Parliament resumed this morning and MPs from across the country were chomping at the bit to make their first speeches on Bill C-238 in the House of Commons.
Here are some of the highlights and lowlights via the Hansard for Monday, January 25, 2021.
Kristina Michaud (Bloc Québécois) Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC
I am very pleased to speak to gun control, an issue that has broad consensus in Quebec. I thank my colleague from Markham—Unionville for his work and for introducing this bill that seeks to amend the Criminal Code to imposes harsher sentences on those who unlawfully import firearms.
It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois supports stricter gun control, especially for handguns. The vast majority of Quebeckers agree.
Increasing the length of minimum sentences is a good thing, but we are concerned that this will unfortunately not have a marked impact on the importation of illegal weapons. More importantly, we are concerned that it will not have a significant impact on reducing violence in our communities.
The Conservatives’ desire to address the issue of access to firearms is legitimate, but is it genuine? Unfortunately, history has shown us otherwise.
Tougher restrictions should have been implemented a long time ago. It is time to take action. Bill C?238 may not look like it would have a negative impact on efforts to control firearm usage, but it does not fix the problem. Sadly, it is not the answer we are seeking to a much bigger problem.
The government cannot and must not allow itself to believe that this kind of measure counts as taking action on gun control. This measure is a sneaky and downright dishonest response to the pleas of thousands of families whose loved ones were collateral victims of shootings that have happened over the years in our communities, whether the weapons involved were legally imported or not.
Rachel Blaney (NDP) North Island—Powell River, BC
This is an offence that I agree should be taken very seriously. In fact, an amendment like this to the Criminal Code would be something I could discuss and agree to. However, this bill is written in a way that will lead it to follow the same path a similar bill did in 2013, and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional.
I am very curious about why the member has brought forward legislation that is unconstitutional, when the need to bring forward laws to improve this gap is so very important. I am not interested in supporting legislation that will be defeated in the Supreme Court of Canada, cost a lot of taxpayer dollars and not support the safety of communities.
Kerry-Lynne Findlay (CPC) South Surrey—White Rock, BC
Our hard-working Canadian border agents who process around 100 million travellers annually have seized more than 4,200 guns at the border since 2014, but despite their best efforts, which I commend them for, experts believe many smuggled guns go undetected.
While it is difficult to know exactly how many firearms get through customs illegally, some estimates suggest 70% or more of crime guns in Canada are smuggled in. We also know that two in five homicides committed in Canada in 2019 were committed with a firearm, 60% of which were handguns.
Our neighbours to the south are our closest allies, our biggest trading partner and, in many cases, our friends and family, but the fact remains that it is much easier to access guns south of the border and too many of those guns are winding up on Canadian soil. That is why I support my Conservative colleague’s private member’s bill to increase the penalties for the possession of unlawfully imported firearms.
Last October, the NDP member for St. John’s East argued, as did the member for North Island—Powell River today, that the mandatory minimums in this bill are unconstitutional. Both members pointed to the 2015 Supreme Court decision in R. v. Nur.
In that case, the court struck down the minimum sentence for possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with access to ammunition, but the law in that case is distinguishable from the bill at hand.
In Nur, Chief Justice McLachlin, writing for the majority, reasoned that the three-year minimum sentence for possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with access to ammunition violated section 12 of the charter as cruel and unusual punishment, because when applied not to the actual facts of that case but to reasonably foreseeable facts, the sentence would not fit the crime.
Arif Virani (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
I applaud the laudable objective of curbing illegal gun activity and I appreciate that the sponsor sees these measures as important for targeting organized criminal activity. Violence through firearms poses a real and significant public safety risk to many communities, including those that have experienced mass shootings. Nevertheless, I am of the view that this bill should not be supported, and I will explain why.
The government has repeatedly acknowledged that gun violence and gun crime is an increasing problem in Canadian society that needs to be addressed with a comprehensive strategy. This was recently reiterated in the Speech from the Throne in September of 2020. That is why the mandate letters of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety have committed to the implementation of a robust set of firearms amendments, including the imposition of stronger penalties for gun smuggling.
The illegal firearms market in Canada is primarily supplied by smuggled firearms or firearms stolen from private residents or commercial establishments. Given its proximity to Canada, the United States is the primary source of firearms for Canada, particularly handguns smuggled into Canada. The majority of illegal firearms in the U.S. originate in the U.S., but may occasionally come from other countries, such as Canada.
Reducing firearms smuggling into Canada is a key part in the fight to reduce access to illegal firearms in this country. Smuggled firearms that make their way into communities are a serious public safety issue and can be used to commit serious offences tied to organized crime.
Given the scope of the offence, I am very concerned that the increased mandatory minimum penalties would lead to significant charter scrutiny, but just as important, mandatory minimum penalties generally produce system inefficiencies and delays in the criminal justice system. They are also known to have disproportionately negative impacts on indigenous peoples, Black and other visible minority Canadians, something that should be of key concern to all parliamentarians as we confront and seek to address the systemic racism that is pernicious in the criminal justice system.
Bob Saroya (CPC) Markham—Unionville, ON
I rise today to urge my colleagues to support my private member’s bill, Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to possession of unlawfully imported firearms, a bill that would put the criminals using smuggled guns behind bars for longer and make communities safer by raising the standards on dangerous criminals being released on bail.
This is a bill that all GTA residents need and have been calling for.
The former chief of police of Toronto stated that 82% of handguns used in crimes are smuggled in from the United States. The Ontario solicitor general put the numbers at 84%. More recently, Peel Regional Police reported that 74% of the guns they seized were from south of the border.
The problem is not just smuggled guns; it is also about how we treat criminals who are caught with these guns. The truth is that when they are arrested, they are released on bail within days. They can have a smuggled gun back in their possession within hours.
Bill C-238 Fails in Parliament
After 2nd reading of Bill C-238, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms) the bill was voted on.
In Favour: 150 (Bloc and Conservatives)
Opposed: 171 (Green, Liberal, NDP)
Notably, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not vote on Bill C-238, and Liberal MPs Adam Vaughan and Sukh Dhaliwal voted in favour of Bill C-238.
View all recorded votes here: https://openparliament.ca/votes/43-2/41/