Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address some of the issues I raised in the question to my hon. colleague.
We have here in Bill C-15B more than 20 pages and more than 60 clauses of firearms amendments. That to me is a clear admission by the government that Bill C-68, the original bill, was a complete failure. In fact, most of the debate on this bill has been focused on the cruelty to animals section, yet the bulk of the bill is amendments to the Firearms Act.
On September 22, 1998, while tens of thousands of responsible firearms owners rallied peacefully on Parliament Hill to express their outrage over Bill C-68, the justice minister told a news conference that the debate was over. If the debate was over as she claimed in 1998, why did the minister bring in pages and pages of amendments to the legislation in 2001? If the debate was over back then, why is parliament now debating the son of Bill C-68? After six years, the waste of more than $700 million, and massive non-compliance, the government has admitted that at least 320,000 gun owners failed to apply for a firearms licence. The government has finally admitted that it made at least 24 pages of mistakes by using closure on two occasions to ram Bill C-68 through the House in 1995.
The insurmountable problems with the gun registry will not be solved by the band-aid amendments proposed here. The only cost effective solution is to scrap the gun registry altogether and replace it with something that will work, and when we form the government that is what we will do. We need to replace this law with a law that has the full support of the ten provinces and the three territories, the full support of the firearms community and the full support of the aboriginal community.
Six provinces and two territories opposed Bill C-68 in a constitutional challenge that went all the way to the supreme court. Now eight provinces and territories have opted out of all or part of the administration of the Firearms Act. This is criminal code enforcement, which they do not want to have anything to do with. The territory of Nunavut launched its own constitutional challenge in the summer of 2000. Now we have the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations launching a constitutional challenge. The Assembly of First Nations is so frustrated with the broken promises of the justice minister it is now considering joining the FSIN court challenge.
Some of the amendments are an improvement, but are too little, too late, to win the support of our party or the firearms community. In the next election we will be calling for the repeal and replacement of Bill C-68.
Before getting into any comments on the proposed amendments to Bill C-15B, I need to correct the misleading statistics presented in the House yesterday by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He claimed that the gun registry is somehow going to improve the fact that women are being killed with rifles and shotguns. The parliamentary secretary failed to explain how registering rifles and shotguns is going to stop these firearms from being used for criminal purposes. We have never received an answer to that although we have been asking for six years.
An article in the Toronto Sun on Tuesday of this week proves just how useless the 68 year old handgun registry has been in preventing the criminal use of handguns. It states:
Police found an arsenal and a stash of drugs after raiding the home of a man captured breaking into his former common-law wife's house with a loaded gun. The man faces more than three dozen charges after he was arrested with a .380 calibre handgun at his estranged spouse's Bathurst St. and Eglinton Ave. home late Saturday night. Police said he subjected the woman to 11 years of terror. She and the couple's two children are now in hiding. In a search of the man's Brampton home Sunday, police seized five loaded firearms, including a Tec-9 machine pistol. He was under a life-time ban preventing him from owning firearms.
Obviously the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary should be more interested in directing the scarce police resources that are in place to make sure that firearms are removed from the hands of the 70,000 people who have been prohibited from owning guns.
What are we doing instead? We are shuffling paper in the back room somewhere. What a waste of resources.
The Minister of Justice claimed that the registry was working well because the department had refused and revoked more than 4,000 firearms licences, making a huge leap of logic that revoking a firearms licence somehow prevents people from acquiring guns. It does not. As the Toronto Sun article that I just quoted proves, this type of Liberal thinking is fatal, flawed, because when it comes to protecting lives gun registration is useless.
If the Liberals are really serious about protecting the lives of women living in violent domestic situations, we need more police to vigorously enforce restraining orders and prohibition orders. The fact is that while the justice minister and his minions are droning on about the 4,000 firearms licences they have refused and revoked, the truth is they did not even follow up on these licence revocations to ensure that the guns were removed from people they determined to be potentially dangerous. All of a sudden we do not have enough resources to enforce that part of the law. How did revoking these firearm licences help if they did not direct the police to these very people to take away their firearms? How did revoking these firearms licences help? If there are not enough police checking to see if these people have acquired firearms legally, it is a waste of our resources.
The fact is that the totally useless, fatally flawed gun registry is burning up more than $100 million a year, which the police really need in their fight against violent crime, including removing firearms from really dangerous people, from criminals. Every year Statistics Canada publishes homicide and robbery statistics that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that as a policy gun registration does not work.
