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The West Block – Episode 14, Season 12

Click to play video: 'The West Block: Dec. 18, 2022 | Ministers discuss controversial gun ban and military challenges'
The West Block: Dec. 18, 2022 | Ministers discuss controversial gun ban and military challenges
Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – December 18, 2022

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 14, Season 12

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister

Anita Anand, Defence Minister 

Location:

Ottawa, ON

 

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Ottawa wants to crack down on gun crime, but is the government targeting the wrong gun owners?

And, is the Canadian military shortage of troops and equipment affecting its ability to fight in a changing world?

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I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.

Growing opposition to an amendment to Bill C-21 for banning a long list of firearms, including some used by hunters, how did this happen and will the government change it? We’ll ask the public safety minister.

Plus, the path to culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces: why the defence minister says this time is different.

The public safety minister says amendments to Ottawa’s controversial gun control legislation are not intended to target law-abiding gun owners, but that’s exactly what critics say the proposed changes to Bill C-21 are doing. The backlash has been swift from hunters, Indigenous groups, and opposition MPs, as well as some provinces.

Alberta Justice Minister, Tyler Shandro: “This is very political. This is not about targeting safety. This is not about targeting reducing gun crime.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now is Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino. Thank you for joining us, minister. How are you?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: I’m very well. Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: I have to start with this amendment. What—what was the deal? Why did you decide to tack this onto handgun legislation and it seems, take a lot of your stakeholders by surprise?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well the purpose of Bill C-21 is to reduce gun crime and when we tabled it last spring, we did say that we would be open about receiving an amendment to create and evergreen provision, which is a model agnostic approach to prohibiting certain firearms which were either designed for the battlefield or are too dangerous for civilian purposes. And we acknowledged that there have been a lot of concerns, as you pointed off, off the top, which is why we’re going to take the time to make whatever fine tuning to the language of the amendment, as well as the listing to—to get this right. And the way that you do that, is by having a thoughtful, civilized debate, based on facts and not fear. There’s also a lot of other good in the bill as you know, the national handgun freeze, raising the maximum sentences against hardened gun traffickers. Red flag, yellow flag protocols for which there is broad multi-partisan support. So I am optimistic that we will be able to work through this amendment and hopefully pass this legislation as quickly as possible in the new year.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Where did the advice come from to put this amendment in?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Let’s take a step back to May 2020, when we introduced an order in council, which is our national assault-style firearms ban. And there are some objectives criteria by which we judge certain guns either to fall into that military style category or are too dangerous. And the rationale here is to move away from cherry picking firearms which can sometimes be politicized and we want to take the temperature down. We know that there have been concerns that have been expressed, which is why we’re going to support the committee in its study of this bill. We’re going to engage with hunters and farmers and Indigenous peoples who have expressed concerns, to make whatever fine tuning to get this right. The bigger picture is, we’ve got a gun—we have a plan to reduce gun violence not only through smart, responsible gun control by investing, but also by investing $450 million over the last few years to stop illegal gun smuggling at our borders and to prevent gun crime through our Building Safer Communities Fund. So there’s a lot of work there…

Mercedes Stephenson: But—but with all due respect, minister, with all those goals, and I understand, I mean, I think all Canadians would like to see gun violence reduced. It doesn’t answer the question about where you got the advice to put this amendment in. Where did that advice on what should be in here come from? Was it political staff? Was it PMO? Was it the Public Service? It doesn’t seem to have been a lot of the folks who feel they’re being targeted. So, who advised you to do this?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well, you know, in fact, when we introduced our national assault-style rifle ban, there was broad support from law enforcement because these guns are too dangerous to be left in our communities. So we are getting advice from non-partisan professional public servants, including law enforcement and we recognize that the amendment does require some very thoughtful and careful study, which is something that we are committed to doing through dialogue.

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As you pointed out, at the very top, our goal here is to target those guns which were AR-15 style guns like ones used at Portapique in Truro and Polytechnique. I’ve grieved with those families. We never want another one of those tragedies again. We all, I think, are united in the common cause to eradicate gun violence. It is hard work. It is emotionally charged at times, which is why we want to take the temperature down and have a debate that is based on facts and not fear.

