Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today because I believe that it is my fundamental duty to participate in this debate on behalf of my constituents who, like me, are concerned, shocked and upset by the very unfortunate legislative step that the Conservative government has taken by introducing its bill to dismantle the firearms registry as quickly as possible, and even going so far as to impose a gag order on this debate.
It is my duty to point out that I am also very disappointed that the government imposed a gag order this morning before the debate had even begun. This debate focuses on an issue that is at the heart of a broader debate on the type of society in which Canadians want to live. I am convinced that this bill, this ill-conceived plan to eliminate the firearms registry, will undermine Canada's public safety in the long term.
My constituents in Lac-Saint-Louis and the Montreal area feel very strongly about the issue of gun control. In the past 25 years, Montreal has experienced three massacres, all at post-secondary institutions. For those who are not familiar with the island of Montreal's urban geography, I will point out that these three tragedies occurred in a fairly small area of downtown Montreal: the École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal, Concordia University and Dawson College are all located within several blocks of each other.
Furthermore, I believe that there are only about 10 streets between Dawson College—where I myself taught some 15 years ago—and Concordia University. The École Polytechnique is clearly a little further north on the other side of the mountain, but all of these institutions are located within a fairly small area.
This, at least for me and my party, is not about the integrity of gun owners. The vast majority of long gun owners who I know are sterling citizens. They are community volunteers. Many would give the shirt off their back. They believe in community and in a safe community. They believe in safe streets. Some are first responders and I am proud to know them. That gun owners are respectable, responsible citizens is reflected empirically in the fact that 90% of gun owners have registered their firearms. In other words, despite their sometimes annoyance and, in many cases, strong opposition to the requirement to register their firearms, they register them all the same. That speaks volumes for their character. They are lawful citizens who do their duty. Some gun owners even voted for me, despite our differences on this contentious issue, which speaks volumes about the open mindedness of voters in my riding of Lac-Saint-Louis.
Why does the gun registry work? It is because of gun owners themselves. It is because of their deep sense of responsibility. I believe that gun owners' inherent sense of responsibility is reinforced by the requirement to register their firearms. This sense of responsibility further translates into a heightened sense of the need for proper and safe storage of firearms. There is a logical connection, therefore, in my view, between the registration of any object and the proper care of that object. If vehicles were not registered, people would feel free to abandon their old jalopies in a field somewhere at the end of the car's useful life knowing that no one would come knocking on their door later on to say, “Hey, you left your car on the street there, taking up space. Please cart it away or you'll be fined”. I think the fact of registering makes people feel much more responsible for whatever the particular item is.
It is most unfortunate that, over the years, the government, or the Conservative caucus when in opposition, tried to reinforce the notion and create a feeling among gun owners that they should feel like criminals because they were being asked to register their firearms. The government was wrong in its ongoing attempts to convince gun owners that a society that has a requirement to register firearms is a society that sees them as criminals. Even though gun owners are lawful and responsible citizens, the government should, nonetheless, talk straight to them. The government should make clear the legal and constitutional truth about firearms and that there is no unfettered constitutional right in Canada to bear arms. As a matter of fact, in the case of R. v. Wiles, the court stated, “Possession and use of firearms is a heavily regulated privilege”. The operative phrase is, of course, “heavily regulated”.
We have heard from the other side of the House examples of and references to gun owners who are farmers and hunters, gun owners who live in rural areas. The image that is projected is of people who are responsible and use guns as a tool in their daily work, such as farmers and so on. Obviously, that image is correct in many cases, but the government seems to be focusing on that romantic image of gun owners to justify its legislation. As I say, this is reflective of many gun owners in Canada.
I would submit that the type of gun owner we have in Canada is changing. It is no longer necessarily farmers who are working to keep animals that should not be on their land or off their land.
Jeff Davis in the Edmonton Journal of October 25 wrote:
The consumer tastes of Canadian gun owners are fast changing, as shooters eschew vintage hunting rifles in favour of the latest "tacti-cool" military-style weapons - many of which appear in movies and popular video games, such as Call of Duty. As a new generation of young men become interested in shooting, but not hunting, retailers are trying to meet the growing demand for sleek firearms. Canadian authorities, meanwhile, facing the repeal of the long-gun registry by the federal government, are worried about the trend.
These non-restricted, because they are long guns essentially even though they are replicas of military-style weapons, military-style long guns are referred to as civilianized versions of military assault weapons. In some cases it is possible to modify what are essentially stylized long guns into a gun that is more dangerous and would meet the criteria for being classified as a restricted weapon.
It is entirely possible, and it has happened quite recently, that a long gun is allowed into Canada and it is allowed to be sold as a non-restricted weapon, only for the RCMP on second thought to say, “It is a little too dangerous. It can be modified. We will now classify it as a restricted weapon. We had better get hold of those copies that were previously sold as non-restricted weapons”.
To give an example, the Norinco Type 97 rifle was initially classified by the RCMP as a non-restricted weapon, and about 50 were sold in Canada. The RCMP firearms directorate later re-classified the Type 97 as a prohibited weapon. Letters were sent to 50 owners who already had them, asking them to turn the new guns in to their local police stations.
