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Bill to Amend Certain Acts and to Make Certain Consequential Amendments (Firearms)

Time Allocation--Motion Adopted

December 13, 2023

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

I left off by saying I had given you several quotes from ghosts of the Liberal Senate past. Now I want to give you a quote from a senator who ended his career here with the Progressive Senate Group, or PSG. In 2012, Senator Dawson said:

Parliamentarians are supposed to debate the government’s proposed legislation. They are not supposed to rubber-stamp measures proposed by public servants or the executive. They are supposed to carefully consider the measures, talk about them, amend them, study them and ensure that taxpayers’ concerns have been fully expressed.

What Senator Gold is doing here tonight is ramming Bill C-21 through and cutting off debate. This is an affront to our job as senators. We are not here to govern. We are here to hold to account those who do. To do that, we need the ability to debate legislation and propose amendments.

Senator Gold’s motion would not only restrict our ability to debate; it means none of you can present amendments. I repeat: The government is doing that while 90 senators have not spoken to the bill. This means 90 senators have been stripped of their right to present an amendment and no longer have the ability to try to improve this flawed bill.

Not only does time allocation take away the right of senators to speak on this bill, it silences the voices of all those whom the government failed to consult. If we vote in favour of this motion and allow it to pass, then we are complicit with the government’s clear intent to silence those who need to be heard.

Colleagues, as you know, stakeholders cannot walk into this chamber and make their views known. We are here to represent them. We are required to protect the voices of Canadians who would otherwise not be heard. Today, that is gun owners.

Whether you agree with this bill or not, you should support the rights of stakeholders to be heard. This motion removes that. It silences all of those voices before they are heard.

Senator Boisvenu put it well when he said:

. . . I will address one of the most obvious things that’s missing from the current version of Bill C-21, something that’s at the root of all the problems with this bill. This flaw is due to the fact that the government held almost no consultations while drafting this bill.

Senator Boisvenu went on to give example after example of the government’s failure to consult.

The Indigenous peoples were not consulted.

Paul Irngaut, Vice-President of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, said:

We understand that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization commonly known as ITK, had received a briefing of the most recent version of the bill shortly before it was tabled in May. However, neither ITK nor NTI has been fully consulted on the language and impacts of the bill.

Jessica Lazare, Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said, “We only had one meeting and that wasn’t necessarily an adequate consultation, so I wouldn’t consider it consultation whatsoever.”

The government also failed to consult with sport shooters.

Sandra Honour, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Shooting Federation of Canada, said:

The Shooting Federation of Canada was not asked to participate in the committee that discussed Bill C-21, nor did we have letters answered to us after we wrote to the minister several times to request.

I have no confidence in the minister.

We heard yesterday from Senator Deacon; she all of a sudden renewed her confidence in the minister that he promised her something. He promised us that he had consulted.

Gilbert White, Chairperson of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation recreational firearm community, said, “The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation was not consulted.”

When asked if his organization had been consulted, Doug Chiasson, Executive Director of the Fur Institute of Canada, said, “No, we were not.”

Colleagues, the list goes on. The views of Canadians impacted by this legislation were not sought and, when they spoke up to say no, they were shut out. By cutting off debate, we are silencing them once again.

Let me quote, once again, the Leader of the Opposition at the time, a member of the Justin Trudeau Liberal caucus, Jim Cowan, from March 2012:

We all know that this bill is contentious, and we have all received hundreds of emails and other communications from very concerned Canadians — asking us — pleading with us — to reflect carefully on the proposals in this bill.

How insulting to these people to then invoke closure, to shut down debate, to limit it to the maximum degree possible, and to do so immediately . . .

Colleagues, you have no idea how many emails we have received asking us to do exactly the same thing. This applies perfectly here with Bill C-21.

Since 2016, we have heard over and over how the Trudeau senators are independent. Their voting record is with the government 96% of the time, but they are independent. They sponsor government legislation, but they are independent. The vote on this motion will be another test of this independence.

We have to remember, colleagues, that debate is not simply trying to convince one another to vote a certain way. Debate is part of a process of ensuring that, before we make a final decision on a bill, we have fully considered the issue; that we have taken the time to listen and consider all voices on the issue, not just those that agree with us.

The government has not done that. Now, through this motion, the government wants to prevent us from doing that. That is unfortunate.

The Senate of Canada serves as an integral component of the nation’s legislative process, with one of its key roles being the representation of marginalized, under-represented voices. This function is crucial in ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach to governance.

The Senate acts as a platform where interests and concerns of minority groups, individuals in remote or less-populated regions and those whose voices are often overlooked in the political arena are brought to the forefront. The importance of this role cannot be overstated.

In a diverse country like Canada, there are a myriad of perspectives and issues that may not always find adequate representation in the more politically driven House of Commons.

The Senate’s mandate to listen and give voice to these less‑heard segments of the population is a cornerstone of its existence. The process of consultation is vital in this context. The Senate’s effectiveness in representing these groups hinges on its ability to actively engage with them, understand their concerns and reflect these in the legislative process.

Through consultations, the Senate gathers insights and viewpoints that are essential in crafting laws and policies that are equitable and inclusive.

Believe it or not, colleagues, this role of the Senate of Canada becomes particularly significant in the context of debates over issues like gun control, where diverse viewpoints need to be heard and considered. Gun control is a contentious issue in Canada, encompassing a wide range of perspectives, from public safety concerns to the rights of gun owners.

While the primary focus often lies on enhancing public safety and reducing gun violence, it is essential to recognize that lawful gun owners also represent a significant segment of the Canadian populace. These individuals include hunters, sport shooters and rural residents for whom firearms are a part of their lifestyle and culture.

Whether you agree with them or not, the Senate’s role in representing gun owners is vital. By ensuring that their voices and concerns are heard in the legislative process, the Senate contributes to a more balanced and comprehensive discussion.

This motion to cut off debate strikes to the core of the Senate’s role of representing the voices of the unheard. This is regrettable, colleagues. We should not approve this motion.

Let me reflect for a few moments.

The fact that we got this bill as late as we did is not our fault; it’s the government’s fault. They didn’t give us the opportunity.

We are going to receive a few more bills this week. We don’t know when, because the government leader doesn’t know when.

Today in the other place, we are waiting for a bill in this chamber — concerning the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement — that we don’t have. Our government leader says we have to pass that before we go home for Christmas. We don’t have the bill.

Today, when the government had the opportunity to present that bill, what did they do? They called Bill C-58, the scab workers legislation, to send it to committee, to sit at committee until February when they come back and do nothing, instead of bringing Bill C-57, concerning the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement, to the forefront so we can have it.

What’s going to happen at the end of the week when we receive that bill, and we want to do proper debate and send it to committee? We’re going to have the government leader say, “No, we’re out of here next week on Wednesday, and I’ll bring time allocation.” He’s going to come in here and say, “I spoke to the Leader of the Opposition, and I told him I was doing time allocation,” — not that I consulted; I told him I was going to do time allocation.

These people in the other place — this government — can’t organize a two-car parade over there, and then they send this to us on their way out the door. That’s what is going to happen, colleagues. They’re going for Christmas on Friday, trust me, and they’re going to send it on the way out the door: Senate, deal with it. The government leader is going to say, “We’re not going home until we deal with it. Can you give me leave?”

I have a feeling my friends over in the far corner, where they’re hard to recognize some days, are going to say, “No, we’re not giving leave.” So there we are. I would give leave — I know that — but they won’t.

So there we are. We’re going to have to be here, and then we’re going to have time allocation. We’re going to cut off debate, and Canadians won’t have the right.

Colleagues, we heard earlier today when this bill came to us — and let me just refresh your memory about when we got this bill. We received the bill on May 18. Senator Yussuff spoke on May 31. I spoke on June 21, which was three weeks later. I think there were eight speakers in between. The first committee meeting was on October 4. Of course, on June 21, we went home for the summer break. On October 4, we came back for consideration of a draft agenda. We went through the committee meetings, as agreed, with the entire committee. We weren’t holding anything up. Yes, we presented amendments, but we had all the committee meetings.

I think December 5 was the date that we agreed when it was brought into the chamber for the report. Senator Yussuff spoke on the December 6. Here we are on December 15.

I spoke yesterday. I wasn’t in my seat when Senator Gold jumped up with “I’m now doing time allocation,” cutting off every opportunity. I am beside myself with trying to work with this government to try to move legislation forward — not pass legislation, but move legislation forward — that the people in the other place cannot organize; they can’t get us legislation. This bill languished in the other place for a year, colleagues. This is not a money bill. Nobody is going to go hungry at Christmastime if this bill isn’t passed.

We all know that, in due course, the government members — 60- or 70-some government members in this chamber — are going to pass this bill. We understand that and we accept that, but why the hurry? What’s going to happen if we come back February 5, and we continue another couple of weeks of debate on this bill? The government can do everything through regulation; they’re already doing it. They can continue to do all of it through regulation, but no, we’re being told to cut off debate.

Then the leader says, “We have done thorough debate.” How is that thorough debate? I think there are four speakers tonight, at least so far, who would like to speak to the main bill when we have our six hours later on sometime. There might be more, but they have to do it tonight because debate has been cut off. Now they have to get their comments on record.

It’s just unfair. This has happened before. As Senator Gold said, this is the second time in this particular government’s history here that they have done time allocation. The last one was done with no consultation with the opposition — none — and the Speaker devised a way of calling Senator Gold, the Leader of the Government — he refuses to accept that styling. He says, “I am not the Leader of the Government.” Yet, Senator Gold has to be in order to do what he did tonight, honourable senators.

I challenge you, Your Honour, to ask this leader to at least admit that he is the Leader of the Government — he is the leader of a registered party; he is the leader of the Liberal government of Canada — if he wants to do this. If he does that and stands in this chamber, Your Honour, and says, “I am the leader of the Liberal government, and I invoke closure,” I will vote for it. I will vote for it.

Senator Plett [ + ]

But he won’t do that. Why? He is embarrassed. I would be embarrassed, too; I wouldn’t want to call myself leader of that government, either. I’m proud to be the Leader of the Conservative Senate caucus.

Your Honour, I am going to ask at the end that we certainly vote against this. I’m going to ask you to rule against it, but I should have started my speech in a different manner if I wanted you to do that. I challenge Your Honour and everybody in this place to ask the honourable senator to call himself what he needs to be in order to move this.

Thank you very much, colleagues.

Hon. Peter Harder [ + ]

Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator Harder [ + ]

I know there’s very little time left, but in the four years of the last majority government, how many times was time allocation invoked?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Many times. If you had paid any attention to my speech, you would have heard how many times Senator Cowan said we had done it. I have no issue. I said here, Senator Harder, that I will support it if he admits who he is. He has every right to invoke time allocation if he is the Leader of the Government. He doesn’t admit that he is Leader of the Government.

Senator Harder [ + ]

It was 24 times, colleagues.

How many amendments were introduced and accepted in that government?

Senator Plett [ + ]

We were part of the caucus. I’m not sure where you’re going with that.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Plett, did you want five more minutes? Very well.

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain [ + ]

Honourable senators, I will not speak to the merits or the issues of Bill C-21. The debate has happened and will continue to happen for an additional six hours, in accordance with the motion, if passed.

However, I will take this opportunity to highlight the many senators who have spoken on the bill, in favour or against. I will simply explain why the time allocation motion brought forward by the government representative is warranted and needed at this time.

In my view, Bill C-21 has been thoroughly studied for nearly two years in Parliament and it is acceptable at this point to set a limit and circumscribe the amount of time devoted to the debate on this government bill. Without the government’s exceptional use — and I emphasize the word “exceptional” — of this tool, which, as Senator Gold pointed out, is being used for only the second time since 2015, I fear that this bill will be the target of delaying tactics for the purpose of blocking its passage.

Reassure me, Senator Carignan, because I am genuinely concerned.

Before the House adjourned for the summer on June 24, 2014, the Conservative government managed to pass their seventy-fifth motion since they were in power. They did so on time allocation. I look at the issue of Hansard from June 29, 2012 — time allocation has then been used seven times in the past seven months. That is one time allocation per month.

I do believe that the House of Commons has also very thoroughly studied Bill C-21. It was introduced in the other place on May 30, 2022 — around one year and seven months ago. It proceeded through the different steps at the House for around one year and was adopted at third reading in May 2023, which is when we received it. Eighteen meetings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security took place in order to study the bill between October 2022 and May 2023. At the third reading vote, the bill had the support of the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Green Party — that is the majority of the elected parliamentarians.

Now I will speak about the Senate: The bill was also studied thoroughly in the Senate. It was received in May 2023. It was debated during six different sittings at second reading. The Standing Senate Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs had 12 meetings on Bill C-21, where they heard from 66 witnesses. The witnesses included the following: the Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs; federal officials from relevant departments and agencies; academic researchers and individuals appearing on their own behalf; selected provincial chief firearms officers; and representatives of advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations and Indigenous organizations and governments, as well as law enforcement agencies. The committee also received 34 briefs from organizations and individuals — some of whom did not appear as witnesses.

Today is our fifth day debating this bill at third reading. Colleagues, I believe we can say, without a doubt, that this bill has — so far — received the necessary amount of scrutiny and sober second thought. Every senator has had the time and opportunity, if he or she so wished, to hear from others and look at this bill in order to form their own idea on the content and how they should vote.

I now have a few words on the Salisbury Convention.

Firearms regulations have been part of the electoral platform of the Liberal Party since their accession to government in 2015. It was also a key part of their electoral platforms for the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. It is part of a multi-layered approach that has included a buyback program for firearms owners and a previous bill — Bill C-71 — which received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. As such, we are in a situation in which the Salisbury Convention clearly applies. It is our duty to consider the will of the elected chamber.

Now I will say a few words on the political context surrounding Bill C-21. The Conservative Party has expressed a strong opposition to Bill C-21, both in the House and in the Senate. They have promised to delay this bill, which is part of the government platform and supported by all other parties in the other place — as I’ve already demonstrated — at all costs.

In his speech at second reading on June 21, 2023, Senator Plett, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, made it perfectly clear:

 . . . having personally reviewed the very negative implications of this bill, I wish to say that since the last speaker in this chamber spoke on the bill literally two minutes ago, I have now officially begun to delay Bill C-21. So let there be no question, and let the minister know so the minister and his parliamentary secretary can mark that in their calendars for future reference.

As such, colleagues, I believe that a time allocation motion is the only common sense solution for Bill C-21 to see the light of a third reading vote in the Senate. This motion as well as this bill finally getting to a vote at third reading is in the interest of Canadians. It is the will of the elected House and the wish of the Canadian people.

The status quo is no longer sustainable. Let’s vote for respecting the democratic process, and vote for Motion No. 150.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

Thank you, Your Honour. I am very familiar with this motion.

Honourable senators, I wish to speak to the time allocation motion moved by the government.

This motion is based on our rule 7, which states, and I quote:

7-2. (1)At any time during a sitting, the Leader or the Deputy Leader of the Government may state that the representatives of the recognized parties have failed to agree to allocate time to conclude an adjourned debate on either:

(a) any stage of consideration of a government bill, including the committee stage; or

(b) another item of Government Business.

This rule has not been used very often in the past few years, but it should be explained for the benefit of our many new colleagues in this chamber.

The 2015 edition of Senate Procedure in Practice provides a very clear explanation beginning on page 106. It states, and I quote:

Time allocation establishes a limit on the time that can be spent to debate an item of Government Business. It is primarily used to allot time for the study of government bills . . . . Only the government can propose time allocation and only for its own business.

In summary, when the government wants to end the study of a matter before the Senate, it usually tries to negotiate with the recognized parties to reach an agreement on organizing our work and allowing the Senate to fulfill its role as the chamber of sober second thought.

As you know, honourable senators, the unique feature of the Senate is that it serves as a place for reflection, not totally free from partisanship, but to a much lesser extent than in the other place. Generally speaking, the Senate offers fora for discussion, whether in the chamber itself or in committee, where we can engage in sober second thought. That is why we usually organize our work by consensus, with each group getting the space it needs to assert its priorities.

There are several characteristics that set the Senate apart from the other place. In this chamber, discussions are generally calmer, and studies are more exhaustive. I like to say that we approach our work like a council of the wise.

The study of Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other acts, which was passed in the Senate on June 7, 2018, was a prime example of a respectful study by all senators.

Colleagues, those of you who were here at the time will remember how emotionally charged the debate on that bill was. Public opinion was extremely polarized, and this was reflected in the Senate. That bill was going to profoundly change the body of Canadian legislation regarding the legalization of cannabis. Still, the Senate organized this debate in a perfectly civilized way, even setting aside days to address specific issues, such as youth, mental health, the economy and the black market. The leaders of the various parties represented in the Senate agreed on a course of action.

What happens when it seems like an agreement is out of reach? That’s when the government, and only the government, can introduce a time allocation motion to limit debate on an item of government business.

Going back to Senate Procedure in Practice, page 109 reads, and I quote:

Time allocation does not take effect until the Senate adopts a motion to allocate time, which is debated during Orders of the Day under “Government Motions.” . . . Time for debate on the motion is limited to a maximum of two and one-half hours, after which the Speaker must put the question.

That, honourable senators, is the framework for a time allocation motion. It is a legitimate tool provided for in our Rules, but I believe that it should be used sparingly. It should be used to break a procedural deadlock, not to silence and muzzle senators who still have relevant points to make, and it should be used to resolve serious issues.

When I was Leader of the Government in the Senate, there were times when I used this measure, but I never abused it. Quite frankly, it is a drastic way of cutting short debate and thus limiting senators’ right to speak, which is not something that we generally want to do in the upper chamber.

Whenever I introduced such a motion, what was the reaction of the official opposition, made up of Liberal senators, who were still welcome in the Liberal Party of Canada at the time? Allow me to quote Senator Claudette Tardif, who was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for the Liberal Party in 2013. I’m quoting from a speech she gave on November 4, 2013, regarding a time allocation motion. She said, and I quote:

The government is trying with all its might to hastily impose sanctions by bringing in this time allocation motion. . . . it is also denying the senators the right to speak by cutting short the debate. We cannot claim to be fulfilling our mandate of sober second thought and objective review if such limits are imposed when senators oppose the will of the government.

 . . . I do hope that other senators opposite will carefully consider the closure motion that they are being asked to support today. I believe that the government is doing a disservice to the institution we represent by doing things this way. I must oppose this time allocation motion, and I would encourage all honourable senators to do so.

Honourable colleagues, I want to ask you the following question. Does Bill C-21 present us with an issue so serious that, as Senator Tardif said, we should deny senators the right to speak by cutting short the debate? Should we prevent senators from doing the work that Canadians pay us so handsomely to do?

I said at the beginning of my speech that time allocation should be used sparingly, and I would argue that now is not an appropriate time to use it. Several witnesses pointed out in committee that Bill C-21, in its current form, is too soft on gun violence.

I presented amendments at the National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs Committee that would definitely have improved Bill C-21, but the non-Conservative senators voted as a group to reject them. It is troubling that so-called independent senators all think the same way.

In light of this observation, one last thought came to my mind after learning that the government had decided to use time allocation to pass this bill. Usually, a government that resorts to this tool is confident that its motion will be adopted. Otherwise, why would it deliberately risk a rebuff?

Today, how can the government be sure that it can get a time allocation motion adopted and, most of all, why?

Leader, this motion is completely unnecessary because, of the senators who wanted to speak during the debate on this motion specifically, only a few wished to comment. I am willing to bet that the six-hour debate will likely last an hour or two at most, proving that this motion is being abused. Leader, that is what I would describe as kicking down a door instead of turning the handle to open it.

That is the choice you have made, a choice I consider abusive under the circumstances, because the coming debate will clearly last an hour at most, not six. This proves that it is pointless to use this motion.

Thank you, honourable senators.

Senator Harder [ + ]

Is the senator prepared to take a question?

Of course.

Senator Harder [ + ]

As the author of 24 time allocations, perhaps you could remind everyone here of the time you introduced time allocation at the same time the bill was introduced.

I am so happy you asked me that question, and I see Senator Ringuette clapping very loudly and enthusiastically. I can’t — if I may, I must answer this question, so I will ask for another minute.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is leave granted?

I would remind you that we had some mischievous Liberal senators here at the time. They took pleasure in getting us to the point where we had to move a time allocation motion so that they could then claim that mean old Prime Minister Harper, in the other place, was being very authoritarian and anti-democratic. That is why there were so many time allocation motions. It was a strategy used by my friends, Senators Cowan, Tardif, Ringuette, Fraser and others.

Senator Harder [ + ]

Did you take dancing lessons from Senator Plett?

The time has expired.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

You still have 10 seconds to respond.

My throat is sore.

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald [ + ]

Honourable colleagues, I rise to speak on the government’s motion to impose time allocation cutting off debate on Bill C-21. Before I go to my prepared remarks, I want to say a few words about gun issues in general.

I am a person who has never had much interest in guns. I grew up in a house where there were always the same four guns: a .32 Special — a rifle — a 10-gauge, a 16-gauge and a .22. My father and one of my brothers hunted. I wasn’t interested in hunting.

The first time I went after animals of any sort, I was 10 years old. My grandfather taught me how to tie rabbit snares. That was great until the day I went out and found a couple of rabbits in the snares, with their eyes popping out and their tongues hanging out. That was enough rabbit hunting for me.

Once, when I was about 12, my father took me out hunting. A big beautiful buck came out into the clearing; I screeched and the buck took off. That was the last time my father took me hunting.

I was never much for shooting animals or hunting, but I had a lot of friends who hunted. I like venison. If people showed up with venison, I was more than willing to eat it. My father knew how to prepare venison. I am not against hunting and people handling long guns.

I remember back in the 1990s, when Allan Rock, with the Chrétien government, brought in the gun registry. We were assured it would cost $2 million. It cost $2 billion. We know what it accomplished: absolutely nothing. It was just a big expensive bureaucracy that accomplished nothing but picking on lawful gun owners.

We also know that we are susceptible to media. We see some of the extreme things that occur in the U.S., but we have a different gun culture in Canada. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. I think we should respect that gun culture. I think we are fairly modest when it comes to dealing with these issues.

I have no stake in gun issues, because I have no interest in guns. I put guns in the same category as motorcycles and skydiving; I would just as soon avoid them. It is not something I am interested in. But I am interested in treating law-abiding citizens properly.

In this country, we’ve had the regulation and registration of handguns since the 1930s. We’ve always been fairly responsible when it comes to handguns. We also know that in this country, 96% of the firearm-related charges that were laid against unlicensed criminals were for the illegal possession of firearms. It was always unlicensed criminals with illegal firearms, and we know that almost 96% of the illegal handguns in this country are brought across the Canada-U.S. border.

I’m not sure what this bill is going to solve, but I think it is very unfair to the law-abiding gun owners of this country.

We see the government bringing up time allocation. I am disappointed but not particularly surprised with this motion since it is perfectly in keeping with how the government has approached this entire bill.

The Senate committee reviewing this bill met for 12 meetings and heard from dozens of witnesses, most of whom opposed the bill and many of whom suggested important amendments. Yet, not one amendment was supported by the government majority in this committee.

The entire review of Bill C-21 in committee turned out to be little more than a sham. The witnesses who took the time to appear, and who offered detailed proposals for amendments, fundamentally wasted their time, and now the government is imposing time allocation. That means that important issues that have not yet been touched on by this chamber in relation to the bill will simply be ignored.

I want to touch on just one of those issues, concerning the so-called red flag provisions in the bill.

The red flag provisions in Bill C-21 will permit any individual to make an application to the court for an emergency firearm prohibition order to immediately remove firearms for up to 30 days from any individual whom they believe may pose a danger to themselves or to others.

It also permits an application to be made for the removal of firearms from an individual whom they believe may be at risk of providing access to firearms to another person who is already subject to a firearms prohibition order.

What does this provision actually add to the current law? That is something that we as senators should actually take the time to understand.

The reality is that, as witnesses at committee stated, the police already have full authority to remove firearms from any individual whom they believe may pose a public safety threat. The police can do this without issuing a warrant.

Right now, any individual has the ability to call the police, or the Chief Firearms Officer, or CFO, of their province and raise public safety concerns. The police or CFO then responds to such concerns.

The government argues that these new provisions in Bill C-21 will add “another tool to the tool box,” enabling citizens to go through the courts if they so choose.

But we really need to ask ourselves who is going to take days, weeks or months to go to the court when they can just call the police?

We are told that there are certain circumstances where the police may not act. They may reject complaints that have been made by neighbours. In those circumstances, where there has been a police investigation and the police have talked to the person concerned and to his or her family, we are to believe that reasonable people will then decide to go to court instead of relying on what the police have found.

If we are going to be honest with ourselves, such cases will likely be few and very far between. Legitimate cases may, in fact, be practically non-existent.

But this provision then gives rise to new concerns.

The Criminal Justice Section of the Canadian Bar Association has argued the following:

. . . the current law contains sufficient powers to accomplish the goal of seizing weapons believed to have been used in a crime or removing them from the hands of persons who are believed to be a danger to themselves or to others.

The Criminal Justice Section of the Canadian Bar Association also:

. . . believes the proposed amendments included in Bill C-21 “pose a threat to public safety and a disproportionate risk to marginalized groups” . . . .

Tim Thurley, a firearms researcher and policy specialist who appeared before the committee, made a similar point. He said:

The ill-considered red flag proposals are . . . problematic. Under Canada’s existing licensing system, police and judges already have the power to remove guns and revoke licences from those who pose a threat. The new provisions have no requirements to consider Indigenous hunting rights, for the complainant to have any relationship to the accused or for the accused to be heard in court. Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system and are also the most reliant on firearms for subsistence. We will undermine the built-in safeguards of the existing red flag law. Where people hunt to feed families, this has real consequences.

Noah Schwartz, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of the Fraser Valley noted:

This new change would allow for ex parte revocations, which means that an accusation could be made by someone who doesn’t even know the person they are accusing. They might not have ever met them in real life. There would be no way for the accused to know who is making that accusation.

Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, echoed the same concerns when he testified before our committee.

Chief Jessica Lazare of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke said:

In terms of red flag and yellow flag provisions, we do have concerns regarding the anonymous tip kind of approach, where this could be a potential for racial discrimination.

Serious concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of these provisions in Bill C-21.

An amendment was, therefore, proposed in committee to narrow the scope of these provisions to enable immediate family, persons residing with an individual, police and health professionals to make such ex parte applications. All other complaints would be made, as they are today, to the police or to the Chief Firearms Officer.

However, the amendment was rejected by the government majority, meaning that these witnesses’ concerns have all been ignored.

So now, in the red flag section of the bill, I believe that, at a minimum, we have a provision that is unlikely to be used, except perhaps by angry neighbours who cannot get a response to their liking from the police or who don’t particularly like their neighbours.

At worst, the provision will pose yet another burden on our already overloaded courts, and perhaps will even be found to be unconstitutional.

This is a concerning component of the bill, but it is hardly the worst part of the bill. Yet, we have not discussed this matter in this chamber at all. And now, because of time allocation, there will be no opportunity to do so.

I suppose that means that the majority of government senators are content to simply leave this matter to our already overburdened courts.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

I am sorry to interrupt, but the time for debate has expired.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

My 10 minutes are up?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

That’s correct.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

I don’t think we should support this.

Hon. Salma Ataullahjan [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak in oposition to the government’s motion to introduce the time allocation on Bill C-21.

The more one looks at the actual provisions of Bill C-21, the more one realizes how many issues have been given short shrift in the Senate’s review of this legislation.

One major issue that has been ignored is the total inadequacy of the current bill when it comes to the spike in violent crime — in particular, gun crime — that is plaguing some of our most vulnerable communities.

As a Toronto senator, I have seen the horrendous rise in gun violence. I have been asked repeatedly by community members who worry about their friends and family, what is being done to protect their loved ones.

In fact, I was at a community event this weekend, and the one thing everyone was talking about was how unsafe they are feeling in their homes. They were asking, “What are we going to do?” and “What is the government prepared to do?”

We have already had some idea about how the government’s ill-considered measures in Bill C-5 and Bill C-75 have ensured a spike in violent crime in urban Canada.

We know, for example, that under Bill C-5, the government repealed several mandatory sentences for gun crime, including using a firearm or imitation firearm in the commission of an offence; possession of a firearm or weapon knowing its possession is unauthorized; possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition; possession of a weapon obtained by commission of offence; discharging a firearm with intent; robbery with a firearm; and extortion with a firearm.

The government argued that none of these specific measures related to bail would “. . . ensure that release at the earliest opportunity is favoured over detention . . . .”

The impact of that has been nothing short of devastating.

In British Columbia, one study examined 425 bail hearings involving a suspect accused of a violent crime and with a breach of bail conditions on their file. Of those 425 hearings, the Crown sought detention orders in only 222 cases or 52% of the time. That meant that in nearly 50% of the cases, violent criminals with bail breaches on their files were back on the streets.

My province of Ontario has experienced a 57% increase in serious violence and weapons cases before the courts between 2018 and 2021.

There is no question in my mind that our courts are already overburdened, and some cases are often years behind in being heard. For example, the Toronto Police Service reports that in the last two years, 17% of those charged in Toronto with shooting-related homicides were already out on bail at the time of the alleged fatal shooting.

Therefore, every decision we take in this chamber matters. It will have a ripple effect throughout the country and impact the communities we live in.

When we pass legislation that is ill-considered, it is Canadian communities and often the most vulnerable in those communities who suffer the most. Now the government is intent on doing that once again by cutting off debate on Bill C-21.

However, I believe the fact that the Standing Senate Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs dedicated 12 meetings to this bill is indicative that we too must be diligent in our debates. Senators, we are here to debate and listen to each other’s views whether we agree or disagree.

Honourable colleagues, I urge you to reject this motion, if only to ensure that vulnerable communities do not pay the price of a speedy adoption of Bill C-21.

You only have to look at cities like Mississauga and Brampton, where people are feeling unsafe in their homes, where we’re having home invasions, and guns are used. People are being pistol-whipped. The fear is real. I worry when my own daughters go out in Toronto. I worry about what they will be facing because there are so many shootings. Young people go to clubs; we can’t stop them. I am up the whole night until they get home. For some of us, especially parents in Mississauga and Brampton who have spoken to me, this fear is real. Thank you.

Hon. Leo Housakos [ + ]

Honourable senators, this debate is far deeper than just the motion of the time allocation. Senator Ataullahjan, you are absolutely right. We come here to debate ideas, at times controversial ideas, and that’s the role of parliament in a democracy. We are not just here to hear each other’s points of view; we have to particularly hear the point of view of the minority. That’s the role of this chamber. It is the constitutional role of this chamber. It’s the role of parliament.

It is only natural, colleagues, and it is not new to this government. Of course, the Trudeau government has taken it to new heights, but governments of all ilks and all colours look at Parliament as an obstacle, as a problem in their hurry to get to the finish line of their agenda. It doesn’t matter if they are Liberals or Conservatives. I always say that prime ministers have a use for Parliament when they are in opposition. When they become prime minister, it seems to take a back seat. That goes to the principle that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is when the House of Commons and the Senate kick in. In those moments, it is incumbent on us to hold the government to account and to reel them in.

The House of Commons has a particular role in our democracy because they are the elected chamber. They are the chamber of confidence. But even this chamber of sober second thought had a significant role to play in reeling back governments that got carried away with themselves. They played that role of sober second thought. Many were hopeful that this new independent Senate would take it a step further, but it is unfortunate that independence, to this government, seems to have been extricating the authority of senators in this chamber from Parliament.

I remind people, as much as we’ve gone through this Trudeau experiment of an independent Senate, the truth of the matter is that until we change the Constitution, Canada is still a bicameral British parliamentary Westminster-based system. We have two chambers in our Parliament. The roles are a little bit different. They are nuanced. Everybody keeps talking about the Salisbury Convention, which is great. One day, probably, when I’m back on the other side of government, I will refer to the Salisbury Convention as well. But I remind the senators who have only been here for a few years, beyond the Salisbury Convention, to read section 18 of the Constitution, which defines our role when we are summoned here.

Section 18 of the Constitution of Canada makes it clear that both the House of Commons and the Senate are modelled after the House of Commons of Westminster. Each parliamentarian in the Parliament of Canada, in both the House of Commons and the Senate, have the same rights and privileges under section 18 of the Constitution as the chamber of the House of Commons in Westminster. Ultimately, that means you have the obligation to hold the government to account, you have the obligation to be a voice for the regions, the constituents, the stakeholders of the country and the regions you represent.

The truth of the matter is that over the last eight years — and this was intentional — the once important role of senators, all of you — and we might have the debate, and some of you say you are not as Liberal as we say, and I say you are not as independent as you proclaim. One thing there is no doubt about is that all of you are very accomplished, competent people from various walks of life in various regions of the country who have big things to offer this Parliament. For the last eight years, you’ve been denied that fundamental right in section 18 of the Constitution by this government and this Prime Minister when he refuses to allow you to be the voice of your region, using your skill set and your experience in the national governing cabinet.

Senator Harder, you asked a legitimate question — why there were so few amendments in the last four Parliaments. It’s because each and every one of the senators who were appointed to this chamber, the most important role we had was not sitting in national caucus; it was not sitting here. For me, the most important role I had was sitting on ministerial advisory committees, Senator Harder. Because I sat on various committees in the Senate, I had an opportunity to engage in debate here, but the floor, when we were in government, was dominated by the Liberal opposition. That’s how it should be.

Where we as government members of the Senate had our say was at the ministerial advisory tables when legislation was being crafted. That’s when our opinions were being asked for and being voiced, even before the legislation got to the national caucus. When it got to national caucus, let me tell you, all of my colleagues here were not shy to speak out to the interests of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and often Quebec whenever the government wouldn’t listen.

