Thanks very much. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the committee on behalf of the Coalition for Gun Control, which is an alliance of approximately 300 organizations from across the country that have been working on this issue now for about 25 years.
I apologize, as a professor I'm used to talking in three-hour blocks, so I will need help with my time, Mr. Chairman.
I just wanted to start by reminding the committee members, some of whom did not live through the development of the Firearms Act, of the purposes of the firearms legislation and the key elements. The intent of firearms regulation is to reduce the risk that firearms will be misused, while allowing the legitimate purposes of law-abiding gun owners.
The key elements of the legislation, and in fact any regulatory system in most parts of the world, are aimed at reducing the chances that firearms will be misused by their owners on the one hand, and on the other hand will be diverted, stolen, or misused by others. The key elements of that are: screening all firearm owners; licensing all firearm owners so we know who the lawful owners are, as distinct from those who have not gone through the screening process; holding firearm owners accountable for their firearms, and in Canada now that includes the registration of restricted and prohibited weapons; and reducing access to firearms where it is viewed that the risk outweighs the utility. In Canada since the 1930s, there have been higher levels of control over handguns, for example, because the view is that unlike rifles and shotguns, they serve more specified purposes, and because of their concealability, represent a higher risk to public safety.
I think the evidence is strong that suggests that as Canada has increased and strengthened its controls over firearms, we have seen a reduction in firearm death and injury. Remember that the risks of firearms are not just associated with what we normally define as crime, but also suicide and increasing political violence, which we have seen, for example, targeting police officers and members of the House of Commons.
When the legislation was introduced, the licensing provisions were intended to provide rigorous screening, and to take into account not just criminal acts or criminal records but also to require additional information, for example, from references, ensuring that spouses, for instance, were notified in the event that they had concerns. At the same time that the legislation was introduced, it was recognized that many existing firearm owners would be inconvenienced if they had to go through the same level of screening as individuals who wanted to acquire new firearms. That was why the distinction was made between possession-only licences, which allowed the owner to retain the firearms they previously had, versus possession and acquisition licences. There were about a million possession-only firearm owners at the time.
Because of time constraints I won't go into this in great detail, but I also want to refer the committee to the program evaluation of the firearms legislation that was done for the RCMP, because it reiterated both the value of the legislation and also identified a number of gaps in areas where the legislation needed to be strengthened. Most of those areas had to do with screening of licensing, with keeping licensing records up to date, and so on.
I think it's critically important to point out that were we concerned primarily with public safety, we would be looking at ways to strengthen the licensing provisions in this legislation, not to weaken them. One of the key messages in this document is that enhanced screening is important. The information required to ensure public safety does not reside just in police databases. There's more outreach required, for example, to public health professionals because of the risks associated not only with violence but also suicide.
We also know that recent explorations of risks associated with political violence or terrorism have also indicated that there are risks in Canada, not perhaps where the media focuses our attention, but among groups, for example, who oppose government intervention and involvement in their business. We've seen a number of cases, for instance, where police officers have been targeted by individuals who hold those beliefs. There is also evidence that stockpiling of firearms has been a problem with some groups over a long period of time.
With that in mind, I just want to walk through—in the few minutes I have remaining—the key elements that we are concerned with.
One is the proposed relaxation of the authorizations to transport, to make them less specific and more generic. While on the surface this may seem simply technical, as I mentioned at the outset, one of the reasons that Canada has far lower handgun violence rates than the United States is because we have been very strict in terms of controlling access, to the point where the current , for example, once stated that handguns are virtually banned in Canada.
We believe that relaxing the controls over the authorizations to transport will increase the risk that these firearms will be misused. If you can transport your firearm to any gun club in the province, it means you can be virtually anywhere with it.
The second area of concern is the automatic renewal of licences. As I said, the RCMP were very clear that the renewal process for licensing is an important complement to continuous eligibility checking. It allows information to be collected about aspects of an individual who may present risks to themselves or others, and also ensures that the information about who has guns and where they live is kept up to date. In the absence of firearms registration, this too is important.
I mentioned previously that the possession-only licences were designed to provide lighter screening than possession and acquisition licences because it was viewed that people acquiring more firearms present a bigger risk than people who already have them. We think that merging those is an error.
As well, when we look at other forms of regulation, there is normally an effort to rely on expert opinion. We have real concerns about changes that suggest that the minister has the power to reverse decisions by the RCMP with respect to the classification of weapons. This is something that has been an area of concern by police for at least 15 years. While there may be ways to strengthen transparency and rigour in the process, we would oppose shifting that to allow more political interference.
Finally, we believe that the roles and the powers of the chief firearms officers are critically important.
That of course is reinforced again in this evaluation report for the RCMP. Allowing the firearms officers to take into account a wide range of concerns in issuing authorizations to carry, as well as the transfers of firearms, is a critical piece of public safety and also allows more discretion around responding to local needs.
I will leave it at that point. I think I'm at 10 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, honourable committee members, and fellow witnesses, it's an honour to speak to you today.
I'm a former RCMP officer as well as a past provincial president of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, one of the largest wildlife organizations of its kind in the world. I'm also a family man, and I share the shooting and hunting sports with my wife, daughters, and grandchildren.
