Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to join in the debate in this virtual sitting of the House of Commons on Bill C-21, which is obscurely named an act to amend certain acts and to make certain consequential amendments on firearms.
I first want to say that what New Democrats want is for Canadians to be safer and feel safer. What we do not want is a polarization and a politicization of an issue that should be about public safety. Unfortunately, it deteriorates fairly rapidly into a debate about something else. We understand there are differences of opinion as to how best to make Canadians safer, but we do not want a clash of cultures. This is not a debate about cultures; this is a debate that ought to be focused on public safety.
I sat through two Parliaments before the previous one and heard issues debated regarding gun safety and the long-gun registry and it was not very helpful, frankly, in terms of gun safety and people's safety. We are in a situation now where the banning of assault rifles is one of the two most important measures. This is not about gun culture, hunting, law-abiding citizens or anything like that. We know there are efforts to talk about law-abiding citizens and I agree that most of us are law-abiding citizens, but the reality is that guns are a serious problem in our society. There have been mass shootings and I can go over some of them.
In December of 1989, we are all familiar with the horrendous events at École Polytechnique, where 14 were killed and 14 injured. In August of 1992, there was a massacre at Concordia University and in 1996, in Vernon, B.C. there were nine killed. In January 2017, we know about the Quebec City mosque shooting in Sainte-Foy, with six dead and five injured. Last April, there was the horrendous event in Nova Scotia, where 22 were killed and three injured. We know that these things happen and that they are likely to happen again. If something can be done to reduce the danger of this happening, then we should do it.
The two most important measures that deal with gun violence are the ban on military assault-style weapons and assault weapons with those kinds of capabilities and the empowering of municipalities to restrict or ban handguns within their boundaries. Both measures are ones that New Democrats have long supported and, in the case of the municipal handgun ban, were even the first to advocate. These measures would provide some support and defence against the possibilities that someone, in the case of assault rifles, who may have an obsession, grievance, hatred or some form of mental imbalance or anger associated with that, could cause mass deaths in a very short period of time, causing significant and horrendous death and loss of life of innocent people. As was pointed out, these guns have no use in our civil society. These are military weapons designed to be effective killers of people and New Democrats support the ban of these weapons.
We also want this legislation to receive the largest support possible in the House of Commons and largest level of acceptance by the general public. We know there is significant public support for a ban on assault rifles. A May 2020 poll said that 82% of people support a ban on the possession of assault-style weapons by civilians, 87% of women and 88% of Canadians aged 55-plus support a ban on military assault-style weapons and 87% of Canadians agree that the federal government should increase funding to suppress the smuggling of assault-style guns into Canada. Of course, this is another measure that we have been advocating for for at least a decade, that smuggling enforcement has to be improved considerably.
We heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety say that measures have been taken, but they are very late in coming and they are not even installed properly yet. In fact, going back to 2014, over 1,000 Canada Border Service Agency agents were removed from service and have not been replaced by the government since it has been in power, since 2015. That is something that is seriously deficient in the response that has taken place.
We will have committee hearings. There are serious concerns that have been raised by groups that have been advocating for victims of mass shootings. They have come forward and said that they do not believe that the Liberals are very serious if they are not prepared to put measures in place that take the long-term effect of removing these weapons seriously.
The so-called “grandfather clause” that allows people to keep weapons for potentially 20 to 60 years, despite the fact that they are prohibited weapons, is something that causes people to be concerned about how serious the government is in actually changing things, particularly when we already have a commitment from the Conservative Party to reverse that ban and therefore the lobbyists are encouraging people not to participate in a voluntary buyback program.
The minister's parliamentary secretary and the previous speaker suggested that a study of the New Zealand situation proved that only 40% of guns were actually returned in a voluntary buyback program. I do not believe that is an effective and proper analysis of the facts. The only figure that is based on is a figure put forth, unverified, by the gun lobby suggesting that there were 170,000 assault-style rifles in place. The other evidence shows that as a result of the buyback program, there has been no change in the price on the black market for assault-style weapons and there is no indication that this has not, in fact, been effective in reducing and eliminating further actions of that nature in New Zealand.
In fact, a ban in Australia was very important in effecting change for what happened in 1996, the Port Arthur massacre, that killed 35 people and injured 23. A national firearms ban was put in place and placed tight controls around automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Since then, there has only been one mass shooting since 1996, defined as more than five killed. However, between 1978 and 1996, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, proving that the ban would be effective.
