2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 153
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The Honourable Leo Housakos, Speaker
Common Sense Firearms Licensing Bill
Bill to Amend—Third Reading
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I, too, rise to speak on Bill C-42, the firearms act.
Honourable senators, ever since I’ve been in this place, which has been for many years, I have learned one thing: There is nothing that divides people more or that people are so passionate about than the issue of guns and gun control.
When I first came to this chamber, I really did not understand it because I had a certain knowledge about guns. Now I have started respecting the positions that my friend Senator Beyak has talked about, and I understand that people want to be able to use their firearms and not be stopped with a lot of paperwork. However, I want to tell you that I come from a place where, as a young child, guns were used to hurt my family. Guns were used to hurt my community. I come from a very big bias of saying gun controls save communities, save families. I would like to see more restraint.
I won many cases for my clients as a family lawyer, a divorce lawyer, and unfortunately I lost my clients because their husbands had easy access to guns.
In the 1990s, I was appointed by Prime Minister Mulroney to a panel on violence against women. It was a national panel, and we travelled right across the country. Senator Marjory LeBreton was very instrumental in forming that panel. She knows that this panel travelled from corner to corner to corner across our country.
Senators, we saw so many women who were hurt by guns. We saw so many girls who were hurt by guns, but the one picture that I will never forget is a woman from Newfoundland whose face was blown away as a result of a gun. I cannot describe to you what her face looked like because I wouldn’t get through this speech, but more than that I cannot describe to you the pain this woman went through, the surgeries this woman went through. She kept saying to us, “If only there had been some restraint on my husband, I would not be suffering.”
When I became a member on the panel of violence against women, I met with Mrs. Edward. Mrs. Edward had just lost her daughter to École Polytechnique, and I was struck by how much Mrs. Edward was committed to changing the lives of other people. I will never forget what Mrs. Edward said to me the first time I went to Montreal.
I asked her, why are you fighting so hard? You already lost your daughter. She looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t want another mother to suffer the pain that I suffer every day.”
Honourable senators, the proposed legislation will amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. Under the Firearms Act, amendments are made to simplify the licensing regime by eliminating the Possession Only Licence and converting all Possession Only Licences to a Possession and Acquisition Licence, and to provide for a six month grace period on the date a valid licence normally expires, allowing holders to return to compliance while continuing to lawfully possess their firearms without fear of criminal sanctions.
It will require new licence applicants to participate in mandatory training. It will require a firearms officer to automatically issue as a condition on the licence, for specific reasons, an authorization to transport when they approve the transfer — for example, change of ownership.
It will require businesses, when importing restricted and prohibited firearms, to notify the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program in advance.
Under the Criminal Code, amendments are made to strengthen the provisions related to orders prohibiting the possession of firearms when a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence, to create a definition of non-restricted firearms and provide the Governor-in-Council with authority to prescribe a firearm to be a non-restricted or restricted firearm.
Honourable senators, I want to commend the minister for the mandatory prohibition when there is domestic violence. That is something that people like me who have worked on this issue have asked about for many years and I commend him for bringing that in.
Today I believe that you all know my biases; I have spoken about my biases, and I wear them on my sleeve. As many of you have experiences different from me, you canvass issues that are important to you, and I canvass them from the community I serve and the community I see in Vancouver that gets heard. That’s why I would like to see gun control.
We have received some briefs and the Coalition of Gun Control brief sets out that Bill C-42 proposes critical modifications of the Firearms Act and the criminal code by relaxing controls on handguns and restricted weapons; by weakening powers of the provincial chief firearms officers, thereby preventing provinces by setting standards that are different from federal standards for the implementation of firearms legislation; by allowing the government rather than the RCMP to determine which weapons are prohibited or restricted, thereby increasing the influence of lobbies and political agendas in public safety decision; and by relaxing controls on gun licenses for possession, including handgun licenses.
They said that control explains the various ways in which the legislation will weaken controls and put the public at higher risk from gun-controlled violence and other crimes. They state that registration is what ensures that gun owners act in a responsible way because only registration makes gun owners truly responsible for the firearms they own by attaching each gun to its legal owner.
With this kind of accountability, owners are more likely to store their firearms according to the rules and are especially less likely to lend or sell them to people who aren’t authorized to possess them.
Registration also provided police with the best available information regarding the potential presence of guns in a home, as well as what guns they need to confiscate from individuals who are the subject of court orders prohibiting them from owning guns for safety reasons.
The coalition has asked us, senators, to reject Bill C-42.
Honourable senators, when I was drafting this speech, I came to the conclusion that I would not be able to say the words that were said by witnesses at committee, so I am going to read what some of the witnesses have said.
