Madam Speaker, I was just in committee to debate Bill C‑21. I left so that I could come give this speech here, since the House is considering a government motion to speed up work on the bill.
The government claims to be moving this motion because the Conservatives are filibustering and trying to slow the work down at every turn. That is odd, because I have been on this committee for several years and I have seen the Conservatives engage in filibustering. However, this is not what I am seeing in committee right now. Everyone is acting in good faith.
When I asked a question earlier, I spoke briefly about the bill's history, but I will now speak about it in more detail. Bill C‑21 was introduced on May 30, 2022. In a few days, it will be one year since the bill was introduced. One would think that one year is enough time for parliamentarians to debate this bill, hear from experts in committee, conduct consultations and study the bill clause by clause. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
Initially, this bill was about handguns. In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Texas primary school, where several children were killed, the government rushed to introduce this bill saying that, at least in Canada, something was being done to counter gun violence.
The introduction of this bill was accompanied by a national freeze on handguns. When government officials announced this bill, they were backed by groups that supported the legislation, groups that want better gun control. These groups were behind the government when it made this announcement because it had made a promise to them. These groups, which were advocating for a ban on assault weapons, were told that the bill as it was drafted at the time did not cover assault weapons, but the government promised them that it would amend its bill to address both handguns and assault weapons.
The Minister of Public Safety and even the Prime Minister, if I am not mistaken, made that commitment, and those groups were hopeful that Bill C-21 would actually reform gun control in this country.
The government did amend its bill. It had made that commitment more or less publicly. Let us just say that it was not our understanding that the government would be amending the bill to ensure it addressed assault weapons. We were focusing on handguns.
In committee we heard from experts who talked about the impact of this handgun freeze in the country. Bill C‑21 deals with many other things. I am thinking in particular about the “red flag” provision and the family violence protection orders. There are some rather interesting things in Bill C‑21 and they could actually change things. That is what we were debating when parliamentarians were able to be heard in the House. That is what we were debating in committee. We wanted advice on these provisions from experts who appeared in committee.
In November, when this whole process ended, the government arrived with its infamous amendments on assault weapons. We are not talking about a minor amendment. It was some 400 pages of amendments. It was quite thick. The government presented these amendments saying that this was its measure for banning ghost guns, in other words, homemade guns. People order different parts online, build the gun at home and then take it out on the street. The government told us that the purpose of the amendment was to address that problem. We were okay with that. It is a growing phenomenon in the country.
However, we noticed that the amendment was a bit more complicated. It talks about a definition of banned assault weapons. I have to say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of that. We have been calling for that for a long time, and it has been part of our election platforms. We have been calling for a ban on military-style assault rifles. We do not think that people should have weapons like that at home or that they should be on our streets. Civilians have no reason to have those kinds of weapons. We are not talking about weapons that are used for hunting, for example, so we are happy to see that a definition has been proposed.
The caveat is that the government is proposing a definition but then, in a schedule, it is proposing to include a list of hundreds of firearms in the Criminal Code.
When we have questions for the government, the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security are unable to answer a single one of our questions. They do not even know what they just tabled, what is in it, what impact it would have or what weapons are included. There was an outcry. Picture it: The Conservatives are asking questions, the Bloc is asking questions, the NDP is asking questions; everyone is trying to find out more about what is on this infamous list. The officials were supposed to support us in studying the bill but, in the end, they were answering for the Liberals, who were unable to explain their own amendments.
What we came to understand was that the government was trying to include weapons in the Criminal Code that were already banned by the order in council. The list included weapons that have been banned since 1990. It included firearms that were banned as a result of the 2020 order in council, which covered about 1,500 models of firearms. Others were added later. Close to 2,000 weapons are now covered by this order in council. The weapons covered by the 2020 and 1990 orders in council are part of the list.
We realized that there were about 482 new models that are legal right now that the government was trying to include in the Criminal Code. We thought that was odd. The government could have done this through an order, as it did for the other firearms, but it wanted to include this nearly 400-page list in the Criminal Code.
The list was rather difficult to understand. If a gun owner wanted to know whether their gun was going to be banned, they could do an electronic search for that model in the virtual document. If their gun came up in the search, they would be in a complete panic, thinking that the government wanted to ban that weapon.
