Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 148, Issue 59

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Speaker pro tempore

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, as I rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, I would like to take a moment to remind all honourable senators why this bill was initially introduced and reflect on the reasons why it is important that we as a country remain vigilant about gun control.

December 6, 1989, was an incredibly sad and horrific day in Canadian history. It was on this day that an enraged gunman armed with a .22 calibre rifle invaded the halls of Montreal’s École Polytechnique on a mission to kill any woman in his path. For 45 minutes this man roamed through the corridors of the university yelling, “I want women; I want women” and “I hate feminists.” Upon entering a classroom filled with 60 engineering students, the lone gunman separated the men from the women. After ensuring that all the men present had left the room, the gunman opened fire. He then stepped out of the classroom and went on another shooting rampage, this time in the hallways. Fourteen women died on this day in one of the largest attacks against women in Canadian history.

As parents grieved the loss of their daughters, as husbands mourned for their wives, women across the country worked hard to raise awareness surrounding all forms of violence against women.

[Translation]

What has come to be known as the École Polytechnique massacre elicited indignation across the country. Canadians from all provinces and territories joined forces and urged the Government of Canada to strengthen Canada’s gun control system.

In response to the public protests, the government passed the Firearms Act in 1995 in order to strengthen gun control regulations.

Broadening the registration system to include previously unregulated firearms, such as rifles and long guns, was one of the main measures of this new legislation. Under the new act, .22 calibre rifles, such as the Ruger-Mini-14 used in the École Polytechnique massacre, were governed by regulations.

Many people who criticize the gun registry, including my esteemed colleague, Senator Lang, the sponsor of this bill in the Senate, have said that the registry discriminates against all those living in the North, for whom a long gun is a necessary tool in day-to-day life.

[English]

Honourable senators, from 1992 to 1994, I was appointed by Prime Minister Mulroney to be a member of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. I along with eight other panel members visited communities across Canada, including those located in Northern and Western Canada, to study the causes of violence against women and make recommendations on how this violence could be prevented.

Our panel’s first meeting took place in Montreal where we met with families of the 14 young women who lost their lives at the École Polytechnique massacre. The room was filled with grief and pain, and our panel found it extremely difficult to find words to convey our condolences for the senseless act. At this meeting, we heard from Ms. Suzanne Edward, who lost her daughter as a result of this massacre. It was here that Ms. Edward spoke about introducing a gun registry, which she hoped would help ensure that no other mother would have to endure the pain of losing their child to a long gun.

During our panel’s study, we also learned that when it comes to domestic violence, a long gun is regarded as a weapon of choice. In fact, 75 per cent of the time a woman is murdered with a gun, she is killed with a long gun, not a handgun.

It is incredibly unfortunate that the debate surrounding the long-gun registry has been framed in a way that places Canadians living in rural areas of Canada against Canadians living in urban areas. The gun registry is not about taking away the rights of farmers and hunters; it is about providing a tool to the police that will help them protect women. Rates of death with guns are in fact higher in rural and northern areas. It is women living in rural areas who benefit from the added protection that the gun registry provides as it is these women who are disproportionately affected by domestic violence and spousal abuse.

The report that was the result of our panel’s study, entitled Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence — Achieving Equality, profiles several women living in rural areas of Canada. One woman cited in this report made the following statement:

I hope that the hell is over. I live in a rural area with my two young children. The Ontario Provincial Police have told me that the fastest they can get to my house in an emergency is one hour. Between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., there is no one available at all.

Honourable senators, given that women living in rural areas often live in isolation and experience challenges accessing safety mechanisms, it is increasingly difficult for them to leave violent situations.

(1540)

In 1994, the same year the gun registry was introduced, a total of 91 women across Canada were killed by guns as a result of spousal abuse. In 2008, after the gun registry was in place, a total of nine women were killed as a result of spousal abuse.

Every year in Canada, more than 100,000 women and children leave their homes to seek safety in a shelter. Gun violence is present in the majority of these cases, leaving women intimidated and vulnerable. In fact, research has indicated that rates of homicides in domestic violence situations increase significantly where there is a firearm in the home. Once again, long guns — not handguns — are the weapons of choice.

What puzzles me is that the control of guns is quite similar to the control of cars. Canadians must obtain a licence to drive and they must register their vehicles. Similarly, one needs to have a licence to own, borrow or obtain firearms. One must also register their firearms.

Honourable senators, we register our cars, we register our pets, we register our marriages, we register our births, we register our deaths, and we register our short guns. Why is it such a great inconvenience to register our long guns?

Today, I feel as though I am pushing a very large rock — one that is much bigger than myself — up a hill. I am aware that what I say today may not make any difference, as the fate of the gun registry has already been determined. I recognize that I may not change anyone’s mind. Then I think of Jane.

Prior to my participation on the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women from 1990 to 1992, I was the chair of the British Columbia Task Force on Family Violence and I produced a report entitled Is Anyone Listening?. I heard from a number of women who were victims of violence. One woman who stands out in my mind is Jane.

I met Jane when the Task Force on Family Violence was visiting a rural community in British Columbia. As soon as I saw Jane, I noticed that her face was severely disfigured. Jane explained to us what had happened to her and our task force listened helplessly with heavy hearts. She explained that her partner returned home one day extremely unhappy. Everything Jane did, he criticized: The children were too noisy, the house was too messy, the supper was too bland, and she was too ugly. Jane knew from experience it was best if she kept quiet and endure the emotional abuse. She knew by speaking up, matters would escalate.

