Mr. Speaker, I am going to take a perhaps somewhat more radical approach and simply speak to the bill. When I go back to Surrey North and my constituents ask me what I said about Bill C-35, I am not going to say to them that I stood up and criticized the Liberals first, then the Conservatives, then the Liberals, and then the Conservatives again.
I want to tell them that I spoke to the content of the bill because this is about the safety of people who live in our communities. Whether we know them, whether they are our loved ones or our neighbours or strangers, it does not matter. Across this country this piece of legislation has the potential of keeping more people safe, and I do not think that belongs to any particular party.
Surely all of us want people in our communities not only to be safe, but to feel safe, and there is a difference between being safe and also feeling safe. I do take note of the comment from my colleague from North Vancouver that people have to know that a piece of legislation works, that it is actually going to work. He is correct.
I want to talk about Surrey North for a moment as it relates to the bill. When I knock on doors in Surrey North, people do not have a long list of things that are top of mind. I suppose if I spent an hour on each doorstep we would get to more issues, but we can be very sure that if I get to only three issues crime will be one of them, and very often it will be the top one.
Therefore, any step we can take so that people do not to have to say that crime is their very first concern is an important one, because nobody wants to live in fear. Nobody wants to feel that they are raising their children in an atmosphere of threat.
In the lower mainland over the last 10 years, we have had probably close to 100 young men injured and killed with illegal handguns, a significant number of them in the last five years. There are families and extended families grieving because they have lost a family member due to the number of illegal handguns on our streets. They are angry that someone who has injured or killed their loved one has been before the courts before or is out on bail for this very offence.
We have also seen that sometimes young children live in the home of someone who has an illegal handgun but does not keep it anywhere special. The last time this happened, we heard that the handgun was on a coffee table. The children pick up the gun. They do not know it is real; they have just watched a TV program. They pick it up and they fire it at their younger brother, sister or someone else. In the last case I mentioned, it was fired at a brother, and the brother died, so now we have a four year old who will live the rest of his life knowing that he killed his brother, of course not with intent, as he is four years old, but with an illegal handgun that should never have been there in the first place.
I have long since learned in my life that I do not know the only stories that are out there, so if I can tell those stories from one of 308 constituencies, there are many more like them.
I believe there are some very important parts to this piece of legislation and I think there are some challenges to following up with regard to this legislation. In the NDP's justice policy, we talk about prevention, policing and punishment. This is part of that.
We know that many firearms crimes are committed by people who are out on bail after having committed previous crimes with firearms. That is not at all an uncommon story. We can open the local paper, turn on the television set or talk to a neighbour and we will hear about somebody who has used a firearm and was out on bail from having used a firearm before.
Knowing that this is a tragedy for families and communities, huge police resources are required at this stage, in many cases, to actually take on this challenge in an incredibly vigorous and proactive way. I want to use the Toronto example for why this kind of legislation not only will make a difference but will actually save resources that perhaps can then be redirected, as my colleague has said, toward prevention.
In the Toronto example, in order to actually be able to find charges to have repeat firearms offenders who had been granted bail incarcerated, because many times these are repeat offenders and the police know who they are, the police were actually given huge resources from the province. They would follow each and every one of these repeat offenders practically 24 hours a day until they were caught, and they were bound to catch them with some prohibition or some breaking of their bail conditions. Then they could bring them back to jail, where they could be kept because they broke a condition of their bail. It takes enormous resources to do that.
By the way, they were very, very successful. They spent all that money to follow people and wait for them to break their bail conditions and then return them to jail, which means using not only police resources but the resources of the justice system, because obviously they have to go before a judge before they can be reincarcerated, and they might have to wait, et cetera.
What can change? It is likely that many of those judges, left to their own devices, would have kept those people because they would have known those people were likely to reoffend. Most people who commit a crime using a handgun do not do it once. They do it many times.
The legislation would ensure that when people were arrested for carrying an illegal handgun, for using a handgun during a crime, they would have to prove why they should be allowed to be back out. Nobody will say that they should. What would be the case? What would be the reason they would give for that? There is no conceivable, logical reason they could give that would make sense to allow them to then walk out the door on bail, free to commit another crime.
In the last federal election our platform called for support for reverse onus on bail for all gun related crimes. Therefore, we will support the bill.
