I am serious, Mr. Speaker, and the member knows that is what happens. It happens at my committee. Members follow that direction. They are members in their own right; they can stand on their own two feet. What I am saying is that the process has to change if we are going to make this legislation good legislation. I ask members to really look at this issue seriously and not to take direction in that fashion. There is concern about the civil liberties of Canadians and freedom of expression. We have to listen to those witnesses.
I want to give an example of what a couple of people I have talked to have to said, people whom we will put forward as witnesses. First, there is quite a series of articles in the press these days by two individuals, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach. They have a paper they sent us that is close to 40 pages long. They are doing a summary of the key concerns with the bill. This is what they say at the beginning of the summary:
If Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be expressly authorized to “take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce” very broadly defined “threats to the security of Canada”. Where authorized by Federal Court warrant, these “measures” may “contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” or may be “contrary to other Canadian law”.
It does not matter whether I agree or disagree with that statement. There is a concern expressed there that we should look at seriously. These two individuals admit it themselves. They add an additional word relevant to this in a document dealing with CSIS. They say:
We are legal academics who have been researching and writing on issues of national security law (Canadian, international and comparative) for a sum total of 26 person years (between the two of us).... We are, in other words, an occasional and minor part of the national security “accountability sector”, to the extent that such a thing exists in Canada.
These people have a point of view. They have an expression of interest that we ought to listen to.
I also met with the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, which also has concerns. That association was founded in 1998 by a small group of Toronto based Canadian Muslim lawyers. It has over 300 members across Canada and active chapters in Ontario and Quebec. The association states:
Bill C-51 is deeply flawed legislation that should not become law. Before we begin to integrate and concentrate power in government agencies on national security matters, we should first implement the remedial findings of many commissions of inquiry into the matter, most notably the Arar Inquiry.
As national security functions become more integrated it makes sense that there is a concomitant and effective counterbalance in terms of independent review and oversight. Such a body would have jurisdiction over all national security agencies and functions, including CSIS, CSEC, the RCMP and a host of other agencies (some of them currently have no oversight).
That is their opinion. They are suggesting that there needs to be much broader oversight.
These are just two examples of witnesses that we need to listen to. However, in order to make the proper amendments, accept them, and bring in those ideas, the government has to be willing to make some amendments.
To turn specifically to the issue of oversight itself, sadly, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and, today, the Minister of Justice have been misinforming Canadians. Let me repeat that. Some of the highest officers and political ministers in this land have been misinforming Canadians on what exists, and what is and is not in this bill. It really is troublesome that the top political office in the land either does not know the limits of the Security Intelligence Review Committee or has not been totally forthright. I do not know which it is.
Let me turn to what the Security Intelligence Review Committee itself has said. It said that it is not an oversight body. Let me turn to its annual report for 2013-14. On page 12 of that report, in section 2, it says:
An oversight body looks on a continual basis at what is taking place inside an intelligence service and has the mandate to evaluate and guide current actions in “real time.” SIRC is a review body, so unlike an oversight agency....
SIRC itself admits that it is not an oversight agency, but even if it were an oversight agency, which it is not, it is not broad enough to really review national security. If we look at schedule 3 of Bill C-51, another seven agencies have been included there. I think some of them were here before. We are adding the likes of the departments of health, national defence, and transport to SIRC, CSIS, CSEC, the RCMP, and police forces of local jurisdictions, all of which are involved in these security matters, and transferring information across departments. There needs to be a much broader oversight that even a slightly improved SIRC could handle.
I mentioned earlier the protections that we as a Liberal government put in place on the extended powers in the anti-terrorism act of 2001. There were sunset clauses in which laws would cease to exist. There was a mandatory review. In 2004, we recognized that there was still a greater need, which was for the oversight of all security agencies. As a result, an all-party committee was proposed and put in place. It held hearings and made some recommendations, and Bill C-81 was introduced. However, it died on the order paper. I will come back to that in a moment.
Simply put, a previous Liberal government introduced legislation to provide for oversight by parliamentarians similar to that of our Five Eyes partners, the U.K., the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Today, in The Globe and Mail, four former prime ministers put an article in the paper, signed by a number of justices and former attorneys general, et cetera, entitled: “A close eye on security makes Canadians safer”.
It starts by saying:
The four of us most certainly know the enormity of the responsibility of keeping Canada safe, something always front of mind for a prime minister.
They went on to say:
Yet we all also share the view that the lack of a robust and integrated accountability regime for Canada's national security agencies makes it difficult to meaningfully assess the efficacy and legality of Canada's national security activities. This poses serious problems for public safety and for human rights.
They went to say said:
Canada needs independent oversight and effective review mechanisms more than ever, as national security agencies continue to become increasingly integrated, international information sharing remains commonplace and as the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to expand with this new legislation.
People who have been in the same position as the Prime Minister are calling on the need for oversight. Such a security oversight agency was called for by a former public safety committee while the current Prime Minister was in office. In a report dated June 2009, tabled in the House of Commons, it called for that, in recommendation 5:
The Committee recommends, once again, that Bill C-81, introduced in the 38th Parliament [by a Liberal government], An Act to Establish the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians, or a variation of it, be introduced in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
That recommendation was supported by six members who currently sit in the House: the member for Yorkton—Melville, who chaired that committee; the member for Oxford; the member for Brant; the member for Northumberland—Quinte West; the member for Edmonton—St. Albert; and the member for Wild Rose.
The previous recommendation for Bill C-81 was supported by the current Minister of Justice and the current Minister of State for Finance. What has happened to those members since the leadership changed and we have the current Prime Minister? How come they are not still calling for oversight? They know that SIRC is not oversight. SIRC has claimed that it is not oversight. Did they lose their voice? Do they not stand by what they previously believed in, what they held hearings on? Oversight is important, and that is what we must implement in this bill, as well as a number of other amendments we will be putting forward.
As a final point, I will report on what the British Intelligence and Security Committee does. The members of the committee are subject to the Official Secrets Act. In their annual report, they say this:
The Committee sets its own agenda and work programme. It takes evidence from Government Ministers, the Heads of the intelligence and security Agencies, officials from the intelligence community, and other witnesses as required.
They monitor on a day-to-day basis. They keep intelligence agencies honest. They protect on two sides, as Bill C-81 would have done. It would have ensured that security agencies are doing what they are supposed to do and second, that they are not going too far in terms of infringing on civil rights and freedoms.
Let me close with a quote from my leader in yesterday's speech:
We are hopeful that the government is serious about reaching across the aisle to keep Canadians safe, while protecting our rights and our values.
It can be done. We need sunset clauses. We need a mandatory statutory review, and we definitely need oversight. I am sure both the NDP and Liberal Party will have many amendments to improve the bill in other ways, but the government has to reach across the aisle and allow Parliament to work.
The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.
The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.
Mr. Speaker, let me first pay tribute to the member for Yorkton—Melville for standing up for the long Canadian opinion of this country.
I will bring forward an amnesty to ensure that individuals in possession of these firearms can continue to possess their property without threat of criminal charges.
Our Conservative government will continue to ensure that Canada is one of the safest countries in the world without penalizing honest citizens.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act.
Over the last two weeks, the justice committee has heard a great deal of compelling testimony from mental health experts, legal professionals, law enforcement and victims who courageously shared their heart-rending experiences of pain, of loss, of anger and frustration and of their efforts to grieve and overcome. One of those experiences was shared by the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I want to thank him and all the witnesses who provided personal accounts that were often heart-rending, but all the more important for it.
On the whole, the testimony we heard confirmed our reasons for opposing this legislation. I want to note that my belief is grounded in statistical analysis and in expert opinion that Bill C-54 would prove counterproductive by complicating treatment for the mentally ill and, as a result, increasing the danger to the public.
The testimony at committee also demonstrated something else: that the government's approach to this bill has had the effect of pitting mental health and legal experts against victims of violence, and it does not have to be this way.
I offer as evidence some quotations from committee testimony, as follows:
It is not about putting them in prison, it is about getting them the help they need.
One witness said, “I believe strongly in increased supports to help those with mental illness in our communities”.
Another witness said:
I am in favour of rehabilitation and I understand the suffering caused by a mental illness.
It may surprise members that those words came to the justice committee from victims and victims advocates. They were saying this.
The following quotation that I will read are from the testimony of mental health and legal professionals who are opposed to the bill.
...the association supports an approach that fully addresses victims' needs...it also recognizes that there are major flaws in the support services and financial aid offered to victims...
Another witness said, “we wholeheartedly support changes that create greater involvement for victims in the process. Without a doubt we want all victims affected by crime to be part of the process”.
Those words came from people who supported victims, but opposed the legislation.
Common ground exists between victims and the mental health and legal communities, irrespective of their views on this bill. The victims who spoke were not simply out for revenge. They recognized the importance of effective treatment for the mentally ill, including accused found not criminally responsible, or NCR.
At the same time, those opposing this bill have demonstrated genuine compassion for victims. It is disappointing therefore that the government did not endeavour to find this common ground before it prepared the legislation.
To be clear, opponents of the bill do not oppose victims, as has been callously and hyperbolically suggested. Indeed, we and other experts support measures to increase the notification of victims and the provision for no contact orders between victims and NCR accused.
It would have been, and, indeed, it still is quite possible, given good faith and openness to the perspectives of all concerned, to draft a bill that first, simultaneously protects the safety of the public; second, respects the interest and wishes of victims; and third, facilitates both preventative and rehabilitative treatment for the mentally ill. Those three things could have existed simultaneously in the bill.
Not only would such a bill have received more widespread support, it would have been less suspectible to constitutional challenges and it would have been far more effective.
I regret, however, that this was not the government's approach. Stakeholder after stakeholder and expert after expert came before the justice committee and stated that the government had not sought their input. Shockingly, while preparing a bill that deals specifically with mentally ill individuals, the government apparently had a grand total of one preliminary meeting with a mental health group before the bill was tabled.
It never consulted, for instance, with Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which is Canada's largest mental health and addiction treatment facility, or the Schizophrenia Society of Canada or the Canadian Psychiatric Association, among many others.
The Canadian Mental Health Association was granted one meeting, and that was after second reading.
On the legal side, the government ignored no less an authority than the Canadian Bar Association. It consulted with crown attorneys whose input is important, but not with attorneys who represent the mentally ill, whose input is equally important.
The government's choice not to consult with so many of the relevant experts is yet another manifestation of a trend to which we are now regrettably accustomed to in the House, particularly with respect to justice legislation. The government does not base its policies on facts. Indeed, one of the principal reasons the Liberals oppose this bill is that, despite flaws in Canada's overall approach to issues of mental health and justice, the evidence demonstrates that the not criminally responsible regime works well in its current form. Undoubtedly, there are shortcomings with respect to the notification and involvement of victims. There are shortcomings which the Liberal Party has sought to address through amendments. There are also major improvements needed in terms of preventative treatment so people with severe mental health problems can get an early diagnosis and be treated before they commit serious violence.
Moreover, as was recently argued in a feature in L'actualité magazine about Isabelle Gaston, whose children were killed by Guy Turcotte, we might also consider re-examining the way our courts approach expert testimony at trial.
However, the crux of the bill before us does not address most of these problems. Rather, Bill C-54 is focused on changing the way our system deals with mentally ill individuals after they have been found not criminally responsible, yet this is the aspect of Canada's approach to mental health and justice that already works very well. We know it works because several studies have been done on the subject, the most recent of which was finally tabled by the minister last Thursday in its corrected form.
Before continuing, I want to acknowledge and thank the minister for doing so, even if I still do not understand why he tabled the incorrect report in March, one week after being provided with a revised draft, or why the government continued to cite the incorrect figures for months.
While I am on the subject, I must also express my dismay at public statements made by the minister's office and by his parliamentary secretary, questioning the credibility and competence of the researchers they commissioned. In fact, the researchers behaved in exactly the manner top level scientists and academics should. Instead of saying, as the minister did on Thursday, that “mistakes were made”, as though mistakes can make themselves, the researchers did the right thing by immediately acknowledging their error and correcting it. The minister should also do the right thing and apologize to them for tarnishing their reputations.
As we now know, according to the corrected version of that research, only 6.1% of individuals found not criminally responsible in a serious violent offence had a prior NCR finding. The recidivism rate for NCR accused released by review boards was 7% for serious violence. I said that in the House when I made my very first speech. It came from reputable people, from forensic experts to people who worked in the criminal justice system to mental health authorities. In other words, it is demonstrably exceptionally rare for an NCR accused person to be found not criminally responsible of a second violent act upon release. Naturally, the rarity of the occurrence is of no comfort to those who have been victims. It is certainly worthwhile to seek to improve the system further.
However, if we are to make significant changes to a largely successful system, such as creating an entirely new category of NCR accused deemed “high risk” on the basis of medically suspect criteria, we must take great care to ensure the changes we make do not have unintended negative consequences. Regrettably, witnesses at committee warned of that potential, that this bill would have several troubling unintended consequences, complicating treatment for the mentally ill and therefore increasing the dangers to the public.
Here are some of the reasons. By keeping the NCR accused institutionalized for longer periods of time, this legislation would risk overburdening treatment facilities. As Dr. Sandy Simpson, co-chair of the Canadian Forensic Mental Health Network, testified:
Most forensic services nationally are at or near capacity. If you look at Ontario, most of us are running over capacity. Clearly, if one gets overcrowding within secure mental health facilities, your risk of violent behaviour, both patient to patient and patient to staff, rises, and those environments become more dangerous and less therapeutic.
Repeated questions about whether the government considered this potential effect of Bill C-54 have been met with evasive and even dismissive responses.
Second, the bill may result in more mentally ill offenders going to prisons instead of hospitals. Dr. Simpson warned that this could happen as a result of overcrowding, since patients are often detained in prison while waiting for a forensic bed to become available in an institution.
Moreover, as Paul Burstein of the Criminal Lawyers Association argued, the punitive restrictions placed on NCR accused deemed high risk could cause certain defendants, who would otherwise be found NCR, to plead not guilty instead. If these individuals were acquitted, they would be discharged without receiving treatment of any kind, and if they were convicted, they would likely receive either inadequate treatment or none at all. When they rejoined society after their sentence, they would be at least as dangerous as they were before.
At committee, some Conservative members were skeptical about whether this would actually be the case, claiming that defence attorneys have a fiduciary responsibility to advise their clients to plead NCR if such a finding is appropriate. However, if the consequence of such a finding is likely to be inappropriate in its result and its sentencing—for instance, overly punitive restrictions or a longer detention than necessary—it would be entirely correct for a defence attorney to advise against an NCR plea, especially given that many NCR accused are already detained for longer periods of time than if they had remained in the prison system.
Third, and perhaps most critical of all, the bill contributes to the stigmatization that makes many who suffer from mental illness reluctant to seek treatment in the first place.
The rarity of violent acts caused by mental illness in no way diminishes the pain of victims. I want to stress that. However, by using rare occurrences as justification for significant reform, and by designing those reforms so as to limit the role of medical expertise, the government overstates the problem of violence by the mentally ill and understates the potential effectiveness of treatment.
Yet fear of the mentally ill is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We find mentally ill individuals are largely dangerous; that is the idea we are giving here. We discourage them from acknowledging their illness and they go back into hiding, to being underground, not wanting anybody to know they are ill. A person whose severe mental illness goes undetected is far more dangerous than an NCR accused who has been treated and released by a review board.
Consequently, it is incumbent upon the government to temper its rhetoric and base its policy on facts instead of headlines, thereby reducing stigma and encouraging early diagnosis and intervention.
My colleague, the justice critic from Mount Royal offered numerous amendments at committee in an attempt to address these concerns. Some of his amendments would have introduced or reintroduced principles established by the Supreme Court with respect to NCR accused, such as that NCR accused are not to be punished or left to languish in custody.
The Conservatives explain their opposition by saying that there is no need to codify prevailing jurisprudence, and yet by specifying that public safety is to be the paramount condition of review boards, Bill C-54 would do precisely that. Indeed, two review board chairs testified at committee, and they were already bound by jurisprudence to make public safety their primary concern.
My colleague also proffered amendments to deal with the problematic aspects of the bill, according to which the “brutal nature” of a past act committed by an NCR accused would be an important factor in determining whether the accused posed a future risk, which is a medically dubious causal link. I can assure members of that.
However, Conservative members rejected his efforts in this regard, even going so far as to reject his proposals to define the term “brutal” using existing case law. They preferred the ambiguity that the Canadian Bar Association testified might very well contravene the charter.
The government also refused to include the supports and resources available to the accused upon release as criteria for courts to consider when determining risk, despite expert opinions that such support can be a significant factor in lowering risk of recidivism. Perhaps most egregiously, the Conservatives rejected repeated attempts to ensure that the decision of courts and review boards would be based on medical expertise.
Thus we have before us a bill with little evidentiary basis. It is rife with the potential for unintended consequences. Due to the breadth and vagueness of some of its provisions and the possibility that it will subject NCR accused to unduly punitive restrictions, the bill is likely to raise a whole host of charter concerns. Moreover, because the bill does not even attempt to address primary prevention, it misses the nub of the nature of mental illness altogether. As one of the victims said at committee:
Primary prevention completely failed us.
The member for Kootenay—Columbia, a former RCMP officer, echoed this sentiment by pointing out that when police officers approach individuals who have mental illnesses to try to apprehend them, they are often powerless to ensure that these individuals receive sustained, appropriate treatment. In an effort to address the problem, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto recently instituted a program to screen inmates for potentially dangerous mental health issues as soon as they come in contact with the system.
With federal government support, this kind of program, rather than Bill C-54, would do much to protect the public. Indeed, to address this and other problems related to mental illness, health and justice, members of Parliament must work together and with mental health and legal professionals to develop an effective, evidence-based approach that would support Canadians with mental illnesses and their families and protect the public.
For that reason, I am very pleased that Senator Cowan has introduced a bill that would establish a Canadian commission on mental health and justice. This commission would collect data on the ways mental health and justice intersect, highlight areas that require improvement and facilitate co-operation and the sharing of best practices across jurisdictions. I am hopeful that his Bill S-219 will receive broad-based support so that future policies with respect to mental health and the law would be ground in comprehensive, reliable research and expertise.
In 2005, when he was minister of justice, the member for Mount Royal introduced the most recent reforms to the NCR system. Members of all parties supported both the content of that legislation and the collaborative process through which it was developed. At the time, the current Minister of Public Safety said, “I am pleased to add my support to this bill”.
The Conservative member for Yorkton—Melville said, “The entire debate of the bill in the House and in committee should serve as an example of how Parliament should work”.
I wish I could say the same about Bill C-54, but the legislation we are debating today is regrettably a step backward for the NCR regime, for public safety and for the cause of collaborative evidence-based policy. To keep Canadians truly safe, we must rely on the facts to determine which aspects of our mental health and justice systems are working well and which are in need of improvement. The facts clearly demonstrate that the new high-risk accused category is a solution in search of a problem. As such, Liberals have sought to remove that section from the bill. I support the efforts of my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands to also do that.
At the same time, there is much that can be done in the way of mental health and justice policy to support victims of violence by the mentally ill and to reduce the occurrence of such violence in the first place. These are goals that all Canadians support. It could have been possible, through an evidence-based consultative process, to develop effective legislation with similarly broad appeal.
I hope that in the future, mental health and legal experts will not be pitted against victims but will be consulted and included alongside them to better enact effective policies and keep Canadians safe.
Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to file today. One is from the Yorkton—Melville part of Saskatchewan; a second from the western part of Saskatchewan around Kindersley and Lloydminster; and a third from all over the province, including Regina, Saskatoon, Leader, Theodore, Insinger and a whole variety of other places.
All three petitions relate to the historic tree farm at Indian Head. The petitioners call upon the government to reverse its decision to stop funding the tree farm and to provide adequate resources for the prairie shelterbelt program to continue, including adequate resources for the tree farm at Indian Head.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to honour a hero, someone who has championed a cause for almost 20 years and someone who wants to target real criminals. He submitted hundreds of access to information requests to pinpoint government waste. This person is a whistleblower who exposed billions of taxpayer dollars gone awry.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the member of Parliament for Yorkton—Melville. Albertans are going to celebrate this Oktoberfest at Calgary's premier shooting centre, the Shooting Edge. On Friday, October 12, much bratwurst and sauerkraut will be consumed in his honour.
I invite all members to come celebrate the man who tracked, hunted down and took out the long gun registry, our very own Conservative member of Parliament for Yorkton—Melville.
Mr. Speaker, these baseless smears against the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville are terrible. They are beneath the leader of the third party.
This member has worked very hard for his constituents and has worked hard for law-abiding Canadians. I am proud of our caucus. I am proud of our government. We are finally ending the wasteful, ineffective long gun registry, and the member from Saskatchewan has done a great job in support of that.
Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, I have here in my hands a copy of a letter, which I am quite prepared to table, written by the parent of a young student who was actually in the school when the member spoke and advocated what I said in my question.
I would be prepared to table the letter for all to see. In fact, the letter was written to the Minister of Public Safety.
Mr. Speaker, we have learned that despite the government's claim of caring about community safety, on March 7 the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville told a classroom of Ottawa high school students, some as young as 14, that all Canadians should carry firearms and girls in particular should be armed to protect themselves from sexual assault.
Does the Minister of Public Safety agree with his colleague's extreme position that school children should be carrying loaded guns into schoolyards? Is that the position of the Government of Canada?
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague very much for all the hard work she has done in this Parliament and the past Parliament on this issue.
I would also like to thank my colleague from Yorkton—Melville, and my predecessor, Dale Johnson, the former member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin who for years campaigned and fought long and hard on this issue.
I want to thank all the constituents in my riding of Wetaskiwin who supported me on this particular issue. There is not one issue on which I get more questions. The question I am asked is when will we see the end of the wasteful, ineffective long gun registry.
I would like to give my hon. colleague every opportunity to thank all the organizations, police forces and so on, across this country, the common sense law-abiding citizens whose sensibilities have been offended for so long by this registry. If there is anybody she would like to thank, I would like to give her the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to be the final Conservative member of Parliament to speak in favour of ending the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry.
I am also very pleased to work on behalf of law-abiding firearms owners in this country who use firearms for legitimate purposes. They are not criminals. They have never been criminals. They contribute so much to our country. They love this land. I am honoured to stand here on their behalf and to work hard for these good Canadians.
We have been discussing this important issue for 17 years and I am pleased to report that the end is finally in sight. In a very short time we will vote for the very last time on the future of this wasteful and ineffective measure, and it has been wasteful and ineffective on all counts.
CBC has reported it cost over $2 billion to implement the long gun registry. Every individual, every party, every group, no matter what side of the debate they are on, acknowledges that $2 billion is far too much money. It has been a waste of money. Members should think of what we could have done with $2 billion in terms of helping young people, helping individuals and young people who might be involved in gang activity, putting more police on the street, helping victims of violence. All of us could suggest a positive contribution in terms of helping our country to reduce violence with $2 billion. However, setting up a long gun registry which targets law-abiding Canadians and makes them criminals has been a complete waste.
Throughout this entire time and even while studying the file before I became a member of Parliament, there has never been one example, there has not been one instance, there has been absolutely no proof that the long gun registry has done anything to reduce violence or to stop a single gun crime. That is why the long gun registry must go. That is why it will go.
I would like to thank the member for Yorkton—Melville. He truly is the elder statesman on this issue. Even before ordinary Canadians had caught on to the systemic problem that is the long gun registry, he was fighting to have it abolished.
One of the issues that gets people in my riding very upset, and rightly so, is the long gun registry. All of us have heard loud and clear from our constituents on this issue. When the majority of us on this side of the House go back to our ridings, we are asked questions all the time. I just did a series of town hall meetings throughout my riding. The questions that came up all the time were: when are we going to get rid of the long gun registry and when is it going to end. Finally we can say that the end is near. The final vote will happen in the House tonight.
Frankly, the Liberal introduction of this nonsensical policy is the reason that many of us are here today.
In the last Parliament I introduced a private member's bill to end the long gun registry that only targets law-abiding hunters, farmers and sports shooters. At that time we came within a hair's breadth of ending the long gun registry with Bill C-391. We were all disappointed to see it defeated.
Unfortunately, some individuals on the other side of the House broke faith with their constituents. They told their constituents they would vote to end the long gun registry but they did not. Instead, they voted in the interests of their party bosses.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. We decided that we might have lost a battle but we were determined that we would not lose the war. We made an effort to get out and talk to Canadians. We knew that we needed a majority government. We needed a mandate from Canadians in order to end the wasteful long gun registry, and that is exactly what we received.
Listening to Michael Ignatieff's demands that all Liberals vote to keep on criminalizing law-abiding gun owners meant that we exchanged Liberal Larry Bagnell for the Conservative member for Yukon. It meant that we exchanged Liberal Anthony Rota for the Conservative member for Nipissing—Timiskaming. It meant that we exchanged Liberal Mark Holland for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the Conservative MP for Ajax—Pickering. They were great trades.
It was not only the Liberals who lost. Listening to the big union bosses in the backroom of the NDP did not work out so well for some of those members either.
The good people of Sault Ste. Marie made what some would call an MP upgrade from Tony Martin to the Conservative member for Sault Ste. Marie.
I would encourage members on the other side to remember this: It was not only the Conservatives who campaigned to end the long gun registry during the most recent election. Many NDP candidates from rural and remote parts of Canada made the same promise.
For example, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who has his eye on the big chair in the front row, said:
I have always said that when there was a clear opportunity to vote to scrap the long-gun registry I would do just that.
Someone who wants to be leader of the opposition needs to be honest and straightforward with Canadians, so I encourage the member to stand by his words when he votes tonight. The member will have a clear opportunity in a few short minutes.
Also, just a few short months ago in the most recent election, the member for Western Arctic stood in a church in downtown Yellowknife and in an all candidates debate told everyone, “Vote for me. Vote for the Conservatives. It's the same. We will both vote to end the long gun registry”.
I hope the member stands by his words tonight. He is right. The Conservatives will vote to end the long gun registry. As some of his colleagues on the other side found out last year, Canadians do have a long memory when it comes to broken promises. Canadians will not forget the promises that unfortunately were broken by their MPs.
Let us look at the facts. Whether it has been in coffee shops, in hockey arenas, over kitchen tables, or in the House of Commons, the debate on this issue has been going on for years and every side has been heard. Myths have been perpetuated, such as that the police use the long gun registry 17,000 times a day. That is beyond ridiculous. That myth has been corrected. We have heard time and time again in testimony that front-line officers do not use the registry. They cannot count on the data. It is a useless system. They know they cannot depend on it. They would rather see resources go to help them do their job.
Another myth is that the long gun registry is gun control and it stops crime and domestic violence. That myth is very disturbing to me. The long gun registry has nothing to do with gun control because it has no way of actually stopping individuals from acquiring firearms. Because of that, it cannot stop or intervene in domestic violence.
We need to speak honestly about gun crime, how people get guns, and why they should not have guns. We need to make sure we have laws that actually keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous. It is a myth which throughout the debate we have been able to straighten out.
We have discussed every angle of the long gun registry. Thankfully, everyone has had a chance to be heard. Canadians know where they stand on this issue. We believe it is behind us, their government. We believe this because every single Conservative candidate from downtown Vancouver to northern Manitoba, to the suburbs of Toronto, to the Maritimes stood and told Canadians that he or she believed the time had come to end the useless long gun registry. Because of that, Canadians gave us the strong mandate to keep our promises. That is exactly what we said we would do and that is exactly what we will do.
I encourage all members today to think about the wishes of their constituents. I encourage them to think about rural Canadians and those who live in remote parts of this country, Canadians who use their firearms every day as tools to do their work, whether that be on their farms or to hunt for food. As my colleagues have pointed out, these are law-abiding Canadians who are less likely to commit a crime with a gun than the rest of us who do not own firearms.
I encourage members to think about all of these people and the facts, and vote in support of ending the long gun registry once and for all. I look forward to this bill going to the other place and being passed into law as soon as possible.
It has been an honour and a privilege to stand up for the people of Portage—Lisgar, for law-abiding long gun owners in this country, and for the Conservative colleagues with whom I work.
Mr. Speaker, it is my please to rise to speak to Bill C-19, getting rid of the wasteful and useless long gun registry. I am proud to split my time with the member for Portage—Lisgar, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety. I thank her the yeoman's effort she has put in toward getting rid of the long gun registry. In the last Parliament, her private member's bill to end the long gun registry nearly passed, but lost by two votes. In my time in Parliament since 2004, that was the closest, until today, that we ever came to getting rid of the long gun registry.
I have to thank the Minister of Public Safety for bringing forward this bill and for listening to firearms' owners right across the country and to ranchers, farmers, hunters and sports people who enjoy the outdoors and target shooting. He listened and was able to put that all together in a comprehensive bill that would ensure we would get rid of the registry and the data and, more important, it would take away the incredible onus on responsible Canadians having to register their long guns.
We cannot talk on this bill without thanking the MP for Yorkton—Melville who has been fighting this since 1995 in the House of Commons. He has been an incredible spokesperson on behalf of wildlife organizations and firearms owners across the country, always getting the details, the data and the real statistics on how useless the long gun registry has been and how it has made law-abiding citizens into criminals.
I have listened to the debate. My friend from Winnipeg North stood and made a number of accusations. I want to address some of those in my speech today.
I have been fighting Bill C-68 since 1995. When I was with the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, I presented to the Senate committee on Bill C-68 when it was travelling across Manitoba. I told the majority Liberal senators at that time that this was going to be a discriminatory bill against rural Canadians. Individuals involved in the agriculture industry use firearms, long guns in particular, as a tool in controlling predators, or varmints that they did not want around the yard, like rabid skunks and raccoons, and for putting animals down humanely if they are ill or injured. For the times that we do our own butchering on the farm, we need to have those long guns. Many of us in the agriculture industry are also outdoors people. We love hunting and fishing and when we go out hunting, we need to have our firearms.
Because of the way Bill C-68 was brought in, it automatically labelled people who owned firearms and did not register them as a criminals. The member for Winnipeg North said that nobody was ever arrested based upon the fact that they never registered their firearms. However, we know the bill was specific. If they did not register, they were criminals. Luckily, the western provinces instructed their police forces, mainly the RCMP at that time, not to enforce the firearms registry for those who did not register their long guns. For the most part, that was upheld.
I know of two cases in Alberta alone where firearms owners were arrested and their guns confiscated because they failed to re-register their firearms. Also a friend of mine, Bruce Montague, who was in Kenora, is a gunsmith, a gun collector and goes out to gun shows. He was arrested after a gun show in northwestern Ontario and went to jail. He kept fighting it because he knew it was wrong that he should be treated as a criminal for legally owning firearms even though he never registered them. I agree with him. They were there as part of his collection and his craft. They were never meant for criminal use. Yet he was treated as a criminal, fined under the legislation and put in jail. That is just wrong in too many ways.
We hear all these exclamations that because of the gun registry, we have seen a reduction in gun-related crimes. We know for a fact that gun-related crimes, gun-related accidents and suicides that happen with firearms and long guns in particular, have been on the decline since the 1970s.
We know for a fact that the massive reduction in accidental shootings dates from the previous Conservative government, when Kim Campbell, the Minister of Justice, brought in the first bill to introduce the firearms acquisition certificates and required safe storage and handling and that firearms owners take firearms safety courses. These shootings could have been by kids playing with guns that had not been locked up or stored properly, or as a result of people not having been properly trained and shootings happening accidentally on hunting excursions. Since then there has been a real difference in the number of accidents, the number of suicides and the number of crimes committed with long guns. That is because firearms owners have been getting the proper training. They have been storing and locking up and handling their handguns properly. That is an educational measure that has nothing to do with the long gun registry itself.
We will be continuing with the licensing requirement for gun owners. That has not changed in the last 20 to 25 years. That will stay in place. To be a licensed firearms owner, a person must have taken a firearm safety course. I took my hunting safety course back in 1977 when I was 13 or 14 years old. It was because of that training that I properly handle my firearms and properly store them under lock and key.
I never registered any of my firearms. I refused to do so as my act of civil disobedience. Thanks to the Province of Manitoba, I was never treated as a criminal per se, but as I have explained times in and outside this House, I have refused to register my long guns.
Let us really be clear about the statistics. There have been a lot of numbers thrown around. In 2003 in Vancouver, one of the hotbeds of gun crime, over 97% of the firearms collected on the streets that entire year were not registered. Criminals do not register their firearms. We have stated that over and over again. We know that criminals use handguns. Handguns, under the current legislation, will still be registered and have been since 1925. That will not change.
Targeting law-abiding citizens like long gun owners is a waste of tax dollars, a waste of police time, and a waste of public service time administering a registry that does nothing to prevent any gun crimes.
Since the 1970s, the number of murders committed with guns, that is, the murder rate by long guns or any firearm for that matter, has been 1.9 murders per year per 100,000 people. If we compare that with the population of registered firearms owners, that number goes down to 0.38 murders per 100,000 people.
The most law-abiding people in this country are licensed firearms owners, so why are we making them look like criminals? Professor Gary Mauser looked at all murders since 1997. Less than 2% of them were committed by firearms owners, and out of those licensed firearms owners, only 1.2% of the murders were done with registered firearms. It comes down to the fact that it is not guns that kill people, but people who kill people, and we have to target them.
Just to summarize, the NDP and the Liberals have stated over and over again that they want the gun registry. If they ever have a chance to come back into power, they will bring back the gun registry.
I criticize the member for Western Arctic and the member for Churchill, who campaigned saying, “Vote for me. I will vote to get rid of the long gun registry”. Yet they reversed themselves at second reading and voted, along with their colleagues, to kill our bill to end the long gun registry once and for all.
I thank the members for Thunder Bay—Superior North and Thunder Bay—Rainy River for standing up against their party leadership and voting for their constituents, helping to ensure that we get rid of this long gun registry once and for all. They have been sanctioned and silenced, and their constituents do not have a voice in this House of Commons because of that NDP leadership. However, they deserve to be given all the accolades in the world for allowing the grassroots to speak to them and for carrying their voice back here into the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, this evening there will be an important vote to save taxpayers money. I would like to thank the members of Parliament from Yorkton—Melville and Portage—Lisgar for their hard work and dedication to abolish the Liberal gun registry.
Allan Rock promised that this registry would only cost $2 million. Access to information reports have proved it cost over $2 billion that should have been used to crack down on real criminals. All the registry has done is target law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to reduce crime. People are being forced to navigate red tape, waste time filling out forms and deal with bureaucracy.
We will destroy all records pertaining to the registration of long guns. Our government instead is enacting important mandatory minimum sentences for drive-by shootings. We are also creating longer sentences and tougher bail conditions for using a gun in the commission of another crime.
Once again, I urge all members of Parliament to vote for abolishing the long gun registry.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Crowfoot.
It is with great pleasure that I rise today to acknowledge the nearing end of the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry. For too long, the voices of law-abiding hunters, sports shooters and farmers have not been heard.
It is fair to say that people have talked about the looming end of debate on this. However, when I ran in 2004, one of the things I committed to as a party member if elected was to end this ineffective long gun registry. If we look back to 2004, 2006, 2008 and then 2011, I would suggest that eight years has been more than enough time to debate this issue. Quite frankly, the debate started long before I arrived in 2004.
I do want to pay special tribute to the member for Yorkton—Melville, because it was with his help, diligence and hard work that the waste of this long gun registry was uncovered. He has long been a proponent of trying to deal with it. Therefore, I want to recognize him as I start my speech today.
Another person I want to recognize is my colleague, the member for Portage—Lisgar, who introduced private member's Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry) two years ago. It was defeated by a mere two votes in our last parliament, against the express wishes of responsible Canadian gun owners.
Once again, although the opposition have suggested that we have not had a chance to discuss this issue, I can assure them and all Canadians that if they look at private members' bills and campaign promises like mine 2004, there has been plenty of debate on the issue. Today we are one step closer to renewing their faith in a Canada, that it will not discriminate against them simply for legally possessing a simple piece of property.
Members on this side of the House continue to move forward as a unit to abolish the registry, which only divides law-abiding Canadians. We are standing up for our constituents by eliminating red tape and putting money back where it belongs.
Since it was created, the long gun registry has cost Canadians close to $2 billion, as has been noted. The Auditor General mentioned that it was over $1 billion and that the costs have continued to rise. The net annual cost of the program alone for the 2010-11 fiscal year was $66.4 million. This money should instead be invested into putting more police on our streets, looking at trying to fight organized crime, introducing mandatory minimum penalties for serious gun crimes and combatting drug smuggling.
The long gun registry was never, nor could it ever be, a viable or valuable tool to help reduce gun crime in Canada. For example, the majority of homicides committed in all of Canada do not involve long guns at all. Statistics have shown that long guns are not the problem. In reality, they are not the weapons of choice for criminals. What good is a registry of legally owned long guns held by their law-abiding owners when it is very clear that the real problem is criminals acting outside of the law.
Unfortunately, gun crimes happen all too frequently. Yes, there have terrible incidents where dangerous people have used long guns to cause harm to others. However, there seems to be a misconception that by keeping the long gun registry we will somehow prevent these horrible things from happening. The truth is that these incidents happened despite the long gun registry being in place. Our government does believe that the right gun control laws save lives. Our government will continue to take action to make our streets and communities safer.
Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to do away with the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry. We have answered their cries in the form of Bill C-19, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act. Millions of dollars will now be better spent on more efficient and useful public safety tools. This means more front-line police officers and better resources for our men and women in uniform. It means better support for those who put their lives on the line to ensure the safety of the Canadian public. It is the bravery, selflessness and personal sacrifice of these men and women that prevent crimes from being committed, not the existence of an electronic database that identifies the law-abiding Canadians who own a long gun.
A database would not have stopped the tragedy at École Polytechnique. The man responsible was a criminal, not a law-abiding hunter or farmer. That is why we need police to make sure that criminals do not get their hands on guns, and not focus on a registry composed of law-abiding citizens. The guns used in crimes are not the legally owned hunting rifles or shotguns anyway. Crimes are committed with guns that come into this country, usually illegally. Furthermore, hunting and sports shooting are not crimes, so why should we stand behind a registry that has done nothing but make law-abiding gun owners feel like criminals? Why should they be subject to the same treatment as criminals who use illegal firearms to commit crimes?
The long gun registry alone does not make anyone safer. The long gun registry focuses on the issues of licensing and registering firearms, and there has been no evidence detailing if or how the registry's activities have helped minimize risks to public safety. There was, however, a survey conducted in August 2010 that revealed that 72% of Canadians believe the long gun registry has done nothing to prevent crime.
We have an ongoing gun crisis across Canada, including firearms-related homicides, and a law for registering firearms has neither deterred nor helped solve any of the crimes. None of the guns used were found to have been registered in the registry and more than half of them have been smuggled into Canada from the United States. In the words of the former Ontario provincial police commissioner and the current member for Vaughan:
We have an ongoing gun crisis including firearms-related homicides lately in Toronto, and a law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped us solve any of them. None of the guns we know to have been used were registered, although we believe that more than half of them were smuggled into Canada from the United States. The firearms registry is long on philosophy and short on practical results considering the money could be more effectively used for security against terrorism as well as a host of other public safety initiatives.
My constituency office has received a countless number of letters asking us to do away with the long gun registry. I have personally received phone calls and had many people approach me supporting the abolition of the registry. Citizens across this great country have elected a strong, stable Conservative majority government and have asked us to abolish the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, a process we are witnessing here today.
The issue of destroying the long gun registry's database remains contentious. One of the reasons we want to scrap this registry is that we do not believe that all of the data are even correct and we certainly do not want to enable provincial governments to move forward to make this happen. Once it is gone, it should be gone for good. Licensing information of registered weapons would be maintained and be available to police forces, but not in the manner these weapons were registered in the long gun registry.
The registry is not a valuable tool for combating crime. Many front-line police officers across Canada do not use the registry because they cannot count on it.
John Hicks, an Orillia area computer consultant and webmaster for the Canadian Firearms Centre, once said that anyone with a home computer can easily access names, addresses and detailed shopping lists, including the makes, models and serial numbers of registered guns belonging to licensed firearms owners. He also stated that despite the database costing some $15 million to develop, he managed to break into it within 30 minutes.
Our government stands with law-abiding farmers, duck hunters and rural Canadians in every region of this country. We have long opposed the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry and are now on the eve of its eradication. By eliminating the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, we will instead focus our efforts and time on more effective measures to tackle crime and to protect families in communities.
I would like to extend an invitation to the opposition to vote with us in putting an end to the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry once and for all. We must stop the wasteful and ineffective registry. This is what the Canadian people have asked us to do. We have made Canadians a promise and we shall deliver on our promise.
Madam Speaker, on behalf of my constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity to show my support for Bill C-19. I have personally waited a number of years for this opportunity to stand in this place and say with confidence that the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry will soon be gone.
Our government has been quite clear since we were first elected that we would take a stand and do what was right. We said that we would do what was right for all law-abiding Canadians. We said that we would abolish a system that criminalizes law-abiding Canadians based solely on where they live and the tools they use to make a living. Canadians have now given us a strong mandate to do that.
The debate is not new. Our government has tried on several occasions to achieve the results that Canadians want, as have several hon. members. At this time I want to recognize the efforts of the hon. members for Yorkton—Melville and Portage—Lisgar who have worked tirelessly for many years to do away with Canada's long gun registry. Today is their day as much as it is a great day for all Canadians, a day to rejoice.
I would ask all hon. members of this House to think back to the news coverage they have seen in the past few days. I would ask them to think more specifically about those news stories that covered gun violence on our streets. In many cases, when we see images of gun crime on television, it usually involves gang members settling scores or fighting for drug turf in large city neighbours. It usually involves brazen acts on street corners or in parks or even in schools.
Last summer in my riding, on a Sunday afternoon, it happened. We had open fire from gang members in the middle of a beautiful August day in a tourist city, a city of just over 100,000 people. People from all around the world had gathered to enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon. My daughter happened to be working at the hotel that day and I thank the good Lord every day that she survived. The staff ran into the rooms, called 911 and took frantic customers, patrons from all walks of life, to safety. It was a horrific situation. It is these situations that gun control must target. This must be stopped and our government has certainly taken a number of steps over the last six years to do that.
This government is convinced that asking hunters to fill out forms to register their long guns in a computer database does not prevent these types of crimes from taking place in our communities. Our government is not alone in taking such a stand.
Some hon. members have indicated that police speak with one voice in support of the long gun registry. That, however, is simply not the case. For instance, in April 2006, more than 11 years after the Firearms Act was introduced, the president of the Winnipeg Police Association said, “The Winnipeg Police Association has never supported the long-gun registry”.
More recently, other front-line officers have added their voice to the debate indicating that Canada's long gun registry does nothing to prevent gun crimes or even to protect the safety of police officers.
Abbotsford police chief, Bob Rich, an urbanite with no hunting background, has been quoted in the London Free Press as saying that the long gun registry completely misses the mark and does nothing to address the real gun problems in his community. What he said was that 90% of all recovered guns in Abbotsford were smuggled into Canada from Washington state and that the debate we should be having in this country was about how to address that issue. I think that is of vital importance.
Madam Speaker, yourself coming from British Columbia, you are well aware of the fact that guns and cocaine are going across the border. It is a very serious issue and it is something we need to be focused on, be aware of and working on with other pieces of legislation with the support of all members of this House.
Chief Rich is not alone. When Calgary police chief, Rick Hanson, testified at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness last spring he said that the registry was flawed and that it failed to tackle the real issue of gun violence. He went on to say that the registry:
...falls short of making the type of positive impact this country needs to be safer. No direct links have been made between the existing gun registry and the behaviour of criminals.
I have some more from front-line police officers weighing in on the debate. Retired police officer, Sergeant Michael Mays, who spent 6 of his 33 years on the Toronto Police Force, working the dangerous Jane and Finch area, wrote in a letter to the Toronto Star that he found the long gun registry “ terribly flawed and a waste of time, energy and money”.
Sergeant Mays added that the information in the registry was “outdated, inaccurate and completely unreliable”, and that for any officer ”to make a decision at a call based on registry information would be foolish at best and deadly at worst”, as my hon. colleague recently stated.
The verdict is in. The long gun registry does nothing to prevent gun crimes, protect Canadians or even protect law enforcement officers.
Again, retired police sergeant Michael Mays noted in his letter to the Toronto Star that:
A [police] check of the registry is done automatically every time an officer is dispatched to an address, wanted or not. From its inception, I was advised not to depend on it to make decisions.
What we can deduce from all this is that however well-intentioned it may have been, the long gun registry is completely ineffective and does nothing to prevent gun crimes.
Taxpayers were originally told that the registry would cost something in the order of $2 million, since the rest would be made up by fees. All of us know full well that the state broadcaster has stated the cost to be well in excess of $2 billion. Two million, two billion. M and B. That is a big difference.
Today, we know there are over seven million long guns legally registered but there are millions of others not legally registered. Some estimates put that figure at 16 million. Seven million registered and possibly 16 million unregistered. It is a guess at best. There are still a lot of guns that would need to be registered if the long gun registry remained intact.
We could add to that the cost of making the data current and correcting the data, as well as the police hours that would be spent enforcing its compliance. For what? For a tool that never has and never will have any impact in preventing gun crimes? For a tool that police officers do not rely on? For a tool that some police officers actually refer to as dangerous? For a tool that many police officers say has had absolutely no role in helping them to solve crimes? It is just goes on and on. We can and will do better.
As Al Koenig, president of the Calgary Police Association, noted in the Calgary Herald, the vast amount of money spent on the long gun registry could have been much better spent and put to use for the front-line police officers in Canada. He said that the program has had no effect on crime or acted in any way as a deterrent. He said, “despite the money spent, it should be scrapped.
That is what the legislation before us would do.
Our government believes in taking a balanced approach to firearms control, one that targets criminals and eases requirements on law-abiding firearm owners. We must not forget that the true aim of gun control is to prevent gun crime.
The measures we are taking to build a more effective firearms control system aim to achieve two goals. On the one hand, we want to crack down on individuals who would use firearms to harm others and, on the other hand, we want to ensure that individuals who want to obtain firearms for legitimate purposes are not a threat to others and know how to handle firearms.
We respect our law-abiding farmers, recreational hunters and sports shooters.
I met with members of the BC Wildlife Federation, which has about 38,000 individual members and represents over 100 member clubs in British Columbia, including the Oceola Fish and Game Club in my riding of Kelowna—Lake Country and the Kelowna and District Fish and Game Club. Its president, Rod Wiebe, put out a news release in the fall when we tabled this legislation, in which he stated:
The Prime Minister has consistently pledged to rid us of this expensive white elephant, which has cost Canadian taxpayers almost $2 billion dollars; the introduction of the legislation is tangible proof of that commitment. Supporters of the registry have repeatedly stated that it works, but they have consistently failed to provide clear evidence to support that contention.
The bottom line is that Canadians want results, not expensive showpieces. They want action on gun crime, not expensive boondoggles.
Bill C-19 is long overdue. I therefore ask all members of this House to work with this government to ensure its speedy passage.
In a little while hon. members will have an opportunity to stand up and do the right thing, to stand up for freedom for recreational hunters, farmers, fishermen, outdoors people, who appreciate the beauty of our country and our freedom, and support Bill C-19
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity I have to share a few words on Bill C-19.
No other issue raises people’s blood pressure in my riding as much as the long gun registry does. This is an important issue in my riding, Tobique—Mactaquac.
I appreciate the opportunity to rise today. It is especially interesting to follow my colleague for Cariboo—Prince George. He has given us a nice history lesson on how we got to where we are today from 1995. Here we are 17 years later still dealing with this issue. Hopefully we will be done dealing with it very soon.
I also want to give a tremendous amount of credit to my colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, who has carried the lunch can on this for a number of years. He is a tremendous advocate on behalf of our heritage activities in the country.
I will focus my comments on three major areas based on information and feedback from my riding since I started running for office back in 2004. I have heard this in every election and on every weekend. It is about public safety, respect for our traditions and protecting taxpayer dollars.
It is important to put this into context and I will provide a little background on the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac.
To look at some of our western ridings, it is not one of the biggest, but it is somewhere around 17,000 square kilometres, so it is a fairly large riding for Atlantic Canada. It extends along the border with Maine in the U.S. It has a tremendous amount of traditional industries such as farming and forestry as well as tourism, which includes hunting and fishing. In this riding there are a lot of outfitters, guides and people who entertain sports and come in at various times during the year for hunting and fishing. This is an important aspect in my riding.
I did a poll a number of years ago and I received about 1,400 responses back. Of the constituents of Tobique—Mactaquac, over 90% said that we had to get rid of the long gun registry. I did another poll recently. Again, those numbers are staggering, still up over 90%.
I am not in denial of the challenges that violent gun crime presents to people. It is an issue. At the same time, I can point to two instances a couple of weeks ago of armed robberies in two small community stores in my riding. The people came in with a handgun. At the end of the day, people were scared and intimated. However, mandatory minimums for serious gun crimes are about that. This is what our legislation is intended to do. This is why we put those policies in place for, not a gun registry that unfairly targets the folks who are in our traditional industries.
On the other side, we have also invested in policing, helped communities with their policing and crime prevention strategies to help our youth understand that it is important they stay away from gangs. Also, our flagship representation and bill going through now, the safe streets and communities act, is very important in addressing some of those issues.
Bill C-19 is a pretty simple bill. First and foremost, the new legislation would remove the need to register non-restricted firearms such as rifles and shotguns. This provision is directed at all the farmers who need to protect their livestock, all the sportsmen and women who hunt wild game and all the other rural residents who use long guns to make a living. However, as it has been emphasized here a number of times, I do not think we want to forget that individuals will still need to have valid licences to possess a firearm.
We have had a number of people come to our offices to talk about the process used to obtain a licence, and it is onerous. There is a number of hours of training. Some people in my riding provide the training to those folks. They go through the background checks that are required to determine safety. The bill would preserve these public safety aspects, but it would strike a balance with what gun owners need. Owners of non-restricted and shotguns would no longer have to register these firearms. That is great news to all the long gun owners who have waited so long to see this registry eliminated.
At the same time, owners have talked to us about their personal information. I am pleased to say that clause 29 of the bill also includes the destruction of the records related to the registration of rifles and shotguns. Unless the data is destroyed, there is still a long gun registry and there is still the ability for someone to come down the road and recreate it. It is important for us to ensure that those records are gone.
The second point is about respect. I want to refer to a committee that I put together back in 2006 to talk about the long gun registry. It was interesting how the folks on that committee started it out as a long gun registry committee, but then decided they wanted it to be called a public safety committee. They wanted to address firearms legislation from the standpoint of the proper controls of licensing.
Some of the people on that committee were Mr. Cormier from Saint-André, who does training and gives the course to long gun owners; Mr. Kierstead, who is the coach of the national shooting team; Bill Ensor and Ray Dillon, sport guides in the region of my riding; a doctor who was a gun enthusiast; Mr. Ray Tibbits, a member of a local gun club, who respects and teaches our young kids in the proper use of firearms; and Mr. Dale Clark, former president of the New Brunswick Trappers and Fur Harvesters Federation. Those people had great input to where we could go with the bill.
I know I am getting to the top of the hour, but I will quickly note that the previous bill, Bill C-68, and the long gun registry did not respect our traditional pursuits and did not respect seniors, who were being harassed by the long gun registry, and other seniors who might have had their long guns handed down to them through the generations. They were being harassed by police forces and the long gun registry, which is just despicable.
The electoral district of Yorkton--Melville (Saskatchewan) has a population of 66,094 with 51,444 registered voters and 179 polling divisions.
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