Garry Breitkreuz, MP Yorkton—Melville, SK
on Bill C-19, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act

Statement to the House of Commons, October 27, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-19, the ending the long gun registry bill.

I would like to take a moment to thank those who helped make this legislation a reality: the right hon. Prime Minister, for his leadership on this issue; the hon. member for Provencher, Canada's outstanding public safety minister; the member for Portage—Lisgar, for recognizing my many years of work on this important file and especially for allowing me the honour of taking her speaking spot in this debate; and indeed all of my caucus colleagues who have supported me over the many years that this issue has been before us.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank my wonderful wife, Lydia, who has been by my side every step of the way for the last 18 years as we have dealt with this issue. She has made the most sacrifice. I thank my staff, past and present, in Ottawa and in Yorkton—Melville, who have worked tirelessly on this file for the last decade and a half. I thank the many organizations and stakeholders who have provided valuable insight and support.

Finally, I thank the thousands of farmers, hunters and sport shooters for their patience and support over the years. Throughout the years they have packed meeting after meeting from coast to coast to coast to ensure their concerns about Bill C-68 have been heard loud and clear.

As my hon. colleagues may be aware, this is an issue that has been of deep interest to me for quite some time. In fact, I would like to tell a story about how this first came to my attention.

In January 1994, before the Liberals had even put the long gun registry in place, I was invited to a meeting by a number of concerned gun owners in my constituency. I remember how cold it was. It was -39° outside in the town of Preeceville, Saskatchewan. I got out of my car, walked through the parking lot and into a hall packed with people. I could not believe how full the hall was. I remember so clearly being overwhelmed by just how many concerned citizens had taken the time to come out on this issue. Obviously I felt it was something they thought was very important to them. It was not really something I had thought too much about before that time.

I was asked by the folks in the room what I thought about the long gun registry that the Liberals were proposing. I had not thought much about it and I said something like, who would not be in favour of gun control, because that was what it had been portrayed as. Right then and there they put a challenge to me. They challenged me to look below the surface at what the proposed long gun registry would do and what it would not do. They challenged me to look at what the purpose actually was and who it would actually help. In short, they challenged me to look at the facts.

I made the commitment that I would look into this issue and I did. I ended up doing a complete 180 on this issue. I had to completely reverse my position once it became incredibly clear to me that it was going to be a totally ineffective long gun registry. It took a bit of time to uncover the facts, but as I looked at it with my helpful staff, I realized this was not going to accomplish what it was purported to do.

Since that time I have worked for years to see the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry scrapped once and for all. It has taken a long, long time. I have talked to thousands of people and have attended meetings on this issue from Vancouver Island to St. John's, Newfoundland. I have lost track of how many meetings I have attended.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many concerned citizens, police officers, hunters, farmers and sport shooters who have told me their stories over the past years. They have shared their experiences. They have been honest and forthright with their opinions on the long gun registry.

It has been a long haul, but in the end, through working for positive change, we have been able to make a difference. This bill, Bill C-19, is proof of that.

I am also very proud to be part of a government which, after working so long to deliver on its promise, is making good on its commitment to end the long gun registry. Despite opposition stalling, blocking and obstruction, we held steadfast in our determination to end what has grown into a $2 billion boondoggle.

There are millions of law-abiding gun owners in Canada. These include the good, honest and hard-working men and women from my constituency of Yorkton—Melville, and across the province of Saskatchewan, and from regions all across the country. These are law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters who feel it is fundamentally unfair they are being persecuted for their way of life. More than that, they feel as though they have been criminalized. They feel criminalized because they own a firearm. They feel criminalized because they may not have done all the paperwork. They feel criminalized because they think that even if they have done everything according to the law, they might have done something wrong.