Here are some of the more revealing facts from Statistics Canada in its report, Homicide In Canada, 2000 . I will quote from page 7 of the report:
Of the 542 homicides in Canada in 2000, stabbing, beating and strangulation accounted for 58% and firearms for 34%.
Obviously violent individuals are the problem and registering a person's firearms does not prevent someone from killing another person.
Second, I would like to draw out of that report this statement, and I will remind members that the law has required all handguns to be registered since 1934:
Of the 183 firearms homicides in 2000, 58% were committed with handguns, 8% were committed with firearms that are completely prohibited, [such as sawed off rifles or shotguns and fully automatic weapons] and 31% were committed with a rifle or shotgun.
Obviously 67 years of registering handguns demonstrates that registration is fatally flawed as a way of preventing the criminal use of firearms.
The statistical evidence also indicates that the total banning of guns does not work any better if the government does not allocate police resources to enforce the firearms prohibitions.
The third thing I would like to draw out of the Statistics Canada report is this:
Despite 67 years of mandatory handgun registration, the use of handguns in firearms homicides has been steadily increasing since 1974, from 26.9% to 58.5% in 2000. Conversely, firearms homicides with rifles and shotguns that weren't registered dropped steadily over the same 27-year period, from 63.6% to 30.6%.
Without registration they dropped from 63.6% to 30.6%. It makes a sane person wonder why the Liberals would employ 1,800 staff and waste more than $680 million trying to register millions of rifles and shotguns when it will do nothing to make our lives safer.
The fourth thing I would like to draw from the government's own statistics is this:
Of 110 handgun homicides committed between 1997 and 2000, 69% of the handguns were not registered.
We have had the law since 1934 and yet people have not complied with it. Does the failure of the gun registry as an effective government policy get any more obvious than that? That one statistic alone should make us scrap the entire registry.
The report also stated:
In 2000, 67% of persons accused of homicide had a Canadian criminal record, and 69% of these had previously been convicted of violent crimes. At the same time, 52% of homicide victims also had a criminal record.
Obviously the Liberals hit the wrong target by requiring completely innocent farmers, hunters and recreational shooters to register their firearms. Obviously criminals are the real targets not duck hunters. The government had a choice six years ago and it made the wrong one. On September 21, 1995, Ontario Solicitor General Bob Runciman told the Senate standing committee:
In national terms, $85 million would put another 1,000 customs agents on the border; $500 million would put an extra 5,900 police officers on the street. The federal alternative is to use the money to register every shotgun and bolt-action .22 in Canada. No great brilliance is required to figure out which would have a greater impact on crime.
The September 11 terrorist attacks have shown us what a real security threat is. With few exceptions everyone in Canada knows that the threat is not 3 million completely innocent firearms owners.
I have a lot more material I could present but I would also like to talk a little about the cruelty to animals amendments in the criminal code because there are a lot of people in my province who are very concerned about this.
I come from a riding that is heavily involved in agriculture. Bill C-15B is a threat to that very industry. The amendments made after report stage have not addressed the fears and worries of farmers and ranchers across Canada. Instead of working toward the original goal of increasing penalties to those who abuse animals the government has put the livelihood of thousands of agriculture producers in danger.
Currently animals are classified as property under the criminal code. This designation is the fundamental principle of Canada's agriculture industry. The ownership of animals and the farmer's legal right to use animals to produce food comes from his or her right to own animals. Moving animals from the property area of the criminal code and creating their own area would cause farmers and ranchers to be under an unfair risk of prosecution.
This would be to the great joy of animal rights activists who want to test this law in the courts, and we have quotations to that, because it would have to make the farmer reconcile his or her right to own animals under the new status of animals under the criminal code.
I have spoken about the right to own animals as property. There is a good reason for that. Under our current constitution Canadians do not have the entrenched right to own property. Our democracy and economic system are based on the fundamental right that each person has the right to own and enjoy his or her own property. It seems that the government has forgotten the connection between property rights and economic freedom, between property rights and prosperity.
In communist Russia property rights were under the control of the state which led to no economic freedom for the individual. We cannot function in a market economy without the right for each individual to own property.
Animal rights activists who have hijacked the agenda of the bill want to use the bill's provision to violate the rights of a farmer to earn a living and to own property.
