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Senator Plett speaks out against the Liberal's gun control bill


Bill C-71: An Act to Amend Certain Acts and Regulations in Relation to Firearms


Second Reading

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Colleagues, I would like to speak to second reading of Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms. I think we are all well aware that this debate over gun control is a long-standing one. It has gone on for decades. It is very polarized and highly politicized. Advocates and stakeholders on both sides of this issue have strong positions which they hold deeply and often communicate with powerful emotions.

This is understandable. On one hand, we have people who have lost loved ones through homicide or suicide where firearms were involved. In some cases, terrible accidents involving firearms have changed the lives of innocent people forever.

Last Thursday was the twenty-ninth anniversary of that dark day in 1989 when 14 young women lost their lives at École Polytechnique. It was a terrible tragedy, colleagues, that left deep scars on survivors, families and indeed the whole nation.

On the other side of this debate we have honest, law-abiding citizens and gun owners who are deeply troubled by gun violence but are concerned that this legislation misses the mark entirely. Instead of addressing a very real problem, it promises something it cannot deliver. To make matters worse, it casts a shadow over gun owners, suggesting they are somehow culpable for the tragic losses experienced by others through gun crime.

It is not hard to see that when you combine these two very polarized positions and add in strong rhetoric, which is often contradictory and confusing, you end up with a debate where there is far more heat than light. This is regrettable, but it is the reality.

Even as I speak here today, I am aware that some senators will not really be hearing me because I am opposing this legislation. But let me be clear. Nobody is debating whether gun crimes should be dealt with, nobody is minimizing the terrible losses that have been experienced, and nobody is suggesting that nothing should be done. The question is: What should be done?

It is critical that we consider the answer to this question carefully, because a failure to do so not only misallocates precious resources but endangers more lives. It is important to get this right.

Colleagues, they say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results is a good definition of insanity. In my view, this is exactly where we find ourselves today. For some incomprehensible reason, the Liberal government has decided once again to introduce another piece of gun control legislation based on faulty logic and phony statistics. If evermore gun legislation was effective, you would find a lot more public support for it, especially amongst gun owners. But the fact is that both simple logic and supporting evidence shows it will not. It will not increase public safety; it will not reduce gun crime; and it will not save lives.

Rather than helping, this bill actually hinders progress by giving the illusion that the government is addressing the problem, when in reality they are completely missing the mark.

You’ll recall that their previous attempt with gun control was an abysmal failure. In 1993, the Liberals told Canadians the federal long-gun registry would cost about $2 million and would reduce crime. By the time we managed to get rid of the registry, the costs were estimated to be over $2 billion. And the impact on crime, colleagues, zero.

What we should have learned from this experience is that there are serious consequences from engaging in ideologically driven, unsubstantiated social experimentation, but it does not appear the current government has learned this lesson. In fact, the Liberal Party’s track record on this issue is so terrible that the current Liberal government has taken pains to distance itself from the policies of its predecessor, claiming they will never bring back the gun registry.

Yet, here we are today, debating the same discredited approach that pretends that clamping down on lawful gun owners will somehow reduce crime and send gang members scurrying for cover. This is absurd.

Colleagues, let me give you a bit of background. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, crime was rising in Canada. It was a turbulent time for many reasons, with a lot of social unrest and economic insecurity. However, in 1991, total Criminal Code incidents peaked and they have been trending downwards ever since.

Homicides hit their high point much earlier, in 1975, when they reached 3.02 homicides per 100,000 population. They have not returned to that level again but have been trending downwards ever since, just like crime in general.

In 2013 the homicide rate hit its lowest point in almost 50 years, at 1.45 per 100,000 population. You have to go back to 1966 to find it lower than that. In the last four years that rate has risen somewhat. Today, the latest Statistics Canada numbers show the homicide rate in Canada sits at 1.8 per 100,000 population.

These kinds of fluctuations are normal. The numbers move up and down from year to year over the course of a few years. In spite of this, the trend lines for crime, violent crime, gun crime and homicides all continue to point downwards. In fact, the homicide rate today is close to half of what it was almost 40 years ago.

Now, some people, such as Ralph Goodale and our good friend Senator Pratte, would have you believe that the last four years represents a turning of the tide. They will tell you that more than four decades of declining crime rates have suddenly done a 180-degree turn, and we must now scramble with bad legislation to try to correct this alarming change of course.

