Ladies and gentlemen, can I ask you to take your seats, please?
I apologize to our witnesses for the interruption, but as our clerk has explained, we had a bunch of votes that had to take place. As a consequence, we've now shifted everything scheduled from 11 to one o'clock to 12 to two o'clock. Two o'clock is a hard stop. Unless colleagues have any wild objections, I propose to stay with our normal questioning slots.
I see that we have our video conference witnesses with us this time. Because technology is a fickle thing—I was going to say mistress, but I'd better not say that.
A voice: That's a good idea.
The Chair: I propose that we go with our video conference witnesses first. I am conscious of the Hipwells' desire to make it to the airport, but I think we're good to make it to the airport.
Unless the video conference witnesses have any particular objection, I'm going to go with the order in which you're listed, which is the Firearms Instructors Association Canada first, with Mr. Martin and Mr. Nielsen, followed by Heather Bear, vice-chair, Saskatchewan Region, Assembly of First Nations.
With that, we'll hear from either Mr. Martin or Mr. Nielsen.
Two, so I have to change my wording a little because there's a lot of information in the firearms safety course that, obviously, if you haven't taken the course, you're not aware of.
The instructors in Canada, we are the gateway for safety for firearms. Nobody even gets to the RCMP for a licence until they have gone through us. Our duties are instruction and making sure that the students are proficient and can pass the Canadian firearms safety course. Then they go to the RCMP and are vetted. The information that we give them is known across Canada as with all the instructors. There are a few things in different provinces where it seems that the different firearms officers have built little kingdoms across Canada, and they change it at will.
This new legislation is supposed to correct and make safe firearms owners and the general population in Canada. What has come out here, it's not targeting the problem. In terms of the statement that since 2013 crime has steadily gone up, 2013 was the safest year in Canada since the sixties. Yes, there are people who have actually come in and created problems, but this legislation does not attack those. I use the word “attack”. It will hit the rural farmer who has to use a firearm. It will hit the first nations who are trying to make a living in remote areas with that firearm, which is a tool for survival. It will hit the ordinary target shooter, but I do not see anybody from the gangs in Abbotsford or Surrey coming through our courses to take the PAL. There are actually incidences where the PAL has been counterfeited in Courtenay. I can't speak any more to that because it's in the RCMP's hands.
In terms of the information that was brought together for this proposal here, this legislation, you do have the people out there. You have the field officers, the people out in front. You have the firearms officers, and you have the conservation officers, who actually, in their duties, encounter more people with firearms than the average person because they're out working with hunters and so on. You have to have input from officers in the field for any of this to succeed. I think, having seen the people I've run through this course across British Columbia, this course should be mandatory for all enforcement personnel.
I do a lot of papers for the RCMP for different students, and I get very good reviews, such as, “We should have taken this when we took our Depot”. This is where I think it would be a big step up.
There should be an addition to the course, too, to include a protocol for when one is approached by the government officials: a firearms officer, conservation officer, RCMP. To the person in our class, we should be able to say that this is what you do, because they do have a firearm in their possession. For the safety of both them and the raw recruit who just came out of Regina, who probably hasn't seen some of these firearms, these are some of the things I want to work on.
The last thing for me is first nations and firearms. I don't know what's happening across Canada—
First of all, to the committee, I'd like to say I'm happy to be here. I wish I didn't have to be here, but I'm greeting you from the beautiful, unceded and unsurrendered Treaty No. 6 territory in Saskatoon.
Bill is the subject of a great deal of controversy and commentary across Canada. First nations have a long history of using firearms in cultural activities in this country. In all legislative matters that may have the potential to impact aboriginal and treaty rights, the AFN continues to advocate and work with the governments to incorporate our perspectives into Canadian laws.
The key issues at stake in Bill are Canada's power to monitor the activities of gun owners, particularly extending their requirements for background checks; the imposition of restrictions on the transport of restricted and prohibited firearms; new record-keeping requirements for a retail business selling firearms; more power to the RCMP to classify firearms without ministerial oversight; and requiring private citizens to confirm the validity of the firearm licence of the recipient whenever a firearm is either sold or given away, in an effort to reduce gang and gun violence.
