Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. I also want to acknowledge the impact colonial practices have had on indigenous peoples, from overincarceration to overrepresentation in foster care and missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Today, we begin third reading on Bill C-21, a bill that has been greatly improved through consultation with Canadians and indigenous peoples and in co-operation with the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. I wish more Canadians watched what happens at committee. It has been my experience throughout my time in this place that legislation has been improved at committee, and Bill C-21 is no exception. The bill we have before us today reflects that work.
Before talking about the bill itself, I would like to talk about some of those changes. The member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia is an exceptional parliamentarian, and I have had the pleasure of working with her for three and a half years now. She introduced important amendments, including the requirement for a possession and acquisition licence, or PAL, to purchase, transport and export or import cartridge magazines. This was an ask made by a number of stakeholders, but none more loudly or more courageously than the Danforth Families for Safe Communities.
Their story is tragic and well known, but we all know that the gun used that night on Danforth Avenue was a legally imported handgun that had later been stolen from a gun shop in Saskatchewan. The Danforth shooter then walked into a sporting goods store and legally bought seven magazines for his gun, with no questions asked, simply because a PAL was not required for him to buy them. That will no longer be possible now that these amendments have been adopted and once the bill becomes law. Let us think about that. Prior to these amendments, people did not have to prove that they had licences to purchase and own firearms in order to buy the thing that literally holds the bullets. That changes now.
This major amendment was passed unanimously. To be clear, it will not affect those licensed to carry a firearm. It will ensure that those who are not licensed to possess a firearm cannot legally buy cartridge magazines. Requiring gun owners to show their licences to purchase magazines just makes sense. People do not need magazines if they do not have licences to own a gun.
We also heard from the airsoft industry that the bill went too far and that the industry was willing to work with the government to regulate its sport. An amendment initiated by the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford passed, so the clause deeming airsoft guns to be prohibited devices was removed from the bill. Thanks go to the airsoft community for working productively with our government to find a compromise that would ensure public safety is upheld while allowing the sport to be regulated.
Gun control is a women’s issue. The Canadian Women's Foundation notes that the presence of firearms in Canadian households is the single greatest risk factor for the lethality of intimate partner violence. Access to a firearm increases the likelihood of femicide by 500%. The Ontario coroner's death review panel said that 26% of women who were killed by their partner were killed using a firearm.
I have heard from such groups as the Lethbridge YWCA, which told me that every single woman who came to its shelter had been threatened by a partner with a firearm. They are among the nearly 2,500 women victimized in this way over the last five years. Intimate partner violence accounts for nearly 30% of all police-reported violent crime in Canada, and that number rose during the pandemic. In my riding and across the country, such local organizations as Halton Women's Place are helping to shine a brighter light on the dangers of gun violence.
Over the last eight years, as a country, we have also become more aware of the role that coercive control plays in abusive relationships. When firearms are added to the mix, it is a recipe for continued physical, emotional and psychological abuse. In coercive control, a man might use a gun to control a woman without ever pulling the trigger. Such control is real, and it happens every day. An Oakville resident sent me a note that stated, “Let me just say that you can endure the physical and emotional abuse, but when he pulls out a double-barrelled shotgun, loads it and tells you he is going to kill you, then you know true terror. Thank you for looking out for the victims before they become statistics.”
Our government has been advocating for women and will continue to do so. Through Bill C-21, we are taking additional steps to support survivors of intimate partner violence who have been threatened with or who have been on the receiving end of violence with a firearm.
The Bloc Québécois, New Democratic Party and Green Party all put forward amendments to strengthen the intimate partner violence provisions of Bill C-21. The National Association for Women and the Law tweeted on Monday that they were “pleased that virtually all the amendments [they] proposed were adopted, some unanimously!” These amendments will make women safer.
During the clause-by-clause process, we included an amendment to further define a protection order. A protection order:
...is intended to include any binding order made by a court or other competent authority in the interest of the safety or security of a person; this includes but is not limited to orders that prohibit a person from:
(a) being in physical proximity to an identified person or following an identified person from place to place;
(b) communicating with an identified person, either directly or indirectly;
(c) being at a specified place or within a specified distance of that place;
(d) engaging in harassing or threatening conduct directed at an identified person;
(e) occupying a family home or a residence; or
(f) engaging in family violence.
