Madam Speaker, when I saw this on the Order Paper and that it was up for discussion tonight, I literally ran from my office to be here. There is nothing that has taken more lives in my life than handguns. In fact, I have been to more funerals in my riding for children killed by illegal handguns than I have for members of my own family in my entire lifetime.
People only have to attend one of these funerals to have their lives changed forever. For those who have attended a sequence of them, one begins to understand that it is not the cliché that is being buried, it is a victim of so many things that have gone wrong that is being buried. The families who have to deal with gun violence in their communities are traumatized. Literally, the number of children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders in the riding that I represent, in a couple of neighbourhoods, is exceptional.
I will never forget, after a machine gun was used to terrorize a community, seeing a grandmother pull the shrapnel out of a kid's bicycle that now had a flat tire and hand to me so I could give it to the police just in case they could find the individual who had used a submachine gun in a residential neighbourhood.
The most terrifying thing is that in some of our communities, it is not even the residents in the communities who are the targets, it is just the name of the community that is targeted. The media picks up on it and it further traumatizes and stigmatizes the young people who come from some of these neighbourhoods. At the end of the day, it is young people's lives that are being taken by illegal handguns and it is time for it to end, and to end as quickly as possible.
I thank the member opposite for stepping up. We do not normally see good, strong gun control legislation coming from the Conservatives, but in this case, as I said, I do not need a party to tell me how to vote. My residents have told me how to vote and I will be supporting this bill.
The issue, however, is more than just the smuggled guns. By the time a kid picks up a handgun to shoot or be shot, it is too late. So much of what we need to do as a country and, in particular, so much of what we need to do in the city I represent is to give young people better choices, because when those better choices are there, they make the better choice.
I have seen countless examples of young people who have been steered away from a life of trouble, have been taken away from the justice system, put into restorative systems and literally rehabilitated, to the point where they are leaders in bringing down the level of violence that threatens our communities. They have changed the way young people themselves approach the challenges that some of them face and have taken neighbourhoods that had shootings that were just too many to count and returned them to relative peace.
All it takes is people coming out of prison and recycling themselves into a society that does not give them any options except a life of crime sometimes and we end up with a revictimizing of the victims, a revictimizing of these young people and it starts all over again. There are neighbourhoods that are literally on five-year cycles because of the five-year mandatory minimum sentences.
We can almost predict which community, in five years' time, will have a major bust or sweep through it with guns and other elements of criminal activity involved. We know that everyone will be getting out of prison at about the same time, in about five years' time, and it will start all over again. That is why justice reform, changing the way we police this issue, stopping guns at the border and giving kids better choices are conversations I will never back away from. It also requires us to think differently about guns in this country.
I have a sister who ran a logging and tree-planting crew in the interior of B.C. and on Vancouver Island. I understand a shotgun is used as a tool to keep people, especially tree planters, safe in very remote communities. My family was a farming family back in Australia and I certainly understand that sometimes farmers require these tools in order to keep their crops safe or their livestock alive. I understand that and I have no intention of breaking into that.
I have been to the north with my colleague from the Northwest Territories. I have seen the way country food is harvested. I understand the role that hunting plays in sustaining communities from coast to coast to coast, in particular, indigenous communities, but there is no rational reason for anybody in this country to own a handgun. Handguns are made for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to kill people.
They may be needed in the armed forces and policing. Even then I still require convincing continually because I get nervous when I see handguns pulled in policing sometimes. I have been on the police service board, I have been to police funerals and I understand the need to defend people, and police officers have just as much right to go home safely after their shift as any other Canadian.
The culture around handguns is as much what we are trying to stop coming across the border as the politics of handguns and the handguns themselves.
We put this bill in a sequence of legislation that includes strong investments in public housing, strong investments in early learning and childcare, strong investments in youth diversion from the justice system, and strong investments in looking at different ways that sentencing can work to support the re-creation and rebirth of people who have made bad choices in their lives. When we invest in education and jobs, and particularly jobs in racialized communities, the temperature changes. The danger starts to disappear, but it is never entirely gone until the guns are gone.
I have huge problems with any attempt to relax the regulations around guns in this country. I will never back away, as I said, from this conversation. They can put my face on the sides of campaign buses and they can write the hateful letters and terrible emails that are sent when one speaks out against handguns and gun violence in this country. I do not care. I just do not care. I care too much about the people and families in my riding who have had to suffer from bad gun laws in this country for too long.
It is different in rural Canada. I get that, but in urban Canada there is no need, no reason, no requirement and no justification for owning a handgun. Whether it is lost, whether it is stolen or whether it is smuggled, when that gun goes off that bullet does not stop ricocheting in our communities. Families that lost a loved one 15 years ago still walk by corners in my riding and break down in tears. Families that lost a loved one to ricocheting bullets that went through windows, or bounced off bicycles, or went through air conditioners do not forget the sound of bullets entering a living room and do not feel safe in their homes anymore.
We have a responsibility as politicians. We have a responsibility as community leaders. We have a responsibility as neighbours to protect each other from this kind of violence. If this law takes 50 guns off the street, I will support it. If it takes 100 guns off, I will cheer. If it takes 1,000 guns out of our communities, I will be doing nothing other than giving my thanks to the hon. member for the leadership he is providing on this issue.
That being said, we also need to have a frank conversation about mandatory minimum sentences, because we know systemically how they are applied and who they are applied to, and who benefits from justice and who does not when it does not understand context. This is not a plea to be soft on criminals. If someone has picked up a gun and fired it, they are a criminal and will always be a criminal, in my view.
The real challenge, and the most important thing here, is to start to understand that we have an opportunity, a responsibility and a chance to take those bullets, and those handguns, away from our communities and make the lives of police officers safer, make the lives of clerks of the court system safer, make our communities safer, and make politicians safer as we see guns being used against politicians around the world. We have a mutual obligation to work together.
I know that there are people who have a relationship with their guns because they went hunting with their dad. I know that there are communities that need the long gun and the shotgun for food. I understand the arguments that come and the divide that exists between rural Canada and urban Canada, but I plead with people who come from rural ridings to understand that they have to help us stop burying kids in Toronto. We need everyone's help, and we cannot do it alone, with educational programs or background checks. We have to focus on handguns.
I recognize there are some people who like to trap shoot, just as there are some people who like to throw javelins, but someone cannot throw a javelin in downtown Toronto just because they want to. Someone cannot drive a snowmobile in the winter through downtown Toronto just because they want to. If someone has to have a gun and needs to pursue that hobby, please take it out of our cities. Take it away from crowded environments. Take it away from the nightclubs. Take it away from the back alleys. Take it away from a place where it will hurt somebody, because of the damage that guns have been doing, in particular with regard to who is being buried and which communities are being affected.
People are crying for laws on this. They are pleading with us for laws on this and their voices are being largely ignored in this Parliament. It has to end. It is for that reason that I will be voting for this motion, even with my concerns about the mandatory minimum sentences, because we have to get rid of handguns in this country and I will never back down from that position, ever.