Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this discussion on mandatory minimum sentences.
It was our Liberal government that tabled a number of changes to the laws to deal with the recent increase in gun related crime. My riding of Etobicoke North has been faced with a lot of that type of activity. Unfortunately, we have had a lot of drug related and gang related crime. A little over 100 people were arrested in a police bust in Rexdale in my riding recently. They were allegedly involved with guns, drugs and trafficking and many other horrendous crimes. I was pleased to see them arrested. The justice system will now have to process those individuals and determine their guilt or innocence.
There has been far too much gun related crime in Toronto. That is why I supported our government's tabling of an increase in mandatory minimum sentences and a whole package of measures designed to deal with the increase in gun violence.
My colleague on this side of the House made a very interesting point. We are dealing with gun violence here, but in many other cities in Canada a gun is not the weapon of choice. I am told that in cities like Regina knives seem to be the weapon of choice. Nonetheless, I am certainly prepared to support in the first instance some measures to counteract gun violence.
What members opposite have not been taking into account significantly enough in my judgment is that we need to deal with this issue with a broadly based holistic approach. Our approach included putting more money into our national crime prevention program which works very well.
There are a number of community based programs in my riding where the objective is to try to reach young people. Many of them are from dysfunctional families, homes where one parent is working, homes where there is a history of abuse and violence. The programs provide them with an outlet after school where they can get involved in things like learning how to use a computer, basketball, arts and crafts, programs like that. The idea is to keep them away from the malls where they go after school and get involved with their peers in gangs and drugs and violence. They end up taking the wrong path instead of trying to become constructive members of our society. That is something we have stressed. Let me give the House an example.
In addition to the national crime prevention program that is under way in my riding, there is another program, Breaking the Cycle, which is funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. It works with young men and women who want to get out of a gang. It provides them with the support they need. It is very difficult to exit a gang because of the peer pressure. Besides trying to leave a gang, the young people may not have finished their schooling and may not be able to get a job.
The program is working very successfully. A graduation ceremony was held in January when 15 or so young people graduated. They are now taking the message out to their peers that they do not need to become members of a gang, that they can live productive and happy lives.
That is part and parcel of the integrated approach that our Liberal government proposed. It is not just a matter of locking up people and throwing away the key. We have to get tougher and I am supportive of tougher measures, but the measures have to align themselves with the charter. A provision in the charter says that the penalty must match the crime.
I will certainly be studying the bill before us today. I know the committee will be studying it, as will my colleagues who are more intimately involved with the review. I have to wonder if the provisions that have been tabled will meet the charter test because without that, we are wasting our time. We can pass all the laws we want, but they will be rejected when they are challenged under the charter, because the penalty will not match the crime.
Our former Liberal government introduced measures and indicated we would introduce measures before the opposition parties brought on the election. We could have had these laws passed today if there had not been an election. The legislation had been tabled and the policies announced to improve our witness protection programs.
I recall talking to the Chief of Police in Toronto, Mr. Blair, who is doing a fine job of trying to deal with some of the criminality in Toronto. He said, “We do not need programs to ship a whole number of people down to South America for plastic surgery and the like. We have some of those programs. We need programs to help people testify anonymously with the protection of the court”. We had worked with the various judicial authorities to bring that into play.
In my riding of Etobicoke North crimes are being committed but people are not coming forward with information. The police know there are witnesses. The police know that people know who committed the crimes but the police cannot get them to volunteer the information. In some cases we understand why they cannot. People are petrified of coming forward. Even though there are anonymous toll-free numbers, people will not come forward. I am glad to see that in the last while more people are coming forward.
We had proposed some enhanced witness protection programs. We also had proposed the reverse onus on bail.
What I hear in my riding of Etobicoke North is that when young people are arrested for dealing in drugs and maybe having an illegal gun, they go to the courts and they are released on bail and in some cases they reoffend.
We had proposed a reverse onus and it had some support. If a person committed a gun crime, the burden of proof would be on the individual who has been arrested to demonstrate to the court that he or she should be released on bail. It would not be the other way, where the burden of proof is on the court to show that the person should not be released on bail. That is something else that we had proposed. I do not know where that is in terms of the Conservative government proposals.
I was very proud that the prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, came to my riding of Etobicoke North and announced that we were going to ban handguns. In the political context of Canada at the time, that was a courageous move. I am sure he knew that the announcement of a ban on handguns might not reverberate very well in parts of rural Canada where guns have become a religion in some cases. He did that and I was very pleased. I can say that it reverberated very well in my riding of Etobicoke North where handguns have become a very big problem.
Some argue that this is the Liberal approach to dealing with gun violence, to ban handguns. Unfortunately that is how the media portrayed it. They conveniently forgot, as did the opposition parties, that the ban on handguns was a part of a whole package of policy initiatives, some of which I have just described: mandatory minimums; looking at witness protection; looking at reverse onus; looking at enhancing our community based programming. The media and the opposition parties said this was the Liberal approach, banning handguns, and they said that the contribution would be minimal.
I would have to admit that banning handguns would provide only a marginal benefit. I would concede that point. But when we are talking about human beings being gunned down in our streets, if we are able to save one life or two lives, then it is worthwhile.
I do know that banning handguns would have had a negative impact on gun collectors. Those people were the primary group who would have been disadvantaged, and it would have been unfortunate. I do not think the Conservative government is going to bring in a ban on handguns, so I am talking about it in the past tense. I think that is a fair assumption to work on.
However, some of the collectors who have purchased handguns totally legally have registered them, totally legally have been licensed to own a gun, and they have stored them in the legal way that they are supposed to. The reality is that in Toronto and perhaps in other municipal centres these criminals know where the guns are. They go in and use dynamite or whatever it takes to get these guns.
