House of Commons Hansard #186 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was licence.


Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is pretty bad when the Speaker gets heckled. Come on, guys.

What I am saying is, please be persistent in getting up and trying to be recognized. The list will be filled. There is nothing more frustrating for a Speaker than coming to the mental list and the person is not getting up or is not trying to ask a question. This is just a little reminder of how things work around here. There is a rotation through the parties.

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are speaking about Bill C-45, a Liberal government plan that caused a stir even well before the election. When the Prime Minister was the leader of the Liberal Party and aspiring to his current position, he spoke about his own marijuana use and later said he was going to launch this major project.

First, we must point out that there is a problem we must now deal with. In fact, we have been asking for a long time for the details and the plan for this bill, information that has been lacking for far too long. When someone who is aspiring to be Prime Minister, and an MP before that, stands for election and talks in very vague terms about legalization, it creates a lot of uncertainty. We have seen that the judicial system and police forces are also dealing with a great deal of uncertainty.

When the Liberals came to power almost eighteen months ago, I asked the RCMP commissioner some questions when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I wanted to know how he thought the existing law should be applied in light of the Prime Minister's long-term vision, which was not materializing.

With respect to public safety and security, there are other consequences stemming from the lack of a plan, a vision, or an explanation from the government about this bill. One of those consequences is still present today, and it may very well remain after the bill is enacted: the consequences for Canadians crossing the border to the United States.

Growing numbers of American states are legalizing marijuana. In spite of that, we see that Canadian citizens crossing the border, whether to visit family or to go on vacation or to work, are being asked outright whether they have ever smoked marijuana. They are being judged for that and banned from entering the United States.

While we acknowledge the Americans’ responsibility, and their right, to make that determination for themselves, we can readily conclude that it is extremely problematic that a product legalized in Canada will have such major consequences for Canadians.

In spite of the current scrambling resulting from the behaviour of President Trump, our relationship with the United States is nonetheless very important, and smooth flow at the border remains crucial for many Canadians, for the reasons I outlined earlier.

As we saw when my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford asked a question today during question period, we have no information about Canada’s various international obligations. We have still not been given the details about how we are going to go about this.

What we are seeing is the consequences associated with a process that was significantly lacking in transparency up until the bill was introduced, in spite of the report of the task force, whom we do thank for that.

I am going to talk about what the bill does and does not contain. Before getting into the substance of this legislation, I want to say that we will be supporting Bill C-45 at second reading. It is high time we moved forward with this debate.

However, even though we support the bill, we have important questions and concerns. Some will be resolved in committee, but others will be more difficult to resolve and will remain unanswered.

The question that comes immediately to mind relates to the responsibilities of the provinces and territories. I raised the question of uncertainty earlier. The greatest uncertainty relates to shared responsibilities with the provinces. For example, important questions arise in relation to taxation, that is, the revenue that will be derived from this. That is often one of the arguments when we discuss legalizing marijuana. People often tell us that one of the positive consequences of legalizing marijuana is that this revenue will no longer be in the hands of organized crime, and will instead be in the government’s hands.

However, we know that given the way our country is structured, all the issues relating to sale and taxation are to a large extent under provincial jurisdiction.

I have heard some Conservatives raise the question of the rights of landlords whose tenants might like to grow plants. Tenants can set rules of their own. That said, in Quebec, for example, it could be the Régie du logement that ends up having to come up with a set of rules. All these questions obviously call for a robust, transparent and very thorough conversation with the provinces.

It does not seem to me that this has happened so far. This is one of the bill's major problems. We will get answers to some of these questions when we have a clearer picture of the role the provinces are being called on to play.

Governing in Canada can be very complicated. There are different issues in the different regions of the country. This is a vast country, as we know. We hope that the provinces will get their say. We are certainly not convinced that they have had a chance to explain their concerns and say how they would like things to be structured.

Naturally, the government could ask that we have these discussions after the bill has passed. As a parliamentarian from Quebec, I see that I need a lot more information about what will be required of the provinces to do and what the provinces may require, in turn, before we can give the government a blank cheque.

In spite of all this, as I said, we support the government’s approach, up to a point. In recent years, there has been much talk about what we know as the war on drugs. That is what the media calls it. It was popularized, in a sense, by Ronald Reagan when he was president in the 1980s.

We agree with the government that the present approach is a failure. Obviously, putting our heads in the sand and contenting ourselves with punishing people is not an approach that promotes education and prevention or benefits young people or cultural communities. Unfortunately, specific segments of the population are too often victims of profiling or discrimination by the judicial system, and, without meaning to generalize, by some aspects of policing.

We can look at the American example and see how marijuana is classified in the United States. In the hierarchy of dangerous and serious drugs, marijuana is classified ahead of other drugs like heroin or cocaine. We see that there is nonetheless discussion happening. The reason I mention the American example despite the fact that it goes outside our borders is that there are a lot of fears circulating. We must take the opportunity to set the record straight.

With respect to discrimination, in our humble opinion, it is too often the same people, the same members of our society, who are punished unfairly or too harshly in connection with their recreational use of marijuana, among other things. That is why we have called for decriminalization for a long time.

When it comes to the Prime Minister, we find it unacceptable that a member of his family is able to get off because of the privileges he enjoys in our society as a result of his status, while young people, or, as I said, other members of society who are too often victims of discrimination will still have a criminal record and the negative repercussions of that record for something that will soon be legal. In the meantime, we are calling for amnesty and decriminalization.

With respect to the question of revenue, which will also have to be negotiated with the provinces, we believe that this money can and should be used for education and prevention. This is a golden opportunity to change the direction of the war on drugs and truly focus on a progressive approach. It must benefit primarily the people for whom it is intended, namely young people. We must not see cronyism or an approach that takes a direction different from the one promised by the Prime Minister.

I may be able to expand on that when I answer questions.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his remarks. I thought they were very thorough, well thought out, and very fair. I am pleased to hear that his party will be supporting Bill C-45 going to committee and I hope there is a robust debate there.

I have a couple of questions.

Having been in a previous government that proposed the decriminalization of cannabis back in about 2002, I do see the approach and I understand where the party and the member are coming from in that regard, because it does not make sense to have all these people with records who face the cost of a pardon and the loss of economic opportunity for having been charged for small amounts of marijuana. The problem with the decriminalization approach—and I agree on the member's point on going forward with a progressive approach—is that decriminalization, in and of itself, does not take the criminal element out of the sale of the product on the market. Does the member not see that as a problem in responding only with decriminalization?

Second, on the point of revenue, I think there are a lot of people who think this is going to mean gobs of money for governments. I do not believe that will be the case, because we have to keep the revenue very stable or at fairly low prices or we are going to encourage the black market to provide illegal product. I wonder what the member has to say on that as well.

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1 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments and questions.

On the first point, decriminalization, there is something we find disappointing. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister was asked that question. He said that decriminalization and even a retroactive amnesty should, in fact, be part of the discussion about the legislation. He therefore clearly implied that this was part of the plan. However, the Minister of Public Security has flatly closed the door on that possibility.