On these issues, first nations have expertise and hard experience to offer this committee, and also to the government and Canadians as a whole. While many first nations would agree that handguns, restricted firearms, and other weapons used by gangs should be taken off the streets, the core of this discussion is the balancing of federal laws and authorities with the perspectives of first nations and the aboriginal treaty rights affirmed under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. First nations as individuals and as nations will assert our fundamental cultural rights to hunt, fish, and trap. First nations have had a right to transmit their cultures to the future generations without outside interference.
With the promise to build on the nation-to-nation relationship with first nations by the Canadian government, opportunities to voice our concerns such as this are vital for not only the Canadian legal framework, but also for the country of Canada as a whole. Parliament needs to consider the impacts of this legislation on first nations at the earliest stages of the process. Bill has provisions that could adversely impact first nations' rights, and these provisions should be amended by this committee before the legislation proceeds to the next reading.
The proposed amendments to the Firearms Act raise serious constitutional concerns to first nations. Our first concern is that this bill does not incorporate or safeguard our aboriginal and treaty rights that might be impinged, such as our treaty right to hunt. Nowhere in this draft legislation does it state how the provisions of the bill will be implemented for first nations or on our reserves. It should be made clear that the first nations' hunting rights will be respected and that we won't need a transport certificate for any kind of hunting rifle, even those classified as restricted.
Our aboriginal and treaty rights are foundational and are affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. They take precedence over laws that apply generally to all Canadians. We ask Canada to protect our right to freely transport firearms on our territories and in the exercise of our hunting rights.
Our second concern is with the new transportation and transfer requirements for restricted and prohibited firearms. There are no guidelines for these new amendments and how they would apply to first nations. In particular, how would they apply to hunting purposes on first nations? Although most hunting rifles are currently not restricted, that could change under the classification system. These provisions will further affect the intergenerational transmission of our culture through the transfer of a firearm.
Future changes in the classification system could make currently non-restricted firearms become restricted. The RCMP has discretion to designate any particular firearm as restricted, prohibited, or non-restricted. On what basis will the RCMP make those decisions? Who will receive the classification to make sure that the hunting rifles remain unrestricted?
Concerning background checks, under the new rules, the entire life of a person who applies for a firearm licence will be examined, instead of just the past five years. First nations people are more likely to have criminal records due to systemic discrimination and other reasons I won't get into right now, but is it fair that a person could be denied a licence on the basis of a criminal offence committed 20 or 30 years ago? Does that really predict how likely he or she is to misuse a firearm today? Obviously we need to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with serious mental illnesses, but why punish a person who made a mistake decades ago?
Canada says that Bill will reduce gang violence, but many gang members obtain guns illegally on the black market. The new rules affect law-abiding citizens and don't do anything to curb gang violence. The homicide rate in Canada for licensed gun owners is 0.6% per 100,000, which is one third the rate of the general population. Instead of placing unnecessary restrictions on the rights of licensed gun owners, Canada should do more to directly address gang violence. This means making sure first nations have the funding to operate their own police forces and that they are properly trained and equipped.
Bill brings in new firearms transportation laws, which will be an additional responsibility for first nations police services. Canada continues to designate our police services as non-essential and fails to provide enough funding under the first nations policing program. The first nations police agencies must provide a service equal to that of non-indigenous police services. This bill will further burden our police forces, and we will require more investment to uphold the enforcement requirements of this bill.
First nations police forces are also equipped with inferior weapons compared with gangs, and more training for certification of firearms used by other police forces must be made available to first nations police agencies. Currently, there are no provisions in the bill for increased funding for first nations police forces.
This bill proposes additional requirements for businesses to keep records of the sale of firearms and of purchasers. We have concerns around privacy provisions, which are not in this bill. In the event of a breach in security of these records, how will this legislation ensure the safety of confidential information? Records need to be kept for 20 years and are supposed to help authorities keep track of the sales and distribution of firearms. What about the rights of the people who purchase these weapons? Records should be kept in a locked, fireproof, and waterproof safe to which only the manager or owner of the business has access.
These are our concerns regarding this proposed legislation. We will continue to uphold first nations' rights and continue our long-standing traditions of hunting, trapping, and gathering on the lands we have tended for countless generations. Unfortunately, the process for developing this legislation did not meet the federal government's duty to consult and accommodate. We stand with the many other Canadians who are not willing to forfeit their fundamental rights and freedoms, and who are asking that this government engage in more careful crafting of this important piece of legislation. Canada must do better and more to meet its constitutional and treaty responsibilities to first nations.
