Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I will not talk about this in my speech, but I want to comment briefly on what the Conservative Party member just said. One of the important things we are doing with Bill C-21 is increasing maximum penalties for certain offences, such as trafficking and smuggling. We should all keep that in mind as we study the bill.
That said, I appreciate this opportunity to add my voice to the debate on Bill C-21 at second reading. I believe this is one of the strongest legislative packages ever introduced in this country to combat gun violence. It proposes a wide range of measures to help keep people safe and deliver on the firearm policy commitments we made to Canadians during the last campaign.
These measures are urgently needed, because gun violence remains a tragic reality that too often affects our cities and regions. We only have to look at the Polytechnique tragedy, or what happened four years ago at the Quebec City mosque, in my riding, when a killer entered the mosque and murdered six people, leaving many kids fatherless, and injured several others. We must also remember the massacre that happened more recently in Nova Scotia.
No one should have their life cut short so tragically and senselessly in our country. No one should have to live with the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. That is why our government made it a top priority to protect Canadians from gun violence, including by regulating their use and strengthening Canada's gun laws.
Last May, we took a significant step forward in protecting Canadians by prohibiting more than 1,500 models of assault-style firearms and their variants, which have too often been used in tragic incidents here in Canada and in the rest of North America. The vast majority of firearm owners are responsible and law-abiding citizens, but these powerful and dangerous firearms that we banned on May 1, 2020, were not designed for legitimate activities such as hunting or sport shooting. Rather, they were designed for use on the battlefield and have no place in our cities, on our streets or in our lives.
Bill C-21 goes even further in protecting Canadians. To finish what we started last May when we banned more than 1,500 models of assault-style firearms and their variants, Bill C-21 proposes to amend the Firearms Act to provide a non-permissive storage option to the owners of firearms prohibited on May 1, 2020. That means an owner could choose to keep their firearms but would not be permitted to use them, sell them, give them to someone else or bequeath them. That is far more restrictive than the grandfathering rules that accompanied previous firearm prohibitions in Canada.
According to these rules, grandfathered owners can buy from and sell to other owners who hold the same grandfathering privileges. Some grandfathered firearms may also be authorized for use at a shooting range. None of that would be allowed with respect to the assault-style firearms prohibited last May. They would have to be stored away safely and kept there under lock and key.
This approach would essentially freeze the market for these firearms, while treating existing owners fairly. Over time, the number of prohibited firearms in Canada would decrease substantially, and they would eventually be eliminated. To accelerate that process, and unlike what was done with past prohibitions, the government also intends to introduce a buyback program as soon as possible. Owners who wish to surrender their firearms for compensation as part of that forthcoming program could certainly do so.
It is impossible to know how many people would take the government up on that offer, but it is highly likely that many owners would take compensation in exchange for their firearms. Those who want to retain their firearms as part of a collection or for sentimental value can do so, but as I was saying, they would not be permitted to bequeath them, transfer them or use them.
Failure to comply with those regulations would also result in criminal prosecution. Any prohibited firearm remaining in someone’s possession would, and this is very important, also need to be registered, including those that were previously classified as non-restricted. Regulators and law enforcement would know exactly who the owners are, and where their assault-style firearms are located.
Moreover, owners who choose to retain possession of these firearms would be required to comply with additional requirements. That includes successfully completing the Canadian restricted firearms safety course and upgrading to a restricted possession and acquisition licence, with all the associated fees that would entail.
The requirements I just mentioned, and the permanent inability to lawfully use or transfer these firearms, for any reason, would essentially make those firearms useless. Logically speaking, all of those things would be major incentives to participate in an eventual buyback program.
Removing these powerful prohibited firearms from society is one of the many goals of this legislation. However, it is also important to immediately remove any firearms from potentially dangerous situations, including situations involving domestic and intimate partner violence, an issue that has been compounded by the pandemic. Sadly, there have been too many such incidents in Quebec over the past year. Beyond domestic violence, there are also other situations where a person may be suicidal or has openly advocated hatred or violence against someone.
To respond to these situations, Bill C-21 proposes the creation of red-flag and yellow-flag provisions. These provisions would make it easier for anyone who feels threatened by the presence of a firearm in their home or by an individual who owns a firearm to take action to protect themselves and others.
More specifically, the red-flag regime would allow anyone, not just police, to apply to the courts for an immediate removal of an individual's firearm if they pose a danger.
Similarly, the yellow-flag regime would allow anyone to ask a chief firearms officer to suspend and examine an individual's licence if there are reasonable suspicions that the person is no longer eligible to hold a licence.
I will remind members that these measures build on the amendments made to the Firearms Act in 2019, which establish that a firearms licence applicant's lifetime history of intimate partner violence and online threats are mandatory grounds for consideration in the determination of licence eligibility.
Gun violence continues to be a major problem in our communities. It is important to remember that all firearm tragedies, from the public ones we commemorate to the private ones that occur in the home, create untold sadness and are often preventable. All Canadians deserve to live in a place where they can be safe and secure, and that is the objective of Bill C-21.
As the Prime Minister said, “we need more than thoughts and prayers. We need concrete action.” That is exactly what Bill C-21 proposes: concrete action to stem the tide of gun violence in Canada.
I am very proud to support this bill at second reading, and I hope that my colleagues will do the same so that it can be sent to committee and we can hear what various groups have to say about Bill C-21. For decades now, various civil society groups have been calling for a ban on military-style assault weapons like the one we implemented on May 1, 2020, which will be strengthened by Bill C-21. These weapons were designed for the military and are not appropriate for civilian use. We have seen them used in too many incidents, too many tragedies and too many killings. They were designed for military use and manufactured to be efficient killing machines. They are not used for hunting or sport shooting and have no place in our society because they are too dangerous.
I am proud to be part of a government that, after decades of dithering, finally decided to move forward with prohibiting 1,500 different models of firearms, including the AR-15 and Vz58. This ban essentially froze the market completely as of May 1, 2020, by prohibiting the import, export, use and sale of such weapons.
I would remind the House that the young man who burst into the Quebec City mosque was armed with a Vz58. Thank goodness his gun jammed, but he never should have been in possession of such a weapon in the first place. This is why a ban like the one we proposed on May 1, which is strengthened in Bill C-21, is so important, as are the increased maximum penalties for many trafficking and smuggling offences, and the red-flag and yellow-flag provisions.
I am getting a bit off topic from Bill C-21, but I would also point out the investments we have made to expand our border capacity and dedicate more resources to the community-based organizations working to prevent violence upstream. This is in addition to the resources that have been invested in the RCMP and our law enforcement agencies across the country with programs such as Ontario's guns, gangs and violence reduction strategy.