The House resumed from November 26, 2014, consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to continue from where I left off some time ago. The bill has been before the House for quite some time, so people may not remember those comments. I invite them to look them up in Hansard
The changes that are proposed in Bill C-42 show just how serious we are about improving public safety and keeping the public safe from real threats rather than simply trying to take guns out of the hands of hunters and sports shooters. There are types of common sense measures that are important to bring forward. They keep the public safe without putting needless barriers on law-abiding Canadians. That is the main point I want to continue to make.
I would like to address one of the colossal problems that has been raised in the firearms community, and that has a direct impact on thousands of law-abiding gun owners.
In February of 2014, overnight and by the mere stroke of a bureaucrats pen, thousands of law-abiding gun owners became criminals. Without taking any action on their own at all, thousands of Canadians were unwittingly potentially the subject of criminal charges that came with a mandatory three year prison sentence. I am of course talking about the reclassification of the CZ858 and the Swiss Arms family of rifles.
Our government took swift and decisive action at that time to condemn this nonsensical decision and to put in place measures to allow people to use their property and to protect them from prosecution. However, at the end of the day, individuals who owned the impacted rifles were still in legal limbo. Their ability to use their property varies across the country. Their ability to sell their own property was halted. They could not even plan for the future use of their asset, given the amnesty had an expiration date.
This legislation would end arbitrary reclassifications once and for all. For the first time, the elected government would have oversight of classification decisions. On the advice of outside experts, elected officials would be able to overturn incorrect decisions. Additionally, once the bill receives royal assent, the impacted rifles will have their original classification status restored.
It is clear that these measures are safe and sensible, as everything else in the bill is. While the bill is by no means a panacea for all responsible gun owners, many think it is a good start, including me.
I know there are MPs in all political parties who support Canadian heritage activities that include hunting and sport shooting. It is my sincere hope that those members, regardless of their political affiliation, will support the legislation. It will save money and focus on fighting crime. If we listen to the experts who agree, the paperwork does not stop gun crime.
I would like to made a few additional comments.
Those who oppose this legislation are never able to explain how what they advocate will ever reduce crime. For example, there was a lot of talk about the gun registry when it was abolished that it would violate public safety, increase crime and all those kinds of things. Murders using long guns—that is rifles and shotguns—have steadily declined since the registry was abolished. If $2 billion had not been wasted but rather invested in measures that could improve public safety, we could have truly saved lives.
For example, if we had a stronger police presence in some areas of our cities, that would be effective. We need to promote healthy outdoor sports activities for the youth of Canada. That is healthy and good for them.
I would also like to point out that many people on the opposition side use the term “gun control” and they somehow equate it to public safety, but they never explained how it will improve public safety. The one thing they can never explain is how if one lays a piece of paper beside a firearm, it is somehow will control what criminals do with that firearm. It does not make sense. We are bringing in common sense firearm laws. That is what needs to be done.
If we look back in history, we can see that all the criticism the long gun registry received was valid. We changed that and crime did not increase. In fact, crime with firearms decreased.
Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, to follow the act of the member for Yorkton—Melville is going to be quite the challenge for me, that is for sure.
Nonetheless, I will do my best.
Since arriving in the House during the current Parliament, I have been upset at how the issue of firearms has been handled, since this topic, which is very important to the members of all the parties in the House, often affects public safety and a part of the population that our friends across the way like to call the “law-abiding hunters of this world”, as though we would not call them that.
The Conservatives also like to claim that the members of the official opposition are against hunters and anything even remotely related to a weapon. As the official opposition justice critic, and like my colleague who talked about public safety and all my NDP colleagues, I think it is important to take this fiercely partisan attitude out of this debate. Often, the way the Conservatives behave is the reason why we cannot give them our support.
For years, they used the gun registry to try to divide Canadians, classifying them as either rural or urban and either hunters or criminals. That is a problem. Other Canadians are also very sensitive to what has happened to the people of Quebec. I was born in Quebec. The massacre at the École polytechnique is part of our daily lives and we are reminded of it every year, especially through stories from parents, victims, friends and everyone who suffered as a result of that terrible tragedy. We also went through the horrific ordeal at Dawson College. As for the events of October 22 that occurred right here, as awful as that experience was, we cannot forget the gunman who entered the National Assembly many years ago and just started shooting.
