Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number seven of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the website will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room. Keep in mind the Board of Internal Economy's guidelines for mask use and health protocols.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. I remind you that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair.
With regard to a speaking list, the committee clerk will advise the chair on whose hands are up, to the best of his ability, and we will do the best we can to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether they are participating virtually or in person.
First, I would like to inform members that regarding the committee's study of crowdfunding platforms and extremism financing, and pursuant to the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 1, GoFundMe has been invited and has accepted the committee's invitation. I can also report that GoFundMe has agreed to appear before this committee on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
Pursuant to the order adopted by the House of Commons on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, and the motion adopted on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, the committee is resuming its study of gun control, illegal arms trafficking and the increase in gun crimes committed by members of street gangs.
We have with us today, by video conference, from the Service de police de l'agglomération de Longueuil, Fady Dagher, director; from Sûreté du Québec, Benoît Dubé, chief inspector, director of criminal investigation; and from the Vancouver Police Department, Michael Rowe, staff sergeant.
Up to five minutes will be given for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with rounds of questions. Witnesses may choose to split their allotted time for opening remarks with other witnesses if they so desire.
Welcome to all.
I now invite Director Dagher to make an opening statement of up to five minutes. The floor is yours.
I will try to speak in French, and sometimes in English.
Thank you for receiving me.
With respect to current violence and firearms crimes in Quebec, my colleague Benoît Dubé can tell you about the repression aspect. He has extensive expertise in that area. Units have been established, including the one in Longueuil through which my team cooperates with Mr. Dubé.
Today I'm going to talk about police work. I've been a police officer for 30 years, 5 of them as chief of police. The work we do in the municipalities is prevention work.
Way before the crime happens, we work with the community. While children are very young, we work on prevention with them, in the community, along with police officers.
We've noticed that, the more we work with young people, the better we are at preventing problems with key partners. Members of the entire community intervene, not just its police officers.
It takes a village to control a community. It's impossible for the police department to anticipate all the violence that's happening in the community.
I read about your program “Rethink, Refocus, Reintegrate”, which has been financed by the government. I also read about MST, the multisystemic therapy program, and about LRP, the leadership and resiliency program, that you put into force and that are being financed by your government. I think these are great programs, especially with the great indicators to see if they're efficient or not, but there are always some “buts”.
What the police of Longueuil are trying to do is work in the same way. We grow contacts. This is a new approach that we're doing. It's also a new social approach for the police department: to be able to be with the community outside the 911 calls, to be integrated into the community and to be able to anticipate all the violence that is happening.
I can tell you that even in our communities—with a population of around half a million and with a thousand officers—even in some of the very rich areas of Longueuil, there is crime and the young kids have guns inside the schools, inside the lockers. It's incredible how much this is changing the mentality of the young people. They want to protect themselves. It's the first time we've seen such a movement over to violence.
If we're not in the classroom with the kids from a young age, we're only going to be reacting, and the Longueuil police don't want to work that way. We want to suppress this, but we want to work in a proactive way.
I'll stop there. We can discuss this later.
First, I'd like to say hello to all the members of the committee and to thank them for the opportunity to appear before the committee today.
My name is Benoît Dubé, and I have been the director of criminal investigation with Sûreté du Québec since 2020. Before that, starting in 2003, I spent most of my career fighting organized crime.
Sûreté du Québec is our provincial police force, which is responsible, in particular, for coordinating the fight against organized crime across Quebec in cooperation with our municipal, indigenous, provincial, national and international partners.
The fight against organized crime and the various types of criminal activity generally associated with it are Sûreté du Québec's priorities and those of our partners.
In 2017, we reviewed the structure of our investigation units so we could take simultaneous and coordinated action at all hierarchical levels of the criminal networks under investigation, the level of the most influential players and the local and regional levels. In our jargon, that's what we call a three-level strategy.
To guide and optimize investigative plan selection, we also attached organized crime intelligence teams directly to our investigation units, thus constituting what we call intelligence-based police services.
In the past two years, we have improved this structure by acquiring additional funding from the federal and provincial governments. In November 2019, thanks to the firearms-related violence and gangs action fund, we established two new teams, one dedicated to firearms manufacturing, importing and trafficking cases and the other to organized-crime-related disappearances and murders.
We are also deploying measures in response to the Quebec government's launch of Operation Centaur. As part of that operation, we have expanded the team detailed to firearms cases, which has become a joint team combining members of Sûreté du Québec, or SQ, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, or SPVM, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. That team is now called the integrated weapons enforcement team, the EILTA, and it is headquartered in the Montreal area. We are also setting up an EILTA in Quebec City together with the Service de police de la Ville de Québec.
The mandate of these teams is to establish cases involving the manufacture, supply and importing of firearms. To strengthen investigation capacity at both local and regional levels, resources have also been added to all our six joint regional squads and local investigation teams, which are scattered across the province.
As part of Operation Centaur, these teams respectively have a mandate to establish simple weapons possession and distribution cases. We are therefore working simultaneously on weapons possession, procurement and distribution, thus implementing our strategy at three levels, as I just mentioned.
The cooperation of our partners is of course essential to ensuring the success of the activities deployed as part of the fight against armed violence. Our various joint investigation teams are backed by the involvement of the RCMP, CBSA, the Ontario Provincial Police, or OPP, and 26 municipal police forces, 7 of which have just joined us as part of Operation Centaur.