We recognize that decriminalization imposes a burden on the judicial system and the member gave an example of that. In the House, there has been much discussion of the Jordan decision in connection with other cases. Given those circumstances, it is obviously very difficult to deal with all the cases of recreational use. However, on the second part of what the member said, I would like specifically to make the connection between recreational use and minor offences.

From the outset, and even before the last election campaign, the NDP has not suggested decriminalizing organized crime, or sales, or any of those things. I do not want to generalize or indulge in stereotyping, but, for example, we are talking about a university student who smokes marijuana in his room and then goes out on campus with a small quantity in his pockets for recreational use. That is what we are talking about. We are not saying that a big criminal organization that grows hundreds of plants should not be punished. That distinction needs to be made.

On a final point, the question of revenue, I wonder about the same things in terms of prices and what the money will be used for. The provinces have a role to play in that regard, but I note that they have not yet been adequately represented at the table. I hope the government is going to do a better job of this.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-45 on cannabis legalization.

As my colleague said, a lot of people are talking about this. Most of the people in my riding are against the bill. I have a hard time understanding why the Liberal government wants to legalize marijuana. How is this going to benefit society?

The government says it wants to protect young people and fight organized crime. What planet is it living on? Does it really believe that its bill is going to protect young people? Does it really think it will do away with organized crime? It is dreaming. There is no way.

Luc Plamondon is a noted songwriter from my region and the brother of my colleague, the member for Bécancour—Nicolet—Saurel. He was born in Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, which is in the riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. He wrote a great song that I will use to set the stage for the rest of my speech. Here is part of it:

My head's going to explode
I'm about to crash
Lie down on the road
And breathe my last

I believe in our youth, and I do not want to let our young people die. Why is marijuana not already legal in other G7 countries? That is a good question. This government wants to legalize marijuana and is so proud of itself for being the first G7 country to legalize cannabis. What lofty aspirations Canada has. Why have other countries not legalized marijuana?

The Liberal government wants to use our young people as guinea pigs. He wants to sacrifice a generation by improvising the legalization of marijuana in order to fulfill an election promise. When they made this promise, the Liberals ranked third in the polls. Now, they are trapped. Nevertheless, since they backpedalled on election reform, they could also backpedal on this bill. They have a habit of backpedalling. However, in this case, they are being stubborn. Is the Prime Minister enjoying this?

Let us talk about Bill C-45, which states that its purpose is to:

(a) protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis;

However, there will be greater supply on the market. The bill is going to:

(b) protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis;

This prohibited use is being trivialized. As a father, I would tell my children that it is not a good thing to smoke marijuana. However, the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister are saying that it is all right. What rhetoric. It continues:

(c) provide for the licit production of cannabis to reduce illicit activities in relation to cannabis;

People will be able to grow marijuana anywhere they want. Where is the control? Next, it says:

(d) deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures;

(e) reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis;

If the Liberals want to meet that objective, all they have to do is decriminalize marijuana. That will fix the problem. Lastly:

(f) provide access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis; and

(g) enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.

Also, this law will give the minister the power to set the price for various products and services provided for under the legislation. That means that the minister will become the leader of the new Liberal biker gang. His crest will be a nice marijuana leaf with the Liberal Party logo, and his motto will be “just one little joint”. It is always good to dream big.

Why is this government prioritizing the legalization of pot over other much more important issues for the country, such as the environment, job creation, economic development, aggressive efforts to support our regions, and a balanced budget, among others?

I fail to understand how Canadian society will benefit from the legalization of marijuana. I know that the government's stated objectives are to protect youth and reduce the involvement of organized crime. That certainly sounds good during an election campaign, but it is unrealistic.

Does this government know anything about human psychology? Fifteen percent of people will always defy the law, which means that 85% respect authority. Legalizing marijuana is like inviting people to an open bar; we are saying it can be used safely, and so, marijuana's potential market will go from 15% to 100%. We want to poison our youth by saying, “Smoke your joint; go on, enjoy yourself!” We are now in the business of helping to develop this market.

This law will expose new consumers to greater harm. Not only will law-abiding citizens start using, there will also be an increase in the number of road accidents caused by marijuana use. I am not the one saying this. This data comes from the various states, regions and municipalities that have legalized marijuana.

Moreover, organized crime will push its customers, especially young people, to buy at a discount. This will not put an end to organized crime because its members are more clever and intelligent than this government. Organized crime will develop other markets and drugs, and it will lower its prices. They are in the business of marketing. How much will all this cost society? How many young people’s lives will be destroyed?

Schools are worried, as is the Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec and the Association des pédiatres du Québec. Numerous studies on brain development in young people have shown that people under the age of 25 are at a high risk of harm.

My fellow citizens in the beautiful riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier have many concerns. What will be the cost of implementing this law given all the accompanying structures that will have to be put in place? Monitoring systems, training and awareness-raising campaigns will have to be funded. How much money will be spent in the near future and for how many years if we go ahead with legalization? Awareness-raising campaigns against cannabis will need to be organized to educate the public and protect our children.

As well, how much of a burden will we be putting on our health care system? How will this impact our society? How will it affect health and safety in the workplace? Are we about to see a new generation of young, budding horticulturists? Why jeopardize Canada's fine, young people and put them at risk of irreparable harm? Why this eagerness to legalize cannabis? How do Liberals plan to measure and control the rate of hallucinogenic compounds? Regarding the limit of four plants per household, how can the government seriously think that they can control all of this?

The Liberal government wants to legalize marijuana, but give responsibility for distribution to the provinces. What happens when a young person who is not of legal age to consume marijuana crosses the Quebec-Ontario border? How will we apply this law?

All of these questions remain unanswered. I invite the Liberal government to reflect on this bill and withdraw it on behalf of our youth, who deserve a better future. We are in 2017. I am in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana and I support awareness-raising campaigns that encourage young people to participate in sports and the arts and to say no to drugs. With such measures, the Liberals would achieve their goals without having to legalize marijuana.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say how much I enjoy working with the member across the way on our environment committee. He is a very reasonable member of the committee. We find common ground on many different issues, so I wonder why his reasonable nature does not extend to this issue as well.

As we saw with the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, that prohibition did not work. Criminals were allowed to make vast amounts of illicit profits. People were dying because of the composition of alcohol. They did not know what they were drinking.

Fast-forward to today, and we find ourselves in the same environment with respect to cannabis. We do not know what people are smoking. Criminals are making vast wealth from this drug, and we need to eliminate prohibition so that we can once again have a more responsible consumption of cannabis, just as we do with alcohol—and tobacco, for that matter.

Prohibition did not work for alcohol, so I would like to pose this question for the member. Does he feel that we should now go back and make alcohol, and for that matter tobacco, illegal as well, given the stand that he has on cannabis?

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1:10 p.m.


Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague for his question.

Indeed, it is always a pleasure to have discussions with him on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. It is always very pleasant, and I can sense his respect, despite the language difference. I greatly appreciate his attitude, as I do with all the other committee members.

To answer his question, I am very reasonable. I appreciate that he has mentioned this in the House, and he is absolutely right. He has a good read on me. I am a reasonable guy.

We cannot compare alcohol to drugs, because they do not compare. Alcohol is one element called “alcohol”. Drugs are a huge range of products that are toxic and harmful to people's health. With respect to marijuana, it has been shown that there is a risk of permanent damage to mental health, and I do mean permanent. To my knowledge, there are no studies that talk about permanent damage with regard to alcohol, whereas for drugs, and for people under 25, there are a number of studies that show there may be some.

This government should take a different approach to organized crime, because it is a social problem. The hon. member is absolutely right. We have to take the bull by the horns and find other solutions. Let us invest in awareness-raising campaigns, persuade our youth to participate in sports, arts, and cultural activities, and get our young people involved elsewhere, rather than let them hang out in the streets. Let us educate them. We would have a solution and we would not need to legalize marijuana.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly enjoyed serving on the HMCS Vancouver. My colleague and I were both shipmates for a short time in the Royal Canadian Navy.

I enjoyed hearing my colleague's support for decriminalization. However, the one thing I wanted to concentrate on was the issue of pardons. In a previous interview, the Prime Minister admitted that his father was able to use his legal connections in the community to get his late younger brother off with respect to some charges. We still have a lot of young people who are affected by charges and criminal records for previous possession charges. The costs of pardons are quite high. Would he be in support of pressuring the government to institute a pardon, or some sort of amnesty, for people who had been previously convicted for small amounts of possession of cannabis?

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague for his question. I must say that we were very close in the Royal Canadian Navy, and it is a privilege for me as well to work with him and get to know him a little better.

In terms of his remarks regarding decriminalization, I am somewhat in agreement with him. I find it hard to imagine that a person accused of having consumed or possessing marijuana on June 30, 2018 would be a criminal, while on July 1, Canada Day, the 151st birthday of our beautiful country, another person would have no problem.

I have to say that I strongly agree with my colleague's views regarding decriminalization.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wrote an entire speech, but listening to everybody debate this, listening to some of the questions that have been asked by some of our Liberal members, I feel it is really important that we have the conversation and not just look at some of the talking points or things of that sort. As with everything I do, I come here as who am I, and that is a mom of five.

I will talk about the way I parent. I wish I knew exactly the riding of the member over there with whom I ride the bus. Every time I have a question about cannabis, I just ask that former chief of police everything I need to know. I do thank him for always having those respectful conversations with me and answering every question I have ever needed to ask. I would like to put that on the record.

We talk about cannabis and what we have to look at for our kids. Whether we are calling it weed, doobies, blunts, reefers, or all of those other words we have heard, we really have to look at how we are approaching this. It does really concern me because I believe that the legislation—is it right or wrong to do this legislation? It is not the choice I have, but what are the parts in this legislation I cannot agree with?

I will be honest and put all my cards on the table, because I think that is what Canadians are expecting from us. I believe in decriminalizing cannabis. That is something we should look at. I think that is because I have those sit-down family discussions with my kids, with my nieces and nephews, with my parents, because I think the biggest thing we need to recognize is that it is out there, and what can we do that is better to serve?

I will not say that decriminalizing makes it right, because I do not believe it is the right thing, especially when it comes to our youth. Therefore I want to talk about parts of the legislation that really do need to be tweaked, because we are harming children if we think this legislation is right.

There are two parts of this legislation I looked at. One has to do with the age of ability to purchase. As I have indicated, with five children, my youngest is 14 and my oldest is 23 years old this year. My 23-year-old, my 21-year-old, my 20-year-old, and my 19-year-old will all be eligible, as of July 1, 2018, to purchase marijuana.

I will not tell my children's stories, but I have seen first-hand what happens after marijuana use. Whether they see grades drop by 30% or attendance go from perfect to nothing, parents are having to deal with these challenges each and every day. When we talk about it, I want to make sure the government is listening.

We have talked about what happens to children who have smoked marijuana. The Canadian Mental Health Association has talked about the formation of the brain, and I am really concerned. As the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo mentioned, children's brains are not developed until age 25, and what is said is fair, but we had a task force saying it should be 21 years old and now we have legislation to make the legal age 18.

I will put it on the record, because I believe the only reason it is at age 18 is that is the age at which a person can vote. I think this is a vote-seeking motion, and I am really angry about that. Other members may not be, but I have the right to say this, because as a parent of five, I am very concerned that the government is not taking into consideration what will happen to our children. I ask parents to sit down with their kids and start talking, because that is not what we are doing here.

I decided to take this conversation to my family, so I sat down at Easter. When we were all supposed to be celebrating Jesus, we talked about marijuana, because I needed to hear from the people who knew best, my nephews and nieces, my sister who is a high school teacher, another sister who is a principal in elementary school, my brothers-in-law who have careers, and my sister-in-law who has worked so hard when it comes to understanding, and she actually goes out to counsel families.

I had to bring this down to what it really meant. The moment I said that my son Christian, who is 14 years of age, would be able to possess marijuana with no charges, the conversation took a totally different turn, because we all want to protect Christian because he is 14 years of age.

However, we have to understand that this legislation would not really do that. We have children who will be in grade 9 and will be in high school with people who will be 18 years of age, able to buy this, and then the next thing we know, here we go, have a good weekend. Did we not think this would happen? That is what really frustrates me. Let us get it right. Let us sit down and talk to our 14-year-old children and ask ourselves if we want our children to be able to possess marijuana without being charged. Do we want them to know that this is right or wrong?

I am also very concerned that we are looking at the medicinal use of marijuana as well, when it comes to when people use it. I am a huge supporter of medicinal marijuana because I have seen people and I have lived with someone who has been on OxyContin. I can say that it has negative effects. Therefore, for years, I have advocated for medicinal marijuana. I am very scared that when we legalize marijuana for all Canadians and open it up and say they can get it at 18, we know our 12-year-olds are going to get it, for sure, as well. Let us be honest.

Are we going to stop funding important research that needs to be done so that the people who are using medicinal marijuana are getting the proper strains they need? I am very concerned that we are not going to do that. We will say we have legalized it, and we are going to use the science for all of this other kind of stuff, but are we going to make sure that the people who need it the most, who have been using medicinal marijuana for the last number of years, are going to get the proper care they need? Therefore, I want to ask the government if it is going to continue to invest in the research on medicinal marijuana.

I was very happy when I was here listening to the debate yesterday and the day before on Bill C-46, which truly intertwines with this bill. I heard one of the members from the other side comment on the zero tolerance, so I am going to mix in this part as well.

We have to understand that, if people are using marijuana for the first time, the reaction they have is going to be extremely different from that of people who have been daily smokers for the past 20 years. However, we are saying this is how we are going to take it, and if they have so many grams we will take them in and process it and check the THC levels. Let us be honest here. If people have had marijuana for the first time and get behind that wheel, it is a hazard. It is unsafe. They are going to kill themselves or another person. We have to be sure we are putting the safety and security of Canadians first.

I do not believe that Bill C-46 goes far enough, but I am happy that we are going to go back to debating it.

I am going to go back to my family, and we are going to talk a little more about kids. We have heard time and time again from the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Medical Association, or counsellors who have dealt with cannabis for a number of years, and we know that we are opening up a Pandora's box.

I am very concerned with this because I do not think that we actually have all of the tools we need in place. I was really happy to see budget 2017 come out with $5 million for education. However, as many of my colleagues have said, we are educating them when the horse is already out of the barn. We are putting the cart before the horse. This is very simple. People are going to be educated about cannabis after they have started smoking it. Let us be honest here. Should we not get it started by having the education for our teachers, our parents, and our children, to make sure they know what they are getting into? It is a safety warning, but we are going to put the safety warning on after they have inhaled.

It was really interesting listening to some of the members also talk about tobacco and how we have stopped doing things. My former boss is part of the tobacco transition fund. My community, and the five communities in southwestern Ontario, were huge in the tobacco industry. We know there were some really good campaigns out there. Of course we did see a number of adults who continued to smoke, but older people were beginning to quit. Those were some things we saw as well. We know that campaigns work. Therefore, I am asking the government why it is putting a campaign about combustible cannabis out after the fact.

I do not understand that. If we are trying to teach people about the problems with marijuana, why would we not be teaching them right from the start? We know that putting combustible things in our lungs is bad for us, just like tobacco. When are we going to do the education?

I am so fearful that the government is so pressing on this, wanting to get it through by July 1, 2018, that it is going to forget about Christian, Garrett, Hannah, Marissa, and Dakota, my five children. It is going to forget about everybody else's children, because it is more concerned about getting this legislation through, because Liberals want to keep a promise they made during the 2015 election.

I know there are some very good MPs over there. I am pointing at him. I hope and I plead with him, as a former police officer, to know that as a parent, I need to make sure that the government is going to protect us. This is something that goes through regardless of whether we like it our not. There is majority government. I beg the government to know my children are relying on it. The safety of our communities is relying on it. Do it right. Do not do it fast.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Ajax Ontario


Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I have to rise because I was deeply offended by the comments from opposite. I have three children. Most people in the House have children. You have children, Mr. Speaker, and you care about their well-being. I care about their well-being. The reality is that each of us tries to bring to this place the best policies to protect our children and protect public health. The idea that this was moved for political reasons is abhorrent.

The current situation is that one-third of children tried marijuana before the age of 15. We have the highest prevalence rate in the world. Why does she think the existing system is working?

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1:25 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not read the quote I have, but many doctors in this country have said that it is bad. If we are being told by the Canadian Medical Association that 25 is a good age and we are saying 21 is a good age, that is fine. A gentleman works for me whose name is Scott. Because it is illegal, he will not try it. I have a staffer whose name is Kaylie, and because it is illegal, she will not try it. I, Karen Vecchio, for years did not do it because it was illegal, and that is sometimes the way we do things. Stop putting your heads under. Come on; let us be real. We all want the safety of our children.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London will have approximately three and a half minutes remaining when we return to this item.

Bill C-45—Notice of time allocation motionCannabis ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that agreements could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage of the aforementioned bill.

Bill C-44—Notice of time allocation motionBudget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that agreements could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and third reading stage of Bill C-44, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017, and other measures.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stages of the aforementioned bill.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that Thursday, June 8, shall be an allotted day.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.


Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

moved that Bill C-346, An Act to amend the Firearms Act (licences), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-346, an act to amend the Firearms Act on licences. I am going to go over some of the basics of it, and then I will talk about it more at length.

The aim of the bill is to ensure that no law-abiding firearms owner is criminalized for an administrative issue. The proposed changes reflect the success of the RCMP continuous eligibility system, which verifies the validity and conditions of licence requirements every day. The bill also proposes to create an avenue for individuals to voluntarily relinquish their licences.

I will speak to some key points about what this legislation would do, and also speak to some myths out there with people who are not sure what the bill would or would not do.

The bill would amend the Firearms Act to eliminate the expiry of firearms licences, with a mandatory provision that the licence holder update his or her relevant information every 10 years.

I have been talking with other parties in the House, and I am open to amendments, as long as they would not extremely affect my bill. I have been in conversations already about that, and I will discuss them more as they come to me.

An individual whose licence has not been updated will not be able to purchase a firearm or ammunition. If an individual fails to update his or her information, the licence will be suspended. The suspension is subsequently cancelled as soon as the holder provides the necessary basic information. No licence may be revoked simply because it is suspended.

The last provision of the bill, the relinquishment section, would allow an individual who no longer desires to possess a firearms licence to voluntarily relinquish the licence to a chief firearms officer with no negative consequences.

I have done some videos on Facebook and Twitter, and I use the character of Grandpa Joe. The desire is that Grandpa Joe not become a criminal simply because his licence expires. Many firearms owners in Canada have gone through the process of getting their licence. They have done their due diligence. They have gone through the process. They are safe, law-abiding firearms owners, yet simply because their licence expires, they can be charged with illegal possession of a firearm.

It could happen today. I have heard some interesting stories about people whose licence has expired, and literally have their door bashed down seven days after the expiry date because they are considered in illegal possession of their firearms. This is a dramatic event that can happen just because a licence expires. I am trying to get to the bottom of this. Poor Grandpa Joe who forgets to renew his licence becomes a criminal. That is the way our system looks at Grandpa Joe.

I often use the analogy of a vehicle owner. Most members in the House own a vehicle. I own a few—

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I would like to interrupt for a moment. I am really interested in what the hon. member has to say, but there are voices rumbling in the background, which is making it very difficult. I am sure everybody is looking forward to the weekend and talking to each other, which is nice, but I would ask them to either whisper or do their talking in the lobby.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess it is a good sign that we have an audience on this Friday afternoon. It is not all bad. Members are across the way too, so that is good.

The comparison I am using is with a vehicle owner. Let us say someone's driver's licence expires. They may own a vehicle, but they certainly would not be allowed to operate it, and that vehicle is sitting in the driveway. Then, just because the person's licence has expired, the police do not come and take them away and treat them like criminals because they did not renew their licence.

We think the same latitude should be given to firearms owners here in Canada. They are the most law-abiding group that I have seen in Canada. They are very thorough in the way they store their firearms and they are very diligent about how they do things. Again, we do not want to see Grandpa Joe penalized for a small mistake that could be quickly rectified.

I would like to quote some people in the firearms industry. There are massive numbers of members in associations, and they support this bill.

Tony Bernardo, from the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, said that my bill reflects the reality that every firearms licence in Canada is reviewed every day by the police. The RCMP's continuous eligibility process should equate to continuous entitlement to possess firearms.

He went on to say that no law-abiding firearms owner should be criminalized for an expired firearms licence.

That is really the crux of this whole thing. It is just a little fixing of an administrative issue. Turning that administrative issue into something that is criminal is not what was intended by the law. There are other ways to get it done without turning Grandpa Joe into an outlaw.

One of the questions I have heard is whether my bill will make obtaining firearms easier.

It seems that whenever we want a positive piece of firearms legislation, it is always taken to a further degree and perceived as now enabling people to buy firearms at every corner store. That is not the case. It would not not make it any easier at all. To legally purchase a firearm or ammunition in Canada, as most firearms owners know, people need to have a firearms licence. That would not change with my bill.

To obtain the firearms licence, people need to go through a process of training, learning about firearms and how to safely store them and so on. My son just took his course. He is 19. He did his RPAL about a month ago. He is getting his the right way and is just waiting for it to come in.

There is also a process of background checks that regularly update the status of an individual. If there is ever an issue with a person, if there are family issues or mental issues, that is collected, and that person would not be able to purchase or possess a firearm. That is a good feature of our firearms licensing program in Canada. It is among the most stringent in the world.

Another question is about what “suspend” means in the bill.

“Suspend” refers to the status of a licence when the information has not been updated within the allotted 10-year period. Using the example of Grandpa Joe, if my bill passes—and I sure hope it does—and Grandpa Joe's licence expires, it goes into suspended mode. That does not mean he becomes a criminal just by possessing that particular firearm in his home; what it means is that he would be suspended from purchasing firearms or ammunition. He could not buy new firearms or ammunition. That is what it suspends.

The suspension is temporary. When Grandpa Joe goes back in and says that he needs to update his address or whatever, the suspension would then be cancelled when the information is provided. A key point for all the firearms owners out there—and this a big issue with my bill, because I know there is a cautionary thought around the word “suspend” and what that means—is that a suspended licence could not be revoked simply because it was suspended. That is a key point. Once someone has gone through the licensing process and done the work and done the training, they certainly do not forget all they have learned just because the licence has expired. They still know how to safely use and store that firearm. A suspended licence could not be revoked simply because it was suspended.

For too long, firearms owners have been treated as shady outlaws over an administrative issue, as I said in my video, and there is a good graphic of the outlaw in the cowboy hat. I want to make sure that no law-abiding firearms owner can be criminalized just for having an expired firearms licence. It goes back to needing to have a good conversation about firearms.

What many people do not know about firearms owners in Canada is that there is a huge demographic that is growing of people who want to own, possess, and use firearms at a range or to go hunting. It is the under 30 demographic. Some of that generation have seen firearms for different uses. They maybe have seen their fathers, grandfathers, mothers, and grandmothers go hunting and they want to experience that themselves.

We are seeing growth in urban areas too. We are seeing dramatic growth in legitimate firearms use in Canada. In Canada we need to rest assured that these people are law-abiding owners. They are licensed and trained, and we should not be worried about that growth. It is a legitimate group that obeys the law and does it the right way. Bill C-346 honours that and makes our firearms laws in Canada that much stronger.

I would like to recognize a few individuals in our party across the country, members of caucus who have seconded my bill from Ontario, all the way across to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, who support this kind of legislation. It is positive for our firearms owners and it really supports them well.

I would challenge the Liberals and the NDP to consider this demographic seriously. There are Liberals who own firearms. I am co-chair of the parliamentary outdoor caucus. We represent all parties in our group and we want to make sure that there are good laws that recognize our outdoor heritage in Canada. That is sports shooting, hunting, fishing, guiding, and outfitting. It is a group that we all represent, and I would hope and trust that the government across the way would support solid legislation like this to ensure that firearms owners are not going to be needlessly criminalized because of some administrative issue.

I am a firearms owner. I do not hunt as much as I would like to. I fish, but my children have all operated firearms safely. We have an event next week where members of Parliament from all parties get to experience what a firearm feels like and safely operate that firearm. One of my staff had never fired a firearm before, and she was concerned when we first went to the range, but by the end of the day there was a big smile on her face. She understood that this could be done safely. It is a lot of fun, and we have a great regime in Canada that sees that our firearms owners operate them safely and effectively.

Our party does not want to see the laws become regressive. We have seen some moves lately with UN markings and stuff. I am glad to see the minister from Saskatchewan pull back on some of what has been talked about in terms of UN markings and understanding this issue. This was due to the firearms groups in Canada that let us know that the laws need to be hospitable to firearms owners in Canada, not needlessly restrictive. We have a good regime already. We do not need to make it more restrictive. It is already very safe.

My desire in putting forward Bill C-346, which would remove firearms licences from expiring and also has a provision to relinquish one's licence, is meant to do just that and to make our firearms laws in Canada stronger and not regressive.

I want to say a special thanks to all firearms groups across Canada. We support them and support their good work in training. There are a lot of organizations that, while we are having fun on a weekend and mowing the lawn, they are out there training people how to safely operate firearms. They do this every weekend, 52 weeks a year, to make sure that firearms can be safely operated in this country. I thank those groups and say keep up the good work to all who are doing good work for the firearms community in Canada.

I look forward to hearing members' comments.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's bringing forward this timely piece of legislation. I just renewed my PAL. It was going to be up again in August, so I did it ahead of time to make sure it was not out of scope and I would have it when I needed it. It was a fairly innocuous process. It worked out fairly well, one phone call to New Brunswick and I had things sorted out.

One thing I have had questions from my friends about is going to a 10-year status. They like the idea, but so much data is collected when they apply the first time around, whether that is five years or 10 years, that if their status changes as in a marriage dissolving, getting divorced, they have to report that. If their address changes they have to report that. None of that would change going from five years to 10 years.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member from Saskatchewan is also very much a firearms advocate and absolutely he is correct. Anytime that people's information changes they have to update it anyway. This would not change that. What this is meant to do is to have a provision that, regardless of whether there are changes, it might be the same information but they would just make sure that it is the same information.

The continuous eligibility system that we have that the RCMP operates already assures that on a daily basis that information is being updated and correlated with other information in Canada. This is just another way to make sure that the information is as up to date as possible.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Ajax Ontario


Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise on this bill. I want to commend the member for bringing the idea forward in the form of this bill, Bill C-346, an act to amend the Firearms Act (licences).

As my colleagues know, our government is committed to implementing reasonable, effective measures, with respect to firearms, that promote public safety while respecting law-abiding firearm owners. Responsible firearm owners, including hunters, farmers, and sports shooters, rightly expect to be treated fairly and reasonably. My grandfather was a hunter. He greatly enjoyed the sport, and he was a responsible owner himself.

At the same time, they, like all Canadians, understand the importance of doing everything we can to combat gun crime and keep Canadians safe. This includes keeping firearms out of the hands of people who could be dangerous.

The private member's bill before us would make it easier for people who pose a danger to the public to acquire and possess guns. As such, it would clearly contradict our commitment to protect the safety of Canadians, and our government, therefore, cannot support it.

I would like to take a moment to look at the provisions in this bill to explain this concept further.

First, Bill C-346 proposes to eliminate the expiry of firearms licences. Under the bill, a firearms licence would never expire. It would essentially be valid for the life of anyone over the age of 18.

Licences for most sorts of things do not work this way, and for a very good reason. Most of us understand that circumstances change and that a person who may meet the criteria for obtaining a licence today might not necessarily meet them forever. Would any of us, for example, want to be on the road with someone who got a driver's licence 60 years ago and never had to renew it?

The idea behind the licensing provisions of the Firearms Act is to protect public safety by ensuring that applicants are appropriately screened and that firearms owners continue to meet the eligibility criteria. That cannot be done if licences are valid for life.

This brings me to the second provision. Currently, firearms owners update the information relevant to their licence eligibility every five years through the licence renewal process. This includes information about any new mental health conditions as well as the attestation of current or former conjugal partners that the person does not pose a threat.

These are important provisions. It is one of the reasons they are done every five years.

Under this bill, firearms owners would only update this information every 10 years. Again, a lot of things can change in a decade. There may well be people who could be trusted to safely own a firearm today but for whom that might not be the case in seven, eight, or nine years.

This bill does not even take its own 10-year timeline seriously. Under Bill C-346, firearms owners who do not update their information once a decade could have their licences suspended. However, the bill does not explain what suspension of a licence would even mean. Under existing law, a firearms licence is either valid or revoked. The concept of a suspended licence does not exist in the Firearms Act, nor is it defined in the Criminal Code.

Would people who have suspended licences be allowed to continue possessing firearms? Would they be allowed to purchase ammunition? Would they be allowed to buy, sell, or trade firearms? The bill does not say. There is no definition whatsoever.

The bill also does not specify whether a suspended licence could be confiscated. It seems, therefore, that it would be up to the individual whose licence is suspended to voluntarily relinquish it. If the individual did not, the physical licence, the plastic card, would continue to appear valid and could quite possibly continue to be used indefinitely, because it would, as per the first part of the bill, never expire.

I do not know what the nature of this ambiguity is. It is unfortunate that it is not clear, but it is an unacceptable oversight. In any event, it is public safety that would be at risk.

The information collected every five years under the current regime is critical in protecting the public. It is an invaluable tool for the chief firearms officers, or CFOs, who review that information. With it, CFOs can determine whether there are safety risks associated with allowing an individual continued lawful access to firearms. Any CFO would insist that such information be kept current, and I am sure the vast majority of Canadians, including firearms owners, perhaps especially firearms owners, would agree.

We are committed to taking reasonable measures to keep Canadians safe from gun violence while ensuring the fair treatment of law-abiding firearms owners.

Already we have stopped the previous government's practice of contradicting law enforcement experts on weapons classification. We reversed the ministerial directive that could have allowed gun manufacturers to determine the classification of their own products. We fulfilled our promise to establish a more representative Canadian firearms advisory committee, which includes police, farmers, sports shooters, public health advocates, representatives from conservation organizations, representation from weapons groups, and members of the legal committee.

Having had an opportunity to sit in on those meetings and work with those individuals, I think they do our country a great service. Indeed, we can be enormously proud of the contributions they are making in such a balanced way.

We are taking concrete action to keep Canadians safe, and we are doing so while respecting firearms owners. Unfortunately, the legislation runs contrary to the balanced and sensible approach this government has taken to public safety.

To recap, Bill C-346 proposes that people with a firearms licence should only have to update their eligibility information every 10 years. If they do not comply with that even dangerously lax requirement, their licence would be deemed suspended. I use that term in whatever definition it means, because the bill does not say what it would mean, and a person with a suspended licence could, in all likelihood, given the lack of definition in the bill, continue possessing a firearms licence regardless, and would be able to do so indefinitely, because under the provisions of the bill the licence would never expire.

Unfortunately, none of this makes any sense. It is bad from a public policy and safety perspective, and it would leave firearms owners and law enforcement attempting to operate in an unclear system, with no one quite sure how to enforce the rules or abide by them.

On that basis, although I know the hon. member's intent is good, the bill unfortunately is not, and I would therefore encourage members of the House to oppose it.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-346.

First of all, I want to thank the bill's sponsor for his well intentioned work. I also want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his speech to explain the government's position.

Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would like to outline a few important principles, the first being the unfortunate reality in which we live. For a very long time, the governing party, the Conservative Party, wanted to politicize the debate surrounding the use and regulation of firearms in Canada. It even sent fundraising emails.

I find that disappointing, because it created an atmosphere that pitted Canadians against one another, depending on their perspective. Ours is a vast country, and the reality is very different from one region to the next, and from an urban area to a rural area. When the government should have been encouraging people to work together and have a healthy debate on this issue in order to develop effective and appropriate public policies, instead it tried to use the situation to its political advantage. We again find ourselves in an unfortunate situation. However, it is important to understand the context and proceed with a rigorous review of a bill such as this one.

I also want to talk about the importance of the work that police officers do, not politicians and their decisions about what is good for public safety. This is, after all, a public safety issue. The bill sponsor was absolutely right when he said that the vast majority of firearm owners are law-abiding citizens.

That being said, when we draft a bill, we have to consider those who are not law-abiding. These unfortunate exceptions can endanger public safety and the safety of all Canadians. That is where I am coming from on this bill, and that is the perspective that will inform my comments to the House and my recommendation to my caucus as the NDP public safety critic.

The first problem is, of course, lack of clarity. I think the parliamentary secretary did a good job of explaining which rights are lost and which are not when a licence is suspended.

Under the current system, the loss of the firearms may seem like a nuisance to a firearms owner. However, under the system being proposed by my colleague in his bill, a gun owner could have his firearms licence suspended for legitimate reasons, for example if he is no longer fit to carry firearms.

After all, as the parliamentary secretary said, many things can change in 10 years. Meanwhile, the individual continues to have firearms in his possession. In these circumstances, the changes may result in a threat to public safety. These are unfortunate exceptions that must be considered when developing public policies and before accepting or rejecting a bill.

The second point is as follows. The licences do not expire, and since a licence can easily be reinstated, we unfortunately cannot support failure to provide a consequence. In fact, the renewal process is extremely important and we believe that it is very reasonable.

Contrary to what seemed to be claimed in the opening address of this debate, legislative changes were made recently, which has simplified the process tremendously. There is even a six-month grace period after the expiry of a licence.

This grace period allows people to renew their licence, even if they run into problems with the mail, they are facing personal challenges, or they are late in renewing it for all sorts of administrative reasons. As we know, life moves fast. We need to ensure that law-abiding gun owners who are aware of the importance of obeying the law and who use their weapons responsibly for legitimate purposes are not punished. That is exactly why there is a grace period. It is important to point that out.

We are also very aware of the cost that may be associated with the various obligations. It costs $60 for a five-year licence for a non-restricted firearm. That seems like a reasonable amount to me because the licence is good for five years. If I remember correctly, and forgive me if I am wrong, people can also pay for their licences online. Given how the various levels of government are changing the way they use technology and the Internet, these systems will only improve in the coming years. The various government services will be changing and improving these systems, while ensuring that they work properly, or at least that is what we hope.

We are also talking about what happens when a licence has to be renewed after five years.

Obviously some of the important administrative pieces of information would change. We talk about addresses and marital status and things of that nature that are obviously, in some cases, more innocuous than others. However, we also have to recognize, as the sponsor of the bill also recognized, that when people initially get their licence, they go through the process of mental health evaluations, and the criminal record and background are checked.

While all those different checks happen initially, it is important to have the licence renewal process. For example, the information goes through CPIC and other authorities, who can decide whether it is appropriate for that individual to continue to own and properly use a licensed firearm.

In that context, it is obviously very important. We look at, for example, the issue of marital status, and when it leads to requiring a statement from the person's ex-spouse, that kind of link can be very important. When we think of domestic violence, we obviously would not want someone who had committed that kind of crime to continue to own and operate a firearm. It is important to emphasize that those cases are the exception, certainly a tragic exception, but an exception nonetheless. I do not want to repeat myself, but when we elaborate on these public policies and evaluate bills like the one proposed by my hon. colleague, we need to take those realities into consideration.

Once again, it is important and bears repeating: Given these criteria and the fact that it has been somewhat alleviated in the last few years, there are reasonable grace periods put in place. We feel that the current system is very respectful of all the pieces that my colleague mentioned. Certainly I believe in many of our ridings, and surprisingly even in suburban and urban ridings in some cases, there are many Canadians who own firearms and enjoy their different activities, whether hunting or other outdoor activities like sport shooting and such.

We obviously are mindful of that, but I believe that the current system is appropriate for ensuring public safety. It is reasonable. Unfortunately, I believe that what my colleague is proposing would go counter to that. It would create a more unreasonable situation when it comes to ensuring public safety. As far as we are concerned, it would create too large a vacuum when it comes to certain obligations that we ask of these gun owners.

With that, I thank my colleague once again for bringing this debate forward. Certainly we are always open to working on progressive ideas when it comes to respecting Canadians and the participation they might want when it comes to hunting and the other outdoor joys we have in Canada. However, unfortunately we believe that this bill does not go in a direction that is appropriate and that would ensure public safety.

In closing, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his very informative and relevant speech about striking a balance between public safety and respect for Canadian gun owners.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House to debate Bill C-346, an act to amend the Firearms Act, and to perhaps straighten out some of the misconceptions that have been put on record today by the third party and the parliamentary secretary.

The legislation was introduced by my Conservative colleague, the member of Parliament for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies and at this time I would like to thank my friend, now my seatmate, for his work in supporting Canada's firearms owners and for bringing common sense forward as a solution that I know many have long called for.

Far too often gun legislation and responsible firearms owners have been treated unfairly. I am not here today to relive Bill C-68 and it is not my intention to rehash old battles. I know there are many new members in the House who were not around to deal with the common-sense firearms act that was passed in the last Parliament. For the benefit of those following the debate, it was the Conservative government's legislation that enacted simple and safe firearms policies and streamlined the licensing system.

The legislation amended the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code to create a six-month grace period at the end of a five-year licence to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for a paperwork delay. The legislation also streamlined the licensing system by eliminating the possession-only licence and converting all of the existing licences to possession and acquisition licences. The other important elements of the legislation were to make classroom participation in firearm safety training mandatory for first-time licence applicants and to strengthen provisions relating to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms where a person is convicted for an offence involving domestic violence. While the Liberals and the NDP voted against these common-sense measures, I can assure members of the House that constituents of theirs who are firearms owners openly celebrated the passage of the bill.

As a member of Parliament who represents countless firearms owners, I can say that I unequivocally support their right to own and use firearms. However, with this right comes great responsibility. I support their right to hunt wild game for either sustenance or as a traditional way of life. I support their right to take part in sport shooting. I recognize that firearms are a tool for farmers and those who live in rural Canada, and last of all, many Canadians are devout collectors of firearms and are passionate about their hobby.

It was the previous Conservative government that eliminated the ineffective and costly long gun registry, even with the help of a few NDP members.

Furthermore, former colleague Rick Norlock passed his private member's bill to designate a National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day and it was the Conservative government that created the national hunting and angling advisory panel. For far too long, Canadian firearms owners who abide by the law and cross their t's and dot their i's have tried their best to follow the rules and regulations, even when it was abundantly clear they were not always designed in the most coherent fashion.

Bill C-346 builds on the Conservative caucus's long and proud history of defending the rights of Canadian firearms owners. The bill builds on the progress made to ensure common-sense legislation that allows Canadians to become licensed firearms owners in a structured, yet simple mannered process, without compromising the security of Canadians. While much has been done to correct many of the wrongs that the previous Chrétien government implemented, it is good to see that Bill C-346 is being debated today.

The goal of the bill is quite simple. It is aimed at preventing honest, law-abiding firearms owners from being unjustly charged and becoming criminals. Bill C-346 aims to ensure that no law-abiding firearms owner is criminalized for an administrative issue. As the law currently states, should firearms owners fail to have their paperwork finalized when renewing their licences, they can be criminalized. We do, however, take issue when law-abiding individuals can be unfairly criminalized through no fault of their own. Let me explain.

The Firearms Act, as it currently stands, fails to address the issue that paperwork delays do not always occur due to the fault of the firearms owner but also due to the fault of the government. Indeed, the Phoenix pay system has made it quite clear that the government does not always run as smoothly as possible.

If departmental staff delay the processing of a licence application or a renewal, there are no safeguards built into the existing legislation that protect the gun owner from being criminalized. This is wrong. That is why I am pleased to support the legislation, as it will address this problem. If passed, C-346 will amend the Firearms Act to eliminate the expiry date of firearms licences, but includes the mandatory provision that the licence holder must update the relevant information every 10 years.

This is a positive step for licence holders, as they no longer have to worry every five years about the expiry of their licences. For those who think this would be too long of a period, let me just remind the House that our passports now have a 10-year life cycle. I think we can all agree that this change has been very widely celebrated as it has reduced the inconvenience of getting a new passport photo and filling out the paperwork every five years, let alone every year.

As well, Bill C-346 would not revoke the licences of gun owners who have not updated their information. Should a gun owner fail to update their information, the licence is subsequently suspended. Such a suspension can be cancelled as soon as the necessary required information has been provided to the proper authorities. It further states that no licence may be revoked simply because it is suspended due to the required information not being provided.

