These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Deliberate Withholding of Information

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, two years ago the Department of Justice told the justice committee that it had spent $327 million on the firearms registry. That same year the same department told the government the registry would cost $1 billion by fiscal year 2004-05. The government did not tell Parliament, a $700 million secret.

My question is to the Prime Minister, what minister in his government authorized the deliberate withholding of this information from Parliament?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is a question of accountability. Based on the charter of the program the justice department is accountable, not just for the justice department, but all other departments as well. We will ensure to do an audit, which has been demanded last November. We will be able to come forward with our books in a format that the Auditor General would like to have.

As I said, could we do better? Yes, we can do better, but we must also look at the benefit to society. When we look at the stats they actually show the benefits to society. We have a more secure society and we will keep going--

The Speaker: The right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, the minister cannot get away with saying I am sorry. He broke the law of Parliament and so did his Prime Minister. They knew about a $700 million overspending. They had an obligation, as he said, to tell the House of Commons. They zipped their lips and did not tell the House of Commons the truth.

My question is to the smiling Prime Minister, who in his government authorized this breaking of the law of Parliament? Was it the Prime Minister himself?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this is the first time that we were proceeding with such a program with regard to firearms. It has been a complex program. We started the infrastructure from scratch and we have been facing cost escalations.

For example, we went through a consultation process. We had to adjust the program based on the consultation. Some provinces opted out as well. We have been facing another challenge in terms of technology, but having said that, we are starting to see the benefits of the program. At this moment we are firmly committed--

The Speaker: The hon. member for St. Albert.

Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, when the gun registry was introduced Canadians were told that its net cost would be $2 million, and that is million, not billion. Now the net cost of the registry is $1 billion and rising.

The Auditor General said today that the government has done everything in its power to hide the cost of the gun registry and its effectiveness, or lack thereof, from Canadian taxpayers while murders by firearms in Toronto continue unabated.

My question for the minister is, how can he justify spending on paperwork $1 billion which the Auditor General says should have gone to police forces to ensure--

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Justice.

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, if we read the report of the Auditor General it seems clear to me that there is no wrongdoing at all. We have been facing what we call cost escalations and, as I said, it is because of the consultation process. As well, some provinces have opted out, and we have been facing a challenge in terms of technology.

If we look at the stats, for example, we will see that police agencies are accessing the firearms online registry 1,500 times daily. More than 7,000 firearms licences have been refused or revoked since the law came into effect. The--

The Speaker: The hon. member for St. Albert.

Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, he is just quite wrong. The Auditor General says the government spends so much money on bureaucracy for the gun registry that it does not have the money to stop trafficking in firearms and no money to train police, customs or wildlife officers.

The RCMP has also admitted that its databases for gun crimes are inaccurate and obsolete. The justice minister is clearly more interested in pushing paper than in fighting crime and ensuring the safety of Canadians.

Why does the government insist on sacrificing the safety of Canadians on the altar of a bureaucratic, unworkable gun registry?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the RCMP is aware of the concern about the databases. It has been acting on that. It has been very proactive. Of course we have to understand that the quality of the databases is directly linked to the question of technology. I am told that it has improved the system and it will keep doing that.

Look at what the registration system means. It means fewer firearms on the black market from break-ins. It reduces the unauthorized use of guns. It reduces heat of the moment use of firearms. It also reduces accidents, particularly involving children. These are not my words. These are the words of David Griffin, who represents 28,000--

Mr. Gerald Keddy (South Shore, PC): Mr. Speaker, only 30% of the $1 billion cost of the gun registry has come from the government's main estimates which are approved by Parliament. Seventy per cent of the cost overruns come from the supplementary estimates. Under the government's own rules the supplementary estimates are only to be used for unknown and unexpected expenses.

Why did the government deliberately hide the cost of the gun registry from Canadians?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, we have reported through the main estimates the costs of the gun registry. As I said, it was not reported in a format to the satisfaction of the Auditor General.

As I said many times as well and as I would like to repeat, in the future we will make sure to report in a format that is accepted by the Auditor General, meaning that we have to report for all the other ministries involved in the delivery of the programs.

It does not mean that those numbers were not reported. Those numbers were reported for Justice Canada through the main estimates or the supplementary estimates of the other departments.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General confirms that the firearms registry database is not only off the rails financially but that it is also inaccurate and untrustworthy. The RCMP made this known in 2001. There are also 900 other police agencies using this database and the Auditor General cannot even examine them.

Clearly, there is no accountability and no ability to do accounting.

When will the Liberal government end this farcical, face saving exercise and cancel the billion dollar bureaucratic blunderbuss?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we all know that the costs related to the program have started to go down.

With regard to the database, the RCMP is fully aware of the situation. It has been very proactive. Of course when we are talking about the quality of the database we are talking as well about the numbers.

Let me say exactly what we are talking about. It is to increase safety in our society and to have safer communities. We have started to see the benefits from this. For example, if we compared the homicide rate using firearms in the United States and in Canada, it is six to nine times higher in the United States.