However, from what we understand about the way the list is written, there were exceptions. As the officials explained to us, there were introductory paragraphs. There were lists of models of firearms, and then there was a paragraph that said “with the exception of these models”. People were finding their firearms on the list and thinking they were going to be banned when that was not actually the case.
There was also quite a bit of confusion about the definition itself. People thought that a gun with a muzzle energy greater than 10,000 joules would surely be prohibited. In Canada, the firearms that were banned by the 1990 order in council often met this criterion. Normally, these firearms were already prohibited. This created a lot of confusion. It is not surprising that people were afraid that their legally owned firearm would end up on this list. I would add that the gun lobby did not really help matters by spreading disinformation, which was then picked up by the Conservative Party. Hunters across the country were convinced that the firearms they use to hunt would be taken away.
After asking the government repeated questions, we figured out that there were indeed some firearms on this list that were supposedly problematic, in other words possibly used for hunting. We were not able to get clear definitions for either a firearm used for hunting or an assault weapon designed for a military context. The government could not provide any clear definitions. We said that these weapons could all be lumped together. Some are reasonably used for hunting. Consider, for example, the SKS. This weapon was created by the Soviet Union around the time of the Second World War. It was created for a military context and was used during that era in a military context.
Today, it is an affordable gun that is popular among hunters and indigenous people. We figured that it ended up on the list because it is technically an assault weapon, but it is reasonably used for hunting. For its part, the government tells us that this gun was used in some shootings in Canada, and therefore, it needs to be banned. There were no clear definitions, however. The government was unable to say why this type of gun needed to be banned and another type did not. This caused a great deal of confusion for everyone. We told the government to scrap this list. We asked it to come back with a new proposal, because no one was happy about this one.
The Bloc Québécois made a suggestion. Since a lot of people did not get the opportunity to be heard on these new amendments, we said we should invite them to committee and reopen the study, so these witnesses could at least tell us how they would be affected by this bill, if passed.
The committee members agreed. We decided to hold four meetings so that we could receive indigenous groups, hunting groups from Quebec, Ontario and just about everywhere, and so on. Alberta's chief firearms officer came to testify. Gun control groups obviously came back because they had not been able to share their thoughts on assault weapons when we were only talking about handguns.
These people came back to testify in committee. When we asked them whether they had been consulted by the government before these amendments were introduced, they told us that they had not received a call. They had not been consulted at all, whereas normally, when the government decides to introduce new legislation, it does some work beforehand to meet with those concerned, to see how they can work together. It tries to determine whether the bill will work for them. The experts know the subject, they are the ones who are on the ground. They can point us in the right direction, or in a direction that is potentially acceptable. However, we were told that the government had not done any consultations.
The government was feeling a lot of pressure from all the parties, but also from within its own Liberal caucus. Some Liberal backbenchers had obviously not been consulted about the amendments. Some members who represent rural ridings did not agree that firearms that could reasonably be used for hunting should be considered restricted weapons under the Criminal Code. The pressure was mounting.
In a dramatic turn of events, in February, the government withdrew its amendments on assault weapons. We were left wondering whether we should continue to study the bill as it stood or whether we should wait. The government said to wait because it wanted to work on something. It wanted to reintroduce a definition of prohibited weapons and therefore a definition of assault weapons, and it wanted to hold consultations.
The minister travelled around Canada a bit. He met with indigenous groups and hunting groups to find out whether they agreed with him. It seems the consultations were not very positive. However, the minister did his job. It was a bit too late, but he did it. In my opinion, he should have done that from the start.
It took several meetings, weeks even, before the government came back with a new proposal. Last week, the Minister of Public Safety made a big show of announcing that he would return with a definition of prohibited weapons. As I said earlier, the first amendment also included elements about ghost guns, and everyone agreed on that. He also announced new complementary measures.
In our negotiations with the government, we understood that certain things can be done through legislation, through a bill, specifically Bill C‑21, but it is not always so straightforward. Other changes need to be made through regulations, and the minister is the only one who can make regulations. Oddly enough, the same day he announced that the amendments were being reintroduced, he also announced that he was going to do some things by regulation, including a proposal that the Bloc Québécois had made on how firearms are classified.
