Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-10. This is a bill that will improve the safety of all Canadians by ensuring that violent criminals who use firearms to commit their offences will receive serious prison time, consistent with the gravity of their offence.
This bill addresses two groups of offences. The one group involves offences in which a firearm is used in the commission of another crime, namely, the so-called “use offences”. The second group involves the possession of illegal firearms, namely, the “non-use offences”.
Let me deal with the first group. Bill C-10 would impose mandatory minimum penalties where a gun is used in the commission of a serious Criminal Code offence. These offences would include attempted murder, discharge of a firearm with intent, sexual and aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, extortion, et cetera.
If a restricted or prohibited weapon is used in the commission of any of those offences or if such guns are used in relation to gang activity, a first time offender will receive an automatic five year prison sentence. Penalties will escalate to 7 and 10 years depending on the number of prior offences for the same or similar gun crime.
Clearly, this bill targets repeat and violent offenders who must be kept off the street for the good of our communities. It also provides a deterrent to youths who are involved in gangs, forcing them to weigh the consequences of their actions before engaging in crime.
The second group of offences involves the illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm. Some of the offences targeted include the unauthorized possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition, firearms trafficking, stealing a firearm, possession of a firearm for the purpose of trafficking in drugs, making an automatic firearm, or perhaps firearms smuggling. For these non-use offences, an offender would receive one year in prison, which escalates to three years where there is one prior use or non-use conviction, and up to five years in prison if the offender has more than one prior use or non-use conviction.
Among other things, this legislation is aimed directly at the gun trafficking industry. Virtually all gang related crimes we see across Canada are committed not by those who purchase guns legally and register them, but by people who purchase firearms illegally on the black markets or steal them from legitimate gun owners.
In my home province of British Columbia, it is estimated that gang related shootings or murders occur, on average, at least once every month. The rate of increase in gang activity in B.C. is astonishing. Most of it is fuelled by the drug trade, mainly in high grade marijuana, and carried out by young people with illegal firearms who have complete disregard for the safety and lives of those around them. This legislation will not only send a clear message that gun activity will have serious consequences, but it will also take these criminals off the streets for longer periods of time.
To place this in context, I would like to give several examples of some of the crimes that have recently been committed in British Columbia. In December of 2005, Laurie Tinga was seriously wounded by a stray bullet while watching television in her home. The 40 year old woman was the victim of a shootout in her townhouse courtyard in Port Moody. Police had reason to believe the gun battle was the result of a drug deal gone sour.
In October of 2005, two gang members were gunned down in Vancouver at a Vietnamese restaurant. Police believed it was a targeted attack carried out by rival gang members.
Just last month at another Vancouver restaurant, one customer died and another was critically wounded after a man with a gun attempted to rob an Asian restaurant. When the patrons of this restaurant attempted to stop the robbery, the gunman opened fire.
These gun crimes are occurring across the country at an alarming rate. What is more alarming is that too often innocent residents are caught in the crossfire.
I want to stress that the bill does not represent an across the board increase in mandatory minimum sentences. Rather, it targets crimes that are specifically related to gang activity, repeat and violent offenders.
This new legislation is especially good news for my constituency of Abbotsford, which for the past number of years has seen a dramatic increase in guns, gangs and gun related violence. The proliferation of marijuana grow ops and crystal meth labs in my community has meant a significant increase in gangs and organized crime.
As is common across Canada, our Abbotsford police force simply does not have the resources to locate and tear down every marijuana grow op or crystal meth lab. The ones they do manage to destroy are quickly replaced with others.
Since Abbotsford shares a border with the United States, it is part of a complex web of organized crime on the Lower Mainland. Drugs such as high grade marijuana are regularly exchanged for firearms from the U.S. These are the same firearms that are being used to commit the wide range of gang related crimes we are witnessing across Canada.
Although both American and Canadian border security officials are quite vigilant in protecting our borders and stopping the cross-border gun trade, there is only so much they can do when the same people go to prison for short periods of time and are turned back onto the streets only to take up crime once again.
The gun and drug trades are quite lucrative industries and lure a number of young people into the gang lifestyle. These mandatory minimum penalties under Bill C-10 will go a long way in discouraging youths from taking up this behaviour, but this government is also concerned with preventing young people, through community initiatives, from becoming involved in a life of crime in the first place.
In our first federal budget, this government invested $20 million in a plan for communities. This money will be focused on preventing youth crime and helping young people stay away from guns and gangs. I believe that both this bill and our prevention initiatives will work together to reduce the number of gun related deaths in Canada.
If we do not send a clear message to criminals that the consequences will now far outweigh the benefits of using handguns to carry out crime, gun violence will continue to increase. The clear message we are sending is this: be prepared to go to prison if a serious gun offence is committed, period.
I believe these penalty schemes will also be an important tool for police, who must place themselves in potentially deadly situations on a daily basis. The police will now be able to know that should the courts send an offender to prison for committing a firearms offence, that is not an offender they will be encountering back on the streets for a very long time.
About a week ago, three people, including an Abbotsford resident, were charged with abducting a young woman at gunpoint and assaulting her in Mission.
Also, on the same day, two men were charged with attempted murder in Abbotsford after a man was found shot and beaten in his home on Mt. Lehman Road. What a shame. What a shameful loss of life.
Abbotsford resident Roger McCormick was shot seven times, five times in the head, when a group of three men wearing balaclavas and black vests invaded his home with guns in search of marijuana. His wife was actually killed in that offence.
In January 2004, two Abbotsford youths, 18 and 20 years old, were gunned down on the sidewalk and seriously injured on Montvue Street.
In February 2004, the second nightclub shooting in less than a month occurred in Abbotsford. Two men entered an establishment carrying concealed handguns and opened fire. Luckily, the targets of the shots escaped injury.
In August 2005, a 24 year old Abbotsford man sitting in his car was struck by bullets fired by a man in an adjacent park.
I could go on, but I think it is clear that my community has a serious gun problem. I believe Canada has a serious gun problem.
In order to end the cycle of gun violence, this government is committed to fulfilling our election promise to get tough on serious criminals. We owe nothing less to the Canadian public than to protect them to the fullest. I believe Bill C-10 is the way to do that.
Effective deterrents, including escalating mandatory minimum jail terms, are an important step in reducing crime on our streets. So is choking off the supply of illegal handguns. By addressing both problems, we will save lives.
British Columbians and residents of Abbotsford are tired of watching criminals execute violence and get off with a slap on the wrist. Finally we have a government that is committed to the right of law-abiding citizens to live in safety and security. That is a promise we made during the election. This bill delivers on that promise.