In his speech on Bill C-71 Senator Pratte said the following:

"Over the last four years, we have witnessed an increase in gun-related crime in Canada. Some will say — you will hear them in the next few weeks — that this increase is not significant because 2013, the year when it started to rise, was a historic low. They even accuse the government of manipulating the data to argue in favour of this bill. But, colleagues, this is not manipulation but statistical fact. The numbers and the police reports point to a very worrisome reversal of a downward trend that began over 20 years ago."

There you have it. According to our colleague Senator Pratte, we appear to be teetering on a precipice. Unless we pass Bill C-71, we are going to tip over the edge.

Well, with respect, colleagues, Senator Pratte and Minister Goodale are playing a bit loose with the facts.

However, there is no need for me to debunk Senator Pratte’s assertion. That has already been done by Professor Pierre-Jérôme Bergeron, who teaches statistics at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Ottawa.

In a CBC news story last March, Mr. Bergeron noted that the government’s decision to choose 2013 as a base year for comparison was disingenuous at best, and perhaps dishonest. He said:

They obviously picked the one year where it was lowest, so as to maximize the impact, the one year to make the change look most drastic, essentially. . . .  I’m pretty sure they saw 2013 at the bottom, and said, “We’re going to pick that.”

The same CBC article goes on to quote University of Ottawa criminologist Holly Johnson, who specializes in methodologies of crime and coordinated surveys of violence and crime for Statistics Canada and the UN. She said:

"I do not know the motivation or reasoning behind it, but certainly choosing the lowest rate in decades of data would suggest there’s a reason for that, trying to make a point of some sort. . . . [However,] a few years does not make a trend."

Indeed, colleagues, if you take a closer look at the stats, you will find that the four-year bump in crimes involving firearms is reflective of an overall increase in crime, as noted by Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index. If you look at the homicide stats by themselves, you might be concerned; however, when you consider the context that all crime has increased, it tells us that something larger is going on that isn’t going to be solved by simply adding additional layers of gun regulation.

So what is going on? Why did crime rise consistently and significantly during the 1960s and early 1970s but then start to fall? What happened in the last few years that has caused an interruption in this decline?

In 2005 Statistics Canada decided to take a look at this question. They released a study entitled Exploring Crime Patterns in Canada, in which they examined patterns of crime between 1962 and 2003, with a particular focus on the decline of crime throughout the 1990s. They noted that there had been significant declines in property crime, robberies, homicides involving firearms, and homicides overall. What they found is not a simple one-size-fits-all answer. They noted that different crimes are influenced by different factors.

For example, financially motivated crime was influenced by shifts in the economy. Years with higher rates of inflation tend to have higher rates of financially motivated theft.

Property crimes, such as break and enter, were found to be strongly correlated with demographic changes, specifically the age composition of the population. Quite simply, they found that the more 15- to 24-year-olds you have in your population, the more B&Es you have.

When it came to homicide rates, they made another interesting discovery. They found that "this model indicates there is a positive relationship between homicide and unemployment rates and rates of per capita alcohol consumption, such that when rates of unemployment increase or decrease, there is a corresponding change in homicide rates in the same direction. Similarly, when rates of per capita alcohol consumption increase or decrease, there is a corresponding change in rates of homicide in the same direction."

Now, nobody is suggesting that these are the only things that impact the homicide rate. There are no doubt other factors, which will continue to be discovered through research and observation. However, it is clear that different crimes are influenced by different social and economic factors.

This brings us to the more recent bump in crime rates in general, and gun crime specifically. What is going on here?

Well, there is little mystery. Statistics Canada has been sounding the alarm over the past few years that the rate of homicide and gun crime in Canada is being significantly impacted by criminal gangs and gang violence. This came up again in their most recent report, Homicide in Canada, 2017. Released just two weeks ago, they noted that "after declining from 2009 to 2014, the gang-related homicide rate has increased for three consecutive years."

This rate has doubled since 2015 and is now at its highest level since StatsCan started tracking this data in 2005. Gang-related homicides now represent one quarter of all homicides in Canada.

Furthermore, StatsCan has told us over and over again that, "compared to other types of homicide, gang-related homicides more often involve guns."