Farmers and ranchers would not be afraid of the bill if they knew that they had some recourse to defend themselves against malicious prosecution. If our charter of rights were to say that every Canadian had the right to own and enjoy property most farmers, and that would include myself, would not be worried about the implication of the bill.
The government and the former justice minister were confused on the aspect of animal welfare and animal rights. Instead of working toward tougher penalties for those who abuse and neglect animals and working toward the better treatment of animals the minister has worded a bill that would give more rights to animals in Canadian law than it does an unborn child.
The government has created a definition of an animal that is so broad that any living creature that has a backbone would be subject to this law. Yet at the same time the Government of Canada does not recognize the rights of an unborn child. What a twisted and demented conscience we have on the other side of the House.
There are other concerns that I have with the bill. Since it was introduced the Canadian Alliance has asked that the government put in a clause that would protect the traditional farming practices that are done on farms and ranches. People who care and are genuinely concerned in the welfare of their animals do these practices. They have been passed down from generations of ranchers and farmers. Why should we let someone who does not understand this practice deem it to be illegal?
I am not against handing out stiffer penalties to those who abuse and neglect animals. I am against creating a piece of legislation to appease a small group of people. The legislation does that. It appeases the animal rights groups by giving them a law that they can test in the courts and push the boundaries of what can and cannot be done to animals. That should not be decided in the court of law. It should be decided here in the House of Commons.
Our job is to create clear, concise legislation that leaves no room for interpretation. Bill C-15B would do the exact opposite. It would allow animal rights groups to use it as part of a hidden agenda to eliminate the fur trade, ranching and hunting. That is a huge concern.
A letter from Liz White, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, best illustrates this hidden agenda. She writes:
My worry is that people think this is the means to the end, but this is just the beginning. It doesn’t matter what the legislation says if no one uses it, if no one takes it to court, if nobody tests it. The onus is on humane societies and other groups on the front lines to push this legislation to the limit, to test the parameters of this law and have the courage and the conviction to lay charges. That’s what this is all about. Make no mistake about it.
Do we need any other evidence that they will use the vagueness of this law? They will use the provisions in this law to go after farmers, ranchers and those who use animals in a legitimate fashion.
We in the House have allowed a piece of legislation that has a blatant hidden agenda to make its way to third reading. I am sickened to see that the government did not consider our amendments in report stage. The bill would only punish those who need animals to earn a living. It would strip farmers and ranchers of a fundamental civil liberty, the right to own property. The government would do all this just to satisfy the animal rights groups while not addressing the issue of animal welfare.
We had an opportunity to create a piece of legislation that would punish those who abuse and neglect animals. We could have had the means to shut down the puppy mill owners and punish those who knowingly neglect their animals. Animal rights groups have used this legislation to turn the sights on the very people who care about their animals.
Farmers and ranchers do not trust the legislation. They do not trust the former justice minister and they do not trust the current justice minister. If the bill were to pass I fear that honest hard-working Canadians would be charged and put in jail for the simple act of trying to make a living. The government has created a monster and in the future we would see that most clearly.
I would like to make a few comments about the firearms section of the act. I have already mentioned some of the problems in my previous question to my hon. Conservative colleague.
The bill would give any designated firearms officer any of the duties and functions of a chief firearms officer. In other words the Firearms Act would give the CFO a considerable amount of power, even some of the powers of the provincial minister. The CFO in New Brunswick has designated a private eye as a firearms officer. Do Canadians really want private eyes running around with all the power of a CFO to investigate and harass law-abiding citizens? How will we know if the private eyes are using their powers as firearms officers to investigate people for their other clients and their own personal gain?
The bill would amend the definition of a firearm in an attempt to ensure that millions of air guns or pellet rifles would no longer be considered firearms under the law. The wording is confusing and the new definition may not have achieved that objective. Some legal interpretations say paintball markers would now become firearms if the amendment is passed into law. Is that not unbelievable? A number of lawyers, including some who work for parliament, have already offered different legal opinions on changes needed to make this section consistent with the government's stated intentions.
The standing committee needs to receive the testimony from firearms experts, forensic scientists and legislative drafting experts to determine what this new definition really means before it becomes the law of the land.
In 1995 the justice minister ignored the 250 amendments proposed by the Reform Party and it ignored many of the substantive amendments proposed by the Liberal dominated committee. Why after five years and $700 million does the government not admit its mistakes?