March 25, 2003

CA

Art Hanger

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, I will give a scenario and I ask that the member comment on it. It is a situation that arose in Calgary not too long ago.

An elderly gentleman in his sixties came home and surprised a couple of burglars in his house. They assaulted him. He was transported to the hospital. The incident was reported to the police. The police officers attended. They searched his house and found a gun with a bolt in it, a .22 Cooey rifle, sitting in a closet. The police officers looked at that situation, rushed to the hospital, arrested the man, brought him to the police station, fingerprinted him, took his picture and charged him.

The issue was a 30 year old Cooey rifle. Could the member comment on how this gun legislation will encourage more of that?

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CA

Gerry Ritz

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Gerry Ritz

That is tough to do in less than a minute, Mr. Speaker. I could go on and on for these types of things. I have a file full of the same type of thing, such as a fellow who is involved in a fender-bender and has his old gopher gun behind the seat of his truck. Suddenly it is a gun related crime. The same thing happened to this poor gentleman. He did not even bring the gun out of the closet. An old Cooey is probably a single shot and it makes a damn poor club; that is the best we can say about it

There is this whole concept that firearms somehow are a weapon. They are not. A firearm is a paperweight until somebody puts ammunition in it, points it and pulls the trigger. Until that point it is a paperweight. There is this whole perverse idea, especially in major cities, that a gun is just waiting to kill someone. No, it is not. There is no instance of this. I read the quotes from 1940, 1950 and 1960 when firearms were a lot more loosely held than they are now and there was no problem at all.

This legislation is doomed to fail, is bound to fail and will continue to fail and there is nothing positive we can say about it.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan (Leeds—Grenville, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am going to be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

I have listened quite closely to the debate as it has unfolded today and thought I might just put some thoughts and issues and maybe some facts on the table, something novel; I might try that.

I was a little disturbed by the previous speaker. There is an old adage in politics that if we disagree with somebody we attack their argument. If that does not work, then we attack their motive. If that does not work, then we attack the person. I sat here and listened to that member attack the credibility of the executive director of the Canadian Police Association and the reason I say this is that there is a pattern. The people who oppose this legislation are very quick to attack people on a very personal level. It is a kind of ends justifies the means approach, but I think it should be very clear to Canadians what they are doing when they do that. They are defaulting on being able to attack the argument and they are defaulting on being able to attack the motives.

In fact, the Speaker of this House has been subjected to this. The gentlemen who prepared the management report that outlined the history and the costs associated with this found themselves at the other end of that. When I stood up today, they started yelling out my plurality and my riding. I am a backbencher. I am one of these people they would paint as having some sort of yoke around my neck.

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An hon. member

You're the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan

I'm not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. Maybe you should keep up on events.

I will proudly stand in my place tonight. I think it is important to point out some facts. Late last fall, the Auditor General tabled a report that has been characterized in any number of ways, but at the end of the day she was absolutely clear that her report was not an indictment of gun control. I went to the public accounts committee when the Auditor General presented because I was interested in this. She made a very specific complaint that the money was allocated through supplementary estimates rather than main estimates. Before I put Canadians to sleep on that technicality, let me say that she said that every cent “was approved by Parliament...”. If the learned members opposite want to dispute that statement--

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An hon. member

I will.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan

Go ahead. She said it. Maybe the member should keep in mind that he has two ears and one mouth.

What I said was, that was what she said. If you have a problem with the Auditor General, take it up--

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The Deputy Speaker

Let me just remind members to make their interventions through the Chair. When we get to questions and comments members will have the opportunity to make the appropriate comments or ask the questions as they see fit.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan

Mr. Speaker, I guess the point I am trying to make is that it is very difficult to carry on a reasoned debate on this when it sounds like it is a zoo across the way.

It is also interesting to hear the members say that we should look at what Ontario does with its licensing of cars, that maybe we should just do what Ontario does. I have a copy of the Ontario auditor general's report, which discusses their computerization of the land registry system in Ontario, a project called POLARIS. It was supposed to cost $28 million, is now at over a billion dollars and is 11 years late. Oh yes, let us go running to Ontario and have them implement this for us.

One of the issues that I think members have to get their heads around is that the ditches are littered with large scale information technology projects at any level of government. If members would have read the management report, I think they would have seen that the management consultant made it very clear that one of the problems in this particular case was structural. What we had was a consultant that was also a vendor. I am not criticizing the consultants, but that is a lot like putting on a blindfold and opening your wallet.

We had structural problems in how this system was put together. If we look at the KPMG report, we see very clearly that all money is accounted for. The Hession report, I think, outlines very clear guidelines about how we can move forward in terms of large scale projects. We can think ahead because, based on Romanow, we are looking down the road at a potential national health registry. I think we are in a lot better position now to look at how we implement large IT projects.