Senator Baker, who is the deputy chair of the committee, asked the witnesses what they would see in Canada, considering that they were completely from different positions, from outlawing firearms to a system we have in place today. “What would you like to see?” Ms. Rathjen, who is a survivor of Polytechnique, stated:
In terms of Bill C 42, I don’t see any changes that could make it worthwhile, in our view, to be passed. Our group is not for banning all guns. We’re for reasonable gun control. The law as adopted in 1995, Bill C 68, in combination with Bill C 17, which was passed before, pretty much represents the reasonable gun control regime that we support in terms of banning assault weapons. At the time, the regulations were up to date, but they haven’t been updated since. That’s why [sic] a lot of assault weapons are still legal. In terms of the laws that we would want, it would basically be what we had before the current government started chipping away at not only the registry but also many other measures.
Professor Cukier stated:
There are two parts to the question. From a legislative point of view with respect to licensing, the issues are not regulatory but are around implementation. We’ve seen an erosion of the implementation of the licensing provisions because of the amnesties and, frankly, the uneven application of the law. Strong licensing is the foundation.
When registration was eliminated, the bill not only destroyed the data on the more than 6 million firearms that had been registered but also eliminated the provision that had been in place since 1977 that required gun sales to be recorded at the point of sale. We currently have less control over the sales of firearms in Canada than they do in most of the American states. We’re no longer in compliance with many of the international regulations around trafficking. That’s a huge hole that has to be filled.
I would echo what Ms. Rathjen said about updating the prohibited weapons. This is something that the police have been advocating for at least a decade. The list of prohibited weapons that was introduced in 1995 has not really been updated since then, except sporadically. Some states actually have lists of permitted weapons, which help to prevent manufacturers from changing small features and creating loopholes. That whole area needs to be looked at. We have to maintain tight restrictions on handguns and other restricted weapons. We would reinforce the importance of laws that are consistent with international norms and what is in place in most countries around the world.
Ms. Rathjen continued:
I would add that when the gun control law works, there are no headlines. There are fewer shootings. You cannot see prevention happening. What you see is safe communities, and that doesn’t make the headlines. Investing in gun control is investing in the safety of our communities. We do not want to go down the path of our neighbours to the south. Every shooting is a tragedy. Every police shooting is a tragedy, and most police that die in the line of duty are shot. Investing in gun control includes more than just the money invested versus the number of deaths. You have to look at what we invest in gun control in terms of how safe our communities are. When our communities are safe, then the investment was worthwhile.
I would add, if I may, that since the implementation of the new measures following the Polytechnique shooting, all gun related deaths and crime has progressively diminished to the point where, in the year 2011, which was the last year that the law was implemented in its entirety there were some amnesties undermining some measures, but the law was in place it was the year that recorded the lowest firearm homicide rate in 50 or 60 years.
I asked Ms. Rathjen a question on licences, and this is what she said:
Licensing is important, as well as showing your licence and talking about the screening to get the licence. The problem is on two levels.
First, independent from Bill C-42, this government, when it abolished the registry with Bill C-19, didn’t just get rid of the registry but also took away the obligation for sellers to verify the validity of a buyer’s licence. So we can have a wonderful screening system in place for the licences, but if the transactions are done independent of the system, there is no verification that the person you are selling to could have an expired, revoked or fake licence or no licence at all. If the seller doesn’t need to check and see it and there is no trace of the call, I would argue that seriously undermines the whole possession permit system.
Second, as I was saying, one of the useful aspects of the registry is to provide more information to police when they arrive on the scene of a domestic dispute or when arresting a suspect or in any kind of urgent situation, to provide more information about the number and the type of guns they may find on the premises. Without the registry, this government says that all you need is a licence because you will know whether or not a gun owner lives there and then you can assume that there will be guns.
Bill C-42 undermines that very mechanism by giving a six month grace period, so there is a hole in the system. Someone could move, not renew their licence and be in a new place, and when the police come on the scene and check the system, the address is not good any longer, so they have less information or faulty information. That seriously undermines the usefulness of the possession permits. They are still important, but in the implementation of the law, there are huge loopholes that you could drive a truck through.
Honourable senators, I want to now read to you a letter from Mrs. Edward. Mrs. Edward, as long as I know, has been a witness in many, many hearings in the Senate. Unfortunately, for reasons that I do not know, Mrs. Edward was not able to testify this time in front of our committee. I went and spoke to her afterwards. She was tearful in saying that her voice needs to be heard. Senators, I made a commitment to her that I would read her statement to all my colleagues here in the Senate, so I am reading her letter to all of you:
My name is Suzanne LaPlante Edward. I am the mother of Anne-Marie Edward, our gorgeous and talented daughter who was killed at the École Polytechnique where she was studying to become an engineer. That was on December 6th, 1989, 25 years ago.