Sûreté du Québec is also proceeding with the devolution of resources among the partner organizations, which are the RCMP and its National Weapons Enforcement Support Team, or NWEST, the Ontario Provincial Police's Biker Enforcement Unit, the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, in order to step up intelligence exchange, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
I would emphasize that the Quebec government has also announced further investment in various entities taking part in Operation Centaur, including its prosecution branch, the Direction des poursuites criminelles et pénales, and its forensic lab, the Laboratoire des sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale.
As you can see, many measures have been put in place in recent years to step up the fight against organized crime and armed violence.
To give you an idea of the scope of these measures, at Sûreté du Québec, we're talking about a structure that has expanded from 245 police investigative resources to 330 resources, which represents an increase of nearly 35% in barely two years. The addition of all those new resources has inevitably resulted in more operations and arrests.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for providing me the opportunity to speak to you all here today.
I'm currently assigned to the organized crime section of the Vancouver Police Department. Since May 2021, I have been in charge of a task force responsible for reducing gang violence within the city of Vancouver. The task force has a mandate to target people and groups involved in the Lower Mainland gang conflict. We also investigate the possession, trafficking and manufacturing of firearms.
We use a combination of proactive and reactive investigations to target those committing gang violence and react to incidents of gang violence in our community. For example, we've developed a protocol that allows us to proactively target gang members who we believe are involved in planning homicides. Since May of last year, this technique has allowed us to disrupt and prevent seven gang-related homicides before they could occur.
The Lower Mainland gang conflict is an ongoing conflict that involves approximately 48 gangs in the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia. These 48 gangs have divided themselves into three factions that are currently in conflict with each other. In 2021, across the region, the Lower Mainland gang conflict resulted in 46 homicides—70% of which were shootings—and 11 non-fatal shootings.
To give some context to the firearms work that the VPD has done, in 2021, the VPD seized or had surrendered over 1,500 firearms and replica firearms. To date in 2022, approximately 76 firearms have been seized or surrendered to the VPD. Since May 2021, the task force has seized over 30 firearms directly related to the gang conflict, six of which have been identified as privately made firearms or “ghost guns”. In 2021, firearm trace requests were submitted by the VPD for 60 investigations. Out of those, 26 firearms were found to have originated in Canada, 21 were found to have originated in the United States and 26 were not able to be traced to a known source.
The VPD also participates in gang violence prevention programs. We refer people involved in the gang conflict to community-based programs that provide support for people to leave gangs before they become the victims of violence. As an example of this, the combined forces special enforcement unit of British Columbia has an “end gang life” program through which they provide support to gang members to attempt to help them leave that lifestyle. The VPD also has two uniformed gang crime unit teams that are tasked with going out and having direct contact with gang members. They create professional relationships with these gang members and attempt to identify suitable candidates for referral to community-based treatment programs.
Based on my experience leading firearms investigations and gang violence investigations, I've identified some current trends that I believe are relevant to the committee.
For example, one of the trends we're seeing out here in Vancouver right now is the use of privately made firearms or “ghost guns”. During the gang conflict, we're seeing more ghost guns, specifically in the hands of people who are involved in active murder conspiracies or people who are believed to be working as hired contract killers. Ghost guns can be 3-D printed or modified from what's called a Polymer80 handgun. Specific styles of high-quality airsoft handguns can also be easily converted into fully functioning firearms. Ghost guns can also be composed of multiple parts from other firearms, resulting in a firearm that has multiple serial numbers on it. All of these factors mean these firearms cannot be traced through traditional systems.
Modern 3-D printing materials can produce a durable firearm, capable of shooting hundreds of rounds without a failure. For example, one of my teams recently completed an investigation in which we executed search warrants on a residential home. Inside this home, we located a sophisticated firearms manufacturing operation capable of producing 3-D printed firearms. They had firearm suppressors and they were completing airsoft conversions—converting airsoft pistols into fully functioning firearms.
Another trend we're dealing with is the use of high-capacity magazines. Magazines are modified to accept more than the lawfully allowed five rounds of ammunition. These magazines allow for more shots to be fired without the user having to pause to reload. High-capacity magazines can be manufactured by altering lawfully purchased magazines, but also through 3-D printing.
We're also noticing a trend with an increase in prohibited firearms accessories. We're seeing a growth in the use and possession of suppressors, which reduce the sound of a shot. Suppressors are prohibited in Canada but can be purchased through the United States, where they're lawfully allowed to be purchased, and then illegally imported into Canada. They can also be obtained through like items, such as an item called a solvent trap, which can be easily converted into a suppressor for a firearm.
Finally, we're noticing that people are manufacturing suppressors from lawfully obtained components, such as basic metals, and using 3-D printers to manufacture parts that are used to suppress the sound of a shot.
Thanks to the witnesses for being with us today. We're grateful to them for doing so. Thanks in particular to Mr. Dubé for accepting our invitation.
Mr. Dubé, I'd appreciate some more details on the outcomes and successes of Operation Centaur.
First, I want to mention that the other day we heard from representatives of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, who told us about the specific situation in their territory, which has a unique geography. That territory spans parts of Ontario, Quebec and the United States and thus involves several police forces.
My impression is that Operation Centaur is a space for cooperation among various police forces. However, there are problems, and traffickers take advantage of the fact that different authorities are involved. We understand there may not be enough cooperation or sharing of intelligence and resources on the ground to put a stop to firearms trafficking. Some 500 weapons can pass through the area every week, but authorities are unable to halt the traffic.
I'd like to hear your comments on that, Mr. Dubé.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
Just to echo my colleagues, thank you very much to all of you for coming. It's important to have your voices in this conversation.
