Mr. Speaker, on June 13, 1995 the House gave third reading to Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons. Bill C-68 is comprehensive legislation concerning firearms which has been extensively researched and debated by members of the House and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. It is now being studied by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Bill C-260, which was presented by my colleague from British Columbia, who previously spoke, is a bill which I believe is basically similar to Bill C-68. Bill C-260 was introduced before the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-68 and the hon. member might have introduced a different bill had the provisions of Bill C-68 been known to her at the time.
I want to examine the differences between the two bills. I would like to start with the issue of mandatory minimum sentences.
Section 85 of the Criminal Code now provides for a minimum term of one-year imprisonment for the use of a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence and three years for any subsequent offence, in addition to the sentence imposed for the underlying offence. The maximum is 14 years.
Concerns have been expressed with respect to the way section 85 has been operating because of the large number of charges which have resulted in acquittal or in the charges being withdrawn. Sometimes section 85 charges are withdrawn as a plea bargaining
mechanism. Bill C-68 will address the problems relating to section 85 of the Criminal Code.
Specifically, the bill states expressly under each of the 10 selected serious offences that the offender will be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of four years imprisonment if the offender uses a firearm during the commission of the offence. The penalty for using a firearm is blended with the penalty for the 10 offences to which this applies. These offences are: causing death by criminal negligence, manslaughter, attempted murder, causing bodily harm with intent to wound, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and extortion.
When in force Bill C-68 should eliminate the abuses tied to the existing application of section 85 of the Criminal Code, while Bill C-260 would not solve these problems.
I believe the intention of the hon. member is to get tougher on criminals who use firearms in the commission of an offence. In fact the minimum penalties found in her bill would treat offenders who use firearms to commit serious offences more leniently than Bill C-68. Her bill would simply subject all persons who commit offences with firearms, regardless of the severity of the crime, to a three-year minimum prison term, while Bill C-68 ensures that persons convicted of serious violent offences committed with a firearm receive, at a minimum, a four-year prison term.
Bill C-68 also addresses in a comprehensive and effective fashion the problem of replica and imitation firearms. Bill C-68 defines a replica as a device that is not in itself a firearm but is designed to resemble "precisely or with near precision a real firearm". In contrast a device such as a toy water gun that clearly does not resemble in the last detail a real firearm is not a replica but an imitation firearm. Because replicas are virtually indistinguishable from real firearms, their future sale, purchase and importation will be strictly controlled under Bill C-68 while imitation firearms, such as toy water guns and the like, will continue to sold in stores.
When it comes to a crime, the potential danger is very high, whether a real firearm, a replica or an imitation firearm is used. Bill C-68 will solve evidentiary problems which now exist because of the current section 85 in the Criminal Code. Section 85 encompasses only real firearms. Bill C-68 will include within section 85 presently in the Criminal Code real firearms, imitations and replicas.
Bill C-260, presented by the hon. member, would punish offences committed with replicas but not with imitation firearms. Moreover the bill would do nothing to control dissemination of replicas in Canadian society. In effect, Bill C-260 would only come into play after someone had been hurt or killed while Bill C-68 includes preventive action against violent crime by controlling the availability of replicas and imitations.
I would like to speak to the new offences that the hon. member proposes to add to the Criminal Code. The actions the hon. member seeks to criminalize are already included in Bill C-68 or in the current Criminal Code. For instance, clause 96 of Bill C-68 makes it an offence to possess a firearm or other weapon that the person knows was obtained through the commission of an offence.
As well, the Criminal Code currently contains an offence for theft and clauses 103 and 104 of Bill C-68 already include offences for illegal importation of firearms. These clauses also include illegal exportation of firearms and therefore are more comprehensive than the ones proposed by the hon. member.
Bill C-260 presented by the hon. member would increase the mandatory minimum sentence for these two offences from one year to three years' imprisonment. The House indicated it to be an appropriate punishment for various firearms offences in Bill C-68 that a one-year minimum sentence is stiff, demonstrating the potential lethal nature of firearms and the danger their illegal and unsafe possession pose to Canadian society. At the same time it is not so harsh as to encourage judges and juries to find ways around them where some sympathetic factual circumstances exist.
These minimum sentences are very important. We want to send a message about the illegal use of firearms.
Keeping people in prison is costly and raising minimum sentences from one to three years, as the hon. member suggests, would cost Canadian taxpayers an enormous amount of money. Moreover, where the facts warrant I am confident that judges and juries will impose harsher sentences. We have to have some faith in our judges and juries. There is a role for minimum sentences but basically the length of the sentences and the incarceration must rest with our courts.
The hon. member proposes to make a person who improperly sells a firearm liable for subsequent criminal actions committed by the purchaser of that firearm. In other words, a person who does not check for a firearms licence before selling the firearm would not only commit a serious office of illegal transfer but if the buyer commits a murder Bill C-260 would make the seller liable for the murder or murders as an accomplice, even though the seller knew nothing of the purchaser's murderous intentions. Such a result seems to me to be out of proportion with the seller's culpability.
Moreover, based on the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, it would also be contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because criminal liability would not be imposed, not on the intentions of the accused to commit criminal acts and the
actual doing of these acts but also on the actions that the person did intend and did not foresee.
I cannot support that provision. There are severe penalties in Bill C-68 for illegal transfer. These penalties do not have the risk of contravening the charter of rights and freedoms.
I appreciate what the hon. member is proposing. A lot of what she is proposing is included in Bill C-68. The areas that are not I do not think add anything other than potential contraventions of the charter and completely reducing the authority of our courts in very important areas.