Unfortunately, her daughter Elizabeth came to her mother’s rescue and stood up to her father. Suddenly, Jane saw her husband pick up his long gun and aim it at her daughter. Jane panicked and quickly pushed her daughter to the ground, intercepting the bullet that struck Jane in the face. Jane’s partner left that evening, never to be seen again.

It took an ambulance and police one hour to arrive, at which point Jane had already lost a lot of blood. Jane went through extensive treatment and several surgeries. However, she told our task force that, although her face might one day heal, her emotional wounds would be there forever. Her final words to us were that no woman should have to endure this kind of pain. “You are my last hope; do something to protect our children.”

Since I met Jane, I have been working actively to help prevent violence against women. I have spent years working with organizations to establish the gun registry, and it pains me to know that in the near future this registry is likely to be abolished. In the event this is the case, we will have let down Jane and thousands of women just like her living across Canada.

I am sorry, Jane.

[Translation]

Having worked very closely with many women who live in rural regions of Canada, I can confirm to all my honourable colleagues that spousal abuse is a very sad reality for many women in those regions.
Therefore, it is wrong to say that the firearms registry is simply a tool that oppresses Canadians who live in rural regions.

The firearms registry is a public safety tool that protects all Canadians, whether they live in a rural region or an urban centre.

Honourable senators, I have studied the previous versions of Bill C-19 closely and I have listened very carefully to the debate surrounding this issue.

[English]

I have read testimonials published by the Coalition for Gun Control made by a number of outraged women, who have spoken out against this particular piece of legislation, and I would like to share some of those words with honourable senators today.

Karen Vanscoy, a psychiatric nurse whose 14-year-old daughter Jasmine was shot and killed in St. Catharines, stated:

From the moment I learned that my daughter had died until now, I have been living with the devastating impact of gun violence. Nurses are on the front lines of dealing with gun violence in all its forms. I deal on a regular basis with people who are suicidal and I understand the importance of having controls in place to reduce suicide. Studies have shown that there have been 250 fewer suicides annually since the implementation of Canada’s gun control laws. The proposed weakening to the licensing requirements will make it easier for suicidal people to acquire firearms. It is incomprehensible that on the same day MPs will vote for the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention Act, they will be voting to end the long-gun registry.

Pamela Harrison, Coordinator of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, stated:

The divisiveness of the gun control issue is fueled by misinformation. Because of their relatively easy availability, so-called “hunting guns” — non-restricted rifles and shotguns — are the firearms most often used in domestic violence to threaten and intimidate women and children. Threats made with these guns are not counted in the statistics, but the damage they do is very real. Scrapping the long-gun registry will save the RCMP less than $4 million per year but how much is it going to cost Canadians? The government has conservatively estimated the value of one lost human life at $5 million.

[Translation]

Alexa Conradi, president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, said:

The safety of women must prevail over simple administrative red tape.
Firearms are registered just once at no charge to the owner. The government’s decision to destroy the existing data is a punitive measure that has absolutely nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with ideology.

[English]

May I have five more minutes, please?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is leave granted for an additional five minutes?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

[Translation]

Senator Jaffer: Taxpayers have made a considerable investment in the gathering of the data in this database, and the provinces should be able to recover it in order to ensure the safety of their communities.

Honourable senators, the voices of these women must not fall on deaf ears. Their concerns are real and demand our attention.

Last week, I heard a number of my colleagues draw attention to the cost of the firearms registry. Setting up the registry cost more than a billion dollars in 1995, but, today, administration of the firearms registry costs roughly $4 million a year.

That might seem like a lot of money, but economic studies show that preventive interventions like the firearms registry, for preventing interpersonal violence, saves more than it costs.

[English]

Let me repeat that the cost of maintaining the gun registry is roughly $4 million per year. In a 2008 report entitled Costs of Crime produced by the Department of Justice, the proposed value of a lost human life is $5 million. Therefore, if the gun registry saves just one life, then the registry would save Canadians more money than it costs them.

(1550)

Several of my colleagues have called into question the effectiveness of the gun registry, expressing concern that it is not a valuable public safety tool. I find this to be very interesting, considering that police officers have stated that they use the registry 16,000 times a day — 16,000 times every day — and that it is a valued public safety tool.

According to a 2010 program evaluation conducted by the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program, the firearms registry is cited as being a useful tool for law enforcement, providing officers safety, investigative support and public safety.

Honourable senators, as a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I closely studied Bill C-10, the proposed safe streets and communities act. Throughout our study, we heard on several occasions that we need to utilize whatever tools we have to ensure that our streets and communities are safe. Last Thursday, I heard many of my colleagues emphasize the importance of keeping our streets and our communities safe.

Saving the gun registry would do just this. It will keep our streets and our communities safer and, most important, it will protect women who are too often victims of gender-based violence.
The Coalition for Gun Control, which was founded in the wake of the Montreal Massacre, made an incredibly profound statement upon which I think we should reflect. They stated: “The gun registry never killed anyone. Ending it may.”

Honourable senators, I urge you all to keep in mind the challenges that women across the country continue to face and the vulnerable positions they are too often placed in. Save the gun registry; save lives.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators ready for the question?

Some Hon. Senators: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: It has been moved by Honourable Senator Lang, seconded by Honourable Senator Stewart Olsen, that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, be now read the second time.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Some Hon. Senators: On division.

(Motion agreed to, on division, and bill read second time.)

Referred to Committee

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?

(On motion of Senator Carignan, bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.)

[Translation]

 

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