I would like to thank this committee for its efforts to listen to first nations. We would like to continue to work with the Canadian government on this important issue, and are open to providing more insights on gun legislation.
I'd also like to add that the overall perspective is that first nations have exclusive jurisdiction to govern and regulate any activity over their lands and people, including the use and regulation of firearms, but I also want to speak about the cultural perspective as a mother and a grandmother. When you look at our young men—my son, my nephews, my grandchildren—it's a beautiful thing when they have that rite of passage and can have a gun. It generally comes as a gift.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, our 100,000 members, supporters, and subscribers, and our 740 clubs across Ontario, thank you for inviting us to talk about Bill , an act to amend certain acts and regulations in relation to firearms.
My name is Matt DeMille, and I'm the manager of fish and wildlife services with OFAH. With me is Brian McRae, who is responsible for looking at the technical aspects of firearms policy for the OFAH.
The OFAH is the largest conservation-based organization in Ontario, but we also represent all possible firearms interests, including hunting, trapping, and recreational shooting. Additionally, we represent 56 shooting clubs that operate 80 licensed firearms ranges approved by the chief firearms officer.
We are the only fishing and hunting organization appearing before this committee, but our submitted brief that you have in front of you has been endorsed by our affiliates from coast to coast to coast. This includes the Yukon Fish and Game Association, Northwest Territories Wildlife Federation, British Columbia Wildlife Federation, Alberta Fish and Game Association, Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, Prince Edward Island Wildlife Federation, Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation. In total, our organizations represent approximately 345,000 Canadians.
In our time today, we will only be able to touch on a few highlights of Bill . In our submitted brief, you will find a thorough analysis of each clause of the bill including background context, outstanding questions and concerns, as well as results from a survey conducted by the OFAH in April on Bill C-71, of more than 3,500 firearms users. We have copies of the full survey report if anyone is interested.
Bill was tabled as public safety legislation that would respect the firearms community. We don't believe this bill accomplishes either of those stated intentions and, as a result, we cannot support the bill as written.
Unfortunately, Bill is far too light on sound rationale and far too heavy on uncertainty to convince us it will truly enhance public safety. The paper-thin rationale has further undermined an already strained relationship between firearms owners and government when it comes to firearms policy.
To start, the government has overstated and misrepresented statistics to create a post-2013 Canadian firearms crisis that simply isn't true. In fact, long-term trends actually show overall firearms-related crime is on the decline. Whether deliberate or not, this tactic has sown skepticism in the need for such sweeping changes to firearms legislation. It's not off to a good start.
Next, the bill is intended to enhance public safety as part of a much larger policy initiative to tackle gangs and gun violence. On this, Bill is silent. A quick scan of the bill shows no direct reference to gangs, gun violence, organized crime, and illegal cross-border smuggling of firearms.
That quick scan also reveals that the bill is entirely focused on the law-abiding firearms community. It's not hard to see why 97% of respondents to our survey felt it is too focused on law-abiding citizens to provide any net gains for public safety. Firearms owners obviously feel unjustifiably targeted before even looking under the hood of this legislation.
Let's take a look at the specific elements of the bill, starting with enhanced background checks. The OFAH is not opposed to background checks that look back more than five years, but the government needs to convince us that this will actually increase public safety. Firearms owners are already one of the most vetted segments of Canada's population. Right now existing firearms owners undergo continuous eligibility screening through the Canadian Police Information Centre to verify there has been no criminal activity since acquiring their licence. It is our understanding in Ontario that the chief firearms officer is not limited right now in how far they look back for the criteria they use during eligibility assessments for licence applicants. It begs the question, are the proposals actually enhanced background checks?
Next, let's look at licence verification. Right now, responsible firearms sellers check to make sure buyers have a licence, and they already have the ability to call the Canadian firearms program to verify, if necessary. The OFAH supports the intent of licence verification as it protects the seller and ensures a legal transaction, but our support for the proposed change is dependent on a user-friendly process that incorporates an accessible, timely, and effective appeal system if verification is not granted. We also think it should end there. We have yet to see evidence that clearly shows any issues, such as illegal firearms sales, under the current process, or that the proposed reference number database could effectively assist police. How much will a reference number database cost, and will it actually enhance public safety?
