I'd like to bring this meeting to order.
This is the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
We are today continuing with our study of Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry).
We'd like to welcome all of our witnesses here this afternoon. From the province of Quebec, we have a coalition of women victims of domestic violence.
As individuals, we have Mr. Jack Tinsley, Mr. Dave Shipman, and Mr. Mitch McCormick, and we have representatives from a group of students and graduates of Polytechnique.
I will start with the coalition of women victims of domestic violence and then just move around.
Please introduce yourselves and then explain your position and a little bit about your organization. You have approximately 10 minutes for an opening statement. This goes for everyone. It will be about a 10-minute statement, and I'll try to signal when it's time to wind it up.
We welcome you to the committee. As soon as you're ready, you may go ahead.
I'm not sure who is going to present.
I will start. Thank you very much.
Before I begin, I would just like to let you know that a written brief will be presented. It will be translated and forwarded on Friday.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Nathalie Villeneuve, and I am President of the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale. I am also Coordinator of the Maison Hina, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. I am accompanied today by Ms. Louise Riendeau, Coordinator of Policy Issues for the Regroupement. We are appearing today on behalf of our 48 member shelters, which are located in 16 of the 17 regions of Quebec.
Founded 30 years ago, the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale is an organization whose mission is to raise collective awareness of the issues facing women and children who are victims of violence. The specific aim of these safe houses is to work with and for battered women, to bring an end to the violence. These homes work at the individual and collective level to provide a safe place for women and children, and in more general terms, to fight domestic violence. It is based on the experience of these women and children, and the workers in these safe houses who support them throughout the process, that the Regroupement is taking a position on Bill .
In our view, gun control measures are part of a whole package of initiatives and therefore must be consistent with other legislative or policy instruments in both Quebec and Canada. Those instruments are intended to allow battered women and their children to exercise their right to life, liberty and security of the person, as stipulated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Domestic homicide and infanticide by a spouse or ex-spouse are issues of critical importance that are central to our approach in supporting the women who come to safe houses, in terms of safety and prevention. That is why it is absolutely critical for the Regroupement and its member transition homes that the Canadian Firearms Registry be maintained.
Fighting all forms of violence against women means introducing controls and follow-up measures that force gun owners to be accountable, thereby decreasing the number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms. The registry helps to achieve that objective.
There is also a need to try and prevent intimidation using firearms, something that receives little mention in the current debate. This is a pernicious form of violence that affects hundreds of women in Quebec. Respecting an individual's right to live in a violence-free environment requires the introduction of effective legislation and programs, backed by adequate financial resources, to fight all forms of violence against women.
Furthermore, since tougher firearms legislation was passed in 1991, the number of firearms-related deaths and injuries has dropped. The domestic homicide rate is a particularly telling example. The number of women killed by firearms in Canada went from 74, in 1989, to 32, in 2005. Gun control is an effective way to combat violence.
Bill is now proposing to repeal the registration of unrestricted weapons, which are the weapons most often used to kill women and children in Canada. It is intended to dismantle gun control in Canada, despite the fact that the legislation has proven its effectiveness and is deemed to be an essential tool for police work.
In our opinion, Bill C-391 pretty much ignores the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person. Furthermore, this bill is completely contrary to the spirit and letter of a recent declaration on violence against women adopted on March 1, 2010 by member countries of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie at a meeting chaired by Minister Josée Verner, on behalf of the Government of Canada.
By signing that declaration, Canada pledged to respect the fundamental rights of women and girls, particularly their right to freedom, to security of the person, to integrity, equality and dignity; to introduce public policies and appropriate strategies to support them, with a view to responding to this violence; to coordinate actions at the national, regional and international levels to counter such violence; and, to raise awareness and mobilize men and boys through initiatives aimed at preventing violence against women and girls.
Gun control is undoubtedly one of the appropriate strategies needed to respond to this violence. Furthermore, the debate on these issues gives the government an opportunity to raise awareness, among opponents of the gun registry, of the need to prevent violence against women. Gun control saves lives.
It must be said that gun control works. Rifle and shotgun homicide rates have dropped by 52% since 1991, whereas the non-gun homicide rate dropped by only 28%. The number of women shot to death dropped by more than 50% from 85, in 1991, to 32, in 2004. The rate of spousal homicides committed using a rifle or shotgun has dropped by 70%. It should also be noted that the vast majority of gun owners have complied with gun control requirements. Indeed, 1.89 million gun owners now have permits and more than 7 million guns have been registered. Most of them—90%—are rifles and shotguns.
Without the gun registry, there is no way for police officers to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, to link them to their owners and hold them accountable, or to enforce prohibition orders. Police officers in Canada consult the registry 11,000 times a day and the information they glean using these tools helps them to prevent crime and carry out criminal investigations. In Quebec, when police receive a call involving domestic violence, the call centre checks the registry to see whether the assailant has a gun, thereby allowing officers to answer the call using the safest approach for both themselves and the victims.
Then, depending on the urgency of the situation, they can immediately seize the gun or apply for a search warrant in order to do so. Whether or not the offender has guns, an application to prohibit gun ownership must be filed with the court. This is generally a condition for release. Eliminating the registry or making it ineffective will have the direct effect of depriving police officers of a critically important tool for police intervention and prevention.
Is the Canadian gun lobby more important to Parliament than the safety of women, children and police officers?
Based on results and findings, it is clear that gun control saves lives. Homicides of women with firearms dropped by 63% between 1991 and 2005. The Firearms Act has lead to significant progress, and particularly a decline in the number of armed assaults associated with domestic or family violence. In 1989, the year of the tragedy at Polytechnique, 40% of female murder victims were killed with firearms. In 2005, that number had dropped to 15%. Unfortunately, one woman in three killed by her husband is still murdered using a firearm. The progress thus far is encouraging, but this is no time to relax those controls; there is still a great deal to be done.
Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in domestic homicides, for the simple reason that there are long guns in many Quebec homes, particularly in rural areas. The Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale believes that Bill sends a dangerous message. If long guns are no longer to be registered, we are basically telling people that they are not dangerous. And yet these guns, like the others, must be considered dangerous fire arms. Rifles and shotguns are also the firearms most often used to threaten women and children. Threats using firearms are not in the statistics, and yet they have a devastating effect, as we can see on a daily basis in the transition homes. Registration is the only way for police officers to keep all guns out of the hands of people who present a danger to their loved ones and themselves. Otherwise, police officers will have no other means available to them than to declare the individual to be dangerous, in order to ascertain how many guns must be removed.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the Special Rapporteur on the Prevention of Human Rights Violations Using Small Arms both emphasized that states which do not adequately regulate firearms are not meeting their obligations under international law, particularly as regards the security of women and children.
We firmly believe that the safety and security of the women of Canada and Quebec must take precedence over what some consider to be red tape; we see this “red tape” as the normal procedure to be followed in any functioning democracy. Red tape just to save lives? That is not even a question we should be asking. That is why the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale is recommending that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security reject Bill in its entirety.
Every aspect of the gun licensing and registration program should be maintained. The screening that occurs by questioning applicants, particularly with respect to their mental health, violent behaviour and drug addiction, makes it possible to identify those applicants who are likely to engage in domestic violence. Furthermore, the ability of spouses and ex-spouses to be made aware of an application to register a gun and to voice their own concerns in that regard is critical when it comes to their opportunity to ensure that a partner at risk of violent behaviour does not have access to guns.
The fact that there are currently 254,000 prohibition orders in effect is evidence of the need to maintain this process. In both Canada and Quebec, there is clearly very strong support for the gun registry. That is why we are asking that Bill not be passed into law and be rejected in its entirety.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Nathalie Provost, and I was born at a time when everything seemed possible. Man walked on the moon. Women could choose their own lives. I am an engineer and the mother of four children. I am happy to use my talents to serve the government. And I am convinced that, as citizens, we are responsible for making our community a good place to live and grow together. However, I am also one of Marc Lépine's victims.
Twenty years ago, on December 6, 1989, that man, who believed that women were responsible for his misfortune, entered my school and my classroom. He asked the men to leave, and then fired at my colleagues and me, killing my friends and wounding me with four bullets. Marc Lépine used a Ruger Mini-14, a very dangerous weapon, one that does serious damage, and one that I have seen and experienced. I was incredibly lucky on that terrible day. I suffered some minor physical after-effects, but that luck today confers on me a responsibility to tell you how important gun control is.
In the past 20 years, I have thought a great deal about the events at Polytechnique. I read the coroner's report and I have read analysis of the event itself, what motivated Marc Lépine, the immediate causes and the social issues of the time. I understand that it is not easy to identify all the issues and that many factors must be considered if we hope to avoid another such slaughter. But that, unfortunately, appears to be a faint hope, as proven by the events at Dawson College. Marc Lépine, like Kimveer Gill, had certain personal issues and was motivated by many different factors and events in his life. They were the main players in those dramatic events.
But one thing is certain: without a gun, their destructive capacity would have been infinitely less. As a society, we cannot disregard the instrument through which Marc Lépine expressed himself. That firearm has marked me forever. It is on this that I intend to focus today. I believe that Canada must be as vigilant as possible when it comes to controlling firearms—all firearms. Over the years, we have developed a mechanism that recognizes that it is a privilege, not a right, to own a gun—a privilege that makes those who would like to exercise that right accountable, and that prohibits the possession of certain firearms whose risks outweigh any benefit to society. It is important to me that we not relax that process, particularly as regards long guns, which represent the vast majority of guns currently in circulation.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Committee, I am here to attest to the fact that firearms are dangerous. The Ruger Mini-14 is currently an unrestricted long gun. That weapon, which killed 14 women and seriously wounded 13 others in the space of 30 minutes, would no longer be registered under Bill C-391. For me, that defies all logic. Every day, in the mirror, I remember the destructive capability of that weapon.
A firearm is a dangerous object that must be handled with care and attention. To own one is a tremendous privilege, one that entails a major responsibility it is incumbent on government to acknowledge and oversee. You are in the service of Canadians, as am I. As a citizen, I vote and rely on you to defend the public interest in safety matters. It is your duty and responsibility to legislate to reduce the risk of a slaughter, such as the one on December 6, 1989, ever occurring again.
According to all credible experts in this area, both police departments and suicide and spousal abuse prevention experts, the Firearms Registry is needed in order to reduce those risks. I am here today to add my voice to those of these groups: keep the firearms registry and retain its current scope, because I want to live in a country where people are accountable for their actions and their choices, and because I want to live in a country where it is possible to live without being afraid of guns.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen members of the Committee, good afternoon.
We students of the École Polytechnique are often accused of being emotional, of having reacted emotionally and impulsively, of being well-meaning, but… We often hear it said, in a patronizing tone—and the same thing was said again today: we understand the way you feel; this is a symbolic crusade against firearms.