This is all part of a collective psyche that is very sensitive to the issue of weapons. When a government tries to use something as fundamentally personal for so many people every time it introduces a bill or does some fundraising, it can be hard to see those bills as having much merit. We know that they are under a lot of pressure, since they created it themselves. Let us not kid ourselves.
Not long ago, someone told me that, at the time, even the Prime Minister voted in favour of the firearms registry. There comes a time when people forget the past. That is unfortunate, because the government tends to have a way of ensuring that history repeats itself and of saying absolutely unbelievable things.
Let us remember the events that led to the creation of this registry. Some members will say that we are not here to talk about the registry, but I will explain the connection from start to finish.
The tragedy at École Polytechnique occurred in the 1990s. I was not a member of the House at that time, but as a Quebecker and a Canadian who witnessed that terrible tragedy, I saw politicians clamouring to be the first to respond and put something in place.
Did this registry, which was created by the Liberals, make sense and was it well built? As the member for Yorkton—Melville said, that is certainly the impression people were given. That impression is certainly strengthened by some of the arguments of the members opposite, who have always been happy to say that those who established the registry wanted to criminalize hunters. I have always said that hunters were the innocent victims of the events of the 1990s.
When it comes to an issue such as this, which is so emotional for so many people and so personal for others who live in communities that may not be like the urban area of Gatineau, we need to take a deep breath and examine the situation.
With all due respect for the people and some of my colleagues who like to say that we are opposed to this or that, I really enjoy sitting down with the people of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club. As I already told someone, if you think I put on this weight eating tofu, there's a problem somewhere. I have nothing against meat or hunting.
However, I will always promote public safety. We owe it to Canadians. This government makes a point of boasting about public safety bills at every turn and says that, on this side, we are far too soft and that we do not want to adopt the tough measures that are needed. However, the government brings in all kinds of measures and tries, among other things—I am coming back to the registry—to destroy data that a government that is a partner in the federation had asked for.
The intended result was that the federal government would no longer need the data and that there would be no further criminalization under the Criminal Code. But it took some narrow-minded people and a certain meanness to say that if they were not going to take the data, then we could not have it. That is roughly what happened. The Supreme Court told the government that they had the legal right to do it. Great. However, the government made a political choice and will pay for it. The ruling clearly stated that the federal government made the decision only to harm the provinces. As I have often said, if we are proud to say in the House that the government made a decision that harms a partner of federation, there is a serious problem with Canadian federalism. That is unfortunate.
That said, with respect to Bill C-42, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety, we always hear the same kinds of comments from this Conservative federal government and we see that they go through periods of requesting funding from their supporters and from interest groups. These are obviously valid groups. I have nothing against the gun lobby. That is their job. However, it is our job as parliamentarians to not allow ourselves to be pushed around simply because they enjoy it. I will sit down with any lobby, regardless of the side, including those who support not allowing anyone to own a gun under any circumstances. I will listen to what they have to say and I will try to make a decision that makes sense and that has the desired outcome.
We have problems at customs when people cross our borders. We have black markets for guns and all kinds of things. I am not talking about hunters. I am talking about organized crime groups that bring a huge number of weapons into the country. While we argue over the details, we miss doing the important things. Budgets for these crime-fighting measures are being cut.
The government needs to stop laying it on thick and claiming that all we want to do is to prevent hunters, sport shooters and collectors from owning guns and from being able to enjoy them. Similarly, the first nations have inherent rights with respect to hunting and fishing. No one can take those away from them, although some measures in Bill C-42 make me doubt that. This will create some serious problems for the first nations and could undermine some of their inherent rights.
We did not hear many on the Conservative side rise to object to these kinds of things and these kinds of situations. All they do is say that Bill C-42 must be wonderful because it is a government bill. Every time I speak to a bill I always find it amusing to look at the short title. The Conservative Party must pay someone to sit there and come up with bill titles. They have a lot of imagination, and often even more imagination in French than in English. It is rather enlightening when you look at Bill C-42. The English version of the bill states:
“This Act may be cited as the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act.”