As a matter of basic logic, if these guns are not registered when they are first sold as non-restricted firearms, how would the RCMP send letters to the owners asking them to turn their guns in? In this case, we can see that the registry would be useful.
Rifles and shotguns were responsible for half the police officers killed in the line of duty over the past few years. We have been talking a lot about common sense and intuition. The previous speaker said that for him it was a matter of intuition. I can understand that. There are some common sense arguments in debates like this because we are not dealing with hard science, we are dealing with social science, research in social science studies, so indeed we have to at times resort to a kind of moral intuition.
Let us start with a recent study by Étienne Blais and Marie-Pier Gagné of the University of Montreal, who studied the data and looked at the enactment of Bill C-51 in 1977, requiring gun owners to obtain a firearm acquisition certificate. They looked at Bill C-68 in 1995, which set up the gun registry and so on. They found, in doing their analysis, that these pieces of legislation were responsible for a 5% to 10% decrease in homicides committed with a firearm, depending on the province.
Studies have also shown that those who live in a home with one firearm have a higher risk of being victims of homicide. The risk quite obviously goes up if safe storage requirements are not respected in the household.
The Conservatives would say, echoing the rhetoric of the National Rifle Association in the United States, that it is not guns that kill people; it is people who kill people, and that removing firearms would simply cause a one for one shift toward another means or another weapon of homicide. However, this argument has been rejected by solid research, namely by Philip Cook in his 1981 study entitled “The Effect of Gun Availability on Violent Crime Patterns”. He said:
A decision to kill is easier and safer to implement with a gun than with other commonly available weapons- there is less danger of effective victim resistance during the attack--
I think we can understand the logic behind that:
--and the killing can be accomplished more quickly and impersonally, with less sustained effort than is usually required with a knife or blunt object.
Let us remember another thing. Homicides committed with a firearm are not, as the Conservatives would have us believe, premeditated acts. They are often impulsive acts committed under the influence of alcohol. This makes the safe storage of firearms and measures like the registry, which are intended to encourage safe storage, all the more relevant, in my view. However, there is an issue that has not really been discussed in this debate to date, as far as I can tell, and that is the issue of firearms and suicide.
We just had a debate on suicide a couple of weeks ago, in which members weighed in with very earnest and well-motivated speeches. However, in this debate on the gun registry, we have not heard much about suicide, at least from the other side. Suicide accounts for nearly three-quarters of all firearm-related deaths in Canada. Last year a Quebec National Institute of Public Health study found that male suicide rates declined notably following the introduction of firearms legislation.
As a matter of common sense, removing the means of suicide will naturally affect the suicide rate and the means of suicide can vary according to country. For example, in China and India death by pesticide intake is more common. Subsequently, the development of strict controls on access to and storage of pesticides and industrial poisons has resulted in a reduction of suicide rates in those countries.
The government also likes to talk about how it stands up for victims, yet l'Association canadienne pour la prévention du suicide, l'Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues, l'Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime are all calling for the gun registry to remain in place.
This brings me to another point and it relates to a point I mentioned earlier. We can get into a battle of duelling studies, we understand that. We are in the realm of social science. Sometimes the same set of data yields very different conclusions. Just a couple of weeks ago an emergency medicine academic, Caillin Langmann, published a study. He looked at the major pieces of gun control legislation: the 1977 bill that required criminal record checks, the 1991 bill that imposed mandatory safety training and a 28-day waiting period for purchase, and the 1995 long gun registry legislation. What he came up with as a conclusion was that he failed to definitively demonstrate an association between firearms legislation and homicide between 1974 and 2008. I would mention that the study does not cover suicide.
Members on the other side will be saying, “We told you so”, there is a study that says that none of these pieces of legislation work. One of the pieces of legislation that did not work, according to this study, was the legislation requiring a firearms acquisition certificate or, in other words, licensing in order to be a firearms owner. By this logic, the government should not stop at getting rid of the registry. It should be getting rid of the licensing provisions in Canadian law as well, but we know it is not doing that. I believe that, with all due respect to my colleagues on the other side, they are cherry-picking the evidence in some ways.
There are some people in Canada at the moment, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and others, who would like to see gun licensing eliminated and would probably use a study like Mr. Langmann's to justify the cost-saving push to eliminate licensing, which, of course, must make farmers, hunters and law-abiding gun owners feel like criminals, according to the government's logic.
What strikes me the most about some of the arguments I have heard on the other side of the House is the statement that has been made often over the last few months that the gun registry has not saved one single life. That is quite a sweeping statement. Now we are in the realm of government omniscience and absolutism. I could never make a statement like that about pretty much any kind of phenomenon that cannot be measured scientifically.
How do we know it has not saved a life? For example, in the Dawson tragedy the police were able to use the registry to remove firearms from a potential copycat who might have committed the same crime after witnessing what Kimveer Gill did.
Would the government admit that it is at least possible that there is even a 1% chance that the gun registry may have saved at least one life? I believe the members opposite speak in good faith on this issue, and any member in good faith would have to admit that there is a possibility. Then the question becomes, how much is one life worth? Of course, the government does not want to go there because that opens up a whole other can of worms, which is why, I guess, the government makes categorical statements like, “The registry has never saved even one life”.