(Translation from French to English)
Monday, Feb. 26, 2007
Public Safety in the Liberal Party’s Sights
Denis Lessard, La Presse – Boucherville
If re-elected, the Charest government will take a harder line on public safety issues. Semi-automatic firearms enthusiasts will have to leave their toys at the firing range; Quebec plans to impose strict controls on the transportation of non-hunting weapons.
“People want us to get tougher on public safety issues. We can feel this,” Jean Charest explained in an interview with La Presse on board his campaign bus. Two well-known former police officers, Guy Ouellette and Yves Prudhomme, are in fact running as LPQ candidates in Chomedey and Rousseau, on the weekend.
Will the LPQ become the “law and order” government?
Charest just smiles. “Public safety,” he insists, “is an important issue. The situation has changed, and people have legitimate concerns.” On questions like parole, to take an example, people are more hard-line, less indulgent, than 20 years ago.
“Society expects us to take firmer action. It isn’t that Quebecers feel more threatened, but they quite rightly want to feel that the government is making public safety a top priority,” Charest believes.
A recent example is the debate about reasonable accommodation: Quebecers had no problem approving of rules allowing a woman police officer to deal with a male accused, even a Hasidic Jew. “To them, public safety should not come second to anything,” he went on to say.The public is also more sensitive to the state’s obligations to victims, and particularly to women; “This has changed in the last 20 years, and rightly so,” the Liberal leader observed.
With voters looking for more protection, better gun control makes sense. Particularly at a time when the Harper government is going in the opposite direction and proposing to make its firearms registry more flexible.
The spread of firearms, which is often associated with organized crime, is a matter of concern.
Even in the case of firearms as sporting equipment, used to practise shooting, there should be greater control over possession. “We are concerned about this; the incident at Dawson College were painful, it really upset me,” said the Liberal leader.
After the shooting in September 2006 in which 20 people were wounded, one of whom died, a number of groups both in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada called on Ottawa to tighten controls on these very dangerous weapons. Kimveer Gill used a semi-automatic Beretta 9 millimetre rifle, which had arrived on the Canadian market two years earlier.
In practice, gun control – which comes under the Criminal Code – is under federal jurisdiction. The Harper government still expects to pass its bill to relax the rules for the firearms registry – to exempt hunting weapons from any controls, for example.
Jean Charest thinks that is a bad idea. “We must not start going backwards, I do not want to revisit this question. I want Quebecers to be able to have their say on controlling these weapons here.
“If Ottawa goes ahead and narrows the scope of its registry as planned, Quebec “will propose an alternative; we will deal with transporting firearms, as a public safety measure; that will allow us to have effective control, within our own jurisdiction,” he explains.
The Sûreté du Québec will be responsible for enforcing the legislation that the Liberals are promising to announce later in the election campaign. Even if Stephen Harper’s bill dies on the order paper, the government “will examine the possibility of tightening controls,” Charest promises.
Quebec would tighten the rules a notch by requiring enthusiasts to buy these semi-automatic weapons through their shooting clubs. After purchase, the weapon would have to stay there, with storage being the club’s responsibility. “The gun could no longer be moved from there, as a matter of what we have the constitutional right to do,” Charest explained.
He also sees another possibility: negotiating the delegation of responsibility for firearms control within Quebec, with
Ottawa. “We have not got to that point, there is a minority federal government, but that should not mean that we don’t prepare for it.” There need not be a “one size fits all” solution, if the open federalism proposed by Harper is genuine.
Jean Charest avoids criticizing Stephen Harper on the firearms question. “That is a campaign promise he made, he put it in his platform, and he keeps his promises, he says. But Quebec does not agree with it,” he cautions.
The weapons used by Kimveer Gill in September were all registered, as present federal law requires. But that did not stop the young man in Laval – who had a veritable arsenal in his basement – from going to Dawson College armed to the teeth.
Later, Charest was to attend the nomination meeting in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan where Yves Prudhomme, the former president of the police brotherhood, the SQ police union, was to be named the Liberal candidate in Rousseau, a PQ stronghold. Last Sunday, he went to
Laval, to welcome another police officer into the line-up of Liberal candidates: Guy Ouellette, a retired SQ analyst who is well known to the media on biker gang issues.
In the Audet budget last week, Quebec allocated another $34 million to deal with street gangs. Giving the SQ more control over firearms will not call for any more money to be budgeted, according to Charest.