[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
The Chair (Mr. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.)): Good morning. Bonjour.
I'm reconvening the meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Today, we are hearing witnesses on Bill C-15B, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and the Firearms Act.
We have with us today as witnesses the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, represented by Larry Whitmore, executive manager, and Tony Bernard, executive director of the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action; the User Group on Firearms, represented by president Steve Torino; and the Fondation des victimes du 6 décembre contre la violence, represented by David Singleton, coordonnateur of the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, and Amélie Baillargeon, representative, Comité d'action femmes et sécurité urbaine.
As witnesses, I think you have been advised we would appreciate your keeping your opening comments to around ten minutes, as we have a large committee and a great deal of interest in questions and in an opportunity for some dialogue.
The witnesses are presented here in the order of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, the User Group on Firearms, and the Fondation des victimes du 6 décembre contre la violence. I would propose that we proceed in that order.
Mr. Whitmore or Mr. Bernardo? Mr. Whitmore.
Mr. Larry Whitmore (Executive Manager, Canadian Shooting Sports Association): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On behalf of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association and the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action, I would like to thank the members of this committee for the privilege of addressing you today. We are told we only have five minutes. That's all I have written, so you'll have extra time after mine.
My comments will deal exclusively with the amendments to the Firearms Act. I would like to state that we fully support the brief that will be presented by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in relation to the animal cruelty provisions of Bill C-15B.
The amendments to the Firearms Act are considered by the recreational firearms community to be the beginning of a process to improve this fundamentally flawed legislation. Bill C-15's extensive revisions are seen as primarily administrative in nature. Even the changes to subsection 12(6), viewed by some as the key revision, merely postpone confiscation. The handguns cannot be passed down to sons and daughters of the present owners. The continued inclusion of subsections 12(5) and 12(6) serves to reinforce the knowledge of Canadians that registration is simply a precursor to confiscation within a generation.
As for the specifics of Bill C-15, we have a few recommendations for your consideration. Proposed subsection 67(2) is what we refer to as the “use it or lose it” clause. It gives the chief firearms officers power to refuse a licence renewal for restrictive firearms or prohibited handguns if, in their opinion, the firearms are not being used for the purpose they were originally registered for. The revised section loosens the definition to any purpose described in section 28 of the act. It is our recommendation that this entire section be removed from the act.
The intent of this section is to force legal gun owners to dispose of their personal property if, for whatever reason, they are no longer active in target shooting or collecting. How these activities are defined is still not decided, and this section flies in the face of the rights of Canadians to own property. It gives unfettered power to a bureaucrat to determine whether or what property a Canadian may own.
As for subsection 12(6), it is a very controversial section, and one particularly resented by our membership. The handguns that were removed to prohibited status by this section comprise 58% of the legally registered handguns in the registry. They have been owned and used by Canadians for decades, and there's no evidence that these legally possessed firearms are any more likely to be used in criminal acts. The delayed confiscation of registered firearms also reinforces the belief that the only purpose of a rifle and shotgun registry is for the eventual confiscation of these firearms. This will severely impact on the rate of compliance with the law on gun registration requirements.
There's also the question of compensation and the reinstatement of grandfathered status to owners of subsection 12(6) handguns who bowed to the intimidating and threatening letters sent to them by the RCMP. Thousands of firearm owners turned in their legally owned and registered property for destruction under threat of arrest and prosecution. They should be compensated for their loss and a process developed that will allow them to re-enter the grandfathered class, since they would be grandfathered if these provisions are enacted in Bill C-15.
Another serious situation has developed in regard to unregistered prohibited handguns, in that there is currently no provision to allow for the registration of prohibited firearms that have not been previously registered. For example—and I get quite a few calls in my office concerning situations like this—where a grandfather passes away and the children go through the house and find an unregistered war souvenir like a World War II Luger pistol, which falls into the prohibited class because it has only a four-inch barrel, if it is not registered there's no process to allow for the legal possession of that firearm. This confronts the finder of the firearm with two choices: destroy the firearm or keep it illegally. As many people will opt for the latter in order to keep a sentimental heirloom, a third option should exist to permit legal possession.
The question must be asked: Do you, as the government, want to know where these guns are or not? If so, an amnesty should be provided in order to allow for the legal registration and possession of these firearms by qualified individuals.
Paragraph 84(3)(d) concerns the air gun definitions. The air gun definition amendments were included to further define at what point an air gun becomes a firearm. This controversy began with the introduction and use of lightweight pellets, which exceeded the previous 500-foot-per-second standard in the Criminal Code. Despite the fact that these lightweight pellets pose no more of a safety hazard than standard-weight pellets, the increase in velocity caused a change in classification for these air guns that pushed them up over 500 feet per second.
Unfortunately, what is contained in Bill C-15 is a confusing solution that not only fails to clarify the issue but further compounds the problem. The bill proposed to change the definition to an either/or standard of 500 feet per second or 5.7 joules of energy, which translates into 4.2 foot-pounds of energy. The stated interpretation of the justice ministry is that any air gun that falls below either standard is not defined as a firearm for the purposes of the act. However, the wording is so confusing that even our lawyers have taken the interpretation that any air gun that exceeds either standard is a firearm. The wording must be clarified to remove any questions about the intent of the provision.
A significant percentage of the air guns in Canada are of .22 calibre, as opposed to the standard .177 calibre. The use of lightweight .22 pellets causes these air guns to exceed both proposed standards, in effect recreating the original problem. Further, the new air gun provisions do not simplify the problem, and in fact make the process worse by introducing an unrealistic energy standard to the equation. A simple change to the current British standard of six foot-pounds of energy for pistols and twelve foot-pounds of energy for rifles would solve the problem very easily for all calibres of air guns.
As a side note, most of the target air rifles used in Olympic and world championship competitions exceed the velocity standards of 500 feet per second. This is creating quite a problem for us with junior shooters and foreign teams coming into our competitions who have to declare the air rifles at the border. These air rifles cost anywhere upwards from $1,500 to $3,500 and are extremely delicate, target, precision-made air rifles. They certainly aren't used in any drive-bys or anything of that nature.
Adapting the British standard would go a long way to simplifying the process and reducing the unintended complications.
In conclusion, Bill C-15's parent bill, Bill C-68, was in our opinion ill-conceived as a public safety solution. It has been poorly implemented and is proving to be extremely wasteful of the country's scare resources—resources that are vital to Canada's security in light of the September 11 catastrophe. We hope this is the beginning of opportunities to move forward with positive and meaningful changes. We trust that the present justice minister and her government will continue to improve this legislation, keeping those components that are beneficial and eliminating or modifying those that are problematic. Our organization will welcome the opportunity to work with the government to create gun control policy that is fair and effective for all Canadians. We look forward to your leadership.
Thank you for your time and your attention.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Now we turn to Mr. Torino.
Mr. Steve Torino (President, User Group on Firearms): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank you and the members of this committee for having again invited us to present the point of view of the justice minister's user advisory group on the firearms portion of Bill C-15B and to answer any questions you may have.
As a background, the user group was established by the justice minister in December 1995 and provides independent, non-governmental advice from a user's perspective on the various components of the new system. The individual members represent the major areas of expertise and involvement within the firearms community, such as firearms dealers and gunsmiths, target shooters, collectors, shooting range operators, firearm instructors, outfitters, recreational hunters, wildlife representatives, and law enforcement officials.
I would like to state at the outset that the user group fully supports the proposed changes affecting the firearms legislation portion of this bill. The challenge of obtaining the goals of the legislation depends largely on the number of firearms issues that are addressed in a positive manner. The amendments in this bill, in our opinion, are an excellent beginning.
The proposed changes to the Firearms Act and related parts of the Criminal Code are, in our opinion, an excellent start in addressing certain major issues of the firearms community, specifically those regarding the fears of confiscation and the many costly and burdensome processes and procedures.
These changes would also aid towards the pledged goal of a system that is efficient and easy for all to use. Many of the proposed amendments in this bill relate back to our formal recommendations, reports, and presentations made to the justice minister and the Canadian Firearms Centre. We would advocate that the government persist in this initiative in the near future by addressing other important firearms issues that have been raised by the user group and other concerned parties.
We believe some of the major areas of concern to many firearms owners and users are: the fear of confiscation associated with registration; potential escalating future costs and the balancing of public safety with program costs; the necessity for reliable and ongoing communications about Bill C-15B and any future amendments to reach all firearms owners, presenting them with up-to-date legal requirements and their interpretation; and the recognition of the safe and legal possession of firearms as a legitimate activity in Canada. Maximum compliance with firearms legislation is dependent on these concerns being addressed.
The first item of concern is the fear of confiscation associated with registration, and it permeates most other issues. It stems from an historical trend to require the registration of certain firearms, and then to reclassify these firearms through orders in council or other vehicles from the non-restricted to the restricted category, then to the prohibited category with the possibility of confiscation. Loss of property with or without confiscation is the eventual feared result.
The fear that this trend will continue with firearms registered in the future is based on the following: the government's ability to quickly prohibit any firearm without recourse or prior consultation; that registration laws are in place that permit the potential change of class of firearms registered to licensed owners; and that an occurrence or other event may happen prompting reclassification so that a particular firearm is prohibited.
Areas of potential confiscation as represented in the Firearms Act, subsection 12(6) and sections 67 through 71, have been amended by the proposed changes in this bill. These changes remove the immediate threat of a loss of property attached to the present prohibited handgun provisions and the change of use provisions.
These proposed changes, based on our recommendations, and when combined with our recommendation to create the national firearms technical committee to address technical issues such as those associated with Criminal Code subsection 117(15), represent an important positive step in resolving the issue of confiscation. Revocation by the government of the prohibited handgun section, subsection 12(6), and the so-called “use it or lose it” clauses in sections 67 to 71, would be evidence that confiscation is not lurking in the background of universal registration.
The second item of concern is the cost factor to the firearm community associated with universal registration. A great deal of anxiety continues to exist about the possible escalation of future costs to a level prohibitive for all concerned. Many owners are concerned about the equilibrium between fees charged to the user and program costs. We believe budgetary restructuring should be evaluated so that the level of public safety required is not affected, either in terms of operating costs or fees charged. Resources must remain balanced to prevent this. The cost of legislation for the public good is payable by all.
Consultations with the user group have resulted in various initiatives being undertaken, such as the reduced cost possession-only licences, the deferral of the firearm transfer fee, the current initiative of cost-free registration of long guns, and more efficient use of continuous eligibility checks in the licensing renewal process. However, the maximum benefit from such measures can only be attained if this thinking continues to be applied to future policy decisions. Measures such as low-cost licensing renewals, cost-free transfers, etc., will greatly reduce fears of increased costs and will also have a significant effect on the spectre of present and future grey-market transactions.
The third item relates to the fact that the average firearms owner is faced with a medley of information from a variety of sources that sometimes conflict with the legislation. All concerned would benefit from reliable and regular communications covering the various aspects of the new legislation. The ongoing periodic consultations with national and provincial organizations, as recommended by the user group, are an important and integral part of this communications process.
Once these proposed legislative changes receive royal assent, regular communiqués would go a long way to correcting the misinformation and misconceptions presently in the minds of many Canadians. The user group raised this issue with this committee in 1997. We believe it must again be raised in light of the proposed amendments to the bill. Clear and concise explanations of the amended legislation are indispensable and are key to maximum compliance.
The fourth item is a matter that is at the foundation of any discussion concerning firearm ownership and use. The safe and legal ownership of firearms must be recognized by all as a legitimate activity in Canada. In our opinion this must logically begin with and emanate from government communications, since firearm ownership is a government-regulated activity.
In conclusion, we believe that the proposed changes to the firearm legislation in Bill C-15B are an excellent beginning to the formation of a foundation on which to build a program of positive amendments to the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. We continue to strongly encourage the government to maintain a policy of making positive changes to the Firearms Act and the relevant parts of the Criminal Code. This would benefit all those affected by this legislation.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
December 6 Victims Foundation Against Violence.
Mr. David Singleton (Coordinator, Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, December 6 Victims Foundation Against Violence): Thank you. Good morning ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee. With me today is Amélie Baillargeon.
We are here to speak about the December 6 Victims Foundation Against Violence, an organization representing the friends of the victims of the Montreal massacre. We also want to talk about the Action Committee on Women and Urban Safety, which is working to improve the safety of women in public places, and about the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, which is a community organization that offers education programs to individuals most in danger of being assaulted.
Our organization specializes in preventing violence against women. Consequently, we have been involved in proceedings regarding the Firearms Act for a long time. I made a presentation 10 years ago, and here I am again today.
The current act is an important tool to help reduce violence against women, reduce the rate of murders committed by spouses and to increase the safety of women and children. We know that you will be hearing arguments from firearms users, but we think it is important that the voice of victims and potential victims be heard as well. Although we support the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act, we would like to remind you that potential changes should not be made at the expense of victims' lives.
Firearms control helps prevent violence. When firearms are available, they are the means used to express violence. Women are beaten, stabbed and strangled by their spouses, but guns are involved in most cases where women are killed by their spouse.
Firearms are also used to threaten and terrorize women and children in their own homes.
The December 6 Foundation fought for this law all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court affirmed that licensing and registration is within the power of Parliament. We are concerned that the amendments proposed may diminish the role of the Ministry of Justice and Parliament and its responsibility in making sure this law is followed.
Possible changes in the renewal process are also of some concern. Currently the law states that renewals of firearm licences are to be done in the same manner as the original application. To this end, there is a screening of risk factors, provisions for spousal notification, and referee confirmation. As a group involved in prevention, we find that these criteria for applications are extremely important.
This process was developed with the safety of women and children in mind and was the result of public inquests in order to prevent tragedies in the future. In order to manage increased volumes and to improve efficiency and reduce costs, it is proposed to extend the first firearms licences for up to nine years. However, much can happen during a nine-year period. We need reassurances that mechanisms will be put in place to identify the risks addressed by the initial screening process.
We cannot rely solely on the firearms interest police, as it was never intended to replace the renewal system and does not assess all risk criteria, particularly where spousal notification is concerned.
Also, regarding the forms—the change proposed in the amendment to allow electronic submissions—we also need to be assured that the essential screening element remains. For example, the purpose of the referee signature is to ensure that the information on the form is verified. More importantly, it demonstrates that the referees have read and are comfortable with the information contained in the form. If this is affected by applications through electronic submissions, that would certainly be of some concern to us. We also need reassurances about that.
After the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, the students and parents collected more than 600,000 signatures on a petition calling on the government to ban military assault weapons.
It is my understanding that there is a possibility of some relaxing of control in this area as well. While we don't oppose provisions to allow prohibitive hand guns to be used in target shooting, we do not understand why the government feels it is necessary to allow target shooting with military assault weapons, as proposed in the amendments.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that the current gun legislation and the controls are the result of at least six public inquests. They have emphasized the importance of licensing and registration as a means of preventing further tragedies. However, with the introduction of amendments at this stage, we are concerned that there will be some diminishing of the power of the legislation to prevent further assaults on women and children in particular.
I would ask you to think about the victims of violence involving guns, and to make sure that the act is not weakened further. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Now I turn to the Alliance for seven minutes.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate your presentations. They are all very brief, and so this is an opportunity for you to elaborate on what you have already begun to tell us.
Let me ask the questions in the order of the presentations this morning. First of all, to the Canadian Legislative Action group, you mentioned that section 28 forces firearm owners to dispose of firearms if they are not used for the purposes listed. You went over that very quickly. The fear many people have, and Mr. Torino elaborated a bit on this, is that the registration of firearms may lead to confiscation. I think that needs some explanation. I would like you to elaborate on that, if you could, please.
Mr. Tony Bernardo (Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Legislative Action; Canadian Shooting Sports Association): The use it or lose it clause was in the previous legislation. It provided that if you registered a firearm for the purposes of collecting or the purposes of target shooting, which were the only two options available, you could not change the category once you were already entered.
For example, if someone were to register a pistol for the purposes of target shooting and then became ill and wasn't able to compete for several years, they would not be able to convert that over to a collector status. Within C-15, that has changed to allow somebody to convert it over.
What we would rather see than that particular change is the elimination of that whole clause, because whether or not somebody has the pistol for the purposes of target shooting or of collecting is rather irrelevant to the fact that they own it in the first place. So we'd rather just see the whole section of that act lifted right out.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: If in fact this doesn't happen and it is not lifted out, what would be a possible practical outcome of this?
Mr. Tony Bernardo: Certainly, the way it is in Bill C-15 is considerably better than how it was originally put in Bill C-68, because it does give somebody the opportunity to change it back and forth. The real problem here comes when you register the pistol for the purposes of collection. In most instances, an historical significance has to be demonstrated for one to be a bona fide collector.
If you have a standard target pistol and it has virtually no historical significance, you run the risk of having that pistol confiscated when you try to take it from the target shooting to collecting.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: One of the problems that exists with the present piece of legislation, which you possibly are aware of, is that there are, by the government's own numbers, 320,000 firearms owners out there who didn't get licences. If this provision remains in there, do you think it would contribute to non-compliance in the future?
Mr. Tony Bernardo: I certainly do. And I think there are many other aspects of the bill that contribute to the non-compliance. Certainly, subsection 12(6), which we have been talking about, and subsection 12(5), where the firearms will be confiscated upon the death of the owner without compensation, reinforce the fact that confiscation is an issue. It's not like it's hidden; it's right there in black and white in the bill. Despite the protestations of many groups, confiscation is there; it's written right in the bill. So it's very difficult to allay the fears of firearms owners that if they go ahead and register the firearms, they're not going to be confiscated. It's in black and white.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you. I have one more quick question before I move on to Mr. Torino.
One of the problems I've heard reported is that there's a decline in interest in shooting sports, hunting and so on. Is this in fact so, and has this legislation contributed to that?
Mr. Tony Bernardo: Absolutely. There is a huge decline in tourist revenue as well. I deal extensively with Safari Club International, which basically pours millions of dollars into the Canadian economy every year. Americans are not coming, and Canadians are not hunting. The number of hunting licence sales has dropped off dramatically right across the entire country. Part of it is due to fear of what's happening here.
You alluded to people who didn't have licences, and this is a prime opportunity to note that this past weekend the Ontario Provincial Police reported 400 arrests of people who had applied for licences that had not been issued. They were out in the woods hunting and they didn't have their licences. That was a major news story that broke on Saturday. That sort of incident contributes greatly to the fears people have about this legislation.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you very much. I would like to get into the whole question of why this should be a concern to Canadians, but we won't have time. Maybe we can get into it a little later.
Mr. Torino, I appreciate your presentation and I thank you for the issues you have raised. You mentioned at the outset of your presentation that these amendments are a start in alleviating many of the concerns. You went into four of them and you explained them quite well.
Are there other things, other amendments, other than what you've mentioned, other changes you've recommended to the minister, that have not been included here that maybe could still be included before this bill goes through Parliament? Are there any other things that have not yet been addressed by the minister that you have recommended?
Mr. Steve Torino: I think the publication of our recommendations through access to information has put out a great deal of information about what we have been discussing with the minister. I think it's evidently clear in there that we have been looking at many areas of the current legislation. Our recommendations cover a series of points, more than are in here.
To evaluate them I think would be counterproductive at this point because what we were looking for in this bill, and what I'm hoping to see, was attention given to the immediate problems of immediate confiscation such as under 12(6); the immediate problem of potential disposition of handguns under the use it or lose it sections; and a problem that has existed for quite a while under 117.15 of the Criminal Code, the ability of the government to prohibit by order in council any firearm at any time.
When the technical committee was created at our recommendation, we felt that it became a form of transparency that any firearm that would be prohibited—we're talking about normal firearms, not necessarily nuclear weapons or things like that—would be presented to the technical committee formed of firearms experts who would at least have an opportunity to present the point of view of whether or not these particular firearms should be prohibited. What we were looking for initially was to cover the first line of defence, which was immediate danger of confiscation, or prohibition, at the onset, and we feel that the points in this bill are a pretty good start at addressing this. There are a lot of other things to do, but they're a work in progress at this point.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Breitkreuz. You can have more time later. We've exhausted our seven minutes.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur (Berthier—Montcalm, BQ): Thank you. I prefer to think about my question a little longer.
The Chair: Seven minutes.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC/DR): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank all the witnesses for being here.
I'm going to have to excuse myself in a short time. There's a justice bill before the House today on anti-terrorism, and I'm the lone critic in justice for the party, so I may have to leave and try to come back and balance the two.
I'd like to ask Mr. Torino first, with respect to the overall impact of this legislation, keeping in mind that much of the effect, if not all of the effect, that's been felt over the past number of years has been upon bona fide collectors, hunters, target shooters, Olympic and otherwise, it seems to me that the purpose of the legislation, as you have quite rightly identified, is against the criminal element and to promote the eradication of violence, particularly against women. My concern, and I come from a rural riding, is that the availability of guns now on the black market has increased tenfold.
You go to flea markets and auction houses and you see the guns that are now available to those who would choose to use them for an illegal purpose. Let's just put out there as a premise that the Hell's Angels and violent psychopaths like Marc Lépine are never going to participate in a registry system of long guns, or any guns. Are you concerned that by further perpetrating this legislation aimed at long guns, we're actually increasing the number of guns that are available to those who would use them for a criminal purpose?
Mr. Steve Torino: I think the idea of criminal purpose would have to be defined more in light of whether we are discussing the Hell's Angels or a grey market where firearms are traded back and forth between target shooters, collectors, hunters, whoever. Although that is an illegal activity, it is not necessarily an activity that leads to the second part, which is Hell's Angels and true criminal types.
I think at the time the legislation was announced, something did start in the way of a grey market, and I know it continued.
Mr. Peter MacKay: Why do you call it the grey market?
Mr. Steve Torino: We would like to distinguish between the black market, which in our opinion is the true use by criminal elements such as the Hell's Angels, or organized crime, and the grey market, which we define as certain firearms just wandering back and forth between certain firearms owners, not necessarily within the system. That's been going on for a while.
Mr. Peter MacKay: My question again, in short, is, is there an increase in what you call the grey market since this legislation was introduction?
Mr. Steve Torino: I think it had been established already to some degree, but I believe there has been an increase. The dealers I have spoken to across the country over the past couple of years have seen this going on.
Mr. Peter MacKay: Do you agree with the premise that the black market people—you used the example of Hell's Angels and those who would be inclined to use a weapon for violence—actually will never participate in this registry?
Mr. Steve Torino: I think everyone recognizes that. I believe I've read that in various news sources. I believe every member of Parliament has said that at one point or another. I realize that with the current situation in the United States, President Bush even has mentioned that you cannot control a really determined element. I think that would be somewhat out of the discussion at this point.
Mr. Peter MacKay: With that penetrating statement of the obvious, then, on the table, can you tell me if there's ever been any correlation that you're aware of, or any study put forward by the RCMP or the Department of Justice, that actually shows a correlation between the registry of long guns and a decrease in violent use of those particular weapons—long guns?
Mr. Steve Torino: I have never seen a study showing either that or the reverse. I've seen lots of studies that would... Some contradict each other, some agree with each other, but I've never seen one going either way.
Mr. Peter MacKay: With respect to the registry questionnaire that became quite controversial just within the last six months, you would recall that the Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, had raised the spectre of these questions being quite intrusive into a person's private life—questions with respect to a person's mental health problems, or mental health problems within a family, or domestic disagreements, those types of questions.
I'm wondering about the feelings of lawful gun owners, in your opinion, as they relate to these types of questions, which are now being put on the Internet as well by virtue of this legislation.
Mr. Steve Torino: From discussions we've had with many of the firearms organizations and many firearms owners in our own particular provinces, we think many of them feel these questions are still intrusive. However, some of them were on the previous application for an FAC. We have had discussions over the last four years, at least, over the types of questions being asked, with the involvement of the Canadian Firearms Centre and the chief firearms officers. To answer your question, people are concerned.
Mr. Peter MacKay: I'd like to ask Mr. Bernardo and yourself, in relation to the question of who this legislation impacts most—I'm talking in the broad sense about Bill C-68, but also Bill C-15, which is a further envelope of regulation—whether you are aware of any study that shows a cost analysis of the implementation of this legislation. I'd like to have any updated figures you might be aware of.
Again, has there been a value-for-cost analysis done? If that money—somewhere, I understand, between $650 million and $850 million since the beginning of the implementation—had been put into front-line policing, for example, or programs to eradicate and educate about violence directly in schools or in communities, I suspect personally that there would have been a far greater value-for-dollar result. I've asked the Auditor General several times to do such a study. Are you aware of any in existence?
Mr. Steve Torino: I'm not aware of any in existence. Do they do a cost value analysis? I'm certain Mr. Breitkreuz would be able to provide you with very up-to-date figures on precisely what this legislation has cost.
I think it's interesting to note that last year Premier Harris made a statement that for the money that had been spent on Bill C-68 as of last year, the province of Ontario could have put 3,000 police officers, fully trained, on the streets.
I think it's fairly obvious there has not been a huge increase in firearms crime. I don't believe we had a very large amount to begin with, so a huge decrease or a huge increase—either way—would be very difficult to have happen, since there wasn't much there to begin with.
I believe that certainly 3,000 police officers on active duty in the province of Ontario could probably make a significant dent in terrorism.
The Chair: Does anyone else have a question?
Ms. Allard, you have the floor.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard (Laval East, Lib.): Good morning, and thank you for appearing before us today. My question is to Ms. Baillargeon.
I understand that you're concerned about the presence of guns in our society, Ms. Baillargeon: you make a direct connection between the presence of guns and violence against women and children. In your view, how will the proposed amendments affect the assaults on children? I would like you to clarify this point, because I would like to understand your position.
Ms. Amélie Baillargeon (Representative, Action Committee on Women and Urban Safety, December 6 Victims Foundation Against Violence): Mr. Singleton did not mention this subject. The issue involves renewals. At the moment, the act provides that the same rule should be applied as when their first licence was obtained.
In other words, there should be the same background checks, spousal notification and signatures. Under the proposed amendments, renewals will no longer necessarily be done in the same way.
We are very concerned about the impact of this on domestic violence, because we have no assurance that the former procedure will be followed, particularly as regards spousal notification.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: Do you think there is any problem with the option of registering by way of the Internet?
Ms. Amélie Baillargeon: In itself, the option of registering on the Internet is not a problem. The problem has to do with the procedures to ensure that the information on the form is checked.
At the moment, two individuals must sign the form. They must ensure that the information on the form is accurate, and indicate that the individual in question is not a danger to public safety.
If these measures remain in place, we do not think that the availability of the form on the Internet is a problem.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: Are there any other major subject you would like to discuss? You are concerned about the renewal of licences, but are there any other proposed changes that disturb you?
Ms. Amélie Baillargeon: We mentioned the procedure for background checks. It has been in place since 1991. It was introduced because a number of studies showed there were risks involved regarding domestic violence and suicide. We must therefore ensure that these procedures are not disregarded.
If we want the system to be effective, we must also bear in mind public safety considerations.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: I know that recently in Quebec there have been cases where spouses have killed their wives and children. Clearly, such cases are dramatic. Do you have any way of knowing whether the killers used registered weapons? Do you have any statistics on this?
Ms. Amélie Baillargeon: There are no specific statistics on the most recent cases, but we do know that in most cases of domestic homicide, the weapons used were obtained legally. The weapons included rifles, shotguns and long guns.
It can be concluded that the weapons used in domestic violence were not obtained illegally.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: Thank you, Ms. Baillargeon.
The Chair: We go back to Mr. Breitkreuz.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just want to zero in on something that was raised by one of my colleagues here, and also this has been raised by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Mr. Radwanski has had grave concerns that have not been addressed in this legislation. He has raised this, and I'm sure all of you are very aware of that. I would like you to comment on how you feel about the lack of protection for firearms owners in this legislation.
An example came to light recently, where privatization—and this is different from privacy, I know that—of certain aspects of the registry may lead to even further erosion in the protection of firearms owners. In Nova Scotia, for example, a private eye was very anxious to participate in administering the registry, because this information could be good for his business in other respects. In other words, the information may be used in ways other than intended.
And there are other aspects of the privacy issue that other people have raised. If you could comment on that, I'd appreciate that.
Mr. Larry Whitmore: It's a great concern to the owners of firearms, this perception that information could leak out and be used for other purposes. I get a lot of calls at my office from people who are very concerned about how to answer the questions on the form correctly. Particularly now, with the prospect of privatization, there's even more reluctance to fill out the applications and comply with the licensing and the registration.
We've been having considerable problems with the FIP database, as highlighted by the Privacy Commissioner. Many people have had their licence and registration applications delayed, perhaps because their car was stolen five or six years ago and somehow that got onto the FIP database. That database is an absolute mess and has to be reviewed—what information is put on there and by what process. If it's incorrect, it has to be corrected. That's a major problem we're having in issuing licences.
As for convincing people that this information will be kept confidential, the government has not done a very good job of that so far. We know that any computer system can be hacked into. There's a lot of information in there, and owners of firearms are legitimately concerned about nefarious individuals getting hold of the information they have firearms. That puts them at risk for theft and break-ins.
So there is a definite concern, and it's an impediment to full compliance with the act.
The Chair: Mr. Torino.
Mr. Steve Torino: I think the firearms community has been concerned for a long time about theft—about any information they give out being used for nefarious purposes. Most owners are extremely concerned about the protection of their firearms. Collectors are extremely concerned, although most collectors normally have a level of security that exceeds the requirements in the regulations. It's there to protect the firearms from theft.
Many people are concerned about giving out information. I have participated in focus groups and test conferences over the Internet, and it seems to be going pretty much either way. Some people do trust it, some people don't.
I think there's a particular issue: the change in the process for applying for a licence, a renewal process rather than starting over from scratch. I do believe something there is a benefit: the fact that a continuous eligibility check goes on. But I also believe that the renewal process could be made simpler for the firearms owner, and it should be. I think it would still fit in with the culture of safety that the government promotes, and that has been pushed for by various victims' groups and other associations.
I think the questions on some of the forms, and some of the procedures, applied only to getting FACs, firearms acquisition certificates. This was before the licences were issued. At that time, you only needed a firearms acquisition certificate to acquire a firearm—you didn't need anything to possess the firearm. Since licences came into force for possessing firearms, I do believe the continuous eligibility check covers pretty well all the safety aspects. But there is still great concern out there among firearm owners that the information could become public.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: In other words, you're telling me that it could have the opposite effect?
The Chair: We'll be back.
Mr. John McKay (Scarborough East, Lib.): Thank you for appearing.
A very brief question with respect to muzzle energy exceeding 5.7 joules. We spoke to Mr. Torino and Mr. Bernardo, and I think I understood Mr. Bernardo to say that “or” really means “and”, that the exemption bar has been raised with the addition of this muzzle energy. Is that a correct interpretation?
Mr. Tony Bernardo: No, sir, it's not. The correct interpretation is that it could be interpreted like that. What we're asking for is this: write it clearly enough so that people can understand it; otherwise you need a law degree and a degree in Gaelic to figure out what the sentence means. If we could have this written simply so that ordinary people can understand it, it would be a great help.
The second issue is the fact that Bill C-15 does not address .22-calibre air guns, and a high percentage of the air guns in Canada are .22s, not .177s. Now, a .22 gun exceeds the energy level specified in the bill right now. With the addition of a lightweight pellet—which doesn't make the gun more dangerous, just a little faster—the .22 exceeds both standards. That's what this amendment is there to prevent.
You see, the problem originated with .177 air guns being used with lightweight pellets. In their wisdom, the RCMP decided to chronograph this for its muzzle velocity, and lo and behold, it exceeded the 500 feet per second by a few feet per second. It was no more dangerous than it was before, because the pellet was so light. But then it changed category, became a firearm, and had to be registered. So they added in an energy requirement as well, so that wouldn't happen. It doesn't address the .22-calibre air guns, though, so we're right back where we were before introducing this amendment.
So what we'd like to see is a change in the standard under which an air gun is measured in one foot-pounds. That's the British standard, and it's been in operation for many years and has worked with a hundred percent satisfaction over in Great Britain. The standard there is six foot-pounds for pistols and 12 foot-pounds for rifles. We'd like to see the British standard adopted.
Mr. John McKay: Mr. Torino, do you agree with that analysis?
Mr. Steve Torino: We did a fairly extensive analysis of subsection 84(3) and there are two parts. First of all, we believe that many people who have looked at the amendment have not read the initial version in Bill C-68. At the very beginning, it does say for the purposes of registration, etc., “the following weapons are deemed not to be firearms”. Then it goes into the various exceptions, including air guns.
However, a number of firearms owners out there are demonstrably confused about the wording. We believe someone should take another look at the wording of the draft of paragraph 84(3)(d) for air guns, possibly to make—
Mr. John McKay: For the purposes of this committee, you agree, then, that there is some ambiguity in the phrasing?
Mr. Steve Torino: Yes, I do.
Mr. John McKay: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Breitkreuz.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you.
Continuing from where you left off, Mr. Torino, it's obvious, to me at least, that the legislation could have an effect opposite to what was intended. Perhaps certain people, the wrong kind of people, the criminal element, may access the information in this system and then target certain people for robbery. In fact, guns could fall into the wrong hands in that way.
You went on to say that it would be good to do continuous background checks, or to have more background checks done. Did I understand that correctly? What I'm getting at is, it appears that the aims of the legislation could be met without an expensive registration system if we had an effective licensing system and did the proper background checks. If we ensured that only those people who should own firearms actually do, we could meet many of the safety concerns.
Mr. Steve Torino: I think there was some misunderstanding about what I said. What I said is that since Bill C-68 came into force on December 1, 1998, there have been continuous eligibility checks going on. But I was talking specifically about the renewal process. Because there are continuous eligibility checks going on, the renewal process can be simplified. Firearms owners don't have to reapply and start all over again as if they'd never been in the system. I think that should cover many of the safety concerns.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Let me rephrase my question. Could the aims of the legislation be met without the expense of a registration system, by doing proper background checks and doing a good job of licensing firearms owners? I see Mr. Bernardo nodding. I'd like a comment. Please elaborate on that.
Mr. Tony Bernardo: Absolutely. That's what we've said right from the beginning: that you licence and control the individual, not the object. For example, if you have a driver's licence, you can drive any car, not just the one you own. You're not more or less dangerous because you drive someone else's car.
We've said from the beginning that we should just put the licensing system in and run the continuous eligibility that Mr. Torino was alluding to. That system ensures that every day, any information relevant to somebody owning a firearms licence is returned back to that licence. If you have that in place, what difference does it make what the person owns at that point?
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: You see, as legislators, we have to look at the overall effect of the legislation and ensure that tax dollars are spent where they're most effective. The events of September 11 really highlight the fact that we could use resources in certain areas that might make it much more effective than trying to track firearms throughout the country. The premier of Ontario said 3,000 more police officers on the streets... they could be doing background checks, securing our borders, doing a lot of things that would probably be of much greater benefit to public safety than trying to track every single long gun or shotgun in the country. Is that a fair comment?
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Torino and Mr. Breitkreuz. After the answer, we'll come back to Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Mr. Tony Bernardo: Recognizing how few of those legally owned long guns will ever be involved in the commission of a crime, you're mostly spending a lot of money looking for needles in a haystack. There are literally tens of millions of firearms in this country. No one's really sure exactly how many, but conservatively we can say there are at least 15 million, perhaps more. Of those 15 million, very, very few will ever be involved in a criminal activity—especially the legally owned ones, and of course they're the only ones that are ever going to see the registration system anyway. The continuous eligibility on firearms licences precludes any requirement for an owner to carry around a slip of paper identifying a particular long gun.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick (Prince Albert, Canadian Alliance): I would like to emphasize two comments from what was just said. You mentioned 3,000 more police officers in Ontario. Some academic studies in the United States have clearly shown that putting more police officers on the street has a dramatic effect on decreasing crime. I think Mayor Giuliani led that wave. In a short time, New York went from one of the highest crime rates to a crime rate that was less than any British city with a population over 500,000. We want to reduce risk in our society, create a safer society. It seems that this is a better path than a big bureaucracy in Ottawa.
Another point I want to raise is the events of September 11. The firearms community has been much ridiculed about its positions. The airplane wasn't the problem on September 11; it was somebody in the plane that was the problem. We've got to focus on the people who get onto the airplanes to create unnecessary, unreasonable risks. That's where the focus should be.
I think your point is that this firearms registration is still focused on the wrong thing—on the airplane, so to speak, rather than on the people who create the risks.
I think those are excellent points, and I wish this whole regime would focus more on these sorts of things, rather than on the irrelevant things that seem to come from people who are misinformed, or who don't know what the real risk is.
Mr. Tony Bernardo: Without meaning to sound trite or insensitive, the pilots of the airplane were licensed and the airplane was registered.
Mr. David Singleton: May I comment?
The Chair: Most certainly, Mr. Singleton.
Mr. David Singleton: I have a couple of points.
First of all, on the issue of the continuous eligibility, that's fine, but the original application has been designed in accordance with certain risk factors that have been identified that could lead to violence. For us as an organization that is interested in prevention, this is what prevention is, to identify risks and to act upon them.
If these risk factors are important on the first application, then they must be important five, ten, or twenty years down the line. There are a lot of things that can change that will not be apparent on that original application, which may be important five or ten years later. So if that information is important at the beginning, it's important all the time. The FIP doesn't necessarily look at some of these risk factors—for example, histories of mental illness or changes in the status of the family.
In most instances of domestic violence where guns are involved, these are illegally registered guns, and it's the same thing with suicide, which is a particular problem in Quebec.
Also, streamlining and efficiency is certainly important, but streamlining and efficiency can lead to other costs as well. Ontario has been used as an example here, the government of Mike Harris. The problems that turned up in the water supply system in Ontario may be a result of streamlining as well. The eventual cost of that is probably in excess of what may have been there if something had been in place.
Finally, I'm surprised. People are bringing up September 11, but this law was the result of December 6 in Quebec, partly, and I think we should remember that. We have an example in Canada that is partly the reason this law was developed, and I think that should also be respected.
The Chair: Thank you.
Do you have a final question, Mr. Fitzpatrick?
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: Just a response to that.
To use the analogy of automobiles, if somebody causes an accident because they have Alzheimer's disease or have lost their eyesight or it's not sufficient, and so on, it would seem to me a crazy way of dealing with this problem is to say, let's get tougher on the vehicle registration end. More bureaucracy on that end or more registration requirements aren't going to solve the problem.
The thing to do in that situation is to focus on the problem, which is somebody who can't see or somebody who has Alzheimer's disease, and take them out of the vehicles. You're focusing on the user when you're dealing with that, rather than this registration system. I think there's too much focus on this thing on the registration side and not enough emphasis on the licensing end of the whole situation.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Does anyone have a response?
Mr. David Singleton: Again, the registration is partly about the user, as it is about somebody who is driving an automobile.
The Chair: Thank you, colleagues and our expert witnesses. We appreciate very much your being here today on short notice and the very articulate way you've put your arguments forward.
I'm going to suspend for five minutes to allow the next group to come forward. I would advise colleagues that in fact the next group is scheduled to begin at 11 o'clock. If all those who are scheduled for 11 o'clock are here in advance of that, we will proceed in five minutes. If not, we'll wait until 11 o'clock.
The Chair: I call back to order the 25th meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in deliberations of Bill C-15B, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and the Firearms Act.
Our second panel today will consist of the National Firearms Association, represented by David Tomlinson, legal chairman; the Coalition for Gun Control, represented by Wendy Cukier, president, and Arn Snyder, spokesperson for the Criminal Justice Association; the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, represented by Tony Rodgers, executive director; the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, represented by Dr. Terry Quinney, provincial manager, fish and wildlife services.
I understand the Coalition for Gun Control will be speaking to the firearms provisions in the amendments. The Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters will be speaking to both the provisions with regard to firearms and the provisions with regard to cruelty to animals.
With that very brief introduction, I will call Mr. Tomlinson as the first witness. I see there's another card there, so could you do some introductions as well? We try to finish the opening statements within ten minutes, particularly with a panel of four groups.
Mr. David A. Tomlinson (Legal Chairman, National Firearms Association): As legal chairman of the National Firearms Association, I thank you for inviting us to this forum. We're very pleased to be here, ladies and gentlemen.
I would now like to introduce Mr. Wally Butts, vice-president of communications of the National Firearms Association, who will be doing our presentation.
Mr. Wally Butts (National Vice-President, Communications, National Firearms Association): Thank you, Dave.
The Bill C-68 firearms control system cost Canadians well over $500 million. This seems excessive as the only people affected by our firearms control laws are the people who obey all the laws. Criminals and terrorists don't register their guns or buy licences.
Are we justified in spending over $500 million to register Uncle George's duck gun? Are we reasonable in taking over 1,200 police officers off our streets to process firearms control paperwork? Is it more reasonable to look at the real problems in our world and allocate our limited resources to deal with them?
Our world changed on September 11, 2001. The need to register Uncle George's duck gun now seems less vital to the security of our nation.
In the period from December 1, 1998, to today, the Bill C-68 firearms control system has failed many times, in many ways. The primary causes of these failures arose from the fact that writing workable firearms control law is very difficult. One needs knowledge of administrative law, regulatory law, and criminal law, as well as firearms history, technology, and mechanics. One also needs to understand proper systems design. The government failed to assign anyone with adequate capabilities in these areas to the writing of Bills C-68 and C-15.
The events of September 11 profoundly shocked all of us. Those devastating terrorist attacks demonstrated that there are truly evil groups around the world who will do anything to accomplish their evil. Protecting our citizens from terrorists and criminals should now be a major government priority. That demands revisiting some earlier priorities.
Anti-firearms groups in Canada have for years told Canadians that law-abiding firearms owners pose a serious threat to their wives and others. This type of thinking has propelled governments to legislate poorly conceived laws that adversely affect all Canadians. The National Firearms Association submits that Canadians believe there must be a system in place that will make it less likely that guns can be acquired by those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
Guns were not used in the atrocities of September 11. Box-cutter utility knives were the weapons of choice, small tools available to anyone. The threat is not the tool but the mindset of a criminal or terrorist determined to wreak havoc on our security, society, and way of life.
There will be huge additional costs for airport security in Canada and around the world. The new airport security program will require potentially that thousands of qualified officers be reassigned to those duties, draining the ranks of our police forces yet again.
Every murder is a tragedy, but to think murder can be totally eliminated or significantly reduced by a firearms control system is wishful thinking. Over $500 million has already been wasted, and any benefits are seriously outweighed by the cost.
The reality is that the vast majority of law-abiding Canadian firearms owners, the fathers, mothers, farmers, politicians, judges, factory workers, nurses, doctors, and others who own and use firearms responsibly, are not a threat to our society. It's time for our government to face the reality of recent events. We need to scrap the hyperexpensive firearms scheme that is designed to chase paper tigers.
Our real need is to use those 1,200 police officers for real police work. It's time to realize that Canadian firearms owners are the safest and least threatening people in our society. The tragedies of September 11 have taken thousands of lives. We must ask ourselves the question, had the 1,200 police officers reassigned to help register Uncle George's duck gun in rural Saskatchewan been able to do real police work, could one of them possibly have prevented one of the horrible atrocities perpetrated on our American allies? We'll never know.
It's time to look at the true threat to society posed by terrorists. It's time to stop chasing mythical threats to our society. It's time to concentrate our limited resources on dealing with the real threats to our democracy and freedom that we've taken for granted in Canada. If we ever needed proof of this, it was amply demonstrated on September 11.
We have a technical paper to provide to members of the committee that illustrates some of the many problems inherent in the current firearms control system. The system is fatally flawed and cannot be made to work. The cost of operating the Bill C-68 firearms control system is insupportable and its value is minute. It's time to start over with a clean sheet of paper.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Before going to the Coalition for Gun Control, I want to apologize to Mr. Danson and Mr. Gallant, who are obviously not Dr. Quinney. I was operating from an old sheet.
Now, Ms. Cukier or Mr. Snyder.
Mr. Arn Snyder (Spokesperson, Canadian Criminal Justice Association; Coalition for Gun Control): Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be speaking first, and Wendy Cukier will be speaking afterwards.
The Canadian Criminal Justice Association welcomes this opportunity to speak to the standing committee on the subject of Bill C-15B. As you know, CCJA is one of the largest collectives of criminal justice professionals and interested citizens in Canada. As an organization, we are in our 81st year. It exists to promote rational, informed, and responsible debate in order to develop a more humane, equitable, and effective justice system.
At the outset, CCJA has historically supported firearms control, advocating measures to reduce criminal activity involving guns, curb unnecessary death by suicide and accidents involving guns, and provide a better control of firearms generally for public safety.
The CCJA recognizes that the Firearms Act has practical value for crime prevention and criminal investigation. It also recognizes that this legislation is not a cure-all for solving the problem of violent crime. However, prevention will always lead to better long-term results than responding to firearm violence after it has already transpired.
CCJA supports the legislation. As a board member of CCJA, I support the legislation. As a firearms owner, I support this legislation. As a retired police office, I know that information is the lifeblood of policing and Canada's firearms legislation provides critical tools for police officers. By knowing who owns guns and what guns they own, officers can intervene in high-risk situations earlier and with some knowledge about what they may encounter.
Now, having said that, I would like to highlight two points for the committee's consideration today. The first is that effective licensing is critical. Currently the law states that the renewal of firearms licences are done in the same way as the original application. This means screening of risk factors, spousal notification, referees' confirmation. The amendments propose to allow renewals to be handled differently than the original applications.
It is critical that the new process assume public safety. I understand the rationale for the renewal process is to ensure that those who may pose a risk to themselves or others do not have access to firearms. That's the rationale.
Another point I would like to make is that in order to manage volumes, improve efficiency, and improve costs, it is proposed to extend the first firearms licence for up to nine years. I have comments on that. Much can happen during a nine-year period, and we need reassurance that mechanisms will be put in place to identify the risk addressed by the initial screening process. We cannot rely solely on the firearms interest to police. It was never intended to replace the renewal system. It has limited preventative capabilities, as it presupposes a police contact, and it does not assess all risk criteria, particularly where spousal notification is concerned.
While we recognize the need to streamline the system, we are concerned that renewals may in fact become a rubber stamp. We must not lose track of the public safety issue while streamlining this system.
The second point I would like to make is with regard to effective registration. This is also critical. The CCJA has strongly endorsed the creation of a central registry to record all firearms and firearms licence holders. In our view, this effort is central to the safety of both the police, who need to know who owns firearms, as well as the community.
The amendment proposes shifting responsibility from a registrar to a commissioner. While we believe this new authority may provide a way of improving efficiency, it is critical that we do not lose sight of the objectives of the law for the sake of efficiency. Strong accountability and enforcement measures must be in place. Again, we need reassurances that the objectives of the legislation will not be lost.
Also, while civilians may perform some functions effectively, investigations and critical public safety decisions should remain in the hands of the police.
The CCJA supports, in principle, the amendments and hopes that the committee will consider our comments and observations. I thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Ms. Wendy Cukier (President, Coalition for Gun Control): At the outset, I'd like to remind the committee members that the Coalition for Gun Control's position is endorsed by 350 national, provincial, and local organizations. Our position is basically the position reflected in Bill C-68.
I'm a little surprised by the tenor of the discussion this morning, because I expected that the focus of the discussion would be on the amendments to the legislation, rather than revisiting the basic principles of the legislation. But I think it's worth repeating some of the principles that were reflected in the legislation and in the will of Parliament in 1995 when it passed the legislation and in terms of the Canadian public. Some of those principles were that firearms present a risk. We need to manage the risk. We need to restrict access to particular weapons, specifically handguns. The notion that handguns should only be available to people under very restricted conditions has been in place since 1977. That is not a new provision.
There was also a decision in 1995, and in fact in the legislation passed in 1991, that it was appropriate to prohibit access to weapons where the utility was seen to be outweighed by the risk they presented. As you know, Parliament banned fully automatic weapons in 1977. They banned semi-automatics that had been converted from fully automatic in 1991. They prohibited through order in council in 1992 and again in 1995 certain semi-automatic military assault weapons. In 1995 they also prohibited half of the handguns, as was mentioned earlier. In all of those cases, with few exceptions, owners of prohibited weapons were allowed to keep those firearms.
The focus, as I understand it, of the bill we have before us is not questioning the basic wisdom of Parliament in 1995 with respect to licensing and registration. If committee members wish to do that, I will refer you back to the Supreme Court of Canada decision that reinforced I think quite clearly the linkages between licensing and registration. We can certainly talk about that further.
I've spent the last three years working with various committees at the United Nations, and because people are invoking September 11, I think it's important to stress that internationally a great deal of attention has been focused on the issue of the illegal trade in small arms and firearms. A number of United Nations measures have been introduced specifically to prevent the flow of those weapons to organized crime and terrorist organizations. I don't think that has been changed by September 11. In fact, I think that has been reinforced.
In terms of the specifics of the amendments that are proposed I have a number of comments. We believe that most of these amendments are aimed at introducing concessions to accommodate the interests of gun owners. So I was pleased to hear that Mr. Torino, on behalf of the user group, felt they were an important step forward. I was a bit surprised to hear that other groups don't recognize them as basically having been introduced for their benefit.
In principle we do not object to the extension of the grandfathering clause for the prohibited handguns from February 14, 1995 to September 1998. So we are prepared to acknowledge and support that amendment.
What does concern us, however, and I think this needs to be highlighted—we'll follow up with a written brief—is that in a number of places where the specific amendments are made to accommodate the owners of those prohibited handguns, for example, by allowing them authorizations to transport, and also cases that refer to the transfer of those firearms, more specificity is required. I'll refer you in particular to proposed subsection 19(1). This talks about an individual holding a licence authorizing that individual to possess a prohibited firearm or a restricted firearm, etc. We believe that should say specifically “a prohibited handgun” as defined in subsection 12(6.1). Otherwise the effect of that particular amendment is to relax the restriction on the authorizations to transport military assault weapons as prohibited by the legislation in 1991 and the orders in council.
We do not think that was the intent, but that is most certainly the effect. I would ask the committee members to go back and look very carefully at the existing sections 18 and 19 to consider the impact of this. I do not think, Mr. Chairman and committee members, that the Canadian public would support the notion that Parliament is going to relax the controls on military assault weapons.
As some of my colleagues have mentioned, in principle we do not object to the notion that applications may be done electronically. We do not even object to the notion that the renewal process may be different from the initial application. However, I will underscore and reinforce the comments of some of my colleagues. We are very concerned that the process not be relaxed to the point where it becomes a rubber stamp, and that the current police information systems are not sufficient to assess the risk factors that Parliament intended to be assessed in the issue of firearms licences.
Again, in terms of the use it or lose it clause, I'm sorry, but the intention with the creation of restricted weapons was to restrict access to those weapons under very specific conditions. These amendments make it easier for people who possess restricted weapons to change class. I think that's as far as this committee should go in accommodating people who want to possess restricted weapons. The classification is based on the fact that handguns present a particular risk to public safety.
I have two other quick points. Again, in the case of proposed transfer of restricted firearms or the pre-December 1, 1998, handguns, it's critically important not only that the registrar considers whether or not the individual is acquiring the restricted weapon for a particular purpose, but that they also confirm the individual to whom the prohibited handgun is being transferred is in fact authorized to possess a prohibited handgun. Otherwise, you're opening the floodgates, in our opinion.
Finally, on the point about the creation of a commissioner, we don't object to this in principle, but we are concerned about the nature of the restructuring and the reorganization. As my colleagues have mentioned, while there is a place for “civilian-ization” in some of the processes associated with the licensing and with the registration, the Privacy Commissioner has raised concerns about who has access to information in the licensing process. Those concerns have to be addressed, and we have to be sure public safety is the priority, that efficiency does not overwhelm us, and that the concern for efficiency and cost-cutting does not replace the concern for safety. As someone mentioned earlier, I think we have seen the results in Ontario of too much cost-cutting, perhaps, and inadequate attention to public safety.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Cukier.
Mr. Tony Rodgers (Executive Director, Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters): Actually, I thought we had it arranged that Peter would go first.
The Chair: Good for you. Go to it.
Mr. Peter Danson (Counsel, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters): I'm going to be talking about something completely different. I have no opinions on the gun control issue, which I believe forms part of Bill C-15A, and then there's now the animal cruelty, which has been—
The Chair: Just as a correction, the firearms provisions and the cruelty to animal provisions in C-15 are both contained in C-15B.
Mr. Peter Danson: Fair enough.
The Chair: Many of the witnesses who have requested to appear had interest in both sections. Consequently, we didn't want to cause people to have to appear twice, so we've opened up the opportunity to discuss either of those provisions as you see fit.
Mr. Peter Danson: I will only address the animal cruelty aspects of the bill, and I thank you for your invitation to speak here today. I speak here on behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and I'm here to give my respectful legal submissions on the implications of the animal cruelty amendments.
My legal opinion is that the amendments are radical, and the animal rights activists have said so. They consider these amendments to be revolutionary. That's what they say on their website. The Lawyers Weekly, which is the main weekly magazine for lawyers in Canada, along with the Law Times, has said:
The new legislation will upgrade the standing of animals in the Criminal Code from mere chattel to creatures deserving of protection in their own right.
The Department of Justice takes the position—they articulated it earlier today in another forum—that animals currently under the law have interest. I submit there's no such recognition by any judge or court that animals have interest.
We have interest in animals. We have interest in taking care of them. That's what the law recognizes. It recognizes the moral value and the virtue of caring for animals. Animals do not have interest. This legislation will open a legal door whereby animals will have interest, and that's a half step from animals having rights.
Much in the amendment is quite laudable. Most importantly are making the offences hybrid and enhancing the sentencing provisions and penalties. It's not a waste of time; it's an important piece of legislation. But the way in which certain things have been legislated or proposed creates some long-term problems.
The first issue is taking the animal cruelty provisions out of part XI of the Criminal Code. That is the part of the Criminal Code that deals with specific property protections.
It's true animals are not mere chattel. They are not just like a book or a piece of table. It's important to protect animals, but they are property. Most people in Canada eat animals after they're slaughtered, so animals will remain property.
Taking animals out of a property section, creating their own section, and giving them an independent status unto themselves are part and parcel of an animal rights agenda. If you read the animal rights literature, that's what they have to do. They have a broad-based plan and agenda, but legislatively, the most important thing, the first step, the stepping stone, is to sever animals from property. That is the problem with taking animal cruelty provisions out of part XI.
It will be an important legal precedent for animal rights activists—not the Department of Justice, not the Liberal government, but activists—to attack legitimate practices that exist today, on the basis that animals have interests, if not rights, that deserve recognition in law.
The Department of Justice made it very clear that they do not seek to undermine or jeopardize current legitimate practices in relation to animals. But the problem is that this legislation, by defining animals in terms of their capacity to experience pain, and by taking the provisions out of property and giving them a separate part in the Criminal Code, will be a legal precedent—a radical, historical precedent—that will enable change to occur down the road.
While the amendments will not lead to an immediate radical change, they do set the basis for radical change in the future, or significant change, whereby practices will be challenged on the basis that animals have interests, if not rights, that give them standing apart from humans and apart from chattel.
There's also an inherent inconsistency, in that you are increasing the ante or the stakes by increasing the penalties. Deservedly, there should be increases in penalties for the real wrongdoing this legislation is aimed at. But if you increase the stakes and the penalties, you have to enhance or at least preserve the current protections that legitimate users of animals have today.
If you move this legislation out of part XI of the Criminal Code, then legitimate animal users will lose the protection of subsection 429(2), which provides for some additional protection, apart from the protections that all accused have under subsection 8(3) of the Criminal Code.
Subsection 8(3) of the Criminal Code preserves all common law defences, which include lawful excuse, legal justification for an act. But subsection 429(2) gives you something additional that's not provided in section 8, for instance, colour of right. Under that provision, it includes not only honest mistake of fact but also a reasonable mistake of law, which is quite unusual and contrary to section 19 of the Criminal Code—that ignorance of the law is no excuse.
So there are some important protections in part XI of the Criminal Code. To up the ante and increase the penalties, while not preserving existing protections and potentially opening a Pandora's box of problems down the road, especially with the definition of animal...
The Department of Justice says:
That is false because the definition that's been provided is the capacity to experience pain. Studies are out there, especially in Europe, that show a range of species that would never be contemplated as being covered by this law that do experience pain. So there's evidence out there that could be brought in a court of law.
What has happened is where you have no definition, you would never contemplate certain species being covered, but by giving the definition you have in these amendments, you give licence to have all sorts of species be covered. The best example might be in fish farms. There could be other examples.
Defining “animal” as any species that can experience pain is the flip side of the animal rights agenda. You first sever animals from property and then you establish their status in terms of their capacity to experience pain. That's a half-step toward giving animals rights down the road. It certainly establishes a legal precedent to attack current lawful practices.
So that's my basic pitch in terms of the implications. I set it out in somewhat more detail. I had a speech written, and I was told my speech was twenty minutes, not five minutes. So here it is. What I've also attached to that speech, which in essence I've given, are my proposals for modifications I would make to the present proposed legislation, for your benefit.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your synopsis.
Mr. Tony Rodgers: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and committee members. On behalf of the 6,500 members of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, thank you for this opportunity to speak on the legislation before you, Bill C-15B.
My federation's membership is relieved and pleased that Minister McLellan recognized the necessity to split the original bill. This change became of benefit to the wildlife conservation community. It allowed us some elbow room to argue against the wording in some parts of Bill C-15, while supporting other sections. By splitting the legislation, it allowed for fair airing of our concerns without us having to appear uncaring about sexual exploitation of children or creating an offence of disarming a police officer.
No caring or feeling person in Canada can support brutality to animals. That is why lawmakers at all levels of government have taken progressive steps to protect them. This recent attempt to improve animal cruelty law by making it stronger and increasing penalties is a positive one.
However, what brings me and others of like-minded organizations here today during the course of this committee's hearings is the shallow interpretation by government of what is needed to improve the teeth in the law, increase the punishments for those who want to brutalize animals, yet at the same time protect people who use animals respectfully and wisely from unjust prosecution because of this interpretation. It's a tricky balancing act, but it's achievable. The end users of these wild and domestic animals must be allowed to influence this legislation, and I hope our words are not forgotten after we leave this room.
Animals are important to the quality of all of our lives. They're the sources of food, medicine, medical research, recreation, and companionship. But the point of concern is, how will this act change the way we will be judged in using these animals in a humane way? That is what has us worried.
I'm a hunter and an angler, and I feel I'm a typical representative of the hunting and angling population of Nova Scotia. In this country it is a well known fact that hunters pay for conservation. When you examine the spending on hunting-related activities and hunting-related equipment, you will see the positive impact hunters' dollars have on the economy and on the wildlife they support. Provincial wildlife departments will attest that their programs for animal habitat improvement would not survive without hunters. The same holds true for anglers and recreational fishing.
But lately, federal government legislation has had a negative impact on the hunting community. It has been severe. Since the introduction of the ill-advised and wasteful firearms legislation, the loss to this country of hunter support for wildlife has been noticeable. This loss will be demonstrated more over the long haul, with the decline in the number of new hunters who support wildlife programs and the loss of revenue for wildlife research and wildlife habitat improvements.
It is my view and the view of the Federation of Anglers and Hunters that well-written legislation is needed to punish those who intentionally abuse and neglect animals. Our group is supportive of the government in its desire to amend the original animal cruelty legislation to better protect animals, but it also believes that Bill C-15B as drafted could still have serious and largely unintended consequences for hunting, trapping, angling, and other legitimate uses of animals.
It is our contention that it will allow animal rights extremists to use the Criminal Code to further their aims against animal uses that are legitimately regulated through legislation such as the Nova Scotia Wildlife Act and other provincial acts—not only in Nova Scotia but in other provinces. I would caution anyone hearing support for this bill from the animal rights organizations appearing as witnesses before this committee to take that support as a warning of things to come.
This new bill, even after changes made from the original Bill C-17, does not appear to provide any assurances and clear guidance to the public or the courts that hunting, trapping, and angling in accordance with applicable regulations would not be considered an offence under the Criminal Code. A number of points in the proposed legislation have been identified by us and echoed by government officials in Nova Scotia. I will not pretend to be speaking on their behalf, but we do agree on the following views.
First, moving the animal cruelty provision out of part XI of the Criminal Code removes the protection that animal users had by virtue of subsection 429(2), which permits acts done with legal justification or excuse, or with colour of right. This is of particular concern for hunting and trapping in relation to proposed paragraphs 182.2(1)(a) and 182.2(1)(b).
Second, the language in proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(b)—“brutally or viciously”—requires clarification of wording. Some people would consider any killing of wild animals or fish by hunting, angling, and trapping to be brutal and vicious. Again, the weapons, the trapping systems, and the humane aspects are certainly regulated by other legislation and programs for hunting and trapping.
Third, by expanding the definition of “animal” to any animal that has the capacity to feel pain, we put at risk activity such as baiting a fishing hook or boiling a lobster. I doubt this was the intention, but some people would not have any doubt about taking advantage of the opportunity to use this legislation to further their own beliefs.
For months the government has scrambled to assure hunters and anglers, as well as farmers, that Bill C-15 was not intended to target them and they do not need to worry about being jailed for their standard practices. Still, the wording of the bill is so loose that criminal prosecution for members of virtually all animal-related professions is a very real possibility.
The traditional practices of hunting, angling, and trapping do not fit into the category of mean-spirited and spiteful violence. There is a need for clear language to assure their protection. Obviously, there must be a compromise between ensuring that those people who have intentionally and deliberately caused suffering to animals are punished and, on the other hand, restricting hunters, anglers, and trappers, who could, in some instances, have their livelihoods and recreations inadvertently restricted by such regulations. Common sense must prevail.
This legislation smells of the same ink that penned the infamous Bill C-68, the Firearms Act. This legislation was supposedly designed to make us safe and reduce crime. It may in fact have an opposite effect.
Instead of contemplating their actions fully from the start, the government chose to proceed with this sloppy piece of legislation. Time and money have been squandered as a result of the failure to consider the needs of what Canadians wanted on that issue. Now we have another bill that purports to want to punish individuals who commit crime, this time against animals, and it puts all legitimate animal users in a difficult position, just like the Firearms Act did to legitimate target shooters and hunters.
I'm going to use this as a segue into the firearms section of Bill C-15B. I will say just a few words on the changes proposed to the Firearms Act. Those words are that this is not nearly enough; however, we view these proposed changes as an important, first, good step toward a full recovery within the Department of Justice. Having the courage to recognize that they have a serious legislative problem was the first challenge. Finally admitting freely that the Firearms Act needs changes, especially after all of the public exposure to its pitfalls, huge price tags, screw-ups, and divisive nature, is commendable. We salute the Minister of Justice on her brave attempt to make changes to the bill. To do it right, though, she should scrap the whole thing.
At the beginning days of Bill C-68, then Justice Minister Allan Rock avoided public consultation, and the bill is in peril, as we know now. But he did have the forethought to install the minister's user group, which we heard from earlier today. Using the expertise of that group, which made up insightful recommendations to the minister in concert with the firearms community of Canada, including people sitting at this table today, rewrite the whole thing. Using a sharp pencil on a clean sheet of paper, get the firearms committee to do it right and do a proper consultation. If you need to split this bill one more time, then do it. Come back with a Bill C-15C, and separate the two parts that are before you today. But when we deal with the firearms issue this time, let's do it right.
Thank you very much for your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I understand the last time a bill was split was in the 1800s, so I doubt we're going to split it again.
I would go to Mr. Breitkreuz for questions for seven minutes.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The bill-splitting precedent has been set, and that's encouraging. I think that suggestion here needs to be examined, because these are two totally different topics.
I'd like to begin with one of the concluding remarks here, that this bill is likely going to have the opposite of its intended effect. It is kind of an admission of failure when it comes to the gun regulations. The debate is not over, as we've been led to believe. I believe that if Canadians found out the whole story, they would no longer support firearms registration. The cost, the error rates, that registration actually is laying a paper beside the gun, tying up our police resources... in fact, they would discover this is not gun control. The big problem is that it diverts our attention away from what the real causes of crime and suicide are.
In light of that, I would like to ask this question of Mr. Butts. Is it in fact true that if these amendments are passed as they are, they will result in ever escalating error rates, making the act even more useless than it presently is to the police? For example, the legislation has a lot of words like “prescribed” and “regulation”—I think they're in there about thirty times or so—which means we really don't know what will eventually be enacted or enforced. I use as an example the FIP system that has been mentioned by previous witnesses. This police database has 3.5 million Canadians listed in it. It's riddled with errors. So will these amendments not in fact make things even worse? Will they not in fact have the opposite effect to that intended?
Mr. Wally Butts: I believe they will. The system is now so confused that this is going to further confuse it.
If I can, Mr. Breitkreuz, I would just like to pass that to Dave Tomlinson, who can talk about some of the problems, for instance, in the handgun registry.
Mr. David Tomlinson: We're quite appalled by the incompetence of the people who write this legislation. They are unable to come out with system design that defines a working system. As a result, the legislation is more and more riddled with the word “prescribed” and the word “regulations”. As a result, it is not possible to know what this law means because the words “prescribed” and “regulations” throw you out of the law and into the realm of orders in council.
A recent example of that is the R. vs. Rusk case. This turned on the issue of a regulation number 4, as to whether the firearm was stored with ammunition or not. There was a lively debate as to the exact meaning of the words “stored with ammunition”. In the end, the judge came down on the side of the defence, and it was only when the case was sent to the National Firearms Association that anyone noticed the regulation they were debating had gone obsolete a year before the offence. The regulation had been replaced by another regulation—regulation number 5 in a different set of regulations.
So when words like “regulations” and “prescribed” are put into the Criminal Code, and into criminal law generally, it becomes impossible for anyone in the criminal justice system to know what the law is, because there is no way of knowing whether an order in council has been superseded, or altered, or has in fact been withdrawn. We're seeing more and more of this kind of thing in the legal branch of the National Firearms Association. People will call us up and tell us they've been charged with something based on a regulation, and we get back to them and tell them that regulation is no longer in force.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you.
To follow up on one of the comments you made on the court cases that are coming up, according to reports I've read, judges complain that legislation is so poorly drafted as to make it almost unenforceable. Is this in fact true?
Mr. David Tomlinson: Oh, it certainly is. In fact, much of this legislation is meaningless until a decision is made by the Supreme Court of Canada.
I'll give you an example. The definition of firearm, which is the very basis of firearms control law, is found in Criminal Code section 2. That definition is so defective that Criminal Code subsection 84(3) is required to take huge numbers of firearms out of the definition of firearm. Subsection 84(3) is so badly done that no one has yet noticed that it's a criminal offence to point a paintball gun at anyone in Canada.
Additionally, then, in Bill C-15 we have an amendment to fix the air gun mess. The air gun mess, as you've already heard, was caused by the introduction of lightweight pellets, which converted huge numbers of air, gas, and spring guns into real firearms, requiring all kinds of paperwork, licensing, transportation permits, and other papers.
Now the fix that has been put in front of you is absolutely ludicrous. In the first place, the word “or” has been used and a muzzle energy limit has been tacked on. Because the word “or” and not the word “and” is used, the gun becomes a real firearm if one exceeds either limit. So all of the air, gas, and spring guns exceeding the muzzle velocity limit are still going to be firearms, requiring all the paperwork, and any gun that exceeds the new energy limit of 5.6 joules is also going to be a real firearm, and this includes every paintball gun in Canada. So the people who wrote it were totally, absolutely incompetent.
Additionally, the original form of that section, which has not been changed, says that to qualify for this exemption, one has to prove a negative. One has to prove that the firearm is incapable of discharging any projectile in any way, under any circumstances, that exceeds the limit. That, frankly, is impossible to prove; there is no firearm anywhere in Canada that comes under this exemption.
So if nothing comes under the exemption, then where in blazes are we? It's a joke.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: I would like to thank all of our witnesses.
As you said, Ms. Cukier, we are not here to review the principles of the act. However, we do have to acknowledge that a number of groups are challenging the introduction of this registry of firearms owners.
How do you respond to all those who criticize the current system?
Ms. Wendy Cukier: If you look back 10 years, to C-17 and C-68, the same arguments being brought forward today are the ones that were brought forth then. You have to ask yourself why this legislation was even considered. The answer is because of a concern for public safety.
I will freely admit that many people here today are expert in the types of firearms and their function, but we have to acknowledge that when it comes to issues like crime prevention, policing, suicide prevention, and domestic violence prevention, many groups are not at the table today, have not been here this morning, and perhaps will not ever be here.
The principal organizations in this country who came together to say we needed this legislation, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Public Health Association, the major women's organizations—the list goes on and on—all endorsed the legislation's underlying principle, which was, yes, firearms do serve legitimate purposes. We have no objection to people hunting, or target shooting, or even collecting. However, public safety has to be the priority.
We know of a number of factors that place people at risk for misusing firearms, whether it be misuse in cases of violence, or suicide, or—and I think it bears mentioning—in other illegal dealings, because we know that every illegal firearm begins as a legal firearm. Let's return to the link between licensing and registration. This link was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in June 2000 and is really at the core of the legislation. Licensing is intended to reduce the risk that people who should not have access to firearms will have access to firearms, and a whole series of risk factors were identified in terms of domestic violence, violence, or suicide.
At the same time the registration portions of the legislation are intended to reinforce licensing, because the only way we can ensure that a licensed firearm owner, or in fact a licensed gun dealer, does not sell guns illegally is to trace those firearms back to their registered owners and to hold those owners accountable. That's the principle in terms of reducing the illegal gun trade within this country and it's what underlies all the international efforts to address the illegal gun trade.
So when you go back to the Association of Chiefs of Police and the other groups I mentioned—and in fact the Canadian Police Association reaffirmed its support for the legislation at its annual meeting as well—the primary concern of the police is the prevention of crime, but they are also concerned with the reduction in and prosecution of the illegal trafficking in firearms. As Arn mentioned, information is core to policing. The suicide prevention experts came at it from a public health perspective. Their concern was primarily in keeping firearms away from people with a history of mental illness who were at risk for suicide.
Different groups approached the issue from different perspectives, but they came together on those four principles: license all gun owners; register all firearms; ensure safe storage requirements are in place; and prohibit firearms where the risk outweighs the utility. Canada has made the decision that certain kinds of handguns and military assault weapons pose a risk that outweighs their benefit for things like collecting.
Those principles hold equally well today, and I'm sorry if the focus here has been on the impact on firearms owners. It bears repeating that the majority of gun owners in this country do not possess the prohibited handguns or military assault weapons, and in fact the polling data suggest that many firearms owners do not support civilians possessing military assault weapons. That's a small point that seems to have been lost in some of the discussion.
The legislative principles contained in Bill C-68 are consistent with the principles that were reinforced by the United Nations crime prevention commission in 1997; they are very similar. That's my final point. I've published extensively and refereed academic journals on this subject. The principles in the Canadian law are consistent with what is in place in laws in most industrialized countries in the world—our neighbour to the south is a notable exception. Most industrialized countries in the world license gun owners, register guns, and do not allow civilians possession of military assault weapons.
The Chair: Thank you.
One minute, Madam Allard, or is there another response and then—
Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: You mentioned earlier that you agreed with the renewal process. A group we heard from before you, the December 6 Victims Foundation Against Violence, raised a number of concerns. You also said that you thought the renewal process was acceptable, but that you were not in favour of rubber-stamping. Could you go into more detail on this?
Ms. Wendy Cukier: Yes, there are two aspects in the legislation where the renewal process has been modified. First there is a proposal that renewals need not be done in the same manner as the original application. That's the first point Mr. Snyder made. The second point is the proposal to extend the renewal process for nine years.
In our opinion, both of those provisions have potential risks associated with them. In the first case, if you say the renewal will not be done in the same manner as the initial application, you had better be certain that you're still assessing risk in an appropriate way. So we're prepared to say, yes, changes may be required in the interests of efficiency and, yes, there's a difference if somebody has been in the system versus someone who has never been in the system.
On the other hand, as Mr. Snyder and the other groups this morning mentioned, there are many risk factors associated with domestic violence and suicide that are not easily contained, for example, in police databases. So it's critically important that there be some kind of improved screening, but it need not be at the same standard.
In terms of the extension of the renewal process to nine years, again we have said that, given the concern about managing the volume with the registration system, we understand why the department is concerned that they not have to relicense two million gun owners in the year 2006. We have proposed—and you will see this in our brief when you receive it—that rather than simply saying, well, we'll extend it beyond the five years, we think the Department of Justice should consider creative measures to encourage people, for example, to renew early. There may be ways of providing incentives, so that rather than waiting until 2006, people are encouraged to start relicensing earlier.
Again, we're prepared to accept the proposed change, but we think it would be better for the safety of Canadians if other ways around it were found.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Fitzpatrick, please. You have three minutes.
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: Among my hobbies in life I enjoy sport fishing. I'm not a hunter, but I enjoy sport fishing.
An aboriginal once showed me how to deal with a walleye or a northern pike. When you get it out of the boat, you need to take its head and break its neck, because it instantly kills the animal. You may be wondering why I've stated this.
I'm also a lawyer who has just had a quick read of this act—I've only been on this committee a short while—and to be honest with you, I find this act quite frightening.
Take proposed subsection 182.2(1). I'm trying to determine how a prosecutor could lay a charge here and what the essentials of the charge would be. I could read, “Every one commits an offence who, wilfully or recklessly”, take the word “wilfully”, and then jump right to proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(b)—“kills an animal”. Everyone who wilfully kills an animal commits a criminal offence, if I follow that logic.
I know there are a lot of inconsistencies in that whole section. It sounds like the firearms people are working on this thing. But that seems to be the essence of an offence right there, the way this thing is drafted. That means when I'm catching my walleye, I wilfully kill it, so I am committing an offence. Or if a farmer takes a chicken, puts it on the block, and chops its head off, he's wilfully killing an animal.
Another provision I find really disturbing is the definition of “negligently” in proposed subsection 182.3(2). I would think that the standard of care that a reasonable person or an industry would have would be a defence to any charge under here. But it's only a narrow defence; it only applies to proposed section 182.3.
Quite frankly, I find this legislation extremely intrusive. If I were in the medical research area, the agriculture area, the hunting or angling area, or an aboriginal person... Taken to its logical conclusion, this is a very frightening and intrusive piece of legislation.
I'm just curious, Mr. Rodgers or Mr. Danson, if I'm going over the wall on this thing. Do you share these kinds of concerns as well?
The Chair: Thank you very much for your three-minute question to Mr. Rodgers or Mr. Danson.
Mr. Peter Danson: I think in the case of killing, there is upfront protection in the proposed legislation, which is similar to what exists today in the Criminal Code, that everyone commits an offence who wilfully or recklessly—and then you go to proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(c)—kills an animal without lawful excuse. That's the current law and that's been preserved. It's also been preserved with respect to poisoning.
But in proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(b), which you referred to, the brutal or vicious type of killing is something new. I think it's aimed at some really horrific stuff we've seen or heard about, such as dragging animals behind cars and stuff like that.
The problem is that while that's the intended purpose of that provision, the example you gave is a perfect one. The other night I was talking to Dr. Quinney about the way people fish and what they do with their fish after they catch them. Are they obliged to whack them over the head, or do they just put them in a bucket and wait until they get back to the cottage, or wherever they're going, and then that's a slow death? There are all kinds of slaughtering practices that are not necessarily covered by laws or regulations and are a matter of custom. You've referred to an aboriginal custom.
There are other customs that will be attacked. Animal rights activists have already announced that they will use this legislation to attack what they call borderline practices. So it is possible without inserting “lawful excuse” in proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(b), as you have done in proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(c) and proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(d). At least that gives you some upfront protection. I would also suggest the same insertion in proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(a).
Proposed paragraph 182.2(1)(a) has existed for some time, back to the 19th century. In 1953 it was expanded to include all animals, whereas previously it didn't apply to all animals. But I would include “without lawful excuse” there. That's in the attachment to my written submissions. I've indicated that because, as I say, the stakes and the jeopardy are greater now with these new amendments, so have the upfront protection stated right there.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Mr. Rodgers, I think he referred to you. Are you passing? Okay, thank you.
Mr. John McKay: Mr. Danson's essential point is about taking it out of part XI of the Criminal Code and moving it from property to some sort of interest, and the eventual end game is to have animal rights, as we would understand rights.
Looking, however, at the section in the Criminal Code, it seems to be a bit of a motley section of various pieces relating to things having not a great deal to do with animals. You have false alarm of fire, interfering with marine signals, fraudulent fires, and things of that nature.
Absent your other concerns, which I understand, I'm wondering whether issues relating to animals shouldn't have a separate section in the Criminal Code, just in terms of the principles of the argument.
Mr. Peter Danson: That is a small step—but things happen in piecemeal fashion—toward elevating the status of animals, and then animals gaining a status unto themselves. It's part of that process I'm concerned about.
Mr. John McKay: In principle, though, you recognize that animals have a status that is separate and apart from inanimate objects—or burning somebody's house down or something of that nature—which is sort of where they're presently lumped.
Mr. Peter Danson: It's in a property section, and it's a special kind of property. Animals deserve special treatment, unlike other chattel. There's no doubt about that.
I think if you were going to take it out of a property section... I wouldn't put it in its own section. I'd put it in a public morals section. The problem is the current public morals section has all kinds of sexual offences, and I don't think that's appropriate.
Initially in Bill C-17 it was put in section 5, which includes sexual offences. At least in the literature that accompanied the amendments initially, people brutalizing animals and people brutalizing women were all part of that package of ideas. I'm not going to go there.
The goal of attacking brutal and vicious killings and the like, and improper and inappropriate treatment of animals is a laudable one. No one is questioning that. The problem is, what are the implications of doing it in this way down the road?
Mr. John McKay: You and I will probably agree that putting it in with sexual offences and that sort of stuff is inappropriate. Having said that, would you agree that simply taking sections 444, 445, 446 and 447—all of the sections pertaining to animals—and putting them in a separate section would be an appropriate start to recognizing the differential treatment of inanimate property and animate property?
Mr. Peter Danson: I think if you're going to do that, you have to fortify the upfront protections of lawful and reasonable uses of animals.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
This discussion is very important and we need to follow up on this, but I just want to get back to the firearms section of this bill. My question is for Mr. Butts.
The RCMP is being removed as the agency primarily responsible for the registration of firearms. These powers are being transferred to the Canadian Firearms Commissioner. The RCMP have been responsible for this for 67 years, I think, back to 1934.
My concern is that, in doing this, it is going to further erode public and police confidence in the registry. You're in touch with the public. How do you feel about this, and how do your people feel about it?
Mr. Wally Butts: From past court cases and research, we know the handgun registry that has been in place since the mid-thirties has been fully riddled with errors, and those errors have been passed on into the new registration system. I guess the point to be made is that if the RCMP, the prime police force in this country, can't get it right, how do we expect, shall we say, non-police entities to get it right?
Mr. David Tomlinson: Another thing that's quite important is that there is a remarkable provision in Bill C-15 that says the man who is the registrar today will be the registrar for the future. That's built into the bill, and we are deeply offended by that. The man who is running the registry today has very little respect and affection from the firearms community, because we know the registry is riddled with errors, omissions, and duplications. We know the registry is rotten to the core. They keep sending people into court, saying this is the way it is. If no one contradicts them, that is accepted by the court as being the word of God.
As an example, in the package we've given out to the committee, you'll find two documents photocopied back to back. One was supplied by the registry to the defence and one was supplied to the crown prosecutor. The one supplied to the crown prosecutor is a sworn statement stating they have carefully examined the registry and found no trace of this firearm ever having been registered. The one supplied to the defence is a photocopy of the registration certificate that is on file, swearing this is a true copy of the registration certificate on file. They're both signed by the same man on the same day. In the document we've given you as our large presentation, there's an analysis of how that happened, and that analysis details all sorts of problems with the registration system.
The registration system also has an enormous problem in the shape of “ghost guns” and “gone guns”. A ghost gun comes into existence when a firearm is transferred from A to B and the registry fails to delete the registration certificate of A from their files. From that point on, that gun is shown in the registry files as belonging to both A and B. If you go into a search of the system, it's pure chance as to which one you're going to find. They assume there is only one in the system, whereas there may be multiple registration certificates for the same gun in the system.
The gone gun is even worse. When someone moves, emigrates, or dies, and nobody bothers to tell the system, all of the registration certificates referring to that individual turn into meaningless trash, because each registration certificate is trying to tell you this gun is at this location in the hands of this person, when that's no longer true.
For seventeen years, we have been trying to get the registry to do a check of its own system. We want them to go out and select a thousand registration certificates that are scattered in age, go to the place where the gun is supposed to be, ask for the person who's supposed to live there, and ask him if he still has the gun. The registry flatly refuses to do that, and we know why. It's because a very high percentage of the records in the Canadian firearms registry are meaningless trash. They have no relation to any real situation.
In Bill C-15 there is a proposal to change one little bit of a section. Section 17 of the Firearms Act says you can have a restricted or prohibited firearm
The basic problem is that the new registration certificates don't have a place on the registration certificate. There is no location on them.
As a result, Bill C-15 proposes to change that one little bit, as indicated on the registration certificate, to a new line, “as recorded in the Canadian firearms registry”. We voice the strongest possible objections to the change because the Canadian firearms registry is wildly inaccurate. It is an extreme danger for anyone required to do this.
As an example, it's an impossibility. Under the Firearms Act, section 33, I can loan a firearm to Mr. Butts or Mr. Breitkreuz as long as they have a licence for the particular firearm. When I loan the firearm, I also loan the registration certificate. They become the holder of the registration certificate under the Criminal Code, section 84.
Under this provision in the Firearms Act, section 17, if you change it in the way the incompetent bureaucrat wants you to change it, Mr. Butts can borrow my shotgun and Mr. Breitkreuz can borrow my rifle. They can only possess them in my home because it's the location for the guns as recorded in the Canadian firearms registry. It's absolutely ludicrous.
Additionally, if you have a ghost gun, then it is simultaneously recorded in the registry as being in my house and in the store where I bought it. According to the provision, you're a criminal if you don't keep it in both locations at the same time.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, Mr. Breitkreuz, the three minutes includes both the question and the answer.
Mr. Paul DeVillers (Simcoe North, Lib.): Thank you Mr. Chair.
I have a question for Mr. Danson. If I understood your submission, part of your major concern is the definition where animals are defined as being capable of feeling. Do you fear it could lead to a further acquisition of rights for animals?
Mr. Peter Danson: I think it's a definition to their status. It tried to establish a status in law, to give them a standing in law, by virtue of the definition, coupled with taking it out of part XI.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: When I look at the existing provisions of the code, where we're talking about cruelty to animals and causing unnecessary suffering, from the words I see in the code, there's an implied sense that these animals are capable of feeling. You can't be cruel to a chattel.
Mr. Peter Danson: No.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: There has to be some corresponding capacity to appreciate the cruelty or to have the suffering that is caused. Is it not already applied?
Mr. Peter Danson: No, absolutely.
The point is, by giving the definition, the provision of unnecessary harm and suffering currently in the code applies. The code has been applied to higher species like mammals and birds essentially. It hasn't been applied to fish. It hasn't been applied to worms. Based on some kind of study, you could think of a wide spectrum of species that might experience pain and are not currently covered.
You're opening it up to more species than is currently practised under the code and by the courts. You're identifying the terms of an animal's standing in terms of its capacity to experience pain.
The point is this. We have to be careful with animals. There's no doubt about it. Where does the duty come from? Does a duty issue because the animal has an inherent interest or right? Does it emanate from the fact that it is a reflection of our humanity, virtue, and morality?
The way we treat animals is a question of morality and virtue. It's tied into the fact that the animal can experience pain. Once you start elevating the status of animals in terms of their pain, then they begin to have an independent status recognized in law. That's a problem, because they are not free. They're not rational, free-willed beings. They're animals, and we eat animals.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: On the point of the definition, right now I believe “animal” is not defined. It's open, in that it could be much broader. By putting in a definition, usually you're restricting by defining. So I think that argument goes both ways.
On the question of pain, I think it's so abundantly clear and implied that I have trouble following your argument and your concern that we're going to be possibly giving further rights because we're acknowledging that they're capable of pain. Well, it's certainly implied there now.
Mr. Peter Danson: Yes, but I'll put it to you this way: the species that could potentially be covered because there's no definition now have a licence to be covered by virtue of the definition. That's the simplest way I can put it.
If your intention is to cover all species that can experience pain, the studies that will be brought forward by activists will say just about anything that lives experiences pain. There are studies out there saying that, okay? You'll get that approach, so for what was never the practice before, nor even considered remotely possible, there is now a licence. If that's what you want to do, go ahead and do it. But that's what you're doing.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm informed by you that I have three minutes to ask all the questions I have remaining.
Essentially, what I need to determine is whether these amendments correct the deficiencies existing in this bill and if they make the system more useful to police. We have certain powers being transferred to provincial ministers, and this could result in certain people being exempted from the application of this act. That means we could have it implemented in ten different ways across this country. The CFOs, the chief firearms officers, will be given a considerable amount of power in each of these provinces, even the power of provincial ministers. I have concerns about that. If we're trying to do what this legislation aims to do, this just works counter to that, and that comes back to whether or not this system will be more useful to police.
I also have a concern about the protection ordinary citizens may have for their rights being violated, and I've expressed that previously.
Another thing I'd like to raise is that many firearms were banned on February 14, 1995. The government realized it made a mistake, but there was no compensation. Now those firearms remain banned, but the owners are allowed to keep them. There seems to be a contradiction there. I think there seems to be a real problem with that. I'd like you to comment on that.
I have a great concern about the property rights, as I've already mentioned. The FIP system, with 3.5 million Canadians, is riddled with errors. How can that be useful?
I'll conclude by asking this. Could the aims of this legislation be met by amending the legislation to remove the registry?
I've raised a whole raft of issues here. I hope you've made note of them. I'd like you to comment on them.
Mr. David Tomlinson: One of the major problems in the registry is the definition of various classes of firearms. There are far too many classes, and the classes overlap. I have several firearms in my own collection that are simultaneously restricted firearms and prohibited firearms, and the legislation doesn't cover that issue. There are a number of problems caused by these overlaps.
There is a series of problems caused by the fact that certain firearms are moved from one class to another by orders in council. The orders in council are universally unclear, and it is therefore extremely difficult to know which particular class a particular firearm falls into. If it falls into two or more classes at the same time, it can be absolutely impossible to know what rules apply to it, because the rules are different for each of the classes.
You know they outlawed all the small handguns on December 1, 1998, but they put in an amnesty for a year. They extended that amnesty for another year. They then extended it for another six months. And then they extended it for yet another six months. The reason was that the gentleman who wrote that provision into the law did not realize that all those small handguns could be converted from prohibited firearms to restricted firearms simply by removing the barrel, and if the firearm had a cylinder, removing the cylinder as well.
If the man who owns the firearm does that, when the officer comes around to seize the firearm for confiscation, he just looks at him and says it isn't a prohibited firearm any more, it's a restricted firearm, so buzz off, and there's nothing that can be done about that. That's why we had this long series of amnesties and why the amnesty series will apparently continue indefinitely.
This is an example of incompetence in draftsmanship. The person who drafted the legislation in that way should have been aware of this problem and should have realized that this was how the firearms community was going to react.
Not all of the firearms community is going to react by altering the firearm from prohibited to restricted. Some of them are going to say, okay, you can seize it, but I want a court hearing. You're going to be trying to confiscate an unserviceable .25-calibre pistol worth approximately $20 on the world market, and you're paying $3,000 to $5,000 for a court case just because the owner is so very angry at the government for what it's doing, confiscating property without paying compensation.
Additionally, as soon as these cases start hitting the courts... There are three Supreme Court of Canada cases that the NFA has on file that say where a statute has the effect of taking property, or even the effect of rendering the property valueless without taking it, then the government has to pay compensation. With these prohibited handguns, the government is proposing to confiscate 58% of all handguns in Canada.
According to the registry, there are approximately 1.2 million registered handguns. So you're looking at confiscating probably 750,000 handguns. At $200 apiece, that works out to a very nice piece of change. And what is the effect of this? It drives the criminals away from the small, low-powered handguns into larger, higher-powered handguns, which are far more likely to kill. It makes you question the intelligence of the people who write a provision like that.
As far as the police are concerned, some of the police... Here I'm talking about the administrators in the police, and not the working police, because every working police officer I've ever talked to about this says the firearms control system is of absolutely no use to them, because the kind of people they have to worry about don't register their firearms. But if the police are depending on the registry to tell them where the firearm is, they're depending on a broken reed.
Under the provisions for lending in the act, I can lend my firearm and registration system to Mr. Butts, or to Mr. Breitkreuz, or to anybody else in this room who has the appropriate licence, and from that moment on, the government has no idea where that firearm is or who has it in his hands. That's what I call defective systems design.
The people who wrote the entire legislation, both Bill C-68 and Bill C-15, were enamoured of their own brains, but they were remarkably incompetent and lacked a great deal of knowledge.
For example, it is possible today for me to take a revolver with nice modern cartridges in it, put it in my hip pocket, and go downtown without contravening any law, in spite of the fact that I have no licence and no registration certificate, and no authorization to carry that firearm, because that's a loophole they left in the law, and they left it there out of incompetence.
The Chair: The question was posed to the entire panel. If anyone would like to respond...
Mr. Wally Butts: I'd like to comment back to Mr. Breitkreuz on the ban on the small handguns. The fact that they've allowed the owners to keep these tells me, first, they aren't as dangerous as everyone would like to think they are. So they aren't the threat that led up to the ban.
But secondly, if they allow me to keep my small handguns until I die, then I cannot at that point sue them for compensation when they take them. If they take them away when I'm alive, I'm a threat to sue the government for loss of private property or in other areas under the act, whereas when I'm dead I don't have that choice. So what the government has really done here is delay confiscation without compensation by using that tactic.
Mr. David Tomlinson: The government does a great—
The Chair: First, are there any other responses to Mr. Breitkreuz's question? I think Mr. Tomlinson has had some time.
Mr. Gordon Gallant (Firearms Specialist, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters): Thank you.
The other issue cited when short-barrel handguns were slated for prohibited status was their inability to be used in target shooting in that they were terribly inaccurate. Yet police forces around the country used .38-calibre revolvers for many years to protect the public safety of Canadian citizens.
My point is that the cited rationale for the prohibition bears no substance either on target shooting or for public safety.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. John McKay: I appreciate Mr. Danson being here, because you are able to join the issue with respect to representations we've heard from those who are supporting this bill.
If I could summarize what I've heard from, how should I say it, animal rights proponents, it is that the legislation, as it presently reads, sets the bar way too high, that it's virtually impossible to get convictions other than in the absolutely most blatant cases, and then of course there are the issues relating to punishment, which I understand you sort of agree with.
Anyway, to go to the more precise question, as I understand the representations that were made to us, in section 446, you have to get over the bar of “wilfully causes”. Then you also have “with legal justification or excuse and with colour of right”. So you have, in effect, a triple bar.
This bill, as I understand it, reduces a triple bar to a double bar, of wilfully and without lawful excuse. So I'd be interested in your views as to whether the reduction in the bar of this section in fact is inappropriate given the apparent difficulty in obtaining convictions in very egregious examples.
Mr. Peter Danson: I'll speak to the latter point in terms of the convictions.
Reading the submission of Bob Gardiner of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, he raises that and amplifies it and discusses it in some detail. I can't talk about it in terms of my own experience, but I can say this. In the kinds of arguments he has there, it's really not unlike the assault provisions for domestic violence.
Judges look at animals as property, and they feel reluctant to penalize and criminalize someone's conduct towards an animal because it is property. Those are analogous to the kinds of things that occurred maybe a decade or more ago in relation to the way that some men were treating women.
The way that got cured was not by changing the assault provisions, but by enforcing them more vigorously. Today, at least in the province in which I live, they are enforced quite vigorously. We have more convictions of assaults in relation to women than ever before, and properly so. So I think it's really an enforcement matter, given what Mr. Gardiner is saying in his submissions.
As for these bars, they're not a triple bar. You were referring to legal justification, or excuse or colour of right. Those are mutually exclusive; they're not triple bar. The courts have ruled that they're individual defences, separate and distinct defences, that are available up front. But they're defences; they're not upfront protections, as you would say, without lawful excuse.
The point is simply this—I've said it before, and I'll just be brief on it—the ante has been raised. There's a wish to more vigorously prosecute animal cruelty. Go ahead. You don't need to change the law to do that. I think there is the insertion of “brutal” and “vicious” to address particularly heinous forms of cruelty. The only problem there is that if you're going to step up enforcement—and properly so—and go after these more heinous forms of cruelty and increase the penalties—there's no debate there, because it's something that deserves attention—fair enough. But let's not sacrifice people who could be at greater risk—the regular people who deal with animals on a daily or frequent basis.
That's the problem we face here, because this is a stepping stone for something down the road by others—maybe not by this current government, not by this Department of Justice at this time, but it does establish certain legal precedents. It's just a question of giving upfront recognition to legitimate practices that go on today, some of which are codified and many that are not. And it's perhaps in that area that we're going to see the greatest risk—people involved in scientific research, animal husbandry, and hunting and fishing. That's the concern.
Why leave these people more vulnerable? If your point is... and the Department of Justice will say, “Well, the things we're doing here by taking them out of part XI and foregoing the protection of subsection 429.(2) are not really anything of any value”. Then why are they there? Why have they been there, and why do you want to move them? Why don't you just eliminate subsection 429.(2), eliminate it for everybody, if that's the logic?
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: With the firearms law there seems to be an implied assumption that if you get enough bureaucracy and paperwork in, you can eliminate a problem. It's sort of like people who think you can make cats bark. If you pass a law, you'll achieve that purpose.
The U.S. spent something like $10 billion on immigration and security matters, and they obviously did a poor job of assessing a very real risk that was out there and taking appropriate action. Hundreds of dangerous people were moving into the U.S., studying the airports, the airplanes, getting on them, doing all sorts of things, and nobody was doing... There was lots of bureaucracy, but the problem was right before their eyes and they weren't doing anything about it. My idea of bureaucracy is that the only thing it really slows and deters is economic growth. In most other areas, it's a haven for the criminal area. Bureaucracy is not going to deter crime.
My impression with this law and the way it's drafted... defence lawyers live on confusion, technicalities, vagueness, and poorly drafted laws. I think any police officer who has spent any time in court knows they can take a small technicality or vagueness and the door opens that wide. By the time they're finished, it's that wide, and the accused walks out of court on a technicality. This is a concern I have. People are really pushing this law because they think it's going to make for better gun control. I'm inclined to think it might have the opposite effect. It may assist the defence lawyers' industry. I wouldn't want to be a prosecutor, given this maze of vagueness, uncertainty, and poorly drafted law.
Maybe I could have the gentleman in the corner respond to that.
Mr. David Tomlinson: Probably the best example of what you're talking about is Project Gun Runner, which was run in southern Ontario a few years ago. Every time the police got their hands on a firearm that was in any way connected with any criminal offence, they started running it back through the registry. Of the guns that were supposed to be registered, 86% had never been seen by the registry.
Ms. Cukier made the comment that every gun begins life as a legal gun. This clearly disproves that. Every gun in that 86% had been illegal from the day it arrived in Canada until the day the police seized it. Those firearms had never had a legal day in Canada. In terms of registering firearms, the 86% that had never been seen by the registry indicated very clearly that the firearms used by criminals for criminal purposes, and found in criminal circumstances, are by and large mostly smuggled guns. They're not guns that were legally imported, sold by a legal dealer, and bought by a legal hunter, target shooter, or collector. They're guns that came into Canada totally illegally.
There was a beautiful example of this, also in southern Ontario, about two years ago. They caught a gun smuggler. This gun smuggler and his friend had been climbing into their battered, old Toyota car, crossing the bridge at Windsor—where 18,000 cars a day cross—and going down into New York state where they had found an illegal firearms dealer who was willing to sell them little handguns, worth $75 retail in the U.S. market, for $100 a piece. They then drove back across the bridge, took the guns into Toronto and other cities, and sold them at $300 to $500 a piece. I don't have to belabour the point that the market economics of that are excellent.
What probably would do you some good is considering how these two men were caught. They were pulled over on highway 401 because the driver wasn't wearing his seatbelt. The policeman asked him for his driver's licence, went back to his car and called in the driver's licence, and discovered the licence had been suspended. He went back and asked the driver to get out of his car, and when he got out of his car, one of the little handguns, which was tucked into his waistband, trickled down his pant leg and appeared on the highway. So the policeman arrested him and the other fellow, and when they found a couple of dozen handguns under the front seat, the whole scheme came out. But they'd been doing that at a rate of two to four trips a month, for well over two years.
Where you have a marketplace and a demand, and where the possibility for profits is very high, that demand is going to be satisfied. And all of the control by registering Uncle George's duck gun isn't going to help you one iota, especially when the registry system you're using is rotten to the core and pretty well useless. You try bringing evidence from the registry system into a court of law, and any defence lawyer who knows about that system will be able to blow any information that comes out of the registry system completely out of court because it is so thoroughly untrustworthy.
Yet we are spending an enormous amount of money on this. Every rifle and shotgun that is currently registered on a Criminal Code section 98 invisible deemed registration certificate and every handgun and other registered firearm that is registered on a green paper registration certificate has to be registered in 2002. We already know what happened in 2000. The people who had to get new licences waited until the last minute and clogged the system. They're going to need three times as many registration certificates, and the registration certificates will require a great deal more information. The members of the firearms community are absolutely justified in refusing to provide all of the information they would like on the form, because if they do that they are at risk of criminal prosecution from the Firearms Act, section 106.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Ms. Cukier indicated an interest in responding.
Ms. Wendy Cukier: I think it's important to make a couple of points.
First of all, Project Gun Runner, which was a joint project of the OPP, Peel, and Toronto, was focused on the illegal importation of guns. So it's not surprising that they found that most of the guns were illegally trafficked. One of the conclusions of that study was in fact that a lot of them had originated in the United States from dirty dealers and straw purchases. In fact, if the United States had stronger controls over the sale and possession of firearms, we would see fewer of them in Canada.
There were, however, other joint forces operations, like Project Pinball, which was undertaken in the same area. What they found in that particular study was that the bulk of the guns were actually being sold by Canadians illegally. Some were legal dealers who were selling guns out the back door. In that case, information about the source of guns was critical to the investigation.
A major study has just come out of Johns Hopkins University in the United States that looks carefully at the sources of guns in the United States and finds that in states that have licensing and registration—and there are some—the vast majority of firearms recovered in crime are not local in their origination. They tend to be illegally imported.
Again, while Mr. Tomlinson interprets this data as saying therefore gun control doesn't work, in fact most of the researchers who look at illicit trafficking have said very clearly that what you need is stronger control over who has what guns, in order to prevent the diversion of legal guns to illegal markets. That's being promoted not just within Canada by the police here, but on an international basis; hence the work the UN has been doing.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Thank you, everyone.
I'd like to close with a question to Mr. Rodgers.
Earlier testimony from the users group suggested that, while imperfect, the amendments did represent an improvement in the legislation. Others have said otherwise. When I took notes during your testimony, I thought you said you thought it was a good first step.
Is that the case? Is that your view? I'm not trying to put you on the spot here or cause you to give it a level of support that you don't want to give, but at the same time, I'm trying to get to, very specifically, the question as to whether you think this is actually an improvement.
Mr. Tony Rodgers: When this whole thing started, of course, it was a piece of proposed legislation, and now it is a piece of law. There is a need for changes within that law.
I think it is a very good first step to move forward with change. I'm just saying, at this point, it's not enough change. There's a lot more that has to be done. I am suggesting a clean piece of paper and a sharp pencil; start it over again. I think this would be of benefit to the country regardless of how much money has been spent.
The Chair: Thank you all very much for your very articulate representations of your particular view of this issue and for taking time out of your obviously busy schedules.
The meeting is adjourned.