I'd like to start with you, Staff Sergeant Rowe. First of all, thank you for all that you and the VPD do. It's great having you in my constituency of Vancouver Granville.
You talked about the ability of people to make firearms on their own. I have to say that I was at the Best Buy just behind VPD headquarters, and you can buy exactly that machine you were talking about right there. So I wonder, listening to this, when you think about where these weapons are really coming from and where we should be focusing our effort....
Would you say, first off, that it is primarily a concern about domestic weapons, domestically manufactured and domestically trafficked weapons, or is it really a border issue? I'd love to hear your perspective on that.
Then I have another question for you around the manufacturing of these weapons and what we might do.
I have another question for Mr. Dubé.
Mr. Dubé, guns have become a serious problem, particularly in Montreal, or at least greater Montreal. In 2021, the Deputy Premier of Quebec, Geneviève Guilbault, announced Operation Centaur, with funding of $90 million. A $52‑million violence prevention plan was announced afterwards.
There is of course federal funding in all of that, but the fact remains that Quebec seems to be a little more proactive than the federal government in combatting crime involving firearms.
Since it's the federal government that controls the borders, do you believe that it could introduce legislative changes for gun controls? Do you think it could have been somewhat more proactive in this area?
That's a good question, Ms. Michaud.
As Mr. Rowe pointed out, legislative changes to control the importation of firearms at the border and of firearms parts via Canada Post, would help us in our work.
Currently, the act does not allow us to search or seize firearms parts at Canada Post. To be sure, these legislative changes might help us be even more proactive with respect to the matter of firearms manufacturing and the movement of parts.
A firearms part on its own is legal. It's only when parts are assembled that the weapon becomes illegal. As Mr. Rowe said, that's when it becomes a serious problem for us. It's difficult for us to conduct investigations when weapons leave the United States disassembled and arrive in Quebec assembled.
Welcome back, everybody. I call the meeting back to order.
In this second hour, by video conference, we have as individuals Solomon Friedman, criminal defence lawyer; and Michael Spratt, partner, AGP criminal and appeal lawyers. From Statistics Canada, we have Jeff Latimer, director general, health, justice, diversity and populations; and Lucie Léonard, director of the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. They will have up to five minutes for their opening remarks.
Welcome to you all.
I now invite Mr. Friedman to make his opening statement.
The floor is yours, sir.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me to address you today. It's always a pleasure to appear before this committee and support your work. This is particularly the case in regard to the important study before you on gun control and illegal arms trafficking.
As some of you may know, I am a criminal defence counsel in Ottawa. Aside from being a certified specialist in criminal law by the Law Society of Ontario, I've also developed an expertise in firearms law. I'm the co-author of the only text in Canada on the subject, Annotated Firearms Act. I've researched, litigated and spoken widely on the subject.
My law practice also involves defending otherwise law-abiding firearms owners who are caught up in the criminal justice system as a result of our complex, ever-evolving and difficult-to-predict system of firearms regulation in Canada.
There are three general points that I would ask you to consider as you engage in your important work.
First, any approach to tackling gang violence must employ a holistic approach. If you are focusing on the implement of choice at the time of the offence, the problem has long passed you by. Consider instead the difficult and complex questions: Why did this young person end up where they did? What paths have been foreclosed to them? What do we as a society need to do to ensure that criminality is not a more attractive option than a pro-social life? These are not easy questions. They involve matters of discrimination, marginalization, mental health, substance abuse and others. Do not be distracted by the barrel at the time of the offence and lose focus on the big picture. In my view, band-aid solutions and political proclamations are no substitute for evidence-based policy.
Second, ensure that the decisions you are making are based not only on good evidence but on a good interpretation of that evidence. One example that comes to mind is the oft-cited claim that 70% of traceable crime guns have a domestic origin. This statistic is a good example of a number that is true, false and misleading all at the same time. For starters, this counts only those [Technical difficulty—Editor] traceable. It is therefore by definition a number that will skew towards domestic firearms, as these are much easier to trace. It doesn't count firearms with obliterated serial numbers or foreign firearms that cannot be traced.
Next, the definition of “crime gun” further self-selects and obscures our focus. “Crime gun” generally refers to firearms—including, by the way, pellet guns and replica firearms—seized by police in the course of their duties. This includes both offence- and public safety-related seizures. That definition does not differentiate between a handgun used in a gang shooting and a hundred non-restricted, safely stored firearms that are seized from an elderly gun collector who is the subject of a police wellness check because his daughter has not heard from him in days.
You can see now why that 70% number may be true on its face but is really irrelevant to the pressing matters before this committee, including the source of firearms used in gang homicides.
My third point is this. Canada is in woeful need of a top-to-bottom rethink of how we classify [Technical difficulty—Editor] firearms. Two things, in my view, are urgently required. We need a classification system that is evidence-based, one that classifies firearms by function and not by appearance. A wooden stock versus a black plastic stock should not be the basis for a legal classification. Our current system, which layers order in council upon order in council, is not only irrational but also widely seen as unfair and unpredictable.
Most importantly, we need a legal framework that distinguishes between what the Supreme Court has called the regulatory end of the spectrum and the true crime end of the spectrum. Right now all firearms offences are Criminal Code offences. The rural Manitoban who leaves her rifle in her locked hunting cabinet without a trigger lock on it and the gang member with a handgun tucked in his waistband are subject to the same legal regime.
