Mr. Speaker, I think I am even sadder than the member opposite who just spoke to be talking about Bill C-19 for what is probably the last time before it goes to the Senate, which is overrun with partisan Conservative appointees. The Senate is supposed to be above partisanship but I will not waste my breath talking about that.
First, I would like to point out that I am one of the people who participated in all stages of Bill C-19. I was there at first reading. I participated in the debates at second reading. I sat on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which examined Bill C-19. This committee is not very aptly named, nor is this bill even related to public safety. I am not questioning the words of the member opposite who just said, with a straight face, that he changed his mind on the subject. I do not know what hit him but it must have been quite heavy.
From the outset, I have been in favour of maintaining the firearms registry. In fact, I was in favour of creating it. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to quickly forget history, and that is why we keep making the same damn mistakes all the time. We are forgetting why the registry was created. The firearms registry was created under Bill C-68. I would like to give a short history lesson. I would like to tell you what really happened, since the Conservatives like to reinvent history.
This bill was introduced because, in 1989, a deranged man entered the École Polytechnique with the expressed intention of shooting the young women who were going to school there. He had mental health problems, but whatever the reasons, this crazed gunman entered the school, targeted people and killed them. We must remember this. My heart bleeds for these victims. Yet since that time, the Conservatives have been constantly using the issue of abolishing the firearms registry to gain political advantage. They have turned it into their pet issue, as though Canada would crumble if we kept the firearms registry.
All this time, the parents, friends, sisters and brothers of Geneviève Bergeron, Nathalie Croteau, Anne-Marie Edward, Maryse Laganière, Anne-Marie Lemay, Michèle Richard, Annie Turcotte, Hélène Colgan, Barbara Daigneault, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Leclair, Sonia Pelletier, Annie St-Arneault and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz have not forgotten them. We have not forgotten these women either.
But that does not mean that the NDP proceeded blindly with respect to the gun registry. Our caucus examined the issue carefully. Some members did not want to change a thing, but other members from other regions saw things differently. We have to remember how the legislation came to be. When politicians are inspired by historic events like that one and begin a crusade to create related legislation, the result is not always well thought out. That is not to say the legislation cannot be improved down the line.
The goal was for our society, our country, to have a record of who owns guns and how many they own in order to ensure that the individuals have the right to own those guns, that they are storing the weapons safely, and that they do not intend to use them for criminal purposes. Is it a threat to public safety for a society to seek that assurance? If so, what a terrible society. This is not a perfect system, but if we have to choose between scrapping it entirely and improving it, I think we would be better off improving it.
Yes, it was expensive to develop and implement, but I am tired of hearing Conservative members repeat, ad nauseam, that the registry cost $2 billion.
Once and for all, can they stop treating us like imbeciles? The registry as a whole, and its implementation, have been exaggerated and decried by everyone. You do not, however, throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the Liberals did not know how to do their job. You try to improve things.
That is what we strove to do, on our side of the House. We listened to people with completely opposing points of view. We listened to those who said that the registry must not be touched. That is what we do in the NDP: we listen to what people have to say. We do not listen only to one category of individuals in society, as the members opposite have done on this issue. We listened to the concerns of hunters, aboriginal people, first nations and police chiefs. We listened to the concerns of almost all stakeholders so that we could attempt to eliminate the irritants.
Obviously, if you are a hunter, you do not want to be labelled a criminal for forgetting to register a weapon. However, what our colleagues opposite do not admit is that the irritants have been largely removed. There are now fewer complaints because of the armistice and the fact that there are incredibly generous time frames for the registration of firearms.
The group of members opposite see this as an opportunity to rejoice, as if abolishing the long gun registry were going to be the biggest victory seen this century in Canada. That is the plan, according to certain people on Twitter. I hope that the Conservatives will be humble in their victory because there are victims involved. I am not going to repeat the names of these people. I could speak about the Dawson College tragedy. The wounds are still fresh for those involved. We have heard that there will be a big party on February 15 because we will be gagged from that date onwards. We certainly will not have enough time to all be able to speak one last time on the issue. My crystal ball tells me that our friends across the way are going to silence us sometime soon. That is unfortunate, because there are still voices that have not been heard. I am not just talking about members. We do not speak just for ourselves; we speak on behalf of the constituents in our ridings.
