice department of Canada and its officials, when we are not completely satisfied as to the accuracy of that information, are a grave problem facing Parliament if not the people of this country.