A free-standing regulatory scheme for non-violent firearms offences is long overdue. It would ensure that the criminal sanction is only applied to the morally blameworthy. It would unclog our overburdened criminal courts, and it would go a long way to restoring the confidence of over two million licensed, law-abiding firearms owners in the wisdom and good sense of their legislators.
These are not easy questions, and like so many difficult issues, I would urge you to examine the evidence dispassionately and make decisions and recommendations on the basis not of politics but of good legal policy.
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon. Thank you to all members of the committee for inviting me to address you today.
By way of a brief background, I'm a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners here in Ottawa, and I've been practising almost exclusively criminal law since 2005. Like Mr. Friedman, I'm a certified specialist by the Law Society of Ontario. I've represented scores of people accused of firearm offences. Some of my clients were factually innocent, some have been found not guilty, some have pleaded guilty and some were convicted after trial. Almost all of them were racialized or suffered from addiction or mental health issues or were struggling in poverty.
Before I talk about my experience and some solutions, I want to take a step back and look at some of the data. I'm very pleased that there's been an amendment and some experts from Statistics Canada are here. It cuts down what I was going to say on this point, because historically we are living in one of the safest periods in Canadian history. Crime rates, including serious crime and violent crime, have been trending down decade after decade. While it's true that there has been a recent increase in firearms-related offences, the use of firearms in homicides has remained fairly stable for the last 20 years and is dramatically lower than it has been since the mid-1970s. It looks like there was actually a decrease of almost 10% in gang-related homicides in 2020.
The statistics—I'm certainly not an expert here but it reflects what I'm seeing in court—don't necessarily back up the premise that there's a rash of new firearm offences in Canada. Having said that, statistics are cold comfort to individuals who are directly impacted by these offences, and reasonable people may disagree about the scope of the problem. I think we can all agree that one violent firearms offence is one firearms offence too many.
Having said that, I can tell you what some of the solutions are not. We can cross them off your list. One tired solution, dragged out by politicians after high-profile firearms incidents, is stricter bail. Toronto's mayor, John Tory, claimed that people were getting out on bail 20 minutes after they were arrested for a gun crime, and Doug Ford jumped on that bandwagon as well, saying that many criminals convicted of gun crimes are back out on the streets the very next day.
To put it bluntly, Tory and Ford are lying. That's not true and it's not backed up by any data. Without ripping up the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, bail for firearm offences cannot be made any tougher. Already in firearm cases the onus at bail hearing is reversed so that accused individuals who are presumed innocent have to justify their release. Conditions imposed upon release are strict, the police monitor those conditions, and prosecutors never consent or agree to the release of people charged with firearm offences unless, as we've seen recently, those accused people are police officers.
Stricter bail is not the answer, and neither are minimum sentences or harsher sentences, as has been suggested by former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole and Ottawa's mayor, Jim Watson. Remember, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled mandatory minimum punishments in the firearm context unconstitutional, and we've seen them struck down in a variety of offences across the country.
Even if mandatory minimum penalties were available—so you invoke the notwithstanding clause or recommended that—the evidence is clear that they don't work. They don't deter crime. They don't increase public safety. In fact, it seems that they might actually increase recidivism and they disproportionately affect so many historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups. They're also incredibly expensive.
Real solutions are more complex and are going to carry, unfortunately for you guys, a political cost. One of the big solutions is changing how we deal with drug laws in Canada. Almost all of the firearms offences that I've seen are connected in some way to drug crimes. It's the system of drug enforcement and prosecution that we have in Canada, making narcotics illegal, that fuels the use of guns. Guns follow profit. A system of legalization and safe supply would cure many ills, and one of them is that it would help with gun offences.
Also—and I hope I get to talk about this a bit more—we need to make sure that rehabilitation and reintegration is available for anyone who wants it. I had a young client recently who was found guilty of gun offences, and we had to beg and jump through hoops to get the programming he needs.
Lastly, in the two seconds I have, I'll say that one good way to reduce gun violence is to limit the availability of handguns. That is not a delegation of responsibility to municipalities. That is making the hard political choice and banning handguns. That's hard, and these solutions are hard, but I urge you to consider them.
Thank you very much, honourable chair and members of the committee.
I'd like to first thank you for the opportunity to present our most recent statistics on firearm-related violent crime. It's always a privilege as a public servant to be able to attend these sessions.
The information I will be providing to you today is based on two surveys within Statistics Canada: the uniform crime reporting survey, which collects information on all crimes reported to police; and the homicide survey, which collects more detailed information specifically related to infanticide, manslaughter, and first- and second-degree murder.
I will be focusing primarily on 2020, which is the most recent data available. As a context, following the remarks of one of my co-panellists, I would like to explain that in the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, all police-reported crime, including violent crime, decreased for the first time in five years. Previous to the pandemic, we had seen five year-over-year increases in crime.
Before discussing crimes involving firearms, I would like to note that my remarks will exclude Quebec. Unfortunately, given technical issues with Quebec's firearm data, we are unable to include it in our national figures.
In 2020, violent crime involving firearms accounted for less than 3% of police-reported violent crime. However, in the previous five years before the pandemic, the rate of firearm-related crime had been increasing year over year. In 2020, there were 8,344 victims of violent crimes involving firearms, again, excluding Quebec. The rate per a population of 100,000 in 2020 was similar to 2019.
In urban areas, firearm-related violent crime primarily involves handguns, while in rural areas, the firearm used most commonly is a rifle or a shotgun. In some major urban centres, handguns were used in the vast majority of firearm-related crimes, including Toronto at 86%, Windsor at 80%, and Ottawa and Barrie both at 78%.