I've been the chair of the Saskatchewan recreational firearms committee for over 20 years and continue to work with firearms groups, local government, and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. These organizations comprise everyday people interested in the outdoors and the legitimate use of firearms.
The thousands of people I represent support the total repeal and replacement of the Firearms Act with a new act. We want a new act that provides a common-sense approach to firearms ownership in Canada. Therefore, we do support the measures being brought forward here today, but please understand this: respectfully, there's much more work to be done.
Let us look at the Firearms Act of today.
First of all, under this legislation and even with all the amendments proposed today, all firearms owners are deemed criminals if they posses a firearm. Your licence is nothing more than a five-year permit that prevents you from being charged with the criminal offence you're committing. At the whim of government, it can be and will be revoked, and it can be made very difficult to obtain or renew it. Without a firearms licence, owners have no defence for the crime they are committing. Firearms licences must be made valid for life unless the individual has lost that right through a criminal act.
Secondly, the Firearms Act continues to use the Criminal Code in the wrong manner. The government keeps trying to address the criminal use of firearms through licensing provisions. Everyone is in favour of new laws to stop domestic and gang-related violence, but we must not do so at the expense of hundreds of thousands of legitimate firearms users in Canada. Criminal activity should be dealt with by severe penalties under existing Criminal Code provisions. Legitimate firearms owners are not the problem. Firearms licensing should not be in the Criminal Code.
As I speak to fellow Canadians today, I understand that there are serious disconnects between the legitimate firearms users and those for whom the very mention of the word “gun” strikes unwarranted fear into their hearts. Sadly, this is the reality, which is continuously fuelled by a politically motivated and sensationalist media agenda. Tabloid journalism is the order of the day—grab a headline by using the word “gun”. I challenge any and all of you to recall one media broadcast of a positive story concerning firearms use. What should be regulated through the rational application of facts is too often driven by fear and emotion. We are continually reminded that it is impossible to legislate against insanity.
The firearms community has a long tradition of responsible firearms use in Canada, not crime, and the Dominion of Canada owes its very roots to a rich and diverse cultural history built upon the hunting and trapping traditions of over 300 years. That is why legitimate firearms users will never compromise or agree to give up their basic right to own and use firearms. Legitimate firearms users are not the source of firearms crime in Canada. This is a statistical fact.
Today's measures do represent common-sense improvements, and for that I thank you. Legitimate firearms users are ready to get to work. We will help you foster the discussion and assist in creating a common-sense act that stops criminalizing the traditional lifestyle of legitimate firearms users in Canada.
Thank you for my time.
First of all, I'd like to thank the taxpayers of Canada for financially helping me attend this meeting today. My federation isn't in a position to pay for that.
Secondly, on behalf of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for the opportunity to make this presentation in support of Bill .
It was just over 20 years ago that former minister Allan Rock began to make statements in the media stating that he was pushing for more gun control in Canada. At that time, statements were attributed to him that the police and military should be the only people to possess guns in Canada, and that firearms should be removed from all cities and stored in armouries.
Although those statements have been withdrawn, they alerted the law-abiding firearms owners of Canada that more trouble was on the way. However, we must thank Mr. Rock for his wake-up call. Many of us believe that the existing legislation, Bill C-17, as bad as it was, was grudgingly accepted by the shooting community and would remain around for a while.
We did not expect for any interference of our legal firearms activities, especially after Bill C-17 was only in existence for a year and a half. What that wake-up call produced was a strong, united voice within the firearms community of Nova Scotia. We also learned later that in the whole of Canada a firearms community will never be reactive again, but rather a proactive group with strong communications across the country.
The responsible firearms owners of Nova Scotia organization represents 100,000 hunters in the province, as well as gun collectors, target shooters, and farmers. It is also supported by 32 hunting and fishing clubs, and 60 shooting clubs.
Over the past year, these people have demonstrated the resolve to fight any bad firearms legislation to the end, using whatever legal means available to them. The cancellation of the long-gun registry by government was a very good beginning, bringing back some respect to the firearms community.
For the past 20 years, we've been living under a dark cloud that shadowed us as criminals because of our hobbies. We strongly support the passage of Bill , the common-sense firearms licensing act, and look forward to its implementation.
I would like to address a few specific amendments that change the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.
The streamlining of the licensing system by eliminating the possession-only licence and converting all existing POLs to possession and acquisition licences will have a very positive effect on hunting in Canada. It will allow many hunters that held the old POL to purchase new firearms. They have not been able to purchase new firearms unless they took the training course. It always appeared silly to me that a person who was safe enough with using firearms and legally allowed to own them was not permitted to buy new firearms. Changes to the act will now allow them to purchase these new ones.
Hopefully, this change will also attract some of the people who left hunting to come back and once again contribute to the conservation of the country's wildlife by purchasing licences and giving back to their hunting heritage.
One of the main problems with the legislation, as it is today, is that it created many paper criminals, people who did not have the right pieces of paper for the right firearm under the old registration system, or who forgot to send in the licence renewal. Creating a six-month grace period at the end of the five-year licensing period to stop people from immediately becoming criminalized for paperwork delays around licence renewal is a very positive move and will be welcomed by the firearms community.
Safety has always been the hallmark of the Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and making classroom participation and firearm safety training mandatory for first-time licence applicants really is a no-brainer.
