Yes, I will, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much and good morning to the committee.
I'm glad to be here as you begin your discussion with respect to Bill , which is legislation that upholds our government's commitment to help protect Canadian communities from gun violence while ensuring fair and reasonable treatment for firearms owners and businesses.
I'm happy to be joined today by Randall Koops, who is director general of policing policy at the Department of Public Safety. Superintendent Paul Brown is the acting director general of the Canadian firearms program within the RCMP. Paula Clarke is from the Department of Justice.
We have no more important responsibility than the protection of Canadian communities, and all the elements of this bill are directly related to public safety. They will better protect Canadians from gun violence, while treating firearms owners fairly and reasonably.
While crime rates in Canada overall have been on the decline, thankfully, for decades, the rate of gun violence has been going up in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016 the number of criminal incidents involving firearms rose by 30%. Gun homicides in that period went up by two-thirds. Intimate partner and gender-based violence involving firearms was up by one-third. Gang-related homicides, most of which involve guns, were up by two-thirds. Break-ins for the purpose of the stealing of firearms were up by 56% between 2013 and 2016, and by a whopping 865% since the year 2008.
The problem is obvious. The bottom line is that we have a problem of increasing gun violence in Canada. It's not a problem we can blame on other countries, because police in British Columbia, Toronto, Calgary, Regina, Ottawa, and other places now confirm that most guns used to commit crimes in Canada are domestically sourced. It's not a problem limited to urban centres. In Atlantic Canada, for example, over half of all gun crimes occur in rural areas, and over 60% of gun crimes in my own province of Saskatchewan happen outside of the major cities.
This is a Canadian problem and it's a Canada-wide problem. We need to tackle it head-on in ways that are effective and focused on public safety outcomes while ensuring the firearms owners and businesses are treated fairly and reasonably.
Bill accomplishes those objectives.
First, it will enhance background checks for people seeking to acquire firearms. As I noted at second reading, this particular measure was proposed some 15 years ago by former Conservative cabinet minister, James Moore. It does seem to have very broad support.
Right now, when a person applies for a licence, there's a mandatory look back over the immediately preceding five years to see whether they have in that period of time been engaged in any violent behaviour or been treated for a mental illness associated with violence. Bill will remove that five-year limitation so that a person's entire record will be taken into account. That will help ensure, quite simply, that people with a history of violence do not get guns.
The legislation will also help ensure that people who acquire firearms are actually licensed to own them. Since 2012, all that has been required in this regard at the time of a sale is that the vendor have “no reason to believe” that the purchaser is not licensed. It's a double negative. Vendors often check anyway, but they are not, in fact, required to do so.
That can be a problem, for instance, in the case of a long-time customer of a small firearms shop who recently committed an act of violence and had his licence revoked. The owner of the shop wouldn't particularly know that, but if he's known that particular customer for many years, he just might assume that the licence is still valid and sell him a firearm anyway, in good faith, because he had no reason to believe the contrary.
Bill will require a quick phone call or online verification before any sale to make sure that the buyer's licence is still valid. That is just common sense. It's the licence that is being verified. There is no reference in this process to any particular firearm.
This bill will also ensure that the classification of firearms is based on public safety and not on politics. Parliament will continue to control the definitions that create the three classes of firearms. Bill repeals the authority the last government gave itself to overrule the RCMP's application of the law. As with many other laws and regulatory frameworks, the rules will be established by elected officials and then they will be applied by law enforcement.
As part of this change, the two instances where the previous government overruled police experts will be reversed, but we will allow people who have acquired these two types of firearms to be grandfathered in the interest of fairness, because they acted in good faith at the time.
Bill will also reinstate the requirement to get authorization before transporting restricted and prohibited firearms, with two key exceptions: taking a firearm home after you buy it, and taking it back and forth between your residence and a shooting range. This will help police who encounter someone transporting a prohibited or restricted firearm. It will help the police determine whether it's being transported for a legitimate purpose. Getting authorization is, again, a matter of a simple phone call or logging into an online portal. It should not be an onerous burden.