I put this question to several witnesses who appeared before our parliamentary committee. Currently, a firearm can be sold on the market in Canada when it should be classified as restricted or prohibited. The RCMP will eventually realize that it is on the market. Why is it not the other way around?
I believe that the RCMP should approve a firearm and ensure that it is above board before it is put on the Canadian market. The process should be similar to the one for pharmaceutical companies. I believe that when a pharmaceutical company wants to put a new drug on the market, it must be approved by Health Canada before it can be sold. I made that comparison because it seems to me that it would be another safeguard that would prevent new, unauthorized firearms from being on the market.
The minister made another rather interesting announcement. He announced that he was going to enact regulations on high-capacity magazines. That is one of the things the Bloc Québécois has been asking for. Many gun control groups have been asking the same because although a gun is designed to hold a magazine with five rounds, it can accommodate a magazine with 30 rounds. The magazines are often universal. This becomes fatal if the person holding the gun wants to kill several people in a very short amount of time. We felt that these high-capacity magazines needed to be prohibited. The Minister of Public Safety told us that they were already illegal in Canada, that it was not supposed to be like that.
What we learned because several groups told us and we saw it ourselves, given that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recently visited the RCMP vault, is that some magazines can be blocked with the help of a small rivet. For example, a magazine with 30 rounds could be blocked and limited to five rounds. The magazine therefore becomes legal because it is technically a five-round magazine. This was still on the market and still legal. In some of Canada's well-known shootings, the gunman simply removed the rivet to create a high-capacity magazine and that cost the lives of dozens of people. We then said that this type of magazine needed to be banned. I am very pleased that the minister has made that commitment, but now he needs to follow through. It is nice to promise things, but I expect these regulations to come into force quickly.
The minister also said that he would re-establish the Canadian firearms advisory committee. He is proposing to do so because it seems that when the government was considering what to do about the banned firearms and wanted to put the 482 models in the Criminal Code, there was a small lapse in political courage. The minister was unable to make a decision and said he would re-establish this advisory committee, appoint experts, people who support gun control, hunters and indigenous people and then ask them to make a recommendation about firearms classification, for example. He could then make a regulation or issue a new order in council.
That seems promising. We have always said that firearms classifications should not be up to politicians. This committee's mandate should be clear. The committee should be established quickly, it should make its recommendations quickly and the minister should move quickly.
As I said at the start, the Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of banning military-style assault weapons. By proposing his new prospective definition that will only apply to weapons that will come onto the market in the future, the minister is leaving 482 weapons on the market that he initially wanted to include in the Criminal Code.
The Bloc Québécois said that we needed to find a reasonable and acceptable solution. The government determined that approximately 12 of these weapons could potentially be used for hunting. It should have its committee look at them to figure out how to classify them. As for the remaining 470 weapons, the minister can ban them by order as of tomorrow. He can even do it today if he wants to. He does not need the House's approval to do that.
If the government is really serious about banning military-style assault weapons, it can do so immediately by order. That is what the Bloc Québécois recommends. That is the proposal that we made to the minister. I suggested that in a private conversation that I had with him. We said it in the media. We made the suggestion a number of times in a number of places. We made the suggestion publicly and I think that it is a reasonable one.
It really bugs me when the Conservatives argue that Bill C‑21 and today's motion target hunters in Canada. That is not true. Thanks to pressure from the Bloc Québécois, that list was taken out of the Criminal Code. What we are saying is that the government needs to ask its experts what to do about weapons used for hunting. As for the other ones, though, the government should ban them immediately.
I do not think taking those kinds of intellectual shortcuts and fearmongering serves the debate. People are writing to their MPs. My Bloc Québécois colleagues tell me about the people who write to them. These people are worried. They have heard a Conservative MP give a speech or do an interview, and they are worried their hunting gun will be banned. They think the Bloc Québécois supports that. That is not the case. Thanks to the Bloc Québécois's work, hunting guns were taken out of Bill C‑21. I think that is good news for hunters. Maybe more people need to know about that, which is why we will try to play a bigger role in this debate.
There is also good news for airsoft fans. Two days ago, we got air guns taken out of Bill C‑21. The government wanted to ban them. This is good news for them too.