I did prepare, as I was requested, a 30-minute presentation. I will do my utmost to shorten it, but I would ask your indulgence. It's very short notice for me to have to shorten this. I will do my very best.
First of all, I want to thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to present my private member's Bill , which would end the requirements for individuals and businesses to register their long guns.
Before I begin, for the record, I would like to indicate my deep disappointment that I was not allotted the same amount of time at this committee that is given to every other member of Parliament who is presenting a private member's bill. It's normal practice for members of Parliament to be given one full hour to present and introduce their private members' bills. In my case, the opposition members of this committee fought hard to win the ability to limit my time. It's highly unusual.
I would suggest that if the tables were turned and a Liberal, Bloc, or NDP woman had introduced a private member's bill that had garnered the attention of the nation, as this one has done, and if she were silenced by Conservatives the way I have been silenced by the opposition, the outcry would be deafening.
In the short time I have, I want to tell you why I introduced this bill, what it does, and why it merits your support.
Mr. Chair, although I am not a gun owner, I grew up in a loving and peaceful home where there were long guns present. I had no reason to fear guns or view them as bad. I respected their potential to cause a dangerous situation, just as I respected and knew that the sharpness of a knife, the heat from an oven, or the speed of a car could cause harm and even death if not respected and treated accordingly. Some in this room may find that hard to believe. Doesn't everyone fear guns? Aren't all guns dangerous and to be feared? I don't believe so, Mr. Chair, and I have no doubt that is because I grew up in rural Canada. In rural Canada we view firearms very, very differently than some would in urban Canada.
I will tell you I am very much afraid of guns if they are in the wrong hands. If I were to walk on to any farmyard in my riding and the farmer walked out of his barn holding a rifle in each hand, I would not be the least bit worried or concerned. However, if I were walking home today to my condo in the city of Ottawa and I saw someone walking around waving a gun, I would be very, very concerned. The difference is who is in possession of the firearm.
What makes these situations very different—one frightening, the other commonplace—is, as I said, who is in possession. The same can hold true for knives, bats, chains, ropes, and any other object we can name that has a legitimate function but can also serve as a weapon. I believe that firearms hold a legitimate function for millions of Canadians, and in those instances they are not used as weapons to hurt people.
Statistically, individuals who have a licence to use and/or possess a firearm are actually 50% less likely to commit a crime with a gun than individuals without a licence. If we look around this table, and let's say by a show of hands we would indicate who has a licence to own a firearm and who doesn't, those who raise their hand and have a licence are actually 50% less likely to commit a gun crime than those who don't.
The point is that legally licensed long-gun owners in Canada are by and large law-abiding individuals who are not committing crimes.
I introduced this bill because I don't believe firearms are inherently bad. I believe people can be, and in the wrong hands firearms do become weapons. We need to focus on the person, not the firearm. Licensing is the place where real gun control happens. I believe it's vital because it is the only way to help ensure that guns don't get into the wrong hands. That's why my bill does not touch licensing at all.
However, the long-gun registry does not provide any such function. The long-gun registry is not gun control. Clearly the sole result of a long-gun registry has been that it has created an inventory list of long guns in Canada. It only works and it is only complete if all firearms owners comply with it. Of course, we know that hasn't happened, and it never will, because criminals don't register their guns.
Even as a partial inventory list, its only functional purpose has been reduced to being a partial investigative tool. Even as a partial investigative tool, police officers know they cannot rely on the information provided in the long-gun registry portion of the data. Police will all agree, whether they support the long-gun registry or not, that much of the data is inaccurate and out of date. Because of that, and because of their police training, their tactics when approaching a potentially dangerous situation are not dependent on what the long-gun registry may tell them.
The long-gun registry at best is a minimal and unreliable investigative tool for some police, and at worst it's an expensive and faulty system that does absolutely nothing to make sure that guns do not get into the wrong hands. It's also an extra burden on police who have to enforce compliance with it. The long-gun registry focuses on the long gun, rather than the person, and that's why I believe it needs to end.
There's no logical process in the government approving a person to own a long gun by allowing them to have a licence and then forcing them to report to the government each long gun they own. I would understand and accept the argument that maybe we need a database of those who are prohibited from owning a gun; that would make sense to me. Maybe we should be tracking individuals who are dangerous and should never own a firearm. Interestingly enough, we don't do that. Instead, under this current system, we follow, track, and many times even harass Canadian citizens who are not criminals. They don't have a record, they've gone through every police background check, and they are not contributing to gun crime, yet we spend precious police time and resources making sure they have registered each long gun they own.
We've seen recent examples of this in the city of Toronto. The Toronto Police Service spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of police hours poring over lists of those who have a licence to own a firearm, but were past a deadline on the registry, or vice versa. Then more police hours were spent going to each individual's home to tell them that their paperwork was not compliant and that they needed to surrender their firearms. In the end, not one arrest was made, not one gang member was discovered, not one drug dealer was found, and not even an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation was served. After hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of police work, the only people found were law-abiding gun owners who didn't have all of their paperwork in order. None of these people were selling drugs, they weren't involved in gang activities, they were not contributing to gun crime, and yet they were targeted by a massive, labour-intensive police hunt.
I want to say that I believe the Toronto Police Service had the very best intentions in mind when it undertook this investigation. But I think if we look at the larger picture, their time could have been much better spent investigating and tracking down real criminals and real gang activity in the city of Toronto. This illustrates the fatal flaw of the long-gun registry and the primary reason why I believe it needs to end: it forces law enforcement to focus on the wrong people when trying to fight crime.
I know the defenders of the long-gun registry say that police do use the registry when they go on a call. They say the police use it to check to see if there might be a firearm at a location they are at, if they are there for a domestic dispute or another type of call. I want to address this on a couple of levels.
First of all, I'll repeat that my bill would not end licensing; therefore, police will still be able to check and see who may possess a firearm, based on their having a licence. I already know some are saying, yes, but the police won't be able to see exactly how many firearms are at a specific location. I would argue, and have already pointed out, the fact is that the police currently know that the registry, especially regarding gun-specific information, is not reliable. Even defenders of the registry admit it is a mess and needs massive work. But there's another reason that police are, and should be, very cautious when it comes to checking the CFRO, and I'm going to give you one example.
Did you know that people who are licensed to own a firearm can lend their firearms to other individuals who have a licence to own a firearm? That means that if I am licensed to own a firearm and the chair is licensed to own firearms, but he actually has three registered firearms, he can legally lend those firearms to me. So the police would pull up my name up in the registry and it would tell them that I was in possession of zero firearms, whereas in fact I was legally in possession of three. That's all completely legal, according to the system as it is set up now. That's one reason the licensing portion is so important and why police, I believe, should be—and I believe they are—looking at who has the potential to own or be in possession of a firearm.
I also want to bring up another point. There's also the argument that police are checking the long-gun registry 10,000 times a day.
On that, there are the facts and there is the truth, and sometimes the facts don't always make up the truth. The fact is there are almost 10,000 hits or checks on the CFRO per day. The truth is that many of the police agencies in Canada have set up CPIC so that it automatically hits the long-gun registry, but they are not purposely checking the registry. We know a hit is also generated if somebody does any type of administrative work. Any type of activity contributes to the 10,000 hits a day. It's a misleading argument. It doesn't accurately tell us when police are checking the registry.
There are also some defenders who say it will only cost $4 million to keep the registry. I want to remind you of a couple of facts.
There are currently 6.8 million long guns legally registered. We know there are estimates of up to 16 million long guns in Canada. There are still a lot of long guns that would have to be registered if this registry remains intact.
You can add to that the cost of making the data current and correcting the data and the police hours that will be spent enforcing its compliance. We were suspicious about 15 years ago when the Liberals told us not to worry and that it wouldn't cost very much. I would say we have to be very suspicious of a $4 million cost when we take into account updating and making the registry completely current.
In closing, I want to address the very real and valid issue of the emotional connection there is for some to the long-gun registry. I'm not talking about a political attachment. I'm talking about individuals who have lost loved ones to gun crime. I'm talking about individuals who don't care about the politics of this issue. All they care about is that a loved one has been killed or murdered because somebody took a gun and shot that person. I think we have to be very aware of that. We have to know this registry was created with some of these people and their loved ones in mind. I think it's something that has to be taken into account.
I would say to these people that the long-gun registry is not gun control. The man who went into the Polytechnique had a licence to own a gun. He should never have had a licence. We need to toughen up licensing. We need to do something to make sure that people who are dangerous, violent, and full of hate don't get guns. The long-gun registry does nothing to address that issue. The long-gun registry only makes an inventory list.
I would ask that we keep those facts in mind. As members of Parliament, we should try to look past the emotional attachment we might have and look at the facts of the long-gun registry and what it has not been able to accomplish.
I have a lot more I'd like to say, but I will close with that.
Okay, this is the problem I have. You have no empirical evidence, so I'm just going to go on what we do know.
We do know that there has only been one police association of 150 members, that's 0.06%, who say they support your bill, and that one association is now saying it might be changing its mind.
So we have the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, with 99% of their membership; the Canadian association representing police across the country, with 99% of their membership; the Canadian Association of Police Boards; the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP; medical organizations such as the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, the Canadian Paediatric Society, and l'Institut national de santé publique du Québec; victims groups such as the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime; the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime; the student victims at Dawson College and l'École Polytechnique; mothers such as Suzanne Laplante-Edward, whose daughter was one of the 14 women who died at l'École Polytechnique....
I'll go on. There are many other victims' groups and women's groups that deal first-hand with the effects of domestic violence, including YWCA Canada and le Regroupement des maisons pour femmes.
I could go on and on. The Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec....
They all say that your bill is wrong, that the registry is vitally needed to protect public safety in Canada.
So I'm sorry if I side with all those organizations, but let me ask this one last question.
As is so typical with this issue, Mr. Chair, Ms. Hoeppner's last statement of course ignores the reality that the incidence of using knives to commit murders has increased in proportion to guns committing murders since the licensing was tightened up and since the registry came into effect. If you go back before that time, the reality is that guns were used to commit a greater number of murders than were knives.
Mr. Chair, I just want to make a statement before I ask what will probably be my only question.
What is going on here today—and I want the Canadian public to know this—is really a farce in terms of democracy. If this government were serious about dealing with gun crimes in this country, they would have continued, as opposed to sitting back and not proceeding, as they should have.
They introduced a very similar bill in June of 2006. We then had the election in 2008, so it died on the order paper when it had made absolutely no progress at all; it never even came for debate. They then reintroduced it as Bill C-24 after the 2008 election, and it had exactly the same fate: it just sat there. It has now been introduced again in the Senate, after one of the prorogations that this government has called, and it's sitting over there doing nothing.
The farce of democracy that's going on here is that the person sitting in that chair where Ms. Hoeppner is should be either the Minister of Justice or more likely the Minister of Public Safety and National Security, with whom we should have sufficient time—perhaps even having him come back more than once—to deal with the types of factual inconsistencies that we're getting from Ms. Hoeppner today.
We're not going to see that. We're going to proceed in a way such that there is no way the Canadian people will actually be able to hear enough evidence to make a logical decision on this bill and on the registry as a whole.
Let me finish with this question.
You have raised the issue today of the.... I'm assuming you don't know this, but the reality is that in 2009 there were four million inquiries to the Canadian firearms registry online—not to CPIC, which received 67 million inquiries. There were four million inquiries: police officers in this country asked four million times about whether there were firearms, including long guns, in the residences they were going into.
Do you not think that this alone justifies keeping the long-gun registry in place?
I have to say that I'm absolutely appalled—appalled at the treatment of women in this committee here today, by Mr. Comartin and first by Mr. Holland. The press have said—
Mr. Mark Holland: Shame, shame.
Mrs. Shelly Glover: Excuse me, Mr. Holland, but you're being disrespectful. I'm a woman as well and I have the right to be here just as much as you do. So if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to speak.
The media has reported that women are being ignored in this debate. Time and time again in this committee, Mr. Holland and the opposition have completely ignored some of the statements made by women like you, Ms. Hoeppner, and by me. This bill was put forward by you because you believed in it, and I have every faith in your ability to defend your position. I just wish that the other members would give you an opportunity to do that.
I would like you to address the fact that you were provided with a 30-minute opener. It was something that was voted on by this committee, even though we knew at the time that this was already limiting you, because most movers of bills get one hour. So already the female backbencher gets limited by the opposition to half an hour. They put forward a motion, we voted on it, and of course it's for 30 minutes uninterrupted to allow you to make your point, and we are told we are not allowed to ask questions. We didn't like that either on this side, but the opposition insisted, and it's in the minutes that this is what they wanted us to vote on.
Today we arrive, and once again the woman is bullied by the male Liberal, who seems to think he can walk all over women, and Canadian women in general. I am completely unsatisfied with the way this has regressed. This is something we believe in and this is something that—
I am Carol Allison-Burra. I am a director on the board of the Canadian Association of Police Boards as well as chair of the Kingston Police Services Board.
On behalf of the CAPB and our members, I'd like to thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to appear before you on the important issue of Canada's firearms registration system, which Bill C-391 would eliminate for all firearms that are not restricted or prohibited.
We are especially pleased to appear before you at the outset of the committee's hearings, and we have prepared a brief that we hope will be of assistance to you as you proceed in your important work.
The CAPB is the national association for police boards and commissions from across the country. Our members provide governance and oversight of more than 75% of municipal police in Canada. These boards and commissions are made up of ordinary residents as well as elected members of local municipal councils, and often provincial appointees as well. As such, they give voice and respond to the concerns and expectations of their specific communities.
One concern that has been expressed by communities throughout Canada pertains to violent incidents involving firearms. These include both handguns and long guns. Firearms are used in a wide spectrum of violent incidents, such as domestic disputes, bystander shootings, robberies, homicides, as well as drug- and gang-related activities. While different kinds of guns are more or less frequently involved in different kinds of crimes, the communities we represent understand that crimes involving guns of whatever kind or classification are especially serious and require special attention.
I'm sure that committee members know all too well that these kinds of firearms crimes have cost many innocent lives, including those of young people, women, and police officers. It's important to appreciate that not all the perpetrators of these violent criminal acts were people with criminal records or self-professed risks in their community. Many were ordinary people who for any number of reasons committed or were involved in the act of using their firearms illegally. Equally, in many of these instances the firearms that were used were legally owned or had once been legally owned.
By having a national firearms registry that records the existence and identified locations of all firearms, we have created an important preventative and investigative tool, as well as one that enhances police officer and public safety. Our brief to your committee identifies the specific preventative investigative and public safety benefits the registry currently provides. We believe you will receive tangible examples of identified benefits of the current registry from the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
We urge the committee to explore, in the course of these hearings, whether these benefits are real or illusory. We are confident, frankly, that such an objective analysis will lead you to the same conclusion we have been led to, which is that the current registry performs cost-effectively and provides important public and police officer safety benefits.
Although we can discuss this in greater detail during questioning, let me take a moment to identify what we have determined to be irrefutable preventative officer safety and investigative benefits of the current registration system. I know that the advocates of Bill dispute many of these suggestions, but I hope that from this day forward the committee will receive accurate information, ask pertinent questions, and discern for themselves fact from fiction.
From our association's perspective, the current system's benefits include: increased officer safety through more detailed awareness of the existence, quantity, and type of firearms at specified locations; preventative awareness of potential access to firearms involving persons with mental health issues; dramatically improved ability to enforce court-ordered prohibitions to firearms possession made through bail, sentencing, firearm prohibitions, licence revocations, or preventative orders. The alternative seems to be to ask the offender or any other intimidated third party what guns they have.
Other benefits include the enhanced ability to detect and return stolen firearms; the enhanced ability to investigate and prosecute crimes involving stolen firearms, which saves resources; the identification of an accumulation of firearms that could potentially harm public safety; the enhanced ability to investigate crimes through links established by the registry; the reduced ability to traffic stolen firearms and reduced illicit export or import of firearms; the reinforcement of the inherent public safety interest; and the responsibility inherent in firearm acquisition and possession.
Let me add that the reported annual cost of the registry today is $4.1 million.
In the weeks ahead, you will be hearing from law enforcement officials directly, and we encourage you to seek specific details.
I hope our submissions before you will assist you in ascertaining from proponents of Bill the reasons they discount these benefits. I sincerely hope that you have more success than we have had in trying to get a straight answer.
In light of the clear benefits of the firearms registry, it is important to understand the articulated rationale for its elimination as proposed by Bill . In order to do this fairly, the CAPB has reviewed the public statements in Hansard made by the bill's sponsor, which are, to say the least, noteworthy. If the assertions made to justify the bill are unfounded, then clearly the bill itself is unnecessary and ill-advised. This reality was recognized by no less than the bill's sponsor herself, when she noted on September 28, 2009, in the introduction of the bill, “if I believed that the long gun registry would help reduce crime or make our streets even a little bit safer, I would be the first one to stand up and support it.”
Should the committee reach the conclusions noted above, then even the bill's sponsor has indicated that Bill should not be supported.
We invite the committee to closely examine the objections to the current system put forward. In doing so, it's important to be clear that this necessarily means assessing the value and the cost-effectiveness of the firearms registry as it is today, not as it was previously.
Thanks to the fact-based inquiries of the Auditor General and the informed actions of this government since 2006, the firearms registry is a vastly improved, cost-effective, public safety tool over what it was when it was under the operational control of the Department of Justice. Bill would, however, eliminate today's firearms registry and not the one that it appears to target.
It is like a vein. The actual benefits of a firearms registry need to be candidly and objectively determined. False expectations of the past do not justify ignoring tangible results today. While asking the wrong question may be a successful political strategy, it is not an advisable basis for informed and effective police policy-making.
Regrettably, due to the issues that predate the current registry, the debate surrounding the firearms registry has become politicized to an extent rarely seen in Canadian public policy development. We have witnessed that already this afternoon. The sponsor of Bill has made the accusation that groups that support the registry sit “behind a desk trying to score political points or gain favour”. This would be insulting were it not so patently ridiculous. The leadership of the CAPB are representative of the communities we come from and have a statutory responsibility to provide effective and efficient policing. We are accountable for public safety in our communities, and we are concerned for the welfare of our employees, the sworn officers on the street. Therefore, we are concerned about the development of a public policy that would jeopardize safety in our communities and the safety of the officers serving our communities.
We are here to contribute to a factual and respectful debate so that members of Parliament can make an informed decision on an initiative that seeks to significantly change an incredibly important public policy. The consequences of eliminating the registry are enormous. The current registry has value that this bill will eliminate.
No doubt there are improvements that can be made to the registry, and we will be the first to support the government in justifiable, fact-based, positive changes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon to you and to all the members of the committee.
As the senior deputy commissioner representing the commissioner and all of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to assist with the committee's examination of Bill .
With me today I have Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, the director general of the Canadian firearms program. He has brought along with him some select members of his staff.
During the course of your hearings you will hear from many witnesses who will present their perspectives on Bill . We respect and appreciate the fact that all who appear before you today and in your coming hearings share a genuine and common interest in safe and secure communities, but there will be differences of opinion respecting how we can achieve this end state.
I hope that our presentation will provide you with factual information on the realities of modern policing and how police officers utilize the elements of the Canadian firearms program, including the long-gun registry, as they go about their day-to-day business of serving the Canadian public.
I would like to leave the committee with the following: the RCMP considers that the registration of all firearms enables individual accountability, promotes safety and life-saving measures, and is a proactive investigative tool in assisting law enforcement.
I will now turn this over to Chief Superintendent Cheliak to speak to the program.
Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone.
Good day, Mr. Chairman, and to all the committee members.
As a police officer with over 30 years of operational experience, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you and to assist with the committee's examination of Bill .
The Canadian Firearms Centre was created in 1995 by the Government of Canada to oversee and administer the Firearms Act. Since its transfer to the RCMP in 2006, the centre has enhanced its efforts on support to domestic police law enforcement agencies and international organizations by providing information and expertise related to firearms, firearms registration, and the licensing of individuals and businesses under the Firearms Act.
In June 2008, the Canada Firearms Centre and the RCMP's firearms support services directorate were brought together to form an integrated organization called the Canadian firearms program. Today, aligned with the Government of Canada and the RCMP's commitment to safe homes and safe communities, the Canadian firearms program's mandate is to enhance public safety by providing law enforcement with vital operational and technical support. The information and expertise provided by the Canadian firearms program is vital to the prevention and investigation of crimes related to firearms. The program also helps to reduce firearms-related death and injury in Canadian communities by enabling and promoting responsible firearms ownership, use, and storage.
The firearms licensing and registration system has now been in place for over 12 years and is meeting the CFP service delivery standards according to the departmental performance report.
No legislation or regulation will ever prevent all crimes; however, the Canadian firearms program does serve a very real purpose and contributes to police officer safety and the safety of all Canadians. The CFP, as a whole, delivers on numerous public safety fronts that are intended to serve as a basis for risk reduction. For example, the program delivered firearms safety training to about 90,000 Canadians in 2008 alone. The program conducted outreach initiatives and promoted safe storage of firearms, which can help reduce heat-of-the-moment crimes, firearms accidents, particularly involving children, as well as suicide by firearms. The program conducts screening of all new licence applicants. This includes a mandatory 28-day period to ensure individuals applying for a licence do not pose a risk to public safety. In addition, all licence owners are subject to automated continuous eligibility checks.
A “firearms interest to police” report, or FIP, generated anywhere in Canada regarding a licensed individual will automatically be flagged to the chief firearms officer of provincial jurisdiction for appropriate follow-up. This is how the program operates on a national basis to ensure high-risk individuals don't slip through the gaps between provinces. In 2009, approximately 7,000 registration certificates were revoked for public safety concerns.
Registration of firearms allows police to verify numbers and types of firearms subject to seizure. There are common misconceptions that criminals don't register their firearms and that firearms destined for criminal activity would not appear in the registry. In actuality, many firearms recovered by police at crime scenes turn out to be registered and the CFP has assisted in solving a number of crimes by tracing a firearm to a registered owner. In 2009, of the 4,000-plus crime-related firearms traced to an owner by the Canadian firearms program, approximately 1,600 were registered non-restricted firearms, 1,100 were prohibited, and 881 were restricted.
Registration of firearms also provides an accountability mechanism linking responsibility for a firearm to an individual. It encourages owners to safely store firearms, to report lost or stolen firearms, and it discourages illegal sales and transfers of firearms.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, allow me to speak to the value of the CFP to the public and police officer safety and to the prevention of crime.
Without the database of registered long guns, the door may be open to unlimited and unmonitored stockpiling of long guns for individuals and groups. The program continuously monitors firearms registration records for unusual or unexplained accumulations. Pattern recognition software allows for the identification of anomalies or specific situations that should be flagged for chief firearms officers in the provinces and inspected. An example would be if the same individual acquires 10 or more firearms within a 30-day period.
Through the Canadian firearms registry online, CFRO, the Canadian firearms program provides safety information that acts as a tool for risk reduction. This national database is available in real time, assisting investigators in tracing seized and recovered firearms by linking them to registered owners. It is queried, on average, 11,000 times per day by front-line police officers, as an individual tactical decision on their part. An example that clearly illustrates this comes to mind. In one case, family members requested that police remove all of the firearms from their home due to their father's depressed state. A Canadian firearms registry online query by local police indicated that there were 21 additional long guns in the home that the other family members knew nothing about. A warrant was obtained and all firearms were removed by police, preventing a potential firearms tragedy. Without the registry, there would not have been any knowledge of the additional 21 firearms.
The CFRO also enables law enforcement to provide investigational assistance at the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels. In the case of court-ordered prohibition or the execution of search warrants, law enforcement relies on pertinent information provided by the Canadian firearms program to determine what firearms owners have in their possession. Without the database, tracing firearms, both nationally and internationally, would be very difficult and very expensive. Guns connected to criminal activities would be almost untraceable as law enforcement would not have a place to commence an investigation. This current real-time database allows Canadian law enforcement agencies to trace firearms nationally within a matter of minutes. Canada is, at present, able to offer reciprocity in tracing to police partners in the United States of America and other countries as a part of its contribution to global public safety.
In conclusion, the Canadian firearms program, inclusive of the registry, provides useful information to law enforcement agencies, nationally and internationally, making it a global asset in contributing to public and police officer safety.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Paulette Senior. I'm the CEO of YWCA Canada, and I'm here today with my colleague, Ann Decter, who is our director of advocacy and public policy.
Thank you for the opportunity to present our concerns today. We've been advised that YWCA Canada is the only national women's organization invited to present at these hearings. If that is true, we are honoured to take on this role, but we're also shocked that only one national voice for women has been invited on an issue that is ever so crucial to women's safety.
Women's safety, or the lack of it, is what brought Canada's gun control laws into being. The future of gun control cannot be debated without reference to violence against women.
We are the nation's oldest and largest women's service organization. Founded in 1870, we are 140 years old this year. The YWCA movement is as old as our country, and for well over a century has provided a strong voice for women, in particular for women in vulnerable circumstances. YWCA Canada is the country's largest provider of shelter to women and children fleeing violence.
We are here today because a tool of public safety is under threat, the non-restricted firearms registry. Each year more than 100,000 women and children in Canada leave their homes for “violence against women” shelters. Many of them come through the doors of the 31 shelters operated by YWCAs across Canada looking for safety, a roof over their heads, and support. Our member associations operate shelters in Canada's large and small centres. We serve rural populations in Sudbury, Brandon, Prince Albert, Lethbridge, Peterborough, Saskatoon, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit--places where shotguns and rifles are part of the culture.
Our member associations are opposed to Bill because it will put women and children in their communities at greater risk. Lyda Fuller, the executive director of YWCA Yellowknife, says, “I worry about Aboriginal women, who surely must have a right to protection. I’m asking rural and northern MPs to think about the safety of Aboriginal women and about rates of teen suicide.”
YWCA Canada passionately supported the implementation of Canada's gun control laws, including the long-gun registry, because of the dangers and risks firearms pose to women experiencing violence. While there is much to criticize in how the registry was developed, we agree with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police that the registry has made Canada a safer country.
There are experts here today who can give you full details on the registry and how it works, but what we offer is the perspective of service providers working for women's safety, service providers who see the effects of violence on women and children day in and day out.
We see a modern database with real-time access from a patrol car to the location of almost 6.8 million long guns and rifles. Police forces across the country appear to be rapidly increasing their use of this database. Average daily inquiries for 2009 were more than double the usage in 2005. Annual queries increased from 425,000 in 2004 to 3.4 million in 2008, to over 4 million in 2009. It is not useless; it is very well used.
So what are we to think? While Google is busily scanning every book in the world to release online and businesses are ramping up iPhone apps, the Canadian government wants to erase 6.8 million database records locating firearms against the expressed advice of the nation's police forces.
Whose interests are being served here? We can say, without a doubt, not those of women vulnerable to violence. How many lives has the registry saved? No one really knows, but evidence clearly shows a continuing decline in homicides committed with rifles and shotguns coinciding with the increasing use of the long-gun registry by Canadian police forces. At the same time, the use of firearms and violence in general has increased.
Long guns are the most common type of firearm used in spousal homicides. Over the past decade, 71% of firearm spousal homicides involved rifles and shotguns; only 24% involved a hand gun.
While spousal homicides with rifles and shotguns have decreased, homicides by all other means have not. The average number of women killed annually by their spouses without using a rifle or shotgun between 1995 and 1998 was 52; the same figure for 2001 to 2004 was 56.
A central argument against the long-gun registry is that operating costs are excessive; money would be better spent elsewhere. This is not supported by current reports. While there is no question that development of the registry included exceptional mismanagement, set-up is complete and the registry exists. Millions of dollars have already been spent and unfortunately cannot be recovered. What can be recovered, with the right steps, is the continuing cost of violence against women, estimated by this government at $4 billion per year.
We would be very pleased to return to the committee at a future date and discuss that public safety issue.
The question facing parliamentarians is not the mismanagement of the registry in the past but the future of a modern database that is constantly consulted by Canadian police forces in the course of their duties. Are we expected to believe that our police services would consult a useless system more than four million times in the year?
YWCA Canada is a national organization with broad reach, and we'd like share some comments from some of our members across the country. Earlier I mentioned Lyda Fuller, who is a director of YWCA Yellowknife, with shelters in Yellowknife and Fort Smith for women and children fleeing violence, groups for children who have witnessed violence, and workshops for teens related to dating violence. This is what Lyda Fuller would like for you to know today:
Women have told us that the guns used here [in the north] predominantly for hunting--long guns--are also used to intimidate, subdue and control them. We hear this over and over again, in small communities without RCMP and in larger communities with RCMP.
Women do not want these guns to be unregistered, but do not feel safe in expressing this opinion other than in whispers to people who may be able to voice these 'unpopular' opinions and who may be heard. Of course men in the communities don't want to register their guns.
When RCMP fly into a community to respond to domestic violence, they need to know where the guns are, and how many a household has. We've already had deaths of Mounties in the north.
Long guns, because of their prevalence here, are also used in suicides, which are epidemic in northern Canada.
I am just stunned that we have both the police chiefs, tasked with public safety, and vulnerable groups asking for protection--both wanting the long gun registry to continue--and that these voices may be ignored.
Please make it clear that it is not city-born, city living folks who are asking for this registry to continue; it is the voices of northern women who fear for their lives and their mental health who are asking for protection. We see women who have experienced years of brutal intimidation. These women cannot safely express their need for protection themselves, and it is up to Canada to understand this and respond in an appropriate way.
That is Lyda Fuller.
We have another message from the north. This one is from Iqaluit in Nunavut, where YWCA Agwik Nunavut is in development and provides shelter for homeless women and for women fleeing violence. It's from Caroline Anawak, the executive director there:
Having lost 3 brother-in-laws, 3 nephews, 2 nieces, two former students, 2 neighbours in Nunavut, I remind the Government of Canada that Nunavut leads all of North America in suicides.
The cost of this tragic loss of life is sorely under-estimated. The painful message it helps to send is a message no mother, no father and no elected representative should ever want to hear.
Do the “right” thing, not the expedient thing. Loss of life must be stopped.
On behalf of our 33 member associations across Canada, the thousands of staff and volunteers who make our work possible, and the tens of thousands of women we serve, we echo Caroline Anawak. Do the right thing. Protect mothers and sisters and daughters. Protect women and girls. Maintain the non-registered firearms registry. There are still lives to be saved.
Good afternoon, and thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you on this very important topic of the long-gun registry and gun crimes in Canada.
There has been a requirement to register hand guns and other restricted firearms in Canada since the 1930s. It is vitally important to maintain criminal sanctions for the illegal possession of restricted and prohibited weapons, but in my opinion, the registry only marginally addresses the broader issues of gun crime and violence in Canada. Canada requires a comprehensive gun strategy. There are parts of the current gun registry that are positive, but it goes too far. I believe that is why there is so much resistance to it. While the registry may be a useful investigative tool, it falls short of making the type of positive impact this country needs to be safer.
I can speak only for the Calgary area when I say that gun crime is steadily on the increase. We are also seizing a growing number of heavier weapons, including assault rifles. For me, it comes down to the risk versus the consequences of possessing or using a gun during the commission of an offence. Right now, in my opinion, and from personal observations, it appears to be worth the risk for criminals. The guns in the hands of criminals aren't registered. They don't care. They're probably stolen. They're probably obtained illegally, and in many cases, they are at least restricted and are occasionally prohibited.
Let's start dealing with the criminal activity of those who possess and use guns in the commission of offences, and let's make the consequences far outweigh the risk.
On April 29, 2010, at the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police spring conference, a resolution was passed regarding the firearms registry. As the group that represents the law enforcement community in Alberta, we asked the Government of Canada to develop a comprehensive gun strategy that considers the following points.
First is sentencing. The use of a firearm in any offence is serious and requires significant sentencing. It should reflect the gravity of the crime and should be sufficient to deter future offences.
On November 16, 2008, two warring gangs had a shootout in the middle of downtown Calgary. While in their vehicles, the gang members began shooting at each other. Four men in one of the vehicles suffered gunshot wounds. One of the gang members in the other vehicle was struck in the face by a bullet. In total, at least 19 rounds were fired, with some of the bullets piercing neighbouring businesses. After a lengthy investigation, which took up a tremendous amount of resources, arrests were made, and the guns, none of which were registered and none of which belonged to licensed gun owners, were seized.
On April 9, 2010, at the Court of Queen's Bench, all four accused pleaded guilty to the lesser offences of discharging a firearm with intent to endanger life and various other firearms-related charges. They were sentenced to between four and a half years and six years and were given lifetime firearms prohibitions. After consideration for pretrial custody and mandatory release, these sentences are insignificant, considering public safety and the fact that people's lives were literally put at risk.
In September 2008, a Brazilian exchange student, Jose Neto, was shot in the head as he walked in downtown Calgary with his girlfriend. He survived but was blinded in both eyes. The man charged in this case pleaded guilty to five charges, including two counts of discharging a firearm with intent to wound or endanger life and one count of aggravated assault. The crown is seeking to have him declared a dangerous offender in a hearing that begins May 10. It should be noted that 10 years earlier, the same offender was sentenced to ten and a half years in prison for shooting a jewellery store owner in the neck and firing at two Calgary police officers during a botched robbery. His sentence included a firearms prohibition, which was due to expire in 2014.
In yet another example, on New Year's Day, 2009, an innocent bystander, Keni Su'a, was gunned down while attempting to run away from a gang-related shooting inside a Calgary restaurant. Unknown to Mr. Su'a, he was sitting close to two gang members, a decision that would prove fatal. Two gang members inside the eatery were also executed. Following a year-long investigation, four men were charged with three counts each of first degree murder. They are currently awaiting trial. Again, none of the weapons were registered; nobody was licensed.
The Criminal Code of Canada already has significant sentencing conditions built into the firearms section. What we need is to apply those sentences and prohibitions to a level that addresses them as deterrents.
The second issue is search and seizure. We ask that you streamline and rationalize the search and seizure powers of police officers in relation to firearms-related offences and use of firearms for the purpose of criminal activity. Recent court cases have made it increasingly difficult for front-line officers to do their jobs and take illegal guns off the street. For reference, I would ask that you look at Regina v. Mann and Regina v. Grant.
The third issue is point-of-entry registration. More than one-third of all crime guns recovered in Canada are linked to U.S. and Canadian firearms dealers. As it stands now, these firearms would only be registered at point of sale; however, we know that a number of weapons used in the commission of crimes, including crimes in the Calgary area, were obtained illegally prior to legitimate sale and registration.
In May 2009, more than 50 weapons were discovered missing from a wholesale sporting goods shop in Calgary. The vast majority of these guns remain unaccounted for. The firearms were shipped to the store and, unknown to management, sold under the table by staff to criminals, including gang members. They were unregistered weapons as they were yet to be sold in the store, and they have remained unaccounted for, for quite some time. As part of a broader firearms strategy, registration of all firearms should begin at the point of entry into Canada or at the point of production, not at the point of sale, as is presently the case.
Last is decriminalization. Simple ownership of unregistered sporting weapons, including rifles and shotguns, should not be a criminal offence. This is just a matter of respect. We're turning honest, law-abiding citizens of this country into criminals. As evidenced in Calgary over the past eight years, of the 877 firearms used in violent offences and subsequently seized by police officers, 88% were handguns. In Calgary, a large portion--more than 70%, in our case--of crime handguns seized by officers had been smuggled into Canada. Also, according to Juristat, over the past 30 years the use of handguns to commit homicide has generally been increasing, while the use of rifles or shotguns has generally declined.
No reasonable person would argue against firearms licensing. Most gun owners are just as anxious to hold irresponsible gun owners accountable. Responsible gun owners recognize that it is a privilege to possess firearms, and they should only go to citizens who would use them in a lawful manner. We still want to encourage registration, but this can be done through new regulatory and non-criminal penalties--for example, penalty, ticket, and fine--administered through individual provinces. To further encourage people to register, the process should also be streamlined and simplified.
In closing, I will say that no direct links have been made between the existing gun registry and the behaviour of criminals--true criminals. My colleagues and I ask that the Government of Canada conduct a thorough review of the gun registry. We urge a more practical solution that addresses the realities of policing and firearms-related crimes being committed in our country.
My question is for Mr. Sweeney. I believe earlier this year, sometime in the neighbourhood of February, at a meeting of this public safety committee you stated that you and representatives of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police would be making a presentation to cabinet regarding the firearms program. I'd like to know exactly what happened.
I'm going to ask my questions so that each witness following that can give their answers. If you don't have time, you'll be able to submit it in writing through the chair to the other members.
Ms. Senior, welcome. You talked about how the money that's been spent has been spent, but that all of the studies, independent audits, are showing that the firearms registry as it now stands, including long guns, only costs about $4 million a year.... No, I believe it was Ms. Allison-Burra; I apologize. You made the point that the Canadian Association of Police Boards is a strong proponent of the firearms registry, including long guns. I'd like to know how many members you have and how many police services that represents across Canada.
Ms. Senior, you talked about the shelters, the women who are victims of domestic violence, and how women of the north are asking that this registry continue, including the long guns. Can you talk about the kinds of costs that domestic violence, including attempted murder, and successful murder, using firearms, in particular long guns, costs the Canadian public?
Finally, Mr. Hanson, thank you so much for your presentation. I do appreciate the fact that you've informed the committee of the resolution of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. I've read it very carefully. I listened to your presentation very carefully. My understanding from this is that the Alberta chiefs of police are not calling for abolishing the long gun part of the registry. What you are calling for is further improvements to that registry. Is that correct?
Thank you, and then if I have time--