These words please the rest of Canada, in the ridings of my friends across the aisle, and those of many of my colleagues, too, outside of urban centres. The French title is more likely to please Quebeckers: Loi visant la délivrance simple et sécuritaire des permis d'armes à feu. The French does not use the expression “common sense” and instead refers to safety. This argument might be more successful in Quebec. Sometimes I think the problem with the Conservatives is that the devil is always in the details. As my parents always told me when I was a kid, when someone cries wolf too many times, eventually no one will believe them.
Unfortunately, that is more or less what is happening right now with the federal Conservative government's so-called law and order agenda, or with public safety, or with their haste to send our men and women into a war in Iraq and Syria. The Conservatives have contradicted themselves so many times now that no one is going to believe them any more. When we do not believe them, we cannot stand here and agree with something that does not make any sense.
I have no problem with getting rid of unnecessary paperwork for someone who has a hunting rifle that is used only for hunting and is stored properly. However, other bills from the backbenches seek to change the storage rules. When we add all that up, in an effort to say things to try to please everybody, the Prime Minister seems to be saying that everyone within 100 or 60 kilometres of a major centre should have a gun. He might be on board with that, but I do not think that that is what Canadians want.
That being said, I do not want to stop people who want to lawfully use their rifle for hunting, sport or target practice from doing so. I attend cadet ceremonies and I am extremely proud of Gatineau's cadets when I see them win shooting competitions. I do not think that is due to Nintendo's Duck Hunt. The government has to stop making fun of people for wanting to be careful and make sure that the measures we are adopting do what they are supposed to do.
This bill contains some measures that are cause for concern. Perhaps it was poorly thought out by the Conservatives. I am not certain that they will be able to fix it in committee. That does not seem to be one of the strengths of the Conservatives, or at least of the Conservative members who sit on the committee. With all due respect for the ministers, given the number of times that parliamentary secretaries have told me that they do what they are told, there is no longer any doubt in my mind. I know very well that they have been given their orders, and that they are doing what the powers above have asked them to do in committee. They even tell us, out in the hall, that they think that what we are saying makes sense but that, unfortunately, they cannot approve it. The ministers opposite should not come here and tell us to our faces that they let the committee members do their job. We are trying and we will continue to try to do our job until the end of this Parliament. We are the party of hope, optimism and love. I am still optimistic, but I have had to put hope on hold.
One problematic aspect of this bill is training, and the committee will have to take a close look at what that means for people who live in rural areas where there might not be any trainers. I also hope that some first nations witnesses will be able to share their opinions on Bill C-42 with the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
To me, the most problematic part of the bill is the regulatory aspect. I do not claim to be an expert on firearms. Obviously, I do not want dangerous weapons to be available to criminals, but as I was saying earlier, I have no problem with hunters, sport shooters and collectors having guns, as long as they are using them properly. That being said, I think the regulatory aspect is quite problematic.
As we realized at the Standing Committee on Justice, bills are often passed hastily. I am not necessarily talking about the time we spend debating here. What I mean is that the Conservatives have come up with so many bills in some areas, such as justice and public safety, that people at the Department of Justice do not have time to analyze all of the details. I am not saying they are not doing a good job, but there is a limit. If I were a legal adviser and I had 52 files to work on in one week, no matter how good I was, I would have a hard time handling that workload. These people are on a mission.
This week, I asked them if there might be a contradiction between the “Life means life” bill, Bill C-587, and Bill C-53, which would eliminate parole before 40 years. They had to admit that could obviously cause some problems in court.
It is the same thing here. There are many bills that deal with firearms, but I encourage my colleagues in the House to focus on Bill S-2, because it will completely change the way that regulations are enacted. I call it the sleeper bill of this legislature. It seems harmless, but it has serious consequences. Without us even knowing, the government could change the regulations through a minister or delegated authority. I am not saying that that is what is going to happen, but it is a possibility. No one can answer me when I ask whether Bill S-2 might conflict with Bill C-42 with regard to the classification of firearms.