So let's be clear. Yes, we wept for our sisters. Yes, we hate violence and yes, we want to make the world a better place. And we are not the only ones. For years, we have worked alongside the families of the victims of the Polytechnique tragedy toward that end. But our effort has also been a rational one. We are, after all, engineers.
Allow me to introduce the groups on whose behalf we are appearing today and whose representatives are here with us: The Association des étudiants de Polytechnique de 1989-1990, the current Association des étudiants de Polytechnique, the Association des étudiants des cycles supérieurs de 1987-1988, the current Association des cycles supérieurs de Polytechnique, the Association des diplômés de Polytechnique and the 114th graduating class of École Polytechnique, who received their diplomas the year that the massacre occurred.
Because we are trained as engineers, what matters to us are the facts and the opinions of experts. But let's be clear that I am talking about the real experts—in areas like public safety, public health and suicide prevention. We do not consider gun owner groups or politicians to be experts on crime prevention; instead, they are police officers, women's groups and experts of that kind. We are up against members of Parliament and the gun lobby. They have tremendous influence, and are basically saying that long guns are not dangerous and that the gun registry is ineffective—hence, Bill .
But let's go over a few facts. Long guns are the weapons that have killed the most police officers on the job. Long guns are the ones most often involved in incidents of domestic violence and shooting suicides. At least six coroners' inquests have recommended that guns be registered. The main police organizations in the country are unanimous in saying that the registry is effective. The main public health and suicide prevention organizations also support the registry. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that registration is integral and necessary to the operation of the gun control scheme. Furthermore, shooting deaths have fallen by 43%, including suicide, homicide and accidents, since these measures were introduced. Murders with firearms have dropped by 40% and murders with long guns—the ones covered by the new measures—dropped by 70%. The number of women killed with firearms dropped by 66% and the number of robberies has declined by nearly 50%. Finally, suicides using firearms fell by 35%.
With respect to the costs, dismantling the registry would only save some $3 million a year. Clearly, all the money spent implementing the system would not be recovered were the registry to be abolished.
There is no doubt in our minds that all these facts show—clearly, logically and rationally—that the Firearms Registry is both necessary and effective. Unfortunately, these facts have in no way lessened the Conservative government's intention to terminate the registry. Perhaps it would be useful to address the issue from the viewpoint of Bill C-391's promoters. Do they really want the police to no longer be able to link a long gun to its legal owner; to no longer be able to distinguish between a legal and an illegal long gun; to not know how many or which weapons they must seize when the courts issue a possession prohibition order for a potentially dangerous individual? Do they want gun owners to be able to sell their weapons illegally to anyone they choose, without any consequences? The fact is that it will be impossible to trace those guns.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Jack Tinsley. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and I've lived there all my life.
If I may take a minute, I will tell you a little about my background and what I believe qualifies me to come to Ottawa and stand before you today. Thank you all for hearing me.
I was a police officer in Winnipeg for over 33 years and retired with the rank of inspector. I was a SWAT team member for over 11 years, most of it as a team leader in the sniper unit. I have used deadly force in the defence of my life. I understand the concept. I spent a number of years in uniformed patrol and then moved into investigative policing in the drug squad. I made many dozens of undercover drug purchases from drug dealers and many undercover purchases of stolen or unregistered handguns, a number from parolees out on early release from prison. I have been declared an expert in the area of illegal street drugs and drug trafficking at all levels of Manitoba courts. These experiences and many others in a progression of higher ranks over the span of my career have led me to three conclusions.
One, drugs are now, and have been for the last 25 years or so, the direct or underlying cause of most crime. The majority of murders and crimes of violence, most robberies and break-ins, and even high-volume shoplifting and other property crimes, are now committed by persons involved in the drug trade or addicts. Organized crime now flourishes on the drug trade, and it has surpassed all others with its immense profits.
Two, criminals do not obtain firearms licences and they do not register their very disposable firearms. They could not care less about the rules. What is interesting is that the FBI recently released their latest crime statistics, and they believe 95% of all gun crime is now gang related. These are the same gangs that are running that drug trade. I accept that as credible information, and it cannot be dismissed as not being applicable to Canada as well. We can all rest assured that most or all drug dealers everywhere are armed. The huge sums of cash involved and the very characters of the often desperate players in their circle of trade dictate that.
Three, the Canadian long-gun registry, in its approximate decade of existence, has not proven to be a deterrent to violent crime. Outside of having the small and often unreliable benefit of allowing for us to count guns, and just the ones that honest gun owners have registered at that, it is not a particularly useful investigative tool for law enforcement, which is exactly what the registry was intended to be in order to prevent gun crime and save lives.
These are bold statements, but they could not be more true. Unfortunately, you will not hear from great numbers, if any at all, of the hundreds of currently serving police officers, some of whom have been shot in the line of duty, or from more than a few chiefs of police who would tell you the very same things. There's a reason for this: they have been effectively silenced after making it known that they also believe the long-gun registry is ineffective and had previously let it be known that they would also testify to that fact at these proceedings. To be blunt, they've been ordered not to appear at this hearing by their respective chiefs of police, and therefore not to speak from their hearts and consciences with a mind to promoting effective alternatives for reducing violent crime against women and all other persons in this country.
Others, such as more than a few police association executives across Canada who have in the recent past clearly voiced their opposition to the continuance of the long-gun registry, for the same good reasons have now pulled away from standing here and telling the truth, as they perceive future ramifications for themselves when vying for appointed positions within the Canadian Police Association and other organizations.
On Monday, a currently serving Winnipeg Police Association director called me. George Van Mackelbergh is a respected officer who spent many years enforcing laws against the Hells Angels and other violent organized criminals. He most emphatically stated that he does not support the continuance of the long-gun registry. He is not alone. I've spoken to an abundance of experienced officers, several just this week, who have all said the same thing. The information benefits they have gained from the registry are too few and are unreliable. The cost is too high, and the bottom line is that only law-abiding gun owners have registered their firearms. The criminals, for the most part, have not.
Are the facts that dangerous that the national association of chiefs of police had to send representatives to each police chief across the country to exert political pressure on those dissenting and calling for the repeal of the registry to get back into the fold? Whatever happened to free speech? I have heard at least a couple of chiefs of police use the same cliché in support of the registry: “We applaud any initiative that makes our job easier.” Should this include any ineffective initiative? I think not, especially when there are better options available, such as calling for the termination of house arrest and release from custody on a recognizance for violent crimes, which criminals ignore and have the opportunity to reoffend at will.
Is it right for a leader to use the power of his or her office to further their own political agenda and then deny everyone else within the ranks that opportunity in case they should disagree?
You might be thinking at this point that I don't know what I'm talking about. I assure you that I do, first hand.
After the long-gun registry had been written into law, I wrote an article that outlined my perspective on the potential of the long-gun registry based on my experience of 26 years, at that time as a police officer who worked the street. In short, I said it would not address violent crime issues, it would be expensive beyond belief, many citizens would not comply with the law, and that the way to go, if we as a country were serious about reducing violent crime, was to keep criminals locked up with meaningful sentences from our courts. I also said the laws that were in place before the registry came into effect were good laws and that we just needed to enforce them. All of this rings true today, 10-plus years later.
In the article I also repeated the irrefutable fact that guns do not kill people; people do. I also said it was a good idea, and still is today, to have all gun buyers qualified for the right to acquire any gun. The old firearms acquisition certificate system that was previously in place provided the much needed hands-on look at every FAC applicant by a police officer. The officer would contact spouses and ask hard questions about safety issues or concerns. Very few potentially dangerous persons slipped through the cracks in that era and got an FAC. It was a proactive approach of the first order. Today we are mired in a bureaucracy that does not provide for that face-to-face interaction by applicants with a trained police officer who would conduct a thorough background check on each applicant.
In any case, when I completed the article I gave it to the serving deputy chief of the day, whose opinion I respected, for his thoughts about the content of my writing. He indicated that his position on the matter was exactly the same as mine and the many other officers who served within the ranks at that time. However, his verbatim remark to me was, “If that article is published, you have just committed career suicide.” That deputy chief's name was Lawrence Klippenstein, and upon speaking to him just a few days ago, it was clear also that he supports the repeal of the long-gun registry.
The article was in fact published in 1999 in the Winnipeg Sun. However, quite some time prior to that happening, I provided a copy to the chief of police out of courtesy, and his reply was, “I respect your opinion, but I do not agree.” His reply goes on to instruct me not to associate the article in any way with the Winnipeg Police Service. Subsequently, I spent the last nine years of my career as an inspector, with the exception of a couple of months in a district in the duty office on shift work. That's about seven years longer than any other inspector that I'm aware of.
Was this being disciplined or the career suicide I had been cautioned against? That's my guess, but I said what I felt needed to be said and I've never regretted it.
I have nothing to gain or lose by appearing here today. My conscience will be clear when I leave here. I have said again what needs to be said in clear language to this committee and to the Canadian public. It is time to abandon this long-gun registry. I'm sure it was instituted with the best of intentions, but it has cost us nearly $2 billion and it has not been effective in deterring violent crime. There is no shame in saying that. New Zealand did after their nearly identical registry failed them after seven years in law. Then they scrapped it, and I quote, “It seems...to be an elaborate system of arithmetic with no tangible aim.”
Australia instituted a $500 million initiative in 1997, a law that forced Australians to turn in 640,381 personal firearms. A year later, homicide, assault, and armed robbery crimes had all increased. These are violent crimes. Non-violent crimes such as break-ins also increased dramatically. It would be generous to say their program was merely unsuccessful.
There are a couple of interesting and very pertinent facts that I would like this committee to be aware of, mostly in relation to just how much the police use the information available to them.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak before you on this important issue.
My name is Dave Shipman. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and I currently I live in a rural setting just outside the city. I feel qualified to attend at this hearing as a result of my life experience and involvement in law enforcement from the age of 19 to the present.
I spent 25 years with the Winnipeg Police Service and nearly 19 of those years investigating violent crimes in the homicide robbery division. During 16 of those years I was also a member of the special weapons team and a team leader on the entry team.
I retired 10 years ago and immediately took up a position as investigator in charge of the organized crime/gang unit with Manitoba Public Insurance, where I remain so employed.
I've been involved with the criminal intelligence service in Manitoba during these 10 years as well. For those who are not familiar with it, each province has its own criminal intelligence service with the federal governing body, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.
The CISM includes all law enforcement and investigative bodies in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. The nature of my work, investigating organized crime and gang activity as it relates to organized insurance fraud, and my involvement with CISM, puts me in contact with serving police officers on a continual basis.
My experience in dealing with violent criminals and gang members is probably far more involved than that of the average police officer. Believe me when I tell you that I have put hundreds and hundreds of dangerous violent men in prison over the years, often for unspeakable crimes, including rape, robbery, home invasions, and murder.
It is in the arrest and interviewing of these men and their associates that I've obtained a good working knowledge of their mindset. First and foremost, let me say that a vast majority of violent attacks, attempted homicides, and homicides committed domestically involve weapons other than firearms--knives being the preferred weapon.
Of the few domestic homicides I can recall that involved long guns, committed by either sex on the spouse, they were long guns that were legally owned and there had been no previous encounters with the law. No amount of gun registry would have stopped lives from being taken.
I have watched the long-gun registry with interest, both as a serving police officer and a gun owner/hunter. First, and it has been said time and time again, criminals do not register guns. The guns they seek out and use to commit violent crimes are most profoundly smuggled or stolen handguns and, to a lesser extent, stolen and cut-down shotguns or rifles. Firearms that are capable of firing at an automatic rate are smuggled in from the U.S., and drug dealers and gangs--the two intertwined--are the favourite customers. None of these situations can be corrected by a long-gun registry.
Handguns have always enjoyed a restricted status, and ownership brought significant restrictions as to how and where the firearm could be possessed. Automatic weapons were always illegal to possess, with the exception of law enforcement and legitimate grandfathered collectors. The national gun registry has done nothing to deter illegal possession of these guns.
Again, criminals intent on procuring and possessing these guns are not about to register them. So how does the gun registry assist the police in preventing gun crime? It simply does not, and it offers nothing to protect our citizenry from being victims of gun crime perpetrated by well-armed criminals.
I'm not against licensing of gun owners. The possession and/or acquisition of firearms should be a licensed, controlled process to prevent criminals and otherwise unstable or dangerous individuals from legally obtaining and owning firearms. But the registry is really only about counting guns--guns belonging to people who have chosen to involve themselves in the system.
Civil disobedience to the registry has been rampant, with entire provinces refusing to enforce the failure to register and attorneys general announcing refusal to prosecute. Amnesties that have lasted for years have been put into place. Thousands and thousands of legal guns remain in our country outside of the registry, and many thousands of illegal guns are stolen or smuggled into the hands of criminals whose last worry is the gun registry.
I've heard from proponents of the registry that it assists police officers because they can check with the gun registry to determine if guns are registered to the person they are interested in or the residence or location they are attending. While this check can certainly be done, I've yet to talk to a serving street cop--I'm talking about the average constable attending call after call after call--who has checked the registry, even a single time, or who even knows how to use it. In checking with the supervisor officers of the major crimes unit, the homicide unit, and the organized crime unit, not one can ever recall using the registry before going to make an arrest.
I spoke to the head of the Winnipeg Police Service tactical support team, which is the new term for the old SWAT team that we were on. This is a 24/7 support unit that, from its inception to the level of coverage two years ago, has been involved in several hundred planned operations, mostly high-risk warrant service, drug warrants, Criminal Code firearm search warrants, and the like. He indicated that the gun registry is worthless in preventing gun crime. He did advise that, by protocol, members of his unit confer with the registry when planning tactical operations, but their experience was that the registry has been only sometimes accurate, only sometimes up to date, and largely ineffective—and I quote—“because we all know that criminals don't register their guns”.
By way of history, upon the inception of Bill C-68, the Winnipeg Police Association membership voted by way of referendum that they were strongly opposed to the long-gun registry. Identically, the Manitoba Police Association also opposed the long-barrel registry, after taking the issue to a vote by the membership. And so it went for the police associations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Then-WPA president, Loren Schinkel, now with Manitoba Justice as coordinator of aboriginal and municipal law enforcement, often referenced Premier Gary Doer's line about the Government of Manitoba not supporting the bill, saying that we need to get tough on gangs and restricted guns, not turn goose hunters into criminals.
If the long-gun registry was going to be such a significant crime-fighting tool, does anybody believe that entire police services would fail to embrace it wholeheartedly? Yes, fragments of police services utilize the registry by way of protocol, but with criminals not registering their stolen or smuggled handguns or cut-down stolen firearms, previously legally registered or not, it is of little use. Because of the hit-and-miss situation of any individual actually registering legal guns, because the registry does not keep up with the movement of individuals from place to place, because criminals do not register, no police officer could ever rely on a check against the registry to determine if a danger did or did not exist. A police officer must be ever vigilant, no matter the circumstance, and the fact that the registry might indicate that an individual or an address does or does not reflect legal gun registration is of little assistance, all things considered. The old possession and acquisition certificate did as much, without the arithmetic of counting guns.
The most alarming area of gun use escalation surrounds the ever-increasing street gang activity tied dramatically to the drug trade. As I deal on a daily basis with gang members in my current occupation and monitor their other criminal activities through my involvement with serving police officers in the criminal intelligence service, I can tell you first hand that gun crime is escalating and that handguns are far and away the weapon of choice of these criminals to enforce their piece of the drug trade pie. Anytime I get a gang member in my office, I turn to the subject of guns somewhere along the way, and it is not unusual for the gang banger to brag, “I've got a nine; I've got a Glock.”
Shots ringing out in certain parts of Winnipeg have become commonplace activity, and drive-by shootings of individuals and residences the same. The registry is not the answer to stopping this.
The long-gun registry was an ill-thought-out piece of legislation in answer to the tragedy at École Polytechnique in 1989. It did not stop another similar tragedy at Dawson College in 2006. It will not stop the next deranged individual from attempting a similar attack in the future.
Holding the long-gun registry out as a protector of women is simply not valid. It is a lie. We must do better to protect women and the citizenry of our country by putting meaningful consequences in place for criminal offences and concentrate on stopping the flow of illegal gun traffic over our border into the hands of criminals.
A minimum sentence for gun crimes with minimum time served would serve as a far better solution than the long-gun registry. It is said that the abolishment of the two-for-one sentencing issue will increase incarceration and associated costs an additional $2 billion, roughly what we've spent on the registry already. Having only registered six million to seven million, with an estimated 17 million total guns in Canada, if that is correct, I wonder how much more money that would cost us. I would rather put the $2 billion towards keeping those criminals in jail and making sure they could not hurt anybody else.
Thank you for offering me this time to speak to you. I sincerely hope that what I've said will assist you in making an informed decision.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen.
As you know, my name is Mitchell McCormick. I'd like to thank you for providing me with this opportunity to speak before you today on this very important issue.
I would like to take a moment to provide you with a brief background about myself so that you might understand why I support Bill C-391 and the repeal of the long-gun registry.
I, too, was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and I still live there with my wife and two daughters. I was a police officer with the Winnipeg Police Service for twenty-seven and a half years. During that time I worked in uniform, but the majority of my career was in specialty units as a detective. As a detective, I worked in the vice division, the break-and-enter squad, and the major crimes unit.
In addition to these duties, I was also a member, for 15 years, with the Winnipeg Police Service emergency response unit, the SWAT team, as Mr. Shipman and Mr. Tinsley have indicated. At the time I was a member, it was a part-time team that was called on to attend armed and barricaded incidents as well as to execute high-risk warrants where weapons, and in particular firearms, were suspected of being involved. Before I stepped down from the unit, I was a team leader in charge of the assault team. One of my responsibilities was to develop the entry plan into whatever place or location we were attending to.
Prior to retiring, I was a supervisor in the major crimes unit. The major crimes unit is responsible for investigations such as commercial robberies, serious assaults, attempted murders, kidnappings, and, on occasion, homicides. It also can be assigned to high-profile or sensitive investigations, as deemed by the chief or the executive.
In 2005, while I was in the major crimes unit, I was assigned to such a file as one of the supervisors. It was a half a million dollar break-in at one of the banks in our city, and the suspect had been identified by the original investigators as being a male by the name of Gerald Blanchard. Much has been written about this individual. There have been numerous articles in magazines. CBC's fifth estate did a documentary about our investigation. He was successfully prosecuted and convicted for participating in a criminal organization and break-ins to banks in Ontario, Winnipeg, Alberta, and British Columbia.
I mention this individual because early on in our investigation we learned that in 1995 he had been arrested in the United States for stealing a police officer's handgun and a police car. He was subsequently convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon, theft, and escaped custody. He received five years in a Nebraska prison. Upon his release, he was deported back to Canada, as he was a Canadian citizen. Subsequently, in 2003 he applied for and received a firearms licence. In 2004 he was able to register three semi-automatic rifles and two shotguns.
In 2007, at the completion of our investigation and our wiretap, we arrested Mr. Blanchard and a number of his associates. We also executed warrants in British Columbia, where he had five residences and one storage locker. He had storage lockers in both Alberta and Ontario, which he had rented under one of his more than 32 aliases. In one of the residences and in each of the storage lockers we found firearms and ammunition that he had not registered.
Mr. Blanchard had been provided a firearms licence and was allowed to register firearms. None of the firearms we seized, to my knowledge, were the ones he had registered. His record in the U.S. did not appear to have been discovered. Although he had a minor record for property-related offences here in Canada, he was allowed to register firearms, as I mentioned before.
I would agree if anyone was to say that Mr. Blanchard was not your typical criminal. In particular, he differs from most criminals because he is the rare exception who actually registered a gun. Most criminals never register guns.
This investigation and the details I've told you about are just some of the reasons that some, maybe not all, police officers do not and cannot rely on the registry. The fact that he may have firearms is certainly beneficial when trying to determine the individual you are against, but this information was available prior to the long-gun registry coming into effect. I would dare say that Mr. Blanchard, had he applied for a firearms acquisition certificate through the old system, would have never been allowed to in fact obtain a licence. He would have had to deal with a police officer who would have done a more in-depth background check, and that does not appear to have been done in this case.
Whether Gerald Blanchard had a firearms licence or had weapons registered to him would not have changed the way in which we went about arresting him or executing the numerous search warrants around the country, as the background that we did on him showed he had the potential to have firearms.
It is the background on the individual, not the number of reports or how many guns a person has, that determines how we do our job. It has been said so many times—and Mr. Tinsley has indicated it—that guns don't kill people; people kill people.
As a constable, detective sergeant, the sergeant of detectives, and a team leader of an emergency response unit, I can tell you that I never once used the long-gun registry, nor do I know anyone who worked with me or for me who has.
In order to do our job effectively and safely, we do not take anything for granted. Every person I arrested and every building I entered, I suspected there was a person inside who might be armed with a firearm or a weapon that could harm me. The background on the person was the information I relied on the most. I would never rely on any type of registry to confirm or deny there was a weapon, or numerous weapons, inside. Just knowing a person has a firearm is indication enough for me. Knowing about the person more than knowing how many guns may or may not be at the address, as I said, was what I relied on to formulate my plan.
I do this because I don't take anything for granted. I think this is a result of almost being killed myself. As I mentioned, one of the units I worked in was the vice unit. In the summer of 1986, while working undercover, I was assigned, along with my partner, to assist in a stakedown. We had information that the building was going to be broken into. While sitting in our cruiser car waiting for the suspects to show up, I observed two unrelated individuals, one of whom was assaulting the other with a long, heavy bar. I surely thought he would kill him, so I alighted from my vehicle to intervene while my partner radioed for backup. Upon approaching the male with the bar, I drew my firearm. I identified myself and told him to drop the bar. He turned and ran away, dropping the bar as he went, and I chased after this male, thinking that I wished I had never taken out my firearm, because now I had no way of getting it back in my undercover holster, because it was a piece of leather in the back of my belt and the individual I was now chasing was unarmed.
I chased the male halfway down the block before he turned, and as I was about to catch him, he lunged at me with what I first thought was a punch, which I blocked with my leg. I immediately felt a burning pain in my leg from what I would later find was the result of a six-inch-long Rambo-type knife with a serrated edge being plunged into my upper left leg, right up to the handle. I will never forget the motion of his arm going back and forth as he tried to remove the knife that was stuck in my leg. Once he removed the knife, I fell to the ground. This individual then came at me again. I managed to fire two rounds over his head before he fled.
I nearly lost my life that day. I am positive that had I not been able to block that initial attack with my leg, the results would have been different. My wife was eight months pregnant with our first child. The thought of me never knowing her...or my second child, still bothers me today.
The truth of the matter is--and I believe this--that far more people are killed by knives than by long guns. Just as registering every knife would do nothing to stop violent assaults or murders, neither would registering long guns stop people from committing violent acts.
I'm sure this committee has heard before, and I must say it again: guns don't kill people; people kill people. The long-gun registry, although enacted with good intentions, will not stop gun-related violence.
The Canadian firearms program does have some good educational points, like enabling and promoting responsible firearms use and storage. However, by and large, the registry is ineffective, inaccurate, and could be dangerous if a false sense of security occurs.
My daughters are now 24 and 20 years of age. My youngest attends the University of Winnipeg, in the heart of our city, just blocks from where I almost lost my life.
I do not believe registering the knife that almost killed me would have stopped my situation from happening, and I do not believe registering guns will prevent gun crime. Target the person, not the weapon. Do a proper background on people before they get access to guns. We can save lives proactively with police resources effectively targeting criminals.
Thank you very much.
I disagree with the assertion of the chiefs....
We know the Canadian Association Chiefs of Police has come out and said this is vital for keeping our communities safe. Of the 430-plus chiefs, only three have spoken out against the registry.
But let's talk about the police associations, which represent and are voted in by, other constituent members. We have a system of representative democracy. Right now I'm only aware of one that's taken a formal position against the registry, and that's the Saskatchewan police association, which represents six police associations. That's six of 156. Of that six, the individual who represents them, their president, has now said that, based on facts he's received from the RCMP, he is taking that back and reconsidering the position.
Obviously there are going to be different opinions. But if there was a true division, you would expect of those that are representing others there would be more divergence than six of 156, and the six now revisiting their position.
But just let me ask this. Mr. McCormick, today you said that police do use this registry. We have officers, not just police associations but all kinds of officers, saying that it's vital when weapons are stolen, that it helps identify stockpiling, that it's essential for prohibition orders, that they use it in domestic disputes. If you say that it's being used, and even if there was division in the police, given that the Auditor General and the RCMP say it would only save $3.1 million a year, should it be a top public safety priority to kill a program that most say they need and use to keep our communities safe? Should that really be a priority?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to begin by thanking all our witnesses for being here today and especially Mr. McCormick, Ms. Rathjen and Ms. Provost, for sharing their personal experiences. I also appreciate the expertise you demonstrated in your presentations. I am happy to have been made aware of that difficult information from Statistics Canada and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada. I have a few questions.
My riding includes safe houses for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Before becoming a politician, I was the Assistant Police Ethics Commissioner, and before that, I was a member of the Quebec Police Commission. I chaired public inquiries involving domestic violence. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, police departments and society did not react to this kind of problem the same way that they do now: they no longer say it's a privacy issue.
So I would like the Committee to take advantage of your expertise, Ms. Riendeau and Ms. Villeneuve.
First of all, what approximate percentage of women and children who come to Quebec transition homes are victims of violence involving guns—and particularly long guns—be it threats or a failed attempt?
My second question is addressed to any of you who wishes to answer. Mr. Shipman, I believe we met in Manitoba. You are the former--
I'll say it in English. The firearms acquisition certificate and the whole process that was put into place in order to ensure that anyone who received a licence was not dangerous, etc.--you actually believe it's a better system than the current firearms registry in place.
If I follow your logic, then, there were fewer homicides with firearms under that old system, number one, and of those homicides, there were fewer homicides involving long guns at that time than there are today. I'm following your argument now. Either I've got your argument wrong, or the conclusion I've come to is the correct conclusion, if I follow your argument. I'll leave it at that.
May I suggest that any witness who wishes to add something and does not have the time may do so in writing through the chair. It is then distributed and becomes part of the official record.
First of all, thank you for appearing before the Committee today. I know this is difficult for you, but it is also difficult for us to hear how much this is affecting you even now, some 20 years later.
I would just like to clarify a couple of things that were mentioned today. We have heard a lot of statistics. But those statistics are not complete, obviously.
We talked about the numbers of murdered women. That fact is that long guns are not the weapons most often used to kill women—knives are, as Mr. McCormick experienced. Thirty per cent of murders of women are committed with knives. Only 9% of murders of women are committed using firearms. So, I just wanted to clarify those numbers because, once again, they are not complete.
The reason I say that is because we presently have more than 580 aboriginal missing or murdered women. They are not counted. The majority are missing. They are not counted anywhere in these statistics. There are many, many more who are not aboriginal who are also missing.
If tomorrow we found all of these missing women, and they'd all been discovered to have been shot by a long gun, would you still say that the long-gun registry is working? The stats you're referring to would be through the roof and you could no longer use them as evidence.
I make that suggestion because statistics are incomplete and we cannot rely on them. What we can rely on is whether or not the long-gun registry, when it was put into place, did what they said it was going to do. Did it prevent further murders, further violence with guns, further gun crime? And that is irrefutably no, it did not do what it said it was going to do.
I have a question for Ms. Rathjen.
Can you tell me the difference between an acquisition license and a firearm registration?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Since time is limited, I will go through my points quickly.
First of all, the three police officers made an important statement, which was that they never used the infamous Canadian Firearms Registry. That is what you said, and I cannot understand how someone who has never used it could pass judgment on the registry's usefulness. Up until now, more than 150 other police groups have used it. Seven thousand licenses have been revoked. That is a significant number. Of course, I understand that you may not be aware of that, since you have never used it.
Furthermore, when it comes to myths, you mentioned several that we are also hearing from the Conservatives. I would like you to answer this, because it is important. Myth number one is that the registry is costly and that's why we have to get rid of it. Myth number two is that the registry is useless; police officers have said that and say never use it. The third myth is that firearms registration is a long and costly process. The fourth myth is that crimes are not committed with hunting guns but, rather, with handguns. I am sure that you ladies will want to respond to that. The fifth myth is that what we should be most worried about are not legal weapons, but smuggled weapons.
There is no doubt that smuggled weapons are in circulation, but if we are able to register all the legal firearms, we will already have made significant progress.
This morning, the newspaper quoted a Conservative member of Parliament as saying that there is no connection between the registry and what happened at Polytechnique. That is another myth. They seem to be saying that serious incidents have occurred, but that they really have no connection whatsoever with the Canadian Firearms Registry.
Ladies, I would like you to address those myths, so that some people may learn something.
Yes, I was a former licensed Manitoba big game hunting guide, an appointed member of the Ashern, Manitoba past shooters hall of fame, a past shooter at the Lundar Manitoba all-Canada goose hunt, a former member of the pistol club, and a former Manitoba hunter safety assistant instructor. This is my 46th consecutive year of holding Manitoba hunting licences.
I have seen from many perspectives how the Canadian long-gun registry affects the many groups of individuals I've been associated with in my life. To a person, from the subsistence hunter native friends I have in the north, with whom I've hunted caribou, to the big city professionals I've shot skeet with, none support this registry, and none claim to have benefited from it in any way.
I want to make a couple of final points that have always weighed fairly heavily in all my considerations of gun law. Registration is merely a step towards total abolition of private gun ownership. It was penned in 1918 by the British Home Office in a paper called “Committee on the Control of Firearms”. So it's not new. Most countries overseas that instituted these laws did so to prevent civil uprisings, such as that which occurred in Russia. I believe that we are in no danger of that happening in Canada today.
After the British public was effectively disarmed by these laws, and the Germans were set to invade and overrun them, the British public found itself virtually defenceless. A plea was made to the United States, which then generously and without hesitation donated tens of thousands of family heirlooms, sporting guns, and ammunition to the British people with which to arm themselves and their Home Guard.
Despite anything anyone says about the detriments of private gun ownership, those are the facts.
We are a free nation. Too many people have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we are free today so that we can own a firearm if we choose to, can say what we believe, and can worship where we choose and not fear our government. I ask that each of you follow your own conscience and act on this matter in the best interests of Canadians everywhere.
This question is for the three retired police officers.
I'll tell you how I believe the registry system does help, and I'm going to give you examples and I'm going to ask you to agree with me.
First, it helps to enforce court orders, because if you have an order from a judge to go into a house and confiscate all weapons, and you know there are 13 registered in that house, that will help you enforce the court order to remove all the weapons, because some could be hidden and you wouldn't know.
I want to go through the list first.
Second, if you have a domestic violence call and you go to a house and you know there's a risk that somebody could cause harm to another person, and you also know, through the registration system, that there are, once again, 13 guns in that house, you can look for them. If you don't know, you will have no idea if some are hidden or just not accounted for.
Third, people who are at risk of suicide are unstable. The same thing applies: if you know that circumstance, and there's a court order or there's an order from a doctor to do something about it, in terms of committing somebody, and you know there are 13 guns in that house, you can go into the house and look for the 13 guns.
Fourth, registration facilitates proof of possession of stolen and smuggled firearms because if the arms have a registration and they're in illegal hands, you will know who is authorized to have those and you'll be able to do something about that.
Accountability. If I'm a gunowner and I have 13 guns registered to me, some gunowners, at least, will be more responsible if they know those particular guns are registered to them in their name. They may not loan them out, they may not sell them, and they may not refuse to keep them locked up properly if they're responsible and they know there will be consequences if they don't follow the law.
Police investigations. If you go to a crime scene and there's a gun there, and it's registered and you can link it to somebody, that will aid you in your investigation, rather than if there's nothing at all. And if there is nothing at all, in terms of the system, and you have to find that gun, you're going to spend police resources and money trying to locate the source of that gun.
So for all those reasons, I believe you must agree with me that the registration system, although not perfect, and I'm not saying it's perfect, must at least make our streets a little bit safer. I can't believe all three of you would say we're not at least a little bit safer based on all those examples.