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LCJC - Standing Committee

Legal and Constitutional Affairs


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Issue 33, Evidence - June 11, 2015

OTTAWA, Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to which were referred Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other acts; and Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, met this day at 10:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bills.

Senator Bob Runciman (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good day. Welcome, colleagues, invited guests and members of the general public who are following today's proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

We are meeting today to continue our study of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code and to make a related amendment and a consequential amendment to other Acts.

As a reminder to those watching, these committee hearings are open to the public and also available via webcast on the website.

For our first panel today, please welcome, from the Coalition for Gun Control, Wendy Cukier, who is president of that organization; and, representing the Groupe des étudiants et diplômés de Polytechnique pour le contrôle des armes, Polysesouvient, Heidi Rathjen, who is a spokesperson for the organization.

You each have five minutes for your opening statements, and we'll begin with Ms. Cukier.

Wendy Cukier, President, Coalition for Gun Control: Thank you very much, Senator Runciman.

I want to begin by reminding members of the committee of the purposes of the firearms legislation. We're very grateful to have this opportunity to speak to you today.

Essentially, the fundamental principles that underlie the regulatory framework in Canada are management of risk. The intention of the regulation is to reduce the chances that people who are potentially a threat to themselves or others will have access to firearms and also to prevent the diversion of legal guns to illegal markets because, as we know, every illegal firearm began as a legal firearm.

The challenges we have today in Canada with respect to firearms include not only criminal violence in large urban centres but also domestic violence involving firearms. We've seen some horrific cases recently. Those instances are more likely to occur in rural areas and the West.

We also have challenges around the safety of police officers. Again, we've seen tragic consequences of firearms in the wrong hands.

With the elimination of the registration of all firearms, the burden on licensing to reduce the risk that dangerous people will have access to firearms is greater than ever before.

We also know that Canada has historically had a system of categorizing firearms based on an assessment of their usefulness versus the risks. Because rifles and shotguns are used by hunters, farmers and others, regulation over them has tended to be relatively light; whereas when we look at handguns and military assault weapons, the evaluation historically has been that they present a higher risk and therefore should be more strictly regulated.

While many of the provisions in the proposed legislation appear to be relatively minor, our perspective is that they actually erode the firearms regulation system and will put Canadians at risk.

Let me speak about the points very quickly.

When the legislation was introduced in 1995, there was a provision made for people who currently owned firearms to allow them to essentially be grandfathered with the Possession Only Licence. Possession Only Licences were granted to people who owned firearms, with relatively light screening. The proposal to effectively merge the Possession Only Licence and the Possession and Acquisition Licence essentially means that 1 million people who were never properly screened will now be able to acquire more firearms.

The provisions with respect to the Authorizations to Transport, again, while they seem minor, go from a system where individuals are allowed to carry their firearms from one location to another, to a much broader range of locations.

Finally, we think that the reduction in the discretion of the chief provincial firearms officers and the politicization of the decisions around prohibited weapons are problematic.

I want to close by saying this is the chamber of sober second thought. Ask yourself one question, and one question only: Should we be making it easier or more difficult for dangerous people to get firearms? In our view, this legislation will make it easier, and we are asking you to not support it. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

Ms. Rathjen.


Heidi Rathjen, Spokesperson, Groupe des étudiants et diplômés de Polytechnique pour le contrôle des armes (Polysesouvient): For the survivors, witnesses and many families of the victims of the Polytechnique massacre in 1989, our primary objective as members of PolyRemembers was, and still is, to prevent the loss of life and the heavy toll of suffering caused by violence committed with a firearm. Preventing violence requires interventions at several levels, including gun control. By definition, a firearm is designed to kill. It is a dangerous object that should be treated with the utmost care and respect. It is a privilege to be able to use a firearm, not a right, and this privilege must be governed by firm rules and involve a range of responsibilities.


The people represented by our group, PolyRemembers or Polysesouvient, are ordinary citizens. We are engineering graduates who witnessed the 1989 tragedy, some of whom were shot and survived; current students of Polytechnique; and many members of the families of the victims, some of whom are here today.

I'd like to take the opportunity to underline the presence of Suzanne Laplante-Edward and Jim Edward, who are the parents of Anne-Marie, who died at l'École Polytechnique 25 years ago; and also Romain Gayet, who is past president of the Polytechnique students' association; and Stéphane Rouillon, a graduate of Polytechnique who witnessed the shooting, as did I.

Families of gun violence victims have nothing to gain from this exercise. If they are involved and present today, it is because they want to make sure other families don't experience the horror and pain they lived through us because of the combination of one angry individual and easy legal access to firearms. They want to make sure that the lessons are learnt from the tragedy so that their daughters, sisters and wives have not died in vain.

However, we are not public safety experts, as are Canada's chiefs of police, police associations, Chief Firearms Officers, nor are we public health authorities, suicide prevention specialists or women's groups or shelters that have first-hand experience in dealing with violence against women. None of these experts appeared before the House of Commons committee studying this bill, and none will be heard by this committee. Other than government officials, the only witnesses being heard are civilian groups or individuals, two in favour of gun control and seven against.

This is disgraceful. It means that neither members of Parliament nor senators who have voted or who will be voting on this bill, nor the public, will have the opportunity to hear the opinions of the experts, those who are specifically mandated to protect Canadians from the misuse of guns, in order to properly and thoroughly understand the impacts of Bill C-42. Our position, however, is we do our best to base it on expert opinion, expressed through internal government memos, public statements, briefs, or by the very decisions they make in implementing the law.

Bill C-42 is a complex bill and it includes many measures. Given our limited time, I will only briefly address two.

The first concerns the ability of the RCMP to classify weapons. About a year ago, the RCMP ruled that thousands of semi-automatic weapons that had entered the country as non-restricted firearms, non-restricted long guns, were in fact prohibited given their ability to be converted to automatic mode. These weapons include the full range of Swiss Arms and various versions of the CZ858, one of which was used during the 2012 shootings at the Parti Québécois election victory celebrations in Montreal as newly elected premier Pauline Marois was giving her speech. One man was killed and another injured, but the toll could have been much higher had the gun not jammed after the first shot.

As soon as the RCMP's decision was rendered, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney echoed the complaints of the gun lobby, criticizing the RCMP for its arbitrary decision and announced a two-year amnesty for owners of these weapons. This was followed a few months later by new regulations that prohibit the reclassification of firearms beyond one year after the day on which the initial classification was made.

Bill C-42 builds on this by authorizing the Minister of Public Safety, a politically partisan position, to override any and all classification, even though it's clearly defined by law. The minister could literally reclassify as non-restricted any weapon, no matter how dangerous, at any time, for any reason, thereby extracting it from any significant controls.

Instead of applauding and appreciating the work and efforts of the RCMP in implementing the law by prioritizing public safety, the government has chosen, with Bill C-42, to make the kind of political interference that we saw with these two examples permanent and official.

The Chair: I'll have to ask you to wrap up.

Ms. Rathjen: One more minute?

The Chair: No.

Ms. Rathjen: I will conclude by saying that the discretion regarding the classification of guns and the implementation of the Firearms Act with respect to licences should be left in the hands of the RCMP and the CFOs. Subjecting the discretionary power of public safety officials to political interference places partisan politics over good governance, ideology over expertise, and gun interests over public safety. For these and many other reasons, Bill C-42 should be rejected by the Senate. Thank you.

The Chair: We'll now move to questions, beginning with the deputy chair of the committee, Senator Baker.

Senator Baker: Thank you to the witnesses for their presentations.

I think everybody watching these proceedings would like to know the answer to my question. You are very familiar with the laws as they exist in Canada regarding ownership and possession of guns. What would you like to see in legislation instead of this bill? What would you incorporate into this bill? What would you like to see in Canada, considering that you could go from completely outlawing firearms to a system that we have in place today? What would you like to see? That's the main question I'd like to put to both of you.

Ms. Rathjen: In terms of Bill C-42, I don't see any changes that could make it worthwhile, in our view, to be passed. Our group is not for banning all guns. We're for reasonable gun control. The law as adopted in 1995, Bill C-68, in combination with Bill C-17, which was passed before, pretty much represents the reasonable gun control regime that we support in terms of banning assault weapons. At the time, the regulations were up to date, but they haven't been updated since. That's why there are a lot of assault weapons are still legal.

In terms of the laws that we would want, it would basically be what we had before the current government started chipping away at not only the registry but also many other measures.

Ms. Cukier: There are two parts to the question. From a legislative point of view with respect to licensing, the issues are not regulatory but are around implementation. We've seen an erosion of the implementation of the licensing provisions because of the amnesties and, frankly, the uneven application of the law. Strong licensing is the foundation.

When registration was eliminated, the bill not only destroyed the data on the more than 6 million firearms that had been registered, but also eliminated the provision that had been in place since 1977 that required gun sales to be recorded at the point of sale. We currently have less control over the sales of firearms in Canada than they do in most of the American states. We're no longer in compliance with many of the international regulations around trafficking. That's a huge hole that has to be filled.

I would echo what Ms. Rathjen said about updating the prohibited weapons. This is something that the police have been advocating for at least a decade. The list of prohibited weapons that was introduced in 1995 has not really been updated since then, except sporadically. Some states actually have lists of permitted weapons, which help to prevent manufacturers from changing small features and creating loopholes. That whole area needs to be looked at. We have to maintain tight restrictions on handguns and other restricted weapons.

We would reinforce the importance of laws that are consistent with international norms and what is in place in most countries around the world.

Senator Beyak: Thank you very much, ladies, for coming today and for your presentations. My heartfelt condolences to any victim of any crime. It's unconscionable with any weapon. I'm so sorry for your loss.

I want to ask you both about some statistics, because at this committee we hear a lot of them. We have heard, and I've reviewed the numbers, that a Canadian is 26 times more likely to die as a result of a slip and fall as they are to die from a firearms accident or homicide, and that firearms accidents and homicides are as likely to cause a death to a Canadian as a bicycle accident. I further reviewed the stabbing statistics and found that there are almost twice as many stabbing deaths in Canada as there are gun deaths.

My son is a police officer. I know he would never go through the door of a home listening to a computer registry that said there might be a gun in there. He would get hit in the head with a baseball bat or stabbed or shot. Do you think that resources could be used more wisely to go after the criminal use of firearms instead of all the paperwork for law-abiding firearms owners?

Ms. Cukier: I'll answer in terms of the statistics. You mentioned accidents and you mentioned homicides. You didn't mention suicides. In fact, firearms are the third leading cause of death of 15-to 24-year olds in Canada because of the prevalence of suicide. The legislation, as it was crafted in both 1991 and 1995, included suicide prevention as a major object in the legislation.

As well, we have to go back to what the major police organizations said from the outset: Investments in prevention are critical. As I said in my opening remarks, firearms legislation is around risk management. It's intended to reduce the chances that dangerous people will have access to firearms and to reduce the diversion of legal guns to illegal markets. If you don't invest in prevention — and nothing in this bill will save huge amounts of money — it will jeopardize public safety. I would argue that we should err on the side of prevention, not clean up situations after the fact.

Ms. Rathjen: I would add that when the gun control law works, there are no headlines. There are fewer shootings. You cannot see prevention happening. What you see is safe communities, and that doesn't make the headlines. Investing in gun control is investing in the safety of our communities.

We do not want to go down the path of our neighbours to the south. Every shooting is a tragedy. Every police shooting is a tragedy, and most police that die in the line of duty are shot. Investing in gun control includes more than just the money invested versus the number of deaths. You have to look at what we invest in gun control in terms of how safe our communities are. When our communities are safe, then the investment was worthwhile.

I would add, if I may, that since the implementation of the new measures following the Polytechnique shooting, all gun-related deaths and crime have progressively diminished to the point where, in the year 2011, which was the last year that the law was implemented in its entirety — there were some amnesties undermining some measures, but the law was in place — it was the year that recorded the lowest firearm homicide rate in 50 or 60 years.

Senator Beyak: May I have a supplemental?

The Chair: You may have a brief comment.

Senator Beyak: Those statistics continue to fall under our government's tough-on-crime legislation and being more lenient with law-abiding gun owners.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you to both of you for being here. Before I ask my question, I want to recognize Mr. and Mrs. Edward. Mrs. Edward, I was a member of Mr. Mulroney's panel on violence against women. We came to Montreal, and you educated us on this issue. We learned a lot from you. I believe you were very much responsible for Bill C-68. Although Bill C-68 is eroded very much, I want to assure you there are many of us who learned from you and will continue to see your vision. I do not want you to despair. I want to thank both of you, Mr. and Mrs. Edward, for the work you've done to keep Canadian communities safe.

My first question — I have so many — is on gender analysis. I don't know of any gender analysis that has been done generally on the firearms issue. We hear of domestic violence. There are all kinds of statistics — I don't have time, so I won't go through them — about how the lives of women are jeopardized with firearms. I'd like to ask you, doctor, about your knowledge on gender analysis on this legislation.

Ms. Cukier: Thank you very much for the question, Senator Jaffer.

As you know, or I believe you know, there was a brief submitted, signed by over 40 women's organizations, including the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, the National Association of Women and the Law, the YWCA of Canada, the Centres de femmes du Québec and many other groups, particularly in rural areas where firearms are most likely to be used in violence because those are the guns that are in the home.

As far as I can tell, many of the regulatory changes that have been introduced in recent years were not subject to any kind of gender analysis. Certainly I saw no evidence at the House of Commons, nor indeed at this committee, of a serious look at the gender impacts of this legislation and, in particular, the erosion of the licensing provisions.

The organizations that reviewed the legislation, basically all major women's groups from across the country concerned about violence against women, argued that the erosion of the existing legislation in this proposed bill was not offset by the introduction of the mandatory prohibitions. Their focus was on increasing prevention and raising awareness on the risks associated with firearms and, in particular, rifles and shotguns.

Very often if you don't do the gender analysis, the picture is very different. Heidi mentioned the decline in firearm death and injury. We have seen the most pronounced decline in the murders of women with the strengthening of the law in both 1991, under Mr. Mulroney's government, and again in 1995. We have not seen a decline in murders of women without firearms, which is a very strong signal that firearms regulation plays an important role in the safety of women in this country.

Senator Jaffer: When the minister was here, he showed us his gun licence and was very proud of it and his training. Maybe I don't know enough, but it gave the idea that a licence was a way of keeping — he didn't say that; I'm saying that — our communities safe. You did touch on the issue of licensing. Can you expand on it? Can we start with you, Ms. Rathjen?

Ms. Rathjen: As I understand, the Conservative government has talked about the possession licences as if they were sufficient in terms of gun control, and specifically sufficient to replace whatever function the registry may have had —

The Chair: We will have to move on. Senator Plett.

Senator Plett: Thank you, ladies. If you don't mind, I'll call you Wendy and Heidi. That way I won't mess up the names, as opposed to trying the last names. I apologize.

Wendy, you talked about 1 million possession only licence holders. Our statistics actually show that it's just over half of what you said, so I'm wondering where that confusion is. Not only have we heard that here a number of times, but our investigations show it's just over half a million. Nevertheless, you said that they have not been thoroughly vetted. Are you aware that possession only licence holders are required to fill out this same licence application as PAL holders and that they are subject to continuous eligibility screening? Further, would you not agree that a risk of an incident with a firearm is not increased by someone owning more than one firearm?

Ms. Cukier: Thank you for the question. There were 1.3 million possession only licences issued in the period following the introduction of the legislation. Some of those may have lapsed, but that's the number out of the report of the RCMP, according to the information that I had. I'm happy to check that after the fact.

Second, I'll refer you to the report of the RCMP on firearms from, I believe, 2004. The screening for the possession only licences, which was much lighter, includes spousal notification. It did not require the mandatory references. It's true that they check the forms, but it's all self-reported. If someone has issues with substance abuse, mental health issues or a history of violence that are not recorded in police records, you don't have access to that information.

Finally, with respect to the risks associated with people owning more than one gun, as all of you saw when Parliament was stormed by a man with a rusty old hunting rifle, it only takes one gun in the wrong hands to do a lot of damage. However, when we look at the diversion of legal guns to illegal markets, one person with 50 firearms who has not been properly vetted represents a much greater risk, both for the illegal sale of firearms and also for thefts. We've seen a number of cases where thefts from gun stores, gun collectors and so on have had a huge impact on public safety. I would actually argue that more guns in the hands of an individual does represent a higher risk.

Senator Plett: There are significant penalties for improper storage of firearms, but I'm not going to argue the point with you.

Heidi, recently you published an op-ed that stated Bill C-42 builds on this by authorizing the Minister of Public Safety, a partisan politician, with permission to override any and all classification. It sounds to me like you're promoting a police state.

My colleague already has talked about the reductions in many of the crimes with some of our policies. In our government, we have many police officers, as I'm sure the opposition does. These people also would be involved in any of these types of laws. Do you not think that is as good as a bureaucrat at the RCMP making the decisions?

Ms. Rathjen: No, I do not. I think that once a law is passed, it is up to the RCMP for certain decisions that should fall to them when it comes to evaluating case-by-case studies of guns and whether or not they should be classified as non-restricted, restricted or prohibited. The RCMP has done this job with respect to the two examples I brought up in my presentation, and they clearly stated that these guns pose a threat to public safety. These are weapons that not only were legal, but they were non-restricted, so they weren't even registered. This is not one of the two. This is one that actually is non-restricted and that still needs to be properly classified because it's considered a regular long gun.

The police have made the decision regarding the Swiss Arms and the CZ858 for public safety reasons and everything indicates that the reversal of that decision by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was in response to complaints of the gun lobby.

The Chair: I'm afraid I have to interrupt you there. I have 10 senators who want to ask questions and I know these are challenging issues, and complex ones as well, but I encourage you to be as brief as you can be. Senator Joyal is the next questioner.

Senator Joyal: Thank you and welcome. I want to thank you for the contribution you make to the public debate on the issue of firearms, safety and security in Canada. I think you should be commended for that.


My first question is for Ms. Rathjen. Yesterday, we heard from a witness from Quebec who questioned the positive impacts of Bill 9, known as Anastasia's Law. I am sure you are familiar with the scope of that legislation. The witness we heard from maintained that the bill had no real impact and that it was something of a public relations exercise by the Government of Quebec or the Quebec National Assembly, as it was adopted unanimously, if I remember correctly.

What impact do you think Bill 9 has in Quebec on striking a balance between the ability to own a firearm and security objectives, which are public policy objectives?

Ms. Rathjen: I don't know what their basis is for saying that the legislation has been ineffective. To my knowledge, no specific study has been carried out on the legislation's impact. It is often very difficult to see the impact of specific measures contained within a broader frame along with many other mutually interactive measures.

Anastasia's Law encouraged community members, when aware of risk factors such as suicidal behaviour, threats or irrational behaviour, to alert the authorities, so that police forces could use preventive measures, such as taking away a firearm from someone who may be a danger to themselves or to others. Those measures are perfectly in line with the current government's rhetoric to the effect that we must be tuned in to the community and use tools available to us to reduce the risk.

However, I will reiterate what I said earlier: when gun control laws are enforced, we are not told about it. When tragedies are avoided, we do not know which ones are avoided. The gun lobby argues that every shooting proves that firearm control does not work. According to them, the low number of crimes committed with firearms proves that we do not need more gun control or more funding for it.

However, we don't hear anything when gun control does work. Prevention is measured through statistics, which show that the number of deaths caused by firearms in Quebec and in Canada has decreased with the implementation of the federal legislation and Anastasia's Law. Added to this is testimony from police officers, people who work on the ground, women's groups and suicide prevention groups. They are all saying that the federal legislation and Anastasia's Law continue to be important tools that contribute to public safety.

Senator Joyal: You mentioned the chief firearms officer's status, which is being questioned in this legislation. You did not go over that in your report; can you do it quickly?

Ms. Rathjen: Before I discuss measures from the bill, I have to specify that some chief firearms officers have implemented rules related to gun shows, or specific conditions related to licences. For example, it may be a condition imposed on candidates for firearm licences. It may be the issuance of a doctor's certificate confirming that the candidate had recovered from a mental health problem prior to obtaining their firearm licence.

In implementing the legislation, chief firearms officers can impose conditions on the issuance of firearm licences on a case by case basis. The gun lobby has complained about some of those conditions, and all indications are that Minister Blaney was responding to those complaints when he said he wanted to limit chief firearms officers' discretionary power. So the bill authorizes regulations to provide a framework for that discretion, and we have every reason to believe that those changes will not be made based on the chief firearms officers' needs in order to ensure public safety, but rather to please the gun lobby.


Senator White: My question is for Ms. Cukier, if I may, and is in relation to the million people who have possession only licences that you referred to that would move to possession acquisition licences. Just so we're clear, that's a million people who today have the ability to possess firearms and, in fact, over the last 20 years have not been convicted of any criminal offences?

Ms. Cukier: Yes, Senator White. If I may correct the record; I don't have my glasses on. Actually there are currently 575,780 possession only licences, so Senator Plett was correct. I apologize.

Senator White: That's okay.

Ms. Cukier: It's small print; I'm getting older.

You're absolutely right but, as you know from your former life, the screening process, the risk factors associated with owning firearms, are not restricted to criminal acts and in fact when we look at domestic violence there are a whole series of risk factors that are not likely to end up in police databases, such as substance abuse and so on. It is also suicidal tendencies. We just saw a horrible case in B.C. where a daughter was suicidal; the father killed her, his wife and another family member.

So the intention, as you will recall, of the licensing provisions, in spite of continuous eligibility which only tracks criminal activities in police databases, was to give access to broader information to give the chief provincial firearms officers the powers to undertake much broader investigations to assess someone's suitability to own a firearm, with appeal processes in place so if the firearms officer erred the applicant had recourse.

I think it's very important to recognize that the risks associated with firearms are not specific to criminal activity. They are much broader.

Senator White: If I may, however, we also know that as you refer to any case, whether it's POL or PAL, where the individual is under suspicion of investigation or a person of interest to police — and I can go through the list — not just charged criminally, it actually does generate police interest in whether or not they should be allowed to continue to possess those weapons and they are removed and, in fact, they are identified.

My point is that we have 20 years of people who have not been charged and certainly have not done something that would have caused the police to remove their firearms and we have an issue with the fact that we want to amalgamate them so that in the future everyone goes through the same process — a stringent testing process.

I would understand your argument if it was 10 months in but at 20 years, my feeling is that it actually strengthens our regulations.

Ms. Cukier: Again, I'll go back to the testimony that this committee has not heard, nor has the house heard from women's groups, suicide prevention experts and so on, who maintain that police databases are important but there is much more information in the community. That was part of the reason why the references — and this was actually introduced under Kim Campbell — on the licence application were so very critical, so that someone would have to actually read someone's answers to questions about substance abuse, job loss, history of mental illness and so on, and sign that they had no reason to believe that the individual was not telling the truth.

If you look at the risks associated with firearms death and injury, it's much more than the information that is contained in police databases.

As I said before, you're right, one gun is enough to cause tragedy, but where you have people who are stockpiling firearms you have much greater risks of theft and diversion to illegal markets.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you both for your presentations and for being here today. Briefly, I would like to follow up on the issue of firearms and domestic violence.

As you know, the act will strengthen firearms prohibitions for those convicted of spousal violence. Anyone found guilty of an indictable offence involving domestic violence will have their firearms Possession and Acquisition Licence withdrawn for life. In addition, it will be mandatory on the courts to impose a prohibition order, which will be for life for restricted or prohibited weapons and a minimum of 10 years up to life for non-restricted weapons.

May I have your thoughts on this aspect of the bill, which I find is very important touching on domestic violence?

Ms. Cukier: Thank you very much. I think probably the best thing to do is cite the brief submitted by the Provincial Association of Transition Houses, the National Association of Women and the Law and 40 other groups specializing in domestic violence and to reiterate that their focus is on preventative measures. As you know, the 1995 legislation included the opportunity to issue prohibitions for individuals convicted of a wide range of offences, and judges had discretion in that matter.

The big issue, frankly, with prohibition orders is not what's in the law; it's the implementation of them. We had a case in Peel, for instance, where a judge issued a prohibition order. Because the firearm was not removed from the individual, he had time to go home, get his gun and kill his wife.

So the issuing of prohibition orders is important, but it does not in any way make up for the erosion of preventative measures.

I will quote from them: "Existing legislation provides a range of crimes for which prohibition orders should be issued. We need more data in order to assess the value of mandatory prohibition orders. Our assessment is more resources devoted to prevention and enforcement of prohibition orders should be the first priority."

So women's groups across the country were not the source of that measure in this legislation, and they are not prepared to stand behind it.

Senator McIntyre: But at least this is one more measure that would strengthen firearms prohibitions. It goes further than the existing law.

Ms. Cukier: As I said, I can only cite what women's groups are telling us.

Senator McInnis: Good morning and thank you for coming. One of the beautiful things about our country and our democracy is that we all have a right to state our opinion, as you have here, and we also have the right to disagree with one another.

I really appreciate what both of you do along with your organizations, but we are here this morning to talk about this bill and the content, and to say that it's not helpful I think is incorrect, with respect.

Those who are gaining a licence are going into a classroom and taking a safety course more stringent than before. With respect to classifications in your statement, saying that it will be political, that is the way legislation is worded. The minister will not be dealing with it. It will be a panel of experts, such as engineers, people who know about guns who will be classifying them.

Senator McIntyre mentioned domestic violence and the prohibition of holding a licence. Then we have in the bill as well sharing of information between the RCMP and CBSA, an extremely important thing, particularly when importing guns.

So, for the life of me, you didn't mention those positive things. Rather, you — I don't want to use the word "trashed," but you certainly did not agree with any aspect of the bill. In this country we have democracy, as I said earlier. The House of Commons, with duly elected individuals, passed this bill.

As I say, you have a right to disagree, but do you not see some positive things happening with respect to this legislation?

Ms. Cukier: I've already commented on the prohibition order, and it's a question of the costs and the benefits. We see the costs of this particular legislation outweighing the benefits.

Training is important, but the impact of training is primarily on the prevention of accidents. People are not prevented from killing their wives because they don't know how to use a firearm. In fact, if we look at many of the tragic cases recently involving police and domestic violence, it most clearly was not that the individuals involved were not trained; it was that people who shouldn't have guns had guns.

So, with respect, training is important, but that doesn't get at the root of the cause.

Senator McInnis: It's a positive step.

Ms. Cukier: With respect to the sharing of information, if you don't have information about who owns guns and about gun sales, there is a huge hole in the current legislation. Right now, we have no mechanisms for enforcing licensing because there is no record of guns that are being sold.

People think Canadian laws are stronger than American ones, but even in the state of New York they have better controls over the tracking of firearms. As I said, we are no longer in compliance with our international obligations to combat the illicit trade in firearms. I think that is a very serious issue and that's something this committee should have ideally thought about.

You talked about democracy. My understanding is that we have a Senate to offer sober second thought, not simply to rubber-stamp what comes through the House of Commons, and that was what I pointed to in my opening remarks.

Senator McInnis: Is that an allegation? You haven't heard a decision yet, have you?

The Chair: We will move on. We have time for a brief second round. I remind senators that we're going to stop at 11:30 sharp, even if we are in the middle of a question. We will move to Senator Baker for second round.

Senator Baker: All I wanted to do was congratulate the witnesses for their very excellent presentations.

The Chair: Senator Jaffer, I know you were in the middle of a question.

Senator Jaffer: Yes. May I please ask you to answer that question about licensing?

Ms. Rathjen: Can you repeat it again?

Senator Jaffer: The minister was showing us his licence and was quite proud of it. I got the feeling — he didn't say it — that he felt it was a way of protecting people with training and having a licence. Do you think just getting licenced is enough?

Ms. Rathjen: Licensing is important, as well as showing your licence and talking about the screening to get the licence. The problem is on two levels.

First, independent from Bill C-42, this government, when it abolished the registry with Bill C-19, didn't just get rid of the registry but also took away the obligation for sellers to verify the validity of a buyer's licence. So we can have a wonderful screening system in place for the licences, but if the transactions are done independently of the system, there is no verification that the person you are selling to could have an expired, revoked or fake licence or no licence at all. If the seller doesn't need to check and see it and there is no trace of the call, I would argue that seriously undermines the whole possession permit system.

Second, as I was saying, one of the useful aspects of the registry is to provide more information to police when they arrive on the scene of a domestic dispute or when arresting a suspect or in any kind of urgent situation, to provide more information about the number and the type of guns they may find on the premises. Without the registry, this government says that all you need is a licence because you will know whether or not a gun owner lives there and then you can assume that there will be guns.

Bill C-42 undermines that very mechanism by giving a six-month grace period, so there is a hole in the system. Someone could move, not renew their licence and be in a new place, and when the police come on the scene and check the system, the address is not good any longer, so they have less information or faulty information. That seriously undermines the usefulness of the possession permits. They are still important, but in the implementation of the law, there are huge loopholes that you could drive a truck through.

Senator Plett: My question is to either one of you. We have had a lot of discussions around significant concerns with the proposed changes to the authorization to transport. Do you believe that criminals will become licensed, register their restricted firearms and get an ATT if we have stronger laws? Will the criminals then go and get these licences? Does this not simply target the duck hunter and the sports shooter, because they will license their guns and they are not criminals? They are not going to intentionally shoot someone. Criminals will not license their guns.

Ms. Cukier: First, authorizations to transport are not required by hunters. Authorizations to transport are specifically for restricted weapons, which are handguns and assault weapons, which cannot be used for hunting. Canadian tradition has been to have stricter controls on those firearms.

Under the existing legislation, to have a restricted weapons permit you have to have a legitimate purpose to have a handgun. Those purposes are specified. The authorization to transport says you may take your handgun from your house to the gun club, where you are a member, and back.

The new legislation, instead of saying that you can take a prohibited or restricted firearm between two or more specified places, says that you can use the authorization to transport between specified places, which include all shooting clubs and shooting ranges approved under section 29. In effect, that means you can take a handgun or an assault weapon anywhere you want, because, in virtually every town in the provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Quebec and so on, there are shooting clubs. It's a real erosion of the historic controls we have had on handguns and restricted weapons — nothing to do with hunters.

Senator Plett: You're not answering my question.

Ms. Cukier: I answered part of it. It has nothing to do with hunters.

Second, when you talk about the criminals, you have to ask yourself: Where do the criminals get their guns? A substantial proportion of the firearms that end up in the hands of "criminals" are diverted from legal gun owners. So if legal gun owners do not take good care of their guns —

Senator Plett: That's why we have safe storage laws.

Ms. Cukier: — which you can't enforce because you can no longer hold people accountable for their loss.

Senator Plett: Certainly you can enforce them.

Ms. Cukier: If you don't register rifles or shotguns and a rifle or shotgun is found at the scene of the crime, you have no way of tracing it back to the original owner and holding them accountable.

First, this has nothing to do with hunters, zero to do with hunters; and second, when we look at criminal misuse of guns, there are legal gun owners who shoot police officers and their wives and other people, becoming criminals when they pull the trigger. A major source of illegal guns in the hands of criminals are firearms that at one time were legally owned but were not safely stored and then stolen, or sold illegally; and we have lots of cases of those.

The intent of this is to have very strict controls over where people can have handguns and assault weapons in order to reduce the chances that they will be misused or will be stolen or otherwise diverted.

Senator Joyal: I would like to go back to your reference to Canada's international obligation. Could you explain which international obligation Canada subscribes to and in what way those commitments will be broken, as you said, with this proposed legislation?

Ms. Cukier: Well, unfortunately, our international obligations have been eroded over the last few years with a number of pieces of legislation. The Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which was passed by the United Nations, as well as the tracing instrument, required countries to track firearms effectively. We no longer have the provisions in place to track the sale of guns or the movement of firearms.

Similarly, the Organization of American States has a convention on the illicit trafficking of firearms, drugs and migrants. Again, it required the state to track the import, export and movement of firearms. We have not ratified that agreement, in part because we are not in compliance with it.

We are one the few countries in the world certainly at odds with, for example the European states, in terms of meeting our international obligations. These measures just further erode our position. Canada is one of two countries in the world that is weakening its gun laws. Most other countries are strengthening them in order to be in compliance with these regulations.

Senator Joyal: Which is the other country?

Ms. Cukier: The European Union passed a directive that requires all countries in the European Union to license gun owners and register guns, et cetera. Most of the South African Development Community, SADC, the Middle Eastern states, Australia and most of Latin America have much stricter firearms legislation than we have. There are a number of reports that I can you refer to that look at international norms. We have slipped. We used to be a leader, but we are now not.

Senator Joyal: Did the United States ratify those conventions?

Ms. Cukier: No.

Senator Joyal: None of the two that you refer to.

Ms. Cukier: No.

The Chair: Thank you, witnesses. It's clear that these are issues you care deeply about. We appreciate that and thank you for providing your input to the committee for consideration.

Ms. Cukier: Thank you for your time and your patience.

The Chair: Our next item of business will be the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Before we begin clause-by-clause consideration, we have officials from Public Safety Canada and I'd like to call them to the table. I understand there are a number of technical questions that members have, so please come forward. Ian Broom is Senior Policy Analyst, Corrections and Criminal Justice Division, Public Safety Canada; and Ari Slatkoff is Team Leader and Senior Counsel, Legal Services, Public Safety.

Members, would you like to pose your questions at this stage? Senator Baker, I believe you have a question. The floor is yours.

Senator Baker: Thank you to the department for providing the witnesses here today. There is one, I would say, major point brought up during the witness testimony concerning this piece of legislation, and quite simply it's this: In other sections of the Criminal Code pertaining to the provision of a requirement to provide a urine sample or a breath sample, there is in law, under the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code, this same sentence that will now be incorporated in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. It states that if ". . . the offender fails or refuses to provide a urine sample when demanded to provide one under section 54 . . ." that same provision in existing law says — and we made reference to 283,I think it is, of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code. Correct me, Mr. Broom, if I'm wrong. It's the section dealing with impaired driving and it says if the offender fails or refuses without reasonable excuse.

Those words "without reasonable excuse" are included in that provision of the Criminal Code and, to my recollection, to any other similar provision, where somebody is asked to provide a sample of their urine or breath or anything, they may have a reasonable excuse. At roadside, for example, it could be that if somebody has an asthmatic condition, then they obviously can't provide an adequate sample because they have to blow into a machine for 10 seconds, which the police officers here at this table will know everything about.

The provision is there as "without reasonable excuse." But we now have a law that we're bringing in that doesn't say that, "without reasonable excuse." It says that if you refuse or you fail, then you are guilty of whatever the consequences would be of your inaction.

Could you explain to us, then, how this is taken into account under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act? Because we don't want to pass something here that will be challenged in the court when there's no provision anywhere for a reasonable excuse. That's the basic question. If you could address it, please.

Ian Broom, Senior Policy Analyst, Corrections and Criminal Justice Division, Public Safety Canada: Mr. Chair, Senator Baker, it is true that within the Criminal Code there is that language "without reasonable excuse" for roadside testing where a sample is being demanded.

In the context of the federal correctional system, the Commissioner's Directive which is promulgated, that policy framework does provide for instances where an offender may not be able to provide a sample at a given time. It specifies, for example, an inability to provide a urine sample and allows for a certain period of time to re-test and other accommodations for that offender.

Senator Baker: Knowing the case law surrounding the directives of the commissioner, they are recognized as being law. So, with that qualification that you've put before us, it seems to me that it's covered off in the Commissioner's Directive.

That's it, Mr. Chairman, as far as I'm concerned.

The Chair: Does any other senator have a question for officials before we move to clause-by-clause?

Senator Joyal: Do you have those elements of text around the commissioner with you so that you could read it into the record?

Mr. Broom: I'm afraid I don't have the Commissioner's Directive with me right now, but I can make that available to the committee afterwards.

The Chair: If you can do that, provide it to the committee and we can circulate it.

Senator Joyal: We would be grateful if you could provide it to the committee. Thank you.

The Chair: Is it agreed that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-12?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Agreed.

Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Agreed.

Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Agreed.

Shall clause 2 carry?

Senator Baker: Mr. Chairman, one observation that I'm sure will come up in case law in a challenge to this provision and, if somebody is not reading the minutes of the Senate proceedings, they can find the answer to the intent of the legislation, as supplied by the Department of Justice before us, that covers off this section that does not include the words "without reasonable excuse." I wanted to make that observation, because the intent of the legislation is as explained here today, that there's a Commissioner's Directive that covers off the challenge that could result from this wording.

The Chair: Thank you, senator.

Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall clause 3 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall clause 4 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall clause 5 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Does the committee wish to consider appending observations to the report? Seeing none, is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Agreed.

That concludes our business for the day. Thank you very much. The meeting is adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)

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