In Ontario, by the way, the very minister who tabled a petition through the member for Lanark—Carleton today in opposition to the gun registry oversaw an integrated youth justice tracking project in Ontario. It cost $329 million. Ontario never even got it working. The people of Ontario have wasted money on that, but on our particular project here the critical difference is that we have an asset that works. Why do I say that? I am just quoting the Canadian Police Association:

In short, the system is now up and running. Approximately 90% of gun owners have been licensed, and at least 70% of all estimated firearms in Canada have been registered. It would be irresponsible to suspend or abandon any element of this program, now that it is starting to deliver the intended results.

That is from the organization that represents the front line officers in this country.

What do we get in response when we bring that up? Anecdotal things: “I talked to somebody somewhere and they said this”. I think this quote certainly has more credibility than anecdotal statements.

A member stood up and said that this is the number one issue in Ontario. The last survey I could find was taken within the last four weeks. If the members have another one I would be glad to take a look at it. The survey said that 74% of Canadians support the current gun control legislation. What are the Ontario numbers? In support for gun control by region, says Environics Research group, in Ontario in 2001 it was 79%. In 2003 it was 78%, within the statistical margin of error. On support for a firearms registry, and this is the part of the program that accounts for one-third of the costs, with licensing being approximately two-thirds, Ontario had 57% support, with 40% opposed. In light of those statistics I do not know on what the opposition members are basing some of the statements they are making.

To come back to the steps taken, what the government did, I think responsibly, is that the Auditor General's report was timed with the request for additional supplementary estimates. I think the government acted quite responsibly.

We took a look at the issue, at how we could get this program to meet some of the criticisms the Auditor General levelled at the structural components of this thing. We have an additional piece of legislation that addresses directly some of the lessons learned as we try to implement this thing. But at the end of the day, this is the way the argument breaks down for me. I took the time to attend all the briefings. I took the time to request and get a tour of the facility actually using this system, which the police are accessing over 2,000 times a day, to see what we have.

At the end of the day, the government has built a program. Let us use an analogy. We have built a house. The opposition argues, and there may be some merit to it, that we spent too much money on some aspects of that house. Is it responsible to the taxpayers to demolish the house in some of kind of childish fit now? The asset works. What differentiates this from the IT projects that Ontario is trying to launch is that this one actually works. This one is supported by the police that use it.

As I say, in the face of what can only be described as anecdotal evidence contrary to the statistics that I put on the table, I think we have to act responsibly and follow the lead of the front line officers in this country. If members think that nothing has changed from December, I think they need to take a detailed look at what the government has done to get this project back on the rails.

Coming back to Ontario, the other argument we hear is that if we just gave this money to Ontario, it could come up with much better ways of dealing with it. I just went to the Ontario auditor general's website, where there is a multiple page and very critical analysis of how it spends its money in institutional services young offenders operations in terms of early parole systems. It was a very scathing auditor general's report. How did the same minister who is criticizing us on the gun registry and ignoring his own IT projects respond to his auditor general? With a personal attack. He accused the Auditor General of Ontario of having a political agenda.

I distinctly remember graduating from grade two and I get sick and tired of those kinds of tactics being replicated in this House.

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CA

Garry Breitkreuz

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the remarks of this member and I find it really unconscionable how he has twisted the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General clearly said that this report was not a comment on whether the gun registry was effective or not effective. She said this was just a survey of the costs that she could determine. She made it abundantly clear that the costs will be at least $1 billion by the end of next year, but she said that there are many other costs unaccounted for and it could go well beyond that.

The question I have for this member is one which he completely avoided. He is not even debating the motion that we have before the House today. The question I have for him is this: Is he going to support this gun registry no matter what it costs? If it goes 500 times over budget, he is still supporting it. The Library of Parliament yesterday released a report showing that it is probably going to be another $1 billion in just the next few years just for the enforcement costs. If we look at our motion we will see the long list of other items that are going to be very costly and that the government has not talked about. The Auditor General made it abundantly clear that the main problem she had with the government and its handling of the situation is that it kept Parliament “in the dark”.

He did not tell the truth--

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An hon. member

Order.

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CA

Garry Breitkreuz

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz

--when he said that all of the costs are before us, that Parliament has been told the full costs. The Auditor General said clearly that the costs had not been revealed to Parliament. The enforcement costs could be huge.

Is the member going to support this no matter how much it costs, without a cost benefit analysis? That was the point of our motion: without a cost benefit analysis. His own justice minister did not answer three questions I asked today. Where is the cost benefit analysis? What about the enforcement costs? What about all the things that now have to be done to go back and correct all of the errors in the system? None of those questions were answered.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan

Mr. Speaker, how can I answer questions that have not yet been asked? He is just asking them now.

