Mr. Speaker, I want to first just repeat the quote that I gave yesterday, from our former leader, the late Jack Layton, on this very issue given in August 2010 because it is an important context in which we make our position clear on the long gun registry and on this bill now before the House.
Stopping gun violence has been a priority for rural and urban Canadians. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to sit down with good will and open minds. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to build solutions that bring us together. But that sense of shared purpose has been the silent victim of the gun registry debate.
[The Prime Minister] has been no help at all. Instead of driving for solutions, he has used this issue to drive wedges between Canadians...[The Conservatives] are stoking resentments as a fundraising tool to fill their election war chest. [The Prime Minister] is pitting Canadian region against Canadian region with his “all or nothing show-down”.
This is un-Canadian. This kind of divisiveness, pitting one group against another is the poisonous politics of the United States. Not the nation-building politics of Canada.
That is an important starting point for our position because the long gun registry has invoked debate in this country. However, contrary to what was recently said this morning by the Minister of Public Safety, who said that there was no valid public safety reason for the gun registry or for the information contained therein, there are contrary positions stated by those who are entrusted with law enforcement in this country.
For example, Chief William Blair, chief of police in Toronto and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said:
The registry gives officers information that keeps them safe. If the registry is taken from us, police officers may guess, but they cannot know. It could get them killed.
Chief Daniel Parkinson, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said:
Scrapping the federal Firearms Registry will put our officers at risk and undermine our ability to prevent and solve crimes.
On behalf of victims, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Sue O'Sullivan, said:
Though there are varying points of view, the majority of victims’ groups we have spoken with continue to support keeping the long gun registry
So what is the solution? We have proposed to make substantial amendments to make the long gun registry more in keeping with the concerns of rural Canadians, in particular, and also aboriginal Canadians. We want to see these legitimate concerns addressed while ensuring that police have the tools that they need to keep our streets safe.
We have been trying to find a way to address the problems with this registry but also further strengthen gun control laws. We want to continue to bring Canadians together and to find solutions, but we are dealing with the wedge politics of the Conservative government here in this House.
The Conservatives have added a new challenge. The challenge before us here is to repair the damage done by this divisiveness and to bring people together. However, we also have a concern as to the new element being added in this legislation, which has been in neither the legislation that private members opposite have brought forward here, nor in a Senate bill last year. That is the element of the reckless and irresponsible destruction of records that are valuable for public safety in this country.
Section 29 of this act would provide for the destruction of records, what we have referred to as a billion dollar bonfire. A considerable amount of public money has been allocated and used in building this information and database.
The RCMP was the holder of the existing underlying database, meaning description of the firearms, the serial numbers and the owners' names and addresses for currently registered, non-restricted firearms. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wrote to the Minister of Public Safety asking that it be transferred from the firearms registry to the Canadian National Firearms Tracing Centre, still within the RCMP IT infrastructure, and be available to Canadian police as a searchable resource through the CPIC and NPS network.
They regard this as an extremely important piece of information that would support their efforts to fight crime and to trace firearms. They also say that one of the things that has been omitted from this legislation is a requirement for businesses to keep records of the sales of firearms.
We see, when we watch police shows from the United States, how police trace that information by going to the business owners who sell guns to try to find guns that have been involved in crimes. We need that information to be available as well.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has proposed that businesses keep a record of sales of non-restricted firearms from the importer right to the first retail sale, and that it be reinstituted. It was there before the firearms registry went in, and the government is not only recklessly getting rid of the information it has but is also not making it a requirement to keep track of guns in the future.
Another thing that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also points out is that this base of records is extremely valuable to Canada to allow it to live up to the obligations it has taken on in international agreements and arrangements to facilitate crime gun tracing, particularly with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The association also wants to ensure that the firearms import and export regulations also be brought in line to ensure that these records are available in the tracing centre.
This is being ignored by the government. It is taking a slash and burn approach. It is slashing the protections that are there and is making no effort to improve the system that has caused some concern and irritation to rural and aboriginal Canadians, but it maintains the licensing system, because I think even this government recognizes that gun control is an important public good and that Canadians want to maintain it.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the New Democrats want to ensure as well that we have a strong connection between the transfers of firearms to ensure that when firearms are transferred from one person to another, they are certain to be given to someone who is a valid licence holder.