This is a crucial part of the legislation. It makes the process far easier to navigate for law-abiding firearms owners, as they would no longer have to go through the process for applying for a brand new licence, should they fail to get the required information in on time. Their licence would simply be suspended until said information is provided. We see no reason to continue to make the process unnecessarily onerous and criminalize individuals who have done nothing wrong.

This new legislation also includes a relinquishment section. Many firearms owners who no longer wish to have their licences, simply do not send in their information so that their licence is cancelled. If Bill C-346 is passed, this would not happen, as the licence would be classified as suspended.

Obviously the Liberals, at least the member for Ajax, never read the motion. The relinquishment section of the legislation allows an individual who no longer wishes to keep their firearms licence, to voluntarily surrender their licence to a chief firearms officer with no negative consequences. This ensures that any individual wishing to let go of their firearms licence would be able to do so in a simple manner.

Another reason this proposed change should come into force is that the RCMP continuous eligibility system, which verifies the validity and conditions of licence requirements every single day, has proven itself effective over the years. This system ensures that any offence that would immediately suspend or revoke a licence is provided to the appropriate law enforcement, and as the law enforcement will have the most up-to-date address for the individual who committed the offence, it would easily allow for the licence to be suspended or permanently revoked.

However, the safeguards built into the system say that if an individual does not update their information, they would not be allowed to purchase a firearm or ammunition from any supplier. This is a reasonable condition to place upon any firearms owner.

In closing, I believe that law-abiding duck hunters, deer hunters, sports shooters, among others, are responsible members of their communities, and when safety measures are followed, provide no threat to others. For far too long, firearms owners have not been treated with respect.

The member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, the former minister of public safety and the current member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, and our current chair of the Conservative hunting and angling caucus, my friend from Red Deer—Lacombe, among others, have played an integral role in defending and promoting the rights of firearms owners, and I commend their efforts.

Also, I feel the efforts of our law enforcement officials should be invested in tackling the illegal gun market and those who commit heinous and violent acts of crime. Let us work together to ensure that the firearms regime is targeting those we need to target, those who have demonstrated they pose a threat to society. In particular, these efforts could be aimed at the safety of women and children in their homes.

I encourage all members to vote in favour of the legislation and to open a dialogue with their constituents who own firearms to hear how these measures are a step in the right direction.

Firearms ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House this afternoon to speak to the private member's bill introduced by my colleague from Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies. I know that introducing a private member's bill is no easy feat. One needs to consult constituents, do research, and work with the folks who draft the legal text of the bill. I therefore congratulate my colleague on his hard work.

This debate brings back good memories in a way. A few years ago, when I was on the other side of the House, I was our party's public safety critic, so I sat on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. My fellow committee members and I looked at many issues related to gun control.

One thing I learned from dealing with this issue as public safety critic a few years ago was that the gun licensing system, the regulations surrounding gun ownership, and the administration of gun ownership are indeed complex areas. No doubt, from time to time, there is a need to improve the procedures and the rules and regulations surrounding gun licensing and gun ownership.

I will be voting against the bill. It is not because I do not believe that the hon. member approached this in a spirit of good will. No doubt his motives are honourable and serve the interests, views, and desires of his constituents. However, as a parliamentarian, I do not feel that there are any compelling reasons for me or the House to support the legislation.

I understand, when we talk about these matters, and all matters in the House, that there are different perspectives motivated by different circumstances and reasons. I am not a gun owner, so obviously, I do not see the issue from the same perspective as some of the members across the way. I do not know many gun owners. I must admit that I represent a suburban riding on the island of Montreal. There are many gun owners, but probably not as many as in my colleague's riding. The gun owners I do know are exemplary citizens. They are the community volunteers. They always provide a helping hand and would give someone the shirt off their back. Perhaps that says a lot about gun owners. It says that at their core, they have a very responsible civic attitude. However, that is not the point here for me.

From my perspective, the current system, as it exists, is not a heavy burden for gun owners. I understand that I might feel differently if I were a gun owner. However, I do own a car, and I understand that it can be annoying from time to time to have to go to the licence bureau, sit there, and wait for my number to be called to renew my licence. Whenever I get the notice in the mail, I have to rejig my schedule. We are all pretty busy here and understand that it is sometimes hard to find that hour or hour and a half to go to the licence bureau to renew a licence. However, I do it, because I understand that it is part of being a responsible car owner, and quite frankly, I am glad that everyone else is doing it. I understand that circumstances change, people's health might decline, or whatever, and I am very pleased that there is an automatic system in place that checks to make sure that everyone who is driving a car is fit to be driving a car.

I feel the same way about this. As a non-gun-owner, I feel safer knowing that there are rules in place that require individuals to take the very minimal step of renewing their licences and providing additional information every five years.

If I were a gun owner, I would say that I am a great guy, responsible, I do not need to do this every five years. I get that. However, it provides the rest of us with a sense of security to know that there is a system in place and that it is fairly rigorous.

The other problem, as was mentioned by the parliamentary secretary, is that there are some aspects of the legislation that are not clear. That is especially with regard to the article on suspension, which would happen if one did not renew his or her licence every 10 years, according to this bill. That would be a new concept under the Firearms Act.

I heard the parliamentary secretary mention it, and it is perhaps not a concept that is well enough developed. In theory, a suspended licence would prevent someone from purchasing ammunition, for example, and it would prohibit the transfer of ammunition to someone with a suspended licence. However, given that the licence would not say it is suspended, as far as I can tell, there would be no way for a retailer to know whether a licence is valid or not. Having vendors call to verify that a licence is not suspended every time ammunition is sold would be tremendously burdensome for vendors, and therefore might not occur. That is one problem that I have with the legislation.

The system we have now has achieved a certain balance. Again, I do not feel compelled to upset that balance for the time being. When our government came into power almost two years ago, we did make some small changes to the system that was in place. We did not do what many people feared or believed we might do.

Let me just go over some of the very minor amendments we made to the firearms regulation in Canada. They were not only minor amendments, but also wise. For example, we stopped the previous government's practice of contradicting law enforcement experts on weapons classification. We also reversed the ministerial directive that allowed gun manufacturers to determine the classification of their own products. That seemed to make sense. I think it makes sense to most Canadians. We also upgraded Canadian laws dealing with the transportation of restricted and prohibited weapons. We are dealing more effectively with background checks, and the inventories kept by vendors.

We created a more representative Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee. It is important that this committee not be more heavily weighted toward one particular group in this debate than another. Therefore, we named retired Supreme Court Justice John Major as the chair, and both Lynda Kiejko, an Olympian sport shooter from Calgary, and Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the Polytechnique shooting, as vice-chairs.

I think we have taken a very moderate approach to improving administrative procedures. As a Liberal, I believe that procedures and laws and institutions can always be made better. I think that is what my hon. colleague from Peace River thinks and why he has presented this private member's bill.

However, I must say in conclusion that at the end of the day, I do not feel compelled to support these changes. That is why I will not be voting for the legislation. Nonetheless, I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate.