THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 3, 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 11:45 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Gwen Boniface (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, senators, and welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.
Before we begin, I would like to ask my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Boisvenu: Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu from Quebec.
Senator McIntyre: Paul McIntyre from New Brunswick.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba.
Senator Pratte: André Pratte from Quebec.
Senator Gold: Marc Gold from Quebec.
Senator Busson: Bev Busson, British Columbia.
Senator Griffin: Diane Griffin, Prince Edward Island.
Senator Richards: Dave Richards, New Brunswick.
The Chair: I am Gwen Boniface, chair of the committee.
Before I introduce our witnesses, we were supposed to have Eleanore Sunchild with us here today. Her video conference did not work on Monday. Our technicians have tried to improve the situation for today, but the testing has failed, so unfortunately she is unable to join us.
We have with us today, as an individual, Dr. Michael Ackermann, Rural Family Medicine, coming in via video conference, and from the Movie Armaments Group, Charles Taylor, Managing Director.
Mr. Taylor, we can start with you.
Charles Taylor, Managing Director, Movie Armaments Group: Madam Chair, senators, committee staff and distinguished guests, it is an honour to appear before you today.
I have been in the firearms industry for almost 30 years. I am currently the managing director of Movie Armaments Group and a motion picture master armourer. Our company supplies firearms of all classes, military and police equipment, costumes, firearms manufacturing and repair, along with weapons training to law enforcement and the Department of National Defence. I have worked on hundreds of film productions across Canada and in a few countries around the world.
Film production in Canada is an $8.9 billion industry. Of that total, $910 million is foreign productions in Ontario alone. The ability to make purchases within Canada from individuals and businesses is crucial to the firearms supply, which is an asset to the film industry.
In my years in the firearms industry, I have seen the effects of new regulation on legal gun and business owners. The Firearms Act had real-life consequences to Canadian gun owners and businesses alike. I was a casualty of that time like many other businesses, declaring bankruptcy, laying off employees, and losing almost everything. In part, this was caused by Canadians being afraid to spend money on new firearms and shooting supplies, and being unwilling to invest in anything that the government was about to take away.
These new proposed regulations are as punitive against the 2.1 million legal gun owners now as they were in the 1990s, who don’t commit wilful acts of malice, violence, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless behaviour. Bill C-71 will do nothing to effect any change in criminal behaviour by gang members or drug dealers who, by definition, abide by no written laws.
My staff consists of eight retired police officers who have worked in the Toronto Police Service, RCMP and Durham Regional Police Service, in EFT, ERU, firearms, drugs and intelligence units, along with the nuclear defence force. I also have six current, past and serving military members. All of our employees are security assessed under the controlled goods directorate, as well.
I take pride in the service we supply, along with the manner in which we comply with the current laws surrounding firearms and controlled goods, and the 100 per cent compliance with the business inspections that take place by the CFO of Ontario. Those inspections are done to facilitate compliance, not necessarily enforcement, and to help the businesses abide by the rules.
Bill C-71 will remove the transport authorization that currently exists on my PAL and licence to transport my prohibited handguns and my grandfathered firearms. Why? Can I no longer be trusted? Have firearms owners in Canada been charged with an offence under this section of the Firearms Act? I would think not, or so low as to be no justification for these new changes.
The ATT requirements take us back to the 1990s by having to call the CFO and ask permission to move a restricted or prohibited firearm for purchase, sale, gun repair, or to the shooting range. This will increase the load on the CFO that comes with costs and the delay in getting the ATT. In the past, you waited for days and in some cases weeks.
Why are the CZ858 and Swiss Arms rifles being prohibited from being grandfathered because they are now dangerous firearms? These firearms were not dangerous 15 years ago, so why now?
The notion that it is easily converted to a machine gun, or that you can easily swap parts to make a machine gun, is an argument based on the ability to have parts to do so and on the technical ability. There are no full auto-parts available in this country, not even for me, and I have all the licences available to do so. The manufacturers don’t sell those parts unless you are a licensed business.
I believe the actions taken in this bill are more punitive actions against legal gun owners for the sole reason that government can say, “Look, we did something.” I have yet to see evidence to support the government’s notion that the aim is to protect licensed firearms owners by combatting and cracking down on the illegal flow of firearms in the black market.
In discussions with my staff, the government can make real changes that will affect the illegal importation and criminal use of firearms. It can invest in the hiring of more police and CBSA officers whose sole job is combatting firearms violence and illegal importation. It can invest in advanced weapons training in the use and identification for all officers. It can make reasonable modifications to the search and seizure rules that will help police and be in keeping with the Charter of Rights. It can invest in our at-risk communities for young men to keep them out of criminal gangs. It can start in schools to teach children how to stay on the right path in life, have respect for authority and each other. It can enforce the basic laws of a civil society. It can research the use of SSRI drugs and its effects on persons using and coming off those drugs, as various doctors are now finding a strong link between violence, suicide and discussions on how many shooters were on these drugs. It can mandate mental health professionals to notify police of at-risk patients when it is known that they may hurt themselves or someone else. The “See Something, Say Something” campaign has always worked and can work better if the government pushes it into schools and TV ads.
I also believe we need to put the responsibility of illegal violent acts at the feet of the persons committing them and have meaningful punishment and proper rehabilitation.
Dr. Michael Ackermann, Rural Family Medicine, as an individual: Honourable senators, concerned citizens and members of the public, I stand before you as an individual. While I officially represent no particular organization or group today, I have extensive contacts within the community of law-abiding gun owners, whom I will now call LAGOs for brevity.
I’ve been a physician for 30 years. I spend many hours each week in continuing education, constantly striving to improve my knowledge and skills. I’ve also been an infantry rifleman and officer and later a military medical officer. I’ve been a LAGO for the last 55 years. I have sent hundreds of thousands of rounds down range and spent many thousands of hours in the pursuit of excellence in the shooting discipline. I’ve also studied violence and self-defence for the last 40 years. When an occasion demanded it, I have successfully defended myself and others against assault, including deadly assault. I’ve also used my medical skills to save lives on numerous occasions.
Most important, however, I am a law-abiding citizen of Canada. As such, when you talk about gun control, you are inevitably talking about restricting my lifestyle and culture with laws that realistically do little to curb the criminal abuses of firearms.
We LAGOs share the goals of reducing violence and saving lives. Perhaps we are the most concerned of all Canadians because whenever some idiot abuses a firearm to cause harm, we share the horror that everyone else feels and inevitably come under public scrutiny, oftentimes more so than the perpetrator.
Our Canadian Muslim community will understand what I am talking about because they too are often targeted for unjustified public abuse following the act of some extremist. When they rightfully resist the social bullying, the difference is that they are supported by the media and by the government, as they should be.
There is so much that needs to be said, but I have only so much time before you. I will talk about compromise in lawmaking. There are many whose fervently held world view is that anything that impairs LAGOs as a cultural minority will somehow magically reduce violent acts by people with whom we have absolutely nothing in common. They claim they want compromise, and they call us inflexible when we refuse to meet them in the middle.
The Chair: I am sorry to interrupt, Dr. Ackermann, but we are having difficulty in the translation as a result of the connection.
They’re going to work with you to see if we can get you back. If you could stop there, we’ll move to questions of Mr. Taylor, and then we can come back to you. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Taylor, why do you think the politicians in power refuse to listen to you? Can you put a dollar figure on the losses that Bill C-71 will cost your company?
Mr. Taylor: My firm belief is that government in general and specifically political parties have agendas. They’re not really interested in what somebody like a small section of Canadians wants to say because the majority of Canadians don’t own firearms, don’t like firearms and have no interest in having one. As a firearms owner, all you have to do is read the paper and listen to the notices put out by individuals, stating that you must be out of your mind to own an assault rifle.
Within the film industry, we are required to supply firearms and all manners of weapons. Most of those supplies are being requested in very short order: in days or maybe two weeks. If we have to import short-barrelled handguns or assault rifles that are not currently available in Canada, they generally take about six months, so the film production is in and gone.
We are then required to spend a lot of money in bringing weapons into the country for the long term in hopes that somebody will rent them. Now we can go to the local distributor, pick up the phone, and say, “Hey, I need two short-barrelled handguns,” or a particular assault rifle. Therefore we can supply them to the film industry. The big action movies shot in Canada wouldn’t be here without people like me and a few other companies that do what we do.
Senator Dagenais: If I understand correctly, and correct me if I’m wrong, you’re saying Bill C-71 has a lot more to do with politics than enhanced public safety. Is that right?
Mr. Taylor: The overriding evidence for me is that it’s political. There is some driving force with the rest of Canadians who don’t like firearms. I fail to see that going after the private gun owners and the businesses of this country will have any direct effect against the criminal misuse of firearms.
There are certain things in our civil society that we request of people, and there are those people out there who don’t abide by those requests.
I understand the feelings of the general public about firearms, but they also have to understand us, our business, and the steps that we’ve taken to have the privilege of doing what we do.
Senator Dagenais: The bill would empower the RCMP to reclassify firearms. What would you recommend to the RCMP as far as the classification of firearms is concerned?
Mr. Taylor: I’m not totally crazy about the RCMP being the sole body to classify firearms. I think it should be part of a public consultation with other experts. As far as regulations and clarifications for things like banning, that should be the sole job of Parliament.
I don’t like or want to live in any kind of a police state where law enforcement decides to make the rules on what we can or can’t have.
Senator McPhedran: You have given us an interesting description of the transportation of weapons and access to weapons. In his testimony before this committee, Minister Goodale told us that the new requirements for ATTs would affect something less than 5 per cent of transportation involving guns.
How did it work for your business before the current automatic ATTs that you clearly want to stay in place? What about before that? In many ways, we’re going back to the future. We’re returning to a previous way of dealing with ATTs.
Mr. Taylor: There are two different types of ATTs: one for the individual and one for businesses. The business ATT is an all-encompassing authorization to transport for each and every one of the employees, whether they are non-restricted, restricted or prohibited firearms or devices. As I understand it, they will not change in Bill C-71. They will stay the same.
My concern is for the individual, me as an individual. I already have on my licence an authorization to transport my short-barrelled prohibited handguns. I can move them, take them to the range and go to get them repaired because it’s automatically on my PAL. I don’t have to call in.
If I want to take my prohibited, grandfathered firearm, that’s a different question. If I want to take it up to CFB Borden to shoot it, I need to call the CFO and get authorization because I am not currently authorized to transport that for anything other than to be used on a range that’s approved by the CFO. There aren’t any for those classes of firearms, except the military base I am allowed to shoot on.
The new proposals would only allow you to transport your restricted weapon to a range. That’s it. For repair, for your prohibited handguns, for any other prohibited firearms you own and everything else, you will need to call the CFO. It is like the way it was back in the 1990s when you had to call to get permission. They gave you a little piece of paper with an authorization that you could move it on this day, between these hours. Then you had to get another authorization to go and pick it back up.
Senator McPhedran: Mr. Taylor, as an individual or a business, are you involved in any way with the National Rifle Association?
Mr. Taylor: No. I am a firm believer in: This is Canada, down there is the United States, and the two should not mix. I am not part of the NRA.
I wouldn’t say that I don’t support them, but as far as I am concerned, because Canada is a different culture from that of the United States, I have nothing to say about that.
Senator McPhedran: Are you a member of any Canadian gun owners rights association?
Mr. Taylor: I am currently a member of the Canadian small arms shooting association.
Senator McPhedran: Is that the only membership that you have?
Mr. Taylor: That is it.
The Chair: Senator Pratte, if you don’t mind, I am going to allow Dr. Ackermann to finish statement.
Our apologies again, Dr. Ackermann. Go ahead.
Dr. Ackermann: Hopefully you can hear me a little better. There are many whose fervently held view is that anything that impairs LAGOs as a cultural minority will somehow magically reduce violent acts by people with whom we have absolutely nothing in common. They claim to want compromise and call us inflexible when we refuse to meet them in the middle, but their version of compromise is a one-way ratchet, with them always taking their last set of restrictions on us as the starting point for their new compromise. If they wanted to have an honest discussion about compromise, they would meet us in the middle of the extreme of total gun prohibition and total gun freedom, but they won’t.
LAGOs are the safest and most lawful of all Canadians. We are one-third as likely as a non-gun owner and half as likely as a cop to ever be the perpetrator of illegal violence. That is correct. You heard me right. LAGOs murder, rob and rape at half the rate that uniformed police do. Yet we have no problem with cops being armed in public. What then is the problem with LAGOs keeping our firearms in our homes and taking them to our ranges? Why the focus on us and not the criminal element?
For the last five decades, we lawful firearms owners have been begging Canadian governments from both ends of the political spectrum to work with us to develop a set of targeted and cost-effective gun laws that strictly and severely deter and punish the criminal and negligent abuses of firearms, that limit lawful access to those with a clean criminal record, that strongly promote firearm safety and proficiency training, and that are regularly audited for performance and replaced when found wanting.
For the last 50 years, we LAGOs have jumped through every hoop. We have obeyed every law. We have acquiesced to every demand, no matter how arbitrary, no matter how useless, no matter how ignorant and no how counterproductive. We’ve done this because we are good people with good hearts. We obey the law, even when it is ineffective for its stated purpose and even when it appears to be weaponized against us.
These misdirected group punishments have to stop because they do not achieve any real benefit and are usually counterproductive. They also foment distrust and resentment of government where before there was respect.
Unfortunately, the government, spurred on by the sadly misguided efforts of certain victim groups, has seen fit to attack the one segment of Canadian society that is the most scrutinized, the most law abiding and the least likely to commit an offence, that is, LAGOs.
Speaking of compromise, how about screening all LAGOs to the higher RPAL standard, the restricted standard item? Please perform stringent background checks, promote public education about the anonymous RCMP/CFC tip line, and provide a web portal for PAL verification that will allow any PAL holder to submit any other PAL number to get a red light or a green light and a photo, while recording the verification date and time. Also, start enforcing the supposedly mandatory penalties for illegal firearms abuse that are currently nearly always bargained away in the legal process.
In return, we would want the PAL to be accepted at face value as evidence of a clean criminal records check for volunteer and bonded work. After all, we are reverified by CPIC on a daily basis. We want the PAL to be our de facto ATT for lawful purposes, as Mr. Taylor mentioned already.
The PAL verification system should only record firearms specifics for restricted purchases, not for non-restricted ones. We want the classes of firearms to be based on actual function, not on cosmetic appearance and definitely not based on how some hypothetical machinist or technician with a CNC laboratory may conceivably criminally alter the function at some point in the future.
To finish up, let me again repeat what we LAGOs have been begging our government to do for a long time. We don’t want gun anarchy. We want a coherent system of laws that are constitutional, effective, appropriately targeted, enforced and cost effective. These laws must severely deter and punish the violent, criminal and negligent abuses of firearms while they promote the widespread dissemination of firearm safety and knowledge. We remain willing to work tirelessly with any government or agency to achieve this goal.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Senator Pratte: Thank you for being here, Mr. Taylor and Dr. Ackermann.
Mr. Taylor, you described the situation of firearms retailers as extremely difficult, including in your own case, because of increasing government regulation of firearms. I want to put on the record that, in the last five years, the number of restricted firearms registered in Canada went up by 247,975, which is an increase of 38 per cent. Obviously the industry seems to be doing quite well. From what I understand, hunting and especially shooting sports are more popular than ever.
As far as ATTs, I understand the government has said that ATTs will be available online and a much more rapid system than what was earlier available only by phone. Therefore it will be available 24-7, which should alleviate some of your concerns.
I have a question. I may be wrong in my impression, because I am not as knowledgeable as you are, but some data backs it up. If you allow automatic ATTs to be included with the PAL for shooting ranges, that covers about 95 per cent of the transportation needs of gun owners. That’s what the government statistics show. Only a small minority would have to request an ATT for specific purposes like going to the gunsmith or a gun show.
Also, regular users, someone who regularly goes to gun shows, could have access to a long-term ATT even in the former system. Is that accurate?
Mr. Taylor: On the first part of your question, what I meant with respect to the business. Back in the 1990s, when the Firearms Act first came out, people were afraid to buy anything. They were afraid to spend money on any kinds of firearms or devices because the government was about to take them away.
Yes, I agree that current firearm sales have gone up, but my concern is that I hear the government talking about banning handguns and assault rifles. That will affect me personally and directly in the film industry because I will no longer have those firearms available to me through distribution or available for sale because they won’t be bringing them into the country. That was the point that I was trying to make.
Could you please remind me of the second part of your question?
Senator Pratte: I was just wondering, even in the former system before 2015, couldn’t gun owners who regularly go to gun shows or professional shooters who regularly go to the gunsmiths for sports purposes, for instance, have access to a long-term ATT? It would not be attached to the PAL, I understand, but a longer term ATT would allow for their not having to call each time to get an ATT for a gun show.
Mr. Taylor: Most recently, yes, it’s on my PAL.
Senator Pratte: But even before that.
Mr. Taylor: No, not that I recall. As a gunsmith, the customers would call me and bring in their handgun in. I would ask, “Do you have an ATT,” and they would say, “I have to get one.” Virtually everybody who brought a restricted firearm or a prohibited firearm to me for repairs had a paper ATT issued by the CFO. Nobody had it on their licence. I don’t recall anybody having one on their licence until recent years.
Senator Pratte: Mr. Taylor, do you keep records of your sales of all kinds of guns that you sell?
Mr. Taylor: Yes, I do.
Senator Pratte: What information is included in these records?
Mr. Taylor: I actually brought one to show you. You can look at it later.
Senator Pratte: That is great.
Mr. Taylor: We keep a ledger book.
Senator Pratte: Is it like a green book?
Mr. Taylor: We have a ledger book.
These are the firearms ledgers issued to us by the CFO. In the early years I had the big green book. When a firearm is brought in for the first time, you enter in the ledger the certificate number, the inventory number, the serial number, the make and model, and all the things you have to know about the firearm and from where you got it.
On the day you sell it, you enter the person’s firearms licence, the date of expiration, the authorization to transport or the transfer reference number. When the person picks it up, being a restricted or prohibited weapon, the individual signs for it, or we note how it is sent to them and the date.
We have kept that information since the 1990s, and we still do it today.
Senator Pratte: What will the record-keeping requirements that Bill C-71 change for you?
Mr. Taylor: When we sell non-restricted firearms, I would say the record requirement will go back to like it was when firearms were registered. We will have to keep a record of each sale. For me personally, I keep a record of a sale of everything.
Senator Pratte: Whether it’s restricted, unrestricted or whatever.
Mr. Taylor: It doesn’t matter. For rifles and shotguns, I keep the names and licence numbers. I have done so for years. I haven’t changed anything. I don’t keep copies of their PALs.
I just look at them when they want to buy something to make sure. As a business, I can go online to check their licences to see if they are valid. I don’t have to call.
Senator Pratte: My impression is that Bill C-71 will tell you to continue to do exactly what you’re doing.
Mr. Taylor: In that respect you’re probably correct.
Senator Gold: Thank you both for being here today. I will frame my question by saying that both of you have drawn a very sharp distinction between criminals and law-abiding gun owners who are the great majority of gun owners in Canada. If I understand both of your positions — and we’ve heard this from other witnesses — Bill C-71, in your view, really targets the wrong group.
I suggest to you that the sharp distinction between criminals and law-abiding gun owners may not reflect the whole picture. There are law-abiding Canadians who find themselves in difficulty, emotionally, in their lives and in their partnerships. They may have aggravated mental health problems and find themselves, in moments of crisis and stress, regrettably turning to violence in the hope or belief that it will solve their problems.
We have had evidence. We have heard many witnesses talk about the use of firearms in family situations against partners and children. Not only are the fatalities horrible enough, but the damage and trauma linger long after those events. The statistics bear that out. In terms of domestic violence, nearly 600 people in 2016 were victims of spousal abuse involving firearms. Over a quarter of violent crime in Canada is committed by an intimate partner.
We also heard very disturbing evidence about the relationship between firearms and suicide. Professor Brian Mishara reminded us that if there’s a legal gun in the house, an otherwise law-abiding citizen who nonetheless finds themselves in a crisis is far more likely to die if you try to commit suicide with a gun. If there’s access to a gun, it increases those chances.
I would be interested in your comments, Dr. Ackermann because I am sure you have seen the horrible results in your practice.
I have a more general question for both of you on enhancing and expanding the background checks and other issues. Would you not agree that Bill C-71 is targeting the real problem of the use of firearms by otherwise law-abiding citizens? It is not to commit crimes. They’re there, and in moments of crisis and stress they turn them on others or themselves. They are lives worth saving, and maybe this bill can take a step toward saving some of those lives. I’d be interested in your comments.
Dr. Ackermann: That is certainly a very good set of questions. I am a little curious about the 600 statistic. We know there are about 1,200 to 1,400 firearm deaths per year, of which 80 per cent are suicides and about 250 are homicides. Also, there are about 20 accidental shooting deaths every year in Canada.
I am not sure what is meant by 600 episodes of family abuse involving firearms. Does that mean there was a firearm somewhere in the building, or was it actually used to assault somebody? That’s a question I have never heard anybody answer.
A lot of these ideas go back to the Kellermann study of about 20 years ago, when Dr. Kellermann said, “If there’s a firearm in the house, you are 42 times more likely to be murdered than if you don’t have a firearm in your house.” He suffered from extreme selection bias in that the houses he looked at were the scenes of murders. He didn’t look at all houses and compare those with firearms versus those without and their overall rates of murder or violence. He only looked at murder scenes. That study has been debunked many times.
We’re very concerned about murder, suicide and things like that. I’ve been doing shooting sports for 50 or 55 years. I have never seen anybody act inappropriately with a firearm in my company, in hundreds of different ranges all around the world, firing hundreds of thousands rounds of ammunition, and in the company of other armed people.
As a physician I have attended two suicide scenes where a gunshot was abused. However, I’ve had a lot of patients commit suicide. I would much rather focus on the mindsets of the victims than the tool they choose. In a few global studies, if you look around the world, you find that Japan has an extremely high suicide rate and an extremely low firearm ownership rate. I think it’s false to make a direct causative relationship when it may not be there.
It’s highly politicized, unfortunately, that both sides are losing the focus on where it needs. It needs to be preventive. I was talking earlier about the anonymous tip line. That can be a powerful tool.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve counselled victims of spousal abuse to make use of that line. I’ve also counselled people who are worried about the safety of their elderly parents on the road to call the Department of Transport and report their parent, anonymously, as a road hazard. We know 3,500 people die on the roads every year in Canada. These types of lines are very helpful.
The two groups most active in Canada right now, the Coalition for Gun Control and the new Doctors for Protection from Guns, also suffer from extreme selection bias. It must be horrible to be in the ER and see otherwise healthy young people come in with a few holes in them that you have to try to patch together. That doesn’t represent us. That represents gangland activity in downtown Toronto, which is a small percentage of our country. It must have been horrible to be at l’École Polytechnique. My heart goes out to these people, but being there doesn’t make you a criminologist any more than being in a car crash makes you a civil engineer.
We really need to look at the information before us. Lots of different jurisdictions around the world have tried all levels of firearms control. The evidence is there. We just need to look at it.
Mr. Taylor: Regarding your question at the beginning, I have no issues whatsoever with expanded background checks into somebody’s history, be it criminal, mental health or otherwise, when the first application comes about for their firearms licence.
I heard in other testimony on another day how long it takes a mental health professional to respond to a police request. I heard from one of your witnesses that they don’t respond. It’s one of those situations where background checks are okay with me as long as everybody is on the same page and we are all willing, including the doctors and law enforcement, to give the information required.
In my statement I referred to the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. Family members who know somebody is struggling or family members who know somebody is in crisis need to pick up the phone and make that phone call. Somebody has to say something about what happens when somebody commits suicide.
In my extended family, it has happened, and it has happened with a firearm. In my extended family, I have members who struggle with depression and other maladies and are taking medications for it, including one of my direct family members who was taken out of his house by police because of an interaction with a drug he was given. I am not immune to the things that happen within a household and within a family structure.
At the same time, many these things can be stopped by somebody inside the family making a phone call, calling a crisis line or doing something. If there are firearms in the house, and you’re concerned about somebody hurting themselves or others, then make that phone call.
As far as trying to license or mandate it in the law, I don’t see that with respect to stopping a suicide by a firearm if somebody is bound and determined to do it. I’ve had some of my customers hang themselves after a marital dispute. It’s one of those tragic things that happens in society. I would hazard to guess that most times you can’t stop it if somebody is bound and determined to do it.
The Chair: I remind senators we have a hard stop at 12:45 p.m., so keep your questions short.
Senator Boisvenu: I have a few questions for Dr. Ackermann, so I hope I have enough time left. First, isn’t it true that most deaths resulting from domestic violence or suicide are committed using registered firearms?
Dr. Ackermann: I cannot speak to that. I would say that most of the deaths in family violence are actually blunt force using fists and feet, seconded by knives. When firearms are involved, I can’t tell you whether or not they’re registered. I am afraid I don’t know.
Senator Boisvenu: I got a hold of some statistics for two provinces regarding the major delay on the part of the medical community in responding to police requests. Police are still waiting for medical professionals to provide information in some 2,700 cases in British Columbia, and in 2,600 cases in Alberta. If the medical community, which is very much behind this bill, is really sincere about reducing the number of suicides and homicides, should it not give police departments timely access to the medical information they need to screen individuals looking to buy firearms?
Dr. Ackermann: That’s another excellent question. As a physician, I work very cooperatively with our local police department. I am a rural physician, and we know each other on a professional basis and personally. There is trust and mutual respect between us.
I have absolutely no problem reporting to the authorities if one of my patients is in immediate risk of harm to themselves or others. I have no problem reporting to the authorities if one of my patients is engaging in harm to children. Not only do I not have an ethical or moral problem with it, it’s actually mandated in law in Nova Scotia that a physician must report those things.
Getting at the question of wait times, I agree 100 per cent that it is absolutely horrendous. We had a high-profile case in the Antigonish area. A young soldier returning from the Middle East killed himself and his entire family. Despite having gone to multiple emergency rooms over a two-week period, begging for help, he was not given the help he needed.
As a profession, yes, we wear this. I work with our local and provincial health authorities to try to address these things. We are faced with some realities, though. My little hospital has no secure facility. Therefore, I am completely unable to protect a patient from his or her own actions or to protect my staff from the patient’s actions.
If patients come to me and they are in immediate risk of violent harm, we ask the police to escort them under guard to our regional hospital where they have a secure lockdown facility. Then the law comes into it. They can only hold them for a certain short amount of time.
If a patient is not displaying obvious psychotic or harmful behaviours, they’re mandated by law to let him or her go. Patients can voluntarily self-commit themselves to a secure facility, but they rarely do.
Yes, I support the idea that maybe we need more teeth in the law, so that if somebody is acting really “out there” they can be taken into custody for a short period of time longer than 24 or 48 hours and maybe a week or so to get a decent evaluation.
Of course, that will bring us back to the way we were in the 1960s where people were getting locked up inappropriately. There is always this balancing act that we have.
Senator Boisvenu: If, then, we recognize that preventing suicides hinges on the medical community providing police departments with information in a timely manner so that they can move quickly to revoke licences if necessary, doesn’t that fall in the provincial domain?
Dr. Ackermann: I don’t know if it’s provincial or not. If I have a patient who’s at immediate risk and I call the police, I know they use their authority to go over and remove firearms.
The difficulty is that the patient may not divulge to me if they know that’s going to be my action. I am always honest with my patients. I don’t lie to them. If you lie to one patient in a rural community, the word gets out and nobody will ever trust you again. I am very honest with them. I tell them of the legal circumstances under which I must report. Some patients will then hide their intentions and their actions. As Mr. Taylor said, somebody who has absolutely committed to commit suicide will not set up the conditions for preventing that suicide. It would be just the opposite.
I think that’s all I can say about that.
Senator Oh: My first question is for you, Mr. Taylor.
How long have you been in this business of transporting firearms here and there for movies?
Mr. Taylor: I started my first day on a film set in 1993.
Senator Oh: Over the period of many years, I suppose you have made many trips to move weapons here and there for the shooting of different movie scenes.
Mr. Taylor: Yes, we moved the weapons under our authorization to transport in accordance with the regulations for the transportation of firearms for businesses.
Senator Oh: During so many years of transportation, could you tell the committee how many times you lost your weapons or they were not returned to the armoury?
Mr. Taylor: Zero lost. We had one occasion in one movie where one shotgun was removed from the set by a stunt performer. We’re still not sure today whether it was done on purpose or by accident, but it was removed in their bag.
Within five minutes of that particular case, police were notified. We did a search for it, and we ended up finding it. As of today, we have never lost a single firearm during the transportation phase of our business.
Senator Oh: When Bill C-71 comes in, do you believe that Bill C-71 will make your transportation even safer, or is it just giving you more problems and does not improve what you are doing now?
Mr. Taylor: Bill C-71 isn’t going to change anything for the business side. For the civilian side, it means I have to make another phone call or get another permit to move something.
It is an authorization I have already had for years. Now that authorization is being taken away from me, and I have to call in as an individual and say, “I want to move my gun tomorrow to the gunsmith.” Before, or in most recent times, I could do that automatically without having to make a phone call.
Senator Oh: I have a question for Dr. Ackermann.
Do you believe that Bill C-71 will improve and reduce criminal and family suicide rates if it comes into force?
Dr. Ackermann: I don’t believe it will affect the overall suicide rate at all. It may have some effect on the suicide rate by guns.
Senator Busson: Thank you, Mr. Taylor, for attending today. I am very interested in your business with the movie group. Senator Oh covered just about all I had to ask about it.
I am curious to know how you screen the people who work for you. Does everyone who work for you have a PAL and a level of screening in dealing with these firearms as they move from place to place?
Mr. Taylor: Yes, every one of our employees has a PAL for non-restricted and restricted firearms. They also go through a screening process for us through the controlled goods directorate. I do that screening. They have to get police background checks and fingerprints.
I do the whole workup through the controlled goods directorate plan. I approve or deny their working for me, or approve or deny their having access to prohibited or controlled goods.
Senator Busson: For clarification, the changes to Bill C-71 would not affect this multi-million dollar industry from your perspective.
Mr. Taylor: The only way it would affect our industry is the access to firearms if things were controlled on the civilian side or if, after Bill C-71, they decide to ban handguns or assault rifles. That would definitely be harmful to our industry.
Senator Busson: My last question is for Dr. Ackermann. I have to confess, Dr. Ackermann, that I was absolutely shocked to hear that police officers murder, rape, and I didn’t catch the third category, more than legal gun owners do. That absolutely terrifies me.
Could you supply the source of that statistic, please?
Dr. Ackermann: That statistic was compiled through the U.S. Department of Justice dealing with American police. However, there was a study out of Alberta awhile back that also confirmed that.
I am afraid I don’t have those papers in my hand right now, but the important thing to remember is that even though they might have a slightly higher rate of these crimes than law-abiding gun owners do, both have extremely low rates. We’re talking about 0.0001 per cent of the population versus 0.00012 per cent. They are both extremely low, so the differences might just be background noise.
Senator Busson: For clarification, the third category of wrongdoings that you described, was that suicide?
Dr. Ackermann: It was murder, rape and robbery.
Senator Busson: Robbery. Thank you very much.
Senator Dagenais: Dr. Ackermann, correct me if I’m wrong, but you were on the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee under the previous government, were you not?
Dr. Ackermann: This is true.
Senator Dagenais: Were you consulted by the current government on Bill C-71?
Dr. Ackermann: No, I was not.
Senator Dagenais: That is pretty surprising from a government that claims to listen to Canadians, after all. It should’ve consulted you. Can you give us your assessment of the views expressed by physicians groups in favour of greater handgun control?
Dr. Ackermann: I find it very strange that this group popped into full existence, fully fledged, ready to fly and fully funded, with speaking engagements all organized across the country in less than a week. I find that very strange.
I believe they suffer from extreme selection bias. The people who come into the emergency rooms needing their technical expertise are in no way representative of overall Canadians. Nor are the people who injured their patients.
I think that this group is a political entity masquerading as a medical entity.
Senator Dagenais: Your assessment suggests bias on their part.
Senator McPhedran: This is a question for Dr. Ackermann. Are you aware of a study that was conducted by Dr. Deborah Doherty and Dr. Jennie Hornosty carried out in rural New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island?
Are you familiar with the findings of that study?
Dr. Ackermann: If you will tell me what the study’s topic was, then I could answer that question.
Senator McPhedran: Yes. It was about firearms in rural homes and communities. What they found was that the attitude toward firearms is influenced by the hunting or gun culture which places a strong, positive value on gun ownership, as both of the witnesses have verified for us today.
They also found that while abuse sometimes involved having a firearm pointed at women and children in these homes of legal firearm owners, the very presence of firearms served to silence women even when the threats were indirect.
The fear of firearms misuse can become a community concern affecting family, neighbours and service providers who are actually intimidated or scared to call the police when they witness abuse for fear of retaliation.
Dr. Ackermann, as a rural physician, is this relevant information to you in caring for your patients?
Dr. Ackermann: Yes, I recognize the study although I did not recognize authors. I have read it, and I agree with most of it.
If you’re living in a horrible situation where you’re terrified of your spouse, that’s a very powerful silencer. The way we deal with that is to empower the victims. They need more resources. They need to feel that they can safely get out of there. Women in those kinds of situations are totally helpless. They are financially dependent on their abusers. Perhaps I could give you a short little anecdote.
I had one woman whose husband came in my emergency room with a big cut on his arm that he had suffered when he tried to punch her and missed and hit a glass window. As soon as he left, I phoned her and told her, I said, “You need to get out of there,” and she did. My phone call was enough to tip the balance for her. She got out of there.
We need to focus on helping these victims to harden themselves as targets, to fail the job interview of their abuser, and to get the supports they need.
Senator McPhedran: Just to clarify, given the high level of your concern for your patients in domestic abuse situations, do you consider the findings of the particular study I summarized to be relevant or irrelevant, that is, the presence of guns in households where there is risk and/or incidents of domestic abuse is actually an exacerbating factor in that abuse?
Dr. Ackermann: The presence of violent abusers in those households is the exacerbating factor. Certainly, if there’s a gun there, it would be very scary; but there are also hammers, axes, knives, boots and feet. Focusing on the inanimate tool that is abused by the violent person is going to miss the target.
The Chair: Mr. Taylor and Dr. Ackermann, I want to thank you very much for appearing with us today. We appreciate the time you’ve taken and the contribution you have made to our committee.
For our second panel today we welcome the Honourable Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction; from Public Safety Canada, Randall Koops, Director General, Policing Policy; from Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kellie Paquette, Director General, Canadian Firearms Program, and Robert Mackinnon, Director, Firearms Business Improvement Directorate; and from the Department of Justice, Alexandra Budgell, Team Leader and Senior Counsel.
Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction: Good afternoon, senators. I am very grateful for the opportunity to appear before you today as you continue the study of Bill C-71, the government’s proposed legislation to strengthen Canada’s gun laws.
I believe there is no greater responsibility for any order of government than ensuring the safety of its people and their communities.
I believe Canadians can be assured that our country is one of the safest in the world. That does not mean we can be complacent about our good fortunes, especially not after we have seen an increase in gun violence across the country in recent years.
For example, police-reported violent crime where a firearm was present has increased by 42 per cent in Canada between 2013 and 2017. We are also seeing a rise in firearm-related homicides. There were 266 such homicides in Canada in 2017, 43 more than the previous year, and the fourth consecutive year of increase.
Shootings have become the most common method of homicide, fuelled in large part by gang rivalries. Gang activity tends to grab some of the greatest headlines, of course, but the problem of gun violence goes far beyond warring criminal factions. Angry, vengeful or troubled individuals are often getting access to guns in the country. They are using those guns to commit horrific crimes like the mosque massacre in Quebec two years ago, the deadly mass shootings in Fredericton and on the Danforth in Toronto last summer.
Firearms also play a role in many cases of intimate partner and domestic violence, both as a means of intimidation and as a method of carrying out violent acts. The well-known triple homicide is just one tragic example of that. Another major concern is the use of firearms by people suffering from an illness that could cause them to be a risk to themselves or to others.
In fact, guns have been used in more than 500 suicides in Canada each year. In each case and behind every statistic is the reality that these are lives forever changed by the unlawful use of a firearm.
It is a tragedy for the people directly involved and their families, but it is also having a terrible impact on places in which these incidents have taken place. I’ve certainly seen, in my previous career of nearly 40 years as a police officer, the impact gun violence can have on these communities and people’s sense of safety.
My experience also tells me that there is no one simple solution for tackling gun violence and crime. The problem is too complex and multifaceted for easy, simple answers.
That’s why the Prime Minister has given me a mandate to examine this issue, to look at every and any measure possible up to and including a ban on handguns and assault styles rifles, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians.
As part of that mandate, I have been reaching out to partners, stakeholders and concerned citizens on all sides of this debate and discussion. I’ve had the opportunity to hear a wide range of perspectives and voices in every part of the country over the past several months. I’ve met with provincial, territorial and municipal colleagues, Indigenous communities, community organizations, law enforcement, police chiefs and experts in all places large and small. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with victims of gun crime and various victim advocacy groups.
I spent a great deal of time visiting shooting ranges, meeting with organizations which represent sports shooters and hunting enthusiasts as well as firearms retailers, all of whom I know are dedicated to lawful and safe gun use.
In addition to these in-person bilateral meetings and round table sessions, the government engaged in activities that have included an online questionnaire and analysis of written submissions. The summary report on what we have heard will be available publicly shortly.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the key themes that have emerged in those discussions. We have heard, and frankly I know from my experience as a police officer, that guns that are used for crimes have essentially two sources in this country. A significant portion of those guns is smuggled into our country. Others are getting into the hands of criminals from domestic sources.
The number of break-and-enter incidents involving a firearm, including for the purpose of stealing a firearm, has increased significantly over the past several years, from 309 in 2009 to 1,175 in 2017. It does not come as a surprise that consultations have explored the need for stronger and more secure storage requirements for firearms. This will help prevent thefts from businesses and legitimate gun owners.
Our consultations have also raised the possibility of a licence suspension mechanism to limit access to firearms for those who may pose a risk to themselves or to others.
Another consistent theme was the need to improve the collection and sharing of data on gun crime, including on the source of firearms in the illegal market. Better and more widely shared data is critical to understanding the types of crimes being committed.
It’s also critical for supporting front-line enforcement and prosecution efforts, especially when it comes to the tracing of crime guns in order to find out if they were obtained through theft, smuggling, straw purchase or by another means.
I look forward to presenting before cabinet my recommendations for a way forward very shortly, including a possible weapons ban. We are considering all population options. I can tell you that we are taking a very hard look at the weapons that were used in the terrorist attack that took place on the mosques in New Zealand and in shooting tragedies here and around the world.
Whatever measures we end up bringing forward as a government, we want to ensure that they will be truly effective in keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals. We also want to ensure that whatever we do is done in a way that respects and acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of firearms owners in this country are law abiding and responsible in their firearms use.
I can tell you that much of what we’ve heard aligns with and supports the practical and reasonable measures that have been proposed in Bill C-71, including measures aimed at enhancing background checks and improving lines verification procedures for those seeking to lawfully acquire firearms.
At the same time, it’s important to note that we will also continue to take action to keep Canadians safe by combatting the unlawful use of firearms. We have very importantly made available up to $327 million over a five-year period in new funding to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce violent gun crime and criminal gang activities.
From that $327 million, we’re investing $86 million in our law enforcement and border security agencies to bolster the important work they do to intercept and stem the flow of illegal firearms coming across our border.
A larger portion of the overall funding amount, a total of $214 million over five years, has been made available to provinces and territories to respond to their specific needs and to support efforts in their communities.
We know that rising rates of violent crime in Canada is not just simply being felt in large urban centres. Smaller cities are facing this challenge, as well as rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities. All of these places can have different needs based on the different experiences they may have with gangs and violent gun crime. That’s why we’re giving the provinces and territories a maximum flexibility in using the federal funding that we’re making available to meet those needs as they see fit.
A broad range of activities and recipients are eligible for funding under our new gun and gang violence action fund. That includes efforts to enhance knowledge through improved data collection and intelligence sharing, and to improve the abilities of law enforcement to identify gangs and their members. It also includes projects targeting operational response within communities in priority areas.
For example, federal funding will now help Saskatchewan expand its ability to collect, analyze and share information related to gun and gang activity. It will allow the province to realign existing police resources to put a greater focus on targeting gangs and related criminal activity, including gun violence.
The gun and gang violence action fund is not simply about supporting law enforcement. It is also designed to address the crucial need within communities for prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programs. All partners need to work together to reduce the demand for firearms, especially among young people who are susceptible to getting involved in gangs and using guns to resolve conflicts and disputes.
That involves working with law enforcement and with community organizations that are developing innovative crime prevention programs at a local level. It involves investing in communities and in youth, helping those youth to make better choices and changing the circumstances that often give rise to violent crime in our communities.
The importance of addressing underlying causes of violence has been a point of consensus across the board in all of consultations in which I have been engaged.
In British Columbia, we recently announced federal funding to support initiatives aimed at preventing and intervening in local gang activity in specific communities that have been struggling with violent crime. That will include community consultation, targeted training, and development of Indigenous gun and gang violence prevention tools.
In Ontario, a number of initiatives will support the development and delivery of community-based Indigenous-specific programs designed to reduce violence and promote healing in Indigenous communities.
In my experience, as a person responsible for the safety of nearly three million citizens in my city, I’ve learned over many years that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the problem of gun violence in our communities. We have to continue to look at, invest in and do a significant number of things, and we have to do them well. That’s why we’ve taken a very comprehensive approach to reducing all forms of gun violence and crime and keeping communities safe.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the members of the committee for the important work you’re doing in studying this issue. I look forward to having an opportunity to respond to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you, minister.
I remind all senators that we have a number of people on the list, so please keep your questions short.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you, Mr. Blair, for your presentation. You mentioned your 40-year career as a Toronto police officer, and we’ve had the chance to meet before. I spent 39 years with the Quebec provincial police, so we have a good grasp of the situation. You know as well as I do that gangs use smuggled firearms; oftentimes, the serial number has been removed or they simply destroy any trace of the gun. Bill C-71 will do nothing to lower crime rates in major cities like Toronto and Montreal. Most of the firearms used in violent crimes are not affected by Bill C-71. What’s more, the courts have struck down the mandatory minimum sentence for those who commit crimes with a loaded weapon. Your government can’t exactly be praised for doing much on that front given that mandatory minimum prison sentences have been quashed. Canadians, however, want the government to do something about that very issue. Don’t you think career criminals deserve mandatory minimum sentences?
Mr. Blair: Thank you very much, senator. I will respond to a couple of issues that you raise, and I’ll try to do it quickly.
In my experience, it’s important that we also look at doing all the things that may be necessary to prevent the crime in the first place. The best way to do that is, first, to make the crime more difficult to commit and, second, to make it more likely that law enforcement will have the resources and the capacity to actually detect and therefore deter these incidents from taking place.
Of course, then there have to be an adequate consequence and an appropriate consequence for the criminal acts that may have been committed.
We’re certainly in agreement on all of those things, but as a government we’ve been making significant investment in increasing the capacity of law enforcement — not just federal policing authorities, but also municipal and provincial policing authorities — to make sure that they have the tools and the resources that they need to be more effective in communities.
As I stated earlier in my remarks, law enforcement is not the only way to deal with this matter. Much of that is reactive after the fact. We’re making significant investments in communities and in kids to change the circumstances that give rise to violence. All of those things are of equal importance.
Senator Dagenais: In your statement, you mentioned the increase in the number of firearms stolen during break and enters. It is strange indeed how you link that to the rising rate of violent crime. Tell me, how does someone who breaks into a home know that they are going to find a firearm?
Mr. Blair: What we have seen in recent years is a significant source of firearms that end up on the streets of our cities and in communities being used in violent crime are weapons that have been stolen, either from gun retailers or from legal gun owners in Canada.
I don’t have national data because, as I mentioned elsewhere in my remarks, the data is incomplete, but I have what I think is a very useful data sample from my experience in my own police service where we traced the origin of every crime gun we came in possession of.
Approximately 30 per cent of those weapons had been diverted from a legal domestic market in Canada, which means either at point of sale or as a result of theft or other forms of diversion those things ended up in the hands of criminals.
You also make reference to how they’re grinding off the serial number. That’s true. They try to do that to obscure or to hide the origin of the firearm, but I can also tell you from experience that our forensics people are very good at raising those serial numbers. When we are able to trace the origin of those crime guns, it can often lead to further investigative opportunities to determine who is responsible for diverting a gun from the legal market into the hands of criminals.
Senator Dagenais: Australia and New Zealand opted to compensate gun sellers for financial losses resulting from new prohibitions. If Canada adopts new prohibitions, does your government plan to compensate legitimate Canadian firearms dealers, who will certainly see a significant drop in the value of their inventory?
Mr. Blair: Senator, all I can tell you is we simply have not yet made a decision with respect to how we will deal in the future with any firearm. I can tell you what I’ve heard as I’ve travelled across the country. It’s a concern being expressed by firearm owners about the impact of either prohibition, grandfathering or buy-back programs.
It is an issue that I canvassed and studied very extensively across the country, but the government has not, at this point in time, made any decisions with respect to how we would proceed on that matter in the future.
Senator Gold: Thank you, minister, for being here. Thank you to your officials who are accompanying you.
Given your long experience on the police force, could you tell us how you think Bill C-71 would help the police do their work?
Mr. Blair: There are aspects of this bill that I believe continue to encourage responsible gun ownership. As I’ve indicated, Senator Gold, in my experience the overwhelming majority of firearm owners in this country are quite responsible in how they acquire their firearms, store them, use them and dispose of them. I believe these measures strengthen that regime to encourage responsible ownership.
I think the improved background check provisions of this bill will also enable us to make better informed decisions with respect to the suitability of an individual for those licences. Again, the more information available to inform those important decisions, I think there’s value in that.
Finally, in my experience as a young police officer prior to other provisions, firearm retailers kept the green books and kept information available. They did it to protect their own liabilities and for insurance purposes, but it was not available to the state. It was available through the legal process. You could get a search warrant. There were times when that was a very useful investigative path to determine the origin of a firearm that had been used in a violent crime or even a murder.
Those measures, as now contained in this bill, will create an opportunity to be more successful in those investigations while at the same time not get us into the same lengthy debate about the maintenance of those records. They will not be kept by the state, but they will be available through a legal process. I think that can improve public safety because it can improve the likelihood of detection.
Senator Griffin: I think the gun and gang action fund is a great idea. I like the idea of it being in partnership with the provinces, territories and municipalities.
If we were to propose an amendment that there be an appeal mechanism for whenever the RCMP may classify a weapon from restricted to prohibited, what would be the logical place for such an appeal? What agency or individual?
Mr. Blair: I have the benefit of officials from justice here that perhaps could give a better informed answer.
Senator Griffin: That would be terrific.
Alexandra Budgell, Team Leader and Senior Counsel, Department of Justice Canada: Right now, as we discussed previously, the definitions of the three classes of firearms are in the Criminal Code. Ultimately, it is Parliament through the code that has determined the classifications of firearms under regulations made under the code in some circumstances.
When the RCMP make administrative determinations, what they’re ultimately doing is assessing the firearm against the Criminal Code definitions. There are a number of avenues already where, if somebody feels they are affected by that determination, they can seek recourse to a tribunal or to a court.
In the case of a registration certificate, if it’s revoked, it could be through provincial court reference hearings. In the case of an import or export, it could be through the International Trade Tribunal, and ultimately in a criminal context through the criminal courts.
Senator Griffin: I’ll come back to that in the second round. If firearms can be upgraded from restricted to prohibited, should not the reverse also be possible that a prohibited weapon may be downgraded to restricted?
Ms. Budgell: Right now in the code there is the provision for the Governor-in-Council to deem a firearm to be restricted or non-restricted. Bill C-71 proposes to repeal that provision.
Senator Griffin: So the answer is no. Thank you.
Senator McIntyre: Thank you, minister, for being here today and answering our questions.
I understand you have been engaging in consultations on a potential handgun and assault-style weapons based on concerns voiced largely in larger urban centres about an increase in gun violence. I further understand that comprehensive new legislation is unlikely in the immediate future.
With that said, it remains unclear at this point what the government intends with respect to a broader gun ban. In other words, would this be a full or partial ban on handguns held by licensed gun owners, as well as a ban on assault weapons?
Dependent on what the government will announce with respect to a gun ban, do you think this may make some of the provisions in Bill C-71 superfluous and raise the issue of whether the government has a clear and consistent strategy on firearms?
In other words, don’t you think there should have been one bill that included both restricted and prohibited firearms and handguns?
Mr. Blair: The best way I could answer that is: The government is intent on making informed decisions for bringing forward good public policy based on the best evidence available. I was tasked with conducting an examination of that evidence and consulting with Canadians to get the benefit of a broad range of perspectives. I will tell you there is a great diversity of perspective on all issues related to firearms.
The government wanted to be well informed about those various perspectives and on the best available evidence, and to examine how we might proceed. I was mandated to examine every possible way in which we could improve the safety of Canadians and the safety of our communities. I will tell you that it’s not just an urban issue. I want to clarify that as well, because I’ve heard in all parts of Canada very real concerns about violence, and gun violence in particular, in their communities.
It is an issue in remote communities. It is an issue in northern. It is an issue in rural communities, as well as in urban communities. It manifests itself in different ways in those places, but my job was to go and examine all of the ways and to look at the experience in other jurisdictions to determine what was the best way to continue to respond to the concerns of Canadians about gun violence in their communities.
Senator McIntyre: I understand the government is well intentioned, but the fact of the matter remains that the public will remain confused.
In other words, will they see a clear and consistent strategy on firearms? That’s the issue as far as I am concerned.
Mr. Blair: Frankly, that is my responsibility. Yes, sir, it is my intention to bring clarity and to examine every way in which we might continue to improve public safety.
I have done a great deal of consultation on this matter. My responsibility is to bring those results back to my government. There are important discussions taking place on how we might best proceed. Those discussions have not concluded. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss where we’re at with that, but I can tell you it’s our intention to do what is necessary.
We’re not afraid to consider anything that we think would be effective in keeping people safe.
Senator Boisvenu: Welcome, Minister. I’m going to list a few Statistics Canada figures for you. Three per cent of violent crimes in Canada are committed with firearms, accounting for less than 1 per cent of all crimes committed. The violent crime rate, in both urban and rural areas, has been pretty much unchanged for years. Since 2013, the increase in urban crime has been mainly gang-related. Two-thirds of that violent crime was committed by gangs, and 90 per cent involved the use of handguns. Sixty per cent of crimes are committed by strangers, in relation to violent crime, as compared with other types of crime, where 60 per cent of crimes are committed by family or friends.
The gun-related suicide rate, which sits at 14 per cent, has been steady since 2004. When I look at all that data, I wonder whether we wouldn’t be better off targeting organized criminals, rather than law-abiding hunters and gun owners, considering that gun-related residential theft rates went up by 7 per cent last year alone. Aren’t law-abiding hunters the wrong people to go after, when you should really be targeting organized criminals?
Mr. Blair: Thank you, senator. As I’ve said, our government is actually moving very strongly and making very significant investments in ensuring that police, communities and our courts have the resources they need to tackle the problem of gang violence.
I think sometimes we have to get a little past statistics. You cite that only 3 per cent of violent crime involves a firearm. That’s 7,700 Canadian victims.
Senator Boisvenu: The figures I just mentioned are from 2017, so they are recent.
Mr. Blair: Yes, sir, and I am saying that it is 7,700 Canadian victims.
I will also tell you, again from my experience, that when a violent event involving a gun takes place in a city, the entire city is traumatized. I hearken back to last summer on the Danforth when an individual shot and killed two young girls, two of the victims of that 7,700. Innocent children were killed with a firearm and several innocent people were caught in the crossfire of this shooting. That had an impact on those individuals and on their families, but I can tell you that my entire city was traumatized by that event.
Senator Boisvenu: Minister, all homicides have a traumatic impact on the community. I, myself, was a victim of crime as a father. Of course, you’re going to cite all kinds of headline-making cases, but why doesn’t this bill include any measures to tackle street violence committed by organized criminals and gang members? Nothing in your bill deals with that. Ninety per cent of the people this bill targets are law-abiding non-violent citizens. The 10 per cent who do commit violent crimes are the real problem. Your bill doesn’t even address the issue. Criminals don’t register their firearms. How is your bill going to bring down the crime rate?
Mr. Blair: Again, senator, I believe that the provisions of Bill C-71 encourage and facilitate responsible gun ownership for those individuals. The real problem that we face is not that those are dangerous individuals. They are not. They are subject to significant background checks and abiding by the regulations.
The challenge is when their firearms get into the hands or into the circumstances that give rise to violence, we want to make sure we do everything to interdict the supply of those weapons into that environment.
We are taking steps, but I would also reiterate that it’s not just a matter of creating the regulation. I believe the regulations in Bill C-71, the new legislation, is important. I am very hopeful that it will proceed, but it’s not all we’re doing, not by a long shot.
I’ve been in every community across the country. I have gone to the municipalities, the mayors and the provinces. We’re working to flow funding out to the provinces and territories, to the municipalities and to provincial police services, to ensure they have additional resources to tackle the very significant issue of violence, and gun violence in particular, in communities in all parts of the country.
It’s not just an urban strategy. It’s also a strategy being employed and significant investments being made to create a safer environment for all Canadians as it relates to firearm violence.
Senator McPhedran: Minister Blair, it’s good to have you and your officials here and to be advised of new funding to reduce gun violence in every part of Canada engaging local and provincial leaders.
When Minister Goodale appeared before us on March 18, he suggested that you may be able to provide us with some findings, but today you’ve given us some key themes.
I have two questions, one about the methodology in your consultations and the other about whether you need to be more realistic about an effective action on handguns.
Minister Goodale said that you heard from hundreds, and maybe thousands, of Canadians. Can you give us a more specific number as to who was consulted, including how many women were among that number? Did your consultation use Gender-based Analysis Plus in its design and execution?
Given that the window for parliamentary action on your yet to be released report is getting smaller every day, it seems unlikely, with all due respect, that legislative action on your recommendations can happen before Parliament ends in June.
Why not add handguns to the definition of prohibited firearms in Bill C-71? We’re already going into that section of the Criminal Code, and it’s within the scope of the bill. Why not take that action now?
Mr. Blair: I hope I can give you some rather precise numbers with respect to our methodology. We set up an online portal to allow Canadians to express their opinions. I want to be very clear, though, that I wasn’t conducting a referendum.
What happened, unfortunately, is that I think some individuals thought that they wanted to win. Instead of simply providing their input, one individual provided his input 25,000 times. I am glad he had the opportunity to express himself but he said the same thing over and over again.
What we wanted to ensure is that anyone who wanted to contribute to this conversation and anyone who had a perspective they wanted to share with us had the opportunity to do so. We made that widely available.
As I said, we had 135,000 responses, notwithstanding some people who thought they were stuffing a ballot box. I have no idea why somebody would do that, but we did get the benefit of a large range of perspectives on that.
I have also travelled to every province across the country. In every place I conducted round tables and town hall meetings. I had meetings with special interest groups and attended ranges, et cetera.
You talk about the input of women and the GBA+ that is required in every bit of work we do. I’ve met with quite a number of victim advocacy groups and women who have been the victims of gun violence themselves. Their testimony was very important and compelling in my review.
I didn’t get very specifically into some of the themes that have come forward before the report is released and the government makes determinations on what to do; but I can tell you there was a great deal of concern expressed about the presence of firearms in domestic violence and intimate partner violence situations.
Concerns were additionally expressed regarding what steps we might be able to take to render that situation safe in the immediate term because there are circumstances where guns are in that environment. Although section 117 of the Criminal Code allows for the removal of those firearms, it’s still possible for one of the individuals involved in that dispute to acquire a firearm the next day.
Those are the types of things I’ve heard when considering the best way to respond.
Senator McPhedran: Handguns.
Mr. Blair: Yes, one of the things I think everyone around this table would appreciate is that the discussion of handguns is very complex. We looked at a number of ways in which we can maintain public safety.
I think the caveat that the Prime Minister put on my mandate was important. My job was to conduct the examination in a way that was also respectful of those Canadians who very responsibly own those firearms.
I met with Olympic-calibre sports shooters. I needed to learn about their sport and understand their sport. I needed to understand their firearms and how they acquire, use and store them, et cetera. Before we make a decision on such an important issue of public policy and public safety, it’s important that we make ourselves as well informed as possible about how we would achieve that.
It’s also important to be able to draw a nexus between any action we take and improvements in public safety. We have to find the best evidence to support that. That has been the job I’ve undertaken, and we’re doing it. I know there are people saying, “Just do it quickly.” Frankly, I think we should do it right.
Senator McPhedran: Aren’t you running out of time for action? We don’t even have your report yet.
Mr. Blair: No, ma’am, but if I can’t get it done now, I will come back and do it later.
Senator McPhedran: That’s an interesting assumption.
Mr. Blair: No, it’s not an assumption. It’s an intent. I’ve spent 40 years at this.
Senator McPhedran: A bird in the hand.
Mr. Blair: I understand that, but I think Canadians expect us to take the time to do it right. I’ve been doing my best to take that time to conduct what I believe and hope is an exhaustive examination of this very complicated issue.
I’ve encountered a diversity of perspectives across the country. People perceive this issue very differently. I respect those Canadian concerns and perspectives. It’s important that we actually spent the time to listen to them and to give them an opportunity to speak to this issue. Then we’ll take all that information and try to make the very best decisions possible to improve public safety in Canada.
Senator McPhedran: Will it be before the end of June?
Mr. Blair: As quick as I am able to, ma’am, but I can’t give you a time.
Senator Pratte: Before I get to my question, I’d like to follow up on what my fellow senator, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, was saying about gun owners being under attack. Our previous witnesses also referred to the bill as going after legal firearm owners. I’d just like to point out that Bill C-71 is not an attack on anyone and that it merely makes targeted changes to the Firearms Act. It will have no impact on the vast majority of gun owners, changing absolutely nothing for them.
You’ve consulted widely with Canadians, and I am sure you’ve heard some of what many firearm owners who came before this committee told us. One of their major concerns with Bill C-71 is the issue of the quality of service or service standards by the Canadian Firearms Program and the Chief Firearms Officer. They’re worried that it will take days before they could get a single-use ATT to go to a gunsmith. They’re worried it could take days or hours to get a reference number when someone buys an unrestricted firearm.
What can you tell them to reassure them that it will be rapid, fast and quality service provided on the Internet, I suppose, so they don’t have to wait for hours or days before they get their requested reference number, ATT or whatever?
Mr. Blair: As I’ve canvassed and consulted with firearm owners and firearm organizations across the country, the issue of appropriate service standards has been raised repeatedly. I’ll happily tell you exactly what I’ve told them. We commit to ensuring that adequate and appropriate service standards are in place to support these regulations.
It’s absolutely critical. It’s certainly something that I see as part of my responsibility to ensure it takes place. I’ve heard very clearly that concern. When we put these provisions in place, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that there is an appropriate level of service to not overly burden the lawful firearm owner.
Senator Pratte: We have heard another concern about the implementation of the initiatives contained in Bill C-71. Can you commit to keeping in touch with firearms owners communities so that they are consulted and involved when regulation is drafted and when measures are taken to implement what is included in Bill C-71?
It’s important they’re part of it. They’re the owners. They are numerous. I think they’re acting in good faith. They want to be aware of what’s going on and be consulted, if possible.
Mr. Blair: Certainly. I am quite prepared to make a commitment to continue the dialogue I have maintained with them for a considerable period of time. I’ve gone to see them. They’ve come to see me. We’ll continue in that relationship. That perspective is an important one.
I will also tell you and share with you that many of my colleagues represent rural communities, and all of them represent lawful firearm owners in their constituencies. I want to assure you, they are also very dedicated to bringing forward concerns raised by their constituents on this matter.
Senator Richards: Thank you for being here, minister. I am from rural Canada, from New Brunswick, and I lived in your great city of Toronto for 14 years. We have a mutual friend, Mark Tunney. I know where five gun shops are in New Brunswick. I don’t think I could find one in Toronto. I think I have both perspectives.
Investing in youth, addressing the underlying causes of violence and the marginalization you mentioned in the country are really laudable, but I don’t see what they have to do with the bill in front of me that I’ve read. I don’t see how they fit into the parameters of this bill.
This bill targets other people, many of them rural and many of law biding. I’d like to get your comment on that.
Mr. Blair: I want to be very clear, sir. We’re not targeting anybody with this bill. We’re bringing forward what we believe is very appropriate and responsible legislation that will continue to support responsible firearm ownership. As well, it will provide assurance that individuals who seek licences are subject to an appropriately rigorous background check to make sure they are in fact safe to own and possess firearms. It will also maintain an appropriate environment for lawful gun ownership.
I carried a firearm for a very long time, sir. I was responsible for the administration of about 10,000 of them in my organization. I am not unfamiliar with these rules. The rules are intended to help firearm owners be responsible in their ownership. I believe very sincerely that’s overwhelmingly the intent of the majority.
Frankly, I would not characterize this bill as targeting individuals but rather as creating a safer environment.
Senator Richards: The word “targeting” shouldn’t have been used. I am trying to say that I don’t think the criminal element in our country will be too upset by this bill. That’s what I am trying to say. The criminals I knew in my life — and I knew quite a few — wouldn’t be bothered at all by this legislation.
Mr. Blair: One of the challenges is the nature of criminals. They’re not very respectful of any of our laws.
Having said that, though, I’ve actually been involved quite significantly in reducing and preventing crime with respect to gun violence for a considerable period of time. It’s also necessary to make it more difficult for individuals who would commit violent crimes with firearms to get access to firearms.
Anything we can do to interdict that supply of firearms into the hands of criminals, either smuggled across the border or diverted from the domestic market, is worth considering. Striking a balance with the interests of the lawful firearm owner and making sure those firearms aren’t readily available to the hands of a criminal who would commit a violent crime are parts of what we need to do.
We also need to look at ways in which we can make it more likely that people who would illegally acquire firearms can be detected in that criminal activity. Again, one of the most significant impacts of deterrence is making it harder to commit the crime and more likely to be caught.
Quite frankly, at the end of all of that, there have to be real consequences. We spoke a bit about that earlier. If there’s no likelihood of getting caught and it is an easy crime to commit, then there tends to be more of it. Any steps we can take to make it more difficult for a criminal to acquire a firearm from a legal owner is a useful measure.
Senator Oh: Thank you, minister, for being here. My question is going back to ATT.
This committee has heard from many law-abiding citizens very concerned that ATTs don’t affect criminals because they don’t need ATTs. Only law-abiding citizens need them.
We all know about government red tape in applying for an ATT. I am a sports person. If I am going to a range or to a gun show, I need an ATT to move around.
The old system was working fine. Now you have tightened up ATTs in Bill C-71. It will not help reduce crime. It’s actually punishing law-abiding citizens. Could you comment?
Mr. Blair: One of the points of vulnerability for firearms generally is in their transport. It’s appropriate to avoid a situation where people can be driving around with restricted firearms in their cars.
There is an acknowledgment in this legislation for the majority of people going to and from the retailer that it wouldn’t be required, but for an individual taking it for service to a gunsmith it would be.
In order to address the concerns offered by some that this is burdensome, it brings us back to Senator Pratte’s question about ensuring appropriate service standards and resources are in place so that it is not overly burdensome. It’s an appropriate regulatory control, but it should also be done in an efficient way.
Senator Oh: I have also heard the concerns of good Canadian citizens about ATTs. Would you be setting a fee in future for government ATT applications each time they need one? Will they have to pay an application fee for the ATT?
Mr. Blair: It’s not something I’ve contemplated or considered, sir.
Senator Oh: Is that a no?
Mr. Blair: I can speak for myself. It’s not something I have contemplated.
Senator Oh: It’s a concern on the part of gun owners who came to me and said that it could be a cash cow for the government.
Mr. Blair: My primary focus is on public safety and keeping people safe. I am not looking for cash cows.
Senator Oh: Thank you.
Senator Griffin: I’d like to follow up on Senator Oh’s question regarding the ATT. It mystifies me why it’s okay not to need an ATT to go to a gun range but it’s not okay to take that same firearm to a gunsmith to be repaired or serviced in some way.
You’ve said that public safety is your prime objective. I would think going to the gunsmith and having a fully functioning firearm would be highly desirable. In fact, I can’t imagine why one would need an ATT for that, as opposed to not needing it to go to a gun range.
Mr. Blair: First of all, obviously, there is an automatic ATT for someone to take it either from the place of purchase or to and from the range. That represents 96.5 per cent of ATT requirements. It’s an automatic approval for those circumstances.
We talk about the administrative burden or the problem with acquiring an ATT to take it to a gun show or to a gunsmith. That represents 3.5 per cent of all ATT requirements.
I might suggest it’s not overly burdensome. It’s also an acknowledgment. As the statistics indicate, the automatic ATT is overwhelmingly for circumstances under which the owner of a restricted or prohibited weapon would take it outside of the place of storage in his or her home, or wherever it is stored, to go to and from a range or to bring it home from the store.
That’s the circumstances we are trying to support, but we do not want to create a situation where, for other reasons, people might be driving around with these things in their vehicles. Frankly, that makes them more vulnerable to diversion through theft, but it can also create an unsafe situation to have those firearms out in public.
We want reasonable restrictions on that, and I believe the provisions put in place are just that. They are reasonable.
Senator Griffin: We can agree to disagree. Thank you.
Mr. Blair: Yes, senator.
Senator McIntyre: If Bill C-71 becomes law, to what extent would Canada’s ATT regime be similar to the regimes of other countries?
Mr. Blair: Sir, again I have the benefit of people who I am hopeful will give you a much more informed answer.
Senator McIntyre: That’s good because my next question is directed to them as well.
Randall Koops, Director General, Policing Policy, Public Safety Canada: I am sorry to disappoint both of you, but I am not familiar with the ATT regimes in other countries. I don’t know if my RCMP colleagues are. My apologies, senator.
Senator McIntyre: Would you undertake to provide us with an answer?
Mr. Koops: Of course.
Mr. Blair: That worked out perfectly, so now he has to do the work instead of me.
Senator McIntyre: My next question relates to firearm-related records and data retention.
Has Public Safety Canada or the RCMP considered data safety issues in the context of Bill C-71? If the bill is enacted, will guidelines or assistance be provided to help retailers safeguard the information they have about individual firearm sales? As you know, there’s a retention period of 20 years.
Mr. Koops: There’s the retention period of 20 years. Bill C-71 itself does not specify further conditions about the security of data from the perspective that it’s not necessary.
PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, applies to vendors, retailers, importers and so on, who are holding personal information about their customers.
There is also the protection of provincial privacy legislation, on them at the provincial level, in the conduct of their businesses.
Senator McIntyre: How likely is it that a major data breach of a retailer’s list of firearm purchasers could lead those purchasers to be targeted by criminals or thieves?
Mr. Koops: The retailers take those responsibilities very seriously, as the minister said, both as good citizens and from the perspective of their conditions of insurance.
There are also legal requirements on them, both provincially and federally where applicable, about the measures they have to take around the security of electronic information.
Senator McIntyre: Could I make a small correction? I said, “targeted by criminals or thieves.” I meant targeted by criminals for theft.
Mr. Blair: By the way, Senator Richards, I can get you the addresses of a few gun shops in Toronto if you like.
Senator Richards: Thank you very much.
Mr. Blair: In my experience, sir, the gun shops I am familiar with and have worked with over many years maintained those records because they were a very responsible retailer and did it for insurance purposes. In my 40 years in that city, I am not aware of any incident where anyone targeted that information for theft.
Senator Boisvenu: Minister, it will come as no surprise that you haven’t managed to convince me that the bill has merit. Even if the government were to outlaw all handguns tomorrow, we’d still find just as many handguns in urban areas since the majority of handguns seized by police are illegal.
You say you want to tackle organized crime, but for the past four years, your government has done nothing to toughen up the Criminal Code to deal with gangs or the illegal gun trade. You’ve made no attempt to impose harsher penalties on those people. The mayor of Toronto said perpetrators of gun crime should be subject to stiffer conditions upon release. Repeat offenders should be given harsher sentences. What has your government done in the past four years to change the Criminal Code and really get tough on those criminals?
Mr. Blair: I’ve used the provisions of the Criminal Code both in criminal enterprise investigations and in guns and gang investigations.
Senator Boisvenu: Minister, what more have you done? I appreciate that you’ve used the current provisions, but what additional action have you taken to get tougher on those who shoot each other in the middle of our streets?
Mr. Blair: One of the things we have done is to begin to invest quite significantly in the police officers who enforce those laws. That has been a real challenge for law enforcement right across the country to their own capacity to uphold the law and to keep their communities safe.
We have made significant investments, and we have also made investments in communities to reduce the demand for those guns. I think those are appropriate investments. I am familiar with the laws that are currently available to deal with those kinds of crimes.
Senator Boisvenu: Police nevertheless say how challenging it is for them to deal with these criminals because the laws aren’t harsh enough. They put these individuals in jail, and 12 to 18 months later, they’re back on the streets. Then the police put them back in jail. Repeat offenders should have lengthy prison sentences. Otherwise, the message we are sending is that, even if they commit gun crime, they will be out of jail in no time.
Mr. Blair: Senator, we could perhaps speculate and debate on the appropriateness of sentences to give to these individuals, but in my experience people come out of jail and it’s important that we have the resources and the tools necessary to manage them within our communities.
If we only talk about penalties, that is all reactive after the fact. We’re doing very important work to prevent these incidents from taking place in the first place. We are making it more difficult for these crimes to be committed, to interdict the supply of firearms getting into the hands of criminals, to reduce the demand for these firearms in communities, and to change the social circumstances that give rise to that violence.
When those violent incidents occur, we’ve also taken significant steps to make sure the police have the resources they require to properly investigate, to deal with those individuals, to hold them to account for their criminal actions and to therefor incarcerate them.
At the end of the tragic events that lead to violence, it is not simply that we will lock them up and throw away the key. In my experience that is not a successful strategy to keep communities safe. You have to do a thousand other things, and we’re committed to doing those things.
The Chair: Minister, on behalf of the committee I thank you and your officials for joining us today and taking the time to answer our questions. We very much appreciate your being here.
Senators, we will be dealing with clause-by-clause consideration of this bill on Monday at 11 a.m. I would like to remind senators that we strongly encourage all members wishing to propose amendments to consult with the Office of the Law Clerk and to provide amendments in advance to the clerk so that he can prepare them accordingly.
(The committee adjourned.)