We put forth a number of recommendations in the past, and we will be putting them forth in the form of amendments to the bill. We put forth suggestions to address problems with the registry while maintaining its value as a public safety tool.
We want to ensure that there is a legal guarantee for aboriginal treaty rights so that aboriginals are not treated contrary to their aboriginal rights. We want to prevent the release of identifying information about gun owners, except to protect public safety or by court order or by law, and we have had instances.
The Conservatives complain about the privacy issue, but they were the ones who released the data in 2009 for public opinion surveys, contrary to the notions of privacy that most Canadians have. We would want to make that illegal.
A continuing irritation of people is the criminalizing of the behaviour of law-abiding Canadians. We would propose not to make the failure to register for a first-time registration an offence, so that people who register their guns do not have to worry that by registering a gun, they will expose themselves to a criminal charge because they have not registered in the past. We would decriminalize the first-time registration of long guns, making this a one-time exemption so that guns could be registered and we would have a proper registry.
These are some of the things that have been serious concerns of Canadians over the last 10 or 15 years in dealing with gun registration.
The cost was also a factor, and the government has made regulatory changes to make registration free. We would want to ensure that it is in legislation so that no cabinet could change it without bringing it to the House. We would enshrine it in legislation so that gun owners would never be charged for registration of their guns.
I mentioned the issue of protection of privacy. We would also deal with the question of inherited guns. That issue has been raised on a number of occasions. People inherit guns through the death of a gun owner; family members inherit guns either by a will or through the administration of the estate. Sometimes it takes a long time to go through that process, so we would have a grace period for inherited long guns.
We also have concerns about making sure that only long guns that are used for hunting or sport would be classified as non-restricted. There are certain kinds of guns that manage to get through the system because of a loophole in how the new guns are now classified, so changes have to be made to protect Canadians.
The Ruger Mini-14, which was used at the Polytechnique in Montreal, was allowed to be classified as non-restricted. We want to make sure that the onus is put on gun manufacturers or importers to prove that the new guns are only for the purposes of hunting or sport shooting if they want them to be classified as non-restricted.
There are also loopholes with respect to business importation. We have the Canada Border Services Agency not sharing detailed information about guns imported under business licences with the registry, with the effect that guns end up on the black market.
Let me talk about the reckless and irresponsible decision by the government to destroy the information about guns. That information has been collected lawfully by the government, police forces and firearms registries across this country, and we are told by the chiefs of police that it would be valuable. We are told by the Province of Quebec that it wants this information to be used for public safety purposes in Quebec. It has said loud and clear that it has concerns about what the government is doing. This information has been collected with a great deal of taxpayers' money, and it is information that it wants to ensure is available for public safety purposes.
This is extremely valuable, useful information. On the other side some will argue that it is not complete. No, it is not complete. It is not complete because there has been a whole series of amnesties while the government did nothing to solve any of the problems that existed or to deal with the concerns people had. Instead the government used it as a political football, a political fundraising activity.
We want to see public safety protected. We want to see that the gun registry is improved. We want to see solutions that work for Canadians and we are opposed to this legislation. We want to ensure that any problems are fixed. We want to ensure that the information and the underlying data behind the registry are protected. We want to see amendments made to this legislation to try to bring Canadians together, instead of providing opposition, providing division, providing more concern by Canadians about their safety from guns.
We are at the point where we have the lowest rate of homicide in the country in 45 years.
I want to make an amendment before I finish. I move, seconded by the member for Gatineau:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, because it:
a) destroys existing data that is of public safety value for provinces that wish to establish their own system of long-gun registration, which may lead to significant and entirely unnecessary expenditure of public funds;
b) fails to respond to the specific request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for use of existing data in the interest of public safety; and
c) fails to strike a balance between the legitimate concerns of rural and Aboriginal Canadians and the need for police to have appropriate tools to enhance public safety.