Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence
Issue No. 39 - Evidence - Meeting of April 1, 2019
OTTAWA, Monday, April 1, 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 11 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Gwen Boniface (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Before I begin, I ask my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Boisvenu: Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, Quebec.
Senator Richards: David Richards, New Brunswick.
Senator McIntyre: Paul McIntyre, New Brunswick.
Senator Plett: Donald Plett, Manitoba.
Senator Griffin: Diane Griffin, Prince Edward Island.
Senator Kutcher: Stan Kutcher, Nova Scotia.
Senator Pratte: André Pratte from Quebec.
Senator Busson: Bev Busson, British Columbia.
The Chair: I am your chair, Gwen Boniface, Ontario.
We are continuing our study of Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms.
This morning we begin by welcoming, from the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, Dr. Alan Drummond, Co-chair, Public Affairs Committee, accompanied via video conference by Dr. Howard Ovens, Member, Public Affairs Committee, and from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Linda Silas, President.
Dr. Drummond, I understand you have some words you would like to open with.
Dr. Alan Drummond, Co-chair, Public Affairs Committee, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians: The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians is the national specialty society of emergency medicine with over 2,200 members. I live in rural Perth, Ontario, and I am a Conservative gun owner. With me via video link is Dr. Howard Ovens, an urban emergency physician at Mount Sinai in Toronto, an academic professor of emergency medicine, and one of the lead authors of our last position paper on gun control.
I know that you have had a lot of meetings with respect to this issue. I also know that you know Canada has a gun problem. You are aware that in the OECD, Canada ranks as the fifth highest nation for gun deaths per capita. Our members and Canadians don’t need more studies before we act on the strong evidence currently available. Canadian hospitals now routinely practise active shooter protocols. Our trainees no longer have to travel to large American cities to learn how to manage penetrating trauma from handguns. This is now a Canadian reality.
While the political and media focus seems to be on gangs and guns, it is important to remember that 80 per cent of all our firearm deaths are secondary to suicide. Though we are not oblivious to the problem and are deeply concerned about these presentations to our emergency department, we tend to see gun control through the lens of public health, suicide prevention and a reduction in intimate partner violence.
There are two major issues for us. For many of the things that come with mass shootings and urban crime, the solutions lie beyond the trauma bay. They lie with our sociologists, our politicians and our police in terms of developing upstream criminological solutions to these problems. On a daily basis in the emergency department, we are faced with those who would threaten suicide or those who are exposed to intimate partner violence. This is something that could potentially have a direct impact for us.
Canada has one of the highest suicide rates by firearms in the developed world. There are 500 Canadians who commit suicide with guns on an annual basis. Many of these are rural Canadians using perfectly legal and accessible long guns. It’s important to emphasize that these are preventable deaths. There is strong and robust scientific evidence that a gun in the home is associated with a higher risk of suicide. It has been shown that for every 10 per cent decline in gun ownership in a home, firearm suicide rates dropped by 4.2 per cent and overall suicide rates dropped by 2.5 per cent.
It is clear that suicides are impulsive and that the suicidal crisis is largely temporary. Most people who attempt to commit suicide never repeat it. More than 90 per cent of those who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide. There is often no substitution of method when guns are removed from the home. In some, and regrettably so, substitution of method can occur. I am not saying it doesn’t, but the effect is not as much as one would think, with a good number of studies showing relatively little substitution effect.
Study after study in the international literature has conclusively shown that access to firearms increases the risk of suicide and that a reduction in such access reduces both the risk of suicide by firearm and overall suicide rate. Any legislation aimed at reducing access to firearms, particularly for those at risk, can reasonably expect a reduction in the number of suicides.
Turning to intimate partner violence, every six days in Canada, a woman is murdered by her current or former partner, many by gun but all of whom had a past history of domestic violence. The risk of death to a victim of intimate partner violence is significantly higher when there is access to a firearm in the home. It may, in fact, increase the woman’s risk of death in that circumstance fivefold. It is an important point of questioning when we look at the danger assessment of those who present to our emergency department.
Rural women are particularly vulnerable to suicide by firearm. Rifles and shotguns, not handguns, appear to be the weapon of choice and are used in 62 per cent of such spousal homicides.
Firearms are not only used for homicide in intimate partner violence. Study has shown that the perpetrators of intimate partner violence will often intimidate their partners by threatening to shoot them, a pet or someone, or by cleaning or holding a gun while involved in an argument. Again, this is an issue for us of keeping guns out of the hands of individuals at risk.
Our response to the proposed legislative changes in Bill C-71 is one of overall support, recognizing that it is just a first step and that what is needed is a more comprehensive approach to gun control.
The Chair: Dr. Drummond, could I ask you to slow down for the purpose of translation?
Dr. Drummond: With respect to Bill C-71, the enhanced screening provisions and background checks and the expansion of the timeline for seeking clinical red flags resonate with us. We agree entirely that there must be rigorous screening and restriction of licensing for those individuals deemed to be at risk.
We have encouraged the government, however, to take one step further and suggest that there be mandatory reporting by physicians of those individuals at risk by virtue of untreated severe mental illness and of those identified at risk of intimate partner violence. This would allow for identification of individuals at temporary risk and limit access to firearms until the mental health or social crisis has been deemed to have been resolved.
This would be a very small step in the right direction, but it has the potential for saving lives. In our view, any Canadian life saved is worth the effort. Thank you. Thank you.
Linda Silas, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions: Thank you very much, senators, for inviting me to attend on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. We represent nearly 200,000 nurses and students from across the country. I am also a registered nurse from New Brunswick.
CFNU is the largest nursing organization in Canada. Our members work in hospitals, long-term care, community and home care. Over 90 per cent of our members are women. Our membership runs from downtown urban nurses to rural and remote nursing. Many of our urban nurses treat gunshot wounds on a daily basis. Many of our rural nurses live in communities that enjoy hunting. Our position on gun legislation is informed by this diversity of experience among our membership.
We know that gun violence is very costly. Whether it is someone suffering after a suicide attempt, a woman injured by a firearm during a violent domestic dispute, a child wounded accidentally, a gang-related shooting or the aftermath of a mass shooting, nurses, doctors and the rest of the health care team will be there waiting in emergency rooms to witness the outcome.
Senators know these statistics, but as a nurse I feel it’s important to repeat those that relate to health care. In 2011, the cost of treating a single gunshot wound was put at nearly $500,000. That’s for one gunshot wound. Between 2008 and 2015, nearly 6,000 Canadians died from firearms-related injuries. That’s just in seven years. There were 223 reported firearm-related homicides in 2016. That’s an increase of 44 from the year before; 2016 was the third consecutive year of increases in numbers and the rate of firearm-related homicides in Canada.
This data tells two stories. First, firearm-related violent crimes have a costly impact on our health care system and on our community. Second, stricter gun control laws reduce the frequency of violent crime committed with firearms.
In the wake of the Polytechnique massacre in 1989, I testified before a parliamentary committee on behalf of the then National Federation of Nurses Union calling on stricter gun control laws, and 30 years later here I am again.
Members of this committee should listen to the thoughtful and decisive action of the Prime Minister of New Zealand taken in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack two weeks ago. The scale of the horrific terrorist attack is difficult to comprehend. I am here to remind us of the massive cost this attack had on the health care system and its workers.
The CEO of the Canterbury District Health Board gave us a sense of the impact, as we can imagine, of 49 gunshot wounds. They just didn’t trickle in. They came en masse. The emergency department was already full of sick people, and their operating theatres were already full and underway.
The New Zealand health minister recently stated that the mental health needs resulting from the Christchurch attack were expected to last years.
After introducing new laws to ban semi-automatic guns and assault rifles, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the media that they had guns in New Zealand that were used by responsible owners, including rural communities. She was steadfast in her belief that the vast majority of those gun owners would support what they were doing because it is about all of them, their national interests and safety. Bill C-71 is the same.
Day in and day out, nurses treat and care for victims of smaller scale tragedies involving individual victims of gunshot wounds. Yet it seems only huge tragedies galvanize public attention and motivate political action.
Do we need another Polytechnique, an Ottawa shooting, a Quebec City mosque or a Danforth shooting where nursing student Reese Fallon was killed on July 22, 2018? A mother, RN and one of Reese’s friends who was dragged to safety, wrote to me recently and reminded CFNU that we have to show leadership in addressing gun violence.
This cycle needs to end with Bill C-71. It must be adopted and maintained. While we believe that Bill C-71 is an important start, Canada’s nurses also want to see more done in gun control beyond this legislation.
As Dr. Drummond said, this is only a beginning. In our brief to the House of Commons, we presented recommendations that were adopted. The first adopted was that background checks include the history of domestic violence and mental health issues. We also need to include that health care professionals report individuals who are threats to themselves and others. We need to increase data collection. We need to say no to military-style assault rifles. Lastly, we need to increase education on preventing accidents.
Let’s not wait for another horrific terrorist attack to shake Canada into taking action on guns. Let’s create a healthier and safer society. It is clearly a public health issue.
The Chair: Dr. Ovens, I understand you are available to answer questions.
Dr. Howard Ovens, Member, Public Affairs Committee, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians: Yes. Thank you very much.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our witnesses for being here. My questions are for Dr. Drummond. You know, as I do, that firearms are not the only weapons that can injure or kill people. Knives are weapons that are also frequently used in conflicts that are not connected to organized crime. What proportion of deaths are caused here by edged weapons, as compared to firearms?
Dr. Drummond: Senator, thank you for your question. As an association we have studiously avoided discussions of crime and homicide. We are not criminologists. We are not sociologists. We treat injuries. Speaking as an emergency physician, we are here specifically to address the issues with respect to Bill C-71, which does not address knives. It addresses guns, as you well know.
A knife attack will not cross a Toronto school ground and kill a 4-year-old. A knife attack will not kill 49 people in a mosque in New Zealand. I am not going to engage in a debate about crime because that’s not where we’re coming from. We’re coming from the positions of suicide prevention and intimate partner violence. Although I understand the intent of your question, we’re going to restrict ourselves to firearms, suicide prevention and intimate partner violence. We are not going to talk about crime.
Senator Dagenais: You referred to interventions or disclosure to police when there are mental health issues. This could have an impact on the rate of crimes committed with legally owned firearms. To what extent is there intervention or disclosure to police, with a distinction being made between incidents that involve knives or firearms? Do you report these to police?
Dr. Drummond: Yes, I can. My colleague Dr. Ovens wrote a paper with respect to the mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds in emergency departments. The first of such legislation was passed in Ontario and became almost a pan-national project. I believe there are seven provinces now that have mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds. I am going to leave that question for Dr. Ovens.
Dr. Ovens: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today. I believe we are up to nine provinces in Canada having mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds. There is a rationale for requiring mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds. It is completely analogous to our rationale for wanting to report people who are at risk for misusing firearms and have access to them.
When you employ a gun, either in an attempt to harm yourself or in an attempt to intimidate or harm a loved one in your family, whether it’s an accident or whether it’s in some other venue, the gun is highly lethal. Many people will survive attacks using knives or bare hands. There is an opportunity for recovery and healing. With guns, the lethality is very high. Some 90 per cent of suicide attempts employing a gun lead to death. If you overdose on drugs, far less than one in a hundred or perhaps a couple in a thousand will lead to death of the person.
As Dr. Drummond mentioned, there is the risk to people who are nearby. It is the lethality at a distance concept and is a significant public health factor. When guns are fired, bullets can go long distances and injure people who are what you might call “collateral damage.”
For those reasons, we believe guns occupy a special place. We would like the ability for physicians who are aware of suicidal thinking and of domestic strife in the home where firearms are present, to be able to violate our oath of privacy and our legislated requirements in that regard and notify the police that a danger exists.
Senator Dagenais: I have a question for Ms. Silas. Why did the House of Commons committee not adopt your recommendations to improve Bill C-71?
Ms. Silas: That is a very good question, senator.
I am not here today because I carried out a research project, like the physician who is appearing by video conference today, nor because I work directly on suicide prevention or family violence. Those who lobby for more flexibility with respect to gun ownership have far more resources and money than those who lobby against firearms or for stricter control of them. That is why since 1991 there have been so many presentations before provincial and federal government committees.
The firearms industry does a lot of lobbying. It’s important to hear from organizations, emergency physicians and nurses who can tell you that guns are really dangerous. Guns kill. A gun in the hands of a sick person is dangerous. It is the government’s responsibility to take all possible precautions to protect the public. The point is not to make this industry even richer than it already is.
Senator Dagenais: You say that a sick person may own a gun. A person who has a mental illness, permanent or temporary, may have a legal licence or use a borrowed weapon. Can you determine whether or not that person has a legal licence?
Ms. Silas: There are two aspects to consider in today’s society, with regard to public health. A health professional, particularly a physician, must report any dangerous incident to police or social services. For instance, all health professionals must report any violent incident involving children, whatever the motives. If an elderly person can no longer drive, whatever the relationship between a physician and his or her patient, the physician must report this so that the patient’s driving licence is withdrawn.
Regarding drivers’ licences or having firearms at home — not everyone who has a licence will commit a criminal act — why should health professionals not report a potential problem to the RCMP?
Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much, madam.
Senator Boisvenu: I’d like to welcome our witnesses. Personally, I think the real safety issues are much more related to organized crime than to small and major criminals. In British Columbia and Edmonton, they invested in police forces and this led to a marked decrease in the number of firearms-related homicides.
Since the end of 1979, there have been firearms acquisition certificates and training for hunters. Between 1979 and 1995, Canada invested $2 billion in a national firearms registry. Firearms-related homicides and suicides declined by 40 per cent. From 1995 to 2010, when very strict firearms regulations were put in place, the reduction was only 35 per cent.
A direct relationship between government regulation and a drop in the number of murders and suicides has never been established. My question is simple. How will this bill impact public safety and cause a decline in the number of homicides and suicides, when we invested $2 billion in 1995 in a registry that caused no reduction in the number of homicides? That decline was even smaller than when we were not monitoring firearms through a registry.
The Chair: Senator Boisvenu, to whom are you directing your question?
Senator Boisvenu: My question is addressed to the three witnesses.
Dr. Drummond: Thank you very much. I’ll try to answer your question.
I think there was some debate about the impact of the gun control registry. Apparently, our professional colleagues in Quebec would disagree with you. In fact, they reinstituted the registry after the Harper government disbanded it. I know there was a presentation from the Quebec Public Health Association to the Quebec government committee that was looking at reinstitution of the registry. In their view, which may not be the view of those you have been reading, there was a substantial impact in reduction particularly with respect to suicides. The Quebec Public Health Association believed, courtesy of the registry in 1996, there had been a reduction of at least 300, 400 or 500 deaths per year on the basis of suicide.
I understand that there’s conflict and disagreement about the —
Senator Boisvenu: I’m looking at the statistics we have here. Between 1974 and 2015 when there was no gun registry in Canada, there was a 40 per cent decline. Between 1995 and 2010, when we put in place very strict gun control, the decline was only 35 per cent.
In what way will the bill you are defending today cause a reduction in homicides and suicides? My question is clear. What element of the bill will have an impact on that?
Dr. Drummond: Well, if you’d let me finish my answer, I’d be happy to provide that.
When I first became involved in the discussion around Bill C-68, there were 1,400 firearm suicide deaths per year in Canada. There are now about 500, so something seems to be working with respect to suicide reduction. That’s the first thing.
Specifically with respect to Bill C-71, this is largely a crime control bill. We freely admit that. We are not criminologists. We know nothing about prevention of crime. However, there is the concept of prolonged or extended review of one’s history, looking for clinical red flags with respect to psychosis, suicidal depression or intimate partner violence. We believe that’s a very good first step in pushing forward our concept, which is that of mandatory reporting.
Ms. Silas: I totally agree with Dr. Drummond. The percentages you mentioned are all declining. From the public health perspective, if we want to reduce firearms-related incidents, this is a step in the right direction. The bill that is before us will take us even further.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you all for your presentations. I draw your attention to the collection of data analyses of firearms deaths, injuries and crimes.
Is there a link between the mandatory reporting of firearm injuries and better tracking and analysis of this data? If so, would it allow for better tracking and analysis of this data?
Dr. Drummond: Do you want to take that, Dr. Ovens?
Dr. Ovens: Yes. Thank you.
If I understood the question correctly, it was: Would mandatory reporting of gunshot injuries improve our knowledge and ability to analyze data in the country? Did I get it correct?
Senator McIntyre: You have it correct.
Dr. Ovens: In Ontario, when we called for mandatory gunshot wound reporting, we asked for a public registry of anonymized data that would be available for data analysis as you’ve described. We think it would be a very helpful tool. Unfortunately, for mainly privacy reasons, the registry was never completed.
It remains part of our position as the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians that there should be, along with mandatory reporting, a registry of these injuries which should do its best to protect people’s privacy. It should be available for researchers of all kinds to analyze patterns in gun injury in our communities.
Senator McIntyre: Does the mandatory reporting of firearm injuries by physicians or health care professionals exist in some provinces? If so, which ones?
Dr. Drummond: I believed there were seven, but Dr. Ovens has now corrected me and told me that nine provinces have adopted the Ontario model of mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds to the emergency department. Which ones are deficient, I do not know.
To add to Dr. Ovens’ comment, we have been clear that we need more Canadian-made research on gun-related injury and its prevention. We tend to rely on international studies, particularly from America, believing that some phenomena are universal. Since the beginning, we have called for better funding of Canadian-made firearms research.
Senator McIntyre: I take it that you both want to extend the mandatory reporting to a national level.
Dr. Drummond: You may misunderstand me, and I apologize if that’s the case. Dr. Ovens was talking about someone showing up in an emergency room with a gunshot wound. We would like to see a linkage between this bill and others, and mental health.
People come to our emergency department who express suicidal thoughts. We don’t send everybody off under a mandatory review order or a Form 1. Sometimes we have to make the clinical decision about sending them home. We do not know if they have an arsenal in their home. We do not know if they have access to guns. There is no mandated requirement for them to tell us, so sometimes we send people back with questionable concern for their suicidal ideation who do have access to firearms.
We believe it would be in everybody’s best interests if we could report to the police from the emergency department asking for a temporary removal of firearms from the home until the mental health crisis passes.
It is not a crime to be psychotic in Canada, but if someone comes in with a psychosis and paranoid thinking wanting to shoot the Senate of Canada, we don’t know if they have an arsenal of firearms or the ability to do that. It would be nice in those circumstances to be able to say to the police, “We’re not sure what’s going on here, but we would like to be sure that the firearms are removed until we can get this resolved.”
Similarly, if a wife shows up who is the victim of domestic assault or there are concerns about domestic violence in the home, we have no idea if there are firearms in the home until that social crisis can be resolved to our satisfaction. When we talk about mandatory reporting, that’s what we are talking about specifically.
Senator Plett: Let me start off by making a comment. Dr. Drummond, you wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t answer Senator Dagenais’ question about stats. You said it wasn’t your job or your position to deal with the criminal aspect of the bill. I am paraphrasing here. Yet, in your opening comments you’ve talked a few times about spousal abuse and intimate spousal violence. That is a crime.
Dr. Drummond: Yes, I understand.
Senator Plett: If you are dealing with that, you are dealing with a crime. Let’s throw suicide in there, too, although you clearly said that suicide prevention was obviously working.
I am assuming that’s working for all methods of suicide, not just one. If the suicide rate has gone down by 50 per cent in the last —
Dr. Drummond: Firearms suicide.
Senator Plett: It’s the only one that has gone down. Is that correct?
Dr. Drummond: Again, referring back to our original involvement, you can use a percentage per 100,000, but on average there have been about 4,000 deaths per year by suicide in Canada for the last 20 years or so.
Senator Plett: There are 4,000 deaths per year.
Dr. Drummond: About that.
Senator Plett: How many by firearms?
Dr. Drummond: It’s 80 per cent.
Senator Plett: How about spousal and intimate violence?
Dr. Drummond: I am not so familiar.
Senator Plett: I am assuming you support the five-year background check being extended to a lifetime background check.
Dr. Drummond: Yes.
Senator Plett: Maybe all three of you do. If you support this measure, do you know of any incidents of firearm crime in Canada that having a lifetime background check in place would have prevented? Are there stats on what would have been prevented if we had that?
Second, I know Dr. Ovens spoke about having a lifetime background check. You both said that you would like to be able to have more interaction in reporting incidents. Is there not doctor-client privilege in this country? If I go to see a psychiatrist and he believes that I have issues and might be a danger to myself or others, is he prevented by that privilege from reporting it?
Dr. Drummond: In some circumstances, yes, but there are also circumstances where the greater societal good transcends the individual doctor-patient relationship. Let’s say you come in with signs and symptoms of dementia. You may be 85 and really like driving your car in rural Manitoba, but at the end of the day you’re probably not safe to be driving on the roads of rural Manitoba in your big truck.
Even though you have presented to your physician with signs and symptoms of dementia, at the end of day, we want to prevent you from hitting a school bus and killing 35 children. It has been very clear that there are certain circumstances in Canadian law where the individual right to privacy in relationship to their physician can be transcended by the greater societal good.
Dr. Ovens may have something more to say, but that’s fairly well established for drinking and driving, for a pilot who is unable to fly because of medical issues, or for child abuse or geriatric abuse. These things have existed for many decades.
