THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE
OTTAWA, Monday, February 18, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, to which was referred Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms, met this day at 4 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Gwen Boniface (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Before we begin, I want to welcome all senators, staff and members of the public to this new, spectacular building that will house us for the next 10-plus years. I want to thank everyone who worked tirelessly to get everything ready for our move.
I would now ask senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Dagenais: I am Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Beyak: Lynn Beyak from Ontario.
Senator Boisvenu: Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu from Quebec.
Senator Richards: David Richards from New Brunswick.
Senator Griffin: Diane Griffin from Prince Edward Island.
Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator McIntyre: Paul McIntyre from New Brunswick.
Senator Plett: Don Plett from Manitoba.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh from Ontario.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran from Manitoba.
Senator Miville-Dechêne: Julie Miville-Dechêne from Quebec.
Senator Gold: Marc Gold from Quebec.
Senator Pratte: André Pratte from Quebec.
Senator C. Deacon: Colin Deacon from Nova Scotia.
Senator Busson: Bev Busson from British Columbia.
Senator Jaffer: Mobina Jaffer from British Columbia.
The Chair: This afternoon we begin our study on Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms. For our first panel today we welcome Irvin Waller, Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa; Adam Ellis, Vanier Scholar, University of Toronto, Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies; and Louis March, Founder, Zero Gun Violence Movement.
Gentlemen, you have the floor.
Senator Plett: Madam Chair, I have a point of order. I am a bit concerned about the way we are starting these hearings.
Rule 12-12(6) is quite clear. Common practice says that the steering committee is supposed to meet and develop a work plan. The steering committee itself has no authority other than what is given to it by the full committee. It is supposed to present that work plan to the full committee, which would then determine whether to accept the work plan, reject it or amend it. That hasn’t been done. We are meeting here with six panels over six hours, and no work plan has been given to us other than what we received by email.
I have an issue with that for a few reasons. Number one, we are rushing through a piece of legislation that needs to be thoroughly discussed openly and democratically. We are taking time slots away from the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. As a committee, we have that right to take time slots away. But in light of recent happenings and in light of clear indication by the government regarding how they feel about veterans affairs, for us to take those time slots away from them at this time I find to be problematic.
Now, I know that we have a minister scheduled next week, and we need to respect that. We have a number of additional witnesses. I know Senator Griffin has expressed that she would like to hear some witnesses from Prince Edward Island, yet we already have an end time, developed by the steering committee, that we go to clause-by-clause consideration after four meetings.
Madam Chair, I think the work plan — or the supposed work plan or lack of work plan — needs to be discussed by this committee and either accepted, amended or rejected.
I apologize to the witnesses here. Very clearly, we want to hear these witnesses. I think the next panel is a group from Ontario, Statistics Canada, who perhaps could be moved off the agenda if we have a lengthy debate on that so these witnesses would not be inconvenienced.
Nevertheless, Madam Chair, I think this is something that needs to be discussed before we go further into this process. Unless you have plans to discuss it at another point in today’s hearings, then I think it needs to be done at this point.
The Chair: Thank you for your comments. I would be pleased to discuss it at the end of the day so we don’t end up interfering with the witnesses going ahead.
Senator Plett: At the end of the day, meaning after 10:00. After we have sat here for six hours with no dinner break, with no coffee break, and then, after 10:00 in the evening, you want to discuss it? This work plan needs to be discussed before we start work, not at the end or almost halfway through your supposed work plan. That’s not acceptable. It needs to be done at the start of the meetings, not at the end.
The Chair: Senator Plett, would you like to put that in the form of a motion?
Senator Plett: Yes, I would certainly put that in the form of a motion. If I can be presumptuous, I will, in the preamble, or before I make the motion, I suggest that we move Statistics Canada to a different time slot so we don’t have these fine folks inconvenienced.
I move that the work plan be discussed now and that a decision be made on the entire work plan before we go ahead.
The Chair: On debate.
Senator Pratte: If we need time to discuss the plan, I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I would disagree with either delaying or putting off some of the witnesses. They’ve been told well ahead that they should be here today. We know that many people want to appear in front of us to discuss this bill. You, Senator Plett, probably have other witnesses that you would like to hear. I have a list of witnesses that I would like to hear. I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do to delay this given that the witnesses are here. They’re ready to testify and we’re ready to hear them. We can discuss the work plan next Wednesday, and that wouldn’t change anything. The witnesses are there.
I am sure you’ll agree the witnesses in front of us today are witnesses that we should hear anyhow, but they’re here today, now. So I would oppose the motion as it stands now. I don’t disagree with the idea of discussing the work plan. I just don’t think the moment to do it is now.
Senator Plett: Senator Pratte, I would have no issue with us doing this on Wednesday, but we don’t have time on Wednesday because we have a minister, unless we want to move that off, and I am okay with that. The reason I mentioned Statistics Canada is because they have not travelled in. They are from here.
But I do agree with you entirely. If we can have the discussion on a work plan on Wednesday, I am happy to do that. I am just not happy discussing a work plan at the end of a six-hour meeting, after 10:00 in the evening.
I would be happy, Senator Pratte, if you would amend that motion.
Senator Pratte: I will, to have this discussion on Wednesday.
Senator Plett: Instead of the minister?
Senator Pratte: Instead of the minister.
Senator Plett: I would not oppose that amendment.
Senator McPhedran: I want to state for the record that it has been my experience as a member of this committee and other committees that when we ask our executive, three members, to develop what is essentially a work plan, and we are given reasonable advance notice, as we have been, that this is how we’re going to proceed. I am at a loss to appreciate Senator Plett’s motion and would like to speak against it.
Senator Griffin: I have a couple of points. The first is that we have witnesses here now, and I really do hate to inconvenience them. We have people from Statistics Canada coming in at 6:00, and they are here in Ottawa anyway. The suggestion was made by someone around the table that perhaps we could amend the motion in order to discuss the work plan at 6:00 instead of doing it right now. We would have only heard two panels prior to discussing the work plan.
My second point is that I really am loathe to move the minister. I am sure it’s hard to get into his schedule, and I really want to hear from him. But the following Wednesday I would really appreciate it if, instead of having panels on this, we could deal with the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. As you know, I am from Prince Edward Island. The headquarters for the Department of Veterans Affairs is in Prince Edward Island. Every year for the past three, four, five years we’ve had three, four, five ministers. It depends on whom you listen to as to how many ministers, but four ministers over four years is an issue of concern, especially to the workers in my hometown.
Having said that, I think I’d like to move a subamendment to Senator Pratte’s amendment where he was willing to have the discussion of the work plan on Wednesday. I would just as soon have it at 6:00 this evening.
The Chair: We’ve had a motion, an amendment and now a further amendment.
Senator Plett: I’d like to address the senator’s comment about how we had this sent to us well in advance. I agree in part with that, except, of course, the senator wouldn’t necessarily know of all the email exchanges that have been going on about this and the concerns raised about what we are doing. It wasn’t that we were sent this and then today we simply decided, well, let’s try to change that.
I would want to favour Senator Pratte’s amendment, because I do believe over the next weeks we can get the minister back, certainly on a Wednesday. It might allow us a little more time and we can continue with the witnesses.
We’ve lost 10 minutes. Of course, we can make that up at the end of the day today, but I would certainly favour us taking Wednesday to do that.
Senator Griffin says the following Wednesday. If we decide this Wednesday that the following Wednesday would be given back to the Veterans Affairs time slot, I would support that. That, of course, isn’t part of the motion or the amendment. I think Senator Pratte’s amendment makes sense.
Senator Jaffer: I want to support what Senator Plett said, that we should have a really good session on Wednesday. I support Senator Pratte and Senator Plett, and I move further questions.
The Chair: Do we have a motion on the floor to have a discussion on the work plan, as I understand it, on Wednesday? We have an amendment and another amendment.
Senator Griffin: The most recent was mine, suggesting that we discuss the work plan at 6:00 tonight. That should be the one we vote on first and either accept or defeat.
The Chair: Can you reword your motion for me?
Senator Griffin: My amendment is that we discuss the work plan for an hour at 6:00 this evening.
The Chair: Is it agreed? All those in favour?
We move to the other motion by Senator Pratte to discuss the work plan on Wednesday in our normal meeting time frame, and we would defer the minister; is that correct? Is that the correct motion?
Is that agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Carried.
Now we’ll move to the witnesses.
Senator Plett: More housekeeping. You need to ask whether we pass the motion, as amended.
The Chair: Thank you. Do we pass the motion, as amended?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much, chair and colleagues.
The Chair: We will now, with apologies to our witnesses, move to Mr. Waller.
Irvin Waller, Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa, as an individual: Thank you for the invitation to testify. I am a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa. My 50 years of working to reduce violence in Canada and other countries has consisted of trying to help policy-makers actually access and apply evidence. I’ve also written a number of books that have been translated into Spanish, Chinese and other languages for policy-makers on smarter crime control.
My bottom line is that Bill C-71 is a small step in the right direction but that we need a lot more if we’re going to significantly reduce homicides, not just gun-related homicides, but all homicides in Canada.
I am, frankly, shocked by my own statistics. If you look at the G7 countries and don’t include the United States, Canada is the prize winner with 1.8 homicides per 100,000. That is roughly double Germany, close to double France and about 50 per cent above England and Wales. I think this is a shame, and it requires serious consideration and action.
In 2018, the city of Toronto, the third-biggest in North America, had a homicide rate of 3.4 per 100,000. That is marginally above New York City, roughly double the city of London, England, and roughly double the city of Montreal, Quebec. There are very good reasons why both of those cities have significantly lower rates. By the way, the city of London has a mayor who is actually taking this issue seriously and is going to look at evidence on how it can be used to implement better policies.
We also live in a country in which the rate of homicides for male Aboriginals — I am using the Statistics Canada term — is six times that of non-Aboriginals. This is also a shame.
Senator Pratte and Minister Goodale alluded to the reality that homicides in Canada have come down significantly over the last 40 years. That’s basically since the Trudeau government introduced significant changes to firearm control in 1977. You should be aware that I was the director general of research and statistics for the Solicitor General at that time, and this was one of my files.
You may not be aware — and if Statistics Canada appears, you may become a little more aware — that the handgun issue is not just in the last few years. It has actually been growing over the last 10 years. There’s been a major shift in Canada over those 40 years to less criminal use of long guns and in the last 10 years a rapid increase in the criminal use of handguns. Bill C-71 does not address the issue of handguns in any major way.
I am clearly in favour of background checks. This, for me, is a no-brainer. Going back from five to many more years, I think it provides minimal interference with anybody’s rights, but it does provide some minimal protection to potential victims.
Verifying the PAL is, again, a no-brainer. For me, it’s surprising that it actually had to be included in Bill C-71. To keep a record of whether a retailer has actually checked a PAL is also a no-brainer.
These are three very simple and obvious things that provide minimal interference and provide some minimal additional protections.
I have no comment on the reclassification of the two weapons other than that the RCMP is totally correct that these should be shifted in their category. It’s clearly a good idea to try to provide protection when restricted weapons are being transported. I live in the age when Canada has adopted its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. You will not be the only ones who may not be intimately familiar with these, but I am, because SDG 16 talks about significant reductions in homicides, and Canada, by agreeing to the SDGs, has agreed to that. So we should be getting legislation and programs that make progress on that goal. It also has a section on improving the reporting of crimes by victims. SDG 5 is very important on violence against women and girls. We should be looking at this legislation and the government’s programs in light of those goals.
We are living in a new age where 50 years of scientific research shows us exactly what we should be doing to stop violent crime, including misuse of handguns. Some of this was discussed at the gangs and guns summit, but, in my view, not nearly enough. You can actually access the U.S. Department of Justice’s website to see this. You may not believe this, but you can. You can go to the British College of Policing. You can go to a number of websites to see what actually works, where it has proven effective, to reduce violence in most cases, and you’re looking at 50 per cent reductions. That is basically what is in my book for policy-makers.
What are the sorts of things that actually work? Some have to do with proactive policing. That is not what the Toronto police are doing and it’s not what most police agencies in Canada are doing. It gets to tackling the reasons why young men in disadvantaged areas of our cities are turning to guns, and in many cases it is associated with trafficking in drugs.
Guidelines were developed and approved by the Canadian government at the UN. These talk about what should be done. British parliamentarians established a Youth Violence Commission that is in the process of reporting, and it talks about the Glasgow model. The City of London has adopted that model.
My call to you is let’s get Bill C-71 going, and let’s get a Senate subcommittee to look at the evidence, share it with the public and come up with recommendations that will reduce Indigenous homicides, bring Toronto back to a peaceful city and stop the use of weapons threatening women and children in this country.
The Chair: Thank you.
Adam Ellis, Vanier Scholar, University of Toronto-Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, as an individual: Thank you for having me. My name is Adam Ellis, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar at the University of Toronto Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies.
Before I speak directly to Bill C-71, I would like to share a brief story about a young man that I know. This young man grew up in what criminologists have identified as a subculture of violence. At the age of 6, this boy experienced his first bully and was exposed to street warfare. At the age of 15, he was robbed at gunpoint. At the age of 16, he acquired his first gun and transitioned into street life for protection. At the age of 17, he witnessed the attempted murder of one of his friends. At the age of 18, two-thirds of his friends were in jail or prison. By the age of 19, he said goodbye to many of his brothers as a result of homicide, suicide and incarceration. In that same year, his mother passed away, and he was on a trajectory toward homelessness and hopelessness.
This story I have shared is not about a stranger, but instead it’s about me.
Today, I have miraculously survived my community, the justice system that tried to silence my pain, and the broader society that only viewed me as a failure. I tell you this story because I want to humanize the experience of those who are involved in so-called gang life, where, for many, they are pushed toward violence not as a matter of choice but as a matter of survival.
While much of the discourse on gun violence blames young minority men for the bloodshed in the streets, I want to highlight that much of this violence occurs not because of something pathological in these young men but rather the ingredients that lend to gang violence are rooted in the broader social systems that perpetuate their own forms of structural violence that lead these young men to pick up a gun in the first place.
Here we must question why young men feel that they need to have a gun in society. This complex question is beyond the time I have here. However, what we do know is in stark contrast to how the media, law enforcement and some Conservative politicians have chosen to describe the actions and behaviours of young minority men across time and space.
As a former victim, turned criminologist, I can say without hesitation that the gun is a tool for these young men to survive. Young men without other options rely on guns to protect themselves against not only the pervasive threats that exist in their communities, including disorganized and organized drug markets, but they also use guns to fill security needs where conventional social controls have failed. Further, the gun provides young men with a form of status and power that has been stolen from them as a result of social injustices that filter down as a result of structural violence.
As my colleague Scot Wortley suggests, guns give a sense of power and control to those that feel powerless and forgotten by mainstream society. However, there are serious consequences of a street life. For example, my research on trauma, PTSD and gang violence highlights that young gang members experience similar forms of violence as those found in global conflict. More importantly, these experiences lead to serious mental health complications that can proliferate future violent behaviours, including gun violence.
That being said, and to address whether restrictions on legal guns would reduce the violence my friends and I were exposed to throughout our lives, I would say absolutely. However, this cannot be the only piece. We also know that a majority of guns used in street violence are smuggled across our border. One must then also look at the black market and figure out ways to disrupt existing illicit pipelines that contribute to violence in our streets.
One way to address these issues is through comparative international research. I am currently working with former gang leaders turned PhDs in the U.S. and Canada, where we conduct in-depth exploratory research on gangs and gun violence. Our coalition, known as Thug Criminology, investigates issues such as gun crime, including how guns are moving across the border, who is involved with their transportation, and why these operations take place.
In closing, while Bill C-71 is important, I hope we do not lose sight of what is really happening in these young people’s lives. We cannot only blame them for the problem. We must also look at ourselves and understand how we, as a society, have contributed to the pain and suffering that wields violence in our most vulnerable communities. More specifically, we must seek to understand how broader social contexts such as systemic racism, marginalization and patriarchy may fuel the gun violence that takes place in our communities. In this respect, I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have in the Q and A.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Ellis.
Mr. March has made a request to have a couple colleagues speak within the five-minute time frame. Are senators agreeable?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Louis March, Founder, Zero Gun Violence Movement: Thank you very much for allowing me that flexibility.
My name is Louis March. I am the founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement in Toronto. It is a collaboration of over 40 different organizations, agencies and programs that work toward this ambitious goal of zero gun violence.
I speak to you today with a heavy heart because over the last six years that we’ve been working in Toronto, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. We have experienced a significant increase in the number of gun homicides in the city: 51 in 2018; 22 in 2013, and guess what? We had 8 in 1990. Something has changed, something is changing, and we are always chasing the bullets these days. That is not what we want to see.
How many of those 51 lives could we have saved if we had a more robust and intelligent gun administration policy? Youth have spoken to us regularly, saying that it is easier for them to get a gun than a job. Imagine a 14-year-old telling you it’s easier for him to get a gun than a job. Something is broken. The organizations we work with are those that have been impacted by gun violence — the mothers who have lost their children, the siblings. We work with that group.
We also work with the group that is responsible for the violence in the city, the people who have done the crime, done the time and want to make a difference. So our perspective on gun violence is from two tables that are seldom heard from. That is why I am asking your permission today to invite Evelyn Fox, who is a mother who has lost her son to gun violence. I am also inviting Mr. Marcell Wilson, a previous gang leader, who has done his time and is now making a difference.
With your permission, I am going to ask Evelyn Fox to come to the microphone. Thank you so much.
Evelyn Fox, Founder, Communities for ZERO Violence: My son, Kiesingar, was killed by a stray bullet on September 11, 2016. Since then, myself and another mother have joined forces and created Communities for ZERO Violence because we could see gun violence escalating in our communities. We are trying to find out where the firearms are coming from and get rid of the devastation that families endure because of one single bullet.
I support Bill C-71 because I see that through statistics and community information, some of the firearms are coming from straw purchasing and from firearms that are being stolen and then are flooding our neighbourhoods and communities.
Since 2014, there have been 12 convicted straw purchasers, two of whom were actually firearms retailers selling their firearms to anyone and everybody, regardless of a PAL. Four are currently going through our court system. These are just the ones that I could find.
According to the Chief Firearms Officer in their report, 1,546 prohibition orders have been issued through the courts. Because they have all the information lined out, and according to domestic violence, there are 125 drug offences. It goes through the list, but the only thing that is not on here is straw purchasing and selling. So court-ordered prohibition, the 1,546 — and this is from 2017 — my deductive reasoning could only come to the conclusion that these are straw purchasers.
So there is a concern, especially with regard to retailers who have been subject to theft. It clearly states that the firearms dealers had their firearms locked up according to the law, and they did everything by the book. But if they’re still able to get in and out of that store within five minutes and have hundreds of guns to flood our communities, then there has to be something more foolproof to deal with that.
One act of gun violence does not affect just me as a mother. My son had four children. I have four children. Over 500 people from our community were at my son’s funeral. It was at standing-room capacity only, and the outside of the funeral home was packed.
One act of violence, one bullet that took one person’s life, affects hundreds of people. We have hurting communities that see this on a regular basis and are dying inside. There are little kids suffering from PTSD and have no impulse control, and what happens is that the cycle keeps going and going.
In regard to the bill, as Mr. Waller said, this is a small step forward. I believe it will tighten up some of the gaps.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Fox. Let me, on behalf of all senators, extend our sympathy to you on the loss of your son.
Mr. Wilson, you have a couple of minutes.
Marcell Wilson, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, One By One: Good day, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Marcell Wilson, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director of the One By One movement, and Regional Coordinator, Toronto, for Against Violent Extremism. I come from and work directly within the communities affected by gun violence in Toronto.
I originally came here to argue that as an ex-gang leader and person with lived experience, I do not support more restrictions for legal gun owners because of the well-known fundamental flaws in the data put forth to argue for more restrictions; but we, the people with my background and lived experience, and from my organization, know that a small majority of the guns that affect the communities we work within are not or were never resourced from legal gun owners unless they were stolen. But it has been brought to my attention that 1,546 persons across Canada have had their licences revoked for what apparently looks like straw purchases. Even if one of those guns makes it into my community, it affects us all. Thank you.
Senator Dagenais: I would like to thank our witnesses. My first question is for Professor Waller. Mr. Waller, you probably know that the firearms used by criminal organizations are not registered, be they used by the mafia, biker gangs or street gangs. Bill C-71 has no impact, and I doubt that your ideas of deterrent approaches may have one. Yet for criminals who are caught with a charged handgun, the Supreme Court has struck down provisions that prescribe a minimum sentence of three years, and the current government has not included anything in Bill C-71 for organized criminals, who were responsible for last year’s carnage in Toronto.
Do you think Bill C-71 has shortcomings in that area? If so, what would you suggest?
Mr. Waller: I’ll respond to you in English, if I may.
It’s extremely important to see that the legislation dating from the mid-1970s has been associated with a significant reduction in the number of long guns used in homicides. I don’t think we are only looking at street gangs or organized crime. I think it is reasonable in Bill C-71 to add minor improvements. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to check whether somebody has a PAL before you sell them a gun. As you are undoubtedly aware, there are many people who have had their gun licences taken away.
If you look at the homicide statistics from 2016-17, you see a significant increase in rural homicides. It is important that there are reasonable controls on guns that might be used in fights and in domestic situations. I think Bill C-71 is a reasonable improvement.
I absolutely agree with you that we need a lot more than this. If you’re looking at Toronto — the third-largest city in North America — it is a shame for Canada to admit that it had a homicide rate marginally above that of New York. Of course, New York has done a lot to reduce gun-related homicides. Nevertheless, I think that is a shame, and it requires other action.
It’s also very clear to me that we know what to do. It’s available on websites from the U.S. Department of Justice and the British College of Policing. We know exactly the sorts of things we should be doing in Toronto in terms of outreach to youth, getting people to learn to think twice, and creating jobs for people who drift. We also know what should be done with proactive policing — I didn’t say, “with more policing.” These have worked.
Glasgow is a classic example. It wasn’t guns; it was knives. But the situation is exactly the same. The Mayor of London has adopted that. Every single city in this country should be looking at the Glasgow model and adopting it, and we would see significant reductions in the sorts of violence that my two colleagues have been talking about.
Senator Dagenais: That seems pretty inconsistent to me, as the current government is trying to rush us to pass Bill C-71, but is in the same breath promising us other changes regarding handguns. Why not put everything in Bill C-71? If the blanket prohibition on handgun possession the current government is considering could limit the number of victims in Toronto’s organized crime war, do you truly believe that those murders would not have taken place?
Mr. Waller: It is easy to look at England and see that following the Dunblane incident in Scotland, when they basically banned handguns, there was a reduction from about 70 homicides a year — marginally above the number killed last year in Toronto with guns — to around 20. So you can make progress on an island by banning handguns. You can also do it in Japan.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury. We are living right at the U.S. border, and it is very easy to bring handguns across that border. Sniffer dogs and extra sensors at the border are not going to stop that. We have to absolutely focus on ways of reducing the demand for guns.
I ran the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime in Montreal. It is interesting that Montreal has a homicide rate half that of Toronto, 50 per cent lower. One of the reasons is they invested in outreach youth centres in those areas where street violence occurs. It is the same gun legislation across the country.
I would like to see us doing more to limit the number of handguns bought and then resold. I agree with what was talked about regarding straw purchases, but we need other action. There should be a more thorough look at how to do it because it does require a transformation like the Sustainable Development Goals are calling for in order to achieve that. We can get our gun homicide rate and homicide rate back down to levels similar to Germany or France for relatively little investment. We just have to use that knowledge, but it’s going to require public debate in order to achieve that.
Senator Jaffer: I want to thank all three panellists.
First of all, Mr. Ellis, thank you for your intervention. This committee meeting is being shown across the country, and you are very courageous to be here. I know that I speak for every member here when I say thank you. I also want to thank Mr. Wilson. Both of you have put a face to this. We don’t see faces. You make us think very carefully.
I want to thank Ms. Fox for sharing her story. It takes a lot of courage. One of the things we will take away from this is that one bullet can destroy the community.
Thanks to all of you.
My question concerns how gun violence affects vulnerable women. I would like all three of you to address the issue of how women are affected by gun violence. I would like to start with Mr. Wilson.
Mr. March: How does gun violence affect women?
Senator Jaffer: Besides the mother; we understood that. There are women affected on the street, so we want you to address that issue.
Mr. March: I’m going to ask Mr. Wilson to respond.
Mr. Wilson: When it comes to Bill C-71, it applies more when it comes to women and the realm of domestic violence.
There is a segment of our society that we believe is not really visible; the wives, the girlfriends, the children’s mothers that are affected indirectly and directly by gun violence. If you come into our communities, you will find there are a lot of voices ready to talk on the subject of how it affects them. You will find that post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and abuse comes out of having those experiences.
I honestly think that most of the amendments in Bill C-71 apply more to the women in our community than ourselves.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much.
Mr. Ellis, did you want to add anything?
Mr. Ellis: Building on that, from my own study and research on trauma and PTSD, I specifically focused on male gang members. However, their stories also gave us insight into the ripple effects of being a perpetrator and a victim of crime. We can envision gang life a bit like a game. There are drug markets and other illicit markets such as human trafficking in the City of Toronto. We’re having issues with that. How does that interplay with having to control those markets and how do guns play into that?
I heard from gang members that if they’re a perpetrator of violence, it affects their family directly. Their mothers have to visit them in prison and have to bear that guilt and shame. If you’re trying to control the market as far as human trafficking, guns play into that. So what are the ripple effects of the control of women in those marketplaces? There is vicarious and direct trauma, and this can have a significant impact on the whole community, absolutely.
Senator Jaffer: Mr. Waller, your work is known to us. You have written many books. You write a lot on this. Does the Glasgow model deal with domestic violence at all? I understand domestic violence and others are reduced in the U.K. and Australia. I wanted you to comment on that.
Mr. Waller: I’d like to comment on both the questions.
We are very close to Wilno here, where three women were murdered with guns. It’s very clear that gun violence is a serious issue for women. I don’t think it’s necessarily on the rise. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be looking at it closely.
If you look at Indigenous women, the homicide rate per capita is about four Indigenous women to one non-Indigenous woman, so there is a serious issue there that has to be included.
Sorry, you’re going to have to repeat your question.
Senator Jaffer: The Glasgow model.
Mr. Waller: The Glasgow model is very important for us here. A senior police detective got fed up with picking up the phone to yet another murder. Most of these murders were male, street-gang people. Then he brought in an analyst, and as a result of that they developed the Glasgow model.
The Glasgow model achieved a 50 per cent reduction in homicides within three years of being implemented. That’s what has inspired the Mayor of London, England, to adopt a similar model, so it’s a very important one for us here.
It does include an element on what I would prefer to call intimate partner violence, sometimes called domestic violence, and clearly we need to be doing a lot more around that in this country. It is an area in which we know a lot of what needs to be done.
When you meet with Statistics Canada, you may want to ask them why they don’t include the murder followed by suicide statistics anymore. When I worked in government, that was one of the most striking things. Some of the violence against women that results in deaths is committed by men who kill both the child and the mother and then kill themselves. This has not really been sufficiently addressed. It’s an important issue.
The Chair: Before we move to Senator Gold, I am reminding all senators to keep your questions shorter and for the witnesses, a shorter response so we can ensure all the questions get answered.
Senator Gold: Thank you, chair. I am mindful of your good counsel.
First, thank you all for being here. We know it is a complex problem with multiple causes, but I want to focus on Bill C-71 as much as we can.
Professor Waller, you ticked off a number of things in Bill C-71 that you said were no-brainers, background checks and others. Nonetheless, they have attracted much criticism from those opposed to Bill C-71. I wonder if you might elaborate on some of those points and why you think they are a step forward, as you’ve described.
Mr. Waller: Going from five years to much longer would not be at the top of my list because I think you’re going to catch most things within five years. But if you’re going to amend the law, you may as well extend it over a longer time period.
On the verification of a PAL, of a licence, and requiring retailers to keep records, I am not sure what you want me to say. It’s just obvious that before you sell somebody a gun, you check that they have a licence to buy it and that you keep records for a long period of time.
I was involved, as a public servant, in the 1978 legislation, and I think it’s very clear that this has contributed to a significant reduction in the homicides in this country. And I see Bill C-71 as tinkering with the legislation. I am in favour of tinkering, but we need much more.
Senator Pratte: Professor Waller, you just said that the 1978 legislation led to a decrease in the number of homicides in the country, and you said it’s very clear. Yet, there are other researchers who seem to say that it’s not the case, that gun control legislation has not worked. Can you elaborate on the fact that you think the science on this is clear?
Mr. Waller: I think any legislation that purports to reduce crime should be evaluated to see whether it, in fact, achieves that objective. The legislation that you refer to in 1978 had an evaluation added to it, so some of the decreases in gun-related homicides were due to a general trend that you also see in some other countries. But the evaluation showed that in addition to that trend, it achieved an overall reduction.
I think what is in Bill C-71 would be good if an evaluation was added to it. It’s fairly obvious that it is going to have some impact but not necessarily a large impact. If we’re going to deal with gun homicides in Toronto or with homicides against women, femicides, a basic component of that is evaluation as to whether it really works.
I think if you look at the Sustainable Development Goals, one of the key elements is that we evaluate outcomes. A lot of the political debate about these things would be spiked if we actually built the following into all of our legislation: Do we have evidence that fewer people have been killed or injured or fewer people have committed suicide or there been fewer robberies as a result of the legislation?
Senator Pratte: Thank you.
Mr. Ellis, we don’t have much time, but I would like to ask you a question. You seem to be indicating that even though a lot of the guns used within gangs are smuggled in from the U.S., there was a link, a relationship between what happens in the legal market and the illegal market. Would you care to elaborate on that?
Mr. Ellis: Guns have historically been a form of power. In the illicit market where young men are trying to acquire what has been taken away from them by the state, I would argue that they’re using the weapons to survive in those illicit markets. Violence is a means for young men to gain power and respect, so the gun becomes an extension, a tool to reacquire the power that’s missing in their lives.
It’s also a way of having control over those markets. Is it only in the illicit, underground markets? No, but it does come about quite often within those drug markets, absolutely.
Senator Pratte: Thank you.
Senator Plett: Mr. March, you mentioned that it is easier for a young person to get a gun than a job.
Mr. March: Correct.
Senator Plett: Are these handguns?
Mr. March: Yes.
Senator Plett: Handguns are already tightly controlled and registered. Doesn’t this indicate that imposing more laws on law-abiding citizens hasn’t worked? They’re already very tightly controlled, and where does this deal with that?
Mr. March: With due respect, a gun is a gun is a gun, period. Legal guns become illegal guns under certain circumstances, yes. Getting access to a handgun is much easier, yes. But there are modifications. There are manufactured guns now. There’s a demand for them, and that demand is being satisfied by suppliers who have a brisk business in selling guns, buying a gun for $200 in the States —
Senator Plett: Selling illegal guns?
Mr. March: Yes. But legal guns can become illegal guns and any robust policy, any robust management policy, any robust oversight policy helps to eliminate that opportunity for that legal gun to become an illegal gun.
Senator Plett: I am not sure whether it was you or maybe the lady who spoke about straw purchases. It would appear to me that since handguns are already registered, the changes to the Firearms Act made by Bill C-71 will have no impact on detecting straw purchases of handguns. Can you explain how Bill C-71 will make it easier to detect straw purchases of handguns when a clear record already exists of who buys a registered firearm and where they live?
Mr. March: Yes, there are straw purchases, and there is regulation and administration of those purchases. We need to be more robust there. We can do better because we know — and the police know it from the crime scenes — where they show up. We’re not doing enough. We can do better.
We can use Bill C-71 as an opportunity to upgrade and make the policies of administration, checking and balancing the books more robust. That’s why we support Bill C-71, not as the silver bullet to solving this problem but as part of a jigsaw puzzle that is unfolding before our eyes and has not been addressed at the national, provincial or municipal level to the extent that we know it can be done.
Senator Plett: One quick question for Mr. Ellis. Last November, Statistics Canada released their 2017 report on homicides, which noted that the national homicide rate was the highest in a decade, thanks to a spike in the number of deaths from guns and gang violence. The report blamed gangs for the increase in gun-related killings, which accounted for 40 per cent of all homicides in 2017.
In your view, does Bill C-71 address — and if it does, how — this root problem that has been driving up the rates of gun violence over the last few years?
Mr. Ellis: I am on Mr. March’s position, absolutely. Anything that we can do or put into place that’s comprehensive and robust provides an action plan that would help decrease those situations. Bill C-71 doesn’t directly speak to the root causes. There are things that we need to see happen at a grassroots level to help youth get away from those situations. But, even at a symbolic level, Bill C-71 brings together our communities, our nation, to get behind something that speaks to us and says we’re not going to have this anymore in our communities, and it’s happening in Toronto.
My feeling is that Bill C-71 and the pieces that are in place would have an impact, and it’s only one piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, as Mr. March has said. I support it 100 per cent.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you all for your presentations.
Professor Waller, thank you for bringing the Glasgow model to our attention. It was interesting to hear you speak of the solid violence prevention science that has worked well in cities like Glasgow. Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.
Mr. Ellis, you recently wrote in the Toronto Star that young gang members are unlikely to be impacted by former gang members trying to intervene with them. Instead, you have suggested that a long-term strategy is needed — including poverty and the cycle of violence — to address that situation. Could you elaborate on that, please?
Mr. Ellis: The piece was not specifically targeting outreach workers or anything like that. It was geared towards having a conversation about a specific model, the interrupters model, that came out of the United States. That was put forth to the city. I felt there wasn’t enough conversation happening around it at the time, so specific people that I knew who could add knowledge to that model or to the conversation were invited to those tables. I created the debate with Mr. Glover and the Toronto Star to have a real conversation about whether this interrupter-style model is transferable to Toronto. We know in criminology that many of these programs, models and interventions that are designed from a U.S. perspective not transferable, often even to a Canadian perspective.
With specific reference to ex-gang members assisting in helping other gang members get out of gangs, that was an opinion piece and it wouldn’t necessarily have worked for me at the time. I felt people were threatening my life and that my back was up against a wall. I am not sure if that would have saved me at that moment, but it definitely would have planted a seed.
Senator McIntyre: Is it all about a long-term strategy? How long term is long term, in your view?
Mr. Ellis: I have these conversations with my colleagues often, including Dr. Scot Wortley, about building comprehensive models. Even the funding structure now, the National Crime Prevention Strategy, only gives organizations, such as what my colleague Marcell Wilson is trying to do, a five-year window to have an impact in the communities. Unfortunately, it takes that long to develop relationships, to develop trust, and to actually see things take effect.
From my position, absolutely, you would need at least a 10-year strategy for these organizations to really have an impact, and the funding should be there.
In my work on trauma and PTSD, people think you can fix trauma in six months or that you can fix a young person’s experiences of exposure to gun violence in a year or two. It just doesn’t work that way. We need to be with these young people for the long haul and we need to fund these programs.
Senator Boisvenu: I would like to offer you, Mr. March and the people accompanying you, my condolences for the tragedies you have experienced, as I myself have lost a daughter to a repeat criminal. I understand very well your battle and your sorrow.
However, we should be very careful about promoting a bill that may create false hope. I have read this bill from top to bottom and I’m the first to defend measures that really address the root cause of the problem—organized crime. In Toronto, crime increased between 2010 and 2013 in particular, while, over the past 30 or 40 years, gun crime has been in constant decline in Canada. What we see in Toronto in particular is that the majority of gun crimes involve illegal firearms or are committed by street gang members.
This bill really emphasizes bureaucracy and administration. It sets aside a lot of resources for licenses. A few months ago, the mayor of Toronto asked the federal government to focus on the real problems: illegal trade, the smuggling of firearms from the United States, street gang members with minimal conditions, and people who are released from custody and reoffend. How will this highly bureaucratic bill reduce crime in Toronto? Will it address the real issues of illegal firearm trade and organized crime? How will the bill affect the problems you are experiencing in Toronto? I am trying to understand.
Mr. March: Thank you for the question. We debate that on a daily basis, the root of the problem.
I am going to tell you something: We don’t even talk about the root of the problem anymore; we talk about the seeds. Where does it really begin? Because sometimes attacking the roots is not good enough.
In terms of false hopes, we don’t have a silver bullet to solve this problem. It’s a complex problem with different pieces. There’s a leakage in the current system because we know legal guns are ending up on the street doing illegal activity. Whatever we can do to block and stop that leakage will help us save lives, getting to zero gun violence.
There is a leakage that has been evident over the years. Yes, we are concerned about the illegal guns coming across the border, and we need a robust administrative and bureaucratic, if I might say, way to make sure we’re doing the best there. But we also need a robust and, if necessary, bureaucratic system to manage, document and track legal guns. If we can be effective there at the cost of bureaucracy, it is worth it.
We work with people who have lost lives to gun violence. We know the financial, human, emotional and physical costs.
You heard the statistics from the professor. If we compare our position to those across the world, are we doing the best we can? Clearly, the answer is “no.” Are we doing the best we can at the retail level? Hell no, we’re not doing it. We can do better. If it’s a matter of bureaucracy, which is normalized in most people’s lives these days, I don’t see why we should see it as a negative when it comes to saving people’s lives. Thank you very much.
Senator McPhedran: Did you have something else you wanted to add? Please, I’ll give my time.
Mr. March: I’ll talk a little about street gangs, because the senator suggested that the crime is by street gangs. Just for clarity, this is not true. There is a crew of people in a community with no structure, no gang per se, now using guns in a brazen nature that a structured gang would not even allow.
We’re seeing the culture of gun violence changing. We see the use of the word “gang” as a basket phrase to include everything when so much change has taken place.
We’ve seen a dramatic increase in gun violence in Toronto from 2013, when we had .22, to 51 last year. If you look at the people using the handguns — teenagers, brazen shootings. We’re seeing this. Is it a gang per se, or are they just people who are using guns to get the power that Mr. Ellis speaks about? If we don’t have a clearer picture, we aren’t going to solve anything.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you. That really helps with the question I am about to ask.
Mr. March: I am sorry.
Senator McPhedran: No, don’t be sorry. I appreciate it very much. I want to add my thanks to everyone who has spoken today.
My question is initially directed to Professor Waller, but I want to invite any of the panellists to respond. I want to see if we can understand what appears to be a rural-urban divide and how that needs to be addressed in Bill C-71.
Let me frame my question. I think it’s relevant to say that I grew up in a hunting family in the Prairies, in Manitoba. As a teenager, I was a member of my local rifle club, so my questions don’t come from an “anti-gun” perspective.
However, what we know is that, from 2014 to 2017, with homicides from rifles and shotguns, we saw an 82 per cent increase, and more than two-thirds of those homicides were in more rural areas. Whereas when we look at handguns, in 2014 there were 103 handgun homicides, and in 2017 that jumped to 145. So we have a significant percentage increase there as well.
Bill C-71 doesn’t deal with handguns, so I’d really like to hear from Professor Waller and anyone else on the panel: Is this something that needs to change?
Mr. Waller: The short answer is that it’s very clear the answer is “yes.”
I think it is useful to separate the street gang violence or street violence with guns in a cities like Toronto, Surrey, Regina or Winnipeg from rural gun violence. In my view, I am more optimistic than my colleague on the left about the possibilities of significantly reducing the violence in Toronto. It’s quite dramatic to compare it with Montreal, for instance, or with London or Glasgow in England. It’s very clear that we can reduce it within a relatively short period of three to five years.
Regarding the issue of what to do about rural violence, particularly violence that affects Indigenous peoples, I am not quite so optimistic about short-term solutions, but I think many things can be done. Glasgow has been talked about. The way Glasgow arrived at its solutions was to analyze the problem. That’s what the Youth Violence Commission did in England.
We have not had a commission in this country basically since Horner in 1993 — there was one two years later — that really looked at violence in this country and the solutions, but they certainly should be looking in a different way at what is affecting urban homicide statistics from rural statistics.
I think they also have to look at it in the context of 50 years of accumulated research, of experience in different countries and the failures of many U.S. models. Chicago is the classic example. Chicago and Toronto have roughly the same characteristics, but Toronto has 3.5 homicides per 100,000 and Chicago has 20. So we clearly should not be learning from Chicago.
I think we should be learning from Glasgow and London, and we should be learning by investing more in not just projects, which is what the National Crime Prevention Centre does, but programs — things that affect the whole city, like Toronto.
Mr. Ellis: I’ve been reading a couple of different varying research reports. Maybe the issue we have is not having a clear understanding of how many guns there are statistically. With respect to Bill C-71 and it not dealing with the illicit market, I am not sure why that’s not a piece. Some of the reports I’ve been looking at suggest there’s 50 per cent illicit now and 50 per cent domestic. I might be mistaken, but I am sure I’ve read that. So not having a clear understanding of how much of something exists makes it very hard for us to streamline pathways and programs to get there.
Senator McPhedran: On the other hand, we do know what our homicide statistics are, and we know whether there were shotguns, rifles and/or handguns. We know on both sides of that, whether it’s rural or urban, that we have a big problem, because those numbers have all gone up.
Mr. Ellis: Absolutely. Again, supporting the bill, as far as the illicit market is concerned — and I’ll just build on Louis’s discussion — if you have one gun that slips out of the legitimate market, falls into the illicit market and a life is lost, the control should be there for that. That’s my position, until we figure out more research around how much there is.
Mr. March: I’ll ask my colleague Marcell to address that.
Senator McPhedran: I want to make sure I understood that you went from not supporting this bill to now saying you do think this bill should be passed.
Mr. Wilson: Correct. There are elements of it that I believe in and support. My position is that I do believe guns are important. One life taken is one life too many.
But as the previous senator stated, we focus more on the square root of the issue. I have done some consultation for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the U.K., and we have looked at the Glasgow model. One thing that failed to be mentioned is that we can take away the tool of the trade, but Glasgow now has a problem with stabbings. They have knife crimes that are just as loud as the gun crimes used to be. We can take away the tools, but we don’t address the square root of the issue. If we take away the knives, we will kill each other with rocks.
As my colleague Adam stated, long-term funding through social economic programming, dealing with mental health, dealing with things on a grassroots level, is the solution. We do this every day. I go to these funerals. We work with these kids. Essentially, we act as a megaphone. These are not really my opinions; these are the opinions of the communities I represent.
We know there’s a gun problem. We know that’s the tool of the trade right now. Do we need laws to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen? Yes, we do, but I don’t think it should be the focus, and I don’t think we should spend as much time and money on these issues as we should on social and economic issues.
Senator McPhedran: Prevention.
Mr. Wilson: Prevention.
The Chair: Let me express my thanks on behalf of all senators to our witnesses. We appreciate both your effort and your candour at the table. Thank you.
For our next panel, we welcome, from the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Chief Ghislain Picard. Commissioner Audette is on her way. She will join us shortly. I think she’s caught in traffic.
We begin with Chief Picard. Thank you.
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Picard spoke in his Indigenous language.]
Ghislain Picard, Chief, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and honourable senators. It’s certainly a pleasure to have this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-71.
I will introduce myself. I am Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and I am one of the 10 regional chiefs across the country. I am extremely pleased to talk to you about the topic you are considering, Bill C-71. Joining me today is Stuart Wuttke, legal counsel for the Assembly of First Nations. I will go ahead with the notes we have prepared to present the case, and I will begin right away so as not to waste time.
I would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence for inviting the Assembly of First Nations to speak to Bill C-71. We appreciate the opportunity to present our point of view on the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act. I would like to begin by pointing out that we are on traditional unceded land of the Algonquin nation. Bill C-71 is causing a lot of reactions and controversy throughout Canada. First nations have been using firearms for a long time in this country for their cultural and traditional activities.
In any legislative issues that may impact ancestral and treaty rights, the AFN continues to defend Indigenous interests and collaborate with the government to incorporate our vision into Canadian laws.
The main issues under consideration in Bill C-71 are: Canada’s power to monitor the activities of firearm owners by requiring more in-depth background checks; restrictions on the transportation of restricted or prohibited firearms; new requirements for record keeping by retail stores selling firearms; more powers granted to the RCMP to classify firearms without ministerial oversight; the requirement for private citizens to confirm the validity of the recipient’s firearms licence when a firearm is sold or given to reduce gun violence and gang violence. On those issues, First Nations can share their expertise and strong experience with this committee, the government and Canadians in general.
Many First Nations would agree that handguns, restricted firearms and other firearms used by gangs should be taken out of circulation. Key to this discussion is a search for balance between federal laws and authorities, on the one hand, and the point of view of First Nations and the defence of their ancestral and treaty rights, as confirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, on the other hand.
First Nations members, as individuals or through their nations, affirm their fundamental cultural rights to hunt, fish and trap. First Nations have the right to pass on their culture to future generations without outside interference. The Government of Canada has promised to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship that connects it to First Nations, and opportunities like this one, which allow us to present our concerns, are vital, not only for the Canadian legal framework, but for Canada as a whole.
The Senate must take into account the repercussions of the proposed legislation on First Nations from the early stages of the process. Bill C-71 contains provisions that could negatively impact First Nations’ rights, and this committee should amend those provisions before the act is implemented. Amendments proposed to the Firearms Act raise major constitutional concerns for First Nations.
Our first concern is about the bill not taking into account or protecting our ancestral and treaty rights. So it could affect some of those rights, such as our right to hunt. There is no mention in this draft legislation of how the bill’s provisions will be applied to First Nations or their land. It should be clearly indicated that First Nations’ right to hunt will be respected and that we will not have to obtain authorization to transport hunting rifles, even those classified as restricted.
Our ancestral and treaty rights are fundamental and are affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. They prevail over laws that apply generally to all Canadians. We are asking Canada to protect our right to transport firearms within our territories without restrictions in the exercise of our right to hunt.
Our second concern is about the new requirements related to the transportation and transfer of restricted, non-restricted and prohibited firearms. No guidelines indicate how those new changes will be applied to First Nations. For example, the amendments made to sections 23 and 23.1 of the Firearms Act, which concern the transfer of an unrestricted firearm, require the seller or transferor of a non-restricted firearm to confirm the validity of the buyer’s or transferee’s firearms licence.
This amendment presents no provisions regarding its application to First Nations or the time it takes to process requests for confirmation. That will probably affect the passing on of our culture from one generation to the next through the transfer of a firearm. In addition, future changes to the classification system could turn currently non-restricted firearms into restricted firearms. At its discretion, the RCMP can designate any firearm as restricted, prohibited or non-restricted.
On what data will the RCMP base its decisions? Who will oversee that classification to ensure that hunting rifles will remain non-restricted?
Under the new rules, the entire life of a person who applies for a firearm licence will be examined instead of just the past five years.
First Nations people are more likely to have criminal records due to systemic discrimination and other reasons that I won’t get into now. But is it fair that a person could be denied a licence on the basis of a criminal offence committed 20 or 30 years ago? Does that really predict how likely he or she is to misuse a firearm today?
Obviously, we need to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with serious mental illnesses, but why punish a person who made a mistake decades ago?
In our respectful view, whether one has a criminal record or not should not in any way interfere with the exercise of the Aboriginal and/or treaty right to hunt.
Canada says that Bill C-71 will reduce gang violence, but many gang members obtain guns illegally on the black market. The new rules affect law-abiding citizens and don’t do anything to curb gang violence.
The homicide rate in Canada for licensed gun owners is 0.6 per 100,000, which is one third the rate of the general population. Instead of placing unnecessary restrictions on the rights of licensed gun owners, Canada should do more to directly address gang violence. This means making sure First Nations have the funding to operate their own police forces and that these are properly trained and equipped.
Bill C-71 brings in new firearms transportation laws, which will be an additional responsibility for First Nations police services. Canada continues to designate our police services as non-essential and fails to provide enough funding under the First Nations Policing Program.
First Nations police agencies must provide a service equal of that of non-Indigenous police services. This bill will further burden our police forces, and we require more investment to uphold the enforcement requirements of this bill. First Nations police forces are also equipped with inferior weapons compared to gangs. More training for certification of firearms used by other police forces must be made available to First Nations police agencies. Currently, there are no provisions in the bill for increased funding to First Nations police forces.
This bill proposes additional requirements for businesses to keep records for the sale of all firearms and purchases. We have concerns around privacy provisions, which are not in this bill. In the event of a breach in security of these records, how will this legislation ensure the safety of confidential information?
Records need to be kept for 20 years and are supposed help authorities keep track of the sales and distribution of firearms. What about the rights of the people who purchase these weapons? Records should be kept in a locked, fireproof and waterproof safe, and only the manager or owner of the business should have access.
In conclusion, these are our concerns regarding the proposed legislation. We will continue to uphold First Nations rights and continue our long-standing traditions of hunting, trapping and gathering on the lands we have tended to for countless generations. Unfortunately, the process for developing this legislation did not meet the federal government’s duty to consult and accommodate.
We stand with the many other Canadians who are not willing to forfeit their fundamental rights and freedoms, who are asking that this government engage in more careful crafting of this important piece of legislation. Canada must do better and must do more to meet its constitutional and treaty responsibilities to First Nations.
I would like to thank this committee for your efforts to listen to First Nations. We would like to continue to work with the Canadian government on this very important issue and are open to providing more insights on gun legislation.
Our written submission offers a number of recommendations for your consideration, which I would encourage you to review. Thank you very much.
The Chair: I want to welcome to the table Commissioner Audette. Thank you very much for being here. I know it’s been a rush. Are you ready to make some comments?
Michèle Audette, Commissioner, National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as an individual: Yes, and I have to apologize, although it was the plane, but it’s true.
Thank you very much. I’m happy to be here. I have come here as a woman, mother and grandmother, and it is important for me to present my position to you, sometimes with feelings and sometimes with dreams. I grew up between Schefferville, Maliotenam and Montreal. My father is the most beautiful Quebecer, my mother is a great Innu lady, and I have been part of those two wonderful cultures since my birth.
What I have come to say to you today is not easy for a number of reasons. I will start off with statistics, given the amount of time we have. We cannot ignore that, when it comes to public health, a crisis is raging in our Indigenous communities. According to a study conducted in 2012, the suicide rate among First Nations members is allegedly double the rate among the Canadian population in general. Health Canada considers the suicide rate among the Inuit people as one of the highest in the world. It is supposedly up to 10 times higher than the suicide rate for Canadians in general. When it comes to my Métis brothers and sisters, unfortunately, there is no data, since few studies focus on them.
As we know, violence, hopelessness, isolation, poverty, the feelings of contempt and abandonment, sexual assault and addiction in communities all too often push my brothers and sisters to suicide attempts. When living becomes a traumatic experience and we are left to our own devices, without resources, without help, wrapped in social fabric that is as damaged as we are, some of us have a knee-jerk reaction to make a dramatic and tragic exit and never return.
The Suicide Prevention Centre considered this phenomenon among adolescents in 2003, and the report concluded that Aboriginal adolescents have unfortunately used very radical methods to commit suicide more often, either with firearms or by hanging. Those results also extend to the adult population. Following hanging, firearms are the second most used method to take one’s life in the communities. Guns in our communities are accessible and available; they can be found anywhere. The availability of firearms is an important factor that harms Aboriginals’ health.
In 2013, I was also prepared to leave. I took a mountain of pills with alcohol. Something then happened that had not happened during my previous suicide attempts. I went to look for a rifle where I was living and I tried to use it. What saved my life that morning was the cocktail of substances I had taken, which put me in a coma and prevented me from turning the gun on myself.
Today, my 11-year-old twins and my boys aged 25, 22 and 10 have a mother, a strong mother, a mother who is proud to have stayed alive.
Madam Senator, I will tell you that it is important to act and that action must be taken. I don’t think we can wait any longer. Firearms are easily available in our communities, their use is clearly prevalent and that has three effects. The first, and I understand it very well, is that it helps respect our ancestral rights in terms of hunting, certainly, but it contributes to suicide, as I mentioned a few moments ago.
The presence of firearms makes it possible to commit incredibly violent acts in our communities. Every month, we hear of the death of a mother with her children or of a woman, and a firearm is often involved. According to Statistics Canada, the rate of homicide in 2016 among female Aboriginals was six times higher than among female non-Aboriginals and, unfortunately, it rose by 32 per cent compared with the previous year. It is no surprise that the increase in the number of homicides nationally is mainly explained by the increase in the number of firearm homicides.
However, although we are also directly affected by firearms, the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, the CFAC, whose mission is to ensure that Canadians’ point of view is taken into account, at the time of the firearm program being implemented, did not consist of any First Nations, Métis or Inuit people. We have to rely on opportunities like this one today to have our voices heard — and I thank you very much for this, Madam Chair, and members of the committee.
You have consulted certain individuals, including my colleague from the AFNQL—and I apologize for missing the beginning of your presentation — who believe that the bill is a violation of their Aboriginal rights. That is a position I understand. I view Bill C-71 differently. I will support this bill for the sake of the safety we need in communities for Aboriginal women, men, children and seniors, as well as for public health reasons. For instance, I welcome the amendment you have made to subsection 5(2) of the act to remove the five-year limit for background checks. When you live with violence or you have successfully denounced it or dare not denounce it, unfortunately, it does not disappear in only five years. So I commend that part of the bill, which recognizes that violence against oneself or against others is a relevant factor to take into consideration in terms of access provided to firearms without a time limit.
To my mind, the bill does not go far enough in terms of checks carried out. In our communities, several families can live under the same roof owing to a housing shortage. If someone requests a certificate and lives with another person who suffers from troubles covered in the legislation and has easy access to firearms owned by family members, that worries me. So to avoid unauthorized use of firearms, especially in cases where a family member has exhibited violence toward themselves or others, there should be a system for putting away firearms between hunting periods. I don’t know whether the chief firearms officer should be involved in that. For me, the solution may be found in the communities themselves, with practical measures that help reduce access to firearms, so that they would not be used for anything other than hunting and would not be used to commit violence against humans, or to take one’s own life or that of others.
There are many worthwhile initiatives in that area. In Kuujjuaq, locks are distributed to help make guns safer. Yes, our government autonomy is important, but protection measures must be implemented immediately.
Senator Dagenais: I want to thank our guests.
Mr. Picard, you know that weapons are behind violent crimes that are unfortunately attributed to mental health issues. Indigenous communities aren’t spared from this type of crime. Bill C-71 will ensure a careful review of the life history of a person applying for a firearms licence, and this review won’t be limited to the past five years.
Does this provision violate the Aboriginal rights of First Nations, and should your communities be subject to or exempt from this process?
Mr. Picard: Without calling into question the foundation and intentions of the bill, it’s possible to align the legislation with our realities, particularly on a basis that recognizes that communities can also exercise jurisdiction in this area.
That said, I want to take a moment to respond to part of your question and Ms. Audette’s comment. Some communities have the resources to promote prevention. Lac-Simon experienced a tragedy that caused a shock wave in the community in 2016, with the death of a police officer and another person in the community who had mental health issues. Despite the community’s limited resources in terms of both the authorities and the police service in Lac-Simon, it has still taken measures to prevent this type of situation.
Obviously, this requires the cooperation of the public—which seems to be a given—and the authorities involved. Since this tragic event, the community has adopted a measure that makes it possible to store weapons with the police service. A social and mental health assessment is conducted with the families concerned. The final authority rests with the elected representatives of the community, but on the recommendation of the appropriate services in the community.
This measure seems suitable for a situation such as the one that unfortunately occurred in Lac-Simon. Clearly, this situation wouldn’t be desirable elsewhere. That said, if the community has the necessary resources, it can take measures to prevent this type of situation.
Senator Dagenais: Ms. Audette, do you fully support the background check process for anyone applying for a firearms licence, which Bill C-71 seeks to implement?
How do you interpret the current opposition of First Nations members to the registration of hunting weapons, which has become law in Quebec? Quebec wants to implement a firearms registry, but the First Nations are opposed to it.
Ms. Audette: Some individuals will oppose the registry for reasons that I can understand. We’re talking about Aboriginal rights, but the issues are contemporary. All the drug addiction, suffering and mental health issues that we didn’t have before exist today. In this discussion, I don’t see any opportunity to tell the government that, when a bill is introduced, it must also come up with measures to ensure that we can integrate the bill until we have our own self-governments, rather than say no outright.
As Mr. Picard was saying, this also means supporting the police services in our communities. The police service doesn’t receive the same funding or training in an Indigenous community. We’re not seeing full equality. All this directly affects how domestic violence in particular is dealt with.
The communities must be told that the health and mental health history needs to include everyone. If our leaders say no, what should we do when, during the holiday season, a young father decides to end his life using a firearm or when a young man who is struggling with mental health issues kills his two children and spouse, here in Quebec?
I could provide examples from all over our communities across the country. This isn’t to say that our leaders don’t see it. However, this is on a temporary basis, until we have our self-government signed with funding, resources and infrastructure. Right now, I would have a hard time arguing that it’s one or the other.
Senator Dagenais: You mentioned training with regard to Indigenous police officers. The École nationale de police du Québec in Nicolet provided special training for Indigenous police officers. I suppose that this training is still provided?
Ms. Audette: Yes, and I invite you to read the report—the section on Quebec—which will be tabled on April 30. You’ll see the difference in the number of hours between an Indigenous police officer and a Quebec police officer. This has a direct impact in the short, medium and long term on how things are done in the field.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Picard. Ms. Audette, thank you for your work with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I have a question for you, Ms. Audette.
I don’t know if you were here when Mr. Picard spoke about background checks. He was concerned that if someone made a mistake many years ago, they should not be punished now. You have taken a different point of view. There are background checks. What additional things should we look at on reserves to avoid the violence that exists, especially against women? There are all kinds of figures. I don’t want to put them now because we have very limited time.
Ms. Audette: Thank you, senator. I think prevention, prevention, prevention is a must in our communities. We’re facing a crisis right now across Canada because of a lack of services or cultural adapted — I don’t know how we say in English.
Yes, culturally appropriate services.
There are many angles to consider. It’s not only this legislation or this bill that will save us. There will be an addition to make sure there is a little more safety for Indigenous women and girls and all of us.
There are so many places that we have to look, such as funding to implement this new legislation in our communities — either for the police force or for social services — or mental health. It must be done in a respectful way where the community knows the problem and knows the solutions so that there’s a collaboration to make sure it’s not a pan-Canadian approach.
Senator Jaffer: Mr. Picard, you were talking about background checks. If I understood you correctly, you were saying a person should not be punished for something they did a long time ago. Were you speaking about that because of ancestral rights or hunting rights that Aboriginal people have? Were you looking at having an exemption for Aboriginal people because of hunting rights? Can you clarify that, please?
Mr. Picard: First of all, this is not the first time we have spoken of legislation that might infringe on section 35 rights. It has been before the courts at different levels in this country for the last 15 years and maybe more. So that case has been made. I think Bill C-71 should refer to that reality and that legal fact, because that’s what it is.
That said, there’s always a way to harmonize the intent of Bill C-71, in this case, with the practices of our nations and communities. This is the challenge we have.
We presented before the committee on this bill last year, and now it’s in your hands, as senators. However, we have yet to see very concrete and genuine consultation take place. Otherwise, we would see it in the bill the way it is written today.
I think it raises a number of questions. There’s always a possibility to adapt the bill the way it is written, but unless we get to work, look at the jurisprudence and what it says when it comes to section 35 rights, we won’t get there.
Senator Plett: I have a couple of questions for each of you. Thank you so much for being here today.
In my previous life, I spent the majority of that time working in Aboriginal and Indigenous communities. I have seen many of the issues you have articulated here today, and I certainly commend you for doing all you can to improve the conditions.
Chief Picard, you have heard Ms. Audette’s concerns here today and in the past about gun violence against women and, indeed, against Indigenous people. However, you have previously requested that the First Nations in Quebec be excluded from the provincial registry. I have two questions. How would you reply to Ms. Audette’s concerns? And do you think a gun registry reduces violence against women?
Mr. Picard: First of all, let me correct you, because we didn’t oppose the registry. Back in 2016, what we said was that we want to be in a position as First Nations to have our own registry. This is a statement —
Senator Plett: Excluded from this one?
Mr. Picard: Yes. That was a statement we made in 2016.
Senator Plett: Fair enough. Excluded from this registry.
Mr. Picard: Yes. We presented before a parliamentary commission in Quebec, defending that position.
Much like today — and this is the argument I presented just a few seconds ago — if you don’t involve First Nations, then you put them in the position to react. This is essentially the point that needs to be made.
In Quebec, we said that we want to be involved in a way where our jurisdiction and responsibilities would be confirmed. This would mean having our own registry, provided that we have resources to do it. That’s another problem, and we — Ms. Audette and I — speak about our policing services not having the proper resources.
This is the position we defended in Quebec, and we continue to present that position to the current provincial government. As a matter of fact, I met with the Minister of Public Security just two weeks ago and put that on her desk to say, “What is your response?” There was nothing for me to get there in the sense that there was no feedback, no reaction.
So what are we to do — once again, despite the fact that it is always the ultimate recourse — but to react?
Senator Plett: Do you think a gun registry reduces violence against women?
Mr. Picard: Let me quote a police officer in our own policing services in Quebec, who said, “I don’t think we have any use for a registry.” This is coming from a police officer. He said, “Because when we need to intervene in any situation or any community, we take it for granted that there are guns. This is how we prepare ourselves.”
So, to me, it’s a matter of management of the registry. If communities are not given the proper resources to do it, then it doesn’t serve its purpose. But if communities were given the proper resources to administer and manage a gun registry, then I would say yes, it might meet the aims or objectives.
Senator Plett: Statistics Canada noted in their report, Homicide in Canada, 2017, that the rate of Aboriginal persons accused of homicides is 12 times higher than non-Aboriginal accused persons. This is alarming and no doubt reflects the underlying challenges that you are facing.
Do you think the measures in Bill C-71 will do something to reduce this rate of homicide?
Then I will have one more short question for Ms. Audette.
Mr. Picard: To me, there are many determinants to the situation you are raising. Unless we have a broader approach and plan to also address the other issues related to the social realities within our communities, then I think Bill C-71 alone won’t cut it. It has to be a broader approach that addresses the other issues as well. Ms. Audette referred to them: overcrowding in housing; and, although it’s not your responsibility as a committee, the lack of adequate resources in policing services. Many other determinants need to be addressed as well.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much, chief, for those answers.
Ms. Audette, you spoke about almost committing suicide. Many of us — I know I have — have experienced close people who have committed suicide by guns as well as by other methods.
In 1998, a Department of Justice Canada study noted that, in Canada, provincial comparisons of firearm ownership levels and overall rates of suicide found that levels of firearm ownership had no correlation with regional suicide rates. Furthermore, the Canadian rate of firearm suicides has dropped without evidence of a similar reduction in the rate of firearm ownership.
Would the majority of the people who would commit this horrific act out of desperation — chances are those are registered guns. First of all, the stats show there’s no correlation, but how does Bill C-71 prevent somebody from taking a gun and killing himself or herself?
Ms. Audette: I’ll go back to subsection 5(2), which eliminates the five-year limit on background checks. Suppose our Indigenous communities were to apply what currently exists, until they have their own legislation. This would mean that our weapons must be stored in safe and locked locations, which isn’t the case. Who makes sure that things are done for the sake of everyone’s safety in our communities? In addition, the background checks ensure that our communities are required to carry out a moral, political and social activity so that, in the short term—the social crisis is there—women, children, men and our elders are protected and that they can’t hurt themselves or someone else.
Bill C-71 isn’t perfect, but it’s part of a strategy to combat or reduce violence. I’d like to refer again to public safety and public health. I don’t think that the proposal here goes far enough. It should be ensured that, if I live with several people, I must also say who lives with me, so that these people can also go through background checks.
Senator Pratte: First of all, I’d like to mention that the bill does not introduce a registry, so I don’t know why we’re discussing a registry.
Senator Plett: You will next year.
Senator Pratte: The Liberals will win the next election?
Senator Plett: It might be tough without Gerald Butts.
Senator Pratte: Mr. Picard, you’re concerned about how the bill will affect the fundamental rights of Indigenous people, in particular the right to hunt. However, you know that Bill C-71 amends the Firearms Act, and the Firearms Act already contains a provision that clearly states that the legislation can’t diminish the rights guaranteed by section 35. Doesn’t this protection, which will apply to all the amendments made by Bill C-71, sufficiently protect the fundamental rights, in particular the right to hunt, as mentioned in section 35?
Mr. Picard: Look, I’m not a legislator or a lawyer, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about. I understand that this provision provides some protection or coverage, if I may put it that way, in relation to the entire act. I’ll refer to one of your colleagues with respect to a number of cases that have been dealt with by various courts across the country, including the violation of treaty rights when it comes to gun control, and in general to all legislation set out in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.
There’s already case law on the matter. I gather that what you’re introducing and suggesting would probably provide some protection, or at the very least a guarantee that rights won’t be violated. However, clearly you may need to look at this matter more closely in the course of your work.
Senator Pratte: As the sponsor of the bill, I’d like nothing better than to work with you and the government to ensure the alignments that you’re talking about. In some respects, you seem to understand the bill differently than I do. Let’s take the example of the background checks covering a period longer than five years. You seem concerned that, as a result of the past and since Indigenous people more often have criminal records for reasons that are well understood, they’ll be arbitrarily denied the right to a licence. I would point out two things, and I want to see whether you’re aware of this.
First, the adaptation regulations for the Firearms Act for Indigenous communities already state that, if a person is at risk of not obtaining a licence for a reason such as this one, an elder or a community leader can provide a recommendation for that person. Even though the person may have committed a crime 35 years ago, this recommendation provides a guarantee that today the person is a good citizen who needs the weapon for hunting rights. There’s also the possibility of appealing to a provincial court judge.
Regarding the authorization to transport, you seem concerned that Indigenous people will be prevented from transporting their hunting weapons. However, the authorizations to transport apply only to prohibited and restricted weapons, not to hunting weapons. I don’t know whether you’re seeing things in the legislation that I haven’t seen. I’d like you to comment on this.
Mr. Picard: All the First Nations across the country agree that, ultimately, we want the necessary resources and recognition to exercise our own jurisdiction, including when it comes to firearms. This brings me back to the example that I provided earlier with regard to Lac-Simon. If they have the necessary resources, the communities can also take their own measures, which are probably more appropriate in certain situations.
I think that an example such as this one can easily be applied elsewhere. In terms of your question, I think that, likely again, it should be discussed as part of your work. In other words, perhaps it’s possible to find a better way to explain the intentions of Bill C-71 in relation to the background of firearm owners, including the firearm owners who are First Nations members. I think that it’s all about the ultimate goal, and that this involves closer participation in your work.
Senator Pratte: I’d like us to work together to ensure this alignment.
Senator McIntyre: Commissioner Audette, Chief Picard, thank you for your oral and written presentations and for your availability to answer our questions. Chief Picard, in your brief, you mention that First Nations’ views must be solicited before any significant changes to Bill C-71 are implemented. My question is the following. What discussions were held with First Nations before Bill C-71 was introduced? If discussions were held, what concerns were identified by First Nations and how were they addressed?
Mr. Picard: I don’t have all the details, and perhaps I could refer the matter to our legal counsel, Mr. Wuttke. However, I know that Chief Heather Bear, from Saskatchewan, appeared before the committee last year. I believe she appeared in May 2018.
Senator McIntyre: Yes, she had concerns.
Mr. Picard: She expressed concerns at the time, which I’m reiterating in part today and in light of what we’ve seen or haven’t seen since May 2018. I think that the important thing here is that the current version clearly hasn’t taken into account the arguments put forward. In reference to Senator Pratte’s comments, I think that we may have a little more material today than we had then.
Senator McIntyre: Commissioner Audette, do you have anything to add?
Ms. Audette: Yes. I think that all bills must take into account First Nations. When we talk about First Nations, we’re talking about citizens. These are political movements and organizations that advocate for very specific interests. In this context, when it comes to the 14 shelters and approximately 50 communities in Quebec, I think that a good discussion should be held with the people who work on the front lines in domestic violence situations and with the social workers in our communities. The people who work in the field are knowledgeable and passionate, and they also have solutions. When we talk about consultation, I encourage our political organizations and interest groups, but also experts in the field, because I believe that their voices aren’t being heard.
Senator Gold: My colleagues have already asked most of my questions. I want to briefly go back to the impact of gun violence and the potential impact of Bill C-71 on women and girls in Indigenous communities. Chief Picard, when you consulted with your colleagues, did the assembly analyze the potential impact of Bill C-71 on the women and girls in your communities in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada?
Mr. Picard: Certainly not at the level that would have provided the most accurate possible picture. The position is more based on the political position that there weren’t enough consultations. That’s the Assembly of First Nations’ position. All the chiefs across the country adopted a resolution indicating that the federal government must, first and foremost, fulfill its obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations. This has already been well documented on a political and legal basis. We’re basing our position more on this right now.
Senator Gold: I understand very well. I don’t want to minimize the importance of the legal, moral and political aspects of these consultations for our collective future as a country, as a nation. That said, if there is “proof” that shows that Bill C-71 may have an impact, even though it is not a miracle solution, nevertheless, it is that it is a step forward. It may decrease risks or save some lives in your communities, given the incidence of violence against families, women and girls that are often targets. Do you have any comments on that?
Mr. Picard: The point is not to deny the extremely complex and troubling reality you describe. You are studying a bill at this time, and all we want is to ensure that this bill respects jurisprudence and the rights granted under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which includes ancestral and treaty rights. By the same token, I don’t think we can look at this in an isolated way without also examining the communities’ need to be able to adapt the law to their own realities.
Senator Gold: Thank you for your reply.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you very much to each of our witnesses at this time. I want to say a special thank you to Commissioner Audette for both the courage and the honesty of sharing with us the impact in your own life.
I have a question that’s primarily to you, Chief Picard, but I want to invite Commissioner Audette to respond should she wish. There are two parts to my question. The first part is very short.
In understanding the briefs that went to the House of Commons and then, as far as I can tell, substantially the same brief came to us here at this committee, were there any women involved in writing the brief, in actually contributing in a substantial way to the brief from the AFN?
Mr. Picard: Apart from knowing that Chief Heather Bear was the one presenting to the committee — this was in May of 2018 — maybe I could defer the question to my colleague Stuart Wuttke who could provide further details to your question.
Senator McPhedran: While you’re changing seats, I will point out that the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative published a five-year study in December 2018. In that study, they said that the rate of domestic homicide is eight times higher for Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women. I might extend the question by also asking that if you’re concerned about the rate of domestic homicide, and if you don’t think more thorough background checks are appropriate, what measures are you looking at in terms of addressing domestic violence and the high homicide rate of Indigenous women?
Stuart Wuttke, General Counsel, Assembly of First Nations: Thank you. To answer the first question with respect to whether any Indigenous women had a hand in drafting the brief, the AFN, of course, defers to our resolutions by the chiefs assembly. A number of resolutions were passed by the chiefs assembly, and I believe we have the highest number of women chiefs serving as chiefs in First Nations communities in Canada at this time than at any time in the past.
Our office, of course, has a number of First Nation women in the organization. Our chief executive officer is a woman, and all material is approved by the CEO of the AFN.
With respect to your second question about violence against Indigenous women, of course, that is a significant concern for many First Nation communities. As Chief Picard mentioned, Bill C-71 will not address all the issues. If you look at the whole legacy of colonization — the residential schools, the impact that had on Indigenous communities, the Sixties Scoop and now child welfare, where whole populations of First Nations children are being separated from the communities, from their families and traditional ways and basically institutionalized at a very young age — that has a huge impact on individuals. It is not necessarily only First Nations individuals but any child that goes into child welfare. I believe Commissioner Audette can speak to this, but what has happened to children and how it impacts their lives was documented at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It’s the institutionalization of First Nations children at a very young age, whether it’s through government policy or past practices, that has a detrimental effect on First Nations and it cascades into their lives.
There have been studies done by psychologists around the world looking at Romanian children in orphanages. Essentially, when children are traumatized at a young age and institutionalized, it affects and impairs their development to some extent and puts them at greater risk of further violence in their adulthood.
I think looking at Bill C-71 as an isolated potential solution, as Chief Picard said, unless you’re looking at the whole cascade and the whole realm of colonial impacts on First Nations children and First Nations people, the bill will not make much impact. So you have to address the whole legacy of colonization and repair that damage.
Senator McPhedran: I think those are very powerful and important points. We, however, have a job to do, and that is to focus on Bill C-71.
I am puzzled. Let me boil this down to a specific question. Taking into consideration the clarifications that Senator Pratte has made about the opportunities to indeed get licensing through community support, wouldn’t more thorough background checks focused on threats of harm to others and no contact orders be, at the very least, a step forward in addressing this horribly high and disproportionate rate of homicides of Indigenous women?
Mr. Wuttke: Background checks do serve a purpose. When you look at First Nations offenders, for instance, they’re quite different from other offenders in Canada. There is historical and even present-day bias against First Nations individuals. In many cases, plea bargains are made. In many undertakings for release or parole, the undertaking is not to possess or own a firearm, not to speak to certain people. Those are just standard undertakings imposed by a judge. First Nations individuals have no say on those undertakings being imposed on them. Many times we would argue that biases in the police, prosecutors in the judiciary — you may have a First Nations person arrested for theft, but they will have those same conditions of undertakings in many cases. Is that relevant? We would say no. Obviously, if there’s going to be violence involved or —
Senator McPhedran: Threat.
Mr. Wuttke: — on someone’s life it may be a fair assessment by a judge. But when general undertakings are provided as a condition of release that has no connection to the offence itself, it does become a little more difficult to say that background checks would be useful.
Obviously, as Chief Picard said, if First Nations were involved and controlled that vetting or assessment, I think First Nations people would have more confidence in that. But if it’s being done by a third party, government or another officer, many people may have the same institutional biases and it may not be as effective or robust as we would want it to be.
Ms. Audette: At this time, our communities, for various reasons — whether political or economic, or a lack of training, resources or people — are not instituting safety measures to protect women, children, men, and our wisdom.
I’d like to go back to the issue of background checks. Over the past 20 years, the coroner’s office has put forward about 15 recommendations aimed at having firearms removed from the hands of depressive or suicidal individuals. Even the World Health Organization is moving in that direction. This is a reality in most of our communities, where the pain of living is far too prevalent.
It would be important that these measures be put in place in the short term, as a temporary step, until our self-governments are in place; I hope these protective measures will be put into effect.
Senator Griffin: My first question is for Chief Picard. In your brief you talked about the business records that firearms dealers must keep, and it is 20 years. Do you think that period is too long? For instance, CRA requires us to keep our business records for a much shorter period. Is 20 years too long?
Mr. Picard: I would say the protection of the data is probably more important than the length of time, making sure, as we said in our brief, that it’s fireproof, waterproof and so on. Of course, the whole issue around the safety of confidential information is another piece that I think needs to be taken into consideration. The length of time itself is probably secondary to those other issues.
Senator Griffin: Okay. Thank you.
Commissioner Audette, you indicated that you’re in support of Bill C-71. I think you said it does not go far enough. In your presentation you mentioned that it should take some more pragmatic measures, to use your term. Do you have specific recommendations in that regard that you can give to this committee?
Ms. Audette: Thank you very much for your question. Regarding pragmatic measures, as an example, in Kuujjuaq, the police service provides locks so that guns can be kept under lock and key to protect families. In other communities, police services store the guns between hunting seasons. Different communities have put protective measures in place themselves. The nations of British Columbia, Quebec or Labrador may have different solutions. I think this is important.
Bills provide isolated solutions to an issue that has reached a crisis point all over. So it is important to provide funding to support prevention and safety in communities. Before the Indigenous act is brought in, before our Indigenous governments are in place, we need to take steps so that people understand the measures required by the Firearms Act and Bill C-71.
Senator Griffin: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you to Chief Picard and Commissioner Audette. We appreciate your being here.
We welcome Yvan Clermont, Director, Statistics Canada; Kathy AuCoin, Assistant Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada; and Adam Cotter, Analyst, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada.
Senators, Statistics Canada has indicated they’ll take about 20 minutes to do a presentation. I will ask them to keep it as short as they can within that time frame. Thank you.
Yvan Clermont, Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada: Firstly, I want to thank the members of the committee for this invitation to present the most recent statistics on firearm-related crime in Canada.
From the outset, it is important to mention the main data sources that were used for this presentation. Most of the data came from administrative databases such as the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, which currently covers 99 per cent of all police forces in the country. They were also taken from the Homicide Survey, which reports on all homicides in Canada. Some other data were taken from vital statistics databases, such as data on suicides. It is also important to mention that the success of the data collection exercise is permanently bolstered by the governance of and close partnership between the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and all of the police forces in the country. These police surveys have existed for more than 50 years, and although they do have certain gaps as we will explain at the end of the presentation, these statistics programs compare very favourably with similar initiatives in other countries, which often have trouble providing complete, quality coverage from all of their surveys on crime or homicide.
We must also understand that these data sources are a statistical representation of what is reported to police authorities, and do not include undetected criminal activity or criminal activity that is not reported to police. Our role today, on the basis of this data as a whole, will be to present to you the most recent firearm-related crime trends, in order to assist you in your consideration of Bill C-71.
I will start with the second slide and summarize the main conclusions that emerge from the following ones. Firstly, the number of firearm-related violent crimes make up only about 3 per cent of all violent crimes. They do, however, represent more than 7,700 actual victims. Over the past four years, there has been a significant increase in the number of firearm-related violent crimes, and that increase was reported in 16 of our largest cities.
Overall, according to data provided by police, firearm-related crime is an issue in both urban and rural settings. Since 2013, gang homicides in our largest cities have almost doubled, and an increase in the theft of firearms has also been observed since 2013. Although we have a lot of information regarding firearm-related crimes, there are still gaps to be filled, particularly as concerns the origin of these weapons and their potential links with organized crime.
Let’s look at the third slide. Before taking a closer look at firearm-related crimes, we need to clarify the definition of violent firearm-related crimes used by Statistics Canada. These are violent offences listed in the Criminal Code, during which a firearm was used, or used to threaten, or present though not used, although its presence was relevant to the crime, according to the police report.
It’s important to point out that definition was developed in co-operation with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. With this definition in mind, I would like to point out with respect to this slide that in general, firearm-related crimes are relatively rare events. More precisely, violent crimes committed with a firearm reported by the police represent less than half of 1 per cent of all crimes reported by police in Canada. Violent crimes represent approximately one-fifth of all crimes reported to police; you can see this in the red section of the pie chart, on the left of the diagram. Among these violent crimes, 3 per cent involve a firearm; you can see this in the red section of the pie chart to the right of the diagram.
On the next slide, I’d like to direct your attention to the violent crime trends, which are illustrated in blue on the diagram, and to the rate of firearm-related violent crimes, shown in green on the diagram. While the rate of violent crimes remained relatively stable over the past four years, the rate of firearm-related crime increased by 42 per cent, which represents two very different trends.
Before 2013, the number of firearm-related crimes was dropping; it decreased by 33 per cent from 2009 to 2013. As you can see, we can present more details as of 2009 because of the broadening of the coverage of the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey which was more complete from that year on.
On slide 5, when looking at police data, we can see that a number of different stories emerge, specifically in the types of firearms being used. Over all, rates of firearm-related violent crimes are highest in the Prairies and the territories, and they are fairly similar between urban and rural areas.
In urban areas, more than two-thirds of firearm-related violent crimes involve handguns. When looking at urban Ontario only, this was more than three-quarters.
By the way, Toronto’s gun crime rate has doubled since 2013. Gun crime has also increased in Ottawa, Hamilton and Windsor since that year.
If we look at the Prairies now, we see that rural rates of gun crimes in Saskatchewan were the highest in 2017 and mostly involved rifles and shotguns, as is the case in most rural areas in this country.
On slide 6, you see a map that displays the differences observed in firearm-related violent crimes in the country. Dark blue indicates those areas with the highest rates. The provinces with the highest rates are Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These are the provinces that also report the highest overall crime rates in general.
In paying closer attention to the trends, which are not on this graph, the regions that are driving increases in firearm-related violent crimes include Saskatchewan with a 137 per cent increase since 2013, or 500 more victims; Ontario, where there has been an increase of 60 per cent, or 1,300 more victims; and New Brunswick and Manitoba. It is worth noting that increases were noted in every reporting province and territory between 2013 and 2017, with the exception of British Columbia, which reported a decrease of 9 per cent.
This graph unfortunately excludes data for the province of Quebec, as the quality and coverage of data related to the presence or use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime are too low.
Turning to slide 7, this chart expresses these rates by major census metropolitan areas in the country, again excluding those of Quebec. Rates depicted here reflect the provincial picture from the previous slide, with the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime among the CMAs of Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Hamilton and Toronto.
In Canada over all, three out of ten violent gun crimes happen outside a major city. In Toronto alone, there were over 2,000 victims of gun crime in 2017, which is 36 victims for every 100,000 people living there.
According to police reported data, overall crime rates are higher outside of Canada’s largest cities. However, this is not the case when it comes to gun crimes, where rates are more similar between urban and rural areas.
On slide 8, I would like to illustrate what types of firearms are being used in the commission of a firearm-related violent crime. Of all violent gun crimes in 2017 in Canada, 59 per cent involved a handgun; 18 per cent a rifle or a shotgun; 6 per cent involved a fully automatic firearm, sawed-off rifle or shotgun; and 17 per cent involved a firearm-like weapon or an unknown type of firearm.
These proportions have remained relatively constant since 2009. Since 2009, handguns have been involved in 83 per cent of all firearm-related violent crimes in Toronto compared to 52 per cent for the rest of Canada, showing that the Toronto issue is mostly related to handguns. It shows that there are large regional differences in these numbers.
Turning to slide 9, while we’ve been looking at where firearm-related violent offences have occurred, I would like to turn your attention to the victims that are being impacted by these offences. In 2017, close to six in ten victims of firearm-related crime were victimized by a stranger. That is very different than most of other types of crime where the accused tends to be known to a victim.
Since 2010, around 60 per cent of all victims of firearm-related violent crimes involved strangers as the accused. In 2009, this proportion was 65 per cent. The proportion of firearm-related violent crime involving a stranger was highest in Ontario and Manitoba.
In some provinces and territories in 2017, strangers were not the most common accused-victim relationship that we found. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, the relationship was an acquaintance.
In Nunavut, it was a non-spousal family member. There were 582 victims of firearm-related violent crimes where the accused person was the victim’s spouse, common law partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, representing 8 per cent of all victims in 2017.
On slide 10, I would like to turn to gang homicide data. Over all the recent increase in homicides is related to more gun homicides and more gang homicides. Since 2013, gang-related homicides involving all types of weapons in our largest cities have almost doubled from 65 homicides to 131. Over this same period, shooting homicides in big cities have also nearly doubled, up to 80 per cent. This was mostly for Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. Over all the vast majority of gang-related homicide in Canada of 87 per cent involved a firearm, usually a handgun.
On slide 11, I would like to draw your attention to firearms reported as stolen. One interesting contextual piece of information is that since 2010 there was an overall decrease of 25 per cent in break and enter incidents in the country. Over the same period, break and enters to steal a firearm rose by 94 per cent and that of entering a motor vehicle to steal a firearm increased by 25 per cent.
In 2017, there were 3,600 incidents where police reported that a firearm was among the property stolen. Although this rate has increased by 7.5 per cent since 2013, it is back to the level recorded in 2009.
One in ten incidents where a firearm was stolen involved a restricted weapon, that is, a firearm that is required to be registered by law, defined as a restricted weapon or a firearm designed or modified to be fired with one hand. Those include handguns. One can certainly conclude it is very unlikely, though, that owners of illegal firearms will report theft to the police. The majority of incidents where a firearm was stolen involved rifles at 60 per cent, followed by shotguns and other firearms not mentioned above, such as air guns, for example.
In slide 12, in addition to data on stolen firearms, there is information on the number and rate of break and enters for the purpose of stealing a firearm. We already presented the trends in the previous slide. In this table, you can see a significant increase in the number of break and enters to obtain firearms over the past years. However, during the same period, we saw a decline in the number of offences for the unsafe storage of firearms.
Let’s look at slide 13 to conclude this presentation. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding firearm-related crimes. Before I conclude, I would like to direct your attention to some important Canadian statistical gaps with regard to firearm-related crimes. It is relevant to point out that efforts continue to be made, together with police services, provincial ministries of Public Safety, and the statistical committees our many partners belong to, in order to make improvements to existing statistical programs, notably to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, as well as to explore other data avenues that could prove useful. We still have no information about the origins of firearms used in firearm-related crimes in Canada. Do they come from Canada or from the United States? Were they stolen from someone who owned them, legally or illegally? Were they imported or legally purchased? We don’t know those facts. In addition, we don’t know if there is a link between firearm-related violent crime and organized crime. In fact, we don’t know what the involvement of organized crime is in other types of crime, and not only firearm-related violent crime. This is a matter we explored in depth through a survey of various police forces. We drafted a series of recommendations which were endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. These recommendations require considerable resources, and we are currently working on putting them in place.
As for the origins and characteristics of the firearms and shootings, Statistics Canada is currently cooperating with Public Safety Canada on a project to assess the possibility of collecting additional information on firearms. We have completed our consultations with academics, border services, police forces and other stakeholders. We are currently analyzing the possibilities and limits of existing data on firearms. In the near future we will be preparing recommendations on actions to be taken to advance the collection of firearms data in the context of this project.
This concludes my presentation. We are ready to answer your questions.
The Chair: Thank you. I remind senators to try to limit themselves to one question and one follow-up so everyone gets an opportunity.
Senator Dagenais: I had three questions. I am going to choose the ones that interest me the most. How do you determine that a break and enter was done for the purpose of stealing a firearm? There are a lot of break and enters. What allows you to say that a particular break and enter was committed specifically to steal a firearm?
Mr. Clermont: There is a way, in the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, to obtain information to find out whether a firearm was stolen during a break and enter and may have been used, for example, to steal jewels or money. If a firearm was stolen, the information about the incident is collated.
Senator Dagenais: I am a former police officer and I often dealt with break and enters. People stole technological devices, televisions and jewels. If they found a firearm, they took it. One can’t say that they broke in specifically to steal the firearm. As you said, it could be to steal any number of other things. Doesn’t this skew the statistics?
Mr. Clermont: The statistics say that a firearm was stolen during a break and enter, and not that the initial intention was to steal a firearm.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you. I will limit my question.
Senator Plett: I will be brief as well and I will ask a follow-up.
My question is related to something Senator Pratte has been saying in his sponsorship of this bill. Senator Pratte has repeatedly said that according to data provided by Statistics Canada over the last 10 years, no fewer than 169 gun homicides were committed by licensed firearm owners. They were not accused but were committed. Could you verify whether this number is accurate?
Mr. Clermont: We will. I cannot confirm right now if this number is accurate, but we can look while we’re trying to answer other parts of that question.
Senator Plett: In promoting this bill, the government and Senator Pratte representing the government have used 2013 as their base year when looking at the stats for gun crimes.
I find this choice highly suspect because we know that 2013 was an historic low. University of Ottawa criminologist Holly Johnson, who specializes in methodologies of crimes and coordinated surveys of violence and crime for Statistics Canada and for the UN, said the following:
I do not know the motivation or reasoning behind it, but certainly choosing the lowest rate in decades of data would suggest there’s a reason for that, trying to make a point of some sort. . . . However, a few years does not a trend make.
Would you agree with Ms. Johnson’s statement?
Mr. Clermont: Let me contextualize this information.
Senator Plett: I am the politician; you are not.
Mr. Clermont: I would agree that a few numbers are not enough to depict a trend. This is why we wait a certain number of years before we conclude something. When this first statement was made, we had only three years of data for which there had been three years of increases.
Now we’re at four years. I was at the Toronto Police Service last week, and we don’t have those statistics yet because we have to wait until we compile all statistics from all police forces in the country before we can do all the tables for the nation. However, we know in the Toronto area that there has been a rise in the number of shootings in 2018. Now they have a number which is even higher.
Senator Plett: Of legally registered guns.
Mr. Clermont: I couldn’t comment on that because we don’t have the right numbers yet to do this differentiation.
Our work is to show the statistics for both long-term and short-term trends. As a nation we do an analysis of our crime statistics every year in July, and we look at the trends developing in our homicide statistics every year in November. We pay more attention to their analysis like we do for GDP or unemployment data where short-term movements in the data are important to depict conjectural phenomena; whereas, when we look at the long term, we look at structural change in the society or things like that. We need to look at both. That is what we provide users of statistics and then people can draw their own conclusions.
Senator Pratte: I first should clarify that I did not repeatedly say this. I said it once. What I should have said was that these people were charged or suspects.
Senator Plett: That is very important.
Senator Pratte: Now the number is up to 193. Not all licensed gun owners are criminals; of course not. The vast majority of them are good, law-abiding citizens, but there are exceptions and these exceptions are tragic.
Mr. Clermont, in your report on homicides and violence, you highlighted the importance of criminal gang activity. However, we know that the number of homicides that were not gang-related has also increased since 2013, and even since 2010; they have increased by 60 per cent. We also know that the homicide rate in rural regions, where gangs are not as present, is higher than in cities and has also increased significantly.
What information do you have about these many homicides that are not gang-related or are committed in rural areas, where gangs are much less present than in our large cities?
Mr. Clermont: First of all, the statistics on the involvement of firearms to commit a homicide tell different stories depending on the part of the country involved.
In Saskatchewan for example, most of the weapons used to commit a homicide are rifles or shotguns, whereas in urban areas like Toronto there has been a radical increase in the number of firearm-related homicides during the most recent period. That increase is primarily due to the use of handguns.
There are certain regional differences in the statistics on firearms and homicides. We can determine that homicides are both related to organized crime and to the use of firearms, and that all of that is related to an increase in the crime rate that has occurred everywhere in the country. There is also an increase in organized crime, especially in the Toronto region, for example. So it is not rocket science to link the recent firearm-related homicide increases observed in the Toronto area with the increase in organized crime.
Senator Pratte: Certain researchers have come up with statistics that show that the homicide rate among firearm owners is lower than that of Canadians in general. We have figures that are 0.60 for firearm owners as compared to 1.80 for Canadians in general. Is that a valid comparison? Do we have the necessary statistics to make that comparison?
Mr. Clermont: It is not usually our role to comment on the methods of other researchers who use our data to develop a statistical picture. However, if we were asked to make such comparisons, we would, first of all, need reliable statistics on registered and unregistered firearms. We could compare the number of homicides committed by registered gun owners with the total number of registered gun owners.
One of the statistical problems we have is that for about 43 per cent of homicides, we cannot find a suspect or determine the origin of the firearm. When we have the firearms, there are a considerable number of cases where we cannot determine the legal status of the firearm, that is to say whether it is registered or not. So establishing percentages based on data where the numerator is unknown in a large number of cases can lead to skewed estimates. We can’t do that.
Senator Pratte: I understand that you don’t have the necessary statistics to do that.
The Chair: I would ask you to keep your questions and answers brief.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Clermont. My question is about firearm-related crimes.
What definition of firearm-related crimes does Statistics Canada use? For example, must the firearm be used in committing a crime for the incident to be considered a firearm-related offence, or is the simple presence of a firearm on the premises where the crime was committed sufficient for the incident to be considered a firearm-related crime? Is the definition of a firearm-related crime used by Statistics Canada the one that is universally used by Canadian police forces?
Mr. Clermont: It’s certainly a definition that is recognized here in the country, and it is approved by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. We developed it in partnership with them. I’d like to add that in the beginning, when we showed slide 3, we gave the definition of a violent firearm-related crime, which is an offence listed in the Criminal Code as an offence during which a firearm was used, or used to threaten. When that firearm was present but not used, its presence has to have been relevant to the crime, or deemed to have had a threatening effect. The police are the ones who determine whether the incident was a firearm-related crime, whether the use of the weapon was explicit or implicit. What I might say is that if in a household a stored firearm was present but was not used or visible in the perpetration of an incident, that incident could not be reported as a firearm-related crime.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you.
Senator Boisvenu: I want to extend my welcome to you, Mr. Clermont, and to your colleagues. Did slide 9, which was about victims of domestic violence, include murders only, or victims of all types?
Mr. Clermont: It referred to victims of all types, victims of violence.
Senator Boisvenu: You don’t make a distinction between murder and minor injuries inflicted with a firearm?
Mr. Clermont: No, not on that slide, but we could get you that figure.
Senator Boisvenu: I would appreciate it. Also, has the rate of 8 per cent remained stable since 2010, or has it gone up or down?
Mr. Clermont: I’d have to check that as well, but I can get back to you on it.
Senator Boisvenu: I would appreciate it. Looking at the situation in some of Canada’s big cities, I see that Calgary experienced a significant and notable drop in firearm-related crime between 2014-15 and 2017. Did you examine the causes or actions the city took to bring about such a notable decline? It was incredible in Calgary. Sorry, I mean Edmonton.
Mr. Clermont: Yes, because the numbers are up for Calgary. Whenever we see major variations in crime rates, be it for homicides or other crimes, we always ask police about it to find out what happened so we can validate and understand the data. For Edmonton, specifically, I can’t tell you exactly what happened off the top of my head. Again, I’d prefer to go back to the office and check; we could certainly reach out to our contacts in the Edmonton police force to find out whether the rate came down as a result of actions or measures they took. You’re absolutely right that there was a significant decline.
Senator Boisvenu: It would be helpful to have that information for Edmonton and Vancouver, which saw a dramatic decline during the same period. Your figures were taken from Juristat, were they not?
Mr. Clermont: Yes.
Senator Boisvenu: Why doesn’t Quebec use the national system to record information on its firearm-related crime?
Mr. Clermont: It does, but the data for Quebec are centralized and compiled at Public Safety Canada. The data are captured in the Sûreté du Québec’s police information module. Data collection is centralized there. We have an agreement with the Quebec government governing data transmittal, whereas, in the rest of the country, we deal directly with police services. In Quebec, it’s centralized. As for being able to determine whether a crime is firearm-related or not, we, all too often, are missing data, which raises questions about data quality. We are currently working with Public Safety Canada and Quebec provincial police to address the problem. Last we heard, they’re working on the 2018 data for the next version, to be released in July 2019.
Senator Boisvenu: Is it true that some police forces still don’t enter their crime data in the system?
Mr. Clermont: I would say the coverage is excellent, but I couldn’t give you the exact figure. The issue has to do with the presence of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime and the quality of that specific data element. Generally speaking, though, data quality is fairly good or excellent, and data coverage is very good. Nation-wide, coverage stands at 99 per cent, so I don’t see why it would be weaker in Quebec.
Senator Boisvenu: The fact that Quebec is missing means a big piece of the puzzle is missing.
Mr. Clermont: Yes.
Senator McPhedran: Let me thank everyone from Statistics Canada for being here today and for the ongoing work you do that helps us make evidence-based decisions. It is enormously appreciated.
We seem to know quite a lot about what is going on in our cities, yet the homicide rate is 16 per cent higher in rural Canada than it is in urban Canada and it increased by about 60 per cent in 2017.
My question is based on trying to understand more of what we know about homicides and suicides outside cities in rural and/or isolated regions. In rural Canada the highest rural firearm-related homicide rates were reported in Alberta, my home province of Manitoba, and in Nova Scotia in 2017. Is this something new or are the rates always higher in rural areas?
When we look at urban gang-related homicides, obviously they are very troubling and very important information for us to have, but what about the number of non-gang-related homicides that involve firearms? We’re seeing a 60-plus per cent increase in that.
Could you tell us something more about the non-gang firearm-related homicides? Am I correct in understanding that gang-related violence with guns is almost entirely in our urban centres?
The last part of my question is to ask about gender-based analysis in any of what you’re sharing with us, with a particular interest in the rural and isolated regions of our country.
Mr. Clermont: You raised a few questions, senator.
Senator McPhedran: Under a theme.
Mr. Clermont: I will ask for the help of my colleagues. Unfortunately we don’t have data by urban/rural. We only have it for the whole country and it is quite stable. It is not really moving. What we know about suicides is that firearms are not used as much as other means to commit suicide. That is what we’ve seen.
It’s true that much of the increase in homicides related to firearms has been noted mostly in Toronto and in big cities. Toronto is responsible for 42 per cent of the increase in firearm-related homicide in the country.
Yes, gangs have an important role to play, but you also asked if Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia were always like this or have been stable over time. I can tell you that usually crime rates in general move or increase from east to west. When we go to the Prairies, especially Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, we have higher crime rates and therefore have higher violent firearm-related crime rates. There is nothing new in that regard. What is new is the recent trend we’re seeing not just for Toronto but also for areas in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Kathy AuCoin, Assistant Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada: On the urban and rural gender-based analysis, I would add that we have a publication we can send that is looking at intimate partner violence by males and females and the urban/rural split by province.
I think that would address some of your questions. We just don’t have the data with us today.
Senator McPhedran: Any analysis you could bring to that data would also be very much appreciated.
Senator C. Deacon: I appreciate being able to ask a question. I am interested in slide number 8. Most police reported that violent gun crime involves handguns. I am wanting to drill into that a bit because what strikes me is that 59 per cent involve handguns and 6 per cent involve fully automatic firearms or sawed-off shotguns.
About two-thirds of the violent gun crime involves weapons that will require an authorization to transport as a registered weapon with an owner who chooses to license that gun and register the weapon.
Relative to ownership numbers, I am interested in the number of guns in the country. Obviously you should never guess when it comes to these things, but it strikes me that there is probably a much higher rate of use of a handgun relative to the number of handguns in the country in violent crime relative to a hunting rifle or a shotgun.
That would be very interesting for us to see because it is one of the things I am noticing in some of the concern about this legislation and its restrictions. As someone who doesn’t own a handgun or automatic weapon, I think they’re reasonable. This is an interesting piece of data to know what those numbers look like relative to the number of known registered weapons in the country.
Could you provide us with those data over time to see whether or not there’s a trend within the data? Senator Plett was concerned about choosing 2013 as a point of comparison, but for me it looks like there’s a reversal in trend in that year. Those trends are important to me in a number of different ways.
Are we picking a base point or are we seeing a reversal in the trend? I would love to know more about these data because I think they’re quite important in understanding the importance of key elements of this legislation. Do you have any of that with you, or is that something you’d have to follow up with?
Mr. Clermont: Perhaps I could start with your last statement regarding 2013. I heard once that 2013 is an outlier. It’s not an outlier. It’s an inflection point, which is very different, statistically speaking.
There is a reversal of the trend. We have sufficient data to determine and confirm that there had been a short-term reversal of the trend. Had we reached the levels we had during the peak period? Not yet, but there is a reversal of the trend. We’re statisticians. We’re providing information. It’s up to you to determine if this is high, low or something you should be worried about.
In terms of ownership and the availability of handguns or rifles in the population and the use of rifles for the commission of crime, what you’re depicting seems to be a reasonable way of looking at it. Unfortunately the only denominator we have is the amount of restricted or prohibited firearms that are being registered through the RCMP. We don’t have the numbers of firearms that are not being registered as there is no registry of rifles on anything. It’s not possible to reproduce that. Perhaps Mr. Cotter wants to add something else.
Senator C. Deacon: You could potentially look at the representation you have over time. That would be very interesting.
Adam Cotter, Analyst, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada: I have those numbers in front of me. As Mr. Clermont mentioned, it’s consistent since 2009. The low point for the proportion of gun crimes involving handguns was 2010 when it was at 56 per cent. The high point was 2009 when it was 63 per cent. It is six in ten for each of the years we’re able to cover.
Senator C. Deacon: Thank you.
Senator McIntyre: Mr. Clermont, I gather that Statistics Canada does not collect data on illicit weapons, in other words, the origins of the weapons and the legal or illegal status of a weapon used in a firearm-related crime. How are those data collected?
Mr. Clermont: That’s exactly what we’re trying to determine with the feasibility study we’re conducting with Public Safety Canada right now. We’ve carried out extensive consultations with academics and police. The Police Information and Statistics Committee is a committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Through the POLIS committee, as it is known, we are currently working with those stakeholders to determine how we can obtain information on the origin of firearms and whether it would be possible to collect the information. Depending on the feasibility study findings, we will likely update the data elements of the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey to gather more information on the origin of firearms, in other words, whether they are registered. We do know, however, that the more serious the crime, the more investigative information there is to help trace the origin of the firearm. In light of the importance of that data and the fact that most serious crimes involve the use of a firearm, we may be able to achieve favourable results by expanding coverage of investigation-related content. We’ll have to wait and see, though, because we don’t know yet.
The Chair: To our witnesses, thank you very much. It has been very helpful. We regret that we were a little delayed in getting you to the table, but we appreciate your being here.
We now look forward to a presentation from the Coalition for Gun Control, Wendy Cukier, President; the Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, Najma Ahmed; and as an individual, Alison Irons.
We welcome all of you.
Wendy Cukier, President, Coalition for Gun Control: Thank you for affording us the time to discuss Bill C-71. I’ve distributed a brief, but on listening to the conversation there may be some additional material that we would like to provide after this quick presentation.
From our perspective, Bill C-71 is an important step forward. It reverses some measures which have weakened Canada’s gun control regime. We support the legislation as written. We have a couple of amendments we would like to see specifically with respect to the authorizations to transport as well as the controls on the sales of unrestricted firearms.
On listening to the conversation earlier, a lot of the material we hoped to present has already been discussed by the representatives from Statistics Canada. I won’t go into great detail other than to emphasize that the Coalition for Gun Control approaches the problem of firearms violence from a public health perspective. We are concerned about gang violence in urban centres, but we’re also concerned about issues related to violence against women, suicide, unintentional injury,particularly involving children, and increasingly political violence. We have seen some terrible consequences of firearms in the hands of hateful people.
Our approach to dealing with the issue of gun control is to look at multiple perspectives on the problem. Similarly, echoing some of the comments you heard earlier today, there is no panacea. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. The public health approach recognizes investing in addressing the root causes of violence. Whether we’re talking about low-income areas in urban centres, First Nations communities or rural communities where there are challenges, we have to address the root causes. We have to address enforcement and treatment. We know that the cycle of victimization continues if we don’t have appropriate interventions.
At the same time the evidence is pretty overwhelming on a global basis. We also have to address the instrument of violence. The World Health Organization was very clear in its violence prevention policy in ensuring that comprehensive strategies, whether we’re talking about violence against women, preventing suicide, urban violence or political violence, have to include attention to the availability of firearms.
I won’t reiterate the comments that have been made earlier. I think that Canadians have been lulled into a sense of security by feeling smug about how safe Canada is relative to the United States. It is, certainly, but if you look at us on a global context we’re not doing as well. In fact among OECD countries we’re ranked fourth in rates of firearms death.
We quickly compiled table 1 to show one of the biggest differences that explains rates in homicide. When you compare the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada, it is not the levels of violence generally. It is the availability of firearms. If you look at violence without firearms and you compare those jurisdictions, you will see the rates are comparable. When you add guns into the mix, there are huge differences. The U.K., with 60 million people, had 27 gun murders last year.
Similarly, in spite of some of the comments that were made, a number of studies have shown that within Canada there is very high correlation between the availability of firearms and firearm death and injury. We can debate it depending on the kind of analysis that you use, but again I’ve reported the Stats Canada data.
From our perspective, controls over the availability of firearms are an important part of a comprehensive strategy. There have been a lot of debates about where the firearms come from that are used in homicides, suicides, domestic violence and so on. The answer is different. Most police officers in this country killed with guns are killed with legally owned rifles and shotguns in rural communities. Most women who are killed with guns in Canada are killed with legally owned rifles and shotguns. Most suicides in Canada are committed with legally owned rifles and shotguns.
On the other hand, the data is very compelling when we look at the misuse of handguns. I hope in answer to your questions I will have an opportunity to explain this point. From the recent death in Toronto, we know that half of the crime guns traced originated in Canada. That is an increase from previous years. A number of studies have been published, including one I published in the Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
In terms of our recommendations, as I have said, we have two amendments. We support the legislation. The first amendment is to restore strict authorizations to transport. Restricted and prohibited firearms are supposed to be restricted and prohibited. They no longer are in our opinion. The fact that the number of restricted and prohibited firearms has increased from about 350,000 in 2004 to over a million is a clear indication that we have a challenge, especially when you see some of the incidents involving legal firearms and the diversion from legal to illegal markets.
We ask that the clause about extending the authorizations to transport through the province in which the owner resides be stricken. Similarly, we ask that the provisions from 1977, or 40 years ago, with respect to the record and inventory of rifles and shotguns be restored, giving the police easy access to those records for the purposes of tracing.
We also want to reinforce some of the comments that were made earlier about the non-derogation clauses that were intended to be honoured in this legislation and the recognition for Aboriginal and treaty rights. Thus it is really important, particularly with respect to the regulation of rifles and shotguns and the management of licensing at the same time. Handguns and assault weapons are not used in hunting. Therefore, we would argue that Aboriginal and treaty rights have less relevance to those issues.
We are happy to discuss further a number of other measures. One is the need for better record keeping. In addition to the legislation being eroded, we’ve seen tremendous erosion in the application of the law and the management of the firearms program. Many of the initiatives that were put in place to meet our obligations under international law to combat the illicit trade in firearms have been removed. The programs to support tracing, inspections and so on have been eroded.
I’ll leave my comments there.
Dr. Najma Ahmed, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns: Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the important subject of preventable harm, injury and death from guns.
Let me say I am in complete agreement with the comments of my colleague Wendy Cukier this evening. I am here with my colleagues Doctors Berger, Maggi, Drummond and Wilson.
Some of you know me as the doctor who was on call the night of the shooting on the Danforth when 16 people were shot and three succumbed to their injury. However, I would like to share with you a much common story, one that plays out in hospitals across the country day after day, night after night.
Last Wednesday, I told a woman that her 25-year-old daughter was dead. She had been shot by her commonly partner. The fatal wound was the bullet that tore through her brain from behind. On the grandmother’s lap sat a nine-month-old daughter. This was a preventable tragedy.
The Canadian femicide report documents that in 2018 that 148 women were killed in Canada. The most common method of femicide was by gun. Femicide, suicide, homicide, injury and accidental shootings, we see it all. We are the Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns. We see it as a privilege and a responsibility to share with you our knowledge of the medical literature and the wealth of our lived experience.
Many Canadian medical professional organizations affirm the positions that firearm injury prevention is a pressing public health crisis and that increased regulations will save lives. The medical and scientific evidence strongly supports the following conclusions. Greater access to guns results in higher injury and deaths from guns. Canada can do better and more to prevent this harm and tragedy.
This is why we support Bill C-71 as a small but positive step in this direction. The recent literature is unequivocal that injury, homicide and suicide by guns happen more in jurisdictions and countries where there are more guns. Here is a small portion of the research we have reviewed to arrive at this important conclusion. Many of you will be familiar with the sources that I cite. These are the Hansard of the medical community: the Canadian Medical Association Journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, to mention only a few.
A 2018 study compared gun fatality rates in 195 countries over a 15-year period. In 2016, our gun fatality rate was about five to six times lower than in the U.S. This is not the whole story. Compared to the U.K., Netherlands, Japan and Australia, our gun fatality rate is eight times greater than those peer nations. While Canada has stronger gun laws than those in the U.S., it is notable that these peer nations have stronger gun safety legislation than we do.
Physicians have had a long history of informing public health policy. We know that primary prevention is the most effective tool to improve the health of populations. This is true for asbestos, nicotine and vaccinations. It is also true that decreasing the proliferation of and access to guns will decrease harm, injury and death from guns.
Our position is aligned with the Canadian Paediatric Society. They too advocate that guns should not be kept in homes or environments where children live or play. We know that the presence of a gun in a home is an independent risk factor for unintentional injury and suicide. A 2017 study from the Hospital for Sick Children showed that approximately one child was injured every day in Ontario over a recent five-year period. Suicides account for 75 to 80 per cent of gun deaths in Canada, with rural centres being overrepresented.
A 2018 study showed that jurisdictions with stronger firearm laws and more regulations had lower rates of firearm-related suicide. Guns used in suicide result in death in the large majority of cases; whereas, if less violent methods are used, death rates are much lower. Also notable is that the majority of people who survive a suicide attempt will not go on to die from suicide.
A now abundant and international body of medical evidence shows that reducing access to guns through regulations saves lives and decreases the burden of injury. Other countries have acted. In Australia, as you know, two decades ago their federal government responded to a mass shooting with legislation banning semi-automatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting on that continent since.
In Canada, policy has gone in the opposite direction with not unexpected results. Since 2013, only one year after the erosion of regulations outlined in Bill C-68, Stats Canada has noted a significant increase in gun violence.
We must utilize proven public health approaches to reduce the burden of injuries and deaths from guns, and Bill C-71 represents a step in this direction.
Guns are the vector in this preventable public health crisis. They are the key exposure in this epidemic. Physicians are witnesses to the human toll that guns take on our patients, their families and their communities.
Our only interest in this issue is the health and longevity of our citizens. We offer this testimony based on the lived experiences of countless physicians and the best available medical evidence. We respectfully ask that you consider these experiences and this evidence in your deliberation.
Alison Irons, as an individual: I am the mother of Lindsay Margaret Wilson who, at the age of 26, was stalked and murdered by shotgun by her ex-boyfriend on April 5, 2013, in Bracebridge, Ontario, two weeks before completing her graduating semester at Nipissing University. Her killer then took his own life with the same gun.
According to the pathologist, there was extensive internal injury to my slim daughter’s heart and lungs. Her killer knew what he was doing. I’ll tell you that as an ex-RCMP officer, I know that this was a lethal target known as centre body mass at close range. Her right shoulder was fractured and five ribs were shattered to pieces. Her left forearm was completely fractured and left hanging by a thread. What the pathologist called an avulsion of most of her left forearm, likely a defensive wound. She had minor gunshot wounds to the back of her head, likely from the first shot spinning her body around, and stippling wounds to the lower part of her beautiful face.
I am grateful to the pathologist’s staff for concealing these facial injuries with makeup so that I could kiss my daughter goodbye for the last time.
I make no apologies for describing my daughter’s injuries. This is what guns do in the hands of the wrong people.
My daughter met her killer sometime in 2009-2010. He was charming, articulate, clean-cut looking and a recreational hunter. He had plausible explanations as to why he, as an adult, was living with his parents in a beautiful home and seemed to have no real job prospects or tangible income.
There was no violence in their relationship, although he could be controlling and manipulative. She left him for the first time in 2011 when she caught him drug dealing. He successfully lured this young woman back with false promises of change, but a year later she left him for good when she again caught him drug dealing. She later came back into contact with him when he nearly died of meningitis. As a disability support specialist she tried to help him recover, but by Christmas the same controlling behaviours reoccurred and she severed all contact. He stalked and murdered her three months later.
As a career-long investigator I researched his history. He had hidden from my daughter that in 2000 he was arrested by police for drug trafficking. Seven days later, he and another male kidnapped a third male over what Kingston police told me was a drug deal gone wrong. They bundled the victim into a car and drove off down a secondary highway with him while one of the two beat him up. He escaped out the car door on to the highway, where he was rescued by a passerby and taken to police. Had he not done so, who knows whether he would have been murdered?
The two were charged with forcible confinement, assault, threatening and other drug-related charges. Through an apparent plea bargain, he was convicted in 2002 of only forcible confinement and assault by summary conviction. The previous drug trafficking charge was withdrawn. His only sentence was two years’ probation.
Immediately upon completing his probation in 2004, he applied for and was granted a possession and acquisition licence. He was extensively interviewed about his application under the self-reporting model. This means that he had been red flagged in the Canadian Firearms Information System, or CFIS, but this flag was discretionarily overridden to grant him the gun licence.
He then privately purchased several guns without any record of a legal transfer, one of which was the gun he later used in 2013 to assassinate my daughter.
As Lindsay’s mother I ask you how someone with adult criminal convictions for forcible confinement and assault related to drug trafficking ever gets a gun licence in Canada. How does our gun licensing system fail to properly take into account and weigh the actual context of someone’s convictions and other CPIC or CFIS history before granting them a licence? The system clearly failed my daughter.
In recent weeks, the Minister of Public Safety has expressed concern that right-wing extremism is on the rise in Canada. We’ve also seen protests in parts of the country after which some participants are being investigated by the RCMP for threatening the lives of the Prime Minister and his family.
How many of these people currently have PALs that should never have been granted had Bill C-71’s adult lifetime background checks been in place? They are a risk to public safety and to our national security, and that is the mandate of this committee.
In summary, some people have said to me, “Your daughter’s killer could have obtained an illegal gun anywhere.” My response is always, “Yes, but he didn’t. He legally acquired the licence and the gun. Our licensing and background check system shouldn’t have made it easy for him.”
Thank you for listening.
The Chair: Before I move to senators, Ms. Irons, I extend our deepest sympathy to you on the loss of your daughter.
Senator Jaffer: I also want to tell you, Ms. Irons, that it takes a lot of courage to do what you’ve done. Thank you for sharing your pain with us. When we are deliberating, we will certainly remember your words.
Ms. Irons: Thank you.
Senator Jaffer: I have two questions, one for Ms. Cukier and one for Dr. Ahmed. First of all, when I first became a senator 19 years ago, I worked with you on this issue. I admire your persistence and your stamina. Thank you for the work you do.
Ms. Cukier: I am just old.
Senator Jaffer: I have a question for you, Ms. Cukier. Opponents of the legislation claim the statistics about the sources of firearms recovered in crime have been misused.
Could you explain to us your claim that half of the firearms recovered in crime in Toronto that are traced originate in Canada, and that this is a troubling trend?
Several witnesses have claimed that the legislation is a back-door registry because it reinstates provisions that were introduced in 1977, some 40 years ago. Could you explain why you are so concerned? I can’t resist asking a handgun question. Why are you so concerned about handguns?
Ms. Cukier: As Senator Jaffer mentioned, I’ve been working on this issue for many years. In fact, one of the first studies done on the sources of guns in crime was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in 1995. It showed the breakdown of long guns, handguns and their sources in major centres. This data is not available at a national level, which is part of the problem and another point of discussion.
They do have data in jurisdictions like the city of Toronto where they trace the guns they can trace. I would argue there are some misconceptions about fundamental research methods.
There’s a concept called sampling. When we do a survey of 2,000 Canadians and 1,600 of them say that they support stronger gun control, we generally conclude, subject to lots of restrictions, that suggests 80 per cent of Canadians support stronger gun control. We don’t take the 1,600 and divide it by the population of Canada.
When we’re looking at sources of firearms recovered in crime, the data from the city of Toronto police breaks down the total firearms or crime guns they seize because some of the guns are seized in other conditions. The crime guns they were able to source are the guns they were able to trace, either through the restricted weapons system in Canada or through the ATF in the United States.
That becomes the sample because you don’t have information on the guns that they were unable to trace. Based on that sample, the evidence is that half of the guns now originate in Canada, and that’s a change from the last time. I looked at the data which was published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2006, and it’s certainly a change since 1995.
Why do I think that is an issue? It was very interesting, the notion that we’ve reached an inflection point. In 2004, there were about 350,000 restricted and prohibited weapons in Canada. I remember Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying a couple of years later that handguns in Canada were virtually banned. At that time there were around 300,000, so it wasn’t a virtual ban, but there sure weren’t a million.
Today there are a million restricted and prohibited firearms in Canada. They are no longer restricted and prohibited. We have people in rural communities acquiring handguns to shoot coyotes, in the case of Gerald Stanley, and in fact killing someone in an incident.
In my view the proliferation of restricted firearms is a threat because of the misuse of those guns and because of the diversion of legal guns to illegal markets.
As Dr. Ahmed said, the evidence is consistent in industrialized nations. The data is clear: more guns, more deaths, sometimes because of an increase in misuse and sometimes because of the diversion of legal guns into illegal markets.
Your second question related to the 1977 legislation and claims that it’s a back-door registry. Just because people say that’s the case does not make it the case.
The registration of firearms, which was introduced in 1995, required that a gun owner who had a gun had a piece of paper that said it was their gun. That’s completely different from a system which requires firearm dealers to track the guns, to keep a record of the guns they sell, and to make the data available to the police.
Coming back to Canadian smugness, one of the things many don’t realize is that the United States currently has better controls over the sale of rifles and shotguns than we do in Canada because provisions in most states require that tracking and because the alcohol, tobacco and firearms administration has access to that data to trace guns without the requirement of a warrant.
We’re asking for the restoration of provisions that were in place 40 years ago. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, and I don’t see how that’s a terrible inconvenience or imposition on law-abiding gun owners.
Senator Jaffer: Dr. Ahmed, we all remember seeing you on TV, the horrible killings on the Danforth. When there is a gun shot or a gun wound, do you report that anywhere so there is data kept, and do you do the same if there is a knife incident?
Dr. Ahmed: We have a requirement to report and a duty to report if a patient presents to our hospital or any hospital with a gunshot injury. We do not have a duty to report if there’s a stabbing unless there has been an assault or it is a suicide. If there’s an accidental injury with a knife and we feel that’s the case, which would be very unusual, we do not report those; but we have a duty to report any injury with a firearm.
Senator Jaffer: I’ve received many letters and there is this allegation that more people die through knife wounds than from gunshot wounds. Obviously you can’t talk about across the country, but what has been your experience and what do you see in the emergency wards?
Dr. Ahmed: Actually the data is quite clear. Stabbings are a much more frequent mechanism of wounding than are gunshot wounds, probably by twice in Canada, but it is important to note that the fatality or the lethality of wounds inflicted by firearms is by far much greater. I have seen someone die from a stabbing. For sure, it happens, but it does not happen with the same frequency as with gunshot wounds.
By orders of magnitude, gunshot wounds are much more lethal. They do enormous harm to organs and tissues and take people’s lives, where stabbings are not of the same severity. There is also the issue that wounding with firearms can in mere seconds take the life and injure and maim multiple victims and multiple people in mere seconds. This is not at all the case with knives and stabbing implements, which we see not infrequently.
Senator Dagenais: I’d like to thank the witnesses. Ms. Cukier, you mentioned a few times that our neighbours to the south have better firearm controls when it comes to sale and registration. Are you saying that, with the measures in Bill C-71, Canada’s controls may not be enough?
You said that, for the first time in 30 years, a significant portion of the weapons used in crimes in Toronto were sourced in Canada and not necessarily smuggled into the country. Could you tell us where you got that information? What do you know about the weapons used by street gangs in Toronto?
Ms. Cukier: Thank you very much, Senator Dagenais, for that question. I am referring to data released by the Toronto Police Service on the sources of firearms recovered in crimes. They report on the total firearms seized, the crime guns seized, the crime guns sourced, the percentage of those guns sourced to the U.S., and the percentage of those guns sourced to domestic sources. That’s what I am referring to.
In 2006, 33 per cent of those crime guns were sourced to Canadian owners, meaning they were at one time legally owned. It doesn’t mean that the legal owners misused the guns. It simply means that at one time they were legally owned and registered in Canada. We’ve seen that it has been more than 50 per cent over the last three years.
That is consistent with a study that was done in British Columbia and published in December 2018, which said that historically most crime guns were smuggled into Canada from the U.S. Over the past three years in British Columbia, however, approximately 60 per cent were sourced in Canada. This is not restricted to Toronto.
Senator Dagenais: My next question is for Ms. Irons. As you know, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law prescribing a minimum three-year sentence for anyone arrested in possession of a loaded handgun.
Ms. Irons: Sorry, senator, but the interpretation isn’t coming through. Just a moment, please.
Senator Dagenais: I’ll repeat the question. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prescribed minimum sentence of three years in prison for anyone caught in possession of a loaded handgun. The current government did not feel it necessary to rectify the situation in Bill C-71. What is your take on the current government’s decision? Do you not think there should be a mandatory minimum sentence?
Ms. Irons: It’s very interesting because I always say that Bill C-71 is just the beginning as some people have said today. It’s a bill to start to address some of our issues with gun violence but, believe you me, we’re now being called the rabid anti-gun lobby, which is absolutely untrue.
Many of us actually want to take a look at the issue of penalties. We are not yet there in our deliberations; but certainly penalties, let alone the plea bargain example I mentioned to you today, are issues that concern us and we hope to come back to you on in the future.
I want to add that you also have my written submission. I mentioned that I am an ex-RCMP officer with considerable service. I was also a Government of Ontario investigator, an investigations manager in the corrections field, and a human resource investigator. In my written submission I want to make sure you understand my daughter’s case. His use of the PAL and the gun to kill her, being a legal gun owner, is not that isolated. My brief goes to considerable lengths to explain to you many of the gaps and flaws currently in our licensing and background checking system.
I want to add also, if I may, that people often say to me, “Your daughter’s killer just fell through the cracks.” In fact, you might remember that Justin Bourque killed three Mounties and injured two others in Moncton with legally acquired guns. Alexandre Bissonnette killed six people and injured six others at a Quebec City mosque using legally acquired guns. Matthew Raymond killed four people including two Fredericton police officers using legally acquired guns.
The five-year background check is not adequate, and particularly in my daughter’s case where he had been clearly drug trafficking. As far as I am concerned, as soon as he got off that probation he didn’t apply for that PAL to be a hunter. He applied for that PAL to protect his drug-dealing business.
In the case of domestic violence, you can be charged with it, convicted and serve your sentence. Because that has happened to you, you don’t get into another relationship for several years. Then, guess what? Then you do and oh, by the way, it’s lovely for a couple of years and then the person resorts to domestic violence again.
Out of this bill I would like to see adult lifetime background checks and the gaps related to them in the system and process closed. I think it’s essential.
Senator Dagenais: You didn’t answer my question. The government claims Bill C-71 is a step forward, but not introducing a mandatory minimum sentence is a step backward, in my view. The purpose of a bill is to make a situation better. Here we have the Supreme Court quashing the mandatory minimum sentence and Bill C-71 being touted as a step forward, even though it does not set out a minimum sentence. I see the bill not as a step forward, but as a step back. Someone who is caught with a loaded handgun should at least face a mandatory minimum sentence.
Ms. Irons: Thank you for the question, but honestly I feel at this time the bill has been delayed long enough. We need it passed. Perhaps there are other measures that need to be put forward. I know Minister Blair is coming out shortly with his findings on handguns and assault-style weapons. One would hope that might lead to some other measures.
I think those could be addressed along with your issue of penalties in a future bill. Right now my position is that we need to get this bill passed.
Senator Pratte: My question would be mainly for Dr. Cukier and Dr. Ahmed who both said that the evidence from science is overwhelming or really convincing and so on.
The opponents to this bill often mention work going in the other direction shows that gun control or different forms of gun control don’t work. They often cite the work of Professors Mauser and Langmann who apparently have done some work that goes in the opposite direction.
Would you care to comment on how overwhelming the evidence appears to be on the efficacy of gun control?
Dr. Ahmed: We recently reviewed the international world body of literature, and the recent evidence is very clear.
With respect to these two scientists, I am familiar with their work, in particular the work of Dr. Langmann that you cite. I’ve reviewed his paper quite well. It’s now a little out of date perhaps. It doesn’t have great penetrance in the medical literature. It has been cited about 15 times since it was first published. It’s tweeted about a lot actually, and not so much by scientists.
The methodology is maybe a bit weak. It’s an ecological study that did not include suicides and did not account for injuries inflicted by homicides. It is very narrow in including only completed homicides which is, as we know, a small portion. That study has its limitations.
With respect to the other report I recall by Professor Mauser, that’s not published in the medical literature. It is a report and has never been cited in the medical evidence. In the medical world, it means that it doesn’t have a great deal of penetrance among scientists and physicians who study the disease of gun injuries.
Ms. Cukier: I can add one comment about Professor Mauser’s work. One of the studies he did was on arming for self-protection. The initial study was funded by the National Firearms Association and is a matter of record.
His study included a survey, again a sample of Canadians, and it asked the question: Have you or a member of your household used a gun in the last five years to protect yourself? If so, was it against a person or an animal?
He took the percentage that responded yes and extrapolated based on the population of Canada to conclude that a very large number of Canadians used firearms to protect themselves.
David Hemenway, at the Harvard School of Public Health, responded to that study by comparing it to a study that was done, with very similar results, asking Americans if they had ever seen a UFO and whether or not they had been abducted by an alien. You can look at the data; I would be happy to send it to the Senate. He argued that Professor Mauser was using exactly the same methodology and if you applied it to the study of sighting UFOs and being abducted by aliens, you would conclude that a very substantial proportion of Americans had been abducted by aliens. In my view there are some real flaws in some of the research that he has done.
As academics, we always have people who are on one side of an argument and people on another side of the argument. When the World Health Organization and some of the most established health research organizations in the world come down on the side of the accessibility thesis and the importance of strong regulation on firearms, I think that’s fairly compelling.
Senator Pratte: Just briefly, how about the idea that 2013 was an outlier year with a low level of homicides and therefore 2013 is not a valid comparison or that the increase since 2013 is not significant?
Ms. Cukier: I think that is a really interesting point. I hadn’t heard anybody talk about this notion of an inflection point or a dramatic reversal in trends. If we look at the history of firearm death and injury in Canada, we see that in general with progressive strengthening of controls over firearms there has been a decline in suicide, in domestic violence with firearms and so on.
Everybody talks about the Australian success story. The Canadian story was looking very much like that as well. What we have seen in recent years is a reversal in that trend.
It’s early to say if that signals something that will go on for the next decade, but I would simply argue that we have one million restricted and prohibited firearms today. In another 10 years we’ll have two million and it will be impossible to reverse the trend.
We have seen significant negative impacts of the relaxation of firearms controls in this country, without any benefits. I would ask the senators: Why would you not want to improve public safety rather than putting it further in jeopardy?
Senator Gold: I have a question for anyone who chooses to answer because you are preceding representatives from the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights. If they had testified first, you would have had the opportunity to comment. We’ll take the order as it arises.
Dr. Ahmed, you and your colleagues have been criticized. I am referring to arguments that many have made but that Tracey Wilson from the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights posted on the organization’s website, essentially saying to stay out of this completely unethical debate to bring an erroneous political position into the ER or the OR. She went on to say that it was also unethical for these lobby doctors to be using their medical credentials to try and influence legislation and that no evidence would have the impact they promise it will. She also asked why this small lobby group was so radically pushing their agenda to end an Olympic sport.
Would you comment on why you and your colleagues are making a contribution? How would you respond to this kind of critique of the legitimacy of your intervention?
Dr. Ahmed: First of all, we’re not a small group. Our position statement has been endorsed very recently by a number of national medical associations: the Canadian Critical Care Society, the Ontario Medical Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Trauma Association of Canada. Multiple organizations of national stature with hundreds of members and in some cases thousands of members are compelled to speak because every day we witness the terrible tragedies that have been so eloquently and painfully described by Ms. Irons.
Every day or every week someone comes into our emergency departments who is injured by these wounds. This is absolutely our lane because we are informed by the medical evidence and because we speak on behalf of patients and families who cannot speak for themselves. We are compelled to speak because physicians have always acted in the public good: asbestos, tobacco, seat-belt laws, drinking and driving. This has been our lane.
It is our moral and professional obligation to inform the senators of what we see and what we know so that you can do your job better and make the public safe.
Physicians have had a long history in this tradition that goes all the way back to the cholera epidemics in London in the late 1850s. To say it is immoral, it would be immoral if I were not here today to share with you what I know and what we feel.
This is not just something that is happening in Canada. This is also happening in the United States. Physicians are tired of the conversation being hijacked by people who are motivated by their self-interest. We are motivated only by the interest of the public good. I have no other desire or motivation to be here. That is my only motivation so that we stop seeing these tragic and preventable injuries night after night, weekend after weekend. That is the only reason I am here.
Senator McIntyre: Ms. Irons, I share your grief and your pain. Please accept my deepest condolences to you and your family for the loss of your daughter.
We all agree that the federal government should work with the provinces and territories to require mandatory reporting by health care professionals of people who ought not to access firearms.
That said, I note that the provincial mental health acts are not tied in with Bill C-71. Do you agree that the two should be tied in together?
Dr. Ahmed: My esteemed colleague Dr. Maggi is in the room. Perhaps she would like to say a few words about the mental health acts.
Senator McIntyre: Before we hear from her, Ms. Cukier, would you comment?
Ms. Cukier: I don’t know enough about the provincial mental health acts to be able to comment. In addition to having the legislation and in addition to thinking about provisions similar to what we see in many provinces for mandatory reporting when people should no longer be driving motor vehicles, it is critically important that similar provisions have been recommended by some physician groups. The other piece that’s critically important is the raising of public awareness of the risks associated with having guns in the home if you have a child who is depressed or someone else who is suffering from mental health issues.
We have lost the awareness of the risks associated with firearms in part because of the rhetoric around bad guys, good guys, and so on. Many of you may know that the risk of having your child killed with a gun is higher in rural Alberta than in downtown Toronto. Why? It is because suicide is such a scourge and suicide with firearms is a major problem.
Dr. Ahmed: Dr. Maggi is in the room to answer that question, perhaps, with your permission.
The Chair: Briefly.
Dr. Julie Maggi, Doctors for Protection from Guns: Could you repeat the question for me?
Senator McIntyre: The am concerned that the provincial mental health acts and Bill C-71 are not tied in together, and I think they should be. I would like to have your thoughts on that, please.
Dr. Maggi: I think that’s a complicated question to ask if this legislation and the act should be connected. I wish I could actually give a more informed answer.
There are privacy issues as well within the mental health acts. My own sense is that I can’t give a short answer to a question that is probably much more complicated and beyond my expertise at this time.
Senator McIntyre: Mental health is complicated. People with mental health issues who are treated in facilities or those with mental health issues who commit a criminal act are found unfit or fit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
It is very important for the provincial mental health acts are tied in with the bill. I thank you for your answer.
Senator McPhedran: Each panellist is helping us with what we pride ourselves on in the Senate: our evidence-based decision making and review. You’ve given us a lot of methodologically sound and internationally recognized evidence to work with, and I thank you for that.
My question for you, Dr. Cukier, is related to domestic violence and violence against women and femicide. As part of the introduction to the question, could you summarize for us the financial sources for the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control, including whether you accept sponsorships?
Ms. Cukier: We don’t accept sponsorships. It is member supported. The last time we received government funding was a competitive grant from the National Crime Prevention Council in 2002.
Senator McPhedran: Statistics Canada noted that the total number of female victims who reported firearm-related violent incidents by intimate partners to the police are increasing from 2009 to 2017, an eight-year span, by over 50 per cent. These were female victims of police-reported violence by intimate partners. We’re being very specific here as part of our dedication to evidence-based decision making.
Statistics Canada also pointed out that the most typical firearms used in intimate partner violence are rifles and shotguns, reaching up to 88 per cent in the Northwest Territories.
We’ve heard and I think we will continue to hear from opponents to Bill C-71, including some of my colleagues who have promised to eviscerate the bill, that this is not relevant to violence against women and girls in Canada. Might I ask for your response to that?
Ms. Cukier: There are a couple of dimensions to my answer. First of all, most of the major women’s organizations that deal with domestic violence across the country, including national groups like the YWCA, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, et cetera, support the legislation and the Coalition for Gun Control and have since its foundation. The Schlifer Clinic led a Charter challenge to defend the law.
On the ground, the organizations dealing with violence against women day in and day out support stronger gun control because they see the impact.
One dirty secret is not well understood in the public. People frame this as a rural-urban issue and talk a lot about the opposition in rural communities to stronger gun laws. They’re typically talking about rural men who own guns, as opposed to rural women, because rural women are far more at risk from firearms than women in large cities.
In my brief, I cite the study done in New Brunswick where there are somewhat higher rates of gun-related violence and threats. That study gives you a visceral understanding of the role that firearms play in domestic violence, apart from women being killed. Femicide is the tip of the iceberg. Women being threatened, children being threatened, the family pets being threatened or even killed are patterns of behaviour that we see globally. That’s why the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and small arms was so definitive in her statement that states that fail to properly protect citizens, particularly women and children, from firearms violence through effective regulation are failing their obligations under international human rights law.
There are no gun owner rights in this country. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that repeatedly, in spite of what you may hear later this evening. There is, however, a right to freedom from fear. There are rights under the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Effective controls over firearms are an absolutely critical piece of any effort to combat gender-based violence.
Senator McPhedran: I might add there is also a right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to life and liberty.
Senator Dean: I have a question for Dr. Ahmed.
You started today by talking about protection from preventable harms which goes to the heart of what regulation is all about, and we’re here talking about the regulation of firearms. In your recent Globe column, and as you alluded in your statement, you asserted that Canada has a gun problem. You also mentioned there are others who take a different view and would say that Canada has an urban gang problem on which we should focus. They say that despite what we’ve heard today from Statistics Canada of an almost equal prevalence of gun violence in rural Canada and in the face of fairly worrisome rates of domestic and partner violence. Senator McPhedran just talked about gun-related suicides and indeed about accidental discharges by regulated gun owners that result in injury and death. I think that debate will continue.
Could you tell us how you respond to those assertions that would oppose your view on this issue? Perhaps Ms. Irons would have a view on that as well.
Dr. Ahmed: These are not my assertions. This is a summary and study of the best available medical evidence that we present to you. This is not my assertion. This is the lived experience of countless physicians across the country and across many countries.
You make a very salient point. If we are to talk about the femicide report, as I think Dr. Cukier was alluding to, it identifies that the women most at risk in our country are Indigenous women, women in rural centres, and women between the ages of 25 and 35. We know that women of a younger age group who are economically not as viable and are living in rural Canada are at much higher risk of dying from guns.
This is information and data that have been replicated in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, county after county, province after province, country after country. There is now an abundant and irrefutable body of international data, information and study. This is the assertion of scientists, doctors and physicians who study this problem.
We are here only to inform you in your study so that you can make better decisions that will help ensure the health and longevity of our children, our sisters and our brothers. That’s the reason we’re here. I have to be in the operating room tomorrow morning at 7:45. Believe me there are many other things I would rather be doing, but it is my obligation to share this with you.
Senator Dean: What is your view of the other side of the argument who would say that this is mostly a guns and gangs urban concern?
Dr. Ahmed: It is a bit of a difficult situation and there is no panacea, but the gun is the vector. Study after study shows that increased regulation, increased scrutiny and greater laws will reduce the burden of injury.
Dr. Cukier very carefully described a proportion. You can argue what is the proportion, and maybe we’ll never know exactly what it is. The truth of the matter is a proportion of legally owned guns are used to harm, injure and kill people. Either they are stolen, sold, given away or legally owned. Legal gun owners use those guns to do terrible things. It’s not like it has not happened. It’s a matter of public record.
These are not my assertions. These are matters of public record and it is the summary of the medical evidence.
Senator Dean: We accept it as that.
Dr. Ahmed: You’re welcome.
Senator C. Deacon: Dr. Ahmed, you mentioned a study in Ontario that involved a number of children who have been affected by gun accidents or violence. Could you repeat that quickly?
Dr. Ahmed: Sure.
Senator C. Deacon: There was so much in each of your presentations that I was having trouble keeping up. That really jumped out at me, and I want to make sure I got it right.
Dr. Ahmed: We will submit all of that to you so you can study it better. I have it here somewhere. It is a study that comes out of an article called Risk of firearm injuries among children and youth of immigrant families, and the senior author is Dr. Natasha Saunders. It comes from a group at the Hospital for Sick Children and documents that over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012 one child per day was injured by a gun in Ontario.
Senator C. Deacon: That’s what I thought you said. I just wanted to make sure I heard it clearly.
Dr. Ahmed: That is correct. That is the reported evidence and the data. Children in rural centres are at higher risk for unintentional injuries. Children in urban centres are more at risk for assault, but all children are at risk when there are firearms in the community or the home.
The Chair: Dr. Ahmed, if you would be kind enough to share that report with the clerk, we will have that distributed.
Dr. Ahmed: I would be happy to leave all of these with you.
Senator Busson: I feel compelled to tell you how much we appreciate your perspective and your absolute undeniable reality around what we’re facing in Canada these days.
Ms. Irons and all of you, we absolutely have to pay attention to the tragic experiences that you have been subjected to, and you demand our attention on these things.
Dr. Cukier and Dr. Ahmed, in your experiences around the things you’ve seen in your emergency rooms, et cetera, could you comment, whether the guns are legal or not legal, on the kinds of injuries that you see?
I’ve often heard people more or less allude to injuries that aren’t fatal or are not life threatening. From my own experience I know they are often more life changing than perhaps a gun or a knife wound might be.
Could you comment on that, please?
Dr. Ahmed: I would be pleased to do so. To me, it’s a very important point. Very often the statistics, the data and the studies focus on death and mortality, but what is not often talked about is patients who survive their injuries.
These are high-velocity missiles, pieces of metal that tear through the tissues, organs and blood vessels of these patients. They arrive to us in extremis, which means critically ill. We rush them into the operating room and open up their body cavities. Their whole blood volume is on the floor within the next 25 seconds. Then multiple teams of surgeons and anaesthetists are racing to repair these injuries and save these people from certain death. They spend weeks and months in hospital with surgery after surgery after surgery and hundreds of units of blood being transfused. They are days and weeks in the ICU. Those are the patients. Imagine their families. Imagine the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers of these people who wait outside the ICU day after day waiting to speak to me and hear me say their son is going to survive for one more week or one more day.
Then they’re discharged. They go to rehabilitation centres where they learn to walk again, speak again and eat again because they’re so unconditioned and disabled. These are young people who are 15, 17, 18, 25 and 35. These are not old people. These are young people.
That is the physical disability. Then there is the emotional disability and mental disability of having been a victim and having lost what was their youth. They are 17 or 21. They get shot in the spine and they never walk again. They get shot in the brain and their brain never functions the same. There’s a lot of focus on mortality that we don’t talk enough about because we’re so thankful they survived, but they survive at great cost to the medical system, to their families and to themselves. We are grateful that they do survive and their families are grateful, but it was preventable in the first place.
That is the point all three of us are trying to make.
Ms. Irons: Speaking for myself, I have another effect that I would like to add. I had a high-profile career. I was an executive in government. From the day my daughter was killed, I was unable to work. I am diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder, which my doctors and counsellor think will be for the rest of my life. I suffer from what is generally called a major depressive disorder in Canada. In the States it is now called complicated grief disorder. It usually affects someone who has either lost a child or someone to violence. In my case it was both.
I haven’t been able to work since and I have since retired. I ended up with the onset of an autoimmune disease, which my doctors can’t prove but attribute to the stress and trauma of my daughter’s death. Because of that autoimmune disease, I now have six specialists, a psychotherapist and a family doctor. I am on six medications. Some days I can’t get out of bed. I call it the ripple effect.
Some of my daughter’s friends lost their jobs because they couldn’t cope with the trauma of her death. The university had to bus people down and delay exams because of the devastation in that community. There are at least two police officers that I know in the OPP and at least two paramedics in Bracebridge that to this day have PTSD as a result of trying to save my daughter’s life. The ripple effect just goes on and on.
When we’re talking about, as Dr. Ahmed said, the effects, my daughter’s death is not about one person. It’s about hundreds and hundreds of people who worked with her. My friend said today, there were 400 people at her son’s funeral. We had to have two funerals because there were 700 people.
My daughter was a developmental services worker who looked after children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I had to phone that organization on the Saturday morning, the day after she was killed, to tell the human resources manager that my daughter had been murdered. The whole organization had to come together in management over the weekend to figure out how to deal with the staff and management trauma while they were still looking after vulnerable people and their families who were also devastated by my daughter’s death. Frankly, the impact on those vulnerable people that she looked after makes me angry.
Forgive my passion, but you have to understand. I hear all the time from the gun lobby, “There are 2.2 million of us and there are only 500 of you.” No, there are not. There are thousands and thousands of us in this country affected by gun violence right now. We have to draw the line and start somewhere.
Again, as I said earlier, let’s get this damn bill passed.
Senator Busson: I just want to say that any one of us could be sitting in your chair.
Dr. Ahmed: I think that is a very apt comment. One of the tragic things about gun violence is that it is so random. There’s epidemiology about it, but it can happen to anyone anywhere.
Ms. Cukier: Health Canada is spending more time and energy looking at wire barbecue brushes than they are on firearms and their impact on community health. We have to shift the discussion away from gangs and guns and recognize the ripple effects.
The Chair: I want to express my sincere thanks and particularly, Ms. Irons, to you. I know it’s difficult. We appreciate that you have taken the time to be here. To both Dr. Cukier and Dr. Ahmed, thank you very much.
Dr. Ahmed: It has been a pleasure. Thank you.
Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, we now continue with our fifth panel. Joining us are Solomon Friedman, Criminal Defence Lawyer at Edelson & Friedman LLP, Rod Giltaca, CEO and Executive Director of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, and, by video conference, Dennis Young. The floor is yours, Mr. Young.
Dennis R. Young, as an individual: I would like to thank the Senate committee for inviting me to appear tonight.
I am a retired member of the RCMP. I have never committed a crime. Yet, in 1998, when the Liberal government’s Bill C-68 came into force and under threat of being charged with a Criminal Code offence, I was forced to buy a piece of paper to simply own property that I’d owned and used safely for 35 years. Since that time, evidence shows that I have been treated worse than the 443,000 convicted criminals who have been prohibited from owning firearms by the courts.
I want to make two main points tonight. First, despite the Auditor General back in 1993 asking the Department of Justice to evaluate the gun control program, as of today no government ever did. It’s time for the Senate to undertake a rigorous evaluation of the gun control program.
Second, Parliament and the people have been kept in the dark about the true cost of the Canadian Firearms Program. It’s time for the Senate to do the job that the House of Commons has failed to do.
On March 10, 1994, Reform MP Garry Breitkreuz made good on a promise to his constituents by standing in the House of Commons and asking Minister of Justice Allan Rock a question that went right to the heart of the gun control legislation, past and present:
There are two types of gun owners in Canada, law-abiding citizens and criminals. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics less than one tenth of one per cent of registered handgun owners commit a crime with their guns. Could the minister explain how putting more controls on responsible gun owners better protects law-abiding citizens?
Minister Rock responded by saying that the government supported the existing gun control laws and described them as being reasonable controls.
Now, 25 years later, another Liberal government is ramming another gun control bill through Parliament without first providing an answer to Garry Breitkreuz’s question and repeating Allan Rock’s description of the amendments in Bill C-71 as reasonable controls.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. There’s no proof that Einstein really made this statement just as there is no proof or no evidence that any of the reams of gun control laws passed by successive governments over the last four decades has reduced the number of homicides, reduced the number of suicides, reduced violent crime, improved public or police safety or kept firearms out of the hands of criminals.
The Liberal Party of Canada website states:
Government should base its policies on facts, not make up facts based on policy. Without evidence, government makes arbitrary decisions that have the potential to negatively affect the daily lives of Canadians.
Bill C-71 breaks this promise.
In his 1993 report on the gun control program to Parliament, Auditor General Denis Desautels wrote:
As well, our review of the new regulations indicated that important data, needed to assess the potential benefits and future effectiveness of the regulations, were not available at the time the regulations were drafted.
The Auditor General was referring to then Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s gun control regulations in Bill C-17. The Justice Department defended their lack of evidence with this statement:
In any event, the legislation and regulations were driven by clear public interest considerations, which needed to be acted upon despite the absence of precise data.
The Auditor General went on to recommend:
The Department of Justice should undertake a rigorous evaluation of the gun control program.
As of today, no government ever did. It is time for the Senate to get precise data. Does it work or doesn’t it?
On May 31, 2006, MP Garry Breitkreuz asked five important questions of the Auditor General following her appearance before the Standing Committee on Public Safety. Auditor General Sheila Fraser responded to Garry’s letter pointing out that it was the government or Parliament that was responsible for answering all five of his questions. Here we are 12 years later, and Parliament still doesn’t have the answers.
On top of this negligence, in 2006 the RCMP stopped reporting to Parliament the spending and employment numbers for the Canadian Firearms Program. Using government sources, I have been able to compile a spreadsheet of total spending of between $1.79 billion and $1.6 billion on the firearms program for the years 1995 to 2017. For the years 2016 and 2017, the Canadian Firearms Program cost taxpayers $53.7 million and employed an equivalent of 451 full-time employees.
The Auditor General and the Library of Parliament have identified hundreds of millions of costs that have never been reported to Parliament. In the Auditor General’s 2002 report to Parliament on the firearms program, paragraph 10.29 states:
. . . the Department of Justice did not provide Parliament with an estimate of all the major additional costs that would be incurred. . . . The costs incurred by the provincial and territorial agencies in enforcing the legislation were not reported. In addition, costs that were incurred by firearms owners, firearms clubs, manufacturers, sellers, and importers and exporters of firearms, in their efforts to comply with the legislation were not reported.
A background paper prepared by Public Safety Canada stated:
Two Library of Parliament studies estimate that the enforcement and compliance costs are substantial, running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
For the last few years, I’ve been keeping track of the evidence and updating on paper every month. It’s entitled: “Where is the evidence Canada’s gun control programs are working?”
Every MP and senator should be asking themselves why these statistical deficiencies weren’t reported in the RCMP Commissioner of Firearms 2017 report just tabled in Parliament in December.
In the hard copy of my presentation, I have provided a list of 19 controls placed on licensed gun owners compliments of Nicolas Johnston at TheGunBlog.
Question number 1: Why are 443,000 convicted criminals who are prohibited from owning firearms not subject to even one of the controls placed on lawfully licensed firearms owners?
The answer is that it would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and would not survive a Charter challenge.
Question number 2: Is there a way to bring any of the gun controls reserved exclusively for lawful gun owners to bear on the 443,000 convicted criminals who are prohibited from owning firearms?
Yes, introduce legislation making it mandatory for judges to include specific gun control conditions as part of the sentencing of these criminals. Making them report their current address to police would seem a logical first step.
Since 1976, all gun control bills have been enacted by trying to justify a predetermined ideological or political position but failing to provide all of the evidence necessary and without even a clear understanding of the benefits of gun ownership. It is time to hit the pause button before more tax dollars are wasted yet again aiming our gun control laws at the wrong target.
Solomon Friedman, Criminal Defence Lawyer, Edelson & Friedman LLP, as an Individual: Honourable senators, thank you for inviting me to address you on the subject of Bill C-71. Unlike the other distinguished speakers who are here tonight, I am not here to advocate on a principled basis for or against any particular gun control measures.
Instead, as a criminal lawyer with considerable experience in the area of firearms law, I come before you with one fundamental perspective on the subject of any criminal legislation. Criminal law reform should be modest, fundamentally rational and supported by objective evidence. On each of these measures, in my view, Bill C-71 fails to meet the mark.
First, this committee should bear in mind that there is no standalone scheme for regulating firearms in Canada outside of the criminal law. Accordingly, any violence, no matter how minor or technical, engages the criminal law process. As all justice system participants know well, the criminal law is a blunt tool. It is more akin to a sledgehammer than a scalpel and most importantly, it is an ill-suited implement of public policy. Indeed, this legislation creates new offences where none were needed. This does nothing more than create another trap for the unwary, a trap that carries with it criminal consequences, and for what? Not for actual public safety, but for the appearance of public safety.
This is more than just theory. Take, for example, the case of R. v. MacDonald decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014. In MacDonald, the court held that a licensed firearms owner’s honest but mistaken belief in the precise terms and conditions of his licence did not amount to a legal defence. A firearms owner would be convicted of a criminal offence even where she honestly and sincerely believes that her conduct is authorized by law.
There are more than two million such honest law-abiding firearms owners who are depending on the Senate to live up to its reputation as the independent home of sober second thought. This committee should carefully scrutinize this proposed legislation and protect the morally blameless from the brute force of the power.
Second, the proposed reforms in Bill C-71 are unsupported by the evidence. In fact, in presenting its rationale for this bill, the government has misrepresented the objective statistical data to create the appearance of a problem that simply does not exist.
As a society, we are the poorer for it when government promotes criminal legislation on a misunderstanding or, worse yet, a wilful manipulation of what it claims is empirical evidence. On May 8, 2018, the Honourable Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security:
. . . that between 2013 and 2016 the number of criminal incidents involving firearms rose by 30 per cent. Gun homicides in that period went up by two-thirds.
These numbers are alarming. They give the clear impression that gun crime and homicide by firearms specifically are a rampant and increasing problem in our society. With the greatest of respect to the minister, that is simply not the case. The year 2013, the starting point for the purported trend, was not chosen at random. As we now know, 2013 was a statistical aberration in terms of violent crime and homicide in Canada. The year 2013 saw the lowest rate of criminal homicides in Canada in 50 years. To put that in perspective, every year since 1966 has been worse than 2013, and it’s not surprising that the three years following 2013 would be worse as well.
The truth of the matter is homicide by firearm has in fact been steadily declining in Canada since the mid-1970s and when an appropriate sample size is taken the alarming trend that the minister identified is seen for what it is: a selective manipulation of statistical data. The rate of homicide by firearm, when viewed over a 10-year period, has remained relatively stable. In fact, it was slightly lower in 2016 than it was 10 years earlier, in 2006.
This same lack of empirical evidence extends to Minister Goodale’s contention that there has been some dramatic change in the sources of firearms used in crimes. These claims are anecdotal and unsupported by Statistics Canada research on this topic. In any public policy debate we are all entitled to our own opinions. However, we are not entitled to our own facts.
Ask yourselves this: If the use of the criminal law in making these amendments was truly justified, why the need to spin, obfuscate and manipulate the data? That question, in my view, tells you everything you need to know about Bill C-71. This is not evidence-based policy making. Accordingly, I would urge you to proceed with caution.
I look forward to answering any questions that you might have.
Sheldon Clare, President, National Firearms Association: I am the volunteer elected president and CEO of Canada’s National Firearms Association. In my day job, I teach academic history at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, British Columbia.
The NFA is the largest and most effective advocacy organization representing the interests of firearms owners and users across the country, with membership in every Canadian province. The NFA is a UN NGO, with status under ECOSOC. The NFA provides training, sponsors and mentors athletes in the shooting sports including Olympians, advocates for better laws in Parliament, and fights bad laws in courts and internationally.
We are currently leading the fight in Quebec against their unconstitutional long-gun registry. We are bringing that government to the Quebec Court of Appeal. We have been to the Supreme Court of Canada in the past to help firearm owners, and we have been successful.
Having said all that, I am going to be frank. Bill C-71 is a bad bill, hated by firearm owners. It’s hated by these law-abiding Canadians because it treats them like they are not. Most importantly for your deliberations is that the intended purpose of the bill is to improve public safety, yet this bill does not improve public safety. This bill seeks to expand background checks, even though peer-reviewed research shows that background checks do not have any effect on crime.
This bill seeks to impose new rules to track sales of firearms through vendor sales records, while also bringing in licence verification for each sale. Vendor sales records, which is another phrase for privatized gun registry, will be open to breaches of personal privacy as there will be no controls on data protection. These records could actually lead to dangerous situations where criminals could potentially get their hands on lists of people who have guns. In the same way that licensing has not been associated with the reduction in firearm violence and homicide, licence verification is also not associated with such a reduction.
This bill is merely an extra burden on law-abiding firearm owners that will not improve public safety despite emotionally based arguments to the contrary. This bill also proposes to make it more difficult for firearm owners to transport their firearm to a place where they can legally store, repair or sell their property. That part of the bill is redundant in terms of existing law. These people have already been vetted and have a licence. Why should they need an additional paperwork process to simply transport their firearm to have it repaired? The facts are that there is no empirical evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of the authorization to transport system. Increasing it does not improve public safety.
This bill also brings in stricter classification rules for firearms by shifting responsibility to the RCMP, allowing them to disallow more guns simply because they don’t like the way they look, even though once again research shows that firearm action and appearance has no effect on crime.
This bill’s proponents claim that the bill will improve public safety but absolutely none of the measures within it do so. This is a bill based on politics and emotional perception, not good public policy.
If the government were serious about public safety and limiting violence, it would be providing programs for youth offenders and gangs to prevent recidivism. These programs, and providing additional diagnostic resources for mental health, would see a much more beneficial result than targeting law-abiding firearm owners. The facts and the naked evidence show this bill simply will not improve public safety, which is its intended purpose, and therefore it should be thrown out.
Senators have an opportunity to make a real difference by stopping this backward bill that would only increase the burden on firearm owners and would do nothing to stop actual criminals. It’s important to understand that there is no evidence whatsoever that increasing restrictions on firearm ownership, possession and acquisition requiring increased screening or licensing have had any effect, either positive or negative, on either the homicide rate, the suicide rate or the crime rate in Canada, which has been steadily declining for decades.
The Senate was established in Canada as a house of sober second thought. Law-abiding firearm owners and users in Canada are so very grateful that it was because you can stop this terribly flawed legislation from becoming law. That’s why I am not asking you to amend this bill. I ask you to outright reject this bill.
Bill C-71 is fundamentally flawed. It would merely impose additional unnecessary burdens on law-abiding firearm owners and users. It does nothing to address crime or safety. This is a flawed bill that deserves true sober second thought.
The millions of firearm owners and users in Canada and I respectfully call upon the Senate to reject this bill. Thank you.
Rod Giltaca, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights: I would like to dive right in by examining Bill C-71 from two perspectives. The first are our contentions with a few provisions in the bill and the second are the concerns we’ve heard from our community. As Mr. Clare said, it is a community of 2.1 million licensed gun owners. It is not a small group.
I’d like to talk about is the registry. This is a measure that the Liberal government is advertising as simply verifying a licence before a transfer, but that’s actually the law right now. It’s in subsection 23(a) of the Firearms Act. I’ll paraphrase it. You cannot transfer a firearm to someone who is not the holder of a licence for that type of firearm. It’s in the law in black and white.
Ignoring that, this bill commissions the construction of a registry requiring the same infrastructure as the previous long-gun registry. To summarize this point, our group feels that instead of another billion dollar boondoggle we’d like the government to focus on reducing violent behaviour directly by reducing its root causes. This would reduce violence with or without any weapon, create a greater net benefit to public safety, and would not negatively affect law-abiding gun owners. If the government doesn’t like the wording of the law, they can make an amendment and save untold tens of millions of dollars, which we think would be a good solution.
Our next issue of contention is the RCMP classifying firearms, which they actually already do right now. This bill would allow them to do it with no oversight from elected government and entirely immune from recourse. This is antithetical to how our entire system works.
In addition, regulation and current common practices allow the RCMP excessive latitude to prohibit firearms as they see fit. We can talk about those intricacies later.
Inserting the changes to the authorization and transport of restricted and prohibited firearms, they’re completely absurd. I can comment on that extensively. Since I didn’t introduce myself and just so you know, I am an instructor in good standing with the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program and I’ve run 4,000 students through that program. I’ve advised for the Vancouver criminal justice branch, including doing seminars for the practical implications of the Firearms Act and its regulations for them. I know on the ground what these regulations do. That is actually one of the bones I had to pick with the doctors’ group because I know what these regulations do on the ground.
The idea that Bill C-71 is needed to increase public safety isn’t true. The government has been caught lying and manipulating statistics to support this unnecessary bill. If this bill were useful and valid justification existed, the evidence would be clear and no one would have to fool anyone into supporting it. That’s not at all what’s going on.
In conclusion, we believe this bill is completely ineffective. There are no provisions that address the root causes of violence in our society. There is nothing in this bill to address the inability of our system to gain any additional advantages in prosecuting gangs or mitigating their activities.
As another point to ponder, I don’t believe there’s a single provision in this bill that would have stopped the Danforth shooter. Not one. There are also abundant examples of the existing system failing to reliably perform its current mandate. I think one of the previous speakers can attest to that. It is a heartbreaking story. Yet here we are considering more new infrastructure, more new costs, more new rules and more new burden on law-abiding licensed gun owners who have not been shown to represent a disproportionate risk to public safety. It’s our opinion this bill benefits no one and exclusively serves a political purpose.
There’s one thing with my remaining time I’d like to address. I keep hearing time and time again that more access to guns equals more death. I’ve heard that the evidence is clear, but it couldn’t be more unclear. That’s actually easily disproven. We need look no further than to the United States. In the last .22 years the firearms in circulation in the United States has doubled. They have not doubled like Canada’s numbers but have increased by 150 million guns. Yet, over that same period violent crime has been reduced by 50 per cent. How could that even be possible if the previous opinion was correct? I have numerous examples of this type of anomaly.
Our group is always asking for an honest debate about facts and evidence, something that has been lacking in the gun control conversation since its beginning in the early 1990s. Thank you for your time.
Senator Gwen Boniface (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Dagenais: I’d like to thank the witnesses for being here. I have two questions for Mr. Young and Mr. Clare. Mr. Young, you described the former gun registry as costly and ineffective and said that it created a false sense of safety among police. The committee heard from witnesses that gun smugglers were no longer the ones supplying the guns used in organized crime. The guns are now being sourced in Canada, and that change is apparently due to the ever-increasing number of firearms in Canada. You’re a former police officer. How do you explain the fact that guns are now sourced domestically and that more guns of Canadian origin are out there?
Mr. Young: I am sorry. I had some trouble hearing the question.
Senator Dagenais: I’ll repeat the question. Many witnesses have told the committee that the guns used in organized crime are no longer being supplied by gun smugglers. Now, the guns being used in Canada are sourced in Canada. In other words, the use of smuggled firearms has dropped significantly because of the increasing number of weapons in Canada, sourced in Canada. How do you explain that?
Mr. Young: I can explain it because the RCMP doesn’t have any statistics on this matter. They don’t trace them properly if Statistics Canada doesn’t have the statistics and the RCMP doesn’t have the statistics. The Toronto police statistics are just embarrassing. The Toronto mayor and the chief of police are quoting that 50 per cent of firearms in Toronto are domestically sourced. That’s just dead wrong.
I filed a request with the Toronto police, and it was just a joke. As my other colleagues have said, we want to deal with a set of facts that are true. If the RCMP aren’t tracing the guns properly and don’t come up with the statistics that we can use, we can’t make good legislation.
Senator Dagenais: My next question is for Mr. Clare. I listened to your presentation, and it’s quite clear that you aren’t in favour of Bill C-71. Like Mr. Giltaca, you said the bill is driven by politics. Why do you say that?
Mr. Clare: Thank you for your question, senator. It’s very clear to me that firearms politics have been part of Canadian society for well over 100 years. We see legislation going back to the late 1800s that was clearly designed to target specific individuals in society who were deemed not to be suitable to own firearms due to the ideas of the government of the day. These were people who were of races or cultures that were thought to be offensive. It included Aboriginal people. It included Chinese people. It included people from all sorts of backgrounds.
Frankly, I find it offensive that this kind of politicization has continued right to the present day. It has become very much politicized. It has always been about targeting groups of people who were thought to be vulnerable. It has always been about an easy target. I would put it to you, senator, and I thank you for your question, that firearms owners have always been an easy target.
They were an easy target with Bill C-51 in the 1970s. They were an easy target with Kim Campbell’s Bill C-17. They were an easy target with Bill C-68, and they have been an easy target with every bit of firearms legislation before and since.
Senator Dagenais: Do you have a comment, Mr. Giltaca?
Mr. Giltaca: Yes. I’ll give you a good example of the political aspect of this bill, departing from public safety. The authorizations to transport restricted and prohibited firearms. That’s probably the best example.
Under the current system right now, if you have a handgun you automatically get an authorization to transport. This means that you can take your restricted or prohibited handgun to and from an approved shooting range in your province, to and from a gun show, to and from a gunsmith, to and from a peace officer to have your firearm verified or turn it in for destruction, and to and from a border crossing to compete in competition.
This bill removes the gunsmith and I believe the gun show. For all practical purposes you trust someone with a handgun. You’re not revoking their licence. You’re not taking any other action, but you’re saying that going to the gunsmith in case your firearm needs to be repaired is one bridge too far and public safety comes first. I’d like anyone to explain this to me, in any fashion possible, why gun owners under the new regime actually have to ask permission to go to a gunsmith. The firearms centre processes a piece of paper, mails it to you, and you have to carry that paper to and from the gunsmith.
I don’t know if there’s anyone who can tell me how that’s going to stop shootings on the street. I am not sure there is anyone who can do that. I think that’s a great example.
Senator Plett: Thank you, gentlemen, for putting up with us at this late hour. It has been a long evening. I commend the chair for doing her best to move this forward.
I had a list of five questions and they were answered very nicely in your presentation, so I will be brief.
Stats Canada says that half of the increase in firearms crime has occurred in Toronto, much of it handgun crime. With insight, what proportion of legal handguns in Canada would be found in Toronto?
The above stats would suggest that a high proportion of legal handguns would be in Toronto, I am assuming. Do you have any idea what that percentage would be?
Mr. Clare: I don’t have an idea of that percentage, but the numbers of firearms owners in the Greater Toronto Area is a highly significant number in Canadian firearm ownership stats. An awful lot of people who own firearms legally in the Greater Toronto Area.
I don’t know what the numbers are for that, but I would be glad to look into it more and get back to you with an answer.
Senator Plett: If you could get us that information through the clerk, I would appreciate it.
Why are you not confident in the RCMP when it comes to the classification of firearms? Perhaps one or two of you could answer this question. I’d also be interested in Mr. Young’s answer.
Mr. Friedman: I’ll tell you where I am coming from. I’ve defended a number of individuals charged with offences related to RCMP classification decisions. This means I’ve had the opportunity to review the underlying data and laboratory practices when it comes to classification decisions.
How does the RCMP determine whether a new firearm to the Canadian market is a non-restricted, restricted or prohibited firearm? It’s a pretty important consideration. On the one hand, it might be perfectly legal for this person to own it. If it’s classified as prohibited, it’s punishable by a lengthy term in the penitentiary. It’s a pretty important issue.
In my view no issues related to public safety animate that decision. You can have two firearms. You can put them side by side. They shoot the same round with the same calibre and the same rate of fire. One is non-restricted and one is prohibited. Surely we need a logical framework for determining how to classify firearms.
What colour is the stock? Is it made out of plastic? Does it have a scary appearance? Those are the determining facts that animate the RCMP classification decisions. That’s why parliamentary oversight is necessary. That’s why before Bill C-71 and subject to Bill C-71 the Governor-in-Council could override those decisions and classify any firearm as non-restricted. That’s an important check on the bureaucratic process of the RCMP.
Senator Plett: Mr. Young, would you care to comment on my question?
Mr. Young: Yes, I would. I agree completely with Solomon Friedman on his points. There needs to be parliamentary oversight for sure. The RCMP can’t operate as a law unto themselves.
I filed over 800 access to information requests since 1984. Many were filed with the RCMP trying to acquire the evidence they have that firearms are easily converted to fully automatic. They are unable to provide any information that would show what kinds of machines you have to have, what kind of expertise a person has to have, what kind of equipment and what kinds of parts you would have to make these conversions.
They will not provide this information to me. Hopefully they’ll provide it to the Senate.
Senator Pratte: Thank you for being with us this late. I have two questions. The first question would be for Mr. Clare and Mr. Giltaca, because you both mentioned that you have doubts on the efficacy of, not only this bill, but gun control programs in general. Mr. Giltaca in the committee in the House of Commons you said that besides licensing, everything should go. Mr. Clare, you just mentioned earlier that there’s absolutely no evidence that gun control works.
What is it that you would get rid of that is useless in our gun control system?
Mr. Clare: I would really rather focus on Bill C-71 at this time. What we need to see happen is a comprehensive review of the Firearms Act and its existing regulations to see what actually does work and doesn’t.
We earlier heard testimony from Ms. Irons who conclusively proved that the gun control laws don’t work, despite the thrust of her presentation to the contrary. It’s pretty clear to me that the firearms control laws have no evidence supporting their efficacy in preventing crime.
In short, controlling a piece of metal, wood and plastic does not prevent bad people from engaging in bad behaviour.
You and I have both been the recipient of many emails from very distressed people who are upset at this legislation. They’ve copied me on many of the ones they’ve sent you. I appreciate your copying me on your responses as well from time to time.
I think we’re both aware that this bill is not the panacea that it has been made out to be. This bill is a big problem. It is unnecessary. It is not going to be effective if it is passed. It needs to be part of a bigger look at firearms control issues in Canada that have been about completely different things right from the get-go. They’ve been about politics. They have not been about public safety.
Mr. Giltaca: I would agree with Mr. Clare that we should focus on Bill C-71, but I will answer your question as briefly as I can.
Our group believes that you must have demonstrable proof that firearm legislation or regulation benefits public safety. If you can’t demonstrate that, then that regulation shouldn’t exist.
Senator Pratte: We had some scientists and people from Statistics Canada in front of us earlier. They provided evidence that gun crime or gun violence has been increasing in recent years.
Let’s forget 2013. I am not using that year. I am using any year. If you look at any year compared to 2016-2017, the number of homicides has increased and the number of gun suicides has increased.
We’ve been told by researchers who appeared before you that the overwhelming amount of evidence shows that gun control programs in Canada and elsewhere work. Maybe these people are wrong. They are? Okay.
Mr. Friedman: I’ll give you two perspectives on that. It’s important because it’s a question we’re all trying to get at. What does the evidence actually demonstrate? I will make two observations.
The first one is in terms of an increase in firearms homicide, notwithstanding increasing restrictions on restricted, non-restricted and prohibited firearms in Canada. It’s one thing to come here to present an opinion or an interpretation of statistical data, but this matter has been litigated already in courts in Ontario.
We heard from a previous panel a reference to the constitutional challenge of the Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic to the repeal of the long-gun registry. That was heard in court and it was dismissed. The reason it was dismissed was that the trial judge found conclusively that there was no link between the long-gun registry, the particular piece of legislation that was repealed, and the rights of individuals as we heard under section 7 of the Charter not to have their rights to life or liberty taken away from them.
We have opinions here, but courts have actually ruled on the issue that there is no such demonstrable link.
Senator Pratte: I am sorry. I’ve read some Supreme Court decisions that owning a gun is a privilege and subject to a lot of regulations. They’ve agreed with that.
Mr. Friedman: Absolutely, there’s no question. The question you asked is a specific one. Is there a link between specific gun control provisions and increased public safety? The courts ruled squarely on that issue. They dismissed the Charter challenge against the long-gun registry.
Senator Pratte: It appears that science has also ruled on this matter and that science has ruled conclusively that gun control measures work.
I have one last question. Do you believe that Statistics Canada manipulates statistics? They have given us statistics that show that there is an increase, that the year 2013 was an inflection point, that the trend has reversed, and so on.
Let’s forget the government for a moment. Do you believe that Statistics Canada engages in statistical manipulation?
Mr. Clare: I think I can take that one. The facts of the matter are that we rely very heavily on Statistics Canada data for our own evidence-based research that we present to you. If you look at the research of Dr. Caillin Langmann, referred to by the previous panel, he uses a multivariate approach of three types of different statistical analysis. What he is presenting is not an opinion. It is not an interpretation. It is a verifiable and provable fact.
We are using Statistics Canada data. I can assure you that the reference material that Dr. Caillin Langmann uses in his work both on suicide and on homicide is completely verifiable, using the Centre for Justice Statistics information and Statistics Canada data.
Mr. Giltaca: Plus, it was peer reviewed.
Mr. Clare: Some of the people who were here before — and I want to correct this, sir — were not scientists.
Senator Pratte: Medical doctors.
Mr. Clare: A medical doctor is not a scientist and a PhD in the research business is not a scientist.
Senator Pratte: They quoted reputable journals.
Mr. Clare: And I am doing the same, sir.
Senator Pratte: You have one piece of research.
Mr. Clare: Actually, sir, I have a bit more than that. The McPhedran and Baker study from Australia is one. I can give you a list of some 25 different peer-reviewed research papers that will support what I am telling you and not support what they are telling you.
Senator Gold: You’ve raised so many questions and I have so little time that I am not sure where to begin.
My first question is for Mr. Clare. When you submitted a brief to the committee in the other place, you spoke about background checks and said that a refusal of a firearms licence or a renewal may be based upon events such an episode of depression that occurred a long time in the past, although recent history may have shown that the person is not a threat to themselves or others.
Mr. Clare, I invite you to qualify that statement because the act as it stands — and this won’t change in Bill C-71 — doesn’t talk about just any old mental problem in the past. The mental illnesses considered are only those associated with violence or threatened or attempted violence, not any mental illness like depression.
Mr. Clare: I can give you an example. A personal friend of mine who served in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan was a participant in activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was at Srebrenica where he helped to disarm people. As a result of his participation in disarming the Muslim inhabitants of Srebrenica, he has undergone post-traumatic stress disorder.
All of the people he disarmed were promptly slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs who came in after the Canadian Forces had left. They took them away in buses with the help of the United Nations peacekeepers from Netherlands who aided and abetted them in removing those people.
That would be associated with violence, in my opinion, sir. His post-traumatic stress disorder was clearly associated with violence. Therefore, if he undergoes the need to get some assistance for his post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the violence in which he was a participant, he is going to be subjected to a great deal of difficulty in renewing his firearms licence to engage in the activities he enjoys such as recreational shooting and hunting. He takes them very seriously and finds them to be a great stress relief. This is something for which he would be at risk with this particular clause.
I hope that answers your question, senator.
Senator Gold: I am not sure, Mr. Clare, whether that’s an accurate interpretation of how it would be applied in that particular case, dramatic though it is.
Maybe I could turn to my second question for Mr. Friedman. It is nice to see you again.
Mr. Friedman: It is always lovely to see you.
Senator Gold: A couple of years ago, you appeared as a guest on Ezra Levant TV.
Mr. Friedman: Nobody is perfect, senator.
Senator Gold: We can share some stories offline. You stated then, in 2014, that the real problem was guns that were never legal in Canada but smuggled in from elsewhere.
We’ve heard evidence provided subsequently that although it might have been true once, it is less true now. I am citing, among other things, the recent 2017 report of the B.C. Illegal Firearms Task Force. In noting that though true in the past, they reckon about 60 per cent were now sourced in Canada. We heard evidence that it was almost half or so in Toronto. You heard it as well, and I know it’s disputed by Mr. Young.
Would you comment on the fact that what might have been true in the past is unfortunately no longer the case and that some of the mechanisms in Bill C-71 would make it easier for the police to identify guns that might have been obtained from Canadian sources?
Mr. Friedman: There are two sides to that excellent question, Senator Gold. I’ll deal with the second one, which is the latter part of your question.
First of all, nothing in Bill C-71 will make it easier for police to identify or trace restricted or prohibited firearms. Handguns and other prohibited firearms are already registered and subject to secure reporting requirements.
This is a great question because it deals with the issue of the sources of domestic crime guns. There is different phraseology. You’ll note that Statistics Canada doesn’t opine on the issue of the source of crime guns. I believe very strongly in Statistics Canada and the reporting they do.
However, we talked about a crime gun. Question number one is: What is a crime gun? Question number two is: What firearms are being subject to that metric? Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Dr. Cukier talked about the Toronto police study saying, “of the firearms that can be traced.”
Let’s break that down for a moment. We’re dealing already only with firearms that can be traced. If firearms can’t be traced, they’re completely eliminated from that metric. In my experience as a criminal lawyer who deals with these offences, we are dealing with firearms that are either traced to United States or traced to Canada. If they can’t be traced, if they were never legally in the system in Canada, in other words, they weren’t registered when handgun registration or long-gun registry was required, they simply don’t count. If they’re untraceable from the United States or some other country, they simply don’t count.
When you do a measurement of where crime guns come from, you’re self-selecting from the guns that can be traced. I am not a statistician but in my view that leads to a very skewed result.
Senator Gold: Mr. Friedman, the same methodology would have applied in the earlier era when a far greater percentage appeared to have come in from the United States. To compare apples to apples, it appears the source of crime guns has shifted and there is a greater number in Canada. Would you not agree?
Mr. Friedman: The reason I wouldn’t is that I agree the earlier methodology was no better. It was equally anecdotal. It was police officers or lawyers like me saying, “Hey, I defend a lot of individuals charged with illegally possessing restricted firearms. By and large, they’re never legally in the system.” Police officers would say the same thing.
Now all we’re seeing is police officers, like in Toronto. That is not a Statistics Canada study. That is the Toronto police or the B.C. Firearms Task Force saying, “Yeah, when we trace firearms and we submit firearms for trace, they come back and we’re seeing a greater proportion of them being domestically sourced.”
The other issue is: What is a crime gun? If an individual is charged because a great-grandfather’s German Luger that was brought back from the European theatre after World War II happens to be a discovered, that’s a crime gun. It was not a gun that was used in a violent offence or even one that was present at the scene of a crime.
In my respectful view, it’s simply not a statistically acceptable definition. I would love for Statistics Canada to do work on this issue. That’s exactly what we need. We need research that can actually help us assess where guns are coming from and how we keep them out of the wrong hands.
Senator McPhedran: My question is directed to the President of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, Rod Giltaca, and the same question is directed to the President of the National Firearms Association, Sheldon Clare.
I note with interest that there have been a number of references in your testimony to 2.2 million legal gun owners, I believe. How many members do you have in each of your organizations?
Mr. Giltaca: We don’t release the numbers of our members for a couple of reasons.
Senator McPhedran: Like what?
Mr. Giltaca: One is that we don’t want gun owners to think we don’t need the help. The other is that it’s competitive information basically.
Mr. Clare: The National Firearms Association currently has between 72,000 and 75,000 members in all categories including club members, life members, associated members and ordinary members. Our funding comes entirely from our members. It is not from any other outside sources.
Senator McPhedran: Does either organization have sponsorships in addition to members’ fees?
Mr. Clare: No, we do not.
Mr. Giltaca: We are a grassroots organization. We are funded by individuals giving us $40 a year.
Senator McPhedran: That’s very interesting because I think on your website there is a list of sponsors, and those sponsors are corporate.
Could you help us understand a bit more about what sponsorship means to you?
Mr. Giltaca: Those are business members. They pay $100 a year.
Senator McPhedran: In terms of the way in which you’ve shared information with us tonight, could we please have all of the empirical evidence to which you referred, Mr. Clare?
Mr. Clare: Of course. I believe I’ve already provided this to the Senate, but I will ensure that has been done if it has not.
Senator McPhedran: Maybe you could make sure. I see you had more tonight than what we have been given. I have many more questions, but I will stop here.
Senator McIntyre: My question is for Mr. Friedman. In answer to a question raised by Senator Plett, you spoke of the importance of having a good firearms framework.
Looking at the framework, we have the Firearms Act and the firearms program, which was created to oversee the administration of the Firearms Act and its accompanying regulations.
As we all understand, the administration of the program is the sole responsibility of the RCMP. As I understand, the program also provides operational support through its database, the Canadian Firearms Information System, which contains the names of firearms licence holders and registration certificates. Is that correct?
Mr. Friedman: That is.
Senator McIntyre: Assuming Bill C-71 becomes law, the RCMP and not the Governor-in-Council will be the sole authority to classify or reclassify firearms. Is that correct?
Mr. Friedman: That is correct. I’ll just say one thing because of a question that was asked. What firearms regulatory scheme would you like to see? What rules do you like?
In my view the starting point for all problems that causes the most backlash from law-abiding firearms owners is that there is no regulatory scheme that doesn’t involve invoking the criminal law when there is even inadvertent non-compliance with the Firearms Act. That’s a fundamental problem. We don’t see that for any other objects, no matter how dangerous they are.
There’s a distinction between careless driving that’s governed by a provincial highway act and dangerous driving or the intentional misuse of a vehicle. For all firearms owners, if you forget to renew your licence, if you don’t have the right paperwork, if you can possess your gun at your cottage but not at your home, the first stop is the criminal law. The first stop is an arrest, detention, potential criminal record, and all the stigma that carries with it.
Senator Griffin: My question is for Rod Giltaca. What would your recommendation be in place of creating the new database and reference number for businesses to call in?
Would you, for instance, recommend increased penalties for unlawful transfer or for a company that fails to verify a PAL?
Mr. Giltaca: This is where a lot of the confusion around the rule comes from. The Liberal Party and Minister Goodale are telling us that you don’t have to check a licence. You do have to check the licence. That is in the law as it is today. Those transactions are being carried out between people that actually get what equates to a criminal record check every 24 hours electronically, so we believe that system is sufficient the way it is.
Senator Griffin: For anybody that doesn’t adhere to the current law or even the proposed one, would you be favourable to increased penalties?
Mr. Giltaca: It’s not up to me to make those recommendations.
Senator Dean: This question is for anybody who wants to answer. Do you believe or do you agree that there are preventable harms associated with the ownership and use of firearms?
When I say “preventable harms,” I am thinking beyond training, certification and possession of a PAL.Do you agree that there are preventable harms associated with the possession and use of firearms? I am not going to go into the numbers, but they include homicides, which are equally distributed roughly between rural and urban Canada, and domestic and partner violence. We probably agree on those. We know the numbers on suicides and accidental discharges that cause death in some cases and maiming injuries in others.
Do you agree that these are preventable harms beyond possessing and walking around with a PAL?
Mr. Clare: Another thing I do in my life is I am a biathlon coach and biathlon official. In fact, I am joining you from interrupting the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Prince George where I am an official.
I have two daughters who both competed in biathlon. I started taking them shooting when they were six. They would sit on my lap, shoot the .22 and break balloons. As they got older and their motor skills improved, they were given more skills and training. I assure you that if I had my entire firearms collection left lying around the house, my girls would say to me, “Dad, would you please clean up your mess?” They would be completely uninterested in anything to do with firearms because they were shooting at their peak 5,000 to 7,000 rounds a year in practice.
Are there preventable harms? Of course there are. Education is an essential element of preventable harm. However, Criminal Code offences for minor violations that have no victim are not what should be in the purview of the Criminal Code. This is not what works to prevent violence. It is not what works to stop bad people from doing bad things. Bad people will always find a means, a method or a reason to do something of evil intent. That is always going to be the case.
Are we going to try to make that more difficult for them? I don’t think anybody in this room wants to make anything easier for bad people to do bad things. That’s not what we’re here about. We’re here to try to stop the Government of Canada from wasting its time, effort and money on legislation that will not stop bad people from doing bad things and will not work toward preventing harm.
The Chair: I thank the three gentlemen for joining us here, and Mr. Young for joining us from afar.
For our final panel today, we’re pleased to have with us from the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, Tony Bernardo, Executive Director, and Steve Torino, President; from the Shooting Federation of Canada, Sandra Honour, President, who will be joining via video conference; and from the International Practical Shooting Federation of Canada, James Smith, President, National Range Officers Institute.
First of all, gentlemen, I thank you very much for waiting. This has been a long evening, and we’re very grateful that you are so patient.
Mr. Torino, the floor is yours.
Steve Torino, President, Canadian Shooting Sports Association: From 1996 to 2014, I chaired and co-chaired the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety for the Liberal government and for the Conservative government. I was also an adviser to the Canadian delegation to the United Nations on the Arms Trade Treaty and transnational organized crime from 2006 to 2014.
The first item is a quote from the policy document of the Liberal Party:
Government should base its policies on facts, not make up facts based on policy. Without evidence, government makes arbitrary decisions that have the potential to negatively affect the daily lives of Canadians.
This is sadly lacking in Bill C-71.
On the item of lifetime background checks, it seems unnecessary and counterproductive in our opinion to mandate verifications going back to an applicant’s distant past covering long-past jobs, relationships, health issues, and even school issues to determine an applicant’s fitness to possess a licence.
There were a little over 401,000 licences issued in 2017. Some 817 were refused, representing an infinitesimal number of .020 per cent. Most of these were court orders, not licence application screening.
We also have, as was mentioned before by the previous witnesses, a 24-hour background check that happens every day on licensed firearms owners. We have some concerns with the lifetime background checks, the criteria for the information being checked and the training of those who will check it.
Are we being screened for any violence issues only or more? Who actually evaluates the information? What training do they have to make judgment calls regarding the suitability to own firearms?
There is a lack of an appeal process. There is none. Whoever has a problem has to go to court. That’s an expensive and extensive process.
The additional time and costs associated with such investigations will be prohibitive and will take a lot of time. In our opinion, such resources would be much better utilized in other more needy areas such as funding the pursuit of real criminals.
On licence verification, the requirement in Bill C-71 is merely codifying existing practice. The reference number requirement will pose some significant compliance issues. Right now, we are unaware of any transactions that take place where the buyer and the seller do not exchange information. Usually the seller will ask all the necessary information, make sure the licence is there and is valid, and make sure the photograph matches. Dealers record every transaction whether or not they are required to do so.
There is a record of every transaction that takes place. I understand this goes into the next section, but I want to make very clear that they are all recorded. There is information on restricted and prohibited firearms. Everything goes through the Canadian Firearms Centre and the RCMP database. On non-restricted firearms, it appears in the records of the dealers.
Turning to the business records, when you combine this with the information required for a licence verification for individuals, it is remarkably close to the cancelled long-gun registry. The information that cost government billions of dollars to collect and maintain has now been downloaded onto the backs of businesses. It appears that Bill C-71 is a de facto return to registration. That is our opinion.
I will pass the next part on to my colleague, Tony Bernardo. Thank you.
Tony Bernardo, Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association: Thank you, senators, for listening to us so late into the night. I am glad you did because we have some important concerns.
I would like to speak first to the removal of the ability of the Governor-in-Council to declare a firearm to be non-restricted. This is the RCMP mistake eraser, the section of the Firearms Act that allows the minister and the people that we elect to make our laws, to override an arbitrary decision by the RCMP because they’re not always right.
There are legions of examples, but let’s stay with just the ones we’re talking about in here. Subsection 12(11) of the bill deals with the CZ858 firearm that has been reclassified three times. The RCMP, with their expertise, classified it as non-restrictive. They then classified another one that came in as restricted. Then the third one came in, and they said that it was prohibited but only some of them. Yet you could not tell the difference between these by looking at them. It was simply impossible to do so.
They have a long history of making mistakes, many, many of them. You can go online and find the mistakes all over the Internet. This was the eraser for the mistakes. It allowed an elected official to say that it was wrong and to change it.
Under authorizations to transport, we have here all the purposes for which you can get an authorization to transport, so I won’t go over them again.
Did you know that some of the authorizations that they’re going to apply paper to already have paper? For example, if you show up at the U.S. border without all of your American paperwork, which is a thick stack, you’re in for the worst two days of your life because the Americans take smuggling guns into their country as seriously as we do. You have to have all the paperwork.
If you go to a gunsmith or to a gun store, they sign that firearm into their inventory. Many of the gun stores have electronic inventories that can be accessed by a chief firearms office at any time. On that topic, section 102 of the Firearms Act allows the chief firearms office to inspect any record on any computer at any time, anything. They can just walk in and say, “Give me the records.” It’s that simple. You can look that up.
There’s also no evidence of any kind that the electronic permits were being violated or abused. There is simply no evidence. We’re going to cut down a forest of trees making permits that are exactly the same to replace the electronic ones that we have because it’s 2019. There’s absolutely no reason for it. It’s simply a paperwork excursion.
There are some really serious problems in the new classification categories. We’ve heard repeatedly from Minister Goodale that part of this bill will remove political interference in classification. I will say to you right now that this is political interference because the RCMP have already spoken on the CZ858 three times, mind you, with three different answers. If you keep asking them, you’ll eventually get two of the same, and that’s the one we have to run with. They have also spoken to the Swiss Arms firearms too.
We have the CZ858, and the RCMP are now claiming that some of them are subsection 12(3) firearms. Then they create subsection 12(11). Ask yourself why they are doing this if they’ve already ruled it’s a 12(3). The problem here is that 12(3) is a mechanical characteristic and 12(11) is totally and completely arbitrary.
Are a 12(3) and a 12(11) the same? Apparently they are. Does that mean everyone who is in 12(3) actually has a 12(11) too? Does that mean they are now grandfathered and can take the firearms to the range? I hope you understand the confusion. Remember that not only do we have to understand it. We have to comply with it, to the letter of the law, or they arrest us. This is not a good situation.
Lastly, I would ask you to take a look at the new classification categories. Section 12 of the Firearms Act is the section that deals with prohibitions. Every subsection in section 12 has a rationale. There’s a reason why the firearm is being prohibited, but subsections 12(11) and 12(14) are absent that reason.
I say to the good senators who have the ability to take a look at bad legislation and make it better to take a look at this. Law-abiding, lawful Canadians with licences who have never committed a crime, legally obtained and legally use these firearms. Now the government is to take them away without even the decency of telling them why. That’s absolutely wrong. Canadians need to know why their property is being taken by the government.
Dr. Sandra Honour, Volunteer President, Shooting Federation of Canada: I am Dr. Honour, a veterinary epidemiologist and volunteer President of the Shooting Federation of Canada, and a former national world championship team member of the Pan American Games for both Canada’s swimming team and Canada’s shooting team.
Tonight I am representing the members of the Shooting Federation of Canada. The Shooting Federation of Canada, unlike many of the groups tonight, is not a lobby group. We have no political affiliation. Along with the provincial sport governing bodies, we’re simply the national sport governing body that supports the infrastructure and the opportunities for target shooting athletes to compete for Canada at major games and world cup events around the world.