Finally, this bill will reinstate the rule that was in place from 1979 to 1995, requiring firearms businesses to keep track of their sales. This is something that has been compulsory in the United States since 1968. Most Canadian vendors do it today even though they don't have to. Standardizing this good business practice will help police trace guns used in crimes, detect straw purchasing schemes, and identify trafficking networks.
Critically, the records will be privately owned by the retailer. They will not be accessible to government, but police will be able to gain access for the purposes of a criminal investigation on reasonable grounds and with judicial authorization, as appropriate.
The fact is, the legislation is a direct and practical response to the growing problem of gun violence in Canadian communities and it treats firearms owners and businesses reasonably and fairly. That is why the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called it “sensible firearms legislation enhancing the tools available" to police “to ensure public safety”.
Mr. Chair, I'm happy to try to respond to the committee's questions.
Minister, thank you for joining us today on this very important piece of legislation.
I want to focus my first question on the issue of domestic violence, gender-based violence, and intimate partner violence. We know that not only are firearms used in this case but, more importantly, they're also used as a means to threaten the partner, like holding, in most cases, a woman hostage, because they know that their partner has a firearm. I have personal experience with a good friend whose ex-husband legally owned firearms and used those as a threat for violence to hold her hostage.
Minister, I want to ask you about the background checks. The chief firearms officer has a very prescriptive list of what they look for on background checks. When I've talked to some of the organizations that deal with women who are fleeing abuse, they've asked if it would be possible to add something along the lines of “any other risks associated with violence”, so that when the background check is being done, it's expanded slightly beyond that prescriptive list.
I understand that they've spoken with you about this. What are your thoughts on adding something along those lines?
Hello, Mr. Goodale, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Goodale, you are presenting the bill today. In your remarks, you provided various statistics on violence, gangs, and all types of violence, drawing on data from 2013. You and I both know, however, that the crime rate in 2013 was exceptionally low as compared to the past 50 years in Canada. Yet you use the data from 2013 to show that there has been an increase in violence. If you exclude 2013 though, the average has not really increased significantly. I did not calculate that. It was Mr. Gary Mauser, from Simon Fraser University, who testified to that effect. You are using 2013 to justify the adoption of your bill.
I would like to know how Bill will address one of the main problems in Canada, which is violent crimes committed by street gangs. The chief of police from your home town of Regina said that street gangs are the main problem. The members of those gangs do not buy their guns legally. Bill C-71 does not offer any solution to this problem.
How do you think Bill C-71 will address the problem of street gangs?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you Minister, for being here.
Thanks to my fellow committee members for allowing some time for a rural MP to take part in this study, which is very important to my constituents.
Minister, thank you as well for the many opportunities to discuss this file while you were developing the legislation.
During the last campaign, there was some fear around the former long-gun registry. I know the tweeted on March 20 that there would “not be a long-gun registry, not now or ever, under this government”.
Within days, I started seeing targeted ads from the official opposition saying, “Stop Trudeau's new long-gun registry.” In my mind, this was an attempt to sow confusion for partisan purposes. I'm going to give you an opportunity to set the record straight.
When it comes to the mechanism for tracing firearms used in crimes, can you assure the public and me, as a rural MP, that before access will be granted to any information about who owns a firearm that's privately held by a vendor you would require reasonable grounds to believe that a crime had been committed as well as the authorization of a court through a warrant?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here today.
While I applaud, and I think all Canadians applaud, the concept that gangs and gun violence is something we all have to pay attention to and deal with, I have to suggest that, as I read this bill, it's embarrassingly lacking in anything that addresses gun violence with respect to gangs. You talk about this legislation being gang and gun focused, yet there is no reference whatsoever in this bill to gangs, guns, or criminal organizations.
I have to also suggest to you that I chuckle at the stats you have used, and how you have skewed them, because as you know, the commission of an offence for the theft of firearms was not a criminal offence until 2008 to 2010, and it took a while for that to get through the system. You suggest there has been an 800% increase, which suggests we should have about 1,200 when actually the stats from Statistics Canada suggest we have less than 900 that have been prosecuted in the last seven or eight years of this being there. I find interesting the use of stats to try to support the theft of guns and that the theft of guns is actually the problem here. It isn't.