Next, let's look at retailer record-keeping. Record-keeping is something many businesses already perform as a best practice. The OFAH is not opposed to mandatory retailer record-keeping, but many firearms owners are concerned about the safekeeping and privacy of records as well as how records will be accessed by police.
To mitigate these concerns, we would like to see specific provisions added to establish security standards and penalties for non-compliance to ensure the privacy and security of personal information. Additionally, there must be strict guidelines for police accessing records to ensure that it is not used inappropriately.
Next, let's look at automatic authorization to transport. The OFAH cannot support the proposed removal of automatic ATTs. Bill should be amended to rescind this proposal.
During testimony to this committee on May 8, 2018, the RCMP indicated the number of ATTs issued for gun shows, 250, and gunsmiths, 131, in 2015, was an extremely small percentage of the overall 143,000 issued across Canada. That's only slightly more than a quarter of 1%. It's a different proposal but the same question: how can this possibly enhance public safety?
Next let's look at classification. The focus should not be on who is responsible. Rather, it should be on how firearms are classified. Form and function should determine classification, and not emotional responses to the appearance or perception of a firearm. One of our survey respondents stated, “Assault is the act of inflicting harm or threatening to do so. Assault is not a synthetic stock with a curved magazine and a semi automatic action.” Arbitrary classification of firearms is a significant concern.
Government should establish and adhere to a standardized process for classifying or reclassifying that is consistent, transparent, evidence-based, has full consultation with firearms users, and also has an effective appeals system. Bill should establish this requirement.
Lastly, let's look at the long gun registry records. A lot of confusion remains about the long gun registry records that exist today. Although we are being told that only the Quebec records still exist, the firearms community wants clear public statements on what records remain, how they can be used, and why the government is handing them over to Quebec after the Supreme Court decision. Transparency in this will help build trust.
In conclusion, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bill , as written, is not likely to achieve the lofty goals presented for this proposed legislation. We are imploring this committee to ask tough questions and seriously consider meaningful amendments. Our opposition to Bill is not partisan. It is not emotional. It was not predetermined on principle. It was only after a thorough critical analysis that we arrived at the same conclusion for almost every proposal; it won't enhance public safety. The evidence simply doesn't support it.
Licensed firearms owners care about public safety as much as other Canadians. The firearms community is not against firearms legislation. If evidence shows a change is required to enhance public safety, then we will look at it objectively. First we need to ask ourselves, do we need more restrictions on law-abiding Canadians, or will that simply pull the easiest policy lever to say we are doing something for public safety? More red tape on an already highly regulated firearms community won't provide any appreciable benefit for public safety.
We applaud the government's commitment of $327.6 million over the next five years to combat gangs and gun violence, with the intent to spend $100 million per year once the first five years are up, but why is Bill silent on increased penalties for serious firearms crimes? Targeted legislated action toward gangs, not guns, would be a true complement to the funding committed by the government in 2017. This can be achieved with amendments to Bill .
In the end, Bill has created confusion, concern, and eroded confidence in the government's approach to firearms policy. There has been very little convincing evidence to demonstrate a need for most of the proposed changes, and this has left the majority of the firearms community in opposition to the bill. If the government is serious about respecting the firearms community, then it can't move forward with Bill without significant amendments, amendments not only to help minimize the unnecessary scope of its impact on law-abiding firearms owners but also to introduce tangible provisions that directly tackle the stated intent of addressing gun violence. If nothing else, meaningful amendments would signal that government is listening to help rebuild some of the trust lost in this process.
Good morning. I'm Matt Hipwell, and I've spent nearly the past 17 years as a front-line RCMP officer.
When the RCMP specialized firearms support services classify a firearm, it is issued an FRT, a reference number. The FRT is not law. I've seen this statement from several members of the RCMP, including Murray Smith. I quote Murray Smith as saying, “the Firearms Reference Table has no standing in law. It's simply the...viewpoint of the firearms program on classification and description of any particular item.” It is the perceived policy of police departments, the CFC, CBSA, EXCOL, and others that the FRT is law. Many organizations, both government and civilian, believe the FRT is law. As the FRT is only the opinion of the RCMP, it has no legal standing and we have no formal appeal process to challenge any decision they make.