Do you have any comments to make, Dr. Ovens?
Dr. Ovens: Yes. Perhaps I could go back. First, I want to correct what I believe is one of the errors in the data. It’s not 80 per cent of suicides that are conducted by firearms. It’s 80 per cent of firearm deaths in Canada are suicide.
Dr. Drummond: Thank you. I made a mistake in the heat of the moment, senator.
Dr. Ovens: Second, there was a question about background checks. Although I don’t have a paper at my fingertips on background checks beyond five years, we have provided it in our materials. It is an annotated resource list. It clearly shows the restrictions on firearms and other policies related to background checks in a number of countries that have shown significant decreases in suicide and other deaths by firearms.
We have papers from Switzerland, Austria and Australia. There is a lot of analysis by state in the U.S., where most of the relevant legislation is enacted by individual states.
Overall, there is good evidence that background checks can be a very effective tool in protecting people from firearm death and injury.
In terms of the doctor-patient relationship, it is because of our ethical requirements as well as legal requirements that we require mandatory reporting where the public has an overwhelming interest in knowing about medical illness related to driving and even communicable diseases.
What could be more private than a sexually transmitted disease? Yet, if you are a danger to others because your disease is contagious, we are obligated to report that in the public interest. It has been well shown that the most effective way to get physicians to comply with these sorts of reporting requirements is to make it mandatory so that they can’t be questioned on the judgment they applied in deciding whom to report and whom not to report.
We believe the presence of a firearm in a family where someone is having suicidal thoughts or in which there is domestic violence or a high risk of that meets that standard, and that physicians should be relieved of their obligations to maintain privacy with their patients in the public interest.
Senator Plett: I do not believe that I have any disagreement with you or your colleagues about mandatory reporting. Bill C-71 does not do that. I don’t see where your concerns are being addressed by Bill C-71.
While we were talking about the rate of suicides that I asked Dr. Drummond about, I checked and in fact only 16 per cent of all suicides are by firearms.
Dr. Drummond: I did stand corrected, and I apologized.
Senator Plett: I understand that, and I have the stat here.
Dr. Drummond: Let me just answer that. That’s a 16 per cent national average. You know and I know, because we are both rural Canadians, that they tend to be higher in rural environments. You know that to be true. You have heard it here before.
I live in rural Lanark County. Practically every home in the county has a firearm. I can tell you the latest data for rural Lanark County where everyone has venison in their fridge is 25 per cent.
Senator Plett: I can tell you about where I live in rural Manitoba. This will be my last comment, chair, at least in the first round. I have shared information here. In one way or another by personally knowing or by personally being involved in at least seven suicides, one of those suicides was by firearm. They were all in rural Manitoba. One was by a firearm, and that was one 45 years ago.
Dr. Drummond: You are a very lucky man.
Senator Plett: I don’t know that I am lucky. The other six people are just as dead.
Dr. Drummond: I am a coroner in rural Lanark County, and I can tell you that I see more than my share of people with their heads blown off.
Senator Pratte: Regarding background checks, it’s important to note that Bill C-71 actually codifies what the courts have ruled. Chief Firearms Officers can go beyond the five-year limit if they wish to do so.
You mentioned trainees, Dr. Drummond. I suppose you meant young doctors who train to become emergency physicians. Is that it?
Dr. Drummond: Until fairly recently the history of trauma care in Canada has been blunt trauma: car accidents, falls and that kind of thing.
In training special emergency physicians to work in our urban cores, we had to send them to Baltimore, Chicago, L.A. and New York to be exposed to penetrating trauma such as that with guns.
Senator Pratte: I am sorry to interrupt, but that is where I would like to go. Sometimes a lot of people think, if you better control guns, people will find another way to either commit suicide or homicide. They will use a knife or some other tool.
Would you care to describe the difference between the injuries from the use of guns compared to knives or other means by which people might commit suicide?
Dr. Drummond: With respect to attacks and assaults, my only exposure has been with firearms, high-velocity rifles.
As a coroner, I don’t see them in the emergency department. I see them on back roads in their cars. I see them in their basements in pools of blood. I see them in their backyards.
In the emergency department, I have to say that when I first started as an emergency physician back in 1979, we used to see not a lot of firearms-related injuries in rural Canada but some. Now I rarely see that. I mostly see people who have killed themselves with weapons. There has been a change in the culture.
In our urban environments, however, a high-velocity weapon destroys a lot of tissue. The surgeons have to go in and try to find the source of the bleeding and salvage whatever organs have been damaged. There’s no doubt that a knife is a very localized phenomenon. A high-powered rifle or a shotgun is something completely different.
Senator Pratte: We heard testimony from Professor Mauser, a researcher, and a medical doctor, Dr. Langmann. They presented data which, first, apparently showed there was no relationship between the number of guns in circulation and homicides or suicides and, second, that the gun-control measures that have been taken in Canada since the 1970s have not achieved their goal.
You seem to say otherwise, that in fact the research done shows some gun control measures work and that there is a link between the number of guns in circulation, the availability of guns, and the number of homicides or domestic situations.
Would you care to elaborate? Who is right? We are presented with two sets of data here.
Dr. Drummond: No, you are not really. You are presented with disparate views. I don’t know Dr. Mauser. I believe he is an economist at Simon Fraser University. I don’t know if he is a criminologist.
Since 1994-95, when I first became involved in the original Bill C-68, his name was used a lot in terms of being a contrarian view to the world literature. I have no comment to make.
With respect to my colleague Dr. Langmann, he is my colleague. He is an emergency physician. I may be wrong, and I will accept if I am wrong, that he has published one paper in an obscure journal called the Journal of Violence Prevention or something, back in 2011.
In that one paper he presented data where he did not discuss suicide, which for us is the major issue, but rather the more minimalist issue of homicide. It’s important but not as important as suicide in terms of numbers. He made the comment that there was no relationship whatsoever and there has been no value to the gun laws. Interestingly, researchers from the University of Montreal that same year took his same data and came to the exact opposite conclusion.
With respect to Dr. Langmann and his one paper, let’s state the obvious. The position with respect to reduction of access to firearms in the home or in the community, in relationship to suicide, homicide and intimate partner violence, has been very, very clear. We’re talking about The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, annals of internal medicine and massive amounts of scientific study from world-class researchers that have not published one paper but thousands.
We are talking about the likes of David Hemenway, Matthew Miller, Garen Wintemute and Arthur Kellermann, world-class, well-funded researchers who have been very clear that there is robust scientific evidence that access to firearms leads to increased risk of suicide, homicide and intimate partner homicide.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you for the clarity of your presentation and for not getting caught up in non sequiturs, red herrings and other arguments. I appreciate your bringing to our attention the public health focus on the issue of firearms mortality, which is different from a lot of the other discussions. You were discussing mortality from firearms and not crime.
A paper has just come out or will come out in The American Journal of Medicine. I would like you to comment on a metaphor in it that discusses the public health issues around firearms mortality. It says that combatting the mortality of firearms without addressing firearms is analogous to combatting the mortality from lung cancer without addressing cigarettes.
Could I get everyone’s commentary on that from a public health perspective?
Dr. Ovens: I think that’s an excellent analogy. Just as cigarettes are not only the number one risk factor for lung cancer, they also cause risk to those around them through second-hand smoke. I think the analogy to guns, no matter how good we get at trauma care and making our trauma systems, about 80 per cent of people who die from gunshot wounds are pronounced at the scene and never have any opportunity to have access to treatment. This is a highly lethal thing that really requires attention to the prevalence of firearms.
With your indulgence, I wonder if I could make one other comment going back to something Senator Plett said. He talked about the tragedy of seven suicides, only one of which was conducted by a gun in his community.
The real important question: What is the denominator of attempted suicides which relates to this analogy? How many people does he know who took overdoses or cut their wrists or indulged in other forms of self-harm who survived it and went on to hopefully productive lives versus how many people tried to kill themselves with a gunshot wound and survived it?
That’s the important question because 249 out of 250 people who overdose will survive that attempt, and 90 per cent of them will not die by suicide. Whereas about 90 per cent of the people who take a gun to themselves will in fact die of that injury. It’s more of a question of what is preventable. If we can take guns out of the hands of depressed individuals, it has been proven that we can save lives just as if we decrease smoking we can save lives.
Dr. Drummond: From a scientific point of view and an injury prevention point of view, we talk about the triad of the host, the environment and the agent or the vector. With respect to firearms control, the vector or the agent must be the gun to have a full understanding.
There is no doubt about it, as Dr. Ovens has alluded to, that if you put a gun to your head, chances are you are dead. You take a handful of pills, chances are you are not. There is a particular lethality to this particular agent that does need to be addressed.
Ms. Silas: To answer the question, when you look at precautionary safeguards in the name of public health, you have heard from doctors, nurses and other public health experts in the past when we’ve nationally debated laws on seat belts, asbestos, drinking and driving, and most recently cannabis.
There is nothing different with gun control. We are talking about a public health safety issue where we have to look at precaution and we have to listen to the public health debate first and foremost.
Senator Griffin: I have a question relating to a 2008 position statement by the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. One of the recommendations is expansion of programs focused on the prevention of suicide, intimate partner violence and gang-related violence.
Has there been any substantial increase or establishment of programs of which you are aware? I think that’s a very important recommendation.
Dr. Drummond: Since Howard Ovens wrote the paper, I will defer to him.
Dr. Ovens: The right answer is a mixed one because when it comes to suicide prevention, most of these programs are regional or provincial in nature. Gang-related violence programs tend to be more community based and municipal in nature.
As a generalization, I could say that there have been some good programs undertaken since that time in some communities and some provinces, but we could do more.
Senator Griffin: My last question is for Ms. Silas. You indicated that education was very important in preventing accidents. Could you give me some specifics? What kind of education?
Ms. Silas: If we look at domestic violence, in the last three to four years we have seen five provinces and the federal government address domestic violence in helping families and victims. One key aspect around that is education. We look at how to provide education to gang-related traumas. Toronto is famous for what they are doing in some of its school districts.
Those programs are not well funded. One of our recommendations is similar to that of the emergency physicians. We need to not only fund the data aspect. It can’t be done at the end of your desk. It has to be funded properly. Education programs also need to be funded properly. With prevention we will be able to reduce assaults and deaths.
Dr. Drummond: I think education is important. Everybody loves paediatricians. The Canadian Paediatric Society has been very clear. If there is a gun in a home with children, then that child has to be safeguarded. Safe storage has to be part of the discussion, as it is with car seats when discussing your child’s welfare.
We also have to get our own house in order. The discussion about firearms should happen in the family physician’s office. It should happen in the emergency department. We have to train both physicians and nurses to make that part of the discussion in terms of the overall maintenance of health. We talk about cigarettes, alcohol and all those other things. We have to educate our own members to involve themselves in that discussion.
Senator Richards: Thank you very much for your presentations. I keep going over this. I know I sound like a broken record, but you haven’t heard this record yet. I don’t think you can get there from here.
I’ve known a lot of violent people in my life, coming from an area in New Brunswick that had a lot of violence in the 1970s and 1980s. I lived through it. There were a lot of murders. Of the 11 murders I know and the people I know, nine of them were by other means besides guns. I think no one just chooses the idea that “I am going to commit suicide with a gun. No, that doesn’t work. I’ll do it with pills.” There has to be some psychological temperament toward one or the other method.
I don’t think, if you put away guns, someone will say, “I am going to do it by hanging.” I think they have a pre-determined attitude as to what they will do anyway. I don’t know if this is a moot point or not, but you are talking here about registered firearms. There is the whole deal of physician and psychiatric speculation about who might do what to whom.
A lot of this talk about safety and guns is taken care of in the family. I have rifles in my house. They’re certainly kept care of and they are certainly put away. The children are grown men now. They know where there are. They both had hunting courses, and I have taken hunting courses.
A lot of families do this responsibly, so the idea of a doctor or a psychiatrist deciding who can or cannot have guns, I am not sure it will work. I wish it would work, but I just don’t think it will.
Dr. Drummond: Is that actually a comment or a question?
Senator Richards: It is a comment and a question.
Dr. Drummond: I am trying to get the sense of this, so I will do my best to respond.
I agree that most firearms owners are responsible. I live in a community where people hunt and sports shoot. I have no real interest in getting involved in their pursuits. They enjoy them.
Men disappear in November for two weeks to go deer hunting and hang out, drink beer and watch the lowly Ottawa Senators on television. I get all of that. We’re not talking about them. We’re not talking about the rank and file gun rural owner.
We’re talking about those who have expressed a desire to commit suicide, thinking about suicide, paranoid psychotics or people who are beating up their wives. That is who we are talking about.
I am sorry, senator, I am going to finish my response to your non-question.
Senator Richards: I am not interrupting you.
Dr. Drummond: Here’s the deal. Bill C-71 is a modest first effort in our view. There needs to be a much more comprehensive approach to changing the culture of the gun in Canada. Frankly, gun control evokes different things for different people. If we’re talking about a mass shooting, we are talking about something different from a paediatric injury. If we’re talking about crime control and gangs in downtown Toronto or Edmonton, we are talking about something different from a farmer blowing his head off in his back field. They are totally different things. We have to start somewhere.
This would not have been the bill we would have chosen. We would have liked something much more robust and comprehensive, but that is the bill on the table. From the perspective that we have taken, which is suicidal prevention or prevention of intimate partner violence or preventing a psychotic from blowing up half of city hall, we think the idea of the expanded purview of their past psychiatric, emotional or social history is of value. On that basis alone, it should be passed.
The Chair: I am going to close it off. I take the opportunity to thank the three witnesses for appearing this morning and participating in what has been a robust discussion. We appreciate your contribution to our studies.
For our next panel today, we are happy to welcome Robert Henderson, Owner, Access Heritage; Ross Falkner, Owner, The Gun Dealer; and from the Association of Women Shooters of P.E.I., Kate MacQuarrie. Welcome to all of you.
Kate MacQuarrie, Association of Women Shooters of P.E.I.: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today as a law-abiding firearms owner, one of 2.1 million men and women in Canada. I have been a certified instructor for both the restricted and non-restricted firearm safety courses for almost 30 years. I am a hunter. I am a trapper. I am a target shooter. I also have an organization on P.E.I. that works to remove barriers to women’s participation in the shooting sports.
Last year, we had 70 women participate in our programs throughout the year. In the first three months of this year, we have seen more than 80 enrolled. Perhaps I can offer a different perspective from those whom you have heard to date. I will certainly be happy to answer questions on that, including issues of firearms and domestic violence, which may differ from the last speakers you heard.
First, I want to speak briefly about Bill C-71, why it’s bad legislation, and to highlight what I feel is the most egregious component.
In introducing Bill C-71 on March 26, 2018, the Honourable Ralph Goodale summarized the perceived need for this legislation in this way:
Hard evidence shows a gun violence issue that is serious, appears to be worsening and is not confined to big cities or to particular weapons.
I remind you that Stats Canada data show that less than one-half of one per cent of police-reported crime in Canada involves a firearm, that firearm homicides have shown a declining trend for at least three decades, and that the increase in homicides observed since 2013 was driven by a substantive increase in gang-related homicides over that period.
Indeed, almost half of the national increase since 2013 was due to more victims in Toronto. Additionally, we have seen that past changes to firearms laws have had no correlating effect on crime in Canada.
There is a well-known quote commonly paraphrased as “complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong solutions.” Gang violence is unquestionably a complex problem, but increased restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners and their legally owned property, is simple, easy to understand and is the wrong answer.
Bill C-71 misidentifies a need, proposes a solution that has been shown will not change societal outcomes and is based on emotion, not evidence.
While Bill C-71 is bad legislation, some parts are worse than others, specifically sections 23 and 58. On March 20, 2018, the Honourable Ralph Goodale said:
. . . it’s simply not a federal long-gun registry, full stop, period.
With respect to the requirement of private retailers keeping records, he said that those records would not be accessible to government. They would be accessible to police when they are investigating gun crimes with the proper basis of reasonable cause and judicial authorization through a warrant.
Further, the act itself states that nothing in it shall be construed to permit or require the registration of non-restricted firearms. Yet Bill C-71 quite clearly recreates a registry.
Section 23 requires those transferring non-restricted firearms to provide their licence numbers to the registrar and receive a reference number to transferring that firearm.
The purported need being addressed is to ensure that those acquiring firearms are properly licensed, but section 23 of the Firearms Act already explicitly requires, when acquiring a non-restricted firearm, to have a proper licence. The proposed revisions to section 23 do nothing other than create a registry of transfers of non-restricted firearms.
The proposed amendments to section 58 complete the recreation of a long-gun registry, albeit decentralized. Businesses would be required to record and maintain for a period of at least 20 years the buyer’s firearms licence number, reference number from the registrar, date of the transaction, and make, model, type and serial number of the firearm.
Not only is that a registration. It’s a registration with records held by nearly 4,500 different businesses across Canada. Security of and access to these records is absolutely a concern. Minister Goodale’s statement that these records would only be available to law enforcement under warrant is contrary to section 102 of the Firearms Act, which requires businesses to produce any records that an inspector believes contain information relevant to the enforcement of the act or regulations.
Under that section, an inspector is defined as a firearms officer, which is essentially anyone appointed by the provincial or federal minister. That is a far cry from law enforcement under warrant.
I began my remarks by telling you that I am a firearms owner. As such, I’ve passed background checks that are almost certainly more detailed than many of you here who do not have a firearms licence. Every day my name is checked with the Canadian Police Information Centre to confirm that I haven’t been the subject of an incident report.
I must notify government if I move. I want to point out that’s something those who have been prohibited from owning firearms are not required to do.
In short, further regulating me and the other 2.1 million law-abiding gun owners in Canada will in no way address gun violence, but it will cost a great deal of tax dollars that should instead be directed at crime prevention. Thank you.
Ross Faulkner, Owner, The Gun Dealer: I have been an independent business owner for 42 years. I am also a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. I am here today to speak about the effects of Bill C-71 on my business and its 20 employees and to share the challenges my business faces as we stride toward a Bill C-71 world.
The Gun Dealer is a family owned and operated firearms and gunsmithing operation, which I started in 1977. In those 42 years, little has put as much economic strain on my business as the looming Bill C-71.
First, I would like to discuss the potential impact of the provision in the bill which limits the transportation of restricted firearms to our gunsmith. Currently, approximately 20 to 25 per cent of firearms brought to our on-site, full-time gunsmith is restricted and currently do not require an ATT. Obtaining an ATT to bring restricted firearms to my store will only accomplish a significant loss of business for us. It will not enhance public safety.
For example, a customer could have a live round jammed in his chamber. Obtaining an ATT on a weekend or a holiday is next to impossible. Leaving a firearm jammed with a live cartridge in it is unsafe and a threat to public safety. Any impact or loss of business in our service department will no longer make it feasible to maintain a full-time position.
The second is the cost related to maintaining reference records for a 20-year period. The burden, both in man hours and storage capacity, puts an unnecessary financial load on my existing business. Revenue Canada only requires record keeping for seven years. This is unrealistic and could result in businesses giving up and closing their doors.
Third, the responsibility of obtaining a government-issued reference number for each sale will dramatically impact our current hours of operation. The Gun Dealer is open seven days a week until 9 p.m. several evenings. Should the ability to obtain said reference numbers be limited to current government hours of operation, our ability to maintain our current hours will be impacted. In so doing, my ability to earn a living and provide employment is severely and negatively impacted.
It is uncertain if reference numbers will even be provided in a timely fashion. If not, customers who have travelled long distances will not want to wait around our store while we try to obtain reference numbers. I see a loss of sales, the result of which will be job losses, job losses, and more job losses.
Fourth, I remind the Senate that jobs in rural Canada, like in McAdam, can be scarce at the best of times. Should Bill C-71 proceed as written, it may not be at the cost of my business on a whole, but it will certainly be at the cost of those I currently employ. Bill C-71 is unlikely to have any impact on the reduction of crime rates, but it most certainly will have an impact on my current staff by layoffs and permanent loss of full-time positions.
The inventory of The Gun Dealer includes both restricted and non-restricted firearms and only those legal for sale in Canada. At present, the value of my inventory sits at the $2 million mark. I am able to employ 20 people in the economically depressed area of McAdam, New Brunswick.
Bill C-71 allows in its provisions the handing over of firearms classifications to the RCMP. This is one of my greatest concerns because it seems to give them the ability to change classifications any time they deem necessary. Should the RCMP deem a firearms classification be changed from non-restricted to prohibit, all variations of said firearm will be prohibited as well. The result is tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory made worthless.
I’ve spent my adult life working to make this business a success, one I can pass on to my son and my grandsons. Bill C-71 threatens these plans, jeopardizing the value of my inventory, giving the RCMP power to change classifications without warning, creating uncertainty in the value of my inventory and rendering that planned future an uncertain one.
If I take a hit on the value of my inventory, the outcome will be the loss of many of the 20 positions I provide in that community. This bill not only misses the mark on controlling crime but robs hard-working Canadians of their livelihoods.
The points I have made are the potential effects of Bill C-71. I cannot stress enough the importance of their being carefully reviewed by the Senate. Also, the provisions in the bill must be carefully considered. If the effects are felt in my store, I feel secure in stating that they will be felt by dealers and businesses all across the country. Please consider carefully Bill C-71 and its ramifications prior to proceeding with the bill as it stands and when making amendments.
I thank you for your time and consideration. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Robert Henderson, Owner, Access Heritage: My business experience includes the application of the existing firearms legislation and offers insight into the unintended consequences on arts, culture and tourism. First, I will address the need to declassify or downgrade devices that pose no risk to public safety. Second, I will demonstrate the importance of an appeal process to the decisions made by the Canadian Firearms Program.
If you have seen the musical Les Misérables or have watched a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, you have seen my products. They are on display at numerous Indigenous heritage sites, the Smithsonian and at other world-class museums in Paris, London, Berlin and Stockholm. In Canada, my products help tell the national story from Signal Hill in Newfoundland to the Fortifications de Québec to Fort Langley, B.C.
I provide non-firing, historic, flintlock reproductions. Flintlock firearms are muzzle-loading devices generally manufactured before the 1840s, based on technology going back to the 16th century. These mechanisms have a special place in the firearms legislation. Even if they were firing, reproduction flintlock muskets would be categorized as antique, meaning that they were essentially unregulated. They were not considered a threat to public safety and were downgraded in the legislation. It is likely that the last crime committed by a flintlock happened before Confederation.
Declassification has been a boon to museums, historic sites and the entertainment industry. I can tell you with certainty that a number of large film productions would never have been possible had flintlocks been classified otherwise.
In the 1990s, I was involved in the discussions and decision to deregulate long flintlocks. Unfortunately, short flintlocks were kept as restricted even though everyone agreed they had not presented a public safety issue since before 1867. Yet, to this day, enforcement resources are needlessly expended searching and seizing restricted flintlock devices.
My own business provides a case in point. In the last 18 years, I have been importing non-firing flintlocks from India. By removing a small connecting flash hole in the design, the technology was deemed deactivated and the flintlocks were allowed by customs. This decision was consistent with our major trading partners, including France, United Kingdom and United States that also classify these products as deactivated or inert.
At the Ottawa port of entry, even though my compliance was 100 per cent, most of my shipments were ripped apart and inspected continually for the past two decades, causing delays and damage not experienced by my international competitors. Ironically, I then exported 90 per cent of these devices with ease to other parts of the world.
Last December, at the very height of the retail season, a key shipment was stopped by the CBSA. At that time, they arbitrarily decided to revisit whether to continue allowing deactivated flintlocks without any forewarning to me and without any relevant change in legislation. The Canadian Firearms Program was asked to investigate. I co-operated with the investigation and a timely decision was promised. It never happened. Even though they were dealing with very basic 400-year-old technology, the final report was completed two months after the initial promised date from the program. My business essentially stopped during that time.
Their new decision was that the products were not non-firing enough and that the short flintlocks were restricted devices. To me, this investigation was devoid of transparency and flawed. Even though it was standard police practice, I was not questioned. Along with other errors, they misrepresented information previously published on my website and never sought context from me.
The program’s decision put Canada out of sync with our major trading partners, many of whom have stricter firearms laws. The fact of the matter is that thousands of these devices have been purchased by movie and history enthusiasts, by people dressing up as pirates, and for decorations on pub walls. For tactile learning, these devices are part of museum education kits to explain flint and steel technology. All the people who own non-firing devices are now de facto in illegal possession of a restricted firearm due to the program’s change in opinion.
I think this is unjust, and I would like to suggest two amendments. First, in my view Bill C-71 should allow the declassification of devices that have been proven to have no public safety concerns. Bill C-71 does not now seem to permit either firearms or other devices to be classified in a less restrictive direction. This is a flaw in the legislation.
My second concern with Bill C-71 is the need for an appeal process of the Canadian Firearms Program decisions. My recent experience with this organization shows the necessity of holding the CFP to basic transparency standards. There must be a mechanism to hold the firearms program accountable for what may otherwise be arbitrary decisions. The CFP’s recent overstepping of their bounds with regard to Swiss Arms only reinforces this necessity.
At this time, I would be happy to answer any questions you might ask.
The Chair: We will now move to questions. I will remind senators to get to their questions so that everyone has an opportunity to ask their questions.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our guests for being here. Ms. MacQuarrie, you are from Prince Edward Island. It’s a very interesting province; its territory is a bit smaller than some others. I’d like to know how you think this bill will affect delays for transportation authorizations in your province.
Ms. MacQuarrie: That’s absolutely a concern for firearm owners on Prince Edward Island. Some of the other speakers this morning mentioned delays in getting permits with respect to after hours and trying to get authorization to ATTs. If I am at a range with one of my restricted firearms, if a problem arises and if I need to take it to a gunsmith, I cannot immediately do that under the proposed changes. There are safety concerns around that for me and for other firearms owners. That is absolutely a concern.
Senator Dagenais: The private information of firearms owners may be shared among dozens of firearms merchants. Does the transmission of this information from one vendor to another present a danger with regard to those who have licensed firearms?
Ms. MacQuarrie: Absolutely. For me, as a firearms owner, security of and access to those data are significant concerns. In recent years identity theft and data security have been growing as issues. I think of my time working in retail back in the early 1990s when it was common to require a social insurance number to validate a cheque. We certainly would not be sharing that kind of personal information anymore. The issues around data security and who has access are perhaps more significant for those of us in the firearm community as well.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Faulkner, you have been in the firearms industry for a certain number of years; tell us what you are going to have to do to secure your clients’ personal information. Do you get the impression that you are going to have to do the work of the police, among others? If one day you had to close your business, who would be responsible for your clients’ archived information?
Mr. Faulkner: That’s certainly a good question. Information will be collected under Bill C-71. If I understand your question right, you’re asking how we are to secure this information so that we do not get hacked and people’s information does not get out to the public or to a criminal element. I really don’t know.
I have purchased a computer system now to try to come up with legislation so that we are able to record the information for Bill C-71 and for government. I have regular firewalls on my computer. If there is an advanced attack on my computer, the information is there. I am not so sure that it’s as secure as it should be.
Senator Dagenais: According to Minister Goodale, people could obtain their transportation authorizations faster through the Internet. Do you think this will be possible using a central database? It’s being called a “central database.” They refuse to call it a “registry.” It’s not a central database, it’s going to be a gun registry. Do you think people will be able to get a transport permit faster through the central file?
Mr. Faulkner: I didn’t quite get all of the question.
Senator Dagenais: I will repeat my question. According to Minister Goodale, if I own a firearm and I want to take it from one location to another and use the central database — the government refuses to call it a gun registry — it will be easier to obtain a transportation permit. In other words, with the new classification, people will be able to obtain a transport permit faster. Do you think that will be possible?
Mr. Faulkner: The past is always a good thing to look at. We have had ATTs in the past, and they just have not worked. They overwhelmed our provincial firearms offices. It just didn’t work.
Right now, you can transport your restricted firearm as a condition on your firearms licence. This system works and works very well. To even be talking about ATTs is a step backward; it is going back 25 years. It is just simply wrong. We’ve got it right.
Look at your firearms licence. It’s like a driver’s licence. My driver’s licence could be a class 5A or a class 6A, which allows me to drive a motorcycle or a commercial vehicle. This is how it works today on your firearms licence. If you get stopped, the RCMP looks at your firearms licence. If it doesn’t have class 5R and you have a restricted firearm, then you are in violation.
What you can do with that firearm is now listed on your firearms licence. We have this right. You’ll never convince me that talking about ATTs is right. It is definitely wrong and a step backward.
Senator Plett: I will try to be quick rather than brief because I have a question for each of our witnesses.
My first two questions are for Mr. Faulkner. This bill proposes requiring retailers to verify that purchasers of non-restricted firearms have a valid firearms licence before selling them a firearm. Despite the fact that it’s already a Criminal Code offence to buy a firearm without a licence, the retailer has to have no reason to believe that purchaser does not have one. According to Minister Goodale’s own testimony in the House of Commons, vendors often check anyway but they are not in fact required to do so.
How often does someone try to buy a long gun without a licence from you? Do you know of an incident where a person without a PAL purchased a long gun?
Mr. Faulkner: I can only talk to you about my business. We check on the RCMP system every firearms licence that comes into our store. Especially, as we are a regional dealer that ships across Canada, every licence is checked on the RCMP system. You would be quite surprised what information comes up on that system. We know quite a bit about you when you present your licence.
Senator Plett: You would have never sold someone a gun if they didn’t have a licence.
Mr. Faulkner: Never. At present, your licence is being checked at store level. We are already checking licences.
When you come to my store, I punch you into the computer. Let me tell you, I am seeing a lot of information. It tells me, “Yes, you can buy that gun or no, you cannot purchase that firearm. We need to call the CFO.”
Senator Plett: Has a person without a PAL ever purchased a long gun from you?
Mr. Faulkner: No.
Senator Plett: Ms. MacQuarrie, thank you for being here. Minister Goodale has tried to tell Canadian gun owners — and you have alluded to this — that Bill C-71 does not create a registry. My good friend opposite has also said that in the chamber a number of times.
Yet, when the previous Conservative government eliminated the need to collect this information, they did so by regulation. Then Justice Minister Vic Toews, now a judge in Manitoba, appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to explain the regulation was necessary to ensure that such information not be collected.
This is what he said:
The real purpose of this regulation is simply to clarify the effect of Bill C-19, that is, to prevent the establishment of another long-gun registry through other means, whether it is through information collected through CFOs or otherwise.
Do you agree with Minister Toews or do your organizations believe that the forcing firearms vendors to keep these kinds of records is a clear attempt to maintain another long-gun registry?
Ms. MacQuarrie: As I alluded to in my opening remarks, to our organization it is a clear attempt to recreate the long-gun registry. The only difference in this case is that rather than being in a central location, the records would be stored in 4,500 businesses across Canada.
It is a long-gun registry with less security of information than we had previously.
Senator Plett: Mr. Henderson, you explained how your business has been caught up in classification changes related to firearms, even though your firearms are non-firing antiques. I found that quite interesting when I read this information.
The government has argued that politicians should stay out of the business of firearms or device classification. Have you tried to raise this issue with the minister? If so, what has been his response? How important are viable appeal provisions enshrined in legislation for a business such as yours?
Mr. Henderson: Thank you for this excellent question. Yes, I have approached the minister’s office on this particular situation. Surprisingly, I had not heard anything from the minister’s office until quite recently, which is to pass on the various departments’ conclusions and reiterations of firearms legislation. It does not really get to the core of the issue, which is that Canadians out there acquired these non-fire reproductions in the belief that they are non-firing and have entered the country legally. Voila, now they are sitting at home with something on their wall. Little do they know they have a restricted firearm. They are illegally in possession of that item. What do you do with that?
It comes down to the whole issue of classification. Do you have faith in the Canadian Firearms Program, a program that has been parked in the RCMP? It’s not the RCMP, and they will tell you they are not the RCMP. That organization used to be part of the Office of the Solicitor General until they were defrocked out of privacy, out of transparency and out of other issues, and put in the RCMP by the Martin government.
It’s strange you would have legislation that would suddenly say, “You didn’t have any problems in the past, even though all of your corporate history says you have had problems in the past. Why don’t we give you carte blanche to do whatever you want with classification?” I think there should be oversight from a political standpoint on these issues, absolutely.
Senator Griffin: My first question is for Mr. Faulkner. As I understand it, you are one the largest independent firearms dealers in the country, certainly in the eastern part of the country. Obviously people come to your store and purchase there. I also understand that you do online sales.
Mr. Faulkner: That is correct.
Senator Griffin: How does it work with online sales? If I were to order a firearm on line, do you have to see my PAL?
Mr. Faulkner: We collect all the information on our online site, including your PAL, pertinent information like your date of birth and place of birth. This information is complied. We then enter the information into the RCMP system and check your licence before we ship the information. Also we would ask questions like, “What is your mother’s maiden name,” and things to ensure you are the person you say you are.
The firearm is only shipped to the address on the firearms licence. If a customer says “ship to PO box 560” and our system shows 360, then the red flag comes up and we start calling and asking questions. We do have a system that checks this.
Senator Griffin: I had not realized previously that online sales were such a big thing.
With record keeping, it has been fairly clearly indicated by other witnesses here, as well as yourself, that there will be many different places where everyone that is selling has their own records stored. Would it be useful to have some guidance as to how these records are to be stored?
Senator Dagenais asked what happens if you sell your business or go out of business. What happens to those records, for instance?
Mr. Faulkner: It is very unclear.
Senator Griffin: That is a big issue.
Mr. Faulkner: It is very unclear, but that is a really good question. Remember, every sale will require a reference number. All that information will be called into the federal government, which they say they are not recording. I hope I can believe them. I wish to believe them, but my heart tells me something different.
Senator Griffin: One of the issues I was concerned about is: How easy would it be to transform this information into a de facto gun registry?
Mr. Faulkner: I think this is a registry. When we go to obtain a reference number, we can’t just call up and say that we need a reference number. They will ask us what the firearm is, what the licence is, what the address is, and who the person is.
Make no mistake about it, Senator Griffin, this is a registry. The records are kept at store level, but we are calling that information into the federal Government of Canada. Are they just giving us a reference number and deleting that information? I suspect not.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you for your presentations. My questions have to do with the definition and classification of firearms.
Are the definitions used to classify firearms clearly defined, or are they more open to interpretation and opinion?
Mr. Faulkner: No, firearm classifications are clearly defined.
Mr. Henderson: They are minutely defined.
Mr. Faulkner: Yes. Restricted, non-restricted or prohibited, they are clearly defined. The case for Mr. Henderson is a unique one. Basically it’s a non-firearm that they have decided is a firearm. Sometimes they break their own rules. We’ve seen this before.
Senator McIntyre: As we know, assuming Bill C-71 becomes law, the RCMP, and not the Governor-in-Council, would be the sole authority to classify or reclassify firearms.
Are there experts other than the RCMP that could do that job? In other words, they could classify or reclassify firearms.
Mr. Faulkner: Let me clear this up. Right now, under this system in which we don’t have in Bill C-71, all classifications of firearms are being done by the RCMP. Where the difference comes in under Bill C-71 is that the system we now have, once the RCMP classifies a firearm as non-restricted, they have a year to change that classification. After a year it must stay non-restricted for the life of the firearm.
The problem that we have right now under classifications is that there was an order-in-council called Repeal of Firearms Records Regulations (Classifications). This was done on November 2, 2018. The government made a change here.
Basically, what has happened is that they gave the RCMP the right to change classifications whenever they wish. In other words, they classify this today as non-restricted, but, “Oh, well, I guess we’ve changed our mind. It’s a new day and it’s now prohibited.”
Under the old system they could not do that. They said it was non-restricted, and it had to stay non-restricted. Now they have an open chequebook to do whatever they wish, whenever they want. They can basically take guns off the market.
Senator McIntyre: Currently, does the RCMP give reasons for classification or reclassification?
Mr. Faulkner: There is a set of guidelines. The classification of firearms goes by barrel length and overall length. There is a formula that is used.
Senator McIntyre: Is it possible to obtain a full forensic report from the RCMP on the conversion of firearms from non-restricted to restricted or prohibited, or vice-versa?
Mr. Faulkner: As a senator, you could get that report. As a firearms dealer, I probably could not.
Senator McIntyre: As I understand it, businesses may be required to purchase new software to meet the new diligence and record keeping requirements imposed by Bill C-71. Is there the possibility of that?
Mr. Faulkner: That’s what I did. I had to purchase a new computer system. It cost me $50,000 to retain those records for 20 years. I will state again that 20 years of records is unrealistic. I won’t be there for 20 years. I don’t know who will be there, but I won’t be. I am 62 now and soon to be 63. I won’t be there.
Senator Pratte: I want to go back briefly to the issue of registry or non-registry. Maybe I am misunderstanding it, but my understanding is that when a retailer will call in for a reference number, they will provide the PAL number of the buyer, and that’s it. There will be no information on the firearm. We have been assured of that by the government. When you call in, you give the PAL number. They check whether it’s valid, and that’s it.
In my view, if the government doesn’t collect information on the firearm and if the owner of the firearm is not required to have a registration of the firearm, this is not a registry.
Mr. Faulkner: Why would we bother calling in? We already have a computer sitting on our desk. We already have that information. This is a great make-work project.
As a taxpayer, this absolutely offends me. Don’t you believe businesses are capable of checking a firearms licence? We are already doing it. It’s a beautiful make-work project and a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Keep it up.
Mr. Henderson: Correct me if I am wrong, senator, but why are business owners holding the records? Is it to be audited by the RCMP if an issue comes up?
There is the creep. Suddenly, you’ve downloaded billions of dollars’ worth of registry. How much did the registry cost last time? That has been shifted to the business owners who will now buy $50,000 computers and whatnot. They are holding the information.
The next step becomes, “Why don’t we draw this together?” It’s only a first step in the building blocks for another registry, in which we assume the burden.
Ms. MacQuarrie: If I could clarify a point, respectfully, senator, not just the licence number is being recorded. The records Mr. Faulkner alluded to include the make, model, type and serial number of a firearm. If that’s not a registry, I am not entirely clear what is.
Senator Pratte: We’re talking about two different things. I was talking about when you call in for a reference number. No information is asked by the government as to the make or any information on the file.
As far as record keeping by the retailers, how are the requirements of Bill C-71 different from what you used to be called the green book? That was the system that existed before 1995.
Mr. Faulkner: How are they different, you mean?
Senator Pratte: Yes. From 1979 to 1995, before the long-gun registry came into effect, all retailers had to keep records of their firearm sales. It was called the green book.
Mr. Faulkner: We have to obtain reference numbers from the firearms centre. I am not sure from where we to obtain them. I hear what you are saying. We’re just going to call in their licence numbers.
I don’t see that happening. That’s just not enough information for them to give us a reference number. They will want to know what firearm the customer is purchasing.
Senator Pratte: They are telling us they are not going to ask this question.
Mr. Faulkner: Why would you give a reference number on a licence that is already valid? What would be the point?
Senator Pratte: They want to check if the licence is valid. I want to go back to the record keeping. On the record that is required by Bill C-71 to be kept, there is no personal information.
There is the PAL number and the firearm details, but you are not required by the bill to have the name or address of the customer.
Mr. Faulkner: That’s not the way I understand it. If the RCMP calls and gives us such and such a serial number, they want to know who purchased that firearm: their exact address and name. That is my understanding.
Ms. MacQuarrie: If I may jump in, senator, while you’re not required to keep the information, you’re not prevented from keeping it either.
With respect to your questions prior to 1995, I’d like to make two comments. First of all, we have no evidence to suggest that the keeping of those records did anything to prevent crime, so the need is certainly questionable. What has changed significantly since 1995 are issues of identity theft and data security. Those are new concerns since that time.
Senator Pratte: I have a final point, if I may. Doesn’t the requirement for record keeping by retailers presently exists in the United States?
Mr. Faulkner: We have a different system than that of the United States. I don’t know their system. I can tell you that we have a system in Canada based on a firearms licence. It’s not a bad system to have a firearms licence to buy a firearm.
I know that in the United States it’s a completely different world. When you go fishing, you need a fishing licence. When you go hunting, you need a hunting licence. In Canada, when you buy a firearm you need a firearms licence. I think we probably have that right. In the United States, you walk into a gun store and you show your driver’s licence, or any other form of identity, and you’ve got the firearm.
These are two different scenarios. We’ve got it different in Canada. We do not compare to the United States in any way.
The Chair: We have four senators to go and we have about 12 minutes, so I am asking you to keep that in mind.
Senator Oh: Most of my questions have been asked, so I am going to ask about some facts and common-sense questions.
Ms. MacQuarrie, how long have you been running this association?
Ms. MacQuarrie: Our organization formed in 2016, so three years.
Senator Oh: Three years. This morning the panel was talking about committing suicide using guns. How many of your members have committed suicide and how many members are left?
Ms. MacQuarrie: Zero.
Senator Oh: Your association mostly deals with target practice, handguns and long guns.
Ms. MacQuarrie: Our members participate in all shooting sports, so handguns, rifle shooting, skeet shooting and hunting. Our members are involved in it all.
Senator Oh: And no one has used a gun to commit suicide?
Ms. MacQuarrie: We have had no crimes committed by our members.
Senator Oh: I have an economic question for Ross Faulkner. You say 20 positions that will be lost if Bill C-71 kicks in.
Mr. Faulkner: I presently employ 20 people. I want to make the Senate aware, as well, that these are not burger-flipping jobs. They come as full-time positions. My employees have dental and prescription drug plans, and they’re getting paid way more than minimum wage. They’re getting paid a wage that they can live on.
This bill negatively impacts my business, and the result will be layoffs for good, hard-working Canadians. That’s what’s really going to happen with Bill C-71. Let the Senate hear it and hear the truth. The truth is the truth, and this is the truth.
Senator Oh: Do you know roughly how many people, including family members, will be affected?
Mr. Faulkner: If our business goes down, we will start laying off. There is no question about it. Five to seven positions could be affected by this if our business goes down, and I believe it’s going to go down. Anything negative like Bill C-71 turns people off. They don’t like to buy.
Senator Oh: How many members, including their families, will be affected? You employ 20 people. That’s a lot in a rural area.
Mr. Faulkner: I am the biggest independent employer in McAdam, New Brunswick, with a population of about 1,200.
Senator Richards: Senator Oh asked my question, which is fine. I am glad he asked it.
Mr. Faulkner, I know that you’re the biggest employer in McAdam. Pretty well all of the income in that village revolves around your shop. This is a registry, and that might even be fine if it would stop gun violence.
I know you’re not a criminologist, and neither am I, but I’ve dealt with this matter for quite a while. Do you think this legislation will do anything to stop gun violence across the country?
Mr. Faulkner: That’s a great question, Senator Richards. I am going to speak from my heart. I have a son and two small grandsons. Public safety is a concern for me, but I feel that this will not stop any crime and will not enhance public safety in any way. It will be a burden for my business. I can assure you of that.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you very much for the clarity of your presentations and how well you voiced your concerns about the bill. Much like Senator Richards, Senator McIntyre asked one of my questions already, so I don’t need that information.
Ms. MacQuarrie, you talked about our having a different perspective on domestic violence, and you didn’t get a chance to speak to that. We would all be interested in what that would be.
Ms. MacQuarrie: There are two things I would like to address there. First, I’d like to remind the committee — and I am sure you know this, sir — that the presence of a firearm in a home is not a predictor of domestic violence. What I mean by that is homes that have firearms are not more likely to be scenes of domestic violence than homes without firearms.
Second, I learned through my group the perspective of women who have been subject to domestic violence in our laws today. It was an eye-opener for me. One of the questions that folks are asked when they apply for a firearms licence is to provide the name of their former spouse or conjugal partner. I have had multiple women in my organization who were victims of domestic violence stop the licensing process when they get to that point. In order to proceed with the licensing, they were shocked to find out that they would have to provide contact information for the person who victimized them.
We talk about looking at firearms law with a gender lens. Many of the presentations to date have assumed that it’s men using firearms and women being victims of them. I would like to reiterate that’s not the case.
Senator Busson: It’s always difficult to be last because people have covered so much of the waterfront. I am interested in folks like you who deal with these kinds of issues on a day-to-day basis and are clearly hit between the eyes when things change. Your expertise is really appreciated.
I have a question. I think both Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Henderson spoke about the classification of firearms and how the RCMP could on a whim, which I think was the phrase used, change a classification from one to another.
What motivation other than public safety do you think the RCMP would use to change a classification from one to another?
Mr. Faulkner: I believe they have a list out there. In Bill C-71 there were two firearms on the list that I had previously seen. That just made me believe that they have a hidden agenda here.
I believe that they are on an agenda, that they have been given full rein to do what they wish with classifications, and that people like me will financially take the burden. There’s no question about that.
I spoke earlier about when the order-in-council came through that they had changed how they could change the classification of firearms. I knew we were in trouble. As a gun shop, I was in trouble. My inventory was in trouble.
I am very nervous right now that the RCMP could say, “We don’t like the look of this firearm. This firearm looks to be an assault weapon. Whether it is or not, we’re just going to get rid of it.” That’s what I see coming.
Mr. Henderson: If you give this to a public servant entity, there is an innate risk for them to make everything prohibited because it reduces risk. There’s always the weight by locking in with a public service entity to constantly move to remove the risk.
If something happens in our society, they’re to blame because they didn’t identify that one. “That one got through. Why don’t we take this entire category?” Obviously they will be more diligent. That’s why we need politicians to come into the process and to assume some of the risk so that you take the weight off of our public servants who are trying to do the best they can. I am very empathetic for the responsibilities thrust upon them.
In order to preserve freedom and liberty of its citizens and their property and to create an environment which is safe, the responsibility for some of these matters should remain in the hands of Governor-in-Council.
The Chair: We’ll take this opportunity to thank all three of you for being here. We appreciate your candour of your responses.
For our third panel today, we have Matt DeMille, Manager, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and Brian McRae, Senior Advisor, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Welcome to the table.
Via video conference from B.C., we have Chuck Zuckerman, Chairperson, BCWF Firearms and Recreational Sport Shooting Committee, B.C. Wildlife Federation. Welcome, Mr. Zuckerman. We understand that you are only good until two o’clock because of video access.
If you have any questions, senators, please lead with Mr. Zuckerman if that’s your interest.
Matt DeMille, Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters: On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, thank you for inviting us to talk about Bill C-71.
The OFAH is the largest conservation-based organization in Ontario, but we also represent all possible firearms interests including hunting, trapping and recreational shooting. Additionally, we represent 56 shooting clubs which operate 80 CFO-approved licensed ranges.
This is not just an Ontario perspective. In fact, almost all of our affiliate fishing and hunting organizations from coast to coast to coast, including our co-panellist BCWF, have endorsed our submitted brief. In total, these organizations represent approximately 345,000 Canadians.
Long-term trends show overall firearms-related crime is on the decline, but regardless of the statistics no Canadian should deny there is a need to reduce gun violence. It’s not about if; it’s about how.
We applaud the government’s financial commitment to crime prevention projects across Canada, as well as funding for RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency to ensure we have the resources needed for heightened security along our borders. This is the “how” we expect from the government.
The messaging and spending clearly indicate this public safety initiative was developed to target gangs, gang violence, organized crime and illegal cross-border smuggling of firearms. However, this policy direction in Bill C-71 only targets law-abiding firearms users and does so in a way that will achieve negligible enhancements to public safety. The policy silence on gangs, violence and serious firearms crimes is deafening. It is not surprising firearms owners feel unjustifiably targeted. This is the “how” that doesn’t make sense to us, so we cannot support the bill as written.
There is a common misconception that there isn’t enough scrutiny on who can obtain and keep a firearms licence in Canada. Firearms owners are already one of the most vetted segments of Canada’s population. New applicants undergo a rigorous screening process. Between 2012 and 2017, 4,637 licence applications were refused.
In addition, existing firearms owners undergo continuous eligibility screening to verify there has been no criminal activity since acquiring their licence. Between 2012 and 2017, 14,505 licences were revoked. Refusals and revocations occur for many reasons including court-ordered prohibitions or probation, domestic violence, mental health, potential risk to self and others, and violent behaviour. In 2017, there were just over 443,000 individuals prohibited from possessing firearms.
The take-home is that we have a screening system and it works to enhance public safety. Is it perfect? No, but investing in a more coordinated and connected screening system among agencies has greater potential to enhance public safety than trying to dig deeper and look for different things.
Today, in our opening remarks, we haven’t been able to do a deep dive into the bill. I hope you’ve all had a chance to review our submitted brief that included a thorough analysis of each section of the bill with background context, outstanding questions and concerns, as well as the results of a survey on Bill C-71 of more than 3,500 firearms users conducted by the OFAH in April 2018.
Our opposition to Bill C-71 is not partisan. It is not emotional. It was not predetermined on principle. It was only after a thorough, critical analysis that we arrived at the same conclusion for almost every proposal. It won’t enhance public safety. The evidence simply doesn’t support it.
Licensed firearms owners care about public safety as much as other Canadians. The firearms community is not against firearms policy but it needs to be evidence based, and we want to see measures that will actually keep Canadians safe.
One of the most significant challenges we face in establishing sound firearms policy is the politicization and therefore visceral polarization that almost always occurs. Unfortunately, it seems the only conversations we seem to have about firearms occur in the media often after a tragic event or in the political arena. There has been a lack of willingness on either side of the debate to get past the rhetoric and an entrenched view that we need to start in opposition to each other.
In reality, we all want the same thing. We all want to reduce crime, violent crime, and the illegal use of firearms in Canada. If we stop fighting with each other, we could turn that energy, time and resourcing into achieving real public safety benefits for Canadians.
To that end, the OFAH has been invited to participate in a formal dialogue with a gun control advocacy group facilitated by the Mosaic Institute. The goal is to build mutual understanding, seek common ground and attempt to develop public policy proposals to reduce gun violence that would be better informed and carry greater weight than either group could develop on its own.
This dialogue will explore differences and perspectives between rural and urban Canadians, firearms users and non-users, and the lived experiences related to responsible firearms use and the misuse of firearms. There is a clear need for better education on both sides of this debate, and we believe this facilitated non-political discourse can build some momentum to help us get there.
In the end, Bill C-71 has created confusion and concern and has eroded confidence in the government’s approach to firearms policy. Even for the changes we can live with, there is almost no convincing evidence to demonstrate it will do anything to enhance public safety.
If the government is serious about respecting the firearms community, then it can’t move forward with Bill C-71 without significant amendments, not only to minimize the unnecessary scope of its impact on law-abiding Canadians but also to introduce tangible provisions that directly tackle the stated intent of addressing gun violence.
In conclusion, we are imploring this committee to ask tough questions and seriously consider meaningful amendments. Our recommendations for amendments include increased penalties for firearms-related violent crimes; requirements for accessible and effective appeal system for individuals when licences are refused, revoked and when verification is not granted; the addition of specific provisions for retailer information security standards and penalties for non-compliance; rescinding the proposals to remove destinations for automatic ATTs; and the addition of a requirement for a standardized classification process that is consistent, transparent, evidence based, fully consults firearms users, and includes an effective and timely appeal system for classification decisions.
Chuck Zuckerman, Chairperson, BCWF Firearms and Recreational Sport Shooting Committee, B.C. Wildlife Federation: Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting the 50,000 members of the B.C. Wildlife Federation to communicate with you regarding Bill C-71.
Firearms ownership is a way of life for the responsible firearm owners of British Columbia. We appreciate the outdoors experience and are committed to placing natural, wholesome food on our families’ dinner tables. We realize that this experience bonds us to our ancestors and the pioneer spirit. It forms the values that hold our families and society together. This is what gives meaning to our lives.
Firearm usage is an important harvesting tool when it is based on the scientific management of species and fair chase ethics. The benefit of appropriate harvesting is that it limits negative wildlife interactions. It prevents crop predation. It protects livestock, and it saves the government the cost of employing conservation officers to address problem wildlife.
Regarding safety, I am a licensed firearms instructor, a master CORE hunting instructor and a competition handgun shooter. A student may be issued a restricted firearms course report only after attending a two-day training session and passing written and practical tests. Safety is a priority, and foremost in the instruction is always pointing the firearm in a safe direction and keeping your finger off the trigger.
Learning the safe and legal use, storage, transportation and display of non-restricted firearms requires that they be unloaded, have a trigger lock applied to them or have them stored in a safe or securely locked container or room. Restricted firearms further require that they be unloaded with a trigger lock applied and transported in a locked case with the ammunition transported in a separate locked case. Transporting restricted firearms in any other manner is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to carry a loaded or unloaded restricted firearm on your person.
Only when students successfully completes the course do they become eligible to submit an application. That application must then pass the scrutiny of an RCMP background check.
Bill C-71’s proposed regulations create more onerous layers of regulation that only law-abiding firearms owners will follow. The proposed bill does nothing to address the issue of illegal firearms use or possession. What other recreational activity is so regulated, requiring background checks every five years?
Bill C-71 proposes to increase the firearm background check. This would rephrase the questions on form 5592e which all applicants must fill out.
You must provide details on a separate page, if the answer is yes to any of the following questions.
(a) Have you ever been subject to a peace bond or protection order?
(b) Has any member of your household ever been prohibited from possessing any firearm?
(c) Have you ever threatened or attempted suicide? Have you ever suffered, been diagnosed or treated for depression, alcohol, drug or substance abuse, behavioural problems or emotional problems?
(d) Have you ever experienced a divorce, a separation or a breakdown of a significant relationship, a job loss or a bankruptcy?
When comparing licensed drivers to licensed firearm owners, ICBC stated that there were 642 motor vehicle accidents per 100,000 licensed drivers. The CBC, in August, stated that there were 0.6 firearm deaths for 100,000 licensed firearms owners across Canada and that there was 0.07 accidental shootings per 100,000 licensed firearms owners across Canada.
Our question is: If licensed drivers are over 600 times more likely to have an accident including fatalities than licensed firearm owners, then why are they not required to undergo similar background checks?
As alcohol and speed contribute to 51 per cent of motor vehicle accidents, perhaps a renewable alcohol purchase licence and speed governors should be required as are seat belts.
In conclusion, would money not be better spent training and employing more law enforcement personnel? Would not a better solution be applying more resources to relieving the causes of crime, such as poverty, economic inequality, inadequate education and drug addiction? To mitigate against criminal activity, would it not be better to discuss parenting schools and effective conflict resolution techniques as mandatory subjects in schools?
Societal values can only be changed by education, not regulation.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Zuckerman. We will now move to questions from senators.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Zuckerman, in your experience, have firearms often had to be reclassified?
Mr. Zuckerman: There have been times when regular non-restricted firearms have been reclassified directly into prohibited firearms. The problem is that if you didn’t have a prohibited firearms licence, you are now in contravention of the Criminal Code and would then have to relinquish those firearms to the RCMP.
That classification has happened. As to how often it has happened, I do not know.
Senator Dagenais: To your knowledge, is anyone challenging or contesting the firearms reclassification in any way? Do you truly believe that a gun owner will win his case if he appeals a reclassification decision? Are we not creating problems for our citizens with these reclassifications?
Mr. Zuckerman: We certainly are, senator. The issue here is trust. The citizens trust the government to make the right decisions. With this bill and more restrictions applied to the citizens, does the government trust the citizens? By reclassifying these firearms there is no appeal process at this time. The Governor-in-Council has given the power of reclassification to the RCMP. How do you appeal to the RCMP? To whom do you write?
Therefore, there is not an appeals process right now in place that we can make the facility of. You have to hire a lawyer and go to court, or ask the lawyer to write on your behalf. That’s expensive.
Senator Plett: Mr. Zuckerman, I agree with your comment. If we were to take all the cars off the streets, there would be no more car accidents and no more deaths by crazy automobile drivers.
I have a couple questions. It has been told to this committee that guns themselves are the alleged problem. This committee has heard from Professor Wendy Cukier who stated that the increase in the number of restricted and prohibited firearms from about 350,000 in 2004 to over a million was a clear indication that we had a challenge, especially when we see some of the incidents involving legal firearms as well as the diversion from legal to illegal markets.
Can any one of our witnesses comment on this assertion? How easy is it to divert legal firearms to the illegal market in your experience?
Mr. Zuckerman: It is illegal to take your restricted firearm and pass it on to anyone else or sell it at all because you have to have the registration for that. It’s registered in your name. The serial number is registered in your name. You have a special number issued by the RCMP as the registration number for that firearm.
Whoever is purchasing that firearm must notify the RCMP that they are getting it. They have to have a possession acquisition licence for restricted firearms. Authorization to transport has to be issued to them to take the firearm from either your residence or a gun show back to their residence.
At the point you are giving a legally purchased firearm to someone who does not have the proper paperwork, you become a criminal. Therefore, you are passing from a criminal to a criminal.
Mr. DeMille: To add to that, what are probably being referred to are things like theft, straw purchasing and some of the ways that domestic firearms may get into the illegal market.
We have looked at a lot related to that. The system is there, but we need the system to be high functioning. We need ways of identifying where those illegal firearms are, where they are coming from, how they are getting there, and making sure there is coordination among agencies.
One of the biggest issues is that you have many different people involved in this issue. You have the RCMP, the Canadian Firearms Program, Chief Firearms Officers and police agencies. You have to ensure everyone is talking to each other. Often the information is out there, but we need to make sure everyone knows and has the best information.
Senator Plett: Do you see anything in Bill C-71 that would take care of this, Mr. Zuckerman or Mr. DeMille?
Mr. Zuckerman: Nothing is mentioned in the bill at all about this.
Senator Plett: Could you talk about shooting sports and if the numbers of people now involved in shooting sports have changed in the past several years? When I say “talk about,” please be very brief as we are limited for time.
Mr. Zuckerman: In the Lower Mainland, for which I am the president in Vancouver, we have had doubling and tripling of the number of recreational shooters going to the clubs. Some clubs have 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000 members. Those increased numbers have limited the ability to join those clubs because there are so many.
Of all those recreational shooting participants, there has not been one accident or one fatality anywhere in the Lower Mainland since the doubling and tripling of the numbers. Those people are well vetted. Those people have all the proper licences, and the shooting sport itself is well regulated whereby a referee stands next to you as you shoot and as you move from station to station, making sure the firearm is always pointed downrange.
Senator Plett: I have a bit of comment, but then I want your response to it.
First, between 2014 and 2017, 66 per cent of homicides by firearms were committed by people with criminal records. This tells us that at least two-thirds of gun homicides were the consequence of a failure to enforce our current gun laws because it is already illegal for someone with a criminal record to possess a firearm. More regulation would have done nothing to save these lives.
Second, over the same period, 68 per cent of all homicides were committed with a restricted or prohibited weapon. Since restricted and prohibited weapons are already registered and tightly controlled, it is clear, to me at least, that increasing gun control measures for non-restricted firearms will be equally ineffective in preventing gun crime.
I would at least like a brief response from each of you on that.
Mr. Zuckerman: That is absolutely correct. Where these people are getting the firearms from is the first question to be asked. They are not allowed to have possession acquisition licences to begin with. The background vetting of someone, even today as it exists, can go back 20, 30 and 40 years. At that point, if they find a criminal record of a person, especially someone who has had some type of offence with a weapon of any kind, they should in my opinion be denied the ability to own a firearm.
I would question how they even got those firearms to begin with. If they got it illegally because it was purchased and the serial number was rubbed off, I would be looking more toward gang activity.
Remember, licensed firearms owners only had 0.6 per 100,000 deaths with licensed firearms. The people you were talking about were criminals to begin with. They should never have had firearms.
Mr. DeMille: Briefly, at the risk of repeating myself, we have a system and the system can work. We have to make sure it is working as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The second part would be that criminals don’t care about additional regulations and rules. That won’t stop them from doing what they are going to do.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you all for your presentations. Last year, representatives of both your federations appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-71. A submission was made, accompanied by several recommendations. As we understand, you are both making the same recommendations today before this committee.
We’ve heard from a lot of witnesses, and a lot of our questions have been answered. However, Mr. Zuckerman, the submission submitted by your federation before the house committee last year made reference to the fact that the UN firearms marking will be issued in a technical amendment. My understanding is that your federation sees the UN marking requirement as an unnecessary and expensive duplication that should be dropped.
Does the amendment add value to the existing regulatory framework?
Mr. Zuckerman: The answer would be no, senator. That marking in one phase was supposed to put numbers on the ammunition itself, not so much on the firearm. Therefore somehow you could trace the empty shell casings.
How would that help in any way, shape or form? The onerous cost of the ammunition to the purchaser as well to the manufacturers would, by default, absolutely bring in gun control to the point where no one could afford any type of firearm. The firearms markings that already exist are serial numbers on every firearm.
That marking gets traced through the import duties and tariffs that are paid. It is traced through the dealers, the wholesalers and the retailers. Is it restricted? That’s registered with the RCMP today. It has been registered there since prior to 1935. The manufacturers themselves have their master lists.
It was an unnecessary addition that would be cost prohibitive for firearms users in Canada.
Senator McIntyre: Mr. DeMille, would you like to add anything?
Mr. DeMille: I don’t have anything significant to add. I think Mr. Zuckerman covered it. Just to repeat, the existing serial numbers that we have on firearms would suffice. Any additional markings would be cost prohibitive and would be passed on to the consumer.
Senator Pratte: Mr. DeMille, in the brief that you presented to the committee in the House of Commons, your federation said that it was not opposed to background checks that looked further into the past. The impression I got from your testimony today is that you are opposed to such deeper background checks.
Would you clarify your position for us, please?
Mr. DeMille: Yes, thank you for the question. Our comments today were mostly focused on, as you actually said earlier in response to one of the other witnesses, the fact that we’re not opposed to background checks that look back further. We are saying that they already do. There are already background checks that are not stopped at five years. They can look for things beyond the criteria that people set or think within that five years.
We are trying to get that information out there and to better inform people that these won’t really be enhanced background checks based on what the courts have already ruled, as you said earlier.
Senator Pratte: You also said in the brief you presented that the federation was not opposed to mandatory retailer record keeping, which we discussed with earlier witnesses, but many firearms owners are concerned about the safe keeping and privacy of records, as well as how records will be accessed by police.
The concern is certainly legitimate, but I am wondering whether it is valid considering what is in the bill. What is required to be recorded by the retailer is the PAL number and the information on the firearm, but no personal information, no name or no address. Even if someone hacked the computer system of a retailer, they would only get a list of PAL numbers with firearms and no address or no name.
Are the concerns of your members about the privacy of those records valid, based on what is in the bill, or maybe on fears and distrust of the government?
Mr. DeMille: I think it’s less about distrust of the government. In this case, it’s more about lived experience as a retailer. In some cases there might be a logbook or some sort of registry sheet available on a counter where people may come upon it, see it, look at it from a distance, or now with cellphones take a picture.
Depending on the information kept, there needs to be some sort of standard to ensure that there will be security around whatever information is collected, particularly if there is personal information.
Senator Pratte: You also commented in the House of Commons committee about the statistics on crimes, suicides and so on. You said that the government had overstated and misrepresented statistics to create “a post-2013 firearm crisis” that simply isn’t true.
Yet, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada, in 2017 the firearm homicide rate reached its highest level in 25 years. It’s not a matter of only post-2013. It is the highest level in 25 years. Do you believe that Statistics Canada is misrepresenting statistics?
Mr. DeMille: No, I think it was the way it was communicated. Using 2013 as the benchmark was the concern because it creates the absolute low point in a time series. Comparing to that, everything will be higher and in some cases much higher.
As we said in our testimony, I think the statistics are not as important as what we’re trying to achieve. Whenever you have homicides, suicides, gun violence and domestic violence, those are all too high in Canada. What we are trying to do in these conversations, which doesn’t happen enough, is talk about how we tackle that.
The policies we are talking about with this bill and a lot of other firearms policy is that unfortunately it doesn’t get there. We can’t have those conversations because we talk more about the utility of those individual policies at such a specific level that they are not looking at root causes or at why violence is so high. It doesn’t matter if its gun violence or violence in general. What can we do about that? Let’s tackle that problem.
Senator Pratte: I certainly applaud your initiative of having a discussion or a dialogue. I do not know with which organization that will be, but it is certainly a great initiative. We do need to talk to each other to try to find solutions to these problems.
Thank you very much.
Senator Boisvenu: I want to welcome our witnesses. I’m having some trouble with the government’s position with respect to this bill. On the one hand, we want to reduce crime, but there are cuts to the RCMP. In 2018 the situation was difficult, and 2019 is not looking much better. The RCMP laboratories, which are affected by the cuts, did the firearms assessments when they were taken from the scene of a crime. At the same time, in Yukon and British Columbia, there are close to 2,092 files awaiting a reply from the RCMP in connection with violent and mental health-related incidents. In the Northwest Territories and Alberta, 3,188 files are pending. The government wishes to tighten the rules for honest hunters and other gun owners, but at the same time, cuts are made to the RCMP, which must do quality controls and inspections involving people with mental health issues. I am trying to understand where the government is going with these positions, which seem diametrically opposed. I don’t know what your position is. I’m thinking of gun owners who are inspected by the RCMP. Your members are probably the ones who are affected by undue delays. What is your position in this regard?
Mr. Zuckerman: Thank you very much for the question. That is really an acute, intelligent observation. I have had to go through four five-year background checks since 1995 or 1997 when the bill originally came out. If I have passed four five-year background checks, why are you asking me at 69 years of age to go back to when I was 18 years old and remember all the relationships I have been in, all the jobs I have had, and write down all this information?
I am supposed to remember the names, addresses and phone numbers of some people I was living with 50 years ago. Fine, but how are you going to get someone to check those references? How much money will it cost? You will spend an entire day on me alone checking my background. Is that an efficient use of money?
I really appreciate the question because money could be spent more efficiently. If there are red flags from other background checks in the past or if there have been some court orders, that should show up on the computer system.
Further, the different police organizations do not speak to the RCMP. Here in British Columbia we have the Vancouver, the North Vancouver, the New Westminster and the Abbotsford police departments. All these police forces have separate files. It’s only a phone call that connects them to the central database maintained by the CPIC computers in the RCMP. That needs to be better coordinated.
It’s a matter of wasting money going through background checks and the reclassification of firearms that have not proven to be crime-fighting techniques. That’s what we need.
It’s about the people using guns for criminal purposes. You need to have boots on the ground to do that, not people sitting in an office on the telephone checking pieces of paper and typing things into a computer.
Mr. DeMille: This is something we have been very interested in. Even though we’ve talked about some of the policies being rather benign in their ability to enhance public safety, not many of these policies are benign in what they will require from a capacity perspective.
They need to have good systems to ensure there are not those delays that are being experienced now. Investment in that capacity is required. Whenever there are policy changes, particularly where there is a system, we need to have the capacity. Most of what we have heard from members is that they are very concerned about the delays that could occur.
The Chair: Since there are no further questions, we want to thank Mr. DeMille, Mr. McRae and Mr. Zuckerman very much for participating today. It has been very informative.
For our next panel, we have before us, Bernie Farber, Chair, Canadian Anti-Hate Network. We are working on a video conference connection and we’re hoping that Eleanore Sunchild, Counsel, Sunchild Law, will join us soon.
Mr. Farber, I understand you have some opening comments.
Bernie Farber, Chair, Canadian Anti-Hate Network: Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators, for inviting me to speak here.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network is a non-partisan non-profit that monitors hate groups and provides up-to-date information to media, researchers, law enforcement and community organizations on hate groups and hate crime. Our advisory committee is made up of Canada’s leading experts in hate crime and hate groups, including court-recognized experts, academics, journalists and lawyers.
We support Bill C-71 and measures to strengthen the bill to prevent access to firearms by members of hate groups that espouse racism and violence.
The Prime Minister, Minister Goodale and Minister Freeland have all spoken about the growing threat of far-right extremism and far-right terrorism in Canada which very sadly already has a body count.
In January 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette walked into a mosque in Quebec City and murdered six Muslims at prayer. This was Canada’s first ever terror attack on a place of worship that was motivated by hatred. In April 2018, Alek Minassian killed another 10 with a van in Toronto.
What did they have in common? Both Minassian and Bissonnette, we would find out later, were radicalized online through various social media outlets. Bissonnette was consuming anti-Muslim propaganda, and both were consuming alt-right propaganda which often glorifies mass killings and mass murder.
We know of other individuals like Thomas White of Thunder Bay who has an RPAL, a restricted possession and acquisition licence and restricted firearms. He is the host of Canada’s largest neo-Nazi podcast and has posted:
Basically my kids are the one thing that keeps me from calling for violence 24/7. Otherwise, it’d be massacres on the streets until I met an untimely end.
Law enforcement told us that they were unsuccessful in convincing the Chief Firearms Officer to take away White’s firearms, partly on the basis that they no longer have a registry to demonstrate that he actually owns guns.
Canadians made up over 70 per cent of the traffic on a now defunct openly fascist and neo-Nazi forum called Iron March. The same forum produced Atomwaffen, the neo-Nazi terror group that killed five in the span of eight months in the United States. In Iron March, users told a frustrated 17-year-old from Oak Bay, British Columbia, to get his firearms licence and take a “permanent solution” to his school.
Dr. Barbara Perry, a member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network advisory board and her research colleague, Ryan Scrivens, two of Canada’s top academics into the advent of hate group phenomena, say that we now have over 300 active hate groups in Canada. When I was working at the Canadian Jewish Congress back in the 1990s, the last growth of both anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in Canada was the advent of a group called the Heritage Front. We had about seven active hate groups in Canada then. The growth has been relatively remarkable.
Many of these groups today focus on two groups: Muslims and Jews. Tragically, both these faith groups have become recent targets for mass murder right here in North America.
As I noted earlier, it was a cold January night in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, when Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire at a local mosque where he murdered six Canadian Muslims peacefully praying. Many others were wounded, some seriously, and they carry those scars to this day.
Across the border in the United States, a white supremacist by the name of Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue and murdered 11 American Jews at prayer.
Just recently in Christchurch, New Zealand, with firearms acquisition laws that are, if not even more stringent, similar to ours at least until next week, a radicalized white supremacist acknowledging the murderous work of his terrorist in arms, Alexandre Bissonnette, strolled into the only two mosques in the city and committed one of the largest mass murders of its kind in the 21st century, annihilating 50 men, women, and particularly focusing on children.
Together with other organizations we have shared hundreds of examples of overt racism and death threats on the Yellow Vests Canada page. This would be the same yellow vest groups that showed up on Parliament Hill only a few weeks ago with the United We Roll campaign, groups of anti-semites, Islamophobes and xenophobes. Based on social media pictures we know several of these individuals have guns.
In Alberta and elsewhere, the anti-Muslim Three Percenters militia group is stockpiling weapons, conducting paramilitary training and staking out mosques. The leader of the group has posted on Facebook, “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” In April, a Kansas court found three members of the Three Percenters guilty of plotting to bomb a building full of Somali refugees.
Back here in Canada, the Jewish Defence League, a hard-right anti-Muslim organization that has made common cause with English thugs and racists, such as the English Defence League and Tommy Robinson, have recently offered to provide “firearms training” to anybody who wishes, sending shivers of fear into the Muslim community.
Most disconcertingly of all, let us ask ourselves: Where does someone have easiest access to firearms and training? The startling easy answer is the Canadian military. According to a number of reports over the last year, neo-Nazis have eyed the Canadian military as a means to an end. Indeed, following a series on right-wing extremism in the Toronto Star, Canadian military authorities have admitted that neo-Nazis are indeed in uniform.
Amazingly, even following a media expose uncovering the fact that a Canadian reservist was a member of the right-wing terrorist group of Atomwaffen that I mentioned earlier, there remains to the best of our knowledge no specific plan to address the entry of neo-Nazi terrorists into the Canadian Armed Forces where they will be finely trained on firearms and explosives.
Honourable committee members, as I mentioned earlier, many of you will know that I spent over three decades working for the Canadian Jewish Congress, the last six years as its chief executive officer. I went to bed every night with a nightmare scenario that one day a violent neo-Nazi or white supremacist will walk into a synagogue and murder innocents. Alas, this is no longer a nightmare. In this early part of the 21st century it has become a living and deadly reality. Silence, inertia and inaction are no longer options.
At CAN, we recommend that Bill C-71 be amended to add criteria to prevent individuals from receiving firearms licences if they associate with extremist hate groups and therefore pose a serious risk to themselves and to others.
Further, we support measures which make it possible, in the interest of public safety, for the Chief Firearms Officer to take weapons out of the hands of individuals espousing overt racism and support for violence. We urge, in the strongest possible terms, to provide this fence of protection for all Canadians and to do so in haste and with purpose.
Thank you for your time. I’ll take any questions that I can answer.
The Chair: We have Eleanore Sunchild, Counsel, Sunchild Law has joined us via video conference.
Eleanore Sunchild, Counsel, Sunchild Law, as an individual: Thank you for the opportunity to present to this standing committee. I am a lawyer in Battleford, Saskatchewan. I own and operate Sunchild Law.
I come here as a member of the Treaty 6 territory and as an Indigenous mother who watched the events unfold in our province after the killing of Colten Boushie. I currently represent the Boushie family, whose son was shot —
The Chair: Ms. Sunchild, I am terribly sorry to interrupt you. The translators can’t hear you and therefore can’t translate.
Could we ask you to halt for now? We’ll try to see if we can work it out. In the meantime, we’ll take questions from Mr. Farber.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Farber, you’ve often mentioned the case of Mr. Alexandre Bissonnette. I’m well aware of the matter, since I’m from Quebec. Incidentally, Mr. Bissonnette committed his crimes with registered firearms.
There is a gun registry in Quebec, although no more than 25 per cent of young people register.
Other terrorist attacks have taken place, in Nice notably, on the Promenade des Anglais, and in Toronto, on Yonge Street. Recently, a priest was stabbed in Montreal at Saint Joseph’s Oratory.
That said, what provisions in Bill C-71 would have changed the course of events with regard to the mosque attack in Quebec — had Bill C-71 been in place — and what more could police have done, or done better, had that law been in effect?
Mr. Farber: Thank you for the important question, senator. From my point of view and from the point of view of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, we want to make it as difficult as possible for those who are involved in promoting hatred to have access to firearms. Anything that puts those kinds of blockages in their way would be more than helpful.
Yes, he had legally obtained firearms. You’re absolutely correct. But if our provisions were to be made into law, the police might be able to determine, in advance, if he had been involved in promoting hatred, given Mr. Bissonnette’s history online. It is interesting to bear in mind what we have found with Mr. Bissonnette, Robert Bowers in the United States, and Alek Minassian who didn’t use a gun but a truck to murder people. All of them were connected through social media and they left a footprint.
Perhaps you could find this footprint and determine that these people were involved in hateful activities by gathering information that could lead to hateful activity. Then, if they applied for a licence for a gun, potentially and possibly something could have been done.
For the future, what scares me more than anything else is that my experience tells me that once something happens as terrible as what we have seen in Sainte-Foy and as awful and horrible as we saw in Christchurch, New Zealand, it will happen again. I am not saying it may happen again; I am saying it will happen again.
If we can put obstacles in the way of those who hate, those who have been very obvious about their hatred because they’ve left this footprint online, we might be able to do something to stop it. We may not. We don’t live in a perfect world. You can’t create a thousand laws to protect society, but we can do as best we can to protect by at least having tools for police officers and authorities to use prior to crimes being actually committed.
Senator Dagenais: You raised the possibility that police could do preventive arrests — and I’m happy to hear you say that, because that will be the objective of Bill C-59: Purpose will be to reduce police powers with respect to preventive arrests. We will have to invite you to come back and testify when we study that bill.
Let’s get back to our topic. You gave some good examples in connection with radicalization. Should the fight against radicalization not be done using education rather than Bill C-71? When there are incidents followed by an arrest, we often realize that the issue was not related to the registration of a firearm, but was located in the head of the individual. It isn’t the firearm that is dangerous, but the person who has it in his hands.
Mr. Farber: Frankly, I think it’s both. I don’t think you can have either one or the other. It’s necessary to have both. Sadly, we’ve failed on both attempts. We have not done very well in terms of educating society in relation to radicalization. Police do not have the tools they need.
Our intelligence community, actually at one point, had a desk that was specifically focused on right-wing terrorism. They dropped it in the mid-2000s. It has only been in the last year where they have acknowledged they have not kept up to date on right-wing terrorism and have now restarted their intelligence work.
We’ll get to schools in a moment, but as far as police are concerned, after the days of the Heritage Front when neo-Nazism had risen to a point where even CSIS felt they had to do something, they put a mole into the organization, as you may recall, that ended up basically blowing it apart. We had a real lull for many years. I think that’s why, by the way, CSIS decided to pull back.
At that time we had what was known as anti-hate units in various the urban police forces right across Canada. They had them in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary. These were specially trained police officers whose sole job it was to investigate areas of hate groups, hate crime and white supremacy. That has now gone.
Police may say to you that they have anti-hate units when in fact they have intelligence units where they’ve appointed one or two officers to investigate hate crimes when and if they exist; but no prior work is done whatsoever.
We have a very dangerous boiling situation. We have poor intelligence. We have police officers who are not well trained in understanding the sophistication and the complexity of hate crime. Police are very good. If somebody robs a bank, they are a bad guy. They go after them and bang, they are arrested. It’s different when we are dealing with hate crimes because we’re dealing with subjective matters that take a lot of training and understanding. We have none of that now. All of that is gone.
On top of that, we clearly have not done our job within the education system. How is it that our young people have been turning today in such large numbers to groups like the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and Sons of Odin. The numbers we are seeing today far outmatch the numbers that we saw 20 and 30 years ago. We’ve erred within our education system, within our criminal justice system and within our intelligence situation.
I know not a lot of people share my view. I understand the popularity of hunting and fishing. I’ve never hunted, but I am a great fisherman. I get it. At the same time, given my history not just as a human rights advocate but as a child of Holocaust survivors where guns were used before gas chambers to murder hundreds of thousands of my people, I come with an agenda. I am the first to tell you that I am not a great gun enthusiast.
We need to find a balance. For me, the balance is finding proper legislation that ensures a fence of protection against those who will take up guns legally and illegally. I understand there’s a huge issue with illegal guns out there as well. The idea is to put enough roadblocks in the way to make it difficult, to make them stumble, to make them fall. We’ll never ensure that everybody will be completely safe. I could walk out here at the end of the day and get hit by a bus. However, we can ensure to the best of our ability that there are regulations in place that make it difficult for the bad guys to do bad things. I keep it as straight and simple as that.
Senator Dagenais: My conclusion is that we have to give police officers more tools to constrain the extremists.
Mr. Farber: I would agree with that.
Senator Plett: I really don’t know where to begin. Mr. Farber, I think the end goal that everybody around this table has is exactly the same thing. We are just far apart on how to achieve that end goal. There isn’t a person that is opposed to Bill C-71 in this Senate, or indeed in most places in Canada, that would promote hatred. The fact that we are opposed to this is because this targets innocent people, not hateful people.
You are suggesting that we penalize all law-abiding citizens by the hundreds of thousands because we have hate-filled people and hate groups in Canada. We do. We will never do away with that.
You suggested at the end of your comments that you were a child of Holocaust survivors, an horrific incident. The fact of the matter is that one of the first things Hitler did when he came into power was that he registered guns, which is what you’re now proposing. We’re going in the wrong direction. We’re saying we want to do this but yet we’re doing this.
I want to correct one thing. I have a question at the end of my rant here. I apologize. I am not the witness; you are. You alluded to the yellow vests here in Ottawa. I was okay with that until you put them together with the truckers United We Roll. You implied. You didn’t say it but I got the implication that somehow they were connected. Then you said and some of them have guns.
I am sure a lot of them have guns. A lot of them were from Western Canada. They were hunters. To imply that they are hate-filled people because they came here protesting a horrible piece of legislation, Bill C-69, one of the most horrific pieces of legislation that any government has ever brought in, or to connect these people in any way with hate because they are here working for their livelihood, is quite frankly offensive.
We have vans killing people. We have guns killing people. We have knives killing people. You said it. The largest terrorist killing in the history of North America was 3,000 people when the twin towers got hit by airplanes. We have airplanes killing people. We are not doing away with all of those things. The gang bosses in New Zealand say they are not giving up their guns. They will have guns. All the innocent people won’t, but the gangs will still have their guns.
Mr. Farber, what your organization is proposing with respect to Bill C-71 is indeed quite radical. If I have understood you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that if someone associates with hate groups or espouses hate, they should be subject to legal sanctions before they are even found guilty in a court of law. Let’s sanction them right now because we think, “You are a hateful person. You have the wrong haircut and that looks to us like you’re a violent person.” Am I understanding that correctly?
Considering that vehicles have also been used in hate crimes, would you also recommend that those who are suspected of possibly committing crimes due to their views should also lose their driver’s licence? We don’t even take their driver’s licence away from them when they murder people. We put them in jail, but we don’t take their driver’s licence away from them.
If so, have you considered the constitutional impact on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Mr. Farber: You started off your question to me saying, “I . . . don’t know where to begin.” I guess I don’t know where to end. I’ll get to your question, which is an important one, but I do want to make a couple of clarifications.
We are not targeting innocent people. We are looking at those who commit crimes. When we talk about hate, there are legal definitions of hate. There are certainly implications that police use not to give people firearms before they ever go to a court. We know that there are such groups here in Canada. I’ve already stated the kinds of groups we are looking at. We know there have been people who have made comments and have gone very public on social media claiming that “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” I can go on with examples and I am prepared to present them to you, senator, at any time.
I’ve said at the beginning. I’ll say at the end and I’ll keep on saying this. The fact of the matter is that I would rather, if possible, put whatever blockages we can against those who would take a human life. To me, the taking of a human life is the most disgusting thing that anybody can do. Perhaps it means that we have to impose certain restrictions based on the fact that certain individuals out there are hateful, according to their very own words, and would be willing to go out there and commit acts of hate that may include violence. I think we have to take a look at that and give some very serious consideration to that because it could be your grandchild. It could be my grandchild. It could be anyone’s son or daughter.
Today, going into a house of worship is almost akin to taking your life into your hands if you happen to be a Muslim or a Jew. How can that be so in Canada or the United States? How is that possible?
We are trying to do is find a balance. I am not saying we tilt completely one way or completely the other way, but we should find a balance to make things as difficult as possible for those with hate in their hearts, as defined by law. We have definitions of hatred. Chief Justice Brian Dickson has made an excellent description of what hate is according to Canadian law, and I am happy to provide that to you. The bottom line is that we are just trying to find that balance.
I do want to respond in terms of the yellow vest comment that I made. There is no question many of those that came with the United We Roll convoy, possibly the majority, were here with legitimate purposes in their hearts in terms of advocating for what they believed in. We know, because we had people on the Hill, we saw it with our own eyes and we heard it, that there were those who were attached to the United We Roll convoy who were members and associates of the yellow vest movement. We know that the yellow vest movement has engaged in some of the most despicable, hateful screeds that we have ever seen in this country. It happened over and over again in the few days that they were on the Hill.
I am not saying they were all yellow vesters. I didn’t say that. I resent that you put those words in my mouth, with all due respect, because I know exactly what I said.
Senator Plett: I will check Hansard.
Mr. Farber: Please do, please do. If I did, I apologize, but my recollection is not that. There were many yellow vesters there, without question. It was reported by various newspapers. We had people on the Hill who saw it and reported it themselves.
I hope that gives you some indication. You and I will not agree in the long run as to what is needed in relation to guns. It’s the position we have taken. It’s the position our association has taken. In the end, we may just have to agree to disagree, but we feel very strongly about it.
Senator Plett: Both in your answer to me now and in your opening remarks, you alluded to social media. I agree with you on that. We agree on many issues. Social media can be a powerful tool for good, but it can also be a devastating tool for bad. It’s the social media that’s doing that, not the guns. People that want to kill people will find a way of killing people, whether it is a van, whether it is an airplane, whether it is a gun or whether whatever it is.
I agree in part with the witnesses earlier today that talked about suicides and impulse shootings. They may be right, but someone who wants to go and massacre people isn’t going to go to Mr. Faulkner’s store and say, “Could you sell me a gun so I can go and massacre people?” They will find machine guns. They will find whatever. They will go and massacre people. We are targeting the wrong people.
Anyway, you’re right. We probably won’t agree. I will check Hansard because I am still of that mindset. When you draw a criminal organization, if you want to call yellow vests that —
Mr. Farber: I didn’t.
Senator Plett: Fair enough, you didn’t say criminal organization. You alluded that they were bad people. Then we need to get rid of every bank that has a yellow vest person working in the bank. Come on, we don’t do that either. You implied the United We Roll. That’s what I took the offence, not the yellow vests. The United We Roll people were not possibly the majority of them good people. They were good people and they are good people, fighting for their lives.
Senator Pratte: One aspect of the disagreement between Senator Plett and me is the impression that this bill will penalize hundreds of thousands of legitimate gun owners. I disagree. I think the overwhelming majority of law-abiding good citizens, gun owners, will see very little, if any, from this bill on their lives.
Mr. Farber, you mentioned that you would like an amendment to the bill so that someone associated in some way with a hate group cannot get legal access to a gun. As you know, there were some changes made to the bill in the House of Commons. One of the changes was that they added a couple of criteria for persons who want to get a licence. One is the very wide criteria that say for any reason this person poses a risk of harm to any person.
I am wondering whether this wording does not in a way reach the objective you want to reach. Obviously, if someone puts up a website that is hateful toward specific groups of people, it could well be said that they pose a risk of harm to someone.
Mr. Farber: I agree. Thank you also for your words at the beginning in terms of the hundreds of thousands of gun owners in Canada who are basically decent, peaceful folk. They are not haters, and they are not going to be penalized.
The problem I have with general points in a bill is that they are general. Sometimes, when it comes to law enforcement, you really have to point out things. It’s clear that we have been having problems over the last number of years even getting police to investigate hate crimes.
I’ll give you an example. In Toronto, there was a newspaper by the name of Your Ward News. It was awful. I mean it was filled with neo-Nazi imagery. It had hundreds of complaints from people receiving it in various parts of Toronto. It was misogynistic. It counselled murder. It was a piece of junk.
We reported it. As a matter of fact, the first time it ever got reported, I was still working for the Canadian Jewish Congress. We are talking around 2010, but the actual investigation of Your Ward News came in 2012. It took fully six years for charges to be laid and for that to get to court. That only happened because a number of citizens stood up and, as my father used to say, they opened their mouths.
My only concern is if that general piece can be used by the police and the police understand that hate could be very much part of that general peace, I would say, “Let’s go for it.” Sometimes, though, you need to spell things out.
Senator Pratte: I would like to go back to an argument made by both Senator Plett and Senator Dagenais about the fact that some of the mass killings we saw recently were committed not with a gun but with airplanes or whatever.
How do you respond to this argument? This is something we hear not only for mass murders but for suicides when people say, “If they don’t have access to a gun, they’ll find something else.”
Mr. Farber: As I said at the beginning of my talk, we are not going to create a perfect society with legislation. We can’t legislate everything out of existence.
In Toronto, there were a number of suicides. A number of people took their own lives by jumping off a huge bridge over the Don Valley Parkway. What did they do? They put fencing over it so that you couldn’t gain access to jump over. I would say, and those who are experts in societal behaviour did say it, that probably many lives were saved because it made people think a second time.
With the new advent of terrorism today of using whatever you can get your hands on, it makes life difficult and it makes life dangerous. I was literally in Toronto during one the terrorist attacks with a van. Had I been there two minutes earlier, I would have been part of that carnage. I get it.
I have been in Israel on a number of occasions when suicidal bombs went off there. “But for the grace of God go I.” You cannot fix everything, but you can fix some things. You can make it difficult. The only thing I am trying to get across in the long run is not to hurt and not to penalize peaceful citizens. Those are not the people we are concerned about. I am concerned about Alexandre Bissonnette.
You’re right, Senator Plett, that he did go online and got radicalized online. By the way, there are efforts in this country now to deal with online hatred and online radicalization. The Justice Committee will be looking into development of new laws and potentially bringing back section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that deals specifically with Internet hatred. It is another block that we could put in front of terrorists.
The bottom line is: Let’s make it as difficult as possible. Had Alexandre Bissonnette not had a gun or did not have easy access to a gun, maybe, just maybe, he would have thought twice. Even that maybe is enough of a hindrance that we could have offered as a means by which to save one life or two lives. To me, it’s worth it.
Senator Boisvenu: Thank you, Mr. Farber. You probably know that in the case of the Sainte-Foy massacre, the real cause was the fact that the permit applicant had made a false declaration to the police who did not check the killer’s psychiatric history. In what way will this law — whereby background checks will be done on the person’s entire life rather than five years — prevent people from lying to police? How will it prevent legal firearm owners from developing psychiatric issues somewhere down the road? How will this bill make police work more effective, when we know that in British Columbia and Alberta, close to 5,000 files are still pending, until answers arrive from police?
One psychiatrist told us that the police cannot obtain real time information. Do you not think that in order to avoid suicides, the solution would be that the police services that authorize gun licences have direct access to medical files? Then they would be able to check immediately whether an individual has something in his background, rather than having to go through the bureaucratic machine, which can take from three to four years? Would that not be preferable, rather than having a bill that will change nothing, that will introduce lifelong or five-year background checks, which will not prevent people from cheating or developing mental illnesses and becoming dangerous? If the police had access to medical files in real time, if there were no bureaucratic obstacles between the medical world and the police world, don’t you think that we could save lives?
Mr. Farber: Yes, I agree.
Senator Boisvenu: The solution must not come from the federal government, but rather from the provinces, who manage these patients who have psychiatric problems. They are not treated and they often continue to own guns because their backgrounds are not checked. They wind up committing crimes. Don’t you think that the real solution lies with the provinces and not with the federal government?
Mr. Farber: Thank you, senator. I suppose this goes back to what I have been saying from the very beginning. We need to do all we can, and that means having all the authorities working in concert with each other. I happen to agree with you. People who have —
Senator Boisvenu: Tell me how the bill will better control people with a psychiatric history, or those who develop psychiatric issues? Tell me how this bill will be preferable to the current five-year measure, where cases are missed right, left and centre?
Mr. Farber: I can’t tell you that because I am not here to testify about that. I am here to testify about what I know about, and that’s dealing with hate.
You did ask an important question. Had, for example, the police been investigating Mr. Bissonnette when he applied for his licence for a gun and had they gone online, it wouldn’t have been terribly difficult to find his footprint on social media in terms of the websites he was going on, what he was listening to and what he was hearing. I would imagine, had they seen that, a simple interview afterward might have led the firearms officers to question whether or not this man should have been given a licence.
By the way, I would say exactly the same about those with mental illnesses and those with criminal records. I want to make it as difficult as possible for those who are prone to violence to have access to guns on a general level. We know that it will happen more and more. That’s what our organization is about. If you haven’t already, I am sure you will be hearing from many different organizations, some pro-gun and some anti-gun. They will have all kinds of answers.
I am focused on the violent haters out there. I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to access guns. In my view it won’t stop everything, but it may stop some. To me, that is better than nothing at all.
Senator McIntyre: Mr. Farber, I understand that the mandate of your network is to provide information and education on hate groups to the public, the media, researchers, courts, law enforcement and community groups.
Over the years, how successful has your network been in providing this information?
Mr. Farber: Thank you very much for that question. I did not pay him to ask that question, but it is a very good one.
We are coming into our first year of existence next week. We began a year ago last May. We work on a very tight and limited budget. We are non-profit. People make donations to us, so we count on folks being generous and giving of their time. Our advisory group is made up of those individuals. We have three or four that work for us at very limited fees. I chair as a pro bono piece of what I do.
How effective have we been? Since we began last year, we have worked with four different school boards. We have worked with teachers and students in presenting workshops on terrorism, hatred and how young people get involved in hate groups. We’ve probably done this in 15 schools in Ontario. We have just recently applied for a public security grant to extend the work that we do right across Canada. We are cautiously hopeful that we will be able to access that. We need 10 Canadian anti-hate networks to be as effective as we would like to be.
We’ve been training police officers at the York Regional Police and at the Toronto Police Service. We’ve worked with the York Region District School Board, Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board. I don’t have to tell you it is a drop in the ocean. Those who have taken our courses and our workshops have been very grateful. They’ve learned a lot.
We have our first public workshop coming up in Newmarket on April 8, where parents are actually invited to come and hear what we teach teachers. It’s already booked completely. We can’t get anymore people into the gym.
There’s a lot of work to do here, and we’re scratching the surface.
Senator Plett: I will ask one short question, and it won’t be argumentative.
Mr. Farber: It’s okay if it’s argumentative. We can agree to disagree.
Senator Plett: You alluded to Senator McIntyre about your non-profit organization. Do you take only personal donations, or are there any organizations or corporations that give you money?
Mr. Farber: We take any money that people are willing to give us. We have taken personal donations such as from the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods in Toronto. Perhaps you’ve been to the Paramount Middle Eastern Kitchen in Toronto. Mohamed Fakih gave us a corporate donation of $25,000, which kept us going. The Slaight family and the Dan family in Toronto have given us large donations. People are stepping up to the plate.
This might be something you and I do agree on, senator. We’re non-profit but we are the private sector. We pretty well have the greatest expertise on this issue that can be gathered in one place. It behooves government to work with the private sector to make these kinds of projects a reality.
Senator Plett: Do you have charitable status?
Mr. Farber: No, we don’t because we do advocacy. It would be difficult for an advocacy organization to get charitable status.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Farber, for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time to come here.
Senators, for your information, we were unable to get Ms. Sunchild by video, so we will try to make some other arrangements.
Senators, for our fifth panel today we have joining us by video conference, from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief Adam Palmer, President, and Chief Evan Bray, Co-chair, Special Purpose Committee on Firearms, and from the Government of British Columbia, Wayne Rideout, Deputy Director, Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Services.
They all join us by video conference and their names are at the end of the table in the order in which you see them on the screen.
We will begin with Chief Palmer.
Chief Adam Palmer, President, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: I would like to express our appreciation for your having us appear in front of you today.
I am the Chief of the Vancouver Police Department. I am joined today by Regina Police Chief Evan Bray, who is co-chairing the CACP Special Purpose Committee on Firearms. This group has been tasked by the CACP board of directors to study the growing concerns related to gun violence in Canada and the broader Canadian situation from a public safety perspective.
Realizing that our time is limited, allow me to speak to the broader issue of gun violence and the bill before this committee. I will then ask Chief Bray to briefly discuss the work of our committee.
This is a polarizing debate and can be a divisive and emotionally charged debate on all sides of the issue. Some law-abiding firearm owners are of the view that they are being criminalized for owning a gun. Some of these are hunters, sports shooters and collectors, who represent a love of the outdoors, the sport and the history.
Our past CACP president, Mario Harel, made the following statement to the house committee on Bill C-71:
I can’t speak to the extremes within this debate where ultimately more guns and more firepower are somehow acceptable while to others the only solution is to prohibit all firearms.
I can only speak to what I believe is a far majority of citizens, who are law-abiding and who balance their individual privileges with the broader right of society.
They understand and support regulations which, as best as possible, place a priority on public safety and the protection of the most vulnerable among us.
To be clear, we place a priority on public safety. We place a priority on victimization. We will always speak from that voice.
Gun violence in Canada has undergone ebbs and flows for which there is currently a growing and understandable concern. I join in all that are calling for better data.
However, it is clear that there is a spike in gun violence as we can see in a number of communities across Canada. We need to find ways of reducing gun violence in our communities using the best evidence-based practices. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. The disturbing trend in gun violence is largely related to gangs, both lower level street gangs and more sophisticated organized crime groups. To stop it requires a whole of society approach that starts with education and prevention early on to ensure that we address root causes which lead people to the gang lifestyle in the first place.
It is also about exiting strategies for people in those lifestyles and leading them toward a healthier path in life. In addition, it is about enforcement and ensuring that we are going after the criminal elements perpetrating violence in our communities.
We currently have a strict and responsible form of gun ownership laws in Canada, including registration of restricted and prohibited weapons which includes all handguns. We also have strong education requirements for firearm owners. Background checks are also in place, although we believe they could be strengthened and further checks done to help ensure responsible gun ownership.
The current regime is actually very good. However, there is room to enhance and improve the current system. We need to ensure that those with histories of criminal records, domestic violence, mental health issues, et cetera, do not have access to firearms.
The issue is not law-abiding Canadians who want to own firearms. The issue is people who are involved in criminality obtaining firearms through illegal means, such as cross-border trafficking, theft from legal gun owners in Canada and straw purchases.
To be clear, the CACP is not calling for a long-gun registry for rifles and shotguns. We want to ensure that we have proper investigative techniques in place and appropriate consequences for those who commit acts of violence.
We also want to better understand where these guns are coming from. We all agree that we need better data on which we are currently working to improve. We cannot rely on anecdotal stories to make decisions.
We support Bill C-71 from the perspective that it corrects some of the concerns that have been expressed in our current regulated environment. It is by no means a panacea to stop gun violence. We support it as part of an overall strategy to help prevent victimization by way of a firearm and to correct from a public safety perspective some of the weaknesses in our current firearm regulations.
We need protections to help mitigate the impact of the worst outcomes of firearms, even if those protections place requirements on law-abiding firearm owners. Therefore, we agree there should be corrections relating to who is eligible to hold a firearms licence so that an applicant’s full record as it relates to violence and criminal behaviour can be taken into account.
We would also support calls for physicians to be required to advise authorities if in their opinion they felt that a person should not be in possession of a firearm for the safety of that person or the public. This is much like the concept of revoking a driver’s licence for health concerns.
When a non-restricted firearm is transferred, the buyer must produce his or her licence and the vendor must verify its validity. That requirement is critical in our view. We support the need for record keeping by vendors. Most reputable businesses are already doing this for their own purposes. Since the end of the long-gun registry, the police have been effectively blind to the number of transactions by any licensed individual relating to non-restricted firearms.
It’s important to note that judicial authorization must be used to obtain information about the buyer from the vendor. The CACP submits that the standard to obtain such a production order must be amended from reasonable grounds to reason to suspect. The absence of such records effectively stymies the ability of police to track a non-restricted firearm that has been used in a crime. The tracing of a gun can assist in identifying the suspect in a crime and criminal sourcing such as trafficking networks.
In the United States, it is interesting to note that they federally mandate each store to track and keep records of gun sales. We support restrictions with regard to the transportation of prohibited and restricted firearms. It is our view that the prior change that allowed authority to transport was too broad and allowed too much latitude for abuse. In practical terms, it allowed the licence holder to carry a firearm at times beyond the proper purpose and intent.
We support elected officials determining firearms classes. However, we must rely on the professional expertise provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to classify firearms and do so without political interference or influence. Their impartiality lies in public safety, which as I stated earlier must be given priority.
The CACP also welcomes clarification of section 115 of the Criminal Code relating to automatic forfeiture. This clarifies that court orders to take firearms out of the hands of criminals and unsafe persons include any of the firearms already held by law enforcement.
On the greater issue of gun violence and what the CACP is doing, I would ask Chief Evan Bray to say a few words.
Chief Evan Bray, Co-chair, Special Purpose Committee on Firearms, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Many of you are aware of the British Columbia Illegal Firearms Task Force that issued its final report to the B.C. government on September 30, 2017. Included in this report were a number of recommendations, including asks of the Canadian Associations of Chiefs of Police.
As such, and given the growing concerns related to gun violence in Canada, the CACP has created a special purpose committee on firearms. This group is made up largely of policing expertise, guns and gangs, investigative firearms tracing statistics, firearm officers, academics, et cetera, with national geographic representation. The group is co-chaired by Deputy Chief Bill Fordy of the Niagara Regional Police Service and me.
In a nutshell, the intention of this special purpose committee is to use the B.C. report as a basis to look at the wider array of firearm-related issues including handguns. The CACP wants to understand the broader Canadian situation before landing on a particular policy position to be presented to our board of directors.
To sum this up, our goal is not to rush but focus our efforts under the following four key themes: strategic approaches, legislative initiatives, education and prevention, and data collection and information sharing.
Mr. Palmer: I realize time has run out, so let me finish by saying we respect the debate that is occurring and understand the various positions on this issue. It is not our goal to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of criminals. Our goal is simply to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians. Thank you.
Wayne Rideout, Deputy Director, Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service, Government of British Columbia: Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this important body of work. British Columbia continues to experience troubling and highly dangerous incidents of firearms violence that have resulted in deaths and injuries. Highly public and brazen acts, often linked to the illegal drug trade, organized crime and gangs, place innocent members of the public at risk. They create fear, hardship and tragedy for the individuals and communities affected, and they impose substantial burdens on public resources.
In response, the Government of B.C. announced in April 2016 several initiatives as part of an enhancement to the B.C. guns and gangs strategy. Funding and other initiatives were provided to bolster public safety in communities that have experienced spikes in violent gang activity. The Government of B.C. also convened an Illegal Firearms Task Force to make recommendations for action to the B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
Many of the recommendations are based on an understanding of the way in which illegal firearms are central to organized crime groups, gangs and criminals. The unique circumstances of organized crime in B.C. confirmed the need to rely on strategies specific to B.C.’s problem. The task force built on existing programs and strategies, identified the risks and attempted to develop pragmatic solutions to the nexus between illegal firearms and organized crime and gang activity in the province.
The Illegal Firearms Task Force report was provided to the government in the fall of 2017. Since that time the ministry and key stakeholders have been implementing a number of these recommendations that are within provincial control.
We have and continue to work with Public Safety Canada on the recommendations within federal jurisdictions. Many Illegal Firearms Task Force recommendations will require changes to federal policy, legislation and strategy.
The final report of the Illegal Firearms Task Force contained 37 recommendations that represent the need for a multi-faceted approach to the problem of illegal firearm possession, trafficking and use in British Columbia. The recommendations, as you’ve heard, fall into four overarching themes: strategic approaches, legislative initiatives, education and prevention, and data collection and information sharing.
Several of the recommendations that were made by the task force have strong links to the provisions of Bill C-71, and we are supportive of the bill.
I would like to speak to straw purchasing and firearms tracing. Forensic examination, certification and tracing recovered illegal firearms are fundamental to any illegal firearms strategy. All seized and recovered firearms should be traced to build intelligence and uncover evidence. Firearms tracing provides potential evidence on the sources of specific crime guns. It also develops strategic and tactical intelligence. Strategic intelligence provides understanding of the sources of illegal firearms and other vulnerabilities, as well as patterns related to the type and make related to smuggling and trafficking.
Domestically sourced firearms may be stolen in residential and commercial break and enters or illegally acquired by straw purchasers and diverted to illegal use. These illegal diversions or trafficking occur in registered, prohibited and restrictive weapons, as well as with the largely unregulated long guns that can be purchased with only a PAL.
Point of sale record keeping requiring sellers of firearms to record the name and licence of the buyer and information about the product sold would help trace guns and deter illegal trafficking. Points of sale record keeping would help link straw purchasers and illegal firearms traffickers to crime guns. It would disrupt and deter illegal transfers to straw purchasers by increasing the risk of detection. It will also create deterrence.
Having those records would close intelligence gaps and assist investigators by creating opportunities to trace firearms, identify traffickers and focus strategic intelligence. This effort, particularly when completed in a timely fashion, significantly strengthens ongoing investigations and greatly assists in province-wide intelligence gathering and analysis to identify firearms traffickers.
A national requirement for firearms sellers to keep record sales would provide uniform and effective standards across Canada. The recommendations in our report included the same requirements being made for gun shows and private sales.
With respect to background checks, intelligence and the coordination of information are highly critical of the mitigation of damage done by illegal firearms. Chief Firearms Officers rely primarily on information from police and the courts when applying eligibility provisions. Self-disclosure and non-solicited reports from family members, friends and colleagues may also bring relevant information to light.
The constantly evolving methods of organized crime and the ability of criminals to exploit vulnerabilities within firearms regulations require open and effective links between regulation and enforcement. Combining law enforcement intelligence and data with the expertise of firearms regulators will create the most effective approach to reducing illegal firearms violence in B.C. and throughout Canada.
Some members of organized crime groups and their associates are known to possess PALs or possession and acquisition licences. Access to PAL allows them to procure firearms and ammunition without having to resort to external sources. Often these individuals do not have criminal records but are used to obtain firearms by those who do. They can be identified by queries and analyses of the police record management systems in the control of police agencies across the country.
Enabling key stakeholders like Chief Firearms Officers and, by way of further example, the Canada Border Services Agency to access regional and national police databases will have a positive and far-reaching effect for provincial and territorial jurisdiction that shares a land border with the United States.
The danger of failing to implement broader access to data across all provincial and territorial jurisdictions is that criminals will simply divert their cross-border entry points or jurisdictions to avoid detection.
One area of concern to the Illegal Firearms Task Force was the lack of access by the Canada Border Services Agency to police records management systems. It effectively constrains CBSA access to highly necessary tools containing information on persons under active police investigation who are known associates or proxies for organized crime but do not have criminal records. Therefore they do not appear in the other databases to which CBSA has access, including CPIC or the Canadian Police Information Centre. This gap fails to capture valuable criminal intelligence gathered by CBSA which could contribute to Police RMS.
Limiting information sharing results in an incomplete picture for both enforcement and regulators. Information held by both the Canadian Firearms Program and law enforcement can be critical to harm reduction, investigating illegal firearms trafficking and the supply of illegal firearms to violent criminals. The Canadian Firearms Program needs greater access and ability to rely on records, including access to Police RMS, or Record Management System, to meet its regulatory mandate. Police need access to regulatory information to identify those persons with criminal intent related to the possession, trafficking and use of illegal firearms.
Effective information sharing between the Canadian Firearms Program and law enforcement can identify individuals who represent a risk to public safety and limit their access to firearms.
The Chair: Mr. Rideout, perhaps I could ask you to wrap up in two more minutes.
Mr. Rideout: I’ll only need one more minute, please.
The overall priorities for the Province of British Columbia and the Illegal Firearms Task Force is a synergistic, multi-faceted approach that builds resilience in youth to the allure of gangs, crimes and firearms violence through prevention and education strategies. It will be our best investment to effect generational change.
While we work to build resilience we must enhance and align disruption and enforcement strategies through the prioritization of efforts against legal firearms, gangs and organized crime. The alignment must come through leveraging all levels of law enforcement and enhancing operations with key source countries. It must require a single owner with key deliverables at the national level and clear performance metrics that are independently designed and validated.
We must dramatically improve data collection and reduce barriers to key data and information sharing and intelligence. Given the tragic consequences that result from illegal firearms possession, trafficking and use, we must take steps to reduce privacy paralysis. The best investment of resources is in early awareness and threat mitigation of developing firearms violence.
The Chair: Thank you. We will now turn to questions.
Senator Dagenais: I want to thank our guests. I’m happy to see Mr. Palmer and Mr. Bray again. Mr. Bray and I were members of the Canadian Police Association several years ago.
I am going to put my question to Mr. Palmer. Would you have liked to see the Liberal government go further? Let me explain what I mean: We see that Bill C-71 does not correct the court decision that cancels the provisions of a previous law which imposed a minimum sentence on anyone who committed a crime with a loaded weapon. Do you think the Liberal government should have gone further with Bill C-71?
Mr. Palmer: My comments would be that we support Bill C-71. It is an important enhancement to the firearms laws of Canada, but we also see things that could be improved further.
The things we have discussed that could fall into that category are more restrictions on certain specialized military weapons like certain rifles; potentially tightening up storage requirements for residential and commercial premises; anything that goes toward the identification of unusual or large transactions; a buyer or seller that continuously engages in numerous transactions needs to be flagged; the requirement for medical professionals to notify authorities when people come under their watch who are potentially a danger to themselves or others; and the call for more data.
We think those things could be strengthened in this bill.
Senator Dagenais: My second question is for Mr. Bray. Bill C-71 will introduce background checks of more than five years for gun licence applicants. Police officers are certainly the ones who will have to perform these checks. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the additional workload this is going to generate. How will the police be able to process these requests and will there not be major delays?
Mr. Bray: Thanks for that question. I think it will depend somewhat upon the location, availability and ability to work with the national firearms group. The ability to work with the Canadian Firearms Program will be essential, as well. Ultimately, we would look at legislative change that might increase the workload but steps in the direction of community safety and a lot of things Chief Palmer talked about.
We support Bill C-71. We think it is a positive step in the right direction. Yes, there will be a bit of added work, but those are steps in the right direction and something that we are willing to dig into.
Senator Dagenais: My next question is for the two police officers. In my opinion, Bill C-71 is for persons who have a licence and are honest hunters. However, regarding street gang issues, we all know that when street gangs use a firearm, it is often a firearm that is not registered, from which the serial number has been erased, and it often comes from the contraband market. Bill C-71 will not necessarily solve the problem we face with street gangs that use unregistered hand guns.
Mr. Palmer: I will jump in with a couple of comments.
I agree Bill C-71 will not be the final solution to solve of all problems of firearms issues in Canada. I definitely agree with you on that.
It is an enhancement of a strong firearms regime that we already have in Canada. The chiefs of police in Canada are in favour of tightening up existing rules and other things such as education and prevention, dealing with cross-border issues and dealing with broader gang and organized crime issues you refer to. They may take different approaches, but we are also in favour of anything that enhances current laws and lessens the chance of legal firearms in Canada coming into the hands of people who should not possess them.
Senator Dagenais: Did you have something to add, Mr. Bray?
Mr. Bray: I’ll complement Chief Palmer on what he said. Any time we can enhance the connection and nexus between regulation and enforcement, it is important. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. With respect, senator, I know your policing career. You know that is true. You look at big issues and at complex issues.
It’s not one size fits all, but any time we work collaboratively, tighten up the linkages and communication pieces through better data collection and information sharing and make changes to address gaps, it is positive. It is not one size fits all but a step in the right direction for sure.
Senator Gold: My first question is for Chief Palmer but Chief Bray can chime in as well.
Bill C-71 would reintroduce the requirement for single use ATTs for locations such as border stations or gun shows. Chief Palmer, your predecessor Mario Harel said in the House of Commons committee that the association supported the change, the reintroduction of that, and that it was a step in the right direction.
Could you elaborate on this and tell us why you think it’s a step in the right direction? You’ve already mentioned some of the other things you would like to see as well, but I invite you to share your thoughts with us.
Mr. Palmer: In the current way the laws are set up, they are open to interpretation and open to a bit of a grey area.
Depending on the answers a person transporting firearms gives to the police when they have firearms stored in their vehicles, they could actually get away with transporting firearms in their vehicles for a long period of time for a number of different purposes beyond the actual intent and purpose of the transport.
By going to single use or going to more defined transportation rules, people are actually held more accountable. Other issues would come out of that. It would stop people from transporting firearms in their vehicles as frequently, which would only happen in certain cases, and it would reduce the likelihood of theft from vehicles.
Mr. Bray: I don’t think I have anything to add. I will defer to Chief Palmer on that.
Senator Gold: I will ask a question of Mr. Rideout, then. We’ve witnesses testify before this committee that it should be cabinet, the Governor-in-Council, rather than the RCMP that should have the final say in firearm classification.
As you know, Bill C-71 returns us to the situation that was changed. As a former RCMP assistant commissioner, could you share your views on that subject with us, please?
Mr. Rideout: Yes. I think the ability to make those decisions within the RCMP makes adaptation to gun traffickers and the importation of guns a bit more nimble, in that we will not be burdened with long waits for firearms to be classified in certain ways or to be determined illegal or unlawful.
In our report and in our research we looked at a lot of challenges that we are experiencing with gun parts coming into the country, firearms being assembled in British Columbia and then being used in acts of violence.
Any work that can be done to make the system more nimble and adaptable to what the criminals are doing and importation trends is advantageous to law enforcement and to regulators when we are talking about firearms.
Senator Plett: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. My questions will be around the ATT as well.
Chief Palmer, I think you talked about tightening up existing rules. We would all agree with tightening up existing rules. This is not tightening up existing rules; this is creating new legislation.
To many of us, and even further to Mr. Rideout’s testimony here today, this just smacks of another gun registry. I know Senator Pratte and I don’t agree on that, but I believe it smacks of another gun registry. I think all testimony we have heard just adds to that.
To me, one of the most egregious parts of the bill is the ATTs, so I will spend a bit of time on that. As Senator Gold already said, the government is removing the automatic authorization to transport a restricted firearm to a gun show, border crossing, police station or gunsmith.
This amendment suggests there could be a situation where one of you, an officer, stops a vehicle. After confirming that the driver has a valid unexpired gun licence, has the licence on their person, has the firearm properly locked, unloaded and in a locked case, is travelling to an authorized destination and is travelling by a reasonably direct route, still the police officer is uncertain whether the firearm is being transported for a legitimate purpose.
However, if the licensed gun owner had an ATT, which is not automatic but rather issued that day, then all uncertainty would be gone.
If I am not correct in that, I am sure you will correct me. Could you tell me how often a criminal transports his weapons to a crime scene in a locked case, unloaded and trigger locked? That’s not hypothetical; that’s a question.
Mr. Palmer: If you’re asking me how often a criminal does that, I would say a criminal doesn’t do that because a criminal is possessing the firearm illegally to begin with and is transporting it unlocked, probably loaded and ready to go for the crime. In my estimation that is not who these laws are meant to address.
Senator Plett: I would agree with you there and that, of course, is the entire problem. We are addressing situations to law-abiding citizens while we are saying we are fighting gang violence and the gangs don’t do that.
A person is under no obligation to voluntarily tell a police officer they have a firearm in the vehicle. Unless the police officer can see a firearm in the vehicle, he has no way of knowing if one is present.
Again, how often does a criminal transport his firearm in plain sight? Can you walk me through a scenario where a police officer pulls over a driver, ends up asking them for their ATT paperwork? How would something like that unfold? It seems to me absolutely ridiculous to suggest that it would ever happen.
Could you walk me through that, Chief Palmer?
Mr. Palmer: Sure, I’d be happy to. Under the circumstances you’re talking about, you are correct if it’s a law-abiding citizen transporting a firearm that falls under the radar and that nobody knows about. If we pull that person over, then chances are we would have no idea that they had a firearm. I agree with you on that point.
The point that I was trying to make, though, with transporting permits and permission is that if somebody is inclined to carry a firearm in their vehicle on a regular basis, there’s enough latitude right now with the current regime. Somebody could be going to a border, to a gun show, to a repair store or to go to a gun range. You could actually be carrying a firearm in your vehicle, even as a law-abiding citizen, on a very high number of occasions. Depending on the answer you give to a police officer, you could probably get away with it.
The reality is that any time we have firearms being transported around within Canadian borders, it is a risk when those firearms are not in a place of safety. Yes, they may be locked up in the vehicle; but, if somebody is keeping a firearm in their vehicle on a regular basis, as I said, it is more prone to the likelihood of theft or being stolen from that vehicle.
We have law-abiding Canadians in this country that end up breaking the law in relation to firearms. When we do the background checks, they come up with somebody that would meet the requirements to get a firearms licence. We also know that some of those people have been used in suspicious firearms transactions, straw purchases and have been involved in organized crime.
I can tell you definitely, from my own situation in Vancouver and in British Columbia, they are people that have fallen under the radar and have not yet been arrested by the police or have a criminal record. Those people are of concern as well.
I am not suggesting this is a total fix to our gang problems. I am just saying it’s one piece of the puzzle. A scenario where that might happen is quite plausible in Canadian policing, as we receive source information on a regular basis from a number of people that will inform us about suspicious activity and an officer could be acting on that information.
Senator Plett: You talked about law-abiding citizens and then you gave a number of illustrations how the person in fact was anything but law abiding. Again, we have no issue with that.
Under Bill C-71, transporting a restricted or prohibited firearm to a border crossing will no longer be automatic. If you want to transport the firearm across the border into the U.S. today, you need the following: a valid Canadian firearms licence, a proof of Canadian registration for each firearm, a permit for the temporary importation of firearms and ammunition from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and either a valid U.S. hunting licence or a written invitation to a U.S. shooting range.
Are you aware, and I am sure you are, that a firearm owner is already required to have all of this paperwork to cross the U.S. border with a firearm?
In light of this, could you explain to me how removing the automatic authorization to transport firearms to the U.S. border increases public safety?
Mr. Palmer: Yes, sir, I am aware of all the requirements that you mentioned. You are correct. Where I am going with it, though, is that it goes beyond the authorization to carry to the U.S. border. It also includes things like gun shows, gun ranges, repair shops and things like that. It’s the broader picture of all the locations to which you could transport a firearm in your community.
Senator Plett: Would you be prepared, if we were to propose an amendment, to take that one out because that is already required? Would you as the police service support that amendment?
Mr. Palmer: What we’re supporting is that individual permits are required for each transportation action.
Senator Pratte: My first question is for Chief Palmer. You said that the requirement for a retailer to verify the validity of the buyer of a non-restricted firearm was critical.
Would you care to elaborate on why it is important?
Mr. Palmer: Yes. I think two aspects to that are critical. One is to make sure the person who is buying or selling the firearm is legally able to do that. If a person is purchasing a firearm, you do see their PAL to ensure it is valid.
In the case where we’re talking about gun stores, it could be anything from Canadian Tire to any other type of store making sure records are kept of that transaction, so that when police have to follow up on the history of the firearm there are records that are kept.
We’re not talking about a long-gun registry. We’re not talking about records being kept by the government or by the police. We’re talking about records being kept by a retailer and making sure they’re doing their due diligence.
Senator Pratte: Do you understand this to be very different from what existed before the long-gun registry? It was called the green book and with which, apparently, no one had a real issue.
Mr. Palmer: Yes. I think some people were following those proper steps. They were doing that, but I don’t think it has been consistently applied across the country.
Senator Pratte: Mr. Rideout, in your report you indicated that as far as you knew in B.C. the provenance of crime guns had changed and that most were now domestically sourced.
This statement was also made by other police forces in Toronto, for instance. These statistics have been challenged. Some experts are saying in fact that nothing has changed and that the large majority of guns used in crime in Canada are still smuggled from the United States.
Could you give us an idea of where you stand on this issue?
Mr. Rideout: Yes. Data is very hard to come by, as you know. It is a big problem within the analysis of illegal firearms. We utilized data that was available to us for a two-year period. At that time the data that existed in British Columbia showed about a 60-40 percentage for domestically sourced firearms, recovered firearms that could be traced to source.
In our continuing work we have seen different jurisdictions report numbers that vary closer to the 50-50 range. There’s an ebb and flow. Much like a prolific offender of crime, if you have one or two groups trafficking firearms and moving firearms, they can change the statistics dramatically in a region, a jurisdiction or even in a province.
One firearms trafficker can change the landscape by trafficking 100 to 200 firearms. There’s an ebb and flow to the patterns of trafficking. That’s why it’s so incredibly important that we collect data and trace firearms.
It is clear that a lot of firearms are still smuggled in from our friends to the south through the United States border. We do know that. We have seen patterns of domestic firearms traffickers buying large quantities of long guns and then selling them to people who do not have PALs. We know that even heavily regulated restricted weapons are sometimes falsely reported stolen and then sold for profit to organized crime and gangs.
The exact numbers ebb and flow, but in my opinion our strategy must contemplate both kinds of trafficking in order to be effective.
Senator Pratte: I will ask a quick question of Chief Palmer. I want to go back to the ATTs to make sure I understand your point.
If I understand correctly, your concern is not so much with this destination or that destination. It’s just the fact that with the changes brought in, in 2015, it really allows gun owners to transport their guns anywhere. If you stop them they’ll tell you, “I am going to the gun range over there,” or “I am going to the border station over there.”
You’re not concerned about a specific destination. It is more the overall impact of the changes that were brought forward.
Mr. Palmer: Yes, that is correct. That’s a good summary.
Senator Pratte: Thank you.
Senator Boisvenu: My question is for Mr. Palmer and Mr. Rideout. I was looking at statistics on pending RCMP files for your province and the Yukon. Approximately 5,000 of these files have not yet been processed or are late, and about two thirds of them involve people who may have medical or criminal background issues.
Have you contacted the RCMP to find out why there are these delays for your province?
Mr. Rideout: Thank you for your question. Part of the work of the Province of British Columbia is an attempt to maintain some oversight and understanding of the process, although that process is entirely owned by the Canadian Firearms Program nationally.
We are aware of a number of delays at a variety of areas in the Canadian Firearms Program. As you will note from our report, we have made several recommendations related to enhancements within the Canadian Firearms Program to move forward some of these initiatives more comprehensively.
That includes the analyses of both police records and criminal records; some of the medical histories of people that should or should not have firearms licences; the revocation of licences where there are criminal events or negative contact with the police; and, as Chief Palmer has mentioned, where medical circumstances have changed and those permits have been revoked.
There have been some delays in going out and revoking those permits. We are aware of that, and we are certainly encouraging the Canadian Firearms Program to close those gaps.
Senator Boisvenu: When you send an information request to medical services about a person’s background, is that person’s gun licence automatically revoked, or do you wait for confirmation that the individual does indeed have mental health issues in his background?
Mr. Rideout: Well, I think, sir, it depends on the circumstances. It often comes to Chief Firearms Officers through a report from a medical practitioner. More often, law enforcement may encounter an individual in a variety of ways through a domestic disturbance, an event or a call for assistance with deteriorating health in some regard. That forms information within police databases that is flagged. The analysis is done by Chief Firearms Officers who then go out and try to do what they can to obtain information.
I am advised, however, that because of what I often refer to as privacy paralysis, gaining specific details about some of these events is very challenging for the Chief Firearms Officers.
Senator Boisvenu: This is what worries me the most. This is a very bureaucratic system, which means that when a police officer sees that an individual has a problem, that information is sent to the chief firearms officer, who sends a request to medical services. It can take months before a reply is received. The delays for your province’s files and those of Alberta are the proof of that.
Does this delay in deciding to withdraw firearms from owners who have mental health issues not jeopardize the safety of part of the population?
Mr. Rideout: Sir, the police do have powers under the Criminal Code based on their contact with individuals. They can make decisions that can expedite and immediately seize firearms, either with or without warrant depending on the circumstances. Those factors certainly come into play depending on the level of crisis and risk.
Senator Boisvenu: I understood from the reply to my first question that firearms are not automatically confiscated following the request for medical information. In some cases, you wait for the information to get back to you, and you wait for confirmation that the person has a recent medical file, correct?
Mr. Rideout: It’s my understanding, sir, that Chief Firearms Officers conduct analyses and use the information immediately available to them to make decisions on both restricted weapons and possession and acquisition licences. The police have independent powers to make certain assessments and seizures.
It can happen in all ways. In other words, the police can remove the firearms. Chief Firearms Officers can immediately revoke the licence if they feel they have substantial and significant enough grounds to do so. In some cases they wait for more comprehensive information.
Senator Griffin: I want to go back to the ATT. Chief Palmer, you mentioned that in the absence of the ATT in recent years there had been abuses related to transport of restricted firearms.
Could you give me some examples of these?
Mr. Palmer: My point is that there have been abuses in the current system. Many people are law-abiding firearms owners. They possess firearms lawfully. When you look at them on paper, their records would show no prior incidents with the police. We have come to find that we have individuals who in fact are committing criminal activity.
They may not have been caught prior to that, so they look like law-abiding citizens when they obtain their licence. However, we then find them engaged in activities such as straw purchases of firearms or purchasing for people long guns, ammunition or other items and providing them to organized crime. We have examples in British Columbia where people have done that.
Senator Griffin: If you required that they have an ATT to transport, how would that solve the situation?
Mr. Palmer: The ATT is a subset issue. That would be a different set of issues.
I can’t speak to you with specific examples of the ATT, but I can speak about the overall concept of how we see it at the CACP and how we see concerns with it being a loophole in the current system.
Senator Griffin: I am trying to get my head around why having the ATT will actually help in the future. It strikes me that those people will continue to do things like that whether or not they’re required to have an ATT.
Lots of people have illegal guns now, and requiring them to have an ATT isn’t going to do anything for public safety.
Mr. Palmer: I know what you’re saying. Lots of people do all kinds of things in Canada whether or not there are laws. We’re saying, though, that law-abiding citizens who possess firearms lawfully be held to requirements that require them to have strict transportation duties placed upon them. It’s not willy-nilly. They can’t lock up a gun in their vehicle, drive around with it and say they’re going wherever they’re going. They need to be going to a specific point.
In 2019, the ability to get individual transportation permits through modern technology is not that onerous.
Senator Griffin: If they say they’re going to a range, they’re okay now. They don’t need an ATT.
Mr. Palmer: I am saying it is so broad now that it would include people basically throwing a locked gun into their vehicle and travel to the border, to a gun show, to a range, or to an armourer or whomever to do repairs. There are many different locations.
That creates the situation where a firearm is being transported in a vehicle for some people on a very regular basis. We might be able to reduce the number of times that we’re transporting firearms in vehicles by doing it under strict circumstances.
Senator Griffin: The bill is proposing that they would not now need an ATT to go to a range. They could say they’re going to a range.
I am not sure. I am trying to get at a better appreciation of why the ATT is going to result in better public safety.
Mr. Palmer: I think what it’s doing is providing better accountability for Canadians when they’re transporting firearms.
We have to realize that it depends on where in the country you’re coming from. Everywhere in this country is vastly different. If you’re in a farming community in Saskatchewan, that’s different from downtown Vancouver, downtown Toronto or up in Yukon Territory. Every situation will be quite different.
I would suggest to you that sometimes the police perspective in the big cities will be different from those in the prairies. In Vancouver there are not a lot of situations where we need to see people carrying firearms around in their vehicles. I would probably guess that my fellow chief Evan Bray in Regina would probably tell you about a lot of situations in Saskatchewan where the situation might be quite different.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you very much for your testimony. I appreciate your highlighting, in your words, the importance of thoughtful balancing between individual privilege and the greater good of society. It’s not always an easy balance to find, that’s for sure.
You’ve suggested that Bill C-71 could be improved. One of the ways that you suggested was supporting the duty of physicians to report, similar to what we do now with child abuse, driving safety and other such things, when individual and public safety is paramount.
First, if you had to choose one or two additional ways to improve Bill C-71, what would they be? Second, would you be able to provide wording or written argument as to how those should be considered?
Mr. Palmer: Maybe I’ll start by saying, yes, you’ve already touched on one element. Another element worth considering is looking at some very specific weapons that are legal in Canada now. They are more of the military style. Perhaps they could move into the prohibited realm.
It is an interesting prospect when we look around the country at storage requirements for residences and commercial premises, depending on the region where you are, if it is downtown in a big city or in the middle of a rural area.
From a practical perspective, if it’s a gun store in downtown Vancouver, Toronto, or Regina, the police can get somewhere very quickly. If it’s in a rural area in British Columbia, in many of the territories or on the Prairies, it will take a long time for the police to get there.