We know from statements made by Mayor David Miller and Police Chief Blair in Toronto that many of those handguns were used and have been used in violent crimes in the city of Toronto. So, is it not worthwhile to deal with that particular issue?
We know that handguns that are being used for crime are not registered by criminals. I think this is the point that really frustrates me. It fits within the Conservative Party's set of values to attack the Liberal Party in the sense that the gun registry was supposed to solve the problems with violent crime and gun crimes. The Liberal government never made such a claim. It would be laughable to make that claim.
What we do know for sure is that the police chiefs support the gun registry. Some of the rank and file police officers do not like it but on balance the Canadian Professional Police Association passed a resolution and it supports the gun registry. It supports the gun registry because there are about 5,000 enquiries each and every day from law enforcement people across this great country to the gun registry. Police officers find it a useful tool.
Is it the tool that is going to end gun violence in Canada? Let us be serious. Of course, we know that it is not going to eliminate gun violence in Canada but it is a useful tool.
We would think that the Conservatives would understand economics but they do not. There is a concept in economics called sunk cost. It did cost more than it should have to build the gun registry system. Over a number of years, the total if we add it all up over many years, the development costs are pushing a billion dollars. It could have cost less. There are reasons for that which most Canadians understand now and that is the way that the project was conceived and designed.
We think that cost overruns on major systems development projects are something unique to the Canada Firearms Centre or to the federal government in terms of the gun registry. Believe me, I have seen in the private sector more megasystems projects blown in terms of their budgets that we can shake a stick at.
Does it make it right? Of course not. When we get into a megasystems development project, we can have problems. We can have problems because we do not define the business processes clearly enough, we do not lock into place the policy quickly enough, and we may have a moving target which starts to escalate into cost overruns.
We also know that there are many gun users in Canada who deliberately tried to subvert the gun registry by submitting forms which they knew were wrong and then getting them back and forth, so they had to recorrect them and recorrect them. This was a deliberate step to overburden the Canada Firearms Centre with a lot of extra work. We know that this was a mischievous thing that was done.
That does not explain the whole issue of the cost overruns in the gun registry but the point I am getting at is that it is a sunk cost. Whatever has been spent to build the gun registry, the money is gone. We cannot bring it back.
Therefore the question is this. Is the gun registry serving any useful purpose today? Is it being managed in a fiscally responsible way? The answer to both those questions, and I hear my colleagues who have the right answer, is yes. It is because the costs have been managed down now to an annual operating cost of around $20 million a year. That is the cost of operating the gun registry.
The members opposite often get mixed up or deliberately try to confuse Canadians about gun licensing. I know that they are not thinking about disbanding the gun licensing. I hope they are not talking about that because individuals who want to buy a gun must go through a police check, determine if they are stable enough to own a gun, and then they get a licence if they are successful in that.
The Canadian Firearms Centre has rejected about 8,000 applications over the last few years because the people had some record of criminality or violence in the past, so presumably we should not get rid of licensing.
If we look at the total cost of the Canadian Firearms Centre, the annual cost of operating it is around $80 million, of which $20 million is for the gun registry. The other $60 million is for the licensing. There are 5,000 enquiries per day from law enforcement officers. Where they find it useful, and I know the members opposite know this, is particularly on domestic violence calls. They go onto the gun registry and it helps them because they know that if there are guns registered then they have a different problem if they are going to that domestic violence call.
Of course some would say that some people have not registered their guns. They should give police the benefit of the doubt. They are intelligent people. They know that if they go onto the gun registry and they do not see any guns registered at that home, it is not a slam dunk case that there are no guns there because the guns could be there illegally and not registered. This is not rocket science.
The point is that it is a tool and it is a useful tool. The police, rather than these armchair quarterbacks, are in the trenches day in and day out. They know what works. They know what is of value to them. How can these armchair quarterbacks decide what is a useful tool for the police and what is not? The police support the gun registry.
Conveniently, the Conservatives are saying that they will only eliminate the long gun registry. Well that is convenient because long guns happen to fit into the profile of the people who support them in their constituencies.
They say they will still register the handguns, but here is an interesting fact. I think I heard a misquote in this House earlier that long guns are responsible for more murder and suicides in Canada than handguns. One might say that does not sound right. Intuitively that sounds wrong, that handguns are the problem.
The point is that we know that in rural parts of Canada there are a lot of long guns around. Some of them are needed for hunting or whatever, and in many cases they could be registered, but the point is that in cases of domestic violence or suicides, people use these long guns to commit these crimes.
For the Conservative Party to conveniently say it is not going to register long guns, which we know politically is a very beneficial position for it to take, ignores the fact that long guns are involved in a lot of crime and criminality in Canada as well, so it is not a very good solution.
The point I want to make is that we must ensure that laws meet the test of the charter. We must deal with mandatory minimums, but we must deal with a whole suite of solutions. That includes local people and communities taking responsibility.
I am glad to see that in my riding of Etobicoke North, the local churches and community groups are saying that they have to take some personal responsibility and get involved in gun-related violence. We are seeing that happen. It cannot all be government. It has to be the people and their families. It has to start in the churches, in the gurdwaras, in the temples, in the mosques and in the synagogues. It has to start in the schools and in the homes.
We incarcerate people for a long period of time and when they come out, they are criminals again, so let us look at this in a sensible way and an intelligent way. I will certainly be interested to see if what is proposed today meets the test of the charter and whether it is going to get people off the streets who are using guns, who are involved in drugs and committing these violent crimes.