I would like to provide some information very specific to homicides and the use of firearms. The national homicide rate increased for a second consecutive year in 2020, marking the highest rate since 2005. Police reported 743 homicides in 2020, 56 more than in 2019. Of these 743 homicides, 37%, or 277, were committed with a firearm. This is a slight increase compared to 2019.
The rate of homicides involving firearms has generally been increasing over the last eight years. Handguns continue to be the most used firearm, with about half of all homicides committed with a handgun. Gangs were involved in 39% of homicides involving firearms in 2020. This is the lowest proportion since 2015. However, firearms are used in the vast majority of gang-related homicides, and most often it is a handgun.
In closing, Statistics Canada recognizes there are still significant information gaps in the national data, including the source of the firearm, and we are continuing to work with our partners to identify and address these critical information needs.
Thank you very much.
It's good to hear that Statistics Canada recognizes that this is a problem because, of course, it's impossible to make good policy without good data.
Once again, police services seize firearms for a wide variety of reasons. They are all perfectly legitimate. They could collect a firearm at a crime scene or they could have a noise complaint, go in and investigate it. I gave an example of an elderly gun collector who might be losing his faculties and shouldn't possess those firearms anymore. They seize them and take them back to the detachment. Those are both absolutely valid exercises of the seizure powers given at different places within the Criminal Code.
When it comes to making policy, those guns are not the same. One firearm may never have been involved in a violent confrontation; the other might have been, but they are all lumped in together.
I think what is really important is that, number one, Statistics Canada needs to take the lead on this. We have really anecdotal evidence coming from individual police services. I'll give you an example. I did a murder trial by firearm, in which the Crown at one point in the proceedings actually pulled statistics from the Ottawa Police Service about the seizure of crime guns and the proliferation of crime guns in Ottawa. These are statistics that are being collected locally by police services. They do not use consistent definitions from service to service. For example, when I inquired into the definition of a crime gun, I got an answer from the Toronto Police Service that was different from that of the Ottawa Police Service.
We need consistent definitions. Of course, there's no entity better positioned to do that than Statistics Canada.
I'd like to start with Mr. Spratt.
First of all, it's always good to see you. It has been some years. I used to see you testify before the justice committee many times.
I'd like to propose to you that there seem to me to be a number of different categories of violence involving firearms. First, there's the violence involving people engaged in criminal enterprises, part and parcel of doing business as a criminal enterprise; second, domestic violence; and third, ideological and extremist sorts of activities.
Would you agree with those categories? If so, would you suggest that there are different requirements for controlling firearms access in these different circumstances?
I'll just briefly overlap with what Mr. Spratt was saying in terms of access to firearms.
It's important to remember that in order to legally possess a restricted firearm—and handguns are largely restricted; some are prohibited, most restricted—you need to, of course, pass significant scrutiny, including a background check and references check. In fact, your name is run daily through a database, the FIP database, which will show flags for mental health, criminality, domestic abuse and so on. Therefore, there are very strong controls right now in terms of who can legally possess a firearm.
The trouble with handguns—and this is where we get some other conflicting statistics—is that there's a statistic from the PWEU, the provincial weapons enforcement unit, Ontario's joint firearms task force, which found in 2018 that 77% of handguns used in offences came from the United States, therefore, of course, completely bypassing any regulatory regime.
You asked about the regulation part. That's a really interesting question—at least it's interesting when you're a law nerd like Mr. Spratt and I are—because the definition of “firearm”—in other words, what is a firearm—obviously originates in the Criminal Code, but most of the heavy lifting is done, as it often is, by our courts. We have case law upon case law on that question, the very question that should be an important one for firearms regulators, which is, when does a piece of metal become a gun? When does a collection of parts become a firearm, and at what stage are these pieces regulated?
Generally speaking, you have some interpretations taken by CBSA and the RCMP for enforcement purposes, but no real clear answer in the legislation. Whether it's this committee or justice, I think that's something that needs to be looked at in terms of coming up with a definition to what should be a simple question: When does an object become a firearm?
It's not a simple question, but it's one that absolutely has to be examined in the context of the code and the Firearms Act regulations.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being here with us today and welcome them to the committee. We are grateful for their expertise in the subject.
Mr. Friedman, I found your comments about the definition of a firearm extremely interesting, and about when an item becomes a firearm. Am I wrong in saying that you are not generally in favour of more legislation or regulations?
Would it be preferable to provide a better definition of firearms right in the Criminal Code rather than establishing a list of banned weapons?
We could, for example, define what a military-style firearm is, and everything pertaining to firearms. Even if we were to draw up a list of banned weapons, similar weapons would remain on the market without being placed on the list.
Would it not be more productive to have more clearly defined firearms and to legislate accordingly?
Wonderful. That's a great question. So, [Technical difficulty—Editor
]. Any time you want to solve a legal problem, you have to look at how we ended up here.
Essentially, we ended up here with the passage of the original Firearms Act in 1992, which delineated what were non-restricted, restricted and prohibited firearms. Then, instead of coming back for further legislation—which meant unpleasant things like political debate in the House of Commons about firearms classifications—successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, used the Governor in Council tool to enact regulations, which would either add firearms to that list or remove firearms from that list.
My point here is that it really doesn't matter if you want stricter gun control or looser gun control. What you need is an open and transparent policy debate about it. You can only do that, in my respectful view, in Parliament. It doesn't advance rational policy-making to be simply saying that this year we added 1,500 guns to the list and the next government is going to take 800 guns off the list. My proposal is that, instead, you classify firearms based on their inherent danger, their use and other evidence-based criteria.