Mercedes Stephenson: But minister, you say you want to debate based on facts but not fear. AR-15s and military style assault rifles aren’t what Indigenous hunters are using. So how did the amendment end up written the way that it is, where these groups are saying, and it’s not just one, it’s groups across the country, were saying that this is catching up legitimate hunting rifles that don’t have an AR-15s capabilities.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well I think the vast majority of the models there listed and the ones that would be captured by the objective criteria in the evergreen provision would not be controversial. That having been said, again, we do understand that concerns have been expressed around some of the models that may be legitimately used by hunters and Indigenous peoples, which is why we’re going to support the committee in its study of this, which is why we’re going to engage. And I have been engaging with rural communities, with hunting communities, with Indigenous peoples to make sure that we get this right.

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Mercedes Stephenson: I’d like to talk to you about China as well. It’s another big concern and I know it’s a huge concern for a number of the organizations under your ministry. We now know because of documents that were tabled at committee that Privy Council was warning the Prime Minister’s Office as early as February of 2020 about concerns on sophisticated networks from China, trying to influence Canadian elections. Do you think it’s fair to say that you’ve been aware of this since February of 2020?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well look, we get briefings all the time about national security threats, including potential foreign interference by China and we’re eyes wide open. We’re very sober about the risks that are posed by that. And as you’ve reported, and many others, those threats exist against our democratic institutions, against our elections, against—you know, when it comes to cyber-crime. We have to be very vigilant about this. So as we have those conversations within government, we are also making sure that our national security community has all the tools that are necessary. Let me give you a few concrete examples how we’re doing that: the legislation that I introduced last spring, Bill C-26, which will ensure that we’re protecting our cyber critical infrastructure; the legislation that we introduced to stop foreign funding, which could influence elections through Bill C-76; the independent panels that we put into place to ensure that the integrity of our elections is preserved. All of these mechanisms are in place to protect our democratic institutions and Canadian interest when it comes to threats posed by hostile state actors. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Are you looking at foreign agent laws? It’s something the U.K. is looking at that would essentially criminalize it if someone is found out to be acting covertly on behalf of a foreign power in Canada. And I don’t just mean the foreign agents registry, which would require you to overtly say that. I’m talking about covert networks that might be operating.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well I think we’re, you know, keeping the options open. Look, I think it’s really important for your viewers and for Canadians to know that we are at a point in our national security landscape, where there are—threats abound when it comes to foreign interference. That means having the agility and the capacity to mitigate and respond to them. I mean, another example that I would offer that gives us that capacity is Bill C-59, which we passed in 2019. It allows CSIS to put into place threat reduction measures, but with the corresponding transparency that is required through the creation of NSICOP and NSIRA so that Canadians can be confident that as we respond to those new threats that we’re doing it in a way that is consistent with our laws in the charter.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister are you aware, and do you think it’d be fair to say, your ministry and aspects within your ministry, are aware of sophisticated foreign interference networks that are operating at the riding and candidate level, trying to influence elections in favour of the People’s Republic of China?  

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Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: I think the starting point of this discussion is that we need to be very vigilant about threats that can manifest at every level of government and that could pose a threat to all of our democratic institutions, be it elections. Be it other critical infrastructure. And that’s why it is important that we have the discussion that you’ve been asking me about, which is whether or not we have the tools in place or whether or not we need to modernize them. All Canadians… 

Mercedes Stephenson: But—but are you able to confirm or deny to me whether or not you are aware of allegations about threats at the riding and candidate level? 

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: I—I would say that we are always vigilant against potential threats against all of our institutions including elections, which is why we put in place those independent panels. Those panels are non-partisan, professional. They conducted rigorous interviews and investigated whether or not there was any potential compromising of the elections in 2019 and 2021 has…

Mercedes Stephenson: But didn’t the intelligence assessments seem to—I mean, I don’t think that we’re reporting that there has been interference that influenced the election. There are concerns about attempts and there’s certainly intelligence briefings that suggest something different and concerns that would be different than what the election panel would look at. They’re—they’re very different parts of the government.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: That’s why we have to take a 360 view of this. I’m simply saying to you that—that vigilance, being sober about this, being eyes wide open, they are the watch words and the way in which we protect our institutions including elections, because there’s nothing more important than making sure that Canadians can have their voices represented so that when we come to Parliament, whether we—when we come to different legislatures and city halls across the country, we can be confident that that’s on the basis of elections which are free and fair and we will spare no effort in making sure that we protect that. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Mendicino, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much. 