Many people remember the tragic shootings almost two years ago in Toronto at Christmastime. Two out of three of us live on the other side of the mountains in British Columbia and not everybody always hears about what happens there. It is always interesting that people can always remember what happens in Toronto, and I was born and raised in Toronto, so it is nothing against Toronto. When this tragic crime happened in Toronto, a 100 young men were killed in British Columbia. That is why I so strongly believe that anybody using a handgun should not be granted bail.
I know thousands of people regularly watch the parliamentary channel. I am always interested to hear when I go home that people watch what we say. If people have just turned on their television sets, we are talking about establishing the reverse onus on handguns and bail, meaning the onus is on those accused to establish they are not a serious risk before they get bail.
Some people would say we should not use reverse onus. I think we have to use it very carefully. Reverse onus is used in other situations where the accused is already on bail for an indictable offence and is then subsequently charged with that offence. As well, for organized crime, terrorism, some kinds of drug trafficking, smuggling and other kinds of offences, reverse onus is applied. I do think it has to be monitored. We have to look very carefully at how it is being used so it is never abused. However, it certainly is not the first time it has been used and there are many precedents for this.
I will return to some earlier comments.
The leader of our party, the member for Toronto—Danforth, has talked for a long time about being smart on crime, which is why we have talked about the three streams being prevention, policing and punishment. With this legislation, which I support, other accompanying things need to happen and the Conservatives, the Liberals, ourselves and the Bloc must ensure they happen and it will take resources.
I do not want to be sitting somewhere in five year's time saying that the legislation is working well but we have just as many people, if not more, in the situation of being denied bail because they used the handgun. I want to see fewer people, not just good legislation, but a reduction in the number of people coming before the courts under those circumstances. That will only happen if we address the other things that are necessary to reduce the use of handguns or to reduce the involvement of youth, teenagers and adults in a life of crime. When I say “youths” they are sometimes as young as 11 or 12.
This is the kind of prevention at which we need to look. I know it is hard for people because they do not see it for 10 years, but it starts with how do we support infants and their families, young children and their families, school-aged children and their families, so those parents can do the very best in raising their children. We want the community to provide them with the best options possible for having things to do, whether it is kicking a soccer ball, going to a community centre or whatever that might be. Those things take resources.
I have talked about this for most of my adult life. I originally trained as a pediatric nurse and I have always worked primarily with children. If we cannot see an instant response to helping an infant and the family, then people move on to the quick answers, to legislation.
It is not that this legislation is not needed, but it cannot stand on its own. We cannot expect it to reduce crime by itself. It will certainly keep in jail those people who should never be allowed out on bail, and it absolutely should, but I do not want to see more people before the courts.
I know this will be difficult because we will not see results for 10 years. For politicians who work in terms, sometimes that is difficult. It is also often difficult for the community because it wants the quick answer to solve the problem. The community wants to feel safe immediately and they deserve that.
As members of Parliament, we have a societal responsibility to ensure that parents and children get the support they need. Maybe if there were not so many children having to, not choosing to, come home on their own after school and having all this time by themselves, this might help. This happens because there is no child care in their communities, and there will not be any new child care for them. If there happens to be child care, they are be unable to afford it anyway.
We know that gangs target children at the ages of 10, 11 and 12 because these gangs believe that the law will not be hard on children. The older gang members plan and recruit those 10, 11 and 12 year olds to commit those crimes. Those young children should not be mentored by gang members. They should be mentored by soccer coaches, people at community centres or whatever the activity, such as Brownies, Guides, Boy Scouts, Cubs. They should be the mentors, not gang members. We should not be putting children in the position where they can be mentored by gang members either.
The whole issue of what we do to prevent children from becoming involved in crime will also tell the tale of whether this legislation will also help not only keep people safe and keep people in jail, but will also reduce the number of people committing crimes.
If we are to pass the legislation, it should be done quickly. Perhaps an omnibus bill would have moved this crime legislation through more quickly. However, we also need new facilities and more staff and we need the judicial appointments filled because more people will be kept in jail. I expect resources will be provided to go along with that.
I support the legislation, but it has to go along with those things that will ensure we see fewer numbers of people, with firearms charges, before the courts because we have been able to reach out to them earlier.