You are exactly right, Madam Vice-Chair. As of today, sitting here in 2022, you can take two firearms and line them up side by side. They will shoot the exact same calibre round at the exact same rate of fire with a similar firing mechanism. One of them is prohibited and formerly subject to a host of mandatory minimum sentences, like imprisonment for four-plus years. The other is non-restricted. It can be owned by any licensed individual and used not only for target shooting, but also anywhere it's legal to discharge a firearm, including for hunting purposes.
The legitimacy of that type of system is pretty difficult to justify to firearms owners who say that the gun they bought a week ago is prohibited today, but it's no different from the gun sitting next to it in the safe, which is non-restricted.
If you want confidence in your firearms regulation scheme, you have to start with rational, evidence-based policy. To do that, we need a rethink of how the Firearms Act classifies firearms.
That's interesting. Thank you.
You have said that new legislative changes or regulations would not lead to enhanced control over illegal firearms trafficking and that it would be better to introduce additional measures at the border. The border between Canada and the United States is 8,890 kilometres long. The Canada Border Services Agency and the police would tell us that it is rather difficult to maintain a 24‑7 human presence over 8,890 kilometres .
How can we prevent more weapons from entering the country?
I find it hard to believe that there are no technological means that could be used, drones for example.
Could you tell us a bit more about that?
What can be done to increase resources at the border?
I appreciate that. Thank you so much, Mr. Spratt.
Mr. Friedman, I'd like to turn to you, because I was very interested in your testimony about the classification debate that's going on. You talked about the function of a firearm versus its appearance. Do you have any suggestions for our committee on that? For example, if you look at semi-automatic rifles, some rifles, of course, can receive a high-capacity magazine, making them far more deadly, while other semi-automatic rifles cannot take that magazine. They have a strict limit on how many rounds they can take.
I'm interested, as are a lot of my constituents, in having a reasonable debate on how we classify firearms. In the minute I have left, do you have any suggestions you can give us on how that system should be reformed?
Sure. That's a great question. It's one of the important questions that I know you're all trying to tackle here.
I'll take your example of detachable magazines. Something that's really important to remember is that almost every type of firearm, particularly semi-automatic firearms, can be modified by people with a minimum of know-how. Take a look at detachable magazines. In Canada, a centre-fire semi-automatic rifle is already limited to a five-round magazine. If you possess a magazine of 10, 15, 20 or 30 rounds, even if you don't put it in that gun, you're committing a criminal offence.
Remember, some people aren't deterred by that, so let's go to the next stage. You talked about how some firearms appear to have a base plate that cannot accept a magazine. All of those can be swapped out. You can just go online and do a little bit of googling. I happen to have a little expertise, but you don't even need much gun expertise to know that all those firearms can be adapted to accept magazines. To me—
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll keep this tight.
Mr. Friedman, the and the Minister of Public Safety have said on numerous occasions that their banned firearms “were designed...to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time” and that they were designed for use by “soldiers to kill other soldiers”, amongst various things.
I just happen to have a copy of the Geneva Convention on conventional weapons, which Canada is a signatory to. It prohibits the employment of weapons for the purpose of causing “superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering”.
Mr. Friedman, are the and the Minister of Public Safety misleading Canadians on these firearms for political purposes, or is Canada indeed in violation of the Geneva Convention?
That's an interesting question. I'll say as follows. It's unfortunate that inflammatory political rhetoric has taken the place of an informed policy debate.
I think this committee is a great example of what can happen when we actually look into the legal, regulatory and technical sides of these firearms. The statement that those guns were designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time is false. That's borne out by the fact that we happily equip our police officers with these firearms. We give them to them because they are efficient and reliable, and we know they operate well in all conditions.
The similarly said, “You don't need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.” Obviously, as someone who clearly doesn't understand both the wildlife regulations and the Firearms Act...he would know that the calibre of a bullet fired by an AR-15 is in fact considered too weak to take down a deer, and is therefore prohibited for hunting deer in virtually every province. Those are firearms that are regularly used for varmint or predator control by farmers.
I think what we need to do is take out the political rhetoric. We don't need to have an inflammatory debate. We don't need to divide people or to demonize one group over another. We need to have an evidence-based discussion on the direction in which we want to take gun policy in this country. I think that's what Canadians expect. It's what they deserve.
I call this meeting back to order.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, the committee is commencing its study of crowdfunding platforms and extremism financing.
With us today, from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, we have Barry MacKillop, deputy director of intelligence, and Annette Ryan, deputy director of partnership, policy and analysis.
Up to five minutes will be given for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with rounds of questions. Witnesses may choose to share their time with other witnesses if they wish.
Welcome to you.
I now invite Mr. MacKillop to make an opening statement of up to five minutes.
The floor is yours, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting us to address the committee today.
This afternoon, I would like to give a very brief presentation about the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), in connection with the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, and about the invaluable role we perform to help protect the people of Canada and the Canadian economy.
FINTRAC’s mandate is to facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.
As one of 13 federal departments and agencies that play a key role in Canada's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regime, FINTRAC was established as an administrative financial intelligence unit and not a law enforcement or investigative agency. We do not have the authority to freeze or seize funds, or cancel or delay financial transactions. This was done very deliberately by the Parliament of Canada to ensure that we would have access to the information needed to support the money-laundering and terrorist-financing investigations of Canada's police, law enforcement and national security agencies, while protecting the privacy of Canadians. As Canada's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing regulator, FINTRAC is responsible for ensuring the compliance of thousands of businesses with requirements under the act, including financial entities, casinos, money service businesses, real estate and others.
I will note that crowdfunding sites are not a regulated business sector under the act. However, when these sites transit with or through businesses subject to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and its regulations, these financial transactions would be covered under the act.
As part of their obligations, businesses subject to the act are required to establish a compliance program, identify clients, keep records and report certain types of financial transactions to FINTRAC, including international electronic funds transfers totalling $10,000 or more in a 24-hour period, large virtual currency transactions totalling $10,000 or more in a 24-hour period, and suspicious transactions, which have no monetary threshold for reporting.
Compliance with the broader legislative and regulatory obligations provides important measures for deterring criminals and terrorists from operating within Canada's legitimate economy. Compliance with the legislation ensures that FINTRAC receives the information that we need to generate financial intelligence that is [Technical difficulty—Editor] enforcement and national security agencies to act upon. The reports that we receive from Canadian businesses are analyzed and assessed, and when we have reasonable grounds to suspect that financial intelligence would be relevant to investigating or prosecuting a money-laundering offence or a terrorist activity financing offence, FINTRAC generates a financial intelligence disclosure for Canada's police, law enforcement and national security agencies.
Under subsection 55(1) of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, FINTRAC is expressly prohibited from discussing any information that we receive or any financial intelligence that we disclose to Canada's police, law enforcement and national security agencies. What I can say, however, is that our financial intelligence is valued by those agencies, many of which have told us that they would not start a major project-level investigation without seeking out our financial intelligence.
Last year, we provided more than 2,000 disclosures of actionable financial intelligence in support of investigations related to money laundering, terrorist financing and threats to the security of Canada. Since becoming operational in 2001, the centre has provided more than 22,000 financial intelligence disclosures to Canada's police, law enforcement and national security agencies, as well as our international partners.
Our disclosures include financial information on an individual or a network of individuals or entities suspected to be involved in money laundering or the financing of terrorist activities. They can make links between individuals and businesses that have not been identified in an investigation and can help investigators refine the scope of their cases or shift their sights to different targets. Our financial intelligence is often used by law enforcement agencies to put together affidavits to obtain search warrants and production orders.
Our financial intelligence can also be used to identify proceeds of crime and advance the government's knowledge of the financial dimensions of certain crimes and threats, including organized crime and terrorism. Last year, our financial intelligence contributed to 376 major resource-intensive investigations and many hundreds of other individual investigations at the municipal, provincial and federal levels across the country, as well as international investigations—
When we arrive at our threshold to suspect that a certain transaction would be relevant for a money-laundering or a terrorist activity-financing investigation, we have a number of indicators that we have developed over the years based on our intelligence.
We've also built on indicators that are published and are in existence through the FATF, the Financial Action Task Force, as well as the Egmont Group, which is a group of financial intelligence units internationally. We also have indicators that we have developed with our domestic and international partners related to money laundering.
As most of you likely know, money laundering is the result and the use of proceeds of crime. Typically, a crime is committed and we would often see transactions that are linked to predicate crimes, similar to human trafficking, for example, or drug trafficking, or child sexual exploitation material on the Internet and the purchase of that. The commission of those predicate crimes, and then the movement of money, tends to be the lead indicator for money laundering.
We have a number of indicators, and we identify those indicators when we do disclosures to assist law enforcement in understanding why we're giving them the intelligence that we are providing them.
Our mandate is, and we were set up very specifically, not to be an investigative unit. It's very important to understand that the reports we receive from our reporting entity under the PCMLTFA are warrant list reports.
For example, of the threshold reports of $10,000 in or out of Canada, or anything above $10,000, the vast majority that we receive are on legitimate Canadians doing legitimate business, or legitimate organizations sending money for business purposes. We have a role in protecting the privacy of that.
We are not an investigative agency; otherwise, we would not be able to receive the reports that we receive, because we provide the intelligence to law enforcement. Law enforcement will then use that as part of their investigation to develop and obtain the evidence that they need to go forward in court.
We are also set up as an independent, arm's-length agency from the government. It is part of the Financial Action Task Force requirements for an FIU to be independent of government and not to take direction, as you suggested, to investigate specific individuals or specific groups.
We have our mandate and we know what we need to do. Our reporting entities are very strong partners. The due diligence that they provide on a daily basis to monitor these transactions and to work with us to monitor the right transactions has proven to be extremely successful. The regime is set up with 13 different departments and agencies, each of which has a specific mandate, and they work together in order to enhance and to strengthen the regime in Canada, and to ensure that we have what we need to have in order to combat money laundering and terrorist activity financing.
Crowdfunding platforms themselves are not covered in the U.S., for example, under FinCEN. However, anybody who's donating to a GoFundMe page, for example, would donate through a payment processor, which means they would identify themselves. They would need a credit card. They would need to fill in their personal information, so that the donation itself would be validated, that the funds exist, and then the funds would be transferred to GoFundMe.
When GoFundMe is disbursing the money to the particular cause, if they are using a Canadian bank account, that disbursement will go through the Canadian bank account. If our Canadian bank, for example, deemed that disbursement to be suspicious or relevant to money laundering, terrorist financing or IMVE activity, it would report those suspicious transactions to us.
We don't monitor what GoFundMe may have, but when the disbursement is made, it is made through a Canadian bank, in the case of Canadian donation pages that have been established. When a donation page is established, the organizers of that page must also identify themselves, the purpose for the cause, and the way in which the funding would be disbursed once it's raised.
