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.