Shooting Federation of Canada members include recreational shotgun, rifle and pistol clubs and their members and Canada’s high-performance athletes and those trying to become Canada’s high-performance athletes in rifle, shotgun and pistol disciplines.
I’ll also declare that I cannot separate my responsibilities for the Shooting Federation of Canada from myself. I am a legal firearms owner, hunter and recreational shooter.
I have more things that I am going to talk to you about. I know you’ve been here for a long time, but I want to identify a few things.
First, if you even look at the name and title of this, it’s an An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms. As an individual Canadian public firearms owner, it is exhausting trying to actually figure out what this act does and all of its implications. I don’t think we should have to have lawyers tell us whether we’re being law-abiding citizens or criminals. It’s getting to be that complicated in the gun laws that you might want to reconsider and actually make this a bit simpler for Canadians.
As a public servant for 24 years, I believe I have a policy experience to say that this is really poor legislation, which is both convoluted in nature and fails to achieve what I think are the noble goals of elected officials. If I am interpreting the speeches in the House of Commons correctly, Bill C-71’s purpose is to reduce the ability for criminals to commit gun-related offences and to provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to prevent criminal actions associated with firearms.
If you read this act and you look at what it’s doing, it actually fails to do anything more than very minor stepwise directions toward these goals and thus fails both the public and law enforcement agencies. I am not going to get into the firearms businesses because I think they have been covered pretty well.
In terms of background checks, I completely understand that owning a firearm in Canada is a privilege and not a right. I do believe, and I think most of our members would agree with me, that violent criminal behaviour should make you lose the right to own or possess a firearm for your lifetime, regardless of your cultural heritage or your socio-economic situation. This privilege, however, cannot be decided by an individual or anyone other than our society at large.
In a democracy, it’s the role of our elected officials and the government officials working for them to ensure that law enforcement agencies adhere to the principles and values of our society. History has taught us that it’s dangerous to give individuals or law enforcement individuals too much power.
This proposed act allows one person to refuse the right of a citizen to possess or acquire a firearm based on a lifetime of behaviour. If such a power exists there has to be a simple, fair, low-cost appeal process in place to ensure that the principles and values of society are being upheld. It isn’t only the rich and those who can afford lawyers that can actually appeal any decisions made as to whether or not someone can own a firearm.
The portion of the act that deals with the classification has also been covered fairly well by other people tonight. I am jumping over that, knowing that you actually need to get some sleep.
I guess the other portion of the act that really affects those of us who are athletes in Canada is the authorization to transport. Again, I am finding it difficult to link the principles and the noble intent of this legislation to the proposed change in the current authorization to transport.
The examples I’ll give you are real. Our pistol shooters can be at a competition and have their firearm break down on a Thursday and they need to compete on Friday. To have to put in a request to a bureaucratic system with the mailing out of a permit to take that gun to a gunsmith will put them out of being able to make the Olympics, to make national teams or to make Pan American Games teams.
The realistic approach to this is need. This is not acceptable to our athletes at large. The current law that requires that we can take it to six different places with our current permit to own a restricted firearm is adequate for us. We think you should just leave it the way it is. We can manage through that system fairly adequately.
Finally, one thing I would bring home to you is the value of firearm owners in this country. I am not talking about the economic value. I am talking about the cultural value and being part of my heritage. I hear a lot about valuing cultural heritage of certain communities in Canada, but my homesteading grandfather hunted. My father and my mother both shot target sports and introduced me to the shooting sports. My sport is part of my heritage and part of my culture as a Canadian.
Bill C-71 will impact many families who will miss the opportunities that I had to partake in a sport like no other, simply because the politicians and the bureaucracy are trying to create this onerous ability to own guns and actually take them to the places we need to take them to use them.
The target shooting sport has athletes who cannot pursue other sports. We have huge value from those people with damaged knees, feet and ankles. People who can no longer compete in what you would call a more traditional sport turn to shooting and can still become an Olympian for Canada and represent your country by coming to our sports.
It allows our youth to be able to spend time with adults. They get to compete on an even keel with people who are older than them. It gives them confidence. It improves focus. It gives them goal setting. It gives them objective metrics as to how to measure themselves and be able to understand what it means to pursue a goal.
Sport matters, and my sport matters. The impact you will have when you make these laws have to be considered so that you don’t impact those of us who are actually investing an incredible amount of our time to pursue excellence, an incredible amount of time and money to represent Canada in world-wide events.
If culture matters to you, if sport matters to you, then be very careful when you make these laws that they don’t have this secondary impact of strangling our sports to the point where it’s too difficult for people to take part in our sports and contribute to our sports. I’ll leave it at that.
James Smith, President, National Range Officers Institute, International Practical Shooting Confederation of Canada: By no fault of my own, I am probably the most popular speaker tonight. Anyway, it’s good to be last.
The International Practical Shooting Confederation of Canada is a world sport. It is in over 100 countries. In Canada we presently have about 4,000 members spread coast to coast and are very involved in their sport. I am also president of the Shooting Federation of Nova Scotia, the provincial body under the Shooting Federation of Canada.
In our province, we have about 5,000 recreational and competitive club members in various disciplines of shooting including ISF, small-bore, full-bore and air pistols, air, service and F-class rifles, traps, skeet and sporting clays.
As alluded to by the previous speaker, sport shooting in Canada is something that’s dear to our heritage. In the community I live in, the first shooting competition happened in 1853. It was hosted by the Nova Scotia Rifle Association which still exists today. It’s an organization over 150 years old that yearly holds the same event they’ve been continually holding since 1853.
As for the International Practical Shooting Confederation of Canada, we’ve grown about 10 per cent a year over the last five years. This sport and all shooting sports have become more popular. We evaluate shooting sports through the Shooting Federation of Nova Scotia. If you take soccer, for example, it reaches peak participation at age 13 or 14, and then by the age of 20 it drops. By the time you get to 30, there are only 500 participants in the whole province. Studies show that sport shooting is the only sport in Nova Scotia that people start in their teens, reach a peak in their 30s, and continue on a straight line until they are into their 80s. They may not be competitive on the national stage, but they are competitive with their peers and they continue to shoot.
Speaking to the bill, as was outlined earlier it’s onerous enough right now. What does it take to become a sport shooter in Canada? All athletes have to take two courses, go through the licensing and criminal record checks, and then they get their licences. Once they have their licences, they have to join a club. They have to be validated every year they’re a member of their club. They then have to get their ATT, which allows them to participate in their sport.
I personally represented Canada on the international stage five times over the last 15 years. The licensing as it stands right now and the ATT allow me to do that. It certainly has nothing to do with any criminal intent. We can travel. We can do it. It’s all supervised and licensed.
The fear we have is that Bill C-71 will make it more onerous. We’re going to take our sport that we’re trying to grow and it’s going to regress. We will limit the number of people who can actually participate in these sports.
The 1,400 ranges in Canada are private and non-profit facilities. They provide people with places for recreation. Also, in Nova Scotia, the police agencies use private and non-profit ranges for their training. If we destroy the shooting sports and no longer have these ranges, the police will have no place to practise or do their training.
The ATT would be the big issue for the competitive shooter. Making it more onerous is not acceptable. I’ll leave my comments there and take any questions.
Senator Dagenais: I’d like to thank the witnesses. My first question is for Mr. Torino. How could the background check required to obtain a licence cause problems for gun owners who engage in —
Mr. Torino: Senator, it’s not coming through. I apologize, but I can’t hear the translator.
Senator Dagenais: We will have this building for the next 10 years. Translation is important.
Mr. Torino: I can hear now.
Senator Dagenais: How will the background check applicants have to undergo in order to obtain a licence negatively affect sport shooters?
Mr. Torino: Senator, thank you for the question. The problems arise in the duplication of the questions asked, the time it takes to process, the use of the facility, the resources of the Canadian government, and the use of time for the individual who is applying. There is a serious issue if we continue to do this.
We are being verified every 24 hours. The 2.1 million or 2.2 million licence holders are checked every 24 hours. Whether or not we go back five years, there’s a discretionary provision in the Firearms Act that allows chief firearms officers to go back and do as they wish. The law may say five years, but the CFOs can go back as far as they want and check whatever they wish, and they’re doing it.
Codifying that just increases the time it takes and the use of resources that can be better used in other areas toward real crime and not toward a licensed owner who is renewing his licence and applying for the first time.
I know there’s additional verification on a first-time licence application, but not on a renewal with someone who is well known in the province. This is why the CFOs in each province do the verification. It’s not a federal requirement because they are closer to the person actually applying. They can check with local authorities to see if there’s something that didn’t get through. Maybe it slipped through the system or maybe it wasn’t recorded in the system.
As far as we’re concerned, every 24 hours is more than sufficient. The system is working. It’s keeping people out that shouldn’t have firearms. If a problem that happens, as in the cases we see in the media, it’s usually someone who slipped through the cracks. They should have been flagged at some point and told, “Excuse me, you should not have a licence nor should you have your firearms.”
By the way, when a licence is revoked my understanding is that no one really goes to make sure that plastic card called a licence is actually removed and any firearms present are taken away. There’s no further recording to track that person and make sure these things happen after the revocation. Thank you, senator.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you. I have one last question for Ms. Honour. Do you think Bill C-71 will deter young people from taking up the recognized discipline of sport shooting and possibly deprive us of elite athletes in the future? Should the bill be amended because of that?
Dr. Honour: I think the provision with the issues around transportation is definitely putting our sport and our athletes at risk. The tracking of information and names in businesses will impact some people’s desire to take part in the sport because more and more people are concerned about who has their information and keeps their personal information.
When we’ve had our firearms labelled in airports, I know that we’ve had an increase in theft of our firearms when we’ve been travelling internationally. You have lists of information of people that own expensive firearms held in a place where, according to my reading of the act, you’re not guaranteeing the security of. It puts me at higher risk as an individual.
Does that make me want to take part in a sport or does it make me want to find a different sport? That kind of thing is concerning us.
Senator Plett: My first question is for either Mr. Bernardo or Mr. Torino is a three-part question. I’ll ask the whole question at the same time. It has to do with authorization to transport restricted firearms for everything except bringing your purchased firearm home and going to the gun range.
If a police officer pulls over a vehicle today, how would he or she find out that the person was transporting a restricted firearm?
Let’s say an officer does somehow discover that a person is transporting a restricted firearm to a border crossing. What tools does that officer currently have that would help him or her make a determination on whether the person is telling the truth that he is actually going to the border?
Lastly, what if the person says he’s transporting his restricted firearm to a gun show or a gunsmith? What tools does that officer currently have that would help him make a determination on whether the person is telling the truth?
Would you follow that series of questions?
Mr. Bernardo: I’ll go to the first one. Was it the authorization to transport to a border crossing?
Senator Plett: If a police officer pulls over an individual in a vehicle today, how would you find out that the person was transporting a restricted firearm?
Mr. Bernardo: The person in the vehicle would have to tell you. There’s no duty to report to a police officer that you’re transporting a firearm because it’s not illegal. You could be found in a car accident, for example. If the police go through a car to see if there might be alcohol, they may find a firearm. If it’s an encased firearm with trigger locks, there would be no improper transport. However, they may look at where this person was going with that.
Senator Plett: Is there a way for police to determine whether or not you’re telling the truth when he discovers that you’re going to a border crossing?
Mr. Bernardo: Absolutely, because you have a thick stack of American paperwork. In order to cross a U.S. border crossing, you apply to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for a 6NIA form, which allows non-immigrant aliens to bring a firearm into the United States. It applies to all firearms, by the way. They also have a requirement that seems to have been dropped. However, nobody ever told anybody at the border that it was dropped. You had to have either an invitation to a shooting club in the United States or a valid U.S. hunting licence to cross. You have to present all this stuff to the U.S. government.
When you get your 6NIA form, you have to put on it your firearm licence and the certificate number of every firearm you’re transporting. It’s not a blanket thing. If you’re bringing in three guns, it can only be those three guns. You also have to include any ammunition you’re bringing in.
Senator Plett: This is all present.
Mr. Bernardo: It’s all right there on the form. Without that, you aren’t going through a U.S. border crossing.
Senator Plett: What tools does the officer currently have that would help him make a determination on whether or not you’re telling the truth when you say you are going to a gun show or a gunsmith?
Mr. Bernardo: Gun shows are pretty easy because within the community they’re fairly well known. The police know when there’s a gun show happening because it is on Saturday morning down at the community centre. If you’re transporting your firearm on a Wednesday afternoon and saying you’re going to the gun show, well, you aren’t. They would have that intelligence.
When going to a gun store or gunsmith, the firearm is actually signed into the inventory of the business. It has to be done that way. There is literally a paper record.
Senator Plett: Mr. Smith and/or Dr. Honour, I am sure I know the answer to the question but I will ask it. What is the most problematic part of Bill C-71? What would you like done about that particular issue?
Is it the authorization to transport? If so, how do we fix it?
Dr. Honour: I’d say you fix it by leaving it the exact same way it is right now.
Senator Plett: The status quo is good.
Dr. Honour: We can work with the status quo. It has six logical places that you would take your restricted firearm.
Senator Plett: Mr. Smith, do you have anything to add?
Mr. Smith: Status quo, exactly. It’s not perfect, but it allows us to compete and carry out our shooting competitions.
Senator Plett: Is that the biggest problem with the bill?
Mr. Smith: I would say the classification in the RCMP’s hands. Many of our competitive shooters have had the CZs that were referred to earlier. It has been in and out, in and out. They invest in the equipment to compete in a certain discipline. If the status changes and there is a difference in what is going to happen, then they are no longer able to take them in and compete.
Senator Plett: Is there something redeemable about this bill, or should it just be defeated?
Mr. Bernardo: I’d like to see the plug get pulled on it, personally. I don’t see any redeeming quality of anything in this bill. I really don’t.
Dr. Honour: I would agree. It’s not achieving what you want, which is to deal with criminal and violent gun use.
Yes, you’re doing a couple of things that aren’t going to damage your national team athletes if you deal with the ATT, but you’re also not doing anything useful to provide law enforcement a tool to actually manage it. It’s a lot of paper without getting to what you really want to do.
A lot of work needs to be done before a good legislation is to be put in. Most importantly, if you’re the public and trying to figure out how to be a law-abiding citizen, it is incredibly complicated. An act to amend acts and regulations is a very odd way to give people a clear indication of what they need to do not to be criminals.
Senator Pratte: I have two questions. The first one would be for Dr. Honour and Mr. Smith.
The disciplines of your sports obviously existed way before 2015. The ATT regime that existed pre-2015 was much more restrictive than what Bill C-71 would provide for. Because I took careful note of your important and instructive comments, I am curious as to how you dealt with the situation pre-2015 when the automatic ATTs were introduced. Before 2015, there was no automatic ATT even for the shooting range.
With Bill C-71, the automatic ATT will apply for the shooting range and bringing the firearms back home. How did you deal with the situation pre-2015? Your sports were not strangled or disappearing or whatever.
Dr. Honour: I would disagree with you. With the shotgun sports not so much, but I think our pistol sports have taken a huge hit in the last 20 years. Our air pistol sports have grown, but the true pistol sports have decreased.
I think a lot of people were criminals who just didn’t follow the law because it didn’t make any sense. Law-abiding citizens would have been criminals under your act to be able to do what they needed to do.
Mr. Smith: As I said earlier, our sport in the last five years has grown about 10 per cent. Once that law changed, it took some of the onerous paperwork away and we’ve seen some growth.
The other issue back pre-2015 was the CFOs were so backed up that it was onerous. It took sometimes six, eight or ten months to get transfers and paperwork done because the provincial governments did not provide any extra staff at that time and the CFOs were completely backlogged.
The CFOs are responsible for the background checks we alluded to earlier. They spent a great deal of their time doing the background checks for the licensing and renewals. They also make sure everybody is a member of a club and do all the other paperwork.
Any more onus, even having to get that extra ATT to go to the gun range, the gunsmith or the gun show means that there will be fewer CFOs to do the increased work. The waits will increase because no one will hire more people to do the work in the CFO office.
Senator Pratte: I’ll leave it at that. It’s late.
Senator McIntyre: Mr. Bernardo, do you have any suggestions to move the management of the classification process forward? Would a panel of experts be the proper answer?
Mr. Bernardo: Yes, you’re absolutely correct on that. The problem is the RCMP are experts but they’re only one expert. When you get a classification decision, it is literally the opinion of one technician. That’s all it is. This has gone into court many times and the opinions of technicians have been overturned many times because, like every other human, they’re not always right.
There are lots of other gun experts. The Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences has very good gun experts. There are also people all over the country who have extensive military experience. There are police armourers and people who literally are firearms designers. They have expertise that the RCMP simply doesn’t have.
It needs to be a panel that adjudicates questionable firearms. That’s the problem. Usually when a firearm comes in it is very obvious what it is. If it is a bolt-action .22, it is not restricted. If it is a pistol, that is restricted. It’s usually very cut and dry. The problem is when you get into the weeds on some of the ones you’re not quite sure about. That’s where you need the expert panel. Quite frankly, the RCMP simply doesn’t have the monopoly on experts.
Senator McIntyre: What about the interfacing of personal information with section 102 of the Firearms Act? Correct me if I am wrong but, as I understand it, that section gives inspectors access to any records including electronic records.
Mr. Bernardo: That’s correct. Everything, absolutely everything.
Senator McIntyre: In your opinion will government inspectors be able to examine and copy the back-door gun register data?
Mr. Bernardo: Sure. They could do it now. They can go in and copy or take any record that there is in their store. They can do this with impunity under section 102 now.
You were told at the beginning of consideration of this bill that the police would need to have a search warrant to get this information. I don’t think Minister Goodale was ever told about section 102, but here it is just as clear as it can be.
Senator McIntyre: In regards to the new licence verification process, could you explain to me why each specific transaction for each specific firearm requires its own specific verification number, and why would that number expire?
Mr. Bernardo: In the original incarnation of this RCMP said that every firearm would have its own individual number. They’ve now changed that to say that every transaction would have its own number.
Originally if you went in and bought four firearms, you would have four separate numbers. Now they’re giving you one transaction number to say that your licence was indeed verified.
It isn’t quite what it was. They have changed it a bit. At least they have changed their interpretation of what it means for a licence verification. You must remember that licence verifications happen now.
Back when the long-gun registry was stood down quite a number of years ago, Mr. Torino and I were both on the Firearms Advisory Committee. Mr. Torino was all the way back to Allan Rock and me all the way back to Anne McLellan. We were on it continuously the entire time. One of the things we suggested to the government was they put in a 1-800 number so that if I were to buy a firearm from Mr. Torino I could actually check his licence to see if it was valid. They said no. That was much too much like work, so they wouldn’t do that.
In terms of the licence verification for dealers, it’s the law now. Dealers have to verify a licence.
Senator McPhedran: My question goes to all of our witnesses. Could you tell us a bit more about your respective organizations?
In particular, do you accept sponsorships? If you do, are there any finances attached to those sponsorships? What are the membership numbers in your respective associations? Mr. Smith has already provided us with those numbers on the record.
In terms of the funding sources, do any of you accept any funding from outside of Canada, including the National Rifle Association?
Mr. Bernardo: We have 35,000 members. We do not accept sponsorships other than for specific events. We hold a reception once a year for the Canadian firearms industry. We allow the industry people to sponsor that reception to help defray its costs.
What was the last question?
Senator McPhedran: The sources of your funding.
Mr. Bernardo: We do not take any money from anybody other than our members. Our membership pays the fee for everything.
Senator McPhedran: Do any of you have any members from outside of Canada?
Mr. Bernardo: Yes, we do. We have probably eight or nine members in the United States and probably half a dozen in Australia. These are individual people that want to subscribe to our magazine or they want to come to Canada to go hunting. They’re buying insurance because our membership includes insurance.
By the way, I should mention too that we pay a wholesale cost of less than $10 a year for $5 million primary liability. You should ask your doctor or your lawyer what they pay.
Mr. Smith: No, we do not accept sponsorship. We are strictly our international sporting organization, so every member in Canada would be a member of the international organization. We would provide the international governing body a portion of their membership fees, but no money comes in from outside the country.
Dr. Honour: The Shooting Federation of Canada receives three funding sources. Sport Canada is our major funding source. We sell paper targets and make money from that. We are in competition with the other two groups out there selling insurance to our members. You are actually talking to my competitors.
In terms of our members, all members are Canadians but some of them live outside of the country. They can come to try to compete for Canada’s national team if they’re full citizens of Canada.
In terms of sponsorship, if you could find me some I would like some. We have a very difficult time getting sponsors. I believe the last sponsor we had provided hard cases to our shooters that made teams two Commonwealth Games ago. The team members were given cases for their guns.
Senator McPhedran: Based on your answers, none of you, of the four witnesses has any financial connection to the National Rifle Association?
Mr. Bernardo: That’s correct.
Senator McPhedran: In the two-year span from 2015 to 2017, some 1,600 persons were victims of firearm-related intimate partner violence. This does not include indirect victims such as children, household members, colleagues or communities. In response to a question that was posed on keeping firearm sales records, the superintendent of the Toronto Police Service before the House of Commons committee studying this bill, responded:
It’s really that balance to the ability to maintain public safety and be able to identify the authors of a crime. It’s really important from a policing and investigative perspective to be able to trace that firearm. I can’t stress that enough.
In the eight-year span from 2009 to 2017, there has been a 56 per cent increase in female victims of police-reported intimate partner violence. Statistics Canada also shows us that the most typical firearms used in intimate partner violence involving a firearm are rifles and shotguns.
How would you comment on the view that Bill C-71 is not a burden to legitimate firearms licence holders, but rather improves investigative tools for dealing with public safety and for assisting people who are intimidated in their homes and in their lives because of the presence of firearms?
Mr. Bernardo: I don’t see how it really has any bearing on that. Certainly all the businesses I am aware of keep detailed records now. They all cooperate with police agencies on any investigation. The police have the tools to go into anyone’s home if there’s any kind of a public safety threat and take everything. They will also completely go right through the entire house to make sure there isn’t one that they don’t know about that would be hidden anywhere.
Licences can be suspended, licences can be revoked and prohibition orders can be enacted at any point in time. This doesn’t really enhance the tools the police have now.
Senator McPhedran: Would any other witness like to respond?
Mr. Smith: I have one comment on the licensing aspect today. Once your licence comes up for renewal, your spouse or your ex-spouse has to sign in agreement that you should get that firearm. That’s one thing today that’s actually achieving what you’re looking for.
Senator Richards: I wrote in the hunting book I published about 10 years ago that when I was a kid I knew kids that used to bring their guns to the one-room schoolhouse so they could hunt partridge on the way home.
I know we can’t do that today and I am not saying we can. Times have changed, certainly. Maybe my question has been answered. I think in a way it has. In rural Canada all of my evaluators seem to be from away. They always seem to be from outside telling us morally what was right and wrong about us in rural Canada.
Can you comment on the kinds of regulators and evaluators that gun owners will have to face with Bill C-71? Do they really have the expertise to deal with it?
Dr. Honour: The only statement I’d like to make on this is that it’s not so much about who is making that judgment call but who has the right to tell me what is and is not Canadian culture, something that should be valued and maintained as opposed to taken away because of abuse and shifts in our society.
I consider what I do my cultural heritage and someone is threatening that. If lawmakers and enforcers start to threaten that, that will really bother me and I may have to run for political office because of it.
Mr. Torino: What we’ve been saying since I started to chair the national committee .22 years ago is that the firearms community is not part of the problem. It is part of the solution.
We are separate. We are verified every 24 hours. Everyone knows who we are. We have a licence which is very rare in Canada because there are so many restrictions and hurdles to go through attached to that licence.
I can only comment on what Dr. Honour said. I think she hit the nail right on the head. We are part of the solution and not part of the problem. That’s all we can say at this point.
Senator Dean: I won’t be alone in being puzzled, if not concerned, about the veracity of the commentary that I’ve heard about the RCMP and its role in classifying firearms. It causes me to wonder how cabinet took on the responsibility for classification in the first place.
I know a bit about regulation and prevention of harms and it’s not unusual. Indeed, it’s very common for regulatory decision making to be delegated to avoid the politicalization of decision making in the order-in-council world.
Perhaps you can help me with this. When did cabinet take on the responsibility for classifying firearms?
Mr. Bernardo: Back before Bill C-68. I guess it was all the way back to when the Liberal government first banned full autos back in the early 1970s. As the 1970s went on, it became lists of firearms. Parliament simply added on to a list of prohibited firearms. Those firearms are all still within the legislation now.
It’s interesting to note that under Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, the only place anyone is given the power to prohibit a firearm is the Governor-in-Council. It’s only that. The RCMP has no authority under the Firearms Act. You can look it up and see.
They have become the de facto experts because what they started doing was changing classifications. They would make a classification a certain way and then as their opinion shifted back and forth they simply would go into the firearms reference table and change it. They would do this without any permission, and it’s a totally arbitrary decision.
I’ll give you a great example. The Mossberg Blaze rifle is a .22. It’s a farm gun. It’s exactly the same as the .22 that many of you had when you were kids. They made the exact same firearm and they called it a Mossberg Blaze 47. It’s the exact same gun. It has a different stock. The Blaze 47 has this really ugly plastic stock that vaguely looks like an AK-47 from 200 metres away.
Senator Dean: If I can interrupt, I wasn’t about your concerns about the RCMP.
In part of your submissions you find offensive the proposal in Bill C-71 that would clarify, mandate or somehow make clear that responsibility for classification would go to the RCMP.
At what point was it clarified in all of this trajectory of the laws or regulation? When did it end up back in the hands of cabinet?
Mr. Bernardo: It was never out of the hands of cabinet. The RCMP has never had the authority to do it.
Senator Dean: Right, but it was delegated to the RCMP.
Mr. Bernardo: Yes.
Senator Dean: When was it undelegated to the RCMP?
Mr. Bernardo: It has never been. From the inception of the Firearms Act the Governor-in-Council could declare any firearm to be restricted or prohibited.
Back when Bill C-42 was enacted under Steven Blaney, they added that they could declare it to be non-restricted as well. Basically it was evening the playing field and giving more authority to the minister.
It was never given to the RCMP. They just simply accepted decisions as being gospel, even when they are wrong.
Senator Dean: So that I am absolutely clear, there was no decision made by cabinet to formally take on or strengthen its role in the classification of firearms in 2015.
Mr. Bernardo: No. The decision was always in the hands of the Governor-in-Council.
The Chair: On that note, we’ll close off.
Let me first say, Mr. Smith, I want to assure you that you were last but not least. I thank this panel particularly for your patience and for staying late into the evening with us. It has been extremely helpful.
To all senators, thank you as well for enduring a long but very productive day.