Madam Speaker, I confirm that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We will do so in good faith once again. We believe that increasing penalties for crimes such as the possession of unlawfully imported firearms is the right thing to do.
At first glance, the bill is not creating new rights; it is just saying that committing this offence will result in harsher penalties for subsequent offences. One can hardly be against such a proposal.
However, I believe that we should be cautious on two counts. I said I would vote in favour of this bill, but I keep thinking that we must be vigilant about one thing. Personally, I am not keen on the idea of minimum sentencing for crimes. I think that we should trust our justice system and our judges who are capable of assessing situations on a case-by-case basis.
It is rare to find two cases that are exactly the same. There are always subtle differences. These differences must be taken into account, and judges are usually in a position to do so. Yes, it takes mandatory minimums. We are here to legislate, we want to create a legal framework and we agree on that. However, I do have a caveat. Mandatory minimums are not a cure-all. We must be very careful that we do not restrict in any way a judge's latitude to make important distinctions.
I have another caveat. We must not think that by increasing penalties for the possession of illegal firearms we are addressing all problems related to gun control. The opposite is true. This measure will likely have an impact, or at least we hope it will, since we do not want to create legislation for no reason. Still, the impact will be relatively marginal.
The Toronto chief of police recently said that more than half of the gun crimes committed in his city involved guns that were legally purchased. Illegal guns are obviously not a good thing, but although our own firearms market here, in Canada and Quebec, is subject to some restrictions, it enjoys permissions that must be controlled.
Last spring, on May 1, an order was made, and the Canadian government created a regulation that added some 1,500 types of firearms to the prohibited assault-style firearms registry. At the time, it was argued that assault-style firearms were not meant for hunting. Nobody wants to stop a hunter from bagging a deer every year, but nobody needs a machine gun to hunt deer. Many a good hunter will hunt with bow and arrow. The government does not want to ban hunting, but it says that assault weapons, weapons used to kill other humans, weapons of war, do not belong in Quebec or in Canada. The government therefore decided to ban them by order in the spring. Almost all of us agreed on that.
That being said, we look forward to seeing what happens as a result of this ban. I look forward to it, in any case, since the result will be the mandatory buyback program for firearms. Now, we heard our Prime Minister dither on that, and he spoke about an optional buyback program at one point. Someone who purchased an assault weapon that is now banned would not be forced to bring it back if they bought it before it was banned. The government is removing the teeth from this worthwhile gun control process.
This buyback program must be mandatory, and I hope that the government will soon introduce a bill for the optional buyback program. This must be done through a bill. I have not heard any talk about that yet. However, I invite our Liberal colleagues to introduce one as quickly as possible so that we can work on it and finally have a logical next step. We started off in the right direction, but now it seems we are zigzagging a little. I want us to continue in the right direction. I do not want to see any dithering.
In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois would be prepared to vote in favour of a mandatory buyback program for illegal firearms; in fact, we would like that to happen as soon as possible.
In short, we will support my colleague's very virtuous Bill C-238, noting that minimum sentences are not a cure-all. I still have reservations about that, but I think it is justified in this case. We will support it.
Let me add another caveat. Bill C-238 must not be used as an excuse to not go further when it comes to the mandatory buyback program for the firearms that were banned last spring. That is essential in our society.