That is what concerns me the most. This would not be the case if we had a reasonable and sensible government that was acting in the interest of public safety. However, this government is easily swayed by lobbying efforts. Earlier, my colleague, the public safety critic, asked the Minister of Public Safety whether there was deal between the government and the firearms lobby that would explain why the firearms lobby did not attend the committee meetings on Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015.
The Conservative member who spoke before me said that this bill has been around a long time. That is strange because we were supposed to debate it on October 23. I was studying this bill when the events occurred on Parliament Hill. The Conservatives are claiming that this bill enhances public safety. The minister says that it is extraordinary. That is ironic because if Bill C-42 is so good for public safety, then it would have been extraordinary if the government had announced, the day after the shooting, that as a good and responsible government, it was letting us debate it and pass it right away.
However, the Conservatives knew very well that this bill had some serious flaws. They used these events to make it more accessible to Canadians, knowing that it could be worrisome for them. Furthermore, since the Conservatives only work based on polls, they withdrew the bill and then brought it back one month later, only to shut down debate after the minister, our critic and the critic from the third party had a chance to speak.
Today, on April 1—this is no April Fool's joke—the Conservatives have brought this bill back and they have the gall to tell us that it has been languishing for six months. That is not our fault. They are the ones who let it languish. There is no real urgency.
This bill has a number of worrisome elements. I know it works to their advantage so it is hard for them to let go of it. They must have been disappointed when the registry was abolished because it was no longer profitable. However, now they have this, so they can continue and say that the member for Gatineau is against hunters. That is not true. I am sick of hearing such nonsense.
Can we be adults here and simply ensure that the right guns are in the hands of the right people? As justice critic for the official opposition I never claimed that the firearms registry would have prevented the crime at the École Polytechnique.
That is not even what police forces came to tell us. All they said was that it helped them during investigations. It gave them a sense of security if they had information—if not some assurance—that firearms might be located somewhere. They acted differently as a result.
With all of that information, we should be able to implement measures that are good for public safety, not for Conservative party funding.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to note that I will be sharing my time this evening or as the debate goes to the next stage.
As a member of the Conservative government, I am very proud to rise and speak today in favour of Bill C-42, the common sense firearms licensing act. As I go through my speech, I think people are going to recognize why it is called that, because the name very appropriately reflects all the very important measures within the bill.
It should be no surprise to anyone that our government has chosen to champion this bill. We have always been the only Canadian party to believe in a common sense approach to public safety. Criminals, not law-abiding persons, should face repercussions in the justice system. The bill would make several much-needed amendments to do just that.
The bill has eight components that take a safe and sensible approach to firearms heritage in Canada. It contains elements to target violent criminal behaviour. By cutting red tape, the bill would also reduce the burden on law-abiding Canadians who wish to enjoy full use of their property.
I would like to take this opportunity to outline some of the measures that I think are particularly beneficial to all Canadians in addition to some that will benefit law-abiding hunters, farmers, and sport shooters specifically.
I grew up in an urban setting, and had I never moved to a rural community, I perhaps would not have understood the bill as much as I do, having had the enormous privilege and opportunity to live in a rural area for many years.
Hunting was not part of my life growing up, nor was sport shooting. When we moved to a rural community, one of the things that happened very early on was that I hit a deer with my car in the middle of a very isolated area. The deer was severely injured and was on the side of the road. A person who came by not too long afterward managed to put the deer out of its misery with his rifle.
A few years later, my children were born in a rural community. We lived on some acreage. A cougar had been stalking our children, and our next-door neighbour shot the cougar. Thankfully none of our children was impacted.
As a result, I learned to appreciate that hunters and farmers used firearms as a tool, but it was really, as we so often say, law-abiding hunters and farmers who were getting buried in red tape.
I appreciate how some folks from urban areas might not understand the bill, but we should all agree with the principles of reducing red tape and with some of the protection measures that are going to go into place.
Let us look at the facts. Enjoying a hobby such as sport shooting or utilizing firearms as a part of one's livelihood does not make a criminal, nor does it in any logical way predict the likelihood of committing a crime. I think I gave two very important examples.
