Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the justice minister's bill on gun control.
I speak as a member who was in the last Parliament which on two occasions dealt with firearms legislation. At that time there was a large body of support for the initiative in principle. The process of finally adopting it did bring about some minor modifications which most people in Parliament believed improved the bill.
In any event, I want to be clearly on record as supporting the justice minister's initiative in principle. I am committed to working with other colleagues in the House to improve the bill where possible and to reframe it so that at the end of the day we have the best possible mix of statute, regulation and administration for the benefit of the public as a whole and gun owners as a group.
Before I go further into my remarks, I want to make two quick points.
The government and I hope, the House have reached a point where we are prepared to say that in relation to firearms, everything is in. We are not going to have a statute that covers just some firearms and not others. Everything is going to be recognized as being part of the system or however we choose to deal with this. All firearms are seen to be part of the system.
Some members opposite and I believe some members on the government benches are very sensitive to the issue of this statute criminalizing individuals who but for this statute would not be criminals. In saying that, we are referring to people who own firearms now who might fail, either advertently or inadvertently, to fulfil a provision in the new act and thereby would be subject to criminal sanction.
At first blush, I am sympathetic to that position. Thousands of Canadians do not spend very much time worrying about criminal law because they are law-abiding citizens. By passing this statute we will impose upon them a standard where for a certain period of time they are going to have to think about it. They are going to have to do something or not do something, comply or not comply. It is going to bring them belly up to provisions in this statute which create criminal sanction.
I am sensitive to that but I want to point out there are already provisions in the Criminal Code where otherwise law-abiding citizens who own firearms are subject to criminal sanction. In existing law, if an otherwise legal owner of a firearm breaks a provision of the code dealing with regulation of restricted or prohibited firearms, or improper use of other non-prohibited, non-restricted firearms, they are subject to criminal sanction.
I make those two points. Everything is in. I am sensitive to the issue of criminalization, but I am not so sure there is not a way to do it which is rational, fair, just, and in compliance with the charter and common sense.
With those two things out of the way I want to address three or four segments of the bill.
First and perhaps most important is the issue of registration. This bill would impose on Canadians an obligation to register every firearm. There may be the odd exception here or there, but generally everything is in. Every firearm is going to be registered. If it does not have a serial number, it will have to have some markings or characteristics by which it can be identified.
The concept of registration has been thought out rationally. I do not think it was a political initiative. No one is trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. Rational individuals, including the justice minister, have decided that registration will produce certain benefits for Canadians. It will not get rid of disease and it will not balance the budget. There are many things it will not do. However, registration will have a positive effect in the enforcement of prohibition orders.
Most rational people will understand that, if they are cognizant of what happens when the police are asked to deal with the allegation of an illegal firearm at a residence. It is all too easy for those who occupy the residence to say: "That is not my firearm; it is her firearm," or "it is my kid's; it belongs to my 19-year old".
If there is a functioning registration system, ultimately the owner of that firearm will be registered. There will not be much doubt about who the owner is. Maybe it is the kid; maybe it is the spouse. In any event the uncertainty will not be there and enforcement will be enhanced.
Second, those who deal with the trafficking of firearms believe, although I do not have any statistical evidence, that it will assist in combating smuggling. The fact that domestically owned firearms are registered and in the system allows for the ability to then identify firearms which are not in the system. The good guns are separated from the illegal guns. That will help authorities in dealing with smuggling. Otherwise they often do not know whether it is a smuggled gun. They just do not know the derivation of the firearm.
Third, the obligation to register will increase the propensity of the gun owner to comply with the existing legislation. He or she will see themselves as part of the registered gun owning public with a commensurate obligation to take care of their firearm properly.
At the moment a lot of orphaned firearms are sitting in basements and attics. All of us know where they are. They are in a little box up in the rafters, or on top of the furnace. In so many houses across this country that is where these little orphaned guns are.
Registration is required so that the people who know the guns are there will pull them out. They will get rid of them. They will give them away or turn them in. They will disable them, or whatever they are going to do. At the end of the day, the guns will be registered. They will know they have an obligation to make sure the firearm is safely stored and that it is not an orphan.
I think the same thing happens with motor vehicles, aircraft, and other things that we register. In any event, I do not know if that is going to happen for sure. In a rational way I can see the linkage. I am prepared to take the risk of imposing obligations on the gun owning public.
Last but not least, it is obvious that a firearm with a serial number and a registered owner is much easier to trace than a firearm with a serial number and no registered owner. That is simple logic.
I accept that registration is going to have some positive benefits and to be sure, there are costs. As colleagues have pointed out, there could be huge costs. As I read them, the costs will be more than manageable. The costs are bearable by the gun owning public. We can find an efficient and effective way to use new technology to do it.
I accept that there is a grandfather clause which will be to the benefit of many gun owning Canadians. I note that the House of Commons steering committee of the justice committee was meeting this morning to make plans to deal with the initiatives of the public in dealing with this. Many MPs will take part in that process to try to make the bill better.
I believe that my riding of Scarborough-Rouge River has Canada's only handgun manufacturer. That manufacturer does about $25 million worth of business a year. Ninety-nine per cent of the product is exported into markets all over the world.
The firearm has been purchased by the Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage release team. It is a quality firearm. We have quality firearms here in this country. We make them here. I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that this bill and the regulations do not impair the ability of my constituent business to continue to do $25 million worth of business in Toronto and Montreal which is a significant export.