Long-Gun Registry

Hon. Jim Munson: I have a question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. We know what she wants to do with the gun registry, but now there are reports of what the government wants to do with the data — all the data which has been useful to police for the last many years.

There are some provinces that are very interested in that data, particularly the province of Quebec. Some provinces may want to establish their own strategy or gun registry. Why would the government destroy it?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, it has been well known for quite some time that our government — even before we formed government — as part of our commitment to law-abiding Canadian hunters, farmers and legitimate firearms owners, would abolish the long-gun registry. This is not to be confused with the very strict gun laws already in place in this country. Our commitment was to destroy the long-gun registry and I would suggest that is exactly what we are doing.

The long-gun registry contains names in it and we are simply following up with a commitment. That is exactly what we will do: destroy the registry which, by the way, does not have complete and accurate information.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, I would be curious to know how the registry will be destroyed: maybe a bonfire on Parliament Hill or something along that line.

When the legislation was reintroduced last week, it came at a time when Canadians are recognizing the urgent need to develop a comprehensive national suicide strategy.

Here is what Denis Côté of the Federation of Municipal Police Officers of Quebec, had to say referring to rifles and shotguns:

They are the guns most often used to kill police officers, in domestic violence situations and in suicides, particularly those involving youth.

There are some interesting facts about all of this when it comes to suicide and long guns. A U.S. study published in the New England Journal of Medicine determined that at a home where there are firearms it is 4.8 times more likely to be the scene of a suicide than a home without.

In our own country, as of 2003, as much as 78 per cent of deaths involving a firearm were, in fact, suicides. Furthermore, the leader might be surprised to learn that in 2004, 475 firearm-related suicides involved a long gun, a number 5.4 times greater than the number of suicides committed with a handgun. This has decreased, thankfully, but why would the government not take these sorts of facts and figures into consideration in dealing with the long-gun registry as an essential tool in an effective national suicide prevention strategy?

Senator LeBreton: I actually saw some of the reports that the honourable senator referred to. The fact is that suicide is a very serious issue in this country. I have heard both sides of the argument, but I have also heard the compelling argument that people who decide to take their own lives will do so by whatever means are at hand. Most important, the existence of a long-gun registry would not have prevented the unfortunate act of suicide.

The long-gun registry is exactly that — a registry. The information now is not complete. Thanks to two Conservative governments, we have very strict gun acquisition laws that require all people who are desirous of purchasing a firearm to fill out a licence, with police checks. It is a rigorous process. Nothing changes there.

The only thing that changes is the long-gun registry, which for quite some time we have been committed to abolishing; and you cannot abolish a registry without abolishing the registry.

Senator Munson: Well, the proof is in the proof is a proof, I guess.

Another side of the story is that shortly after this was tabled, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians condemned the bill as poor public policy, stating that the country’s need for a gun registry is not based on crime prevention but, rather, on suicide prevention. Their spokesman, Dr. Alan Drummond, a rural emergency physician and coroner, stated:

. . . I can safely say that I’ve never seen a handgun injury. I have however seen my share of injuries and deaths inflicted by rifles and shotguns. . . . Suicide, contrary to public opinion, is often an impulsive gesture. Keeping guns away from depressed people is essential.

Dr. Drummond called this legislation “scientifically bankrupt,” and he also said the following:

The government has consistently portrayed this act as a victimization of rural long gun owners, conveniently ignoring the clear scientific evidence that rural suicides with long guns are the principal issue in the tragic toll of Canadian firearm deaths.

We have all had friends and acquaintances. This is about connecting health care workers, doctors and others. If you know there is a long gun in that person’s home, perhaps a light goes on and things can be done.

What tools will the government provide to rural area physicians so they can continue to play a crucial role in the prevention of suicides among Canadians who own shotguns and rifles?

Senator LeBreton: Of course, the honourable senator read into the record the opinions of one person. There are many opinions of others that I could read into the record.

The fact of the matter is that we do have strict firearms laws in this country, including the safe storage of these firearms. The idea that a registry of the firearms could somehow or other prevent people who are determined to commit suicide from doing so is simply not borne out by the facts.

Many police officers, including former police officers in our own caucus and others I know personally, would never enter any facility and rely on the registry. Their instincts, as good police officers, would tell them to assume the worst. No police officer enters any facility and judges their safety on the basis of an incomplete firearms registry.