I can appreciate that not all areas of Canada, especially in the north, will have the ability to provide this service, but I believe that this will pay dividends to the rest of the country by having everyone from this point on classroom trained.
I have not been a person to support registries when it comes to firearms owned by law-abiding people, but a registry of people who are not allowed to possess firearms is fine with me. The amended Criminal Code to strengthen the provision relating to orders prohibiting possession of firearms where a person is convicted of an offence involving domestic violence is a step in the right direction. It would also be extended to list all people who are banned by the courts from the possession of firearms. I think that would have been an improvement.
Transporting a firearm to the shooting range or to a gunsmith would not require a separate piece of paper in my view. Ending this needless paperwork around authorization transportation by making them a condition of licence for certain routine and lawful activities is positive and will have the side effect of reducing costs within the firearms office.
I've heard stories from many of my colleagues from across the country of the abuse of power by some Canadian chief firearms officers who use their own interpretation of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code to fit their personal likes and dislikes with respect to firearms and firearms owners. Therefore, changes to provide for the discretionary authority of the chief firearms officers to be subject and limited to regulation works for me from coast to coast to coast. All CFOs will administer the act as it's written, no individual interpretations.
It is important to both Canada Border Services and the RCMP to share information on newly imported restricted and non-restricted firearms into Canada. So the change to authorize firearms importation information sharing when restricted and prohibited firearms are imported into Canada by Canadian businesses is good.
This last amendment was prompted by a reclassification of a firearm by the RCMP that made hundreds of Canadians criminals overnight. The Swiss Army green rifle had its status changed from restricted firearm to prohibited with a stroke of a pen. This decision was made after the importers had worked with the RCMP on the original classification. The change will allow government to have a final say on classification decisions following the receiving of independent expert advice.
Long gone are the days of boys playing cops and robbers, shooting pretend guns at each other. The likelihood nowadays is that a SWAT team will be bearing down on them. Our society has become paranoid about firearms because they have been led to believe that guns are in themselves evil, and people who want to use them are evil as well. I don't know if we will ever get around to a time when we can trust our neighbours. The good news is that these changes will go a long way in fostering a positive relationship among the firearms community, government, and police.
Thank you very much for your attention.
I've done the same thing, taken the course a couple of times and taken my son through it. The point of the question is, I think for the benefit of the Canadian public, we've heard from all witnesses about a law-abiding, safe, ethical, and I would argue, self-regulating firearms community. I think many of the course descriptions and the rules and regulations around firearms ownership and firearms safety training have come directly from the firearms community. They're not things that have been legislated upon us, but are driven by the firearms community to make sure the group maintains its high standards.
Maybe I'll start with you, Mr. Rodgers, and then over to you, Mr. Illerbrun. I'm just wondering for the benefit of the committee if you can describe in a tight package what the Canadian firearms safety course looks like, additionally—and what we call it in the Yukon may be a different name but the same principle—what the hunter education and ethics development program looks like, which is ancillary to the CFS course if you want to have a hunting licence. Then maybe quickly could you describe what sorts of ethics, rules, and standards are set by the firearms and sports shooting community at a range itself?
In other words what are range rules that would identify and secure Canadian firearms owners, not only as law abiding but as a highly safe and ethical group of individuals?
As you say, this could take a little while.
In Nova Scotia, to take the training required to hunt, a person has to take the registered Canadian firearms training course as well as a hunter education course. They're both separate components. In some provinces they're joined together.
The training required in the Canadian firearms training course takes a person through all of the needed material with respect to the ethics surrounding firearms and the proper handling of firearms. When you go through that process you'll learn the different types of actions, the different types of ammunition, what's prohibited, what's not prohibited, what we're allowed to use in Canada, what we're not allowed to use in Canada. Those are the main components and are built for understanding.
At that particular point, though, it only makes you safe to use the firearm itself. In order to get the licence you have to go through another chapter, and that is to apply to the RCMP, basically, for permission to get the Canadian firearms card so that you can buy guns and buy ammunition. That is a little bit more onerous in that the information, the questions, are about your mental health, your marital status, things of that nature. All the questions that are there must be answered properly or you'll get your application back pretty darned quick. We have to have a picture of ourselves sent along with that application. That, in turn, is placed on the card, if the card is granted to that particular person.
The hunter education portion in Nova Scotia is about a seven-hour course, and most of it surrounds ethics and safe hunting. There are some components of field stuff like map and compass, identifying animals and traps, and things of that nature. A lot of it is circled around the relationship between the hunter and the farmer, the landowner, the ethics surrounding it, the ethics surrounding your hunting partner, the ethics surrounding responsible taking of an animal in a fair chase, so yes, those components are looked into.
With respect to the range, I'm not much of a range shooter myself, but the basic guidelines will be seen, probably in every club, up on the wall as you walk through the door, such as no shooting unless there's a range officer around. There's ongoing training within an organization, a shooting club for different types of calibres to ensure that a person who buys a new firearm becomes familiar with it before they actually get a chance to start shooting it. In most clubs, their regulations are over and above anything that would be required by the chief firearms officer. Most of them are pretty stringent. That's why one of the safest places to be is at a gun range, because their safety record is impeccable.
