Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 140, Issue 24

Tuesday, December 3, 2002
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

Criminal Code
Firearms Act

Bill to Amend—Third Reading

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer moved the third reading of Bill C- 10A, to amend the Criminal Code (firearms) and the Firearms Act.

She said: Honourable senator, Bill C-10A has had a long and interesting journey in arriving before us today for third reading. This journey began on December 1, 1999, when Bill C-17, a complex bill filled with Criminal Code amendments in many different areas, was read the first time in the other place. That bill was interrupted when the last election was called.

The bill was streamlined and reintroduced as Bill C-15 in the previous session of Parliament, but it underwent a further change when the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights split it into two parts, Bill C-15A and the bill that contains the amendments before us today, Bill C-15B.

Bill C-15B first came to this chamber on June 4, 2002, but the prorogation of Parliament meant that it would need to be reintroduced again, although this time it came to us much more quickly as Bill C-10.

On October 22, I moved second reading of Bill C-10, to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and the Firearms Act. Numerous senators joined the debate with their own legitimate concerns at second reading, and on November 20 the bill was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. At that time, a motion put forward by Senator Adams was adopted. This motion instructed the committee to split Bill C-10 into two specific sections with the ultimate goal of creating two separate bills.

One of the new bills, Bill C-10B, would deal only with provisions relating to cruelty to animals and the other, Bill C- 10A, which is before us today, would deal specifically with provisions relating to firearms.

The committee heard from the Minister of Justice on the same day as the order of reference was received. The minister outlined his position on both halves of Bill C-10, and the committee opted to proceed with a discussion on splitting the bill rather than questioning the minister at that time. In this way, it would focus on the provisions dealing with firearms before moving on to those dealing with cruelty to animals.

After lengthy deliberations, the committee adopted a motion to split the bill into two working documents, in order to address the provisions relating to firearms, before reporting the bill to the Senate and asking the upper chamber for authorization to continue to study the provisions relating to cruelty to animals.

A notable effort has been made to ensure that the proper procedure was followed throughout this process. The committee worked hard on many of the issues that had been raised in the Senate chamber during the debate at second reading and heard from witnesses from the Canadian Firearms Centre, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Federation for Gun Control, the Minister of Justice’s User Group on Firearms, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association and the Canadian Firearms Association.

A number of senators were concerned about the date of January 2003 with regard to the possibility of some people then becoming criminals. I believe it is largely due to the conviction of those senators that the Minister of Justice has announced a grace period of six months for the registration of firearms in order to give those who have attempted to comply with the law freedom from criminal prosecution.

The Canadian Police Association appeared before the committee to reiterate their support for the firearms program. Mr. David Griffin, a former police officer and resident of the CPA, noted that licensing and registration are important in reducing misuse and illegal trade in firearms.

The program is already achieving higher levels of public safety for all Canadians. Since December 1, 1998, more than 7,000 licences have been refused or revoked by public safety authorities. The number of revocations is over 50 times higher than the total in the last five years under the previous program.

The amendments to the Firearms Act included in Bill C-10A will help ensure that the key public safety goals of the Firearms Act are met. At the same time, they will ensure that the administration of the program is made more efficient, effective and friendly to firearm owners.

Wendy Cukier, a volunteer with the Canadian Federation for Gun Control, went as far as to tell the committee:

It is important to understand that this bill is actually not directed at satisfying anything that we have asked for; it is intended to make things easier for gun owners in this country.

The goals of the amendments contained in Bill C-10A are to streamline the Canadian firearms program and to reduce costs by improving service and continuing to ensure public safety.

The firearm licensing and licence renewal process, as well as the registration system, will be simplified. The process at the border will also become more efficient with the introduction of pre- processing for visitors bringing guns into Canada.

Provisions to streamline the firearms program included in Bill C-10 will also help us to avoid a repeat of the problem of overloads in the system that we are now experiencing. Gun owners can be assured a more timely response to licensing requests through the staggering of licence renewals to make the system more consistent and manageable.

Bill C-10 will also extend the grandfathering period for restricted handguns, allowing businesses and individuals to keep handguns that they acquired legally in the period between the time when the Firearms Act was passed and when it took effect.

The licensing program has achieved a 90 per cent compliance rate so far, and about 70 per cent of licensed firearms owners have acted to register their firearms.

David Griffin of the CPA noted the following in his submission to the committee:

Illegal guns start off as legal guns. Registration helps to prevent the transition from legal to illegal ownership, and helps to identify where the transition to illegal ownership occurs. We have been encouraged by the steps proposed by the Canadian Firearms Centre leadership and adopted by the Minister of Justice to streamline the licensing and registration process in order to achieve greater compliance by law-abiding Canadians.

Over the past decade, poll after poll has shown that the overwhelming majority of Canadians support gun control and the important public safety framework of the Firearms Act. Bill C- 10A presents an opportunity to build on this framework in a way that is responsive to gun owners and will serve to reduce costs.

Although some amendments were proposed — and it is my understanding that they will be brought before the chamber shortly — the committee has considered this bill and reported it back to us without amendment.

Hon. Gerry St. Germain: Will the honourable senator accept a question?

The Hon. the Speaker: Will you take a question, Senator Jaffer?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Senator St. Germain: In the city of Toronto we have had a rash of murders committed with handguns. Handguns have been effectively registered in this country for decades. How does the honourable senator rationalize the reduction of crime when we have had this horrific outbreak? I believe there were 30 young people murdered with handguns.


Senator Cools: I think it is 39.

Senator St. Germain: Is it 39? Many people have been killed with handguns that have been registered for decades. How does the honourable senator rationalize that this registration process will slow things down?

My other question is one I also asked of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Of the 7,000 people who have been refused licences, how many are Aboriginal people — people who have, unfortunately, a high level of criminal charges against them as a race? How many of those 7,000 were Aboriginals?

Those are my two questions, one concerning the Toronto situation and the other concerning Aboriginals.

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, I will start with Senator St. Germain’s second question. I do not have an answer. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate said, she will provide an answer.

As for the first question, honourable senators, the best way I can answer is to repeat what was said in the committee. The police witnesses stated that the registration helps them to track the owners of the guns. It helps them to see where the guns are, and it helps them to do their job better. It is like saying that by having good legislation on the issue of drunk driving, we should therefore not have offences concerning drinking and driving. That does not mean we should not have good legislation. We should have good legislation and good gun control as a preventive measure. Having good legislation does not mean we will completely avoid every gun crime in this country. That can never happen. However, we must still try and control guns, the same way we try and reduce the number of people who drive cars when they are drunk. Having that legislation does not prevent people from driving cars when they are drunk, but it does help most people to see that it is not a good way of doing things.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!