During these last 25 years, my husband Jim, our son Jimmy and myself, along with other families and survivors, as well as hundreds of other volunteers, have worked to make Canada a safer place to live. We want to make sure our country never goes down the same path as did our neighbours to the south.
We have travelled to Ottawa numerous times to convince lawmakers of the value of effective control on firearms. Our latest visit to Ottawa was last Thursday June 11th in order to be present for the Senate hearings on Bill C-42 while PolySeSouvient and the Coalition for Gun Control explained the various ways in which this legislation will weaken controls and put the public at higher risk from gun-related violence and other crimes.
Together, over six long years following the loss of our daughter, we have managed to introduce comprehensive and effective gun control measures: a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, possession permits for all gun owners and the registration of all guns.
Registration is what ensures that gun owners act in a responsible way because only registration makes gun owners truly accountable for the firearms they own by attaching each gun to its legal owner. With this kind of accountability, owners are more likely to store their firearms according to the rules and, especially, are less likely to lend or sell them to people who aren’t authorized to possess them. Registration also provided police with the best available information regarding the potential presence of guns in a home, as well as what guns they need to confiscate from individuals who are the subject of court orders prohibiting them from owning guns for safety reasons.
When the gun control law passed in December of 1995, we had achieved what public safety experts said were the necessary measures to minimize the chances of guns being misused for criminal and violent purposes. These experts — police associations, chiefs of police, suicide prevention experts, women’s groups fighting against domestic violence and public health authorities — claimed that Canada finally had the tools necessary to adequately protect the Canadians.
Unfortunately, ever since it came to power, the . . . government has sided with the gun lobby. At its request, the . . . government has destroyed the long-gun registry, with the result that it is no longer possible to connect a long-gun to its owner. It also allowed the introduction into the market of a variety of new assault weapons. It eliminated the obligation for gun sellers, private or commercial, to verify the validity of a potential buyer’s permit, facilitating illegal sales. It eliminated the obligation for gun businesses to keep records of gun sales or keep an up-to-date inventory of their guns. Without inventory controls, police cannot ensure dishonest sellers aren’t diverting arsenals to the black market. They also can no longer trace a gun that’s found on the scene of a crime to the store that first sold it — like police can do in the U.S. In fact, that’s how they identified my daughter’s killer: by checking the sales records of Montreal area gun stores! Thanks to the Conservatives, police can no longer do even that!
We cannot understand why this supposedly “law and order” government would want to make it harder for police to flag illegal sales or to trace guns in their investigations. Taking away effective tools for police to protect the public constitutes, in my opinion, the most irresponsible law-making imaginable, because it is playing politics at the expense of people’s lives.
The families of gun victims like ourselves feel powerless before a government that continues to weaken our gun control law. The members of this government are lying if they say they are on the side of victims. Yes, victims want justice, but to get justice police need to be able to catch the perpetrators, and taking investigative tools away from the police undermines their ability to do so. We also want the loss of our loved ones to mean something. We want society to learn from our suffering, so that others don’t have to suffer as we have. Prevention is what we want, no more penalties, which experts say do not act as deterrents. The murderer of our daughter killed himself after the massacre. Tougher penalties would have made no difference. Criminals usually don’t plan on getting caught. Most murders, especially domestic murders, are impulsive, committed in the heat of the moment, in circumstances where eventual penalties usually do not factor into the mind of the killers. Prevention is key.
Since that fateful day of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, it has been our mission to educate politicians about the damages that a single gun can cause, and the need for a legal framework, proper rules and responsibilities. We will continue to ask for sane laws in order to ensure we have safe streets and neighbourhoods and to recover our country, one that is based on law, order, and good government. We are doing this for Anne-Marie’s memory, but mostly for all Canadians who care about public safety.
Honourable senators, I beg you to show Canadians that the Senate is not a rubber stamp for the . . . government, that you are still relevant, that the Senate can work as a chamber of second thought. Please, do your job and protect the Canadians against . . . self-serving interests . . .
Honourable senators, these were the words of a mother — a mother whom I have come to know very well, a mother who has spent, I believe, every minute of her life trying to save our daughters.
Senators, at the beginning of my speech, I said that since I have come to this place I have come to very much respect the viewpoint that other people have on gun control and also the viewpoint that people want the least amount of paperwork.
I now stand before you knowing that this bill will pass. I now stand before you to say that maybe a time has come when we, who hold two polarizing positions, have to come up with a position that will absolutely assure the rights of people who have guns, but will also keep our daughters safe. Thank you.