I think Mr. Rodgers did a very good job of covering most of it. I'll only add a couple of things.
We also have two courses here, one for hunting, and the Canadian firearms course, of course, is the same across Canada. Our hunter course, I think Tony led to that, but there's a respect for landowners, the game, the hunters, other hunters, and generally the use of firearms that's really pounded into the people who take that course.
There's also practical firearms handling, where they actually have deactivated firearms that you must go through and demonstrate your ability to handle those firearms, and prove it in tests and go through all of the procedures to do that—how to load it and unload it, and keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times when you do that.
Both courses have an 8.5 by 11 inch book, about a half inch thick, so it's not something you do on a whim. When I went and took my kids, we did it for six to eight weeks for one night a week, plus the practical test at the end.
Going to the range issue, Mr. Rodgers is right, there's a range officer who's always appointed when you get to the range. He has total control of the range. He calls when you can shoot and when you must stop shooting. If he thinks something's going to go wrong, he can call a stop to the shooting immediately, and everybody has to follow those rules. All clubs are very stringent about that. If you don't follow the rules you will lose your club membership.
Other than that, I think Mr. Rodgers pretty well covered everything very well.
Mr. Illerbrun, Ms. Cukier and Mr. Rodgers, thank you very much for participating in today's meeting. It is always interesting to meet hunters from other provinces and learn about their point of view.
I am a Quebecker, and I come from a long line of hunters. I got my hunting licence and then I was hooked. I went hunting with my cousins and my father. The next year, I decided to follow a gun safety course. That made my parents very proud. In my corner of the world, we are part of this community. It is a long-standing tradition and I am very proud of it. What we are hearing today is very interesting.
To start, I will address my questions to Ms. Cukier.
I have a few questions about your presentation and different aspects of Bill . The first point that you mentioned was the transportation of firearms, which I discussed with various police services in Quebec.
Bill includes a relatively important measure dealing with restricted and prohibited firearms. I've spoken a great deal with police officers in Quebec about provisions in the bill on the transportation of these weapons and the impact that they will have on police services. They told me that they have no idea how they are actually going to be able to apply these provisions in reality and how difficult it is going to be for them at work on a day-to-day basis.
I would like to hear your point of view, as well as that of the 300 organizations that you represent, with regard to these provisions in Bill .
Thanks very much for the question.
I think it's fairly simple. The existing authorizations to transport regulations and the power in the legislation are aimed at restricting where restricted weapons can be possessed, and these regulations have been in place now for over 50 years. The intent is to say that handguns represent a threat to public safety because they can be misused by their owners and they can be stolen. In fact, about a third of the handguns recovered in crime in Canada are guns that were at one time legally owned and have been sold illegally or stolen. Therefore, while we are prepared to allow individuals to use handguns for target shooting, and in some cases to have them as part of their collections, we want to be very cautious about where and under what circumstances they can have these guns.
The argument is that as you expand the authorizations to transport to basically say that you can be transporting your handgun from your home to any gun club in the province—which from my perspective could mean anywhere in the province—it's going to be near impossible to establish that someone was not going from their home to the gun club where they are a member and have a legitimate reason to be. They could be travelling virtually anywhere and saying they're on route to a gun club.
It's a technical change that could have unintended consequences. We've seen enough cases where restricted and prohibited weapons have been stolen from locked vehicles and then misused in crime, for example, to be concerned about this. I think the enforceability also becomes an issue. If you're basically saying that an authorization to transport allows you to take your handgun virtually anywhere in the province, then what exactly is the purpose of the authorization to transport?
If we look at the regulation of potentially dangerous substances or objects, normally there is a reliance on expert opinion. The classification of prohibited weapons, and indeed, restricted weapons, is certainly the subject of much debate. Different countries have different approaches. The police have said repeatedly that since the initial list of prohibited weapons was set with Bill , manufacturers have been skirting those prohibitions by changing some features or changing the name of the firearms.
Basically, industry will find its way around the regulations, so I would add that some countries have a permissive approach, which means that instead of saying, “These guns are prohibited”, they say, “These guns are allowed.” This is much more the approach that we have, for example, with the regulation of pharmaceuticals. If you want to bring a new drug into Canada and administer it, you have to demonstrate that it's not a risk to health or safety.
There are some fundamental challenges with the way the legislation is currently crafted, because it allows these loopholes for new guns coming in that would otherwise be prohibited. Our view is that if your intent is public safety you should look at the process and at ways to tighten the process. As unfortunate as the retroactive classification of the Swiss Arms firearm was, if that's the thing you're concerned about, you don't make a massive change to the system in order to address what is a relatively small issue. Perhaps you have one process that addresses the importation of new kinds of firearms, and in the event that the RCMP wants to retroactively change the classification of a gun, a different process kicks in. But—
First of all, everybody needs to understand that in order to buy a restricted firearm, in this case a handgun, you have to have a reason to own it. You have two choices under the act. One, you can be a collector. You deem yourself a collector, and you are subject to home inspections of where you store your firearms. Most people deem themselves to be shooters. If you are going to be a shooter and that is the reason you are buying the gun, you have to be able to take your gun to the range to shoot it because you've said you are a shooter.
The only way you can get the gun to the range is to have an authorization to transport. The law says that now that you've said you are a shooter, you must go shooting. You must use it or lose it. The law says that you have to have an authorization to transport. This act, as I understand it, is not changing the authorization to transport. It is just saying that instead of having to go get one every time you go to the range, or have all these variations across the country, they are going to tie it to the licence.
Now, in order to buy a handgun, you have to have a restricted classification on your licence, so in order to be able to have a handgun, you have already passed all the tests and the screening that has been talked about earlier in this standing committee hearing. Now you need the authorization to transport. Your firearms licence is good for five years. If you buy a gun in the fourth year, you can get an authorization to transport only until your licence expires, so you get it only for one year. The authorization to transport is very specific. It says where you can go and what you can do with it. Mr. Breitkreuz pointed to the fact that there are some variations across the country. Mine says that, right now, today, I can go to any range in Saskatchewan. They are not changing that. They are just tying it to the licence because it will simplify the process and save taxpayers money to do what has to be done legally.
Everybody needs to understand that there is nothing new here. We are just going to put it with the licence. It is a restricted licence, so you have handguns, and the government knows you have handguns. They are registered, and now you've said you are a shooter. When you renew your licence now, you need that authorization to transport to go to the range. They are going to issue the same authorization to transport that they are issuing today, but it is going to be tied to your licence. It will expire when your licence expires, and it will be renewed so that you can follow the law of the land that says you require this authorization to transport in order to go to the range and use your firearm.
I think that should cover that fairly well, unless you have something else you want to ask.
In our reading of the authorizations to transport, they go from saying that they will allow a prohibited or restricted firearm to be moved between two or more specified places for any good reason to saying that the specified places must include all shooting clubs and shooting ranges that are approved under section 29 and that are located in the province. Perhaps it's not the intention, but our reading of this is that the authorization to transport essentially allows you to take your handgun anywhere you like where there is a shooting club.
Similarly, there are concerns about extending the terms of the licence and integrating the PAL and the POL, for the reasons I explained. People who have a possession-only licence were not subject to the same level of screening.
With due respect to the previous speakers, training is very helpful in reducing firearms accidents. Training may be helpful in encouraging firearms owners to store their firearms properly. However, the evidence does not support the idea that training prevents either criminal misuse or suicide. In fact, if you look at many of the high-profile events that have plagued us in recent years, it wasn't that the gun owners did not know how to shoot straight. In a number of cases, members of gun clubs had risk factors that were not noted by their colleagues and went on to kill people. The screening processes extend far beyond training. The screening processes have to include not just criminal records checks but spousal notification and other measures. As I said, I think the program evaluation document that reviewed the RCMP Canadian firearms program has a number of very good proposals in it to strengthen the screening and the licensing.
Finally, under the current legislation, the chief provincial firearms officer can, if in his view there is a risk to an individual or anyone else, prevent the transfer of a firearm, refuse an authorization to transport, and so on. Because we know that police databases are limited, making sure that chief provincial firearms officers have discretion and err on the side of public safety—recognizing that there are appeal processes for licensees—is absolutely fundamental.
I think whatever the intentions of this legislation may have been, there's very little evidence that it's tied to data on what works, what does not work, or even reviews conducted by this very government on what's needed to keep us safer.
Thank you to the witnesses for appearing today.
We have limited time to deal with the various parts of this bill. I think some things expressed here were incorrect, and I thank Mr. Easter for clearing up one of those. I think Ms. Cukier has cleared up another with regard to the authorization to transfer.
On the question of classification, I'm tempted to say I wonder whether the members on the opposite side would be as happy making this a political question if they thought that Madam Doré Lefebvre or I might be the minister and that the pressure we would come under might be different from the pressure people on the other side come under.
One of the things I don't see in the bill is a suggestion to have an expert committee. It's a cabinet decision, which makes it a purely political decision. The has been reluctant to admit that and has referred to somebody's pen in general when it was actually his pen on the reclassification.
I want to skip over those and go to something that is very important, which I think is in the written submission by the Coalition for Gun Control.
Ms. Cukier, I'd like you to comment a bit more about the gender analysis of the impacts of this bill and the failure to consult with those who deal with family violence in the preparation of this bill. Could you say something more about that? You raised that in your written submission and I think it's very important.
It comes back to what I said previously about the way that this is framed, and indeed the question that was posed. Do you own a firearm, and can you tell us about the training process and screening process? The assumption that gun ownership confers expertise in violence prevention is wrong-headed.
There's been a lot of research by public health experts, domestic violence experts, on the real risk factors associated with domestic violence, with suicide, and indeed with violence more generally. I don't think there's anything in the comments I've heard from my respected colleagues, nor indeed some of the members of this committee, that recognize the importance of evidence in making these decisions. The focus is on training when what we really need is better screening.
Again, the RCMP had signalled this loud and clear. Risks around domestic violence may be a matter of record in terms of the police databases, but they may not be. Issues with respect to mental health challenges, suicide, and so on, most certainly are not likely to be in police databases.
The rigorous screening processes that were applied to the possession and acquisition licences and not the possession-only licences, which included reference checks, spousal notification, and so on, are fundamentally important. If you go back and look at the testimony of those experts in public health, in domestic violence, and indeed police, the importance of the renewal process, and those screening processes as part of renewal, was viewed as absolutely fundamental, as a complement to the continuous eligibility screening.
I don't want to keep harping on it, but I think the so-called objective view of the legislation, which is contained in the government's evaluation of the bill, identified the importance of looking at training issues. It identified the importance of making sure that licence screening is improved, that more information is made available from more agencies in order to specifically address the risks of domestic violence, ensuring that the licensing processes for non-restricted licence applicants be held at a high standard and audits be introduced, and that the police and government work with health care as well as women's organizations and other community organizations to address the risk factors.
Thank you for your question.
Colleagues, we're back in session. We have three witnesses for this panel. We're still hooking up our video conference, so we'll go ahead with our other witnesses. We will then introduce them, and as we come on line, we will carry on.
For the second hour, on behalf of PolySeSouvient, we have Mr. Benoît Laganière, spokesperson, and also Ms. Heidi Rathjen.
Shortly, by way of video conference from Longueuil, we will have from the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, Mr. Pierre Latraverse, president.
We will start off now with opening statements, up to 10 minutes per organization. We would appreciate it, as always, if you're able to make your remarks even more brief, as it gives us more opportunity to have a little Q and A with our witnesses.
We will start off with the representative from PolySeSouvient.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good morning.
For the survivors, the witnesses and the many families of the victims of the Polytechnique massacre in 1989, our main objective was and remains the avoidance of loss of life and the prevention of the enormous suffering caused by violence committed by firearms. The fight against violence requires interventions at all levels.
Since its election, the Conservative government has destroyed or weakened most of the measures that had been implemented at the request of victims of firearms, but also at the request of police officers, women's groups, suicide prevention workers and public health groups. In 2012, the government destroyed the long-gun registry. Since then, a long gun can no longer be traced to its owner. The Harper government also eliminated the requirement to check the validity of the permit of a potential purchaser, as well as the sales records of firearms merchants. Today, Bill will further weaken the controls that remain.
By definition, a firearm is designed to kill. It is a dangerous object that deserves the greatest attention and the greatest respect. Using a firearm is a privilege, not a right. This privilege should be governed by strong rules and should result in a series of responsibilities. Strict controls are the norm in most developed countries. However, the Harper government, always ready to please the firearms lobby, has made it so that Canada is today in a situation in which there are fewer controls than at the time of the Polytechnique tragedy, 25 years ago.
You know, when someone is attacked in such a violent way using a firearm, the only thing that they can cling to is hope and comfort. The hope that governments will take action and take all of the means possible to prevent this type of extreme violence, and comfort in the idea that the brutal death of our sisters was not in vain because other lives will be saved.
I had already come to testify as the witness to a massacre, but mainly as an ordinary citizen, before the parliamentary and Senate committees, about Bill , which scrapped the long-gun registry.
Despite the plentiful testimony from many pro-control groups, not a single line or a single comma was changed in the wording of the bill. This morning, I have no hope that things will be different this time around, but we are here because it is important to highlight some of the effects of this bill and to express our opposition to it, especially in light of all of the misinformation being disseminated by this government.
Bill will put us in the awful situation that we observe daily south of the border. Its adoption will result in easier access to firearms and will increase the chances that they fall into the wrong hands. MPs who vote in favour of this bill will have to assume responsibility for this.
Our position is the outright rejection of Bill .
Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Bill is a complex bill and includes many measures, and we won't be able to address them all. This morning I would like to address two specific ones.
The first one concerns the ability of the RCMP to classify certain types of weapons. As you know, about a year ago, the RCMP ruled that thousands of semi-automatic weapons that had entered the country as non-restricted long guns were in fact prohibited, given their ability to be converted to fully automatic firearms.
These weapons included the full range of Swiss Arms models and various versions of the CZ858 family, one of which was used in September 2012 during the election celebrations of the Parti Québécois. One man was killed and another one was injured, but the toll could have been much higher had the gun not jammed after the first shot. The shooter, Richard Bain, was a member of a gun club and was a legal owner of that weapon, amongst many others.
We would have hoped that the public safety implications of having thousands of prohibited weapons circulating across the country would be obvious to all, but that was not the case. As soon as the decision was rendered, public safety minister echoed the complaints of the gun lobby, criticized the RCMP for their arbitrary decision, and announced a two-year amnesty for the owners of these weapons, accompanied by a public address specifically to gun owners stating, “Our Conservative Government is on your side” and that they will always defend the rights of honest gun owners, followed, of course, by an email directing supporters to a fundraising site.
Bill authorizes the Minister of Public Safety—a partisan political position—to override any and all classifications, even those clearly defined by law. The minister could literally reclassify as non-restricted any weapon, no matter how dangerous, at any time, for any reason, thus extracting it from any significant controls.
Bill was tabled only months after the murders of three RCMP officers in Moncton. Justin Bourque used an M305 semi-automatic Winchester rifle, which is a Chinese-made semi-automatic version of the American M14 service rifle, a favourite of military firearms collectors.
Only a few months before the tragedy, the RCMP, echoing other police organizations, had raised concerns with the minister regarding the inherent risks of the legal availability of such weapons. These include, for example, .50 calibre rifles that can pierce military aircraft and light armoured vehicles, not to mention bulletproof vests of police. This picture shows the Steyr Mannlicher, which is unrestricted. You can buy it over the Internet without the buyer being obligated to verify the validity of the possession permit.
