moved that Bill C-238, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, today, it is my pleasure to rise to introduce Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code, regarding the possession of unlawfully imported firearms. This bill would help make my community of Markham and communities across the country safer places to live. The bill would do that by increasing the mandatory minimum prison time for criminals in known possession of a smuggled gun. It would also make criminals charged with this crime less likely to be released on bail.
To understand the bill, members need to know how community safety in the GTA has changed over the years. That history is something I know very well.
Like many immigrants, I came to Canada and settled in Toronto as a young man. Back in the seventies, I lived in a rooming house in downtown Toronto with five other tenants and the landlady. My rent was $10 per week and no key was ever issued for the front door, since the door was always left open. There was no crime around my area, and no one was afraid to walk alone at any time of the night. However, over time, Toronto developed some problem areas.
Many years later, I owned several businesses, and some of them were in the most difficult part of town. I was always afraid for the safety of my staff and my customers. Police regularly came to download the security video from my business, since there were many crimes committed in the area.
This is one of the reasons I got involved with politics. I know what it is like to lose sleep over crime concerns. I want all Canadians to feel safe in their community. That is why I am always talking about safety and security.
As time went on, even the bad parts of Toronto felt safer. People worried less about their kids walking home at night and whether they remembered to lock their doors. I would proudly tell people that Toronto was one of the safest major cities in the world.
Over the past five years, that has changed. Gun crime has risen to new highs year after year. What once felt like a safe city no longer feels that way. Shootings are happening almost daily. Even with multiple lockdowns in Ontario this year, there were reports of nearly daily shootings, each more horrible than the last. It is easy to see this trend by following the news. In 2018, the headlines, day after day, were about horrific shootings. It was a record year for shooting deaths. In 2019, there were even more shootings. Things are not getting better.
Speaking to my constituents only confirmed what I believed about gun crime. When I go door to door, people tell me that they are afraid. I hear stories of gunshots close to parks where children play. The stories I heard last October, before COVID struck, are the same as what I am hearing now.
I will read some more recent headlines from our local paper. On June 21, it says, “York police investigate incident of gunshots fired at Markham residence”. On June 28, it says, “Man found dead behind wheel after shooting, crash in Markham”. On September 11, it says, “Police investigate several incidents of gunshots fired in Markham as 'possibly connected'”. On October 23, it says, “Second man arrested after shooting in Markham”.
The statistics published in the 2019 York Regional Police “Statistical Report” point to a growing problem in York Region. There are similar headlines from the rest of the GTA and across Canada. When I talk with MPs of all stripes, they are on the same page. I think it is very clear that the problem of gun crime is not getting better, and that needs to change.
Last year, I met with community leaders and law enforcement. I asked them what concrete steps the federal government needed to take to make the community safer. The thing I heard over and over at these meetings was that organized crime was behind the shootings, and the streets are flooded with guns smuggled from across the border. Mostly they are handguns because they are easy to smuggle, hide and carry. That should not be shocking news to anyone. Our farmers, hunters and sports shooters are not fuelling a crime wave. The shootings are gang-related, with innocent people getting caught in the crossfire.
The former head of the Toronto Police, my friend Chief Saunders, said last year, “Gun violence is getting worse, there is more access to firearms”. He also said that his sources show 82% of the guns picked up by police in Toronto are smuggled into the country.
Ontario’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, has said that provincial numbers show that 84% of the guns used in crime are being smuggled into the country. She has said, “We need to actually crack down on that because that ultimately will keep our community safer.”
It makes sense. Canada shares the longest undefended border in the world with the United States, and in the United States it is very easy to purchase a gun. Smuggling guns is good business.
Let me quote directly from a CBC article. Superintendent Jason Crowley, with the Windsor police department, says that the appeal of smuggling guns is pure economics. He says, “You will see a gun, a firearm purchased in the States for potentially $200 to $300, and they'll go on the streets [in Canada] for $3,000.”
That is a return on investment that is hard to beat, but it gets worse. The industry is so profitable that criminals are even renting these guns. Why sell it for $3,000, when they can rent out the same gun for $2,000, multiple times?
I know that some members on the other side of the House may bring slightly different figures to this debate. However, I want to focus on the fact that smuggled guns are being used regularly in the GTA and across Canada. Many of the bullet wounds that send people to the hospital and the morgue come from smuggled guns.
The problem is deeper than just the guns. When the police catch the criminals using these guns, they end up right back on the street, sometimes within hours. While I know that some people may be concerned about criminals' rights, I want to be clear that criminals do not have the right to terrorize their community. When dangerous people are arrested for shootings and they return to the community within a day, there is a strong message to the community. That message is that people cannot depend on the justice system to keep them safe.
This is not an exaggeration. When I spoke to the police about this, they said it was a problem. Just having someone in jail for a couple of days can help them cool down and put a pause on the cycle of violence. They are not alone in this.
The Premier of Ontario has said, “somebody gets arrested on a Friday night and they get bail and are back out on Wednesday for retribution. That’s absolutely unacceptable”. Ontario municipal leaders, including the mayor of Toronto, are calling for tougher bail for those accused of gun-related offences and longer sentences for those convicted. There are too many stories of dangerous criminals receiving bail only to commit more crimes within hours.
My private member's bill would help tackle both smuggled guns and dangerous criminals on bail. As members may know, possession of an unauthorized firearm that was obtained in crime is covered by section 96 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is one to 10 years, or a summary conviction. That does not go far enough. My bill will distinguish known possession of a smuggled firearm as a more serious offence.
This offence would come with three to 14 years in prison on the first conviction and five to 14 on the second and subsequent convictions. This charge is comparable to the prison time for illegal firearm importing and exporting.
Possession of a smuggled firearm is a serious crime. That is why people charged with this new offence would face reverse onus bail, which requires criminals to tell a judge why they should be let back into the community on bail. This type of bail is already in the Criminal Code for multiple crimes such as hostage-taking, armed robbery or extortion with a firearm. This bill would make sure the punishment fits the crime of carrying around a smuggled gun.
I know there are some concerns with respect to my bill. Normally, with legislation on firearms, people are concerned about the unintended effects: that, instead of the law cracking down on criminals, it would be used to punish hunters who file paperwork a little too late. We have seen this before in the long-gun registry, which cost about a billion dollars but did not seem to make anyone safer. This bill would avoid that. It is only focused on weapons that are smuggled and on known possession.
I know other members will be concerned about mandatory minimums. They believe that taking the decision out of the hands of a judge is wrong and is a question of human rights. Some might consider three years in prison to be cruel and unusual punishment, especially for a first offence. I disagree. People in known possession of a smuggled gun have the gun for a reason. Even someone who hands off a smuggled gun is putting the safety of the community at risk. At worst, they are assisting with a shooting or a murder. I think members need to focus on how criminals are driving away jobs in our own communities. Some of these criminals may be able to turn their lives around, but that will not happen without serious consequences for their actions. Dangerous criminals learn nothing when we slap them on the wrist for terrible crimes. When they are in prison, I am happy to support programs that can give them a better future. Recent attempts by the Liberal government have not been able to get at the root of the problem. This bill strikes at the people who we know for a fact are criminals.
This bill is one of many steps that need to be taken to make my constituents, and millions of other Canadians, a bit safer. I urge all MPs to vote for this legislation and to continue to do the work needed to make Canada an even safer place to raise a family.
If members have any questions about the legislation, we can iron it out at committee.