This is another failure of the government. There are other aspects of this bill, and I think the previous speaker touched on the red flag laws. We need to hear about the effectiveness of them. It looks to me that they can be effective in improving the possibility of getting guns out of the hands of people who may be an immediate danger to themselves or others. That is a very positive thing, but we do need to hear evidence on that because there are some of contrary views as to whether they are proper and able to do an effective job in that.
We have also a need for consultation from these groups. We need to also hear from another group that has a great deal of interest in this legislation and I am speaking here of the airsoft industry. It has come forward after being effectively put out of business by this legislation without any notice, without any consultation and without any alternatives. The failure to consult with other groups in the preparation of this legislation was also evident in this area because there are possibilities of using regulation as a different method of control in the airsoft industry.
For those who do not know, it is akin to the paintball industry. It is called airsoft because it is essentially an air gun that is used in recreational activity. Many of them are replicas of other styles of guns. We have legislation and regulation within the movie industry to allow it to use replica guns in film work with licences and regulations.
There is no reason to believe that regulations could not be developed in consultation with the airsoft industry to allow that industry to continue in a regulated fashion. That is something that may or may not be able to be done with committee hearings. It may be something that ought to be put off for further consultation.
This legislation was brought in after the order in council, very quickly after the Portapique massacre in Nova Scotia last year. We do not think that sufficient consultation was made, with all of the things that are contained in this legislation. We do need to have a closer look at much of what is in this legalisation. There is a lot of detail here.
I would like to hear that the government is prepared to be serious about considering other ways of ensuring that if we are going to have a ban on assault rifles, it is going to be an effective one that would be permanent in nature. It has been suggested, for example, that instead of having a compulsory buyback, if people wish to keep these assault-style rifles because they are collectors and want to have a display and show them to their friends, etc., there are methods of rendering them inoperable. It has been suggested that might be an alternative to the grandfathering clause, which would be quite easily overturned, rendering ineffective the measures that the government has taken.
It is not something that I think ought to be left lingering. We do not control the future, obviously, but to have a measure that provides legislation that lingers for decades but is not effective for that period of time is something we need to avoid.
The bottom line here is that we have legislation that meets the need to ban assault rifles, to make it more difficult to use, to be put into place. We hear as part of the discussion, and we have already heard it here this morning, talk about law-abiding citizens. The law-abiding citizens are people who do not break the law. There are many people who are law-abiding citizens until they are not law-abiding citizens anymore.
The research on gun violence shows that, for example, in the 16 deadliest mass shootings in Europe, and this is five-year-old evidence, between 1987 and 2015, 86% of the victims were shot by a licensed shooter. In at least 29 American mass gun killings since 2007, 139 people were killed by licensed firearm owners. To look back to Canada, of the firearms seized from Canadians who were violent, had threatened violence or were subject to a prohibition order, 43% were registered to licensed gun owners. In New Zealand, another example from far away, half the perpetrators in both non-fatal firearms-related domestic disputes and in gun homicides have been licensed gun owners.
It is not a panacea to say that we are dealing with law-abiding gun owners and there is no problem, because law-abiding gun owners are being affected by this. In fact, the individual who drove from Manitoba to Rideau Hall last July with a cache of guns had these guns legally. He said he was coming to arrest the Prime Minister, in part because of the gun legislation being brought forward.
We are not talking about one category or another here. We are talking about protecting the public and making the public safer. We are talking about assault-style rifles. One of the prohibited weapons from last year's order in council was held by this individual from Manitoba.
We have to get away from this whole issue of talking about attacking one group of people versus another. The emphasis has to be on public safety. The emphasis has to be on finding a way to ensure that we have the broadest public support possible for the legislation, by focusing specifically on the assault-style rifles and trying to do something about handguns, which are predominantly a city problem, by giving the authority to the municipalities to have some control over that. It may not be perfect, but it is better than what is there now, which is nothing that is actually controlling this.
Yes, there has to be more enforcement. Yes, there has to be a crackdown by the police on activities in cities. We have already heard from some municipalities, like Vancouver and Surrey, that are interested in this. Toronto has spoken favourably about it. These are areas where handguns are a particular problem and a danger to public safety. If this will help, then we should provide the mechanism so that it can be put in place.
Having said all that, I will be interested in comments or questions from my colleagues. I think this legislation is in the right direction, but it needs to be looked at very carefully. We need to make sure that it is actually going to be effective and that it is not going to be an overreach in an area like the airsoft industry, for example, which might be able to be more properly regulated.