Mr. Speaker, first, as the NDP's public safety critic, I would like to say that our thoughts go out to those who were injured in the terrible bus accident on Highway 401 in Prescott, which is not far from here. We also thank the first responders who are currently on the scene. We hope the damage will be minimal.
I would like to bring some order back to the debate, so to speak. We have reviewed the various parties' positions on the bill, but we need to look at what is really before us, and that is a Conservative motion to grant the committee the power to travel. It is a motion of instruction for the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I have the honour of sitting on that committee and of being the vice-chair.
Before I talk about a few of the points that have been made about the bill, some that I agree with and others that I do not, I want to talk about the process. I think that we have had a good demonstration of why the firearms debate in Canada is unhealthy. Let me explain. I am not blaming citizens or civil society, on the contrary. Rather, I am looking at the way certain political parties are acting in the House.
We had a marathon of votes, a filibuster, which essentially used up the entire first day of debate on Bill C-71. The Conservatives, the official opposition, triggered those votes. That is their right, and I am not disputing that. On the other hand, the Liberals then arrived the following Monday morning, after we spent the weekend in our ridings, and moved a time allocation motion. As the public safety critic for the second opposition party, the NDP, I did not even have an opportunity to speak before the Liberals tabled, moved, and debated a time allocation motion. It was completely mind-boggling.
These actions to stifle debate, coupled with all these procedural games in the House, have had a significant impact on the bill. This bill concerns the acts and regulations governing the use and acquisition of firearms in Canada. All this is problematic. Unfortunately, it poisons the dialogue from the outset, which does not help anyone strike a balance between ensuring public safety and considering the needs of law-abiding firearm owners.
We cannot disagree with the principle behind the Conservatives' motion to travel. As a parliamentarian, I am always open-minded, and I am always basically open to the possibility of studying a bill in greater detail. That being said, I have to say that this motion seems to be in bad faith. We have a committee that is working fine. I do not always agree with the government's positions, since I would prefer seeing more time spent on certain studies. We just finished studying Bill C-59, the massive national security reform bill. I would certainly have liked to see more meetings and more witnesses, but all in all, I would say we are one of the best-functioning parliamentary committees.
No offence to my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, but he is acting in bad faith. He arrived the day before clause-by-clause review with this kind of motion without trying to work with his colleagues. I can say that I received no notice that we would be talking about this, and there was no discussion of the sort. This was presented and witnesses in committee were interrupted so that we could debate motions on extending the study instead of truly using the subcommittee or some other means, such as an informal conversation, to talk about this. Still, I think that it is important to say that, in principle, I am not opposed to what the Conservative Party is proposing.
I will try to provide a more extensive analysis of the points that were raised about the study and the bill. There is something that I find mind-boggling. Last Thursday, a representative of the Assembly of First Nations came to testify. In fact, my colleague mentioned that testimony. She had some very important points to raise. The NDP has always been very clear about this. It was very important. I remember one of the last agonizing debates on firearms in Canada.
Speaking of respect for their hunting and fishing rights, Jack Layton said that first nations occupied an important place. Respecting these laws means recognizing the importance of indigenous peoples.
On Thursday, the Conservatives said it was not true. They said first nations were not consulted and had to be respected, but just the day before they had opposed the bill introduced by my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, a bill to legally implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That conflicts with what they are saying in the House this evening about how Assembly of First Nations representatives said they were not consulted enough. The bill makes it clear that Canada's first nations must be respected. That is contradictory to say the least.
They have also been waging a misinformation campaign claiming that the government wants to reintroduce a gun registry, but that is not the case at all.
Let me go back to a debate that took place in 2012 about the Conservative government's bill to scrap the gun registry. Rick Hanson, who was Calgary's police chief at the time, testified in favour of the bill and against the gun registry. He said the Conservative members represented his point of view. I think it is safe to conclude that the Conservatives invited him to testify.
