Mr. Speaker, I was talking about the hypocrisy of this Conservative government, which is claiming to table this bill in the name of preventing crime and specifically crimes committed with firearms. In the meantime, it wants to dismantle the firearms registry and it refuses to have stricter gun control.
To me it would be more logical to have an effective firearms registry and legislation prohibiting the possession of certain firearms—as the police are asking for. In fact, it would be much more effective to prevent the crimes than to reverse the onus of proof once the crimes are committed.
There is another aberration by this government which clearly shows that it is not serious about prevention. Most members in this House are probably faced with this situation in their ridings: currently, programs from the crime prevention research centre are on hold. Everywhere, community organizations working to promote crime prevention are waiting for the minister's signature to launch their projects. In my riding, Tandem, which is an organization that fights crime—by promoting prevention—is waiting for the minister's signature. Other organizations, such as Chantier d'Afrique, are also waiting.
If the government were serious, it would invest money and approve these projects, so that we can move forward in the area of prevention. It would also maintain the firearms program.
In this regard, I would like to quote some relevant figures that the Conservatives would rather not mention. These figures show that the gun registry works. Currently, 7.1 million firearms are registered. All the information gathered is far from being negligible.
Moreover, 90% of these guns are hunting rifles. Every day, the register is consulted an average of 6,500 times. Since December 1st 1998, a total of 1,154,722 guns have been exported, destroyed, neutralized or withdrawn from the Canadian information system, thus reducing by that much the risk of guns being used.
Experts are very skeptical about the effectiveness of the government's proposed measures to fight gun violence.
First, the bail system has not been the subject of as many studies as other aspects of the criminal justice system have. There may not be an answer for even the most simple questions, such as: how many individuals charged with committing a crime involving firearms are currently out on bail? This is a process that remains unknown, because it has yet to be the subject of empirical research.
According to Alan Young, a criminal law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, in Toronto, the reverse onus proposed by the Conservatives is a “complete shot in the dark”, because we do not even know if the current system is effective or not. The information is too fragmented to know the rate of recidivism or compliance, following court orders.
The need for this bill is dubious to say the least. The Prime Minister claims that 40% of offences involving firearms are committed by individuals out on bail. The Prime Minister quoted a police report which shows that, out of about 1,000 crimes involving guns or restricted weapons, some 40% may have been committed by individuals who were on parole, bail, probation or temporary absence.
However, according to Tony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, these statistics do not tell the whole story, since someone could be released on bail as a result of simple theft, a situation Bill C-35 does not address.
In addition, people accused of offences involving firearms are already faced with something like reverse onus. The question is whether the bill will make it possible to imprison a dangerous person who would not otherwise have been incarcerated.
Mr. Doob also said that Canada is not particularly lenient when it comes to releasing someone on bail. This is especially interesting since the Conservatives give the impression that this is a big threat, while the numbers do not seem to confirm that the system is lax when it comes to releasing people on bail. Statistics on incarcerations consistently show that there are more people behind bars awaiting trial than people serving sentences. I think this is worth repeating. Statistics on incarcerations consistently show that there are more people behind bars awaiting trial than people serving sentences. So we can believe that the current system does not disproportionately release people on bail.
In support of the point I have just made twice, I will add that according to Statistics Canada, in 2004, there were 125,871 Canadians in prison awaiting trial, while 83,733 people behind bars were serving court-ordered sentences.
I would also like to quote Louise Botham, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association. According to her, the court is already very careful in how it awards release on bail. She also wonders about how the bill before us will serve as a deterrent.
Studies show that mandatory minimum sentences have no deterrent effect on crime. I don't know why a reverse onus would.
It seems quite a stretch to state or to believe that a criminal on the verge of committing a crime with a firearm will say to himself, at the very last minute, that he will not do it because of bail conditions or because of the reverse onus of proof. That is not at all what goes through a criminal's mind when he is about to commit a crime.
In the United States, incarcerating an individual in order to prevent a crime is known as the incapacitation effect. At least one study suggests that hiring more police officers is a more effective use of taxpayers' money than incarcerating individuals.
Thus, the Conservative government, true unto itself, is improvising again in matters of justice. As is too often the case, it is legislating without really knowing what it is doing because it does not have any serious studies to guide its actions.
Its measures, which may seem appealing at first glance, challenge fundamental legal rights and principles without ascertaining beforehand whether or not these measures have real benefits in terms of safety. Nevertheless, we do know that some measures—measures that the Conservative government is not implementing—would have real safety benefits. As I already mentioned, the first is maintaining the firearms registry. We know it works and that it helps police officers to do their jobs. The government proposes to dismantle it.
The other measure consists of the crime prevention programs that I described earlier. All my colleagues have been through this. We are waiting for the Minister of Public Safety to make the money available. We do not need a bill requiring three readings and debates in committee and in the House for that. We only need the Minister of Public Safety to sign the authorizations for this money to go to community groups that are very good at preventing crime. It would be much more logical for the government to take that approach than the one in this bill.