Seventy-eight per cent of gang-related homicides in Canada were committed with a firearm, usually a handgun, compared to 27 per cent for homicides that were not related to gang activity. The problem could not be clearer. These are not law-abiding gun owners. This is predominantly criminals and gangs.

Read Statistics Canada’s report for yourselves and you will see they set it out in black and white:

"A criminal past is common for both persons accused of homicide and victims [of homicide]."

They note that in 2017, two thirds of adults accused of homicide had a criminal record — two thirds — and over half of the adult homicide victims had a Canadian criminal record. In other words, colleagues, the lion’s share of our gun crime problem is criminals killing criminals and using guns to do it.

Do we care about that? Yes, absolutely, but will passing legislation that introduces more gun regulations on law-abiding gun owners change a thing? No, it will not. Criminals do not care about gun laws. Gang members do not walk into a store to buy a gun that they plan to use to kill someone. This may come as a shock to some senators, but they usually do not have a licence. And after the Liberals pass this legislation, which they most certainly will do, gun-carrying gang members are not going to call their firearms officer to get authorization to transport their firearms. They do not care about double-locking their guns when they transport them, and I highly doubt that they place them in the trunk of their car.

The more you learn about what is actually going on and the more you look at what this bill proposes, the more absurd it becomes. It plays to the emotions of Canadians and provides false comfort to those who do not like guns. It does absolutely nothing to achieve what it’s supposed to do.

Now, perhaps you’re listening to my remarks with a degree of skepticism because you believe that the Liberal government is only pushing this bill out of their concern for the latest gun crime numbers. Well, senators, let me point something out. This bill was promised to Canadians during the 2015 election. During that election, the latest numbers on gun crime showed the homicide rate at its lowest level in almost 50 years. We had not even hit the four-year bump in homicides yet. By the time the homicide stats for 2014 were released, it was November 25, 2015, a full month after the Liberals had been in office. And even those stats in 2013-14 had the lowest homicide rates since 1966.

My point is this: The Liberals determination to re-implement gun control has nothing to do with an increase in homicides or gun crime. When it comes to gun control, they do not care if the numbers are going up or down or moving at all. They are determined to push this useless legislation through because they are playing a political game instead of addressing the real issues.

That, my friends, is tragic. Canadians are being manipulated and fed false information in order to shore up support for this bill.

Let me give you another example in his second reading speech where Senator Pratte said the following:

"According to data provided by Statistics Canada, over the last 10 years, no fewer than 169 gun homicides were committed by licensed firearm owners."

This was repeated a couple of weeks ago by Senator Coyle. But it doesn’t matter how many times it is repeated; it remains patently false.

The statistic Senator Pratte referred to was not for individuals who committed homicide but individuals who either were or just might be charged with homicide — 169 licensed gun owners charged or possibly charged with homicide over 10 years. Okay, that’s about 17 people a year out of more than 2 million legal gun owners.

But wait, the number is even smaller than that. Over the last 10 years, an average 42 per cent of people charged with homicide were cleared of those charges, so now we’re somewhere down between 8 or 9 people per year.

But there’s another thing. At the bottom of the spreadsheet that Senator Pratte relied upon, there’s a note by StatsCan researchers, and here’s what it says:

"Due to the high portion of firearm-related homicide victims for which there is no charged [person] identified, and relatively high portion of firearms licensing status reported as unknown, data related to firearm licensing of the charged [person] should be interpreted with caution."

In other words, do not do what our friend Senator Pratte did and try to build a case on these numbers. You might just be building on sand.

If you really want to build a case against licensed gun owners, you should be looking at how many people are being charged under the Firearms Act. That is, after all, the act that Bill C-71 is amending.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of a case there either. In 2017, this rate was the lowest it has been since 2001 and has been trending downwards for over 15 years. Even the federal government admits on the website of Public Safety Canada that:

"The vast majority of owners of handguns and of other firearms in Canada lawfully abide by requirements, and most gun crimes are not committed with legally-owned firearms."

Colleagues, there is simply no case to build against licensed firearm owners. It’s all smoke and mirrors. If you want to reduce homicides, you’d be more effective targeting knives. Between 2007 and 2016, more homicides were committed by stabbing than by firearms in 7 out of 10 of those years. And the use of knives in homicides has been trending upwards since 1974, while the use of guns has been trending downwards.

The inconvenient truth is that knives are a bigger menace the firearms. In fact, firearms are not nearly as common in violent crimes as you might think. In 2016, there were 265,555 reported instances of violent crime.  97.3 per cent of the time no firearm was involved. When a firearm was present, it was a handgun 1.6 per cent of the time and a long gun 0.47 per cent of the time — less than one half of a per cent.

Now, if gun control worked, it should be long guns used more often in crimes than handguns because handguns, colleagues, have been registered in Canada since 1935. Apparently, the criminals never got the memo that they need to register their guns and follow all the firearms regulations.

Colleagues, a number of speakers have suggested that law-abiding gun owners should be willing to endure a bit of inconvenience that Bill C-71 will cause them in order to facilitate the greater public good. Let me assure you, if there was any truth to the suggestion that Bill C-71 would contribute to public good, gun owners would be more than willing to adapt. The problem is there is no evidence that this bill will have any positive impact on gun crime but could have significant impact on legal gun owners.

Let me quickly list five ways this legislation will impact legal gun owners, as detailed by gun owners themselves in “The Bill C-71 Book.”

First, licence revocation. Because background checks are being expanded to cover the entire lives, some gun owners could have their Possession and Acquisition Licence revoked when something from a distant past surfaces. Even if they have had a spotless record of firearm ownership, some incident from decades ago could come back to haunt legal gun owners and they will no longer be eligible for a licence.

Second, confiscation. This bill will result in an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 “non-restricted” and “restricted” rifles being reclassified as “prohibited.”

Remember, these firearms are currently legally owned, legally stored and have never been used in the commission of a crime. They were purchased in good faith, according to the law. Yet, they will be reclassified as prohibited and potentially confiscated when their current owners die, with no reimbursement to the family or to the estate.

Number three, criminalization. This bill will enable the potential criminalization of an estimated 15,000 honest people when their firearms are suddenly reclassified to prohibited. Since there is no registry for non-restricted firearms, there is no way to contact firearm owners to notify them that their rifle is now prohibited. This means that some owners may not learn their guns are now illegal until they are arrested, charged and must defend themselves in a court of law.

Fourth, no political oversight. This bill removes the government’s ability to overrule RCMP firearm classification errors, giving a significant amount of power to the police. This measure is being sold to Canadians as the depoliticization of guns, but what it really does is remove political accountability. Decisions to reclassify firearms will strip Canadian citizens of their property and should not be made without political oversight.

Fifth, registration and connection tracking. This bill makes it a crime to buy, sell or give away a firearm without authorization and a reference number from the RCMP registrar of firearms. Owners of a non-restricted firearm must get permission to sell their rifle or shotgun by providing their PAL number — Possession and Acquisition Licence number — to the RCMP. The RCMP must be notified, even if the sale is not completed, creating a connections registry of whom gun owners talk to about transferring guns.

I know that the government and Senator Pratte have tried to drill into you that this is not a firearms registry, but it is. It just isn’t a centralized registry yet.

Gun owners are concerned that it has all the capabilities of becoming one in a flash, however. They note that, under this bill, firearm retailers must create, manage and keep a registry of licensed buyers of non-restricted firearms and of the firearms they bought for at least 20 years. They will run the registry on behalf of the government, and if a business shuts down, it must surrender the records to the authorities. What part of that doesn’t sound like the basis of a registry, colleagues?

You cannot blame firearms owners for being concerned. In spite of this government’s promise that they are not going to introduce a long-gun registry, and in spite of the fact that a basically meaningless clause was inserted in the bill saying it is not a registry, the Liberal government still loves the idea of registering all hunting rifles and shotguns of law-abiding Canadians.

How do we know this? Because in Bill C-71, they are not just implementing all the machinery necessary to collect registry information, they are also giving provincial governments, and most immediately the Quebec government, access to the data captured by the previous long-gun registry. Even though the Supreme Court ruled that the data could be destroyed, this Liberal government is keeping it.

While, on the one hand, they say they are opposed to a registry, on the other hand, they are pulling the cloak off the registry data collected by their former Liberal colleagues. This gives gun owners little confidence that the Trudeau government will keep its word and not transform the records into a full-blown registry.

Colleagues, I do not have time to address all the problems with this legislation, but I need to put one more on the record.

Counter to all common sense, this legislation introduces absurd new procedures for transporting a restricted firearm. This is probably the most criticized part of this bill, and it’s called the Authorization to Transport, or ATT for short.

ATTs are not new. They are already required for transporting a restricted firearm to certain places. In the past when you were given a gun licence for a restricted firearm like a handgun, this licence allowed you to transport your gun to certain places, six to be exact. These were: First, home and shooting range in the same province.

Second, police station or Chief Firearms Officer for verification, registration or disposal.

Third, gunsmith for repair or gun store for the purposes of appraisal or sale.

Fourth, a gun show.

Fifth, a border point such as a border crossing or international airport.

Sixth, from where you purchase a firearm to your home.

Transporting your restricted firearm to these places and for these purposes was permitted as a licence condition, and the gun owner didn’t have to obtain a separate authorization to transport each time a trip was taken.

Now, bear in mind that in order to transport your firearm, it had to be double-locked. This means there’s a trigger lock on the gun, and the gun is then placed in a locked case.

We are not talking about someone dropping a handgun in the glove box and heading off to the range. We are talking about taking serious safety precautions in order to transport your firearm legally.

The existing authorizations have been working fine, but for some reason in its infinite wisdom, this government has decided to make changes. Under Bill C-71, a legal gun owner will still be able to take their handgun home after they buy it, and they can take it to the shooting range and home again within the same province. But if you drive across the province to a shooting range and then your gun jams, you can’t even take it to the gunsmith. You must first contact the provincial firearms officer and get permission.

What on earth is this supposed to accomplish, and how exactly does this reduce gun violence? If anything, it reduces gun safety by erecting roadblocks to the timely repair and maintenance of firearms.

Colleagues, let me very briefly address one other concern about guns and that is suicide. Suicide is a horrible thing. It steals people from their loved ones at a time when they are the most vulnerable and helpless. But if we think more gun regulations are the answer, we are not fooling anyone. We are also failing those who desperately need our help at a time they need it the most.

I wholeheartedly agree with Senator McCallum when she said in her speech that, "suicide will remain wholly unaddressed with this legislation... simply regulating access to firearms will not deter this prevalent form of gun violence."

It is true that in 1998, the Department of Justice did a study into this very issue, and this is what they had to say:

"The observed correlation between firearm availability and suicide in general is not as solid as some might expect. In Canada, provincial comparisons of firearm ownership levels and overall rates of suicide found that levels of firearm ownership had no correlation with regional suicide rates. Furthermore, the Canadian rate of firearm suicides has dropped without evidence of a similar reduction in the rate of firearm ownership."

This trend continues. According to StatsCan, the use of firearms in suicides had been steadily dropping since the turn of the century. In 2000, one in five people who committed suicide used a firearm. In 2016, it was one in six. There is simply no correlation between legal firearm ownership and the rate of suicide.

Senators, in closing, let me just repeat that if public safety is our priority, then we should make sure we understand what is going on and take steps that will address the real problem. This government and this bill fails miserably on both of these counts. As licensed gun owners have pointed out, the government has not provided a single example of how Bill C-71 could prevent violent crime or strengthen public safety.

To make matters worse, this government’s record on crime and public safety is a joke. Under Bill C-75, they want to reduce sentences for crimes such as gang activity, child abduction, impaired driving causing bodily harm, administering of the date-rape drug, advocating genocide, participating in a terrorist group and many more. At the same time, they are welcoming known ISIS fighters back to Canada with open arms, claiming they can be "an extraordinarily powerful voice in our country." This is the same government that thinks you can fight gun violence by forcing licenced, safety-certified, law-abiding gun owners to jump through more hoops.

Colleagues, I will not be voting in favour of this bill — if you thought there was any doubt. While you may not be surprised by this, colleagues, I was surprised to read in the Canadian Press that, according to our good friend Senator Pratte, independent senators will be supporting this bill. And he says the Conservatives will be opposing it. Now, I’m not sure who appointed him your spokesperson, but you’ve heard it in the Canadian Press.

I’m not sure when Senator Pratte was appointed to speak for the Independent Senators Group. I thought being independent meant you made your own decision on what position you take. It baffles me how the Trudeau appointees cannot see the absurdity in constantly asserting that they are independent but repeatedly voting together as a block.

Honourable senators, I urge you to carefully look at this bill before supporting it. It fails to achieve its objectives, imposes unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and deserves to be defeated. Thank you.

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