Protection orders are imperative to keep women safe. By setting minimum standards in the bill, people who have been subject to a protection order will now be ineligible to hold a firearms licence. We know that when a woman leaves an abusive partner, the first day is the most dangerous and violent. That is why there is an amendment to ensure that firearms are removed within 24 hours.
I thank the National Association of Women and the Law for their leadership on these amendments. Because of these changes in the bill, we will save women’s lives.
I am particularly pleased that the red-flag provision of the bill remains, ensuring that those concerned about a firearms owner being a danger to themselves or others can now apply to a judge for an order to immediately remove firearms from an individual who may present such a danger. Dr. Najma Ahmed from Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns stated this:
We support the proposed “red flag” law. Family members, physicians and concerned individuals must have access to an efficient process to quickly have firearms removed from someone who may be at risk to themselves or others.
In Canada, suicide accounts for about 75% of gun deaths. A gun in the home increases adolescent suicide rates by threefold to fourfold. Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that “red flag” laws are effective in reducing firearm suicides.
Most people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide. This is why restricting access to lethal means saves lives. Suicide attempts with a gun are almost uniformly fatal.
The provision will also ensure that women who cannot go to the police have another tool to remove the firearm from their home. To support these new red-flag provisions, Public Safety Canada will establish a program to help raise awareness among victims about how to use the new protections. A guide about how to submit an application to the courts and the protections available could be developed, and the program would fund services to support individuals’ applications throughout the court process. It would support the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, including women, people with mental health issues, indigenous groups and other racialized communities, to help make certain that the red-flag laws are accessible to all, particularly those who may need it most. The government would also make available $5 million through a contribution program to ensure support and equitable access.
It is also important to state unequivocally that the fiduciary duty of peace officers under common law continues in force, notwithstanding the ability for any person to make an application for an emergency prohibition order. Simply put, police will still be required to do their job of removing guns from dangerous individuals. As I said, it just provides one additional tool for people to use, especially if calling the police is not an option.
In addition, an important amendment introduced by the government is a non-derogation clause. It states Parliament's intent that:
The provisions enacted by the Act [following Bill C-21] are to be construed as upholding the [aboriginal and treaty] rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and not as abrogating or derogating from them.
Nothing in Bill C-21 would take away from section 35 rights; the Constitution still remains the law of the land.
While I know that he opposes the bill itself, I appreciate the way the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound worked with all parties to include an amendment that further spells out what has already been allowed in practice. Namely, ensuring that anyone with a handgun is able to temporarily store their firearm with a business or individual who also possesses an RPAL for any reason. This includes if an individual recognizes that they are experiencing a mental health crisis and do not want to have access to their firearm.
This example was one that was particularly important to the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and to many of whom he spoke, including some veterans. I commend him for the way he conducted himself and the important addition he made to clarify the provisions related to the authorizations to transport in the Firearms Act. It is unfortunate that all members of the Conservative Party were not as constructive.
In particular, the member for Red Deer—Lacombe chose to politicize the requirement for a PAL to buy a magazine and attacked me while I shared the Danforth Families for Safe Communities' story. The member proceeded to post our exchange on social media saying that I had compared every hunter in Canada to the Danforth shooter, and that every single hunter should take note of what I think about them.
That is not what I said, but thanks to this member's misrepresentation, my direct messages have been filled with threats and misogynistic comments that use language I cannot repeat in the House. This kind of disinformation is typical of the Conservative Party throughout the debate.
The Conservative public safety critic and others continue to spread the false claim that Bill C-21 is targeting hunters. This is fearmongering. I have noticed that the Conservative Party prefers this approach of spreading fear to make Canadians fearful of leaving their homes, using our parks or taking public transit, and fearful of each other.
We are focusing on protecting Canadians and doing the hard work it takes to keep them safe. Conservative politicians prefer to fearmonger and speak in catchy slogans, rather than taking action to prevent crime, keep women safe and remove weapons designed for the battlefield from our streets.