Thank you very much for the question, Ms. Michaud.
We are still reviewing what we can do to improve our system and to identify other sectors that ought to be covered by the act.
There has to be a balance between the desire to have as much information as possible and the protection of privacy. As the Deputy Director responsible for intelligence, I would like to have as much intelligence as possible. However, a balance must always be struck between what is reported to FINTRAC and respect for people's privacy and financial information.
We are always looking for other sectors that might be covered by the act in order to improve our system. However, I don't think we can just add sectors because they are being used. What needs to be determined is whether a given sector is at risk of money-laundering or financing terrorism. It's important to know what these platforms can give us in terms of intelligence.
Don't forget that sites like GoFundMe are located in the United States, not Canada. They are therefore not subject to Canadian legislation just as any sites that operate out of Canada are not subject to U.S. legislation. Changes should not be made without first carrying out the necessary studies to determine whether there is a way of improving our system or using other sources.
The same thing happened with cryptocurrency sites. They were not subject to the act, but they are now. These sites now send us reports on cryptocurrencies. We always strive to move things forward and improve our system.
Thank you very much for the question.
The anonymity issue is a little bit blurred, because donations are not anonymous. To make a donation, people have to use a credit card and go through an Internet payment system like Stripe to fund a cause. Because donor names do not always appear publicly, donations can seem to be anonymous, but they really are not.
It's as if I was making a donation during our fundraising campaign and was asked whether I would allow my name to appear as a principal owner. If I said no, my donation would be listed as anonymous, but that's not really the case.
Companies that process donations, like Stripe and GoFundMe, know who has made a donation. When GoFundMe decided to shut down the page for the “Freedom Convoy” and pay everyone back, it was an indication that it had all the information they needed on people's credit cards and identities. So the donations are not really anonymous.
Thank you so much, Chair.
The special bulletin that FINTRAC produced on IMVE stated that “IMVE threat actors have raised funds through...crowdfunding...and accepting donations.” Our Canadian Security Intelligence Service has divided it into roughly four categories: xenophobic violence, anti-authoritarian violence, gender-driven violence and other grievance-driven violence.
Of course, our Criminal Code has a definition of terrorism, which is “an act...committed...in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause...with the intention of intimidating the public”. The activities recognized as criminal within this context can include significant “property damage” and “interference...or disruption of an essential service, facility or system”, to which I think any casual observer looking at Ottawa right now could probably make a link.
What I'm trying to dig into here is the relationship between the payment service providers—for example, Stripe and PayPal—the crowdfunding organization, and then the financial entity to which the funds are eventually distributed. For example, for the payment service providers, do they have information when they're receiving donations? Do they understand why the donations are coming in? Do they understand for what purpose they're coming in? Does the crowdfunding site have that link with the service provider?
It's a little outside of my lane, but thank you very much for the question.
I'm not an expert on the service providers or GoFundMe, but my understanding is that the page is set up for a particular cause. When people want to donate, a behind-the-scenes service is provided. Stripe, for example, would have the identity of the person making the donation. They would have their credit card and all their identification in order to validate that the funds exist and transfer them to the particular page. They would know that it's going to a particular page.
My understanding is that Stripe, PayPal, GoFundMe and GiveSendGo all have terms of service where they clearly identify that they will not support anything that is related to money laundering, criminal activity or terrorist financing.
I would assume that many of these—given that they exist, as in the example of Stripe, in a million different companies and hundreds of countries—do have their own internal compliance program and their own internal media watch program. I would assume they are very socially responsible when it comes to identifying where that money may be going. I would think they would not want to process money that was going to a cause that was identified as illegal, for example.
They do have clear guidelines. The guidelines are available, and on our website we provide guidelines. We identify, as well, different reasons for submitting STRs and we provide those guidelines.
We also provide a number of very specific indicators that would help them in their transaction monitoring. For example, we have five very successful public-private partnerships dealing with human trafficking, fentanyl trafficking, romance scams, underground banking and child sexual exploitation material on the Internet. We have set out these PPPs, as we call them, with our recording entities and we provide very actionable indicators that they can plug into their own systems to create the algorithms to assist them in identifying suspicious transactions that may be related to those types of predicate crimes.
We've also provided them with terrorist financing indicators and IMVE indicators, as my colleague mentioned, to assist them in identifying those types of transactions. As you know, often not simply one transaction but a pattern of transactions has to be looked at, and we assist them by providing them with as many clear indicators, guidance, outreach and training as possible in order to enhance that.
The success we've seen is demonstrated in the increase in the number of suspicious transaction reports we've received year over year, as well as the increase in the number of voluntary information records we've received from the police seeking our assistance with their investigations. As those have increased, we've been able to increase our disclosures. It clearly shows that not only are the reporting entities doing their job really well in providing us with those reports, but also that the police—our law enforcement and national security agencies both in Canada and internationally—significantly appreciate our disclosures and are coming in to get them as often as they possibly can to assist in their investigations.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. MacKillop and Ms. Ryan, for joining us.
Mr. MacKillop, here's a question for you to start with.
We've seen over the course of the last little while a lot of interest from the United States in the funding situation related to GoFundMe and the blockade in Ottawa. You've seen some fairly unsavoury characters in the U.S., like Marjorie Taylor Greene, weighing in on this.
How concerned should Canadians be about foreign funds coming into Canada and spurring on ideologically motivated violent extremism?
What's happening in Ottawa has not been, to my knowledge, identified as ