Bill to Amend Certain Acts and Regulations in Relation to Firearms

Twenty-first Report of National Security and Defence Committee Negatived

May 7, 2019


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.

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 —

Hon. Frances Lankin [ + ]

Point of order.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Lankin, are you rising on a point of order?

Senator Lankin [ + ]

Yes. Your Honour, we listen often to aspersions cast about the intentions of honourable senators in this chamber. I don’t believe that’s appropriate, but I listen to them day after day after day. Right now, comments like “duplicitous” and other comments made seem to me to start to stray over the line of “sharp or taxing” language, which is in our rules.

I would ask Your Honour, at the very least, to caution senators at this time of year, as we go forward and there are more and more tensions. It’s not helpful to our working environment. More to the point, it may actually be a violation of the rules. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Lankin raises a good point with respect to taxing comments. The word “duplicitous”, in and of itself, is not a taxing word; however, if it is applied to individuals, particularly members of this chamber, it is skating very close to the line. So I ask that words like that not be used in debate.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you. Since that was the only time I was using that in my speech, I think I will be okay.

As I was going to say, I suspect there are only about 58 people in the whole country who believe this “independent” nonsense. 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 three 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.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I wasn’t accusing, I was saying I have a problem with it.

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 Senate Liberals 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 at 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 patchwork 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 of 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 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.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Sorry for interrupting you, senator, but your time has expired. Are you asking for more time?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Twenty seconds.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Senator Plett [ + ]

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 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 consideration. 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.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Dupuis, would you like to ask a question?

Hon. Renée Dupuis [ + ]

Yes.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator, your time has expired. Are you asking for five more minutes to answer questions?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I will if the members opposite want to give it to me.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

Senator Plett, would you mind repeating the sentence after the one in which you said that Liberal senators are honest about certain things? The following sentence begins with “The ISG senators.” I noticed that, in the simultaneous interpretation from English to French, that sentence was very condensed and made no sense. I would like Canadians to hear and understand the real meaning of that sentence. Thank you.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I have to first understand the real meaning of the question. You need to repeat it.

I’m looking here, senator, but I’m not sure which sentence you want me to repeat. I’m happy to repeat it.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

Senator Plett, I’m sure you understand that I don’t wish to paraphrase what you said. That’s why I said the sentence was uttered at about the halfway mark in your 15‑minute, 20-second speech. It’s the sentence after the one in which you very clearly stated that independent Senate Liberals are honest about their positions and about saying certain things. I don’t want to paraphrase you. The following sentence begins with “The ISG senators.”

Senator Plett [ + ]

I’m sorry, senator, it’s taking me a bit of time.

I’m happy — if no one else wants to ask a question, I’ll sit here for five minutes and look.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Plett, I did see Senator Pratte, the sponsor of the bill, rise to ask a question, along with a number of other senators. I would like to give the sponsor of the bill an opportunity to ask a question if you can find it.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I will listen to Senator Pratte while I am looking, if that is acceptable.

Hon. André Pratte [ + ]

You can do two things at the same time. That’s very impressive.

Senator Plett, at the end of your speech, you said that we should vote in favour of the report because it is the normal practice. Yet Senator Gold has provided examples, and I have other examples. It has happened many times that a report was rejected. Speaker Charbonneau said a few years ago, when had he to rule on such a case, when we send bills to committee we do so essentially to get advice from the committee. But, in my view, the Senate cannot be bound by the advice that it receives from a committee. In other words, the Senate must remain master of its own decisions.

Do you agree with Speaker Charbonneau or not?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Pratte, I agree with the comments that I made that if a chamber here decides to reject a report because they have political biases and partisanships, like the government of the day did in 2009-10, then I agree that they should be able to reject the report.

If I could, Your Honour, I found the phrase that Senator Dupuis was looking for. Senator Dupuis, I think you said “at least independent Liberals in this chamber are honest about their ideological and partisan affiliations?” Is that the sentence you are referring to?

I then say the “ISG senators, on the other hand, are so intent on portraying themselves as politically pure, and this side as poisoned by partisanship, that they have lost any real impartiality on the issues. Their only objective seems to be to defend the illusion of their independence.”

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

I’m sorry, Senator Forest-Niesing, but Senator Plett’s time has expired again. I don’t know if he’s going to ask for five more minutes or even if it’s going to be granted.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I’ll leave it up to colleagues on the other side. I have no particular desire, but since I referenced the senator who was standing, I think for that purpose I will ask for additional time to answer her question.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Another five minutes, honourable senators?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Josée Forest-Niesing [ + ]

Thank you for your indulgence, senator.

I will bring us back to the topic of the report. I do notice that the amendments did, in fact, remove three of the five flagship proposals contained in Bill C-71 — background checks, ATTs, classification powers — and all three measures were contained explicitly in the 2015 Liberal electoral platform.

For the sake of future precedent on this topic, sir, do you regard a government’s electoral platform as being an important consideration for the purpose of recommending amendments to legislation, which has been adopted in principle — and this may be of great importance in the event that your wish comes true and there is a change in government?

Senator Plett [ + ]

And, as an independent, I’m sure you aren’t concerned about that wish happening or not happening.

Senator, I believe that this is the chamber of sober second thought. I think we all agree that this is a chamber where we should be able to amend bills if we see flaws. It is common practice that there are amendments introduced, even though it may have been in a government’s platform. As I said in my speech, part of the Prime Minister’s platform was that the budget would balance itself. That hasn’t happened. So I think we have every right to amend a bill.

I asked the minister earlier today in Question Period if he was okay with us passing this, allowing it to go over to the other side and then the government of the day will decide whether or not the chamber of sober second thought has come up with some better ideas.

I’m not asking senators to defeat Bill C-71 now. I’m asking the chamber to accept a report that was adopted in committee — across party and caucus lines — to send it over to the other place, allow Minister Goodale, Minister Blair and the Prime Minister to deal with it. If they send it back to us and say, “No, we reject all of your amendments,” then we have to deal with the message from the house.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. Whether or not you vote for this is, of course, entirely up to you, but there is nothing wrong with the procedure of us trying to amend any legislation here at all.

Senator Plett, could I ask you another question?

I’m glad you got back to Bill C-71 in your speech, specifically the witness testimony. There was one doctor who spoke against the legislation. I tallied up the organizations: The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, the Canadian Paediatric Society, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Doctors for Protection from Guns. In all, it seemed that about 5,000 clinicians were represented through those organizations.

I’m wondering why you think the testimony of one physician outweighs that of all those other physicians represented by those groups?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, senator. I don’t think I said that. I said there was no statistical evidence on one side but there was on the other side.

I was not saying that I believed one person over another person. I still don’t say that.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Honourable senators, Senator Plett’s time again is about to expire.

Are you asking for more time, Senator Plett?

Senator Plett [ + ]

No.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Are honourable 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 “nays” have it.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

I see two senators rising.

Do we have an agreement on a bell?

Senator Plett [ + ]

How about 15 minutes?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Fifteen minutes. Is it agreed, honourable senators?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

The vote will take place at 5:54 p.m.

Call in the senators.

Motion negatived on the following division:

YEAS

The Honourable Senators

NAYS

The Honourable Senators

ABSTENTIONS

The Honourable Senators

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?

(On motion of Senator Pratte, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for third reading at the next sitting of the Senate, on division.)

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