Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other Acts.
This Conservative government bill cuts red tape for firearms owners. In my opinion, what it will really do is weaken Canadian gun control laws.
Let us remember that the government had to put work on this bill on hold. It was supposed to have been debated for the first time on October 22 of last year, a day we will all remember for a long time. That day, a soldier was shot and killed at the National War Memorial not far from here. The gunman then stormed the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
In my opinion, the government should have put this bill on hold indefinitely. Having solid, reliable data and laws that govern the use of firearms in Canada, together with giving police the resources and tools they need to enforce rules and laws, is of vital importance to public safety and stemming violence in Canada, particularly violence against women.
With this bill, however, the Conservatives are playing politics on the firearms issue. They are using this issue to play political games and divide Canadians, which jeopardizes public safety and creates additional challenges for police services in Canada. They are trying to shift the debate and make us forget that we are talking about public safety
However, reasonable people from different parts of the country, both rural and urban, could very easily work together to come up with solutions to this problem rather than practising the politics of division, as the Conservatives are doing.
The opposition NDP members and I believe that any changes to the Firearms Act must be made with a certain degree of caution. Improving public safety must be the priority objective. Bill C-42 does not meet that criterion, however, and we cannot support it.
I want to talk about the measures that are actually in Bill C-42. First of all, this bill allows a six-month grace period when a five-year licence expires, for gun owners who have failed to renew their licence.
Right now, owners must have an authorization to transport in order to have the right to transport their firearms. They must apply to a provincial chief firearms officer. The authorization allows them to transport a specific weapon to and from a specific location. They must have the authorization with them when transporting the firearm.
However, Bill C-42 would make it possible for this authorization to be granted automatically with the firearms licence, thereby authorizing the transportation of prohibited and restricted firearms to and from a gun club, firing range, police station, gun shop or any other place where firearms are used.
The bill also gives cabinet a new power, namely, the power to change the definitions of the classifications of firearms set out in section 84 of the Criminal Code through regulations that make exceptions. Through a regulation, cabinet could classify firearms that would normally be defined as prohibited or restricted as non-restricted firearms. Right now, firearms are classified based on assessments conducted as part of the Canadian firearms program, which is administered by the RCMP. These classifications are then approved by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Let us look at the problems associated with that. First, the grace period is problematic because a firearms licence allows the police and other authorities to access the latest information about the owner of a firearm. We talked a lot about this important topic when we discussed the firearms registry. It is important for the police to know who owns a firearm, what type of firearm it is and where these firearms are being taken.
As part of the licence renewal process, firearm owners are assessed to determine whether they have mental health problems. This is a way of detecting whether there is a potential risk for the owners themselves or for the public. This assessment makes it possible to determine fairly early on whether there is a potential risk and helps the police to intervene in the case of an accident.
The timeframe set out in the bill could delay access to that information and could pose very serious risks to public safety. The Conservative Party members will likely say that anyone who does not renew his or her licence will have a criminal record. In fact, failing to renew one's licence is considered criminal because it is a serious matter. It is not as though this licence has to be renewed every year. It is renewed every five years.
Licence renewal is mandatory and failing to meet that obligation is considered criminal as a way of addressing the risk that gun owners may have mental health problems. A lot can happen in a person's life in five years. It is therefore important that all licence holders be in good mental and physical health so that they can use their hunting guns properly.
The measure on transporting firearms could also cause problems for police forces in their fight against the unauthorized transport of firearms. Why is it so important to control the use of firearms, keep these data and make public safety the priority?
We are not here to attack Canadians living in rural regions or hunters simply because they own guns. That is not it at all. Our priority is public safety. We are talking about guns that can be used to attack and kill people. It only makes sense to exercise the best possible control, while allowing people to use their guns.
The problem is that in Canada, gun violence remains a factor in many domestic abuse cases, causing some women to stay in abusive situations out of fear of being shot by their partners. Unfortunately, the presence of firearms is a top risk factor associated with domestic murders of women in Canada. In 2009, nearly 75,000 incidents of violent crimes against women were by current or former spouses or someone with whom the women were otherwise in an intimate relationship. These are the incidents that were reported to police. It is estimated that over 70% of such incidents go unreported.
Women are three to four times more likely than men to be victims of a spousal homicide. According to the most recent data available from Statistics Canada, in the past decade, from 2000 to 2009, over a quarter of women killed by a current or previous partner were by means of firearms.
Most women killed with guns are killed with legally owned guns. Family and intimate assaults involving firearms were 12 times more likely to result in death than intimate assaults that did not involve firearms. However, homicides of women with firearms dropped by over 63% with progressive strengthening of gun laws from 1991 to 2005, while murders of women by other means, such as stabbing and beating, declined by only 38% because we enforced the laws and put laws in place.
Twenty-five years have passed since the Polytechnique massacre, when 14 young women were violently murdered just because they were women. These events led to the creation of days of activism against gender violence, when we come together to reflect on the meaning of this attack against women. We also reflect on the fight for women's rights and the work that must still be done to achieve true gender equality.
This event of 25 years ago marked a turning point in the debate on gun control in Canada and spurred Canadian politicians to tighten access to firearms and start tracking legally purchased guns. The NDP has always proposed practical solutions to the legitimate concerns of the many Canadians who use firearms. We have always taken care to respect the rights of aboriginal peoples while ensuring that police services have the tools they need to protect Canadian communities.
Data on 1.6 million firearms in the province of Quebec will now be destroyed.
This bill would limit the powers of provincial chief firearms officers through regulations. By limiting the role of these officers, the federal government will make it more difficult for the provinces to set the standards they believe are necessary to implement the laws that govern firearms.
Unfortunately, the reforms introduced by the bill do not work for all Canadians. Therefore, we cannot support the bill.