Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis for sharing his time with him.
I also would like to thank the members from the opposition, which is quite unusual, for some of the questions that they asked of my hon. colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis concerning whether there was in fact public support for gun control and the gun registry program and whether some of the associations that have publicly supported the gun control legislation, the gun registry program, the firearms registry program, are in fact supportive. I will address most of my comments to the public support.
We have heard much in recent months from vocal opponents of Canada's gun control program. In fact some of our opponents, with the motion that is before the House right now, are trying to accomplish indirectly what they were not able to accomplish directly, which is to destroy gun control and eliminate gun control and to eliminate the firearms registry program in Canada.
Canadians do not agree. Canadians continue to support the government's multifaceted approach to public safety that is intended to reduce firearm death, injury and crime in Canada.
The program improves public safety by controlling access to firearms and ammunition, deterring their misuse and controlling specific types of firearms. The underlying philosophy behind the Firearms Act is to prevent people who are a danger to themselves, or others from getting access to firearms.
The Government of Canada, as has been heard repeatedly by members from this side of the House, is committed to gun control and to the gun control program. This preventive approach to firearms safety is supported by a majority of Canadians. An independent Environics poll taken in January of this year 2003, not 1995, indicates that 74% of Canadians support both licensing and registration.
It also is endorsed by a wide range of public health and safety experts across the country. This includes the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canada Safety Council and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. This is to be underlined. This is public support because the overwhelming majority of police associations do support gun control and do support the gun registry program.
Notwithstanding what has been said by members on the opposite side of the House of the official opposition, these groups are among the many prominent Canadians who continue to push for gun control in Canada and who have spoken out in support of the gun control program that the government has put into force and into operation on numerous occasions.
In both January and February, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association publicly restated their support for the gun control program and its essential crime fighting tools.
In his remarks, David Griffin, Executive Officer for the Canadian Police Association, stated:
We know that there's been a lot of attention on the issue of costs, but it's important to realise that with any public safety program, there is a cost to ensuring public safety. The licensing of all firearms owners and the registration of all firearms are important public safety features of this program that have required a significant investment to establish. However, there are significant long-term benefits to these measures.
Police Chief Vince Bevan, Vice President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, speaking on its behalf, said:
The new law brings us in line with other industrialised nations and is an important part of a coordinated international effort to fight the illicit trafficking of firearms and organised crime... Improving the regulation of legal firearms is critical to preventing their diversion to illegal markets.
In fact, Canada is one of many western nations that is taking steps to create stronger gun control. The licensing and registration components are fully in line with other countries, including Great Britain and Australia.
While Canadians have rightly expressed concerns about the rising costs associated with the program, victims of crimes are pointing out that while prevention is not cheap, it is a sound investment. In the words of Steve Sullivan of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime:
I am alarmed that the voices of the victims of gun violence are being drowned out by the controversy over costs. We know from the polls that the majority of Canadians continue to support this law in spite of the costs, but the vocal opponents seems to be dominating the media and the political agenda. We are here to say we have fought for this law and will not waiver in our support.
Opponents of this program also argue that licensing and registration of firearms is just a big city issue. In fact, this program is helping to achieve safe communities, large or small, across the country. As recently stated by Tim Quigley, a law professor of the University of Saskatchewan:
The terrible irony is that rural Canada and the West, with the highest rates of firearm ownership and the most vocal opposition to gun control, are also the places with the highest rates of firearm deaths.
While the gun control program is still in its infancy, we are already seeing public safety benefits in the form of reductions in crimes and accidents involving firearms. According to Neil Boyd, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University:
The available evidence on gun control to date suggests that we can gain--and have gained--substantial benefits in community safety. Strengthening controls over handguns, rifles, and shotguns appears to be producing the intended results. Consider, as well, the relatively minimal intrusion of gun licensing and registration--practices that we don't even question for automobiles.
The Firearms Act is about enhancing public safety. It is about preventing firearm related deaths and accidents. Too many young people are injured and killed in preventable firearm incidents. That is why the public health sector has been steadfast in its support for the gun control program.
According to Kathy Belton, a co-director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research:
Guns kill more youth in the 15 to 24 age group than cancer, drowning, and falls combined. The gun control program is still in its infancy, yet data suggests it has already caused a decline in gun deaths and crimes.
Gerald Dafoe, Chairman of the Canadian Public Health Association, recently stated:
We should not lose sight of the fact that, every year in Canada, the social and economic costs of deaths and injuries from firearms total some 6.6 billion dollars. Moreover, given the number of deaths and injuries attributable to firearms, we believe that the cost of licensing and registering firearms compares very favourably with the cost of many other preventive measures in such areas as highway safety or vaccination.
There can be no doubt that the implementation of the Firearms Act has been very challenging and remains a challenge. The government is committed to ensuring that the gun registry goes forward. As a government we are accountable to Canadians, but we will remain steadfast that gun control is a priority. It is for the majority of Canadians and we will continue to do what we can to ensure that the gun registry program continues.