(An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act).
Hon. Claude Carignan (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, to govern is to choose between various options to prevent crime and make our streets safer. First, I want to make a few comments on the gun registry.
It was put in place as a political answer to the demands and representations made by victims and the families of victims of the Polytechnique massacre. That terrible tragedy, which occurred on December 6, 1989, shocked our whole society and was even felt abroad. Human beings, regardless of their nationality, are always shaken by such insane and inhuman behavior. As we all know, this tragedy rocked our community because women were specifically targeted.
The crazed gunman, Marc Lépine, did not just kill 14 women. In a way, he fired on all the women of Quebec and Canada. Did he know his victims? Had he even met them before? The answer to these two questions is no. Since he did not know his victims personally, his deadly rage was not directed at them as human beings but, rather, at them as women. He fired on the women of Quebec and Canada. Consciously or not, that is how we absorbed that shock.
Without minimizing the pain felt by the families and loved ones of the 14 women killed on December 6, 1989, that terrible tragedy had a devastating impact on one of our most fundamental values, gender equality, which various people, but mainly courageous, trail-blazing women, have fought for decades to achieve. The Polytechnique massacre caused a trauma that was all the more significant because of that. This barbaric act touched the heart of our nation, but it was committed by an extremely disturbed individual who was obviously out of touch with reality and who went on a killing spree.
After the most serious wounds healed, various groups got organized to demand tougher and more restrictive laws. The extreme emotions related to the tragedy that led to their demands and their actions may have convinced the government of the day to take a series of important measures, some of which may have had a concrete impact, while others, such as the long-gun registry, did not have any impact on prevention. Unfortunately, of all the measures that were taken, it is the long-gun registry that came to symbolize the rejection of violence against women. In a way, the registry is also perceived by some as a monument to the memory of the Polytechnique victims. Unfortunately, the registry was the most ineffective and costly of all the control measures taken.
As parliamentarians, we must step back and take an objective look at what is presented to us. When we take the time look at everyone’s position on the gun registry issue, we quickly realize that there is no serious study proving its effectiveness in preventing homicides.
In fact, as my colleague, Senator Boisvenu, pointed out, a recent study by McMaster University revealed that having more stringent gun control laws has no effect on the homicide rate and on spousal homicides in Canada. The researcher in charge of the study, an emergency department resident at McMaster University, discovered that the overall decline in gun crime could be attributed to a richer and older population, and that adopting better social programs to fight the causes of gun violence would be much more effective than legislation.
Other studies have concluded that gun control measures have a certain degree of effectiveness. One study in particular attracted my attention because it summarizes the studies about this subject. I am referring to the study of the impact of gun control laws on homicide in Canada between 1974 and 2004 by professor Étienne Blais, professor of criminology at Université de Montréal. This study was published in 2011 and sought to measure the impact of Bill C-51, passed in 1977, Bill C-17, passed in 1991 and Bill C-68, passed in 1998. It looked at performance indicators in order to measure the real impact of these three laws on homicide rates. These indicators included the province of origin, the proportion of men between 15 and 24 years of aged, the unemployment rate, per capita beer consumption, and the number of homicides — using a restricted or prohibited weapon, a shotgun or hunting rifle — per 100,000 inhabitants. The study suggests that the best preventive measures are conducting a background check of the person at the time a firearms possession permit is requested, storing firearms securely and cancelling a firearm possession licence.
If one thing has been proven, honourable senators, it is that there has been a decrease in the firearms mortality rate since 1979, well before the implementation of the firearms registry. However, several other measures have also been adopted since that time to control who is allowed to possess a firearm.
There is no research to show that there is a link between this decrease in the firearms mortality rate and the registration of such weapons in a national registry. It is more important to control who is allowed to own a weapon than to control the number of weapons that person can possess.
One fact remains. The implementation of the firearms registry cost taxpayers a fortune. According to the Auditor General of Canada, the firearms registry cost over $2 billion, and there is no concrete evidence to prove that it prevented a single crime. This amount could have been better spent preventing gun crime and adopting more effective tools for the police and courts to use in arresting and sentencing offenders.
Imagine for a moment what we could have done with $2 billion. Two billion dollars represents 2,000 additional police officers for 10 years or, if you prefer, 4,000 community workers for 10 years. Think about it. Personally, I am convinced that 2,000 additional police officers or 4,000 community workers in the area of prevention would have produced much better results than a registry, the impact of which we are still having difficulty determining after 17 years.
Some people claim that gun control legislation saves lives. Allow me to comment briefly on this myth. For many months and even years, the police have been saying that the firearms registry does not help to prevent gun crime. Gun control legislation is powerless to attack the root causes of crime and to prevent offenders from engaging in shootings in the streets. The evidence presented by the witnesses speaks for itself.
The long-gun registry does not help put an end to gun crime, nor did it help save Canadian lives.
Honourable senators, the truth is that from a legislative perspective, the most effective form of gun control is still the licensing system. That is why Bill C-19 keeps the system currently in effect. That is also why it maintains the very strict control of restricted and prohibited firearms. At the end of the day, the firearms registry is just a data bank to which law-abiding firearms owners had to contribute data. Through its implementation, the bill before us will eliminate the requirement to register non-restricted firearms.
Abolition of the registry will free up resources from a program that has proven to be ineffective, cumbersome and costly. We will be able to use taxpayers’ money to implement proven gun control and crime prevention measures. The measures missing from Bill C-19 are just as important as the ones it contains. For example, the bill makes no changes to the Canadian gun licensing system.
Anyone wishing to acquire and own a long gun or any other type of weapon will still have to get the necessary licences. I would like to correct something Senators Chaput and Hervieux-Payette said. The honourable senators said earlier in the day that Bill C-19 would get rid of the requirement for a purchaser to present a licence when purchasing a firearm. That requirement does not exist under the current legislation. The only requirement of the purchaser is to have a valid licence at the time of the purchase.
The current section 23(a) of the legislation stipulates that:
the transferee holds a licence authorizing the transferee to acquire and possess that kind of firearm.
There is no requirement to present a licence. Bill C-19 does not change this section of the act. Nonetheless, Bill C-19 does introduce a new provision, section 23.1, which allows the vendor to verify with the registrar whether the purchaser holds the licence referred to in paragraph 23(a), which we do not have in the current legislation. Purchasers will still have to submit to a thorough background check and pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course before they can obtain a licence.
Honourable senators, as prescribed under the existing regulations, these individuals will undergo an extensive verification to ensure that they do not have a history of violent criminal offences or a mental illness associated with violence, that a tribunal has not issued a prohibition order preventing them to possess a firearm, and that they do not represent a threat to security. Bill C-19 does not change anything about that. In fact, our government has taken measures to strengthen the licensing system.
Additional funding of $7 million per year has been invested since 2006 to enhance front-end screening of first-time firearms licence applicants. This funding allows officials to screen an additional 20,000 applicants per year, including all applicants for restricted licences.
Our government has also acted to improve compliance with the existing federal legislation on firearms and to ensure that an increasing number of gun owners are licensed and, consequently, are subject to ongoing verification of their eligibility. Such permanent control measures will ensure that a licensed gun owner who displays high-risk behavior is automatically brought to the attention of law enforcement authorities. In fact, there is a 1-800 line that allows individuals who are concerned about public safety as it relates to firearms, albeit not in an urgent way, to report such situations.
So, a number of measures already exist and will remain in place to monitor firearms. They include the firearm prohibition order, the rejection of the initial request and the licence revocation.
To understand the impact of all these measures, it is interesting to know that, in 2005, there were 58,709 people who had their firearm licence revoked. Under our government, that number climbed to 301,048 in 2010.
Honourable senators, one must realize that the gun registry is just one of many measures taken to monitor the use of firearms. The Canadian firearms program includes about 20 measures. These include the imposition of minimal sentences, a thorough review of licence holders, the ongoing verification of eligibility the requirement to take a firearms safety course, the regulations on the safe storage of firearms and ammunition, and so on. There are an impressive number of specific measures to control firearms, and this is probably why, since 2006, over 300,000 people have been prohibited from having firearms.
In addition to leaving the existing licensing regime in place, Bill C-19 also makes no change to the requirement for owners of restricted and private firearms, including all handguns and automatic firearms, to register these weapons through the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program.
Honourable senators, Bill C-19 will allow us to achieve a balance by preserving the existing licensing system and maintaining the compulsory registration of restricted and prohibited firearms, while abolishing the requirement to legally register rifles and shotguns.
Our government is committed to making our communities safer. However, the long-gun registry does not in any way help achieve that objective. In conclusion, honourable senators, I would like to summarize again the goals that Bill C-19 will allow us to reach.
It will eliminate the obligation for law-abiding long gun owners to register their non-restricted guns. It will eliminate the burden imposed on law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport hunters, who have been treated like criminals for too long.
It will put the emphasis back on proven tools used by law enforcement authorities, tools that are reliable and produce the desired results.
At the same time, the strict licensing system in place, which is among the concrete and responsible measures taken to control firearms, will remain unchanged.
Honourable senators, in May of last year, we presented Canadians with a clear plan explaining how we are going to fulfill our mandate. We promised to reintroduce our law and order measures, and to adopt them in the first 100 sitting days of Parliament. That is why I am inviting all honourable senators to look at the legislation before us today and to vote in favor of it.