I will read what he said in English, which is the language he used in committee. Two key aspects of his testimony are related to elements of Bill C-71. First, he talked about firearms possession licences:
If a person is selling a firearm to another, the wording must be that the transferee must present a valid possession and acquisition licence and the transferor must check with the registrar to ensure that the licence is valid.
This was proposed by a chief of police who did not support the gun registry. Conservative MPs and people appearing before the committee have tried to tell us that it is a gun registry. In fact, it is simply a reference number, a simple bureaucratic gesture indicating that the licence was checked. That is all. It is not remotely close to being a gun registry. All witnesses on both sides of the debate agreed on that.
I can say, first of all, that I will be moving an amendment in committee, during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, to address some concerns of gun owners. Instead of having a reference number for every gun sold in a transaction between two individuals, there should be a reference number to indicate that the validity of the licence has been verified for each transaction. I asked a witness in committee this question and, instead of answering, he decided to skirt the issue and talk about other aspects that he wanted to address.
I would like to point out another aspect of Mr. Hanson's evidence. He said:
[W]e must reinstate point of sale recording. This existed prior to the gun registry and was useful for two reasons. The first is that it allowed for proper auditing of gun stores to ensure that they are complying with the law requiring them to sell only to those with proper licences. That is a starting point should that gun be identified as being used in a criminal offence.
That statement is important. I agree with the parliamentary secretary that the vast majority of businesses that sell guns have substantial, appropriate, and robust business practices. Any respectable venture must maintain these types of records, and that is as it should be. However, having a law ensures that police officers can obtain this information, with an appropriate warrant, of course.
It is important to point this out because this was in the law before the gun registry was created, and it was an element of the law that was repealed because of the registry. When the registry was eliminated, many people in the public safety community said that this element of the law had to be reintroduced because it at least gives police a tool to validate and check where a gun was sold.
One thing my Conservative colleagues and I have in common is that we have questions. How will the government enforce standardized practices for retailers? How much will it cost? What kind of consultation will the Minister of Public Safety do in developing this part of the act? We have concerns.
We also have questions about the systems that will be used, online or in other ways, to obtain a permit to transport a restricted or prohibited firearm, especially in cases in which multiple applications are made at the same time. For example, when several gun owners are participating in the same activity, they will have to transport their guns and will therefore require a transport permit. How will this work? How much will it cost? These are legitimate questions that come up in committee.
The bottom line is that emotions run high when the topic of firearms comes up, for all kinds of reasons. Some people have been victims of horrible gun crimes, while others are legitimate, law-abiding gun owners who want public policies adopted in the interest of public safety to respect the fact that they are responsible in practising their hobbies. We recognize that this is not an easy balance and that this issue raises a lot of very difficult questions. We are hearing some very worrisome testimony, and we have a duty, as parliamentarians, to do our job properly.
As I said from the start, I am very open to my Conservative colleagues' proposal that the committee travel and hear from more witnesses, but that has to be done in good faith. I heard a Conservative member mention political fundraising, but the Liberals are guilty of that too. They sent out emails that included a bunch of quotes from firearms owners in order to raise money. Regardless of which side of the debate we are on, we are not going to be able to adopt sound public policies that respect all of the communities affected by this bill by doing political fundraising.
I would like to continue to work on this issue in a sound and appropriate way. I recognize that there are many challenges associated with it. There are measures that raise concerns, others that are good, and still others that should be fined-tuned because the devil is in the details. At the risk of repeating myself, I want to say that, if I can get one point across in this debate, I want it to be that we need to take this issue seriously and address it in a healthy way. That is what we need to do if we really want to show respect for those who have major concerns about this bill.
I asked the minister whether he was willing to review the definitions set out in the act, those that are within the purview of Parliament and that provide the framework for the RCMP's classification work. If there is one thing that everyone has agreed on since I have been the public safety critic, it is the need to update the definitions. I hope that the minister will do that. I invite him to do so. Clarifying some of those definitions will resolve many of the problems raised in these debates.
With regard to this evening's motion, unfortunately, we believe that it is a debate that will have to wait for another day.