Madam Speaker, today, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
Before I start my speech, I want to acknowledge that today is June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a day that I recognize with a lot of love because of my beautiful granny. She went to residential school in Lejac between the ages of four and 16, and her strength and integrity keep our family strong. I also want to acknowledge my Auntie Dean from Stellat’en First Nation. Her traditional name is Hatix-Ka’wah, which means peace within the frame of a house. Because of the day, I wanted to acknowledge her as the lead of our family before I started.
I am here specifically to speak to Bill C-21, an act to amend certain acts and to make certain consequential amendments in regard to firearms. I want to start by thanking the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for his hard work on this file. It is not an easy one, and these discussions are always rife with conflict as we try to navigate our way around this issue. I will say that I am ready to support this bill getting to committee. I also recognize that I still have a lot of questions, and I am hoping the committee will be able to work through some of those questions to get me answers.
I represent a rural riding. I grew up in a household where several of my family members were legal gun owners. They followed the rules, and I was taught gun safety at a very young age as a matter of respect. I grew up eating wild meat, and hunting was a significant part of my family's life.
I have met with many legal gun owners in my riding who have talked about the frustration they feel about the rules always focusing on them, rather than addressing some of their legitimate concerns about illegal guns and how they get into our communities. That is an important part of our conversation today, and it should continue to be. Those conversations do concern me greatly. My riding also has a high level of people retiring from the military who maintain their skills as a commitment to their years of service. It is important for us all to recognize those who use firearms to protect and serve our communities.
I have also heard from constituents who are very, very concerned about gun violence in their communities and in our region. There have been, sadly, several examples in my riding over the past few years, which has resulted in my office receiving more concerns about gun safety than we have ever seen before. This is especially concerning when it comes to cases of domestic violence where guns are used. In 2020, 160 women and girls were killed in Canada. One woman or girl is killed every two and a half days in this country. Therefore, as Canadians are seeing an increase in gun violence across our country, I believe that all Canadians do want to see this addressed.
About three years ago, a constituent in my riding invited me to come to the shooting range with him. He wanted to showcase this for me, so I would understand the rules and how he followed them. I agreed so that I could learn more about the realities of these folks living in my region. Of course, he was also a retired service member for the military, and I always take an opportunity to spend time with people who served us, and who served us so well.
The first thing he told me was that I would have to come to his house and ride with him because he could not stop on the way through town to pick me up. The rules in Canada meant that he had to go straight from his home, not stopping for anything else, and go to the range. At his home, he was able to show me the way he stored his guns separate from ammunition, with everything locked away and secured. He also showed me how he transported the guns and how that was done safely.
I learned a lot, and I really appreciated his effort to take that time to educate me. He also shared that he was concerned about the gun violence in Canada and what that did for him as a legal gun owner and as somebody who was really practising safely. He knew of things that had happened across the country, and he knew that people were more fearful.
These are important conversations to have, especially at that community level where we can have those open conversations and discussions about how we can come together. My constituent did feel that the majority of gun owners followed the rules very carefully, but he was also concerned that there are legal gun owners who do not always follow the rules, and he wanted to make sure that those issues were addressed. Of course, he was also very concerned about the fact that we do have illegal guns in this country, and those folks can really make a bad name for people who are doing their best to be safe.
The facts are that, in Canada between 2019 and 2020, there were notable increases in rates of firearm-related violent crimes being reported, especially in places like southern rural British Columbia, which had an increase of 34%; the northern rural part of Ontario, which increased by 32%; rural Alberta, which increased by 32% in the north and 31% in the south; the Northwest Territories, which saw a 23% increase; and Nova Scotia, which increased by 22%. Handguns were the most serious weapon present in most firearm-related violent crimes.
Over my seven years here, I have heard two things repeatedly from constituents: one is that we need to look at gun policy in Canada, focussing on illegal guns and how they get to our country; and two is that we need more education in Canada about the strong rules that we do have and how they work. I believe these are important areas to discuss.
I have also heard a lot on this bill specifically about concerns from the airsoft community that Bill C-21 would prohibit imports, exports, sales and transfers of all replica firearms, which would include airsoft guns that are designed or intended to look exactly like or resemble a real firearm.
This does concern me, because there is the safety issue on the one side that we should consider carefully. We have heard stories of people using these to emulate real guns, and that is a safety concern for all people who are involved in that situation. We also hear the other side, and that it will impact paintball retailers and facilities, as most rely on income from both airsoft and paintball use.
I understand that in this country there are very few regulations, and I think it is something we need to look at. We have heard from this sector that they have not been meaningfully consulted. We want to make sure that when we further the discussions, we could address that.
I have learned that people have successfully altered airsoft weapons to hold real ammunition, and this really surprised me. I had no idea that that was even possible. Unfortunately it is, and it is a growing concern. We need to work with this sector to make sure that we look at the realities they are facing, and make sure the solution is workable, so they can continue their practice and not have a huge impact on their income. However, we also need to make sure the safety of Canadians is addressed.
Illegal guns are a huge concern for my constituents, as I mentioned earlier. This bill does not offer what I would like to see on measures for gun smuggling. I represent 19 Wing Comox. Its crews do tremendous work on our coastline to keep our community safe. They have found people trying to ship things illegally across our borders, whether it be guns or drugs, and they have stopped that. I really appreciate their work, but I am concerned there is not going to be the amount of support needed to continue that work and to expand that work.
We know that this bill would increase the maximum penalty for trafficking, smuggling and other firearms offences from 10 years to 14 years. It would require the commissioner of firearms to give the minister an annual report. It would allow proactive information sharing between the RCMP and local law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting firearm trafficking offences, and it would also provide eligibility for wiretapping on additional Criminal Code firearms offences.
What it does not include in a meaningful way is more support for the Canadian Border Services Agency. We know that, under the previous Conservative government, over 1,000 positions were cut. Under the Liberal government, some of those folks are back, but definitely not the number that is required to actually address the guns that are being smuggled into our country illegally.
We also know, as our leader wrote to the Prime Minister in 2018, that we need to see more changes within our policies in this country to support the root causes of gun violence in some of the more vulnerable communities. We need to address things such as poverty. I was at an event just a few days ago in my community, and I was very surprised by how many people talked to me about the increasing homeless population. They spoke of how more and more people are really struggling to make ends meet and how often they are going towards violence because they cannot feed themselves. They are not safe in their own area.
We need to make sure there are supports provided to our communities to address these key issues because the more poverty grows, and the more people are disenfranchised, the more violence is the result. We need to look at these things as correlating numbers.
I am here to discuss this. I hope that all of us in the House can have a meaningful conversation, because these things are important to our communities, and if we do not address them in an open and transparent way, it will lead to more conflict.