Mr. Speaker, for many years now law-abiding Canadians who use rifles and shotguns for legitimate reasons have spoken out against the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry created in the 1990s by the former Liberal government.
Last May, this government promised to end the long gun registry once and for all. In the Speech from the Throne we repeated this pledge to Canadians. Now with Bill C-19, I am proud to say we are honouring our commitments.
We are honouring our commitment to Canadians, and I am very proud to say that I will be honouring a personal pledge I made to my constituents in Wild Rose when I stand to vote in favour of scrapping the registry.
The long gun registry was ill-conceived from the outset. Under the guise of urban gun control, the Liberals long gun registry really only served to penalize ranchers and farmers who required and responsibly used firearms as a tool to do their jobs. As we all know, criminals do not register their guns.
It is important, first to see this bill in context. The proposed legislation builds on a long string of law and order initiatives that extends back over five years. During this time, we have created the mandatory minimum prison sentences for serious gun crimes. We have created a new broad-based offence to target drive-by and other intentional shootings. We have given the provinces and territories more resources for law enforcement. This is to name only a few initiatives.
Canadians gave us a strong mandate to keep our streets and our communities safe, and that is exactly what we have done. In June we reintroduced legislation to tackle the scourge of human smuggling. Last September we tabled the safe streets and communities act. That legislation has a range of initiatives designed to extend greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society, while further enhancing the ability of our justice system to hold criminals accountable for their actions. It increases offender accountability, ends house arrest for serious crimes, better protects society from violent and repeat young offenders, and increases penalties for serious drug crimes.
Bill C-19 as proposed fits in with our effective agenda of tackling crime.
First, it ends the discrimination against rural Canadians for their legitimate use of shotguns and rifles. In so doing, it will eliminate the element of the current gun control system that is the most wasteful and ineffective.
Second, it will retain the tools needed to allow us to focus our attention against real threats to public safety. In so doing, it will free up substantial resources that we can invest to further bolster crime prevention and law enforcement.
I want to highlight evidence that reinforces these arguments, but first let me briefly explain why the bill before us is so necessary and overdue. It is no secret that Canadian taxpayers have long protested the exorbitant cost of the long gun registry, and rightfully so. Indeed, the state broadcaster, the CBC, has estimated that the total cost of the long gun registry is in excess of $2 billion. This is a substantial sum of course and it is a sum that we could have invested much more efficiently and with much greater impact in either crime prevention efforts or law enforcement.
Still, if the long gun registry actually contributed to enhancing public safety, perhaps a case could be made to keep it. However, the fact is that it has never stopped a single crime or saved a single life. This is not about having a system that is better than nothing. As the chief of Abbotsford Police said in his testimony before the public safety committee, “a flawed system is worse than no system”.
Defenders of the registry like to make the case that police consult the registry frequently in order to determine if firearms are present in a residence in which they were called to or are investigating. The fact is that the registry data is called up automatically every time a police officer runs a search from his or her cruiser.
That is what accounts for the number and frequency of hits on the registry, not the fact that police officers are relying on the registry for their safety. Police officers are in fact trained to assume there is a firearm or some other weapon on hand whenever they respond to a complaint. Indeed, it would be foolish of them not to assume there was a firearm present.
Imagine the consequences if police officers fully trusted the long gun registry to confirm whether there was a firearm on the premises, only to find themselves facing down the barrel of an unregistered gun that they could not have detected by searching the registry. As we on this side of the House have said repeatedly, criminals do not register their guns.
On top of the waste and ineffectiveness, the long gun registry places an unfair burden on law-abiding citizens in rural communities, such as people who use rifles and shotguns to protect livestock or to provide food for their families. The ponds and woodlands of rural Canada are a long way from the Jane-Finch corridor. Making farmers and hunters register their long guns will not keep people in downtown Toronto any safer.
While there is no evidence to support the long gun registry, there is plenty to show the long gun registry is ineffective. I will take a few moments to break some time-honoured myths.
First, most violent gun crime in Canada does not involve long guns. Between 1975 and 2006, for example, Statistics Canada showed that the use of rifles or shotguns in homicides declined by 86%. In 2006 alone, three times as many victims were killed with a handgun than with rifles or shotguns. These statistics are no aberration. In 2009, out of the 179 firearms homicides, almost 60% of those crimes were committed with handguns.
Furthermore, where long guns were actually used in violent crime, the vast majority of the firearms were unregistered. Between 2005 and 2009, for example, police recovered 253 firearms that were used to commit a homicide. Of these, less than one-third, 31% in fact, were actually listed with the Canadian firearms registry.
All this means that law-abiding citizens are spending time and money to comply with the law, but at the same time, and this by now should come as no surprise to anyone, criminals who use long guns do not follow the rules of the registry. This goes to the heart of why the long gun registry has never worked.
People who are willing to use guns to commit crimes or engage in violent acts are not likely to be the first in line to register their guns. In fact, it is quite the contrary. The result is an ineffective system that discriminates for no good reason against legitimate long gun owners and does nothing to stem the tide of illegal firearms crossing the border.
With all this mind, I will recap the provisions of the new bill and how it would address these issues.
The most important component of Bill C-19, and the one that has been so long awaited, is the end of the registration for non-restricted firearms. This will relieve the disproportionate burden on rural Canadians and free up valuable resources to invest in crime prevention and enforcement.
At the same time, the bill would retain the gun licensing system, which this government believes is the most effective form of gun control. Licences would still be required to own any type of firearm and applicants would still need to undergo a background check and pass a firearms safety course.
Finally, the bill would address a very important piece of housekeeping. As one can imagine, the registry has demanded mountains of paperwork from law-abiding citizens. This has been a source of contention, and now with the imminent demise of the registry, it has also become a source of concern. Canadians are worried about what will happen with these records. Will they be taken over by another government organization?
We know that the NDP and the Liberals, if given the chance, would overturn the will of voters and resurrect the gun registry. I am pleased to say that Bill C-19 would require the complete and absolute destruction of all records related to the registration of non-restricted firearms contained within the firearms registry and under the control of the chief firearms officers. This would preserve the privacy of all registrants and would give long gun owners the peace of mind they deserve after so many years of exasperation.
The proposed legislation is long overdue. It promises to eliminate a wasteful and ineffective long gun registry that penalizes law-abiding citizens in rural Canada. It would do so without weakening our gun control programs.
The vast majority of constituents in my riding of Wild Rose have long sought the demise of the long gun registry. In fact, in a survey that I did recently, 97% of them showed their support for ending the long gun registry. I know that many members on the other side are loath to admit it, but they would have to admit, if they were being honest, that many of their constituents have long called for that as well.
I would ask that all members of this chamber join me in supporting Bill C-19 to end the wasteful, ineffective long gun registry once and for all.