Mr. Speaker, I cannot say I take any pleasure in rising to speak at report stage on Bill C-19, because I believe this bill represents the triumph of ideology and wedge politics over evidence and public safety.
Over the last 30 years, Canada has introduced numerous measures to tighten firearms control and has produced a system that has served us well, the twin system of licensing owners and registration of weapons. Why did we come to this system?
There are three main reasons that we have slowly but surely tightened our control over firearms in this country. Certainly there were spectacular tragedies, like those at École Polytechnique in Montreal, which caused us to pay the due attention we should have paid much earlier to this crisis. My colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry talked in very personal terms about some of the suffering that was caused to students and their families in Montreal. Those victims and families worked very hard to get the government to set up this gun registry to try to prevent situations like this one in the future.
There were two other factors that were also at play. One of those was the very frequent use of firearms in domestic violence, which I will come back to in a second. The other was the very frequent use of firearms in suicides, particularly youth suicides. What is significant about firearms and suicides is that firearms are final. If people take pills and then change their mind, they can call an ambulance. If someone slashes his or her wrists, there is a chance. When a firearm is used to commit suicide, it is over.
These three things together cause us as a society to say we can and must do better in the control of firearms.
What evidence do we have of the effectiveness of this registry? In the short time I have, I want to talk about three pieces of very important evidence. The other side likes to say there is no evidence, and I will come back to talk about what I think they are doing in misusing information.
My first piece of evidence is the very strong support of police for the gun registry. We all know that long guns have killed about 80% of the officers killed on duty in this country. However, I do not think that fact is what has caused police organizations to support the bill. We also know they access the system about 14,000 times a day. The other side tries to discredit that by saying it is automatic and that it does not provide good information. From my personal experience as a police board member, I know police do not do things that waste their time; they are too busy. So if they are accessing the registry there is a good reason to do so. Police believe it to be a very useful tool. This was found in the RCMP evaluation of the Canadian firearms program in February 2010.
Also, almost without exception, police leaders and police associations support the gun registry, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Police Boards. I sit on the public safety committee where I am the vice-chair. What the government tried to do on that committee was to find individual police officers and individual researchers who would say they did not support the registry, when the overwhelming evidence was that police organizations, police leaders and those who work in the field of criminal justice find it to be effective.
The second piece of evidence we have comes from domestic violence. One in three women in this country killed by their husbands is shot, and 88% of them are shot with legally owned registered rifles and shotguns. Over the past five years, courts have ordered the revocation of 9,950 permits to own firearms. This has allowed police to go to those residences and pick up the firearms. While the other side said there was no evidence of the registry preventing deaths, I believe there are strong indications that many deaths were prevented by the seizure of arms from the 9,950 people the courts had determined were unstable and therefore should not have firearms in their possession. If this bill passes, the police will no longer be able to go with confidence to residences and pick up all the firearms there, only those the people wish to tell the police officer about.
As for the results, there are good statistics in this area. Gun-related spousal homicides are down 50% since the introduction of the registry. This is an undeniable fact. The use of long guns in suicide has also decreased by 69% since the introduction of the registry, with no evidence of a substitution of other methods. As I mentioned, the problem with guns and suicide is the finality of it. The Institut national de santé public du Québec estimates that 2,100 lives have been saved since the implementation of the registry. An excellent example of sophistry is the claim that we cannot prove a connection between those two. However, we can prove a correlation between the two and we must rely on these kinds of correlations.
Sure there have been concerns about the registry. There was definitely mismanagement of its implementation by the Liberals, long delays and huge cost overruns. When the Conservatives on the other side cite their cost figures, that is like water under the bridge. This is money that was, yes, wasted by the Liberal government, but it has already been spent and cannot be recovered.
There have been some other concerns about rural residents and first nations, and I certainly heard from them in my riding, especially about the criminalization of a first offence for failure to register a firearm. On this side of the House, we argued that could easily be fixed, and we suggested amendments to do that.
There have been concerns about the accuracy of a firearms registry. Again, on the other side, the members like to select their evidence and choose an earlier time before most of those problems with data entry were corrected. We have had more recent reports showing that most of the data which is entered is very correct. There is a very small 1% to 2% error rate. There are holes in the registry, as my hon. friend from Beauport—Limoilou said, because of the amnesties that had been granted, which created some doubt among Canadians about whether they were required to comply with this legislation. Most recent, that amnesty has been extended to 2013.
In 2010 the NDP introduced amendments to address those kinds of concerns. Four of those were put forward on this side of the House.
The first of those was decriminalizing the first-time failure to register. This would make a one-time failure to register a non-criminal ticket. However, a persistent refusal to register firearms would have remained a criminal offence. That is a good compromise, and in talking with people in my riding, they felt that would have solved their problem.
Second, the NDP suggested amendments in 2010 that would have placed a permanent ban in legislation on having a charge for registration. Therefore, we would take away a fee. I heard from first nations in my riding that the registration fees were a barrier for those who were involved in subsistence hunting. Taking away that fee, as we proposed in 2010, would have solved that problem.
A third problem was there were, apparently, releases of private information for the registry. We proposed amending the legislation so information could only be released for use in law enforcement or in court cases.
Finally, we proposed an amendment which said that we would add a legal guarantee of aboriginal treaty rights to the gun registry.
Instead of taking those compromises and trying to work with the opposition, the government proceeded with the complete abolition of the gun registry and added on, in this new version, the destruction of the data.
As the Conservatives have a majority in the House and are determined to proceed, we have been forced, at report stage, to suggest amendments to fix the worst parts of the bill as it stands. I see five things that need to be changed before the bill proceeds.
First, the bill fails to require owners to check for a valid licence before transferring a firearm. The other side likes to talk about criminals not registering their guns, but the bill, as it stands, would open a major door for criminals acquiring firearms because the seller of firearms would not have to check for a valid licence before transferring that weapon. Therefore, even if the government were right and the registry was not much of a deterrent to prevent criminals getting guns, now it would throw the doors wide open for criminals to purchase guns.
The second thing that needs to be fixed is this. Before the institution of the registry, businesses were required to keep records of the sale of non-restricted firearms. There is nothing in the bill that puts that requirement back. Yes, many responsible businesses will keep records, but many which might not be so responsible will not keep those records.
The third thing that needs to be fixed is we would no longer be tracking the loss, theft or destruction of non-prohibited and non-restricted weapons.
The fourth is that destroying the data would mean that there are some court cases in progress and some future court cases which might come forward where convictions could be obtained if they had data from the gun registry. That data would be destroyed and those people would walk free.
Finally, the bill would treat all non-prohibited, non-restricted weapons the same, meaning the Ruger Mini-14, which was used in Montreal in 1989 and in the Norway shootings, would now become an unregulated weapon in our country.
I believe the real agenda here is delivery by the government on a wedge issue promise, one which delivered great fundraising to the Conservatives and had a great deal of success in dividing the country. However, the arguments on the other side really depend on the selective use of information. I know the government likes to say that the police caucus on its side does not support the gun registry. It would surprise if opponents of the gun registry or police had run for another party. The government self-selected that caucus because of its opposition.
As I said earlier, we have seen arguments with select witnesses, select evidence and select research to support a hard-line position, which the government had already decided on before it came to debate in the House. Therefore, we are back to where we started, and that is the triumph of ideology and divisive politics over evidence and good public policy to keep Canadians safe.