Let us go back to grade two, then, and show and tell. I come here with something to present, I reference statistics and I get called a liar by the member. It is a personal attack.

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LIB
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The Deputy Speaker

Notwithstanding the very strong differences of opinion, I caution members to be very judicious in the choice of their words. I can appreciate that what might have been said previously from the other side of the House, I was attentive, but I do not think and I know we will not go anywhere near the remarks that followed, so let us be a little more judicious.

The hon. member for Leeds—Grenville.

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LIB

Joe Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Joe Jordan

Mr. Speaker, I will rephrase it and you can check the blues. What he said was that the member did not tell the truth.

What I would like to say in answer to his question is, yes. I went to the briefings and I looked at the program. Before this particular profession I was involved in IT projects. I am confident that the government is taking the necessary steps to put this back on the rails and I will proudly support the additional moneys in the larger scope of the strategy.

However, regarding the particular member who asked me this question, whose life revolves around this issue, I have just gotten off a website called the Law-abiding Unregistered Firearms Association. It not only links to the member's website but it has its own little special section linking to him. The association is responsible for something called operation overload. It is a little disingenuous for the member to stand here and criticize the costs when a vital part of the push-back strategy was to drive the costs up. I do not think he can have it both ways.

What it is announcing now is a project called operation CPA. It is so upset with the police in this country who are making a clear statement supporting this registry and program that it is now going to counsel its members to undertake some kind of strategy to undermine the police in this country. That is where we have to draw the line.

We pay these people. They are in the field. They are knowledgeable and at least as knowledgeable as these people. The argument against the CPA's endorsement is that the executive director is acting alone and that he does not speak for his members. The other thing I have heard is that the police do not understand it. Canadians know that their police understand safety issues and they support this program, as do I.

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LIB

Mac Harb

Liberal

Mr. Mac Harb (Ottawa Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this motion. I will go back in time to look at the objectives of the legislation when it was first introduced in 1995 as the Firearms Act. The act had several objectives including the deterrence of the misuse of firearms, the licensing of all firearms, registration, tracking and transfer of all firearms, and the prevention of smuggling of illegal firearms.

Under the act all owners and users of firearms had to be licensed by January 1, 2001, and all firearms had to be registered by January 1, 2003. There are approximately 2.46 million firearm owners and approximately 7.9 million firearms in Canada. Of those 2.46 million owners, 90% are now licensed and over 70% have registered their guns.

In the debate today there are two things taking place at the same time. There are concerns by my colleagues on this side of the House as well as on the other of the House on the way the whole management of the firearms registry and how it is shaping up. Some of those concerns and the debate makes sense. I would suggest that the government is listening and has been listening since the introduction of the legislation back in 1995.

This is a legitimate debate; people want answers. There have been some problems in the system and people want the problems to be fixed.

Mr. Speaker, as you already know, the government has responded to those concerns. A number of measures have been taken by both the Department of Justice and now in the Attorney General's office to respond to those concerns by taking action, addressing those concerns, and dealing with them.

However, there is another issue in the House and that is the whole notion of whether or not we want to have gun control legislation and a registry. This particular debate is bothersome to me personally and to my constituents, and to the vast majority of Canadians, because Canadians have spoken on the issue. Over and over again Canadians have told Parliament and members of Parliament individually that they support gun control and they want to see the government enact gun control legislation in the House. They want to see the government implementing gun control legislation.

I do not want to go back in history, but I want to bring this to the attention of my colleagues so that at least we will have an understanding of why we should put this debate aside for now about whether or not gun control should be in place because Canadians have spoken.

For the record I want to put on the floor of the House a quote which is attributed to the then member of Parliament who is presently the leader of the Canadian Alliance. When the issue was debated in the House on June 12, 1995, he said:

Specifically, on moral issues and on the issue of gun control, I have made a particular commitment to discover and to vote the wishes of my constituents.

He went on:

Consistent with that I supported Bill C-68--

That was the gun control legislation.

--at second reading despite my own misgivings about some elements of it... In the end the households that replied indicated about 60% overall disapproval of the bill. I reflect that in my vote. From my own personal standpoint I believe there are elements of gun control and specifically of this bill that could be helpful.

After having been either on the campaign trail or about to become the leader of the Canadian Alliance, the same member said that there had been some confusion as to his position on gun control. He said that he would repeal the Liberal gun registry and that he personally always opposed Bill C-68 and the Liberal approach to gun control.

These are two completely opposite statements by the very same individual. Let me be clear, people have the right to change their opinion and have the right to be confused from time to time about their stand on a particular issue. However, we cannot take Canadians for granted and we cannot use the same technique to confuse Canadians. Canadians have spoken and they have told us specifically that they support the legislation. In fact, 74% of them support it. According to an independent Environics poll taken back in January, they support licensing and registration.

This legislation is supported by the police who are the people on the front line, as my colleagues have clearly stated a little earlier. It is supported by the Chiefs of Police Association as well as by public health, safety and victims organizations across the country. There is widespread support for the legislation all across the land from different sectors of our society, from different neighbourhoods, and from different communities.

Does the system work? Let us see. In fact, the number of lost/missing firearms has declined by 68% from the year 1998 to the year 2001. Is that a positive thing or is it as a result of the legislation? The number of stolen firearms has decreased by 35% from 1998 to 2002. That is not a bad thing. Law enforcement agencies across the country have accessed the online registry 2.3 million times since December 1, 1998. I would suggest that at least one life would have been saved by that particular system. If that is the case, for me as a member and for my constituency, this is worthwhile notwithstanding the cost.

To date, public safety officials have refused or revoked over 9,000 applications for firearms licences. The firearms centres have received thousands of calls from people trying to find information. To that extent it has helped more than 3,000 police officers across the country who have tapped into the system to find information about potential crimes that may be committed in our communities.

In the debate, there is fundamentally one group which wants to see some amendments and some repairs to the system. We are with that group. However, there is another group which wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. My colleagues will correct me if I am not using the proper terminology. That is totally wrong because the system does work as I have clearly stated in my statistical information to the House.

When the Auditor General appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, upon which I sit, she never stated that there was anything wrong with the administration of the system. Her problem was not with that. Her problem was whether or not there was clarification of the program when the estimates came before Parliament. The department accepted those recommendations fully. The Minister of Justice appeared before the committee along with the minister responsible for the Treasury Board and pledged to the committee that they would ensure those recommendations were implemented. To that extent I appeal to my colleagues on the opposition side, in particular to those in the Canadian Alliance, to please stand up and clarify their positions.

Also, I appeal to the Alliance members to leave the past behind and support this initiative. This initiative is necessary to save lives in Canada and to help Canadians.

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CA

Howard Hilstrom

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Alliance position is 100% clear. We support the control of the criminal use of firearms. We support legislation that keeps a fully automatic firearm out of the hands of anybody in the country. Prohibit it. We support the fact that one cannot carry a concealed firearm such as a concealed handgun around.

What we do not support is the Liberal program which has in it a massive waste of money with no effect on crime. That is what Bill C-68 did, the Firearms Act. Bill C-10A that we will be voting on perpetuates that mammoth and ineffective misuse of taxpayer dollars.

The government is trying to misconstrue the Canadian Alliance position as being against any type of firearm legislation when in fact we are very strong on strong legislation that will actually reduce crime. The member can answer that generality.

He said that to him the saving of one life is worth the passing of the legislation and the perpetuation of the bill and we should just keep dumping money into it. In Manitoba last year there were three heart patients whose heart surgery was rescheduled and while they were waiting to get on the schedule again, they died. I can prove that 100% because it is in Manitoba's medical statistics. The federal government cannot prove the saving of one life because of this legislation.

For 30 years I was in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and we had plenty enough legislation. We could take firearms away from someone we believed was going to commit a crime, or someone in a spousal abuse situation. The courts could prohibit people from having firearms. The smuggling of guns over the border was always illegal.

The point is that the legislation that has been brought forward is so bad and that is why we are opposing it. Let us have sensible legislation. I would ask the member to respond to that.

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LIB

Mac Harb

Liberal

Mr. Mac Harb

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member say that he is in support of gun control. I want him to stand up and tell his colleagues to state the same thing for the record and I will observe how the member votes when the issue appears before the House later on today.

It is extremely important to divide the issues. He is having a problem with some of the administration of it. We agree that some of the problems need to be fixed. In fact a number of measures have been taken by the government to address those concerns. I never knew why the gun control legislation and the registry had to be with justice and why it was not part of the Solicitor General's office. It is an extremely positive development that it is now under the auspices of the Solicitor General. By doing that we will have proper management of it.

I want my colleagues not to fear registration. People register their cats, dogs, cars, a lot of things. Registration is a good thing at the end of the day. If there are problems, and there are problems in the system, we have to fix them. For my colleague, I commend him. He is indicating there are problems with it. We have committed to take action and correct them.

Would the member stand up for the record and tell me and his colleagues that he would support it?

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CA

Howard Hilstrom

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Howard Hilstrom

Mr. Speaker, he did not answer my question.

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March 25, 2003