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The Senate should accept its committee's amendments to Bill C-71

  

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Colleagues, I rise today to speak to the report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on Bill C-71.

Let me start by commending the chair of the committee, Senator Boniface, for her excellent work chairing the meetings; along with the hard work and long hours put in by the clerk of the committee; the Library of Parliament analysts; the government sponsor of the bill, Senator Pratte; and all senators who participated in the committee hearings.

Allow me to begin today by stating clearly and unequivocally that I support the fundamental objectives of Bill C-71, as noted by Minister Goodale in the other place, to prioritize public safety and effective police work while treating law-abiding firearms owners and businesses fairly and reasonably.

The problem I have with this bill is that it does not achieve those objectives. It does not increase public safety, it does not facilitate effective police work, and it certainly does not treat law-abiding firearms owners and businesses fairly and reasonably. Instead, the committee found that the bill diminishes public safety by allocating precious and limited resources to time-wasting bureaucratic exercises; it decreases the effectiveness of police work by increasing the bureaucratic burden; it adds no useful tools for the prevention, enforcement, investigation or conviction of criminal activities; it threatens law-abiding gun owners with criminal sanctions for actions that have no relevance to public safety; and it provides a statutory basis to confiscate the property of Canadians with no provision for reimbursement.

The committee began its hearings on February 18 and met on six occasions. All but two of these meetings lasted between six and eight hours. In total, we sat for more than 30 hours and heard from 81 witnesses representing all sides of the issue, including two cabinet ministers.

Whether one agrees with the committee’s report, the committee did an excellent job examining the bill, and our approach was reflective of collegiality, which is not often seen in this chamber. In fact, the amendments made to the bill were only possible because they were supported across caucus lines. This included Conservatives, ISG senators, independents and Independent Liberal senators. The changes were not driven by partisanship but by a genuine desire to minimize the bill’s harm while maximizing its usefulness.

Senators, we’re all aware that if the government doesn’t like the amendments that have been made in committee, then it can take them out. It has the numbers in the other place, and if it believes that it has the electoral mandate to punish gun-owners while giving gangs and murderers a pass, then it can do just that and face the consequences in October.

However, for this chamber to repudiate the work of one of its committees is unprecedented, except under one condition: when the government’s majority in the Senate acts out of partisan interest to protect the government of the day.

Senator Gold gave us a couple of examples where committee reports were rejected by this chamber: Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products; and Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Criminal Code respecting time spent in pre-sentencing custody. But, colleagues, here’s the problem with these examples: Bill C-36 was before this house in 2010, and Bill C-25 was here in 2009. In other words, the committee reports noted by Senator Gold were rejected by this chamber only because the government of the day had a majority in this chamber. These are two perfectly acceptable examples of the government exercising the power of its majority in the Senate to steer legislation in the direction it wants to go in order to protect its partisan interests.

So, colleagues, if members opposite want to admit that they are, in fact, Justin Trudeau Liberal senators, then we on this side will acknowledge that they have the right to defeat this report. But if you continue to strut about in self-righteous indignation, insisting that you must defeat this report to save the country and this chamber from ruin, then for heaven’s sake, spare us the pretentious charade about how independent and non-partisan you are. I find the duplicity galling.

And I suspect there are only about 58 people in the whole country who believe this “independent” nonsense. And you’ll find them all right here in this Chamber.

Having been involved in politics for a lifetime and having been present in this Chamber for almost 10 years, I have heard a lot of politically-motivated speeches. But only within the last 3 years have I begun to hear politically-motivated speeches given by speakers who insist that they are not politically motivated.

Just the other day, a so-called “independent” senator stood up to speak to the committee’s amendments on Bill C-71, and said: “I fear that, for some, the motivation behind the amendments might have been political rather than societal.”

This was a senator who was appointed by a Liberal Prime Minister after careful vetting through the party’s database known as the Liberal list.

The Prime Minister’s Office has admitted that at least one third of ISG senators appointed by Mr. Trudeau have a history of donations to and support of the Liberal Party.

Colleagues, I don’t have a problem with the Prime Minister appointing senators to this chamber based on their political and partisan affiliations. What I do have a problem with is dishonesty and hypocrisy.

In fact, senators opposite are so jaded that when a Conservative senator speaks they immediately assume that whatever is coming out of their mouth is politically motivated rhetoric. They don’t even listen to what is being said. Senators, please, listen to this.

We had a perfect example of this last week. I was speaking on my SNC-Lavalin motion and said the following:

“...there was evidence of an attempt to politically interfere with the justice system in its work on the criminal trial that has been described by some as the most important and serious prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.”

As I said those words, an ISG senator from the other side scoffed and ridiculed the remarks as mere partisan exaggeration, completely unaware, I suppose, that I was quoting a former Liberal cabinet minister, Jane Philpott. Colleagues, at least the Independent Liberals in this chamber are honest about their ideological and partisan affiliations. The ISG senators, on the other hand, are intent on portraying themselves as politically pure and this side as poisoned by partisanship. But they have lost any real impartiality on the issues. Their only objective is to defend the illusion of their independence.

I would suggest that this illusion is not going over well. It inevitably results in a lack of coherence in their arguments due to a condition that we call ideological myopia, better known as tunnel vision.

Let me give you a couple of examples. After listening to 31 witnesses give testimony in committee over a period of 80 hours, Senator Gold in his speech on the report stage of this bill was unable to recall any evidence which challenged the government’s position on the bill. Instead he said:

I will be voting against the report because, as I understand the rules and principles governing my constitutional duty as a senator, it would be inappropriate to accept a report that tears apart a government bill, which follows through on electoral promises and was supported by credible evidence presented in committee.

Colleagues, this is nonsense. Was there testimony at committee supporting the government’s position? Yes.

Was there evidence supporting the government’s position? No — none.

The absence of such evidence was repeatedly drawn to the attention of the committee by expert witnesses and sports shooting enthusiasts. They pleaded with us to get past the emotional smokescreen and realize that this bill is entirely aspirational and is not supported by any clear statistical or anecdotal evidence.

It is a patch work of feel-good promises which ISG senators think the country is supposed to roll over and simply accept because the government won an election.

I beg to differ. Ridiculous promises such as “the budget will balance itself” or “cracking down on law-abiding gun owners will reduce crime” should be called by this chamber and not endorsed.

Let me give you another example of tunnel vision at work. Last week an ISG senator stood in this chamber and said:

"...guns exist for one purpose, despite being used properly or for illegal purposes: They kill."

Let me repeat that: "Guns exist for one purpose, despite being used properly or for illegal purposes: They kill."

Colleagues I could repeat it a third time and it will still not make any sense. Guns exist only to kill? Has the Senator ever heard of the Olympics? Does she not know there is an event called shooting? Is she unaware that this shooting sport refers to the shooting of guns? Is the assertion that guns are only for killing a common understanding of some senators? Have the ISG senators never heard of the Shooting Federation of Canada or the International Shooting Sport Federation? What about skeet shooting or trap shooting? Are all of these considered killing? Right outside these doors are members of the Parliamentary Protective Service who would and have put their lives at risk to protect yours and mine. I do not think it is appropriate to accuse them of wearing a firearm simply for killing.

What about the tens of thousands of Canadians who enjoy going to a gun range on the weekend to enjoy target shooting? Is the firearm they own simply for killing? Is that why they saved their hard-earned after-tax dollars so they could buy a weapon whose only purpose is for killing? What about all the other 2.1 million Canadians who have a gun licence? Are they all killers in waiting? The absurdity of such comments is really beyond comprehension.

Then the senators try to portray the illusion that they are opposing the committee’s report on Bill C-71 because of some ideological purity and unassailable commitment to democracy. I look forward to seeing if the ISG’s robust deference to an electoral mandate continues this fall when Andrew Scheer becomes the Prime Minister. I suspect that their aversion to such a scenario will have them topping up their donations to the Liberal Party quite promptly.

Colleagues, there is no doubt in my mind that every member of this chamber wants to do whatever is necessary to reduce firearms violence. But what the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence had to grapple with was whether this bill would actually accomplish that objective. The majority concluded that it would do no such thing. Our amendments attempted to correct that and salvage what we could from a very flawed bill.

I am disappointed that after all the committee’s time and effort the government sponsor of this bill, Senator Pratte, has now rallied his Liberal colleagues to try to kill the committee’s report simply because it didn’t endorse his view point. He, like all members of the committee, had the opportunity to make his case. He now wants to reject the committee’s work even while thanking the committee for it. I understand that as the sponsor of the bill Senator Pratte feels some pressure to deliver for the government, but I would be remiss if I did not also point out that by rejecting the committee’s report he is jeopardizing the legislative timelines agreed upon by Senate leadership.

Bill C-71 is to go to a third reading by May 9, but that date is contingent upon the report being accepted by this chamber. If Senator Pratte wants to derail an entire agreement because he didn’t get his way, I would strongly suggest that he consult with his leaders, Senator Harder and Senator Woo, before doing so. In my view, the legislation still fails in its bid to increase public safety and continues to needlessly penalize lawful firearms owners.

However, the amendments made by the committee do provide some measure of improvement, and the report should be adopted by this chamber. This, of course, does not prevent additional amendments from being put forward at third reading as is the right of all senators to do.

My limited time at the report stage prevents me from discussing the importance of the amendments we made to this bill, so I encourage all senators to read the transcripts of clause by clause. Colleagues, I believe that the report of the committee on Bill C-71 should be adopted, as is the normal practice of this chamber, and I encourage you to vote in favour of its adoption.

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