Strict storage requirements on commercial premises and/or residential gun owners, especially people who have high volumes of firearms in their possession, could be looked at, as could flagging systems for identifying large numbers of transactions or unusual transactions.
Many of these things can be done now through modern technology as well, but flagging people that are engaged in multiple transactions is usually a red flag for a number of things.
It’s quite evident from this conversation that we could all benefit in the policing and in the political community from better data when it comes to firearms. There are regional differences across the country. Depending on the class of firearm, whether it’s a handgun versus a long gun, and the sourcing of firearms, there are differences.
These are some of the things that our special purpose committee is looking at right now.
Senator Busson: I know from my other life that Monday is usually a busy day, and I thank all three of you for taking the time.
In your presentations, Chief Palmer and Chief Bray, one of the things focused on were military style weapons. There are two Swiss Arms that are part of Bill C-71.
From your own experiences specifically in your environment, could you give an example of how you believe that part of Bill C-71 would enhance public safety for Canadians?
Mr. Palmer: I’d be happy to join in as a police officer who has spent over 30 years in Vancouver working in a number of positions as a patrol officer, a gang investigator, an organized crime investigator and now a chief of police.
The number of firearms we see in our streets in 2019 is a lot different from when I came on the job in 1987. Back then, it was unusual for a police officer to find a gun on a traffic stop or to pull a gun off of somebody in the commission of a crime. It’s not that uncommon anymore.
We have seized hundreds of guns off the streets of Vancouver from gang members, from people that are not supposed to be in possession of firearms and from, as I mentioned, people that are supposed to be in possession of firearms, people that legally possess a licence but are breaking the law and had not been caught. We can find examples of all those types of things. The prevalence of firearms is more significant now.
With regard to your specific question on military assault rifles and those types of things, we are seeing more of those than we saw many years ago. It has become more of an issue than it was in Canada in years gone by. There is good reason to look at that carefully.
Senator Richards: Eight members of my extended family are in law enforcement, so I have the deepest respect for you guys. However I don’t think this bill is going to do much.
If I were a criminal, what does Bill C-71 have that would give me any concern over something that has not been seen before? I know what it does to the regulation of the ordinary guy who has a PAL or is trying to get a licence to go hunting.
I know what it does to them because I live in a rural area. I have guns and I hunt. Once my PAL ran out and it took 45 days to get it. The hunting season was over by the time I got it. It was an irritant but that’s the way it went.
I also know the criminal element in my province. I don’t think any of them would be worried too much about this bill.
I want you to put my mind at ease about what this bill does that the criminal element in our society would be concerned about.
Mr. Palmer: Sure. Maybe I’ll open up with a couple of comments. I think Wayne Rideout might have a couple of comments as well.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it’s the one-size-fits-all solution. I don’t think it’s the panacea. I don’t think it’s going to make everything great in Canada overnight when it comes to organized crime, gangs, or firearms; definitely not. It’s one part of a broader solution that we need to look at as politicians and as police leaders across the country.
We are trying to restrict the access of people to dangerous weapons. We are trying to provide prevention and outreach activities to youth. We are trying to provide exit strategies for those involved in gang lifestyles. We want to see better parenting and all kinds of things happening in society. This is a much broader issue than just this specific bill.
To answer your question, it’s one piece of the puzzle but it’s not the final solution; absolutely not.
Mr. Rideout: Perhaps I could add that when we look at gang and organized crime activities, the use of illegal firearms and the violence we see on our streets, we need to do a much better job of trying to identify those people that are importing firearms illegally and domestically giving access to criminals.
Given our ability to trace firearms at this time, someone can come in and buy 100 guns at a gun store and there is no record for the police to follow that up. We need to do a better job of improving the steps to a broader intelligence picture and a broader tracing environment.
Equally, when it comes to the research of persons and the ability to delve into their health and criminal past, we need to do a better job at how we mitigate risk for persons who could possess firearms. Those firearms could be used for violent purposes, either in an act of instantaneous violence and/or a planned diversion of criminal activity.
To echo Chief Palmer’s comments, it’s part of an overall strategy. We still need an overarching strategy to be more effective against gun violence in Canada. There’s a lot of ongoing work to make that happen.
A couple of the pieces, particularly around the research of people’s histories, the recording of firearms licences, tracing and record keeping will give police greater tools to do a better job against traffickers.
Mr. Palmer: I reiterate that the issue of the proper recording of firearms transactions may not be preventive. It may not stop a criminal from robbing a bank or committing a violent assault because the police are going to record this or because this is recorded. However, as police who have to investigate crimes. We will have more tools at our disposal to bring a person to justice.
Senator Richards: One more quick question that requires a yes or no answer. I know what the police think, especially in large urban centres, about the profiling of certain visible minorities and whatever.
I have guns; I have six of them that are all locked up and away. Do you think, especially among rural Canadians who have guns, that any profiling is going on with this bill?
Mr. Palmer: No.
Mr. Rideout: No.
The Chair: Chief Palmer, Chief Bray and Mr. Rideout, we want to express our sincere thanks for your joining us today. It has been helpful to our deliberations. We appreciate your taking the time out of what we know are very busy schedules. Thank you very much.
Mr. Palmer: Thank you.
Mr. Rideout: Thank you.
Mr. Bray: Thank you.
The Chair: For our last hour today we have from the Alberta Arms and Cartridge Collectors Association, Teri Bryant.
Welcome. The floor is yours.
Teri Bryant, Alberta Arms and Cartridge Collectors Association: I am the Secretary of the Alberta Arms and Cartridge Collectors Association, President of the Military Collectors’ Club of Canada, President of Nambu World Museum, and I wear several other hats. Since I have retired, I have become an active volunteer in my community.
My involvement with gun shows as an attendee, exhibitor, organizer and volunteer goes back five decades to my childhood visits with my father. As recently as last night, I literally went straight home from a gun show, unpacked, repacked, went to the airport and came here.
My comments will focus on three issues related to the effect of Bill C-71 on gun shows and those who exhibit at them: issues related to authorizations to transport, issues related to licence verification, and why gun shows are vital social institutions.
First, on authorizations to transport, I believe since 2015 possession and acquisition licences have conditions that allow transport of restricted and prohibited firearms to and from gun shows, among other places. This in no way provides people carte blanche to drive around with guns. They must still be triple locked, unloaded and moved by the most direct route.
Anyone who attempted to falsely claim they were taking guns to a gun show would be quickly undone by simple questions like which gun show and where. There is simply no way that saying you are going to a gun show will get you off from any police officer who has the astuteness I know they all possess.
Second, on verification of possession and acquisition licences, in principle this sounds reasonable and in an ideal world it would be a good idea, but the devil is in the details. With respect to gun shows, the key issue is that shows are almost always held on weekends when CFP offices are closed. You can’t call in and verify because you need to talk to someone, using the message as they currently do. I know this because I have tried to do it within the past couple of months.
Some are also held in small towns where self-service is spotty. In any case, only non-restricted firearms can be taken away immediately. Buyers of restricted and prohibited firearms still need to have their transfers authorized, a process that in my recent experience can take anywhere from two days to 10 months. Yes, I had that recent experience.
Before this can be made mandatory, the Canadian Firearms Program must develop a system and show that it works.
Third is the importance of gun shows. Contrary to the lurid speculations of those with little or no direct experience with them, gun shows serve a crucial social role in several respects.
First, they help maintain a healthy gun culture that values guns for their role in recreation, subsistence, as historical artifacts, and not as the instruments of violence that they are associated with in video games, movies and the imaginings of anti-gun activists.
Second, they provide an organized, supervised forum for the exchange of farms to ensure they continue to circulate only in legal channels.
Third, they are vital to the social aspect of our firearms community, a place where its diverse members come together in fellowship and camaraderie.
I therefore respectfully urge you to retain the gun show clause on ATTs so that we don’t require an individual one. I would be very happy to explain in great detail why getting individual ATTs is a time-wasting process all around and a misdirection of resources. I would also urge you to postpone any possession and acquisition licence verification scheme until a proven system is in place to safeguard the vital social institution that gun shows are. Thank you very much.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you for your presentation, Ms. Bryant. Would it be beneficial for groups or historic sites if old weapons like flintlock rifles were reclassified, as proposed in Bill C-71?
Ms. Bryant: On reclassification, it all depends on what is to be reclassified and how. The problem with our current classification system is that the classifications bear absolutely no relationship whatsoever to any potential criminal misuse or other things
. For example, I have a couple of prohibited firearms that are extremely valuable, very rare and require ammunition you can’t get. They are in the tightest category, whereas other items that would be of more interest to a criminal element were they to seek out something are in a lower category.
So the problem is not with the idea of classification per se, but with the fact that in general classifications are not really based on anything that has any relationship to potential harm to society.
Senator Dagenais: We know that the transport of collectors’ firearms is already regulated. To what do you attribute the new, much more restrictive provisions of Bill C-71, aside from the fact that they benefit politicians?
Ms. Bryant: On the issue with respect to these authorizations to transport, we used to have a system where we had to call in to get an authorization to transport for each specific occasion for each specific firearm.
This raises quite a number of issues. As a university instructor and associate professor of international business, I was fortunate because I had a great deal of flexibility with my time. You often have to call in many, many times just to get through. In some cases you can’t even be put on hold. They simply say, “We have too much of a backlog, so call again another time.” For people who have more, shall we say, regular work schedules, this is a major obstacle to compliance.
Then, when you actually get through to someone, you have to list every firearms registration certificate number. If you happen to make a mistake, then you would in effect be in violation of the law. You would be unlikely to be caught, but I don’t like the idea of relying on not being likely to be caught. I want to make sure that I am in compliance with the law at all times because the penalties are very severe.
In some cases I have transported upward of 40 firearms to an extensive historical exhibit on Japanese military firearms, which is my specialty. When you recite 40 numbers over the phone, each with eight or ten digits, the chances of error are quite high. There are better uses of people’s time.
This is a serious obstacle for people in terms of practicalities of getting it done. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I no longer had to do that.
I transported several restricted and prohibited firearms to my display on the weekend. Not having to do that also relieves me of problems like planning on putting guns in and then maybe I finally get the transfers authorized on a gun that will be a better specimen for the exhibit. If I already have my permit, then I would have to call in again for my authorization transport.
There are many practical problems.
Senator Plett: Thank you, Dr. Bryant, for being here this afternoon.
I have a brief comment in regard to the ATTs. I am not sure whether you were watching when the President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police was on just before you.
Ms. Bryant: Yes, I was.
Senator Plett: I have never been more convinced after that testimony how useless the ATTs are in this legislation. I think they were trying to tell us how good they were, and they failed miserably in that. I think you have a lot of support around your issues with ATTs.
The problem with not always paying attention as one should is that you sometimes miss certain things. I know Senator Dagenais asked you a question about reclassification while I was talking to my staff behind me. I am not sure whether this was the question, but I do want to have the answer to it.
As you know, the government is removing the ability of cabinet to override a decision by the RCMP to reclassify a non-restricted firearm as restricted or prohibited. Is this a concern to you and, if it is, why?
Ms. Bryant: Yes, it is a concern to me. It is not so much specifically related to gun shows, which is why I didn’t raise it. As a gun owner and collector, it is of considerable importance to me.
We have a democratic society. We all have to live with decisions we don’t necessarily like. We can take some comfort if those decisions are made by people who have been elected by a process. The process provides some justification and comfort, even when we don’t like the decisions that happen to come out of it.
I certainly have great respect for the institution of the RCMP, but they are not elected. They are not responsible to the people. With respect to classification, several examples have been raised by previous witnesses of cases where they have changed their minds about something. It’s one thing one day. It’s another thing another day, and it’s a third thing on a third day.
When we have many thousands or, as in my case, hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in a collection, we need safeguards against the idea that somebody with a stroke of a pen or somebody changing their mind one day could suddenly change things. The best safeguard is the process of having an elected body with subsequent review by people who have a longer term view, perhaps because they are not elected. That provides a good balance to ensure that we have decisions we can live with.
Senator Plett: I am not in any way suggesting that it would be, but I am asking: Would a balance be if the RCMP were allowed to do this and there would be an appeals process?
Ms. Bryant: Certainly it’s better to have an appeals process than not to have an appeal process.
I am an individual of modest means. The reason I have a big collection is that I have spent all of my resources, practically my entire life, on this topic. It is not because I was wealthy.
Appeals tend to be very costly. Unless you are a lawyer, the legal process is essentially inaccessible in all respects, civil and criminal, to the average middle-class individual. Having an appeals process would certainly be better than not having one, but I would still have concerns.
Senator Plett: Currently, if someone is to apply for a firearms licence, there is a background check of the last five years. Bill C-71 extends it to a lifetime. Do you have a concern about that? If so, is five years the right amount, or what would be the right amount?
Ms. Bryant: I would be very interested to see any evidence that anything beyond five years would be useful. People’s lives take a variety of turns. People have marital breakdowns and various other issues. Their lives settle down after those events.
I think the fear that people have is that ordinary life events like a marital breakdown might result in long-term consequences. Once somebody starts digging into people’s pasts, you can find something about almost everybody because you lost your temper and shouted at somebody in traffic or something. The question is simply: Where will it end?
My main point with respect to some of these questions is: What is the cost? Whenever we are doing something, if there is a one in ten million chance that you might get a better decision by looking at a person’s entire life, are you going to review 10 million cases to find that one?
Perhaps the resources would be better used in another fashion that could save more lives and make society safer as well as juster.
Senator Plett: I have a final brief question. Between 2014 and 2017, one-third of all homicides by firearms were unsolved. That’s 280 out of 823.
This tells us that we could have in the neighbourhood of 280 murderers walking around free in Canada. Yet this government is trying to convince Canadians that this bill will increase public safety by tweaks to the Firearms Act, which murderers will obviously ignore.
In your opinion do you think Canadians should feel safer if Bill C-71 passes?
Ms. Bryant: The short answer is no, and the reason for that again is the issue of resource allocation.
Senator Plett: I am okay with the short answer. Thank you.
Senator Pratte: Dr. Bryant, welcome to the committee. You mentioned the concern of gun owners about the change from a five-year period to a whole life story. People are concerned about some event that may have happened in the past. Perhaps they got angry with another car driver or whatever.
However, the bill makes clear that the Chief Firearms Officers will be looking at violent incidents, criminal incidents, domestic violence or suicide attempts that could have occurred more than five years ago and are still significant, not depressions or marital breakdowns that have nothing to do with violence. The bill is clear in that respect.
Ms. Bryant: The issue still remains of whether there is anything that will add value to that decision. If these matters resulted in a person being deemed unfit to own firearms for the rest of their life, then surely it would be incumbent on the judicial process to enact a firearms prohibition order on such a person.
Senator Pratte: Maybe that didn’t happen. In any event, the person whose application is rejected for a reason that they see as arbitrary can appeal to the provincial court, right?
Ms. Bryant: Yes. If the authorities know this person should not have firearms, it’s my opinion that they should not be afraid to reject an application.
Law-abiding gun owners do not want to be infiltrated by people who should not have firearms. We fully recognize there are people who should not have firearms. Many people have refused to sell firearms to someone who had a licence because they just did not feel comfortable selling to that guy.
We are not in favour of throwing all the rules to the wind. We want to be sure that whatever resources we are expending on gun control are spent in an efficient fashion and not on wild goose chases.
Senator Pratte: Regarding both ATTs and licence verifications, your concerns are related in part to the practical implementation of these measures.
Ms. Bryant: Yes.
Senator Pratte: That is based on your experience. When the RCMP came here, they assured us that they are in the process of making changes to their systems. The minister committed to providing the resources for these changes. For instance, licence verification would be on a website and very rapid. People wouldn’t have to wait on the phone, and the service would be available during weekends. The RCMP said they would adjust their services so that they would be available on the weekends when most gun shows happen.
Are you in any way reassured by this, or do you simply not believe that it will happen? By the way, these provisions of the bill will not come into force before these changes are made. That may address one of your concerns.
Ms. Bryant: Perhaps I am an overly cynical person, being a Windows 10 user, having read news reports on our Phoenix pay system, having personal experience with the former long-gun registry, and so on. You will have to excuse me if I am somewhat reticent to take assurances about very sophisticated technological systems being able to actually solve our problems.
It would be very nice if all these things worked, but my experience is that it’s seldom the case.
Senator Pratte: If we take for granted that anything the government attempts will fail because of the Phoenix pay system failed, we will be paralyzed. We would not try to do anything as a government and as Parliament, right?
Ms. Bryant: I certainly don’t think that everything the government does is bad. Please don’t make the assumption that I am making an overly broad assertion of that nature.
However, as someone who has to live with the consequences of failures and who has seen many such failures, I would like to see the proof first and then act, rather than act and hope that the proof will come.
Senator Oh: Thank you, Dr. Bryant, for being here. In your opening remarks you said that you and your dad have been going to collector shows.
Could you tell us a bit about the ATT? If ATT comes in, what will be the impact on gun shows? How does it impact economics? What is the number of people normally involved in gun shows? Is it big or small?
Ms. Bryant: That is a fairly broad question. The gun show which we just held is the biggest gun show in Canada. It has approximately 1,000 tables, 350 exhibitors, and over the space of two days there are somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 visitors. It is a very substantial undertaking or event, virtually all on a volunteer basis. People come to this event from as far away as Europe, Africa and Asia.
You will have to excuse me if I express a very personal concern. Gun shows play a very important role in creating a positive culture around guns. That is how we transmit to the younger generation how they should view guns.
I do historical displays. I often stand in front of my display, talk to people and explain the history. A lot of young people may come to a gun show only because they have an interest. They may have seen First Person Shooter or played first-person shooter games. I don’t think that is a good way for people to form views about firearms. They should be exposed to responsible people who are involved in serious pursuits like target shooting, hunting and like historical collecting, all of which were well represented at our show.
My fear is that the more difficult you make it for people to do historical displays, the fewer the people will be involved in that type of activity and the less transmission of positive culture there will be.
We should be encouraging people who are the responsible leaders of the firearms community to help socialize the younger generation into having proper and respectful attitudes toward firearms, and not leave it to the broader society where all that people see is the first-person shooter games and lurid portrayals in the media.
Senator Oh: I know you have been involved with gun shows for a long time. In your experience, have any of the members or the gun collectors you have come across committed a crime by using a gun, committed suicide or whatever? Are there any numbers that you are aware of?
Ms. Bryant: My experience goes back, as I said, about 50 years. I still have on the wall of my gun room the 1972 junior membership in the Ontario Arms Collectors Association that my father bought me. Of course, I was only some years old at that time.
In that entire time, I am not aware of anyone who had committed a crime other than the unrecognized aspects of people who have probably at one point or another made a mistake and came to a gun show without having the registration certificate for their gun or something like that. None of them were ever caught.
I am not aware of any crimes. I do recall one person in that time who committed suicide using a firearm.
Senator McIntyre: Dr. Bryant, you’ve talked about gun shows. My question is one of clarification on the issue of ATT and gun collection.
Section 28 of the Firearms Act basically states that a Chief Firearms Officer may approve the transfer to an individual of a restricted firearm or a handgun only if the Chief Firearms Officer is satisfied, among other things, that the individual needs the restricted firearm or handgun to form part of a gun collection, in the case of an individual who satisfies the criteria in section 30.
The criteria in that section 30 are:
. . . the individual has knowledge of the historical, technological or scientific characteristics that relate or distinguish the restricted firearms or handguns that he or she possesses; . . .
And so on and so forth. Bill C-71 amends the Firearms Act by removing certain ATT prohibited or restricted firearms unless the transfer of the firearm was approved for the purpose of having it form part of a gun collection.
My question is: In your opinion what impact will Bill C-71 have on gun collection? Do you see any major changes from what we have in the Firearms Act?
Ms. Bryant: The main issues are related to the problems of taking your guns for exhibition at a gun show. That’s why I put the whole ATT issue front and centre.
I would point out, however, that the idea there is a complete bifurcation or distinction between owning firearms for collection and owning firearms for target shooting or hunting purposes is really quite false. Many people who own firearms for the purposes of collection enjoy shooting those firearms as a historical experience, very similar to the way that people want to drive a Model T on Sunday as a historical experience. Anything that creates some kind of a distinction based on are you going to target shoot or are you going to collect, I think is a false dichotomy.
Even with hunting, a number of people at the gun show I was just at display of historical exhibits based on hunting firearms. These are firearms they may have used for hunting and now are using for the purposes of collecting. They got interested in Marlin rifles. They enjoyed hunting with them. That was what their dad always liked. In the same way there are Ford families and Chevy families, there are Winchester families, Colt families, and so on.
Anything that makes things more difficult for people to come to gun shows and bring their guns, whether for sale or for exhibit, I think will have negative consequences for gun shows. The things that are bad for gun shows will be bad for society because gun shows are a social good.
Senator Plett: I have one very short question. I have accused Senator Pratte and others that this is a gun registry by the back door, and he thinks unfairly. If you were to be the arbiter here, would you believe that this is a gun registry by the back door?
Ms. Bryant: I think there’s a provision saying that it is not. If it says that it is not, then it might not be one in name, but in effect it certainly provides a great deal of material that could be used as such.
Is a duck a duck if you don’t call it a duck?
Senator Plett: Thank you.
The Chair: Dr. Bryant, those are all the questions. We want to thank you very much for appearing before our committee and for helping us in our deliberations.
Ms. Bryant: Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
(The committee adjourned.)