That is why the bill would create a six-month grace period for licence renewal at the end of the five-year licence period. People would not be able to use their firearms or purchase ammunition with an expired licence, but they would not be treated like criminals because they made an honest mistake. Who among us has not missed a renewal of car insurance or some other type of important insurance? A little grace period is very appropriate, as any reasonable, sensible person should agree.
Possession-only licences would be eliminated. They would be converted to possession-and-acquisition licences, giving the right to purchase firearms to all who hold a valid POL. When I learned about the system that we had in place, I was quite flabbergasted in terms of the POL, the PAL, and the firearms registry. It really seemed like a system that was buried in red tape, so we are not talking about reducing safety; we are talking about reducing a system that is buried in red tape. That means 600,000 Canadians who have owned and used firearms safely, many for more than 20 years, will now be trusted to purchase new firearms if they wish, as they have safely used firearms for years. Again, I think any reasonable person would agree.
This bill proposes that first-time firearms owners must attend firearms training prior to being issued a licence. That is safe and sensible. The bill proposes to create firearms prohibition orders against those who commit domestic violence, thus punishing those who commit criminal actions as opposed to those who stay within the law.
I find it very difficult to understand why people across the floor could possibly oppose this bill, though I must say again that I am not really all that surprised, because I saw what happened with the long gun registry. Some NDP members represent rural communities. I know that they voted against the wishes of their constituents when they voted to keep the long gun registry, and if they vote against this bill, they will be voting against the wishes of the majority of their constituents again. Those constituents should be very concerned, because they are not being represented by their NDP members, the people they sent here to represent them.
Today if a law-abiding gun owner wants to get a restricted firearm repaired for a day at the range next week, they cannot, and I will say why. It is because they would have to submit a piece of paperwork to the Ontario CFO's office to get a letter authorizing them to transport it to that location, even if they have a piece of signed paperwork saying they can take it to their local range. That is simply nonsense.
If someone has a licence and wants to take guns to a licensed armourer, is it really a risk to public safety if the firearms are transported in a locked case, with a trigger lock on the firearms and with the firearms out of arm's reach, as required by law? If it really is a risk to public safety, then why, after waiting several weeks or more for a piece of paperwork from the CFO, is it now somehow made safe? If the CFO thought someone was unsafe, he should never have approved the licence in the first place. The entire process is nonsense. The government's bill would address this aspect as well.
As firearms owners, people are already subject to continuous eligibility screening. This means their licences are checked against the police information system to see if they have committed a crime. This bill proposes to end needless paperwork around authorization to transport restricted firearms by making them a condition of a restricted licence for routine and lawful activities. CFOs who approve licences for firearms owners would now also be approving the legal use of those firearms at the same time.
This bill would end the arbitrary discretion of the chief firearms officers. Without a legitimate public safety need, they would no longer be able to create regulations that deliberately infringe on the enjoyment of property.
This bill would make two extremely important changes that would benefit many Canadians. One is that the bill proposes to end the loophole that stops information sharing between law enforcement agencies when they are investigating the importation of illegal handguns. The other change proposed in this bill is to put the final say on the classification of a firearm in the hands of the elected government after it receives professional advice on the characteristics of the firearm.
These last two changes would end bureaucratic nonsense. I keep using that word because we can see how bogged down the process is in red tape. Yes, we need to worry about safety, and yes, we need to worry about proper training, but no, we do not need one piece of paperwork after another.
I believe that protecting Canada's heritage is at the core of the bill. Hunters, farmers, and sports shooters are at the very core of Canadian heritage and deserve representation against false perceptions that are being propagated in the House. We have heard many of them already. People are not criminals in this country just because they own firearms, nor should they be made criminals through fearmongering.
On this side of the House, we will always stand up for safe and sensible firearms policy. If we look at the eight points that I brought up, we see that they would reduce red tape and increase safety measures. They are sensible and appropriate, and I suggest that all members on both sides of the House should seriously consider supporting this bill.
They are really reducing red tape and increasing safety measures. They are sensible and appropriate, and I suggest that all members on both sides of the House seriously consider supporting the bill.