Instead of properly classifying these types of weapons according to their risks, this government chose instead, with Bill , to make that kind of political interference at the expense of public safety official and permanent.
The second issue is the discretionary powers of chief firearms officers, which are a core element of their work. Every day, chief firearms officers use their discretion while making decisions on whether or not to issue a variety of licences and authorizations. CFOs may further use their discretion to determine whether or not it is desirable in the interest of public safety to attach special conditions to authorizations or a licence.
For example, a CFO may decide to require a medical report stating that the previous mental illness of an applicant has been successfully treated as a condition of the issuance of a permit. A CFO may require that a business reconfigure its service counter to make sure that the display of the guns is far enough away from clients.
Some conditions can be more comprehensive. For example, Quebec does not allow prohibited weapons to be on the premises of gun clubs, even if they are grandfathered or subject to an amnesty. In Alberta, the CFO requires sellers in gun shows to have trigger locks on their guns, as opposed to putting plastic or wire tie wraps around the triggers.
It is this ability—attaching conditions to licences—that will be subject to new regulations under Bill .
What these regulations will be is impossible to know; however, given that the government has presented this bill as a way to rein in broad and often discretionary authority of unelected bureaucrats, and that it follows from the gun lobby, we are pretty confident the regulations are meant to have detrimental effects on these kinds of public safety decisions.
We don't have to look very far for similar, recent examples of this type of interference. For example, sales records in gun stores had existed in the law since 1978 and were never controversial. The firearms registry rendered them not necessary, because it took up that role. But following the abolition of the gun registry, chief firearms officers required gun businesses to keep inventories and sales ledgers. However, following complaints from the gun lobby regarding this, this government tabled regulations prohibiting chief firearms officers from requiring such a rule even though they said that this could facilitate illegal diversion of guns by gun businesses to the black market.
Another example concerns gun shows. Up until 2012 all sales at these events were first cleared by the registrar, since it automatically verified the licence of each buyer before issuing a new registration certificate. Since the elimination of the registry, there is no way to ensure that sales that take place in these huge gun shows are legal. In order to compensate for the loss of this oversight, every chief firearms office in the country said it was necessary for the government to enact existing gun show regulations, which would allow them to act in an enforcement capacity and ensure minimum safety standards at these shows. According to the firearms investigative and enforcement services directorate, which is tasked to combat illegal smuggling, without proper controls gun shows may become a focal point for the purchase and subsequent stockpiling of non-restricted firearms for criminal use.
As you know, in the United States about one-third to 40% of guns sold at gun shows are sold illegally to people who otherwise wouldn't pass a background check. This was a totally reasonable request by the chief firearms officers, aimed at ensuring the safety of gun shows and preventing illegal sales. But the gun lobby complained, and of course, the government axed the regulations.
In conclusion, discretion regarding the classification of guns and certain parts of the implementation of the Firearms Act should be left in the hands of the RCMP and the chief firearms officers, who are objective, knowledgeable, and mandated to protect the public. It should not be overruled by political interests. Subjecting discretionary powers of public safety officials to political interference places partisan politics over good governance, ideology over expertise, and gun interests over public safety.
Bill should be opposed and rejected.
Good morning to all committee members.
I will now give a presentation on behalf of the federation and its branches.
The Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs is a not-for-profit organization that was created in 1946. Its mandate is to contribute to the management, development and continuation of hunting and fishing as traditional, heritage and sporting activities, while respecting wildlife in their habitat.
Its objectives are to represent the interests of hunters and anglers; defend and protect the practice of hunting and fishing activities, and promote them in order to ensure the sustainability of the sport; promote the adoption of responsible behaviour by hunters and anglers; cooperate with public authorities to establish conservation and wildlife habitat development programs; cooperate with public authorities to establish wildlife management plans which help governments reach their biological, social and economic objectives.
The federation today comprises some 200 associations which themselves comprise over 125,000 members spread out across all regions of Quebec. It counts on the support of its two foundations, Héritage faune and Sécurité nature, to reach its objectives.
Héritage faune is the official foundation of the federation. It was established in 1980. Its mandate is to offer various sources of funding that allow for the completion of wildlife, aquatic and land development projects, renewal programs and wildlife scholarships for university graduates. It is involved in many projects with organizations in the wildlife and environmental sectors in Quebec.
Sécurité nature was created in 1995. It is the architect of the federation in terms of education. It ensures the delivery of our education program courses on safety and wildlife coordination, and also the coordination of 450 volunteer monitors responsible for giving courses in all regions of Quebec. It also develops education programs on nature interpretation, protection and the enhancement of wildlife and its habitat, in addition to the safety of individuals practising outdoor activities. It also edits educational materials on the knowledge, conservation, and enhancement of fauna and habitat development, and outdoor leisure activities.
According to statistics from Sécurité nature, the training course Initiation to Hunting with a Firearm is becoming more popular in Quebec. The number of individuals trained by this course was 5,703 in 1994, 10,750 in 1999, 14,000 in 2006 and 20,000 in 2014. According to statistics from Sécurité nature, registrations for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course is also on the rise in Quebec. The number of individuals trained was 10,681 in 1994, 11,968 in 1999, 15,088 in 2006 and 23,910 in 2014.
Concerning Bill , the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs is very pleased about this initiative. This bill very much targets the needs of Quebec hunters because it simplifies the procedures for awarding a permit for users who follow the law, while strengthening safety and education.
Some aspects of the bill, such as the fusion of the possession only licence and the possession and acquisition licence, and the establishment of a six-month grace period for the renewal of this permit, will allow hunters to avoid criminal charges due to simple administrative errors. These components will make the lives of hunters easier.
The Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs has always been a proponent of education and safety in terms of firearms use.
Removing the obligation to take the Firearms Safety Course is excellent news. In Quebec, a person already has to take and pass the course if he or she wants to obtain a hunting certificate.
Since 2013, the cost of the Canadian Firearms Safety Course exam was increased following a request by the Chief Firearms Officer, and it then cost the same as the Firearms Safety Course, to encourage people to take the training. So in 2014, 33 people took the Firearms Safety Course, as compared to over 200 in 2012.
The federation supports prohibiting firearms ownership by people who have been found guilty of domestic violence. The changes made to the legislation will make it easier for hunters to carry on their activities in Quebec, while strengthening security, which is essential for the federation.
Thank you for listening, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
I'm sorry, I have limited time.
I was wondering specifically if you thought it was reasonable that a Canadian would face criminal sanctions.
Maybe I could help you a little. I did like the line you said, that we need to focus on ideology over...or you suggested that our government is focusing on ideology over expertise. Of course I have longitudinal, peer-reviewed studies that clearly show that licensed Canadian firearms are less likely to be used to commit murder, if we're talking about the most extreme end of violence.
But I couldn't help but miss.... I'm coming at this from the perspective of a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, a former conservation officer, who on a daily basis dealt with law-abiding Canadian firearms owners. I never had access to that registry. I never had access to that information you're talking about. I wouldn't have had access to any of the ATT information that's being highlighted in this bill, so I think you're overemphasizing some of the information that you believe police and conservation officers or any other law enforcement officer in this country would have had. That just simply wasn't available and that's not about to change under this piece of legislation.
The one piece I do find a little disconcerting is that I think it's important we have a logical, rational discussion on this, because I haven't missed some of the sensationalization of the firearms that you've presented. When you focused on the .50 calibre that could pierce bulletproof vests, this may seem like semantics to you but this helps us lead to a rational discussion on this. There's no such thing as a bulletproof vest; there are only bullet-resistant vests and they're designed for law enforcement officers to protect themselves from the firearms they carry on their own hip, not against any others. There isn't a hunting rifle that can't pierce a bullet-resistant vest on a police officer.
You build these things in to sensationalize something, to make Canadians fear that a .50 calibre is out there and suggest that's going to create a risk for law enforcement officers. I can tell you as a law enforcement officer that's not the case.
I would like to specify that we are not a women's group specialized in preventing domestic violence. We are simple citizens who represent witnesses to and victims of gun violence.
The issue of domestic violence is absolutely critical. Firearms are often an important factor in domestic violence. I believe that the changes made under Bill are not significant in that regard. As far as I know, no women's group has been consulted and no group fighting domestic violence have asked for these types of changes.
The coalition clearly explained that an indefinite prohibition order, as opposed to one limited to 10 years, will change nothing. In fact, it won't change very much. This was added to the bill so that the government can claim that the bill will strengthen gun control, when all other significant measures will be watered down. Controls at every level will be weakened, except for one provision on imports.
All of the measures we are discussing today, and which have been debated by the media and in the House of Commons, will weaken gun control. These measures were not introduced in the interest of public safety, but rather to respond to the complaints of groups representing gun owners and the gun lobby.
It's extremely worrying. We want assault weapons to be prohibited, or at the very least, restricted, because they are extremely dangerous. They are designed to kill human beings in war situations. There are different models of firearms. They have to be assessed and experts need to be able to review the criteria and the different military features of weapons in order to classify them.
The current government has done nothing to classify new models entering the market. These models are often labelled as being unrestricted, and so they are not subject to any kind of control. It's only later on that the RCMP is able to find the models which clearly have been misclassified under the law. The criteria still have not been updated. The list of prohibited models has not been updated, but at least the police is trying to apply certain criteria in reclassifying misclassified firearms. The reaction of the current government is to reverse these decisions, to complain and to declare amnesties.
Last summer, regulations were very quietly adopted. Under these regulations, the RCMP cannot reclassify a firearm for one year after the date the firearm was initially classified. This was done for the benefit of companies with commercial interests. Bill builds on those regulations to subject the law to future regulations which we know nothing of yet. That way, it will be possible to completely overturn this decisions made at the discretion of the RCMP.
We know very well that this government really doesn't care about who owns this type of firearm. None of the three investigations which followed the shooting of three police officers in Moncton asked how someone like Justin Bourque could have obtained assault weapons, nor why that was allowed to happen. On the contrary, the investigations tried to determine how to better arm police officers, instead of preventing people from owning assault weapons.
Everything indicates that these new regulations will go against public safety and will make it easier for firearm owners to access weapons designed for military purposes which, in our view, should never end up in the hands of ordinary citizens.