Yesterday, in Canada’s Senate Daniel Lang began the debate for second reading. I could not say it any better. There were several fine speeches following. He and others spoke from wisdom on the problems the present bill will cure but nothing will undo the harm done so far by misguided attempts to fix illusionary problems and pitch one group of Canadians against another. Debate was adjourned and may resume today.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Daniel Lang moved second reading of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.
He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-19, entitled, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act.
I would like to begin with a quote from the poet George Santayana. He said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Allow me to explain.
Ninety-three years ago, the Canadian Parliament enacted gun control legislation requiring gun owners to obtain a permit for all firearms, including small arms, rifles and shotguns. A year later, this requirement was repealed. I refer to the debates of May 6, 1921, when then Minister of Justice Charles Doherty stated:
There has been very general representation that the existing law operated too rigorously, lent itself to abuses and subjected citizens to unnecessary annoyance.
Honourable senators, we find ourselves here today dealing with a situation of remarkable similarity, this time taking 17 years to reverse a law that proved just as unnecessary and annoying.
Eliminating the long-gun registry is truly a historic occasion, and the debate before us goes much deeper than the registry itself. Today, our Parliament is sending a message of trust to law-abiding long-gun owners, and they have finally been vindicated.
Honourable senators, it is important to stress that the legislation before you for your consideration is the result of the decision made by Canadians on May 2 of last year. I only have to point to my region, the constituency of Yukon. When the writ was dropped last spring, all the pollsters had the political landscape of Yukon painted the colour red. Over the course of the campaign, the elimination of the long-gun registry was one of the central election issues. On election night, the political landscape of Yukon turned blue. As we all know, this was the case in many ridings across Canada.
The long-gun registry has proven to be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. When this legislation was introduced as part of Bill C-68, former Minister of Justice Allan Rock had this to say about the cost of the bill:
We say that it will cost $85 million.
Former Senator Jean-Louis Roux spoke in our own chamber, supporting the figure of $85 million and denying the claims of critics that the cost of setting up the registration system would be in the range of $500 million to $1.5 billion.
Honourable senators, time has shown that it was even worse than this. According to the CBC, by 2004 the registry had already cost the Canadian taxpayer $2 billion.
During the course of the study of the long-gun registry, evidence in the other place has clearly indicated its ineffectiveness. There is no evidence that the tragedy of suicides and homicides would be affected by the discontinuation of the long-gun registry.
It is also important to bring to the attention of senators that it has been reported that the data contained in the registry is inaccurate, with error rates between 43 per cent and 90 per cent. Furthermore, throughout its entire 17 years of existence, there has never been an individual who has successfully proven that the long-gun registry has prevented a single crime or saved a single life.
As the senator for Yukon, the repeal of the long-gun registry is of particular interest to me. Those of us who live in remote and northern settings have felt that the long-gun registry is discriminatory to all northerners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. We view our long gun as a necessary day-to-day tool, not unlike the tractor a farmer uses to plow his field. Our Aboriginal people especially feel that they were treated unfairly by the long-gun registry, and government was seen once again to be intruding into their lives.
Establishing by force of criminal law a requirement to submit to a needlessly bureaucratic process simply does not recognize this day-to-day reality. As Aboriginal elders have told me, this is a failed big-city solution forced on our people. Honourable senators, I hope you will join me in agreeing that this is patently unacceptable.
I refer again to the architect of the long-gun registry, former Justice Minister Allan Rock. It has been said that it was his view when he came to Ottawa that the only people who should have firearms were the police and the military. This is exactly the misguided attitude that led to the fiasco of the long-gun registry. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding, not only of the culture of firearms owners, but also the understanding of crime and how one prevents it.
The goal of the long-gun registry was to reduce crime. It failed because of the simple fact that only law-abiding Canadians would ever comply. Criminals do not register their guns.
The fact of the matter is, honourable senators, that you do not reduce crime by harassing law-abiding citizens. Reducing crime is done through tough but fair sentencing. Reducing crime is done by developing a correctional system that is actually designed to correct criminal behaviour. Reducing crime is done by putting more police officers on the streets. Reducing crime is done through smart investments in preventing crimes before they happen.
Honourable senators, you reduce crime by spending taxpayers’ money effectively. You do not reduce crime by spending taxpayers’ money on a system that does not work.
Over the past months, many have asked, what does Bill C-19 accomplish? Allow me to explain the principles contained in this bill.
The bill will repeal the requirement to register non-restricted firearms. As I have said, these are daily tools that law-abiding rural Canadians, Aboriginals, farmers and hunters use to practise traditional, cultural and present-day necessities of life. This is the reason the registry has been such a contentious issue since its inception.
The bill also provides for the destruction of existing records held in the Canadian Firearms Registry. Honourable senators, the registry and the records are inseparable. They are one and the same. If you destroy the registry but keep the records, you are maintaining data that has no reason to be kept. I know that there has been criticism from some that the records should be maintained, but it should be noted that those same critics have also said they will reinstate the long-gun registry at the first opportunity.
Honourable senators, a commitment was made to the electorate: The long-gun registry will be scrapped. The personal information contained in the registry will be eliminated. I want to assure you that we do not find it acceptable for the creation of a registry by the back door.
This brings me to another criticism that has been levied against this legislation that I would like to address. Some have said that provinces should have access to the information contained in the registry so they can start a provincial version of this failed government policy. I disagree. This information was given by law-abiding Canadians to their national government for the express purpose of a national government program.
The long-gun registry program, upon passage of this legislation, will no longer exist and, as I have said, there is no basis for the federal government to retain citizens’ personal and private information. It would be inappropriate, in my view, to share individual Canadians’ private information for any other purpose.
Honourable senators, one has to ask some fundamental questions with regard to the legislation before us today. The first question: Has this system been effective? The answer is a clear no. Statistics have shown no correlation between the implementation of the long-gun registry and a decline in the criminal use of firearms.
The other question we have to ask ourselves: Was it worth the cost? Two billion dollars is a lot of money. How many police officers could have been paid? How many crime prevention programs could have been provided? We will never know because that money has been wasted.
When we work on preventing crime, particularly gun crime, we must take a focused approach. That means ensuring that only qualified, licensed individuals have firearms. It means continuing to take strong action against illegal imports of firearms. It means having enough police on the street to protect Canadians. It means investing in crime prevention and gang prevention programs. It means enforcing serious sentences to deter individuals from committing crimes with firearms.
Honourable senators, I have had the opportunity to review the debates in the Senate when the ill-fated Bill C-68 was tabled in 1995. It is important to note that there was a great deal of concern about the ramifications of the long-gun registry and its consequences, which over time proved to be true. In fact, some members from the government side, including the senator from Yukon, voted against that bill.
My hope, colleagues, is that when we close this final chapter on Bill C-19, members on both sides of this chamber will feel free to vote to end this taxpayers’ nightmare and free our law-abiding long-gun owners from the criminal sanctions of the present law.