We know that for the organized crime groups, especially in Toronto, it's the straw purchases. You have a somewhat legitimate gun owner or PAL owner come in and acquire a large number of firearms and then sell them to organized crime. It's a practice. It's what happens, and we know this happens all the time.
Your colleague, though, has introduced Bill , a reduction of any sort of penalties for thefts, for the commission of an offence with a weapon, and these sorts of things. I'm really struggling, sir, to find out where and how you believe this will actually impact positively the gang violence and gun violence that's going on in this country. It's a regulatory bill that does nothing but target law-abiding gun owners. It does zero.
With regard to a firearm that's deemed to be a crime gun, what we would do as law enforcement would be to conduct a trace on said firearm. That would mean any identifying characteristics—make, model, manufacturer, serial number—would be put through the tracing system to hopefully get back to the closest owner of the firearm, or, if not, as far back as we can go so we can start to trace forward.
That could be from the United States, as a manufacturer, and imported into the country. Say if it's imported from the United States, it allows us to determine where it was imported to. We go to the distributor to determine if they have the firearm, through their records. Then, if it is identified as being there, it allows us, through the information obtained within the business ledger, to determine who the actual purchaser would have been.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
Minister Goodale, thank you for being here with your team.
This legislation can be looked at through a number of lenses. My colleague Ms. Damoff explored with you the gender lens. I would like to take the remaining time to ask you about two additional lenses, one of them that of young people, particularly young people at risk. I'd invite you to elaborate a bit more about the wider circle and the initiatives you've already mentioned with respect to gangs and violence, and also potentially the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, and how at-risk youth intersect with this legislation.
As to the second, time permitting, I would like to hear your perspective on what we've heard from indigenous stakeholders, particularly those folks who use firearms for hunting for food, but also for business—for guiding, for activities in the north that are centred on the firearm basically as an economic resource.
Mr. Spengemann, you've touched on important dimensions here.
I believe our provisions with respect to background checks will be helpful in relation to the issues you have raised. The Canada Centre for Community Engagement is not directly related to this initiative, but it runs on a parallel track, trying to ensure that people who are at risk of going down a wrong path in life can have that identified at an early stage and an intervention can be prepared that will assist them.
We held the guns and gangs summit here in Ottawa a couple of months ago. It was a very well attended summit. Something in the order of 200 people were there, representing all perspectives, from those who you would say were on the pro-firearms side and those who were on the anti-firearms side, and many people between those two points of view. Law enforcement was very much present, but also groups and organizations representing young people wanting to ensure their communities were safe.
They made many suggestions on how to prevent engagement with gangs, how to intervene with gang organizations to help young people escape that negative lifestyle, how police can organize themselves and interrelate to one another in integrated units so they can be more effective in combatting gang activity. To support all those very worthwhile ideas, we've made a commitment to invest up to $100 million per year working with the provinces, municipalities—major city governments like Toronto, for example, and others across the country—law enforcement agencies, non-governmental community organizations to develop the intervention plans that will be most effective in the local communities in stopping or at least substantially reducing the negative, dangerous behaviour that's involved with gangs, especially when they also have guns.
Let's distinguish between asking for records with regard to an individual for a criminal investigation and the regulatory requirement or the regulatory power of a CFO to enter a business, to investigate, and to ensure that records are being kept in order to comply with the licensing requirements that the business is subject to.
In the course of a normal criminal investigation, Bill does not provide any additional investigative powers to law enforcement. If there's a criminal investigation under way, the crown and the police would still have to do an assessment of the privacy interests that are at stake. Normally, or very often, this requires a production order, so you go to court. You would have to prove that there are reasonable grounds on which to believe that an offence has been or will be committed, and at that point, you would receive judicial authorization.
With respect to firearms businesses, there is the regulatory power to come in and investigate, to ensure that the records are being kept. If that happens, there could be a charge under section 101 of the Firearms Act, and if in the course of reviewing these records, they come across evidence or suspected evidence that there could have been a criminal offence that may have taken place, then it is no longer a regulatory power. You would have to apply normal standards for criminal investigation.