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Happy holidays, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You too.

Up next, Defence Minister Anita Anand gets personal about transforming the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: The defence minister tabled her response to a sweeping report last May, aimed at reforming military culture in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked the Canadian Armed Forces.

Anita Anand says she accepts all 48 recommendations in the report by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour. But Arbour was unimpressed, saying the response is more of the same.

Louise Arbour, Former Supreme Court Justice: “I find that all the reviews that are being suggested in the minister’s response are for the most part internal, and therefore misses entirely the central point of my report, which is the need for CAF to open up to a lot more external not only scrutiny, but input.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Defence Minister Anita Anand joins me now. Minister, thank you so much for coming in. I’d like to start today, though, by getting your reaction to something that you said earlier on Parliament Hill this week. Let’s play that clip back.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: “It will take time and we will see it through. And finally, I will say that as minister, we never know how long we are going to hold our positions, but my goal is to put in place the institutional reforms necessary so that cultural change can last our lifetimes.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, I’ve interviewed you a lot of times, been in a lot of scrums with you, I’ve never seen an emotional reaction like that before. What were you feeling when you said that? Was it frustration with the forces? Was it exasperation that people think you’re not serious? Was it determination? What was going through your mind?

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Mercedes, first of all, thanks for having me on. It has been a very long year of trying every single day to make sure that we are reforming the Canadian Armed Forces with the cultural change necessary to ensure that it is an institution where everyone who joins, who puts on a uniform in service of our country, feels safe and protected and free from sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, and at that moment, I deeply felt the need to keep going. And despite criticism coming from various stakeholders and the media, we need to make sure that we stay on track. And so tabling the response to Madame Arbour’s report that day in the House of Commons was an extremely meaningful moment for me and for us.

We had worked very hard for months and months on a response and we actually have a roadmap forward, for every single one of the 48 recommendations. Unlike responses to previous reports, we are showing the Canadian public exactly what we are doing and we are going to continue to come forward with quarterly briefings so that the Canadian public knows exactly what we’ve done and what we’re going to do, what our progress has been.

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And then finally, just as Madame Arbour recommended, I appointed an external monitor, an outside voice, to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. And all of that—all of that work was in my mind at the moment that I was having that press conference.

Mercedes Stephenson: And I see that emotion in you again today as you’re talking about it, but I also have to challenge you on the roadmap. I spoke to some survivors. I spoke to experts. Madame Arbour said it. Your characterising this as a roadmap and clear way ahead, but it’s missing some pretty clear key elements that somebody like you who’s very organized, from what I’ve seen of your personality, would be thinking about and expecting: timelines, benchmarks, how you’re going to get there, a list of priorities of what’s coming first.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Mm-hum.

Mercedes Stephenson: Where are those things?

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Actually, what we are able to do, and you have to remember that there are 48 recommendations so the timelines are going to differ depending on the particular recommendation at hand, is we are explaining how we are going to implement, and to the extent that there is a working group that is being struck to exact and make sure that we are putting forward the best option on the recommendation, that’s an implementation mechanism. This is not about further study. This is about ensuring we get it right and I think the Canadian public needs to have the confidence that we’re taking the time to get it right. And sometimes, for example, on recommendation number five, it is difficult to put one single point in time down on paper when you have systemic change of that magnitude. And so what I am doing in the report is being my prudent self, to make sure that what I am saying to Canadians is what is going to occur as opposed to giving false deadlines, which I am not confident that we can meet. But what I am confident about is that this is a different moment in terms of our response to the need for cultural change in the military.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s a complicated world right now. When I was thinking of topics that we could discuss today, of course, one of the things that comes to mind is the situation around the world with China, with—you put out, you know, the Indo-Pacific strategy, with Ukraine and Russia, with the Middle East, which still there are many significant challenges there, West Africa, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb, still very active there. The Canadian Armed Forces is down several thousand people, depending on who you ask. The chief of the defence staff has come out, the top general, and said we basically would really struggle to mount a major operation. For the first time since 2017, we’re not able to send fighter jets to Europe to participate in Operation Reassurance to deter Russia. We had to put ships that were designed for coastal waters into the middle of the Atlantic because we couldn’t get the frigates out. This seems like a pretty dire situation. 

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: So, you are exactly right that there are a number of thousands of Canadian Armed Forces that we do need to recruit. And recruitment and retention and reconstitution of the Canadian Armed Forces is one of our utmost priorities. At the same time, with the assets that you mentioned, the capabilities, what we are doing is being nuanced in terms of our response to particular emerging global situations. So for example, we added another CC-130 to our unit in Prestwick, Scotland because the amount of aid that we are transporting on behalf of our allies in support of Ukraine has been growing. And so we sometimes have to move assets from one domain to another, to respond to global situations. Similarly, in the Indo-Pacific, we know that we are increasing Canada’s presence there, across a number of subject areas: defence and security, immigration, diplomatic efforts and what we are ensuring that we do, is to add another frigate to the Indo-Pacific.

Mercedes Stephenson: But that will come at the cost of the Atlantic, because we don’t have a spare frigate that—at least that I know about.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: But what’s really important, though, to recognize is that the chief of defence staff and I stand back and we talk about where assets would be put to their best use.

Mercedes Stephenson: But he sounds like he’s saying that they—they count mount a major operation, which is more than just reallocating a shortage of assets.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Well actually, I think you should look at the contributions that Canada has made and continues to make: training 34 thousand Ukrainian Armed Forces members with training units in England as well as in Poland, training Ukrainian engineers. And in terms of the Romanian effort with the jets, that decision is being made because on the horizon is the procurement of 88 future fighters and we need to make sure that our pilots are trained and our assets are in [00:08:38 cross talk]…
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Mercedes Stephenson: How fast do you think you’re going to get those…?

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: For that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Because I think the last—the note I have says 2025 and we’re in—going—about to be 2023. That’s a pretty significant gap.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: We will be concluding that contract in the very short term and moving to ensure that the assets arrive as possible. But in advance of that, we need to make sure we have the pilots trained and we need to make sure that we have…

Mercedes Stephenson: And people to do that.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: The infrastructure in place to house the 88 new future fighters. And, so there is long term planning occurring, to make sure that we are ready to accept the new capabilities that we are contracting for, as well as to continue to grow the Canadian Armed Forces the way we must, to ensure a robust military for Canada’s defence.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few moments left, but I want to put a question to you because it’s one I get a lot from the troops. And by the troops, I mean like privates and corporals. Some of the living conditions at base is mould in the barracks, rodents. Pretty dire, not something a lot of people want to sign up to live in. Are you looking at renewing that infrastructure and dealing with the situations, because some of these pictures are pretty disturbing?

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Yes I am. And I have heard the same concerns across the country. When I visit bases and I talk to members of the Canadian Armed Forces, which is a priority for me, I hear that the cost of living, as well as our infrastructure needs attention. And so that is very much a focus of my discussions with the chief of defence staff, as well as our future planning. We know that Canadians are facing housing crises as well as facing the costs of inflation. The Canadian Armed Forces are not immune to these concerns and we are attacking them head on.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you very much for joining us today.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: Thank you so much, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, remembering the legacy of Winnipeg MP and former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Carr.

Jim Carr, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: “I love this country, every square metre of this country, in English, en Français, in indigenous languages and in the languages of the newly arrived.” 

[Break]
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Mercedes Stephenson: The House of Commons paid tribute last week to Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr. He died of cancer just days after MPs passed his private members bill that will build a green prairie economy as it promises.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his former cabinet minister embodied public service.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Jim was a gentleman. He was a mentor. Jim was a friend to many. Jim was a great Canadian.”

The House has now wrapped for the holidays and MPs have gone home. They will return to Parliament on January 30th.

That’s our show for today. Thanks for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. And unlike the MPs, I’ll see you here next Sunday. Have a great week.

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