I would now like to turn to other provisions found in Bill C-21. Canadians have been calling upon successive governments for reform and stronger gun control, and in May 2020 we took additional action through an order in council to ban over 1,500 models of assault-style firearms, including the AR-15.
As U.S. Major General Paul Eaton, retired, has said, “For all intents and purposes, the AR-15 and rifles like it are weapons of war.” These weapons, designed for the battlefield, have no place on Canadian streets. I have a question for the Conservative Party: Would it make the AR-15 legal again?
Through Bill C-21, we are building on the work done in 2020 to offer a prospective technical definition to ensure that, in addition to the weapons banned in 2020, no future similar weapons will ever be able to enter the Canadian market. Furthermore, the Minister of Public Safety has committed to taking action through regulation to take the burden away from firearms owners to make manufacturers responsible for classifying firearms. This responds to recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission. Doctors for Protection from Guns called the definition “A victory for science, public health, and Canadian values...to permanently ban future models of assault weapons.”
In addition, we are implementing a national freeze on handguns to prevent individuals from bringing newly acquired handguns into Canada, and from buying, selling and transferring handguns within the country, a freeze which, through regulations, has been in effect since October 2022.
It was actually Ken Price of the Danforth Families for Safe Communities who was one of the first proponents of implementing a national freeze on handguns. When Ken testified at committee he stated:
In summary, there's clear evidence on the association between access to handguns and endemic gun violence, and access to semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines and multiple mass shooting events. There is good evidence that the restriction of access to these weapons reduces endemic gun violence and reduces the number of victims of multiple mass shooting events.
Ultimately, it's a choice society has to make. What guns are permissible? What should we allow access to? What level of gun violence are we willing to accept in our community?
Our government is making that choice with Bill C-21. We cannot and will not tolerate gun violence in our communities, while we continue to respect those who hunt for sustenance, sport or tradition.
Bill C-21 would also address illegal smuggling and trafficking at the border by increasing criminal penalties, providing more tools for law enforcement to investigate firearms crimes and strengthening border security measures. Chief Evan Bray of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police testified at committee in support of these provisions, saying:
“With regard to firearms smuggling and trafficking, we support the implementation of new firearms-related offences, intensified border controls and strengthened penalties to help deter criminal activities and to combat firearms smuggling and trafficking, thereby reducing the risk that illegal firearms find their way into Canadian communities and are used to commit criminal offences. The CACP welcomes changes that provide new police authorizations and tools to access information about licence-holders in the investigation of individuals who are suspected of conducting criminal activities, such as straw purchasing and weapons trafficking.”
We need to remember that Bill C-21 would take a multipronged approach that addresses gun violence. This would include increasing penalties for illegal gun smugglers, freezing the sale of handguns, taking action to address the proliferation of ghost guns and introducing measures that make it safer for women to leave abusive relationships.
I am very proud to be part of a government that has passed Bill C-71, and that now, hopefully, will pass Bill C-21. I have heard from Canadians who applaud what we are doing with this bill. They have thanked us for our work on this, saying that guns and ease of access will never be more important than human lives and public safety, and that the bill would protect thousands of people’s lives.
Wendy Cukier of the Coalition for Gun Control, who has been working on this issue for over 30 years, said:
No law is ever perfect but Bill C-21 is a game changer for Canada and should be implemented as soon as possible. The law responds to most of the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission and the demands of the Coalition for Gun Control...which, with more than 200 supporting organizations, has fought for stronger firearm laws for more than thirty years.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the work that PolySeSouvient has done for over 30 years to make our country safer. Its advocacy work grew from the misogynistic slaughter of women at Polytechnique in 1989, and I have the utmost respect for their dedication to gun control.
I want to close by giving special thanks to the Liberal, Bloc and NDP members of the public safety committee, who worked together, at times into the wee hours of the night, to ensure that the bill we have before us is better than when it started. I thank the New Democratic Party and the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, and the Bloc Québécois and the member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia. I also have to give a special shout-out to Sarah Thomas, Conor Lewis and all the staff, without whom we as members could not do our jobs. I thank the minister and his team for their herculean efforts on this bill, and the Prime Minister, for making gun control a central policy of our government.
We will vote on this bill tomorrow. It will be a legacy for this government, one that I am incredibly proud of.