I hear from farmers in my constituency, farmers who work hard every day and have long guns on their property. They use them in the course of their day. It is a tool. I am talking about doing such things as shooting gophers or other rodents and coyotes that may be going after their livestock. These long guns are tools that farmers use to protect themselves and their business. It is not right that they feel they are doing something wrong just because they have a firearm on their property.

I also hear from young people who are interested in getting into sport shooting, which is part of Canada's rich outdoor heritage and one of our traditional activities. We have enjoyed it for more than a century. These young people feel discouraged from getting involved, again because of the stigma associated with the long gun registry. Healthy outdoor living is nothing to be ashamed of. We should be encouraging young people in these respects. These young people are missing out on participating in healthy outdoor activities because they are not sure what they need to do or how they need to do it. That is a real shame.

Of course, I have heard from many aboriginal Canadians. Hunting is a fundamental part of their way of life. They also feel they are being deeply stigmatized by the long gun registry. This is a way of life. That is no more deserving of stigma than any other honest way of life across this country.

For too long, law-abiding Canadians who own firearms have been made to feel like second-class citizens due to this long gun registry. They have been made to feel that they should be held apart, considered to feel like second-class citizens due to this long gun registry. They have been made to feel that they should be held apart, considered more dangerous and made to endure burdensome regulations. They have not committed any crime. They have not acted in any way unlawfully. Yet they are viewed with suspicion and made to register their long guns as though they had.

Time and again, we see how this long gun registry needlessly and unfairly targets law-abiding Canadians. It does this while doing nothing to reduce crime or strengthen our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

I could quote statistics to support every single thing I am saying.

I will digress for a moment and give a short example. Ninety per cent of the handguns in Toronto that are confiscated by the police are unregistered, and we have had a handgun registry since 1934. That gives an example of how the registry does not affect the criminal. It does not do anything to reduce crime or strengthen our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the drug dealers, the criminals, the gangs. Our government has been saying this for years. That is why we have been working to scrap it for years. I stand here today to talk about this important issue. I am hopeful that we will soon see the failed long gun registry scrapped once and for all.

I have heard just about every argument for and against the registry that one can think of. I mentioned that earlier today. However, I have no doubt that there will be some interesting debate in the House with our colleagues across the floor. I am sure they will continue to bring forward points to try to demonstrate that it is a useful tool. When the previous speaker did that I pointed to a couple of examples of how what he had cited is not really true.

The facts speak for themselves. The long gun registry does not put meaningful consequences in place for gun crimes. It does not address gun-related or gang-related crimes in Canada. That has nothing to do with law-abiding gun owners who register their firearms. The registry does not prevent crimes from happening. The opposition places the gun registry and crime prevention side by side as though there were some connection between them. The registry does not prevent crime from happening. I could not be more blunt. The creation of a list of law-abiding long gun owners does not prevent a criminal from picking up a firearm or any weapon and using it to harm an innocent person.

Over the past number of years I have spoken with many front-line police officers, the men and women who put their lives on the line for the safety and security of Canadians every day. Time and again they have said that the registry information is not accurate. Police officers know that it is not accurate. They know that when they walk through the door of a house they always assume there is a firearm located there. They do not trust the information in the long gun registry and certainly would not bet their lives on it. A tool that does not do its job is a tool not worth having and should be destroyed. That is what we are doing. These are good reasons to scrap it.

As an aside, the Auditor General stated in a report several years ago that 90% of the registration certificates contained inaccurate information. A staff sergeant in my riding tells his officers when they come on staff not to consult the registry before responding to a domestic dispute as it may put their lives at risk.

To add to all of this is the registry's sheer size and the waste of resources associated with it. When the Auditor General released her report several years ago and that was exposed, in the entire country there was only one editorial writer who still supported the registry, and even that person had reservations with respect to it. At that time, a survey was taken and 72% of people wanted to get rid of the registry. When the Liberals introduced it they told us it would cost $2 million. Later on it was upward of $2 billion.

There is no evidence that the long gun registry prevents crime, protects Canadians from crime or that it protects the well-being of front-line officers. What other government program has gone 1,000 times overbudget? That is unbelievable. It is bad policy. That is why I have fought long and hard over the past decade and more to see it scrapped.

I ask the opposition members what if that money had been better used to address the root causes of crime in this country? Surely, they would not have been opposed to that.

I will now speak to what Bill C-19 means as well as to what it does not mean.

First and foremost, Bill C-19, the ending the long gun registry bill, removes the requirement for Canadians to register their unrestricted firearms, such as rifles and shotguns. In short, that means that law-abiding hunters and farmers would no longer be compelled to register their long guns and no longer be made to feel like criminals in the process.

Second, Bill C-19 would ensure that the records that have been gathered through the long gun registry over the past years would be destroyed. This is a particularly important point. Not only are the details of millions of law-abiding gun owners in this country which are contained within the records inaccurate, they are also a means by which a different government, whether provincial or federal, could attempt to reinstate the long gun registry a few years down the road. The commitment of this government is firm. We would not allow that to happen. That is why we are committed to destroying those records. They would not be shared, nor sealed and kept. They would be destroyed.

As well, Bill C-19 will maintain current regulations for restricted and prohibited firearms. Those firearms will continue to be registered as they have in the past and licensing requirements will remain in place. However, long guns will no longer be required to be registered.

I will touch on another point as well. I spoke earlier about how for many of my constituents owning a firearm is a way of life. I recognize that is not common in many parts of Canada. For people living in large urban centres, the meaning surrounding firearms can be altered. It has become less about a lifestyle and more about what we see in the media.

In many of our urban centres there is a lot of talk about gun crime in the media. That can make some people nervous. I cannot emphasize enough that the Conservative Party believes in keeping Canadians safe. We are delivering measures to ensure families feel safe in their homes and communities. We are delivering better tools for our law enforcement officers and holding criminals accountable for their crimes.

Year after year, that is the promise we as a government have made to the law-abiding Canadian families we stand for in all areas of the country, both rural and urban. That is why we are in support of gun control measures that work, and why we are against measures that do not work, such as the failed long gun registry.

I will mention some of the actions we have taken over the past five years to keep Canadians safer and hold criminals more accountable for their crimes.

Our previous comprehensive legislation, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, has serious penalties for gun offences. Those measures include: longer mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes; tougher new rules for bail for serious weapons offences; mandatory minimum sentences for drive-by shootings; tougher laws to combat organized crime; and, mandatory minimum sentences for using firearms in the commission of an offence. These laws target real criminals.

I have said it before and I will say it again that criminals are not in the habit of obeying the law and they certainly are not in the habit of registering their firearms. They are the sort of individuals who use illegal weapons that have either been stolen or smuggled in from the United States or elsewhere. They have absolutely no respect for the law or the well-being of their fellow citizens.

It is those inidividuals who bring the good names of law-abiding gun owners into disrepute. They are the people who do harm to our homes and communities. They are the people this government is targeting with its tough on crime measures. They are the people against whom we are taking action in an effort to stop them by using tougher laws, by providing better resources for police officers, and by holding them accountable for their actions.

That is how the government believes it should tackle criminals. It is the right way, the effective way and the sensible way. That is why we are in favour of scrapping the failed long gun registry. I hope all hon. members will support us in getting rid of it once and for all.

I challenge members to do the same as I have done, scratch below the surface and look at the facts. If they do I believe they will come to the same conclusion that I did, that the registry is not a cost-effective way of controlling crime or making our lives safer.

*************

For further information, contact:

Tony Bernardo
Canadian Institute for Legislative Action
905-571-2150, abernardo343@rogers

The CSSA is the voice of the sport shooter and firearms enthusiast in Canada. Our national membership supports and promotes traditional target shooting competition, modern action shooting sports, hunting, and archery. We support and sponsor competitions and youth programs that promote these Canadian heritage activities