The Conservatives are speaking on behalf of a minority of people and the National Rifle Association. There is perhaps no hard evidence that this is the case, but there is something fundamentally bizarre. As a lawyer, I know that when something factual seems to point to but one conclusion, even if not by direct association, there is a good chance that it will be fact. Given that the witnesses who appeared before us in committee are the same people who travel around the United States advocating that every American citizen should carry a weapon in their pocket, I can put two and two together and work out what truly motivates them.
When I talk to hunters—and there are many in my neck of the woods—I ask them what is the matter with the gun registry. The have told me that, at first, it was cumbersome, and that they did not know how it worked. They do not seem to really understand how it works. They also told me that, with time, they have gotten used to it, have registered their guns and do not talk about it.
In a similar vein, I can just imagine the debate that took place when the lawmakers introduced automobile licensing. People travelled by horse and buggy, and I am sure that there was not much registration. How did we establish the registration system when we began driving cars? I am trying to imagine the debates that took place in the early days of Confederation.
That said, we do not have to get rid of something just because it irritates people. After conducting studies and having discussions with various people who were for or against the registry, we presented some very reasonable proposals to remove the irritants.
From the outset, I have tried to understand why our friends opposite have mounted such a visceral attack on the registry. Thinking of the victims does elicit great emotions in me and I do feel very sad. But I can still take Bill C-19, read it and ask myself, what complaints do our Conservative friends have? First, they say that it does not save lives. No one here can confirm this.
When I asked the question in committee, it made the government's witnesses uncomfortable. It bothered them when I asked them whether they could tell me with certainty and with evidence to back their claims, that not one life had been saved thanks to the firearms registry. Chiefs of police came to tell us that they were using the registry. People in suicide prevention came to tell us that since the registry was established, suicide rates had dropped. Generally speaking, long guns are used for suicide. A smart person can put two and two together and realize that the number of suicides with a long gun goes down when there is a registry. The problem was that no one was able to tell me that the registry had not saved at least one life. Saving a single life is certainly worth $1 million or $2 million a year. If we can save a few lives a year, then so much the better.
Whether some people like it or not, the registry is that and more. I would not base my entire argument on the fact that the registry saves lives because often, people will counter the argument by saying that the registry did not prevent a man from gunning down women at the Polytechnique. That is the type of debate we are having. No one on this side of the House is claiming that the registry is going to prevent a mentally ill person from walking around with a legally obtained gun and doing whatever he wants with it. That is one of the Conservatives' arguments. However, evidence shows that the police have used the data in the registry in their investigations in order to find out how many guns a person possesses, and so forth.
After listening to about 10 witnesses who all had to answer the same question—if the registry saved even only one life—the Conservatives asked another person to appear. That individual came and told us with a straight face that, on the contrary, a police officer from Laval, from my province, had died because of the registry. The Conservative member said it himself earlier. It was the last straw. It is indecent to say such a thing. Not only is it indecent, but it demonstrates a total lack of respect for the person who died. There is so much evidence in this case. The people of Quebec know full well what happened. No one said that the police officer consulted the registry and determined that, because the individual did not have a weapon, because he did not have the right to own one, and because the court forbade him from owning a weapon, she could enter his residence, where she was then shot. Come on. How can someone say something like that? That is not what happened. A young police officer arrived at the individual's residence—and perhaps she did not have a lot of experience—and was the victim of a heinous crime. An individual who was not supposed to have a firearm had one. That is not something that could have been prevented, registry or no registry.
The government claims that it wants to protect public safety, but it is not doing the Canadian public any favours by using that kind of argument. I cannot tell the House that we will all feel safer if we pass Bill C-19. After all this time, all these debates and all these studies, the Commissioner of Firearms submitted a nice report. The government made sure that it did not send us the report quickly enough so that we would have time to consult it when we were examining Bill C-19. I encourage the members opposite to read that report, particularly those who will be called upon to speak on the subject, so that they have something to say other than the registry is no good and the data are not valid. Why are the data not up to date? Because the Conservatives imposed a moratorium. It has been a number of years since anyone has registered, but the existing data are necessary.
Quebec wants to have the data transferred to it. How does transferring the data to Quebec hurt anyone? The province does not want to use the data to criminalize people. It has no jurisdiction when it comes to the Criminal Code. The friends of the members opposite who are hunters will not have a problem. If Quebec wants to legislate in this area and ensure that people with long guns are registered and wants to know how many weapons the registrants have, then the data will be useful.
Clause 11 of Bill C-19 includes a shocking loophole: I could own a legally obtained weapon and transfer ownership to my colleague on my right, and the only question I would be asked would be whether I had reason to believe that my colleague should not have a weapon.
Some people might contradict me on this, but honestly, I do not really get the sense that he should not have a weapon, so I transfer ownership of the weapon because I do not feel like having it anymore and I need the $300. So I give the weapon to my friend. If the Conservatives cannot see the loophole in that, then there is a problem. It is not safe.
Let us turn to the Commissioner of Firearms' report. From what I know, the commissioner is not a hysterical person or someone who is out of touch. The commissioner's report includes facts and is based on factual data collected year after year demonstrating how the registry works and how it is useful. I would encourage hon. members to read this report, because having read it, members cannot in all decency rise in this House and vote in favour of Bill C-19 because we know what steps have been taken to address all the irritants. And that is all the hunters, aboriginal peoples, first nations, gun collectors and the rest were asking us for: to have a way of registering a weapon without it being more worrisome and damaging than necessary. Everything is there, everything is permitted and registration hardly takes 15 minutes. Hold on. We may want to prevent the proliferation of weapons in circulation, but we will no longer be complying with our international treaties.
I am absolutely stunned that our friends across the way cannot see all the problems with Bill C-19. I just cannot get over it.
They are doing this just so they can tell a few people in the Minister of Public Safety's circle that they went through with it. Some people have a visceral feeling about this. An athlete who appeared before the committee thinks it is appalling that she would be asked to register her weapon to take part in the biathlon. For crying out loud. I register my car. It is not a problem for me as long as it does not take two hours of my time and the process is simple. Every time we made this case to the Conservatives, it seemed less and less clear that registration was a problem for them.
In closing, there are so many things that need to be said. People write to me about this every day to share data with me. The public health authorities in Quebec are calling unanimously for the registry to be kept. This is important, and it has been proven that the registry has had an impact when comes to long guns.
I say to my colleagues once again, do not get caught up in the rhetoric from the Conservatives who like to amuse themselves by saying that the astronomical costs are associated with long guns. This is not true. The cost is for the registry as a whole. There are still other weapons that are included in the registry. The registry has not been abolished.
Some of the Conservatives in charge of the firearms file have no doubt been telling people that they will get what they want, and so, anyone listening now who believes those Conservatives is going to wake up with one heck of a headache the morning after the party on February 1. I guarantee it. There will still be a gun registry.
That $2 billion was spent setting up the entire registry. That is not the true cost since then. The cost is somewhere between $2 million and $4 million. When I calculate what has been spent on the anniversary of the War of 1812, when I see the millions spent on all kinds of celebrations for the Queen—though I have absolutely nothing against the Queen—I have to say that, in terms of logic, and as a legislator who wants her constituents to be safe, my heart bleeds today. What are we supposed to say to the people who worked from 1989 to 1995 to set up the registry? It will take nearly as much time to dismantle it as it took to create it. Wait and see how long it will take to destroy the data. That does not happen at the touch of a button. It will cost billions, and one day, people will talk about how much money the Conservatives wasted dismantling the long gun registry.