There is a lot of expertise in this place that would save this current government a lot of grief if many of you had a voice at those ministerial tables when legislation is being crafted. Many of you would be able to save them from a lot of embarrassment. Many of your opinions would be worth gold for this government if once a week you were allowed to express some of those opinions at national caucus.

Once upon a time, there were government leaders in this place who sat in the cabinet, some even as ministers at various cabinet levels. Senator Gold, based on the questions we ask on a daily basis and self-admittedly, we get the impression that you are not consulted that often. They could benefit from much of your wisdom, Senator Gold.

The exception I take is the amount of contempt that I have seen from this Prime Minister and this government toward this institution and toward the senators they have appointed. They are always spending a lot of time trying to convince you how legislation has to pass quickly because it is imperative. We have tons of examples where it is not COVID aid money, it is not bills and legislation or votes of confidence, when we have to get money out the door because the government agenda has the imperative. You are right, they are the ultimate house on questions of confidence. But bills like Bill C-21, Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 — it is nice to name leaders from Indigenous communities in this place and the Prime Minister to take credit for it, but when Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 were being debated in this place, the Broadcasting Act, and I heard Indigenous groups saying that they weren’t consulted in the other place, it is important that we stand up and push back. We need to say to the government, “Wait a month; wait six months. We need to hear from other people as well.”

The truth is that Senator Klyne stood up at that time and made sure that some of those groups were heard at committee, so credit to him. There are many senators here who are open-minded and push back against the government, but this is one of those times as well. The government wants to move forward with draconian measures, like the time allocation tool. It is a legitimate government tool, but the government wants to use it when they want to claim they don’t have government members in this chamber. It is an affront to the Rules of this institution.

Again, the government will find a way to get rulings and to beat around the Rules and say, “We have the majority; it doesn’t matter.” That’s the worst thing you can say amongst yourselves or in your various groups — to say that because you have the majority, you will ram it through. The moment we curtail debate and we don’t allow the minority voices to be heard, then we fall into a great deal of traps and risks. We should not allow that to happen.

The Salisbury Convention is fantastic. We use it to say that we are not an elected body, like the House of Lords, so we should never challenge the government because they are elected. But the Salisbury Convention should also apply when the elected house overwhelmingly sends a bill to this place and says the country is in favour of it democratically, like Bill C-234. The Salisbury Convention can’t only be something you invoke when it suits the government’s interests to say, “This is in our agenda, and we want it to pass.”

The House of Commons is the ultimate expression of democracy in this Parliament, in this country. We as an unelected body ignore them and we turn our back against it and we say, “The government wants this.”

Well, Parliament trumps government. The executive branch in this country gets its mandate from the elected house. Our job is to be an added value to hold the government to account. Nothing more, nothing less, and to be a voice for regions and voices that don’t necessarily get heard in the other house.

Colleagues, we have to be consistent, and it demands a lot of courage. At the end of the day, you all get your independence from one thing: the fact that you’re summoned here by a Prime Minister of Canada and your nomination can never be revoked.

So you can have ministers calling you, you can have the Prime Minister’s Office calling you, you can have the government leader/representative saying this is important, if it doesn’t get done by Christmas, it is going to fall apart. There will be no more sun in the sky. There is going to be all sorts of cajoling and pressure put on each and every one of you by the Prime Minister that appointed you. That was the case since day one.

That’s how politics work. The Prime Minister that brought me here, and the Prime Minister that brought Percy Downe here — which was a lovely Liberal prime minister — would put pressure on him. But you know what? We are here now, and they’re no longer here. The prime minister who brought you here, he will be gone eventually. But your independence starts today. I, too, am against this.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Perhaps I am rising on debate because I don’t think there is any more time for questions.

Listen, Senator Housakos. I heard you, and I couldn’t help but rise because I think you’re living on a planet that doesn’t exist. You have this idea that you’ve been completely muzzled and that you can’t speak. We worked on bills like Bill C-11, which took six months of study. Do you feel like we prevented you from bringing in all of the witnesses that you wanted, for weeks on end?

I am thinking of Bill C-18. I have been here for five years. The idea that the opposition is being prevented from doing its job is completely absurd to me. That is simply not the case. You referred to the House of Lords, to our British system. In England, there is a House of Lords with cross-benchers. They do exist. Such independence is not a joke.

Every day, you say that we are Liberal senators, that we don’t have any freedom and that we are kowtowing. That is absolutely shameful. I can’t take it any more. We are people with minds of our own. I certainly don’t consider myself to be under the heel of Prime Minister Trudeau.

Have you seen the number of amendments that we’re trying to get adopted? It’s nothing like it was in your day. You’re just making up a story. You’re making yourselves out to be victims. You’re saying that there is no more democracy.

Listen, we have debates here. That happens. I honestly don’t know where you got this idea about us. I can’t take it any more. It’s not true. We’re not puppets. That’s not true.

There. I think I’ve said enough.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

All those in favour of the motion will please say, “yea.”

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Any advice on the bell?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

The vote will take place at 10:04. Call in the senators.

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