The FRT is not available to the general public, so most legal firearm owners are normally unaware of any changes made to the FRT. The FRT is a tool developed by the RCMP. The FRT information is used during the process of firearms identification, classification, tracing, importation, registration, transfers, and public agency recording, along with a few others. As there is no legal requirement for the firearms classification and the FRT, it has no statutory authority. There are no time requirements for replies to questions from the members of the firearms industry concerning firearm classification and the issuing of the FRT.
We are told that all requests from law enforcement departments take priority, that the section is understaffed and underfunded, and decisions on firearm classification can take up to five years to be made.
Another problem is the increased use by the RCMP of what is known as the R. v. Hasselwander case. This is where a judge ruled that, if a firearm could be readily and easily converted to discharge shots in rapid succession with a single pressure of the trigger in a relatively short period of time and with relative ease, it is in fact prohibited. This is a very general statement, and key areas are not defined like “readily and easily”, “relatively short period of time”, and “relative ease”. All of this is open to interpretation. In the original court case, an experienced Ontario Provincial Police armourer used a file to modify a semi-automatic Thompson submachine gun back to fully automatic in less than 15 minutes.
The RCMP are using this judgment in order to classify many firearms as prohibited, despite needing major machining, design, and the manufacturing of missing parts. In a recent conversation with Mr. William Etter, the chief firearms technologist, he said that they sourced missing parts from their own stores and that this was not counted in the decision. These parts are not commercially available to civilian firearms owners.
With advanced technical knowledge and tools, it is theoretically possible, although illegal, to alter firearms so that they are capable of being fully automatic. However, it is certainly beyond the capabilities of most ordinary hunters and sport shooters. That is why we feel it is so important to have clear definitions in this area.
There must be the ability to appeal firearm classification decisions to a review board of subject matter experts, including industry and legal experts, engineers, and designers, as we require a decision based on mechanics and law, not personal opinion. If we continue to allow the RCMP SFSS to dictate FRT classification based on their opinion of what the intent of the law is and their interpretation of court decisions, there must be an appeal process in place before it is assumed to be law.
In summary, our understanding of Bill is that the RCMP will be given the authority to classify firearms with no appeal process and without government interference. The RCMP SFSS has made errors in the past, and there is no reason to believe that this will change.
Clear, accurately defined definitions of the criteria used to classify firearms need to be established. This area is too important to be left to personal interpretations and opinions. There's a need to establish an appeal process for firearm classifications to an independent board of subject matter experts. This would be, in effect, an impartial technical committee. Reasonable time limits for the classification of firearms and appeals need to be established with compensation paid if these times are not met.
With that, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to speak this afternoon.
My question goes to Mr. Martin and Mr. Nielsen.
Mr. Nielsen, when I was a kid, I took a firearms safety course, for what that's worth. Then again, I haven't asked my question yet, so we'll see where things go.
I want to ask you a question relating to authorization to transport. Until 2012, restricted and prohibited firearms owners had to get an authorization to transport their firearm to a gunsmith. Therefore, it was not automatic. Under , as you know, this requirement will change.
The question I have for you, sir, is this. What, if any, provincial rules regulate what a gunsmith is and—more importantly—where they operate from? From a legal perspective, can anyone be a gunsmith, hold that title, and run that sort of operation? Also, can they operate from, let's say, a garage or a basement in their home?
I want to go back and clarify some things.
Mr. Fragiskatos is trying to stir water that he's already muddied with respect not only to classifications but also to gunsmiths.
If you look at the Firearms Act it says you authorize transport “to and from a business that holds a licence authorizing it to repair or appraise prohibited firearms or restricted firearms.” If you want to know more about that, Peter, you can go have a look at the Firearms Act. It's already in legislation.
Number two is the classification. We've heard from many witnesses, and I've received huge amounts of correspondence in regard to the concern with the RCMP being the final arbiter on the classification of firearms, given the enormous errors that have been made in the past, and with regard to the fact that the RCMP has that role, and in this act, the sole role, without parliamentary oversight. It's not that parliamentarians need to be the individuals who classify firearms, but they need to be the final authority on what that looks like, and those who have that final authority should be accountable to somebody and that is to the Canadian public. I know that you might have some comments about that, and if you can work them in, that would be great.
Mr. DeMille, you indicated that your organization has conducted a survey of your members. When asked whether Bill would make communities safer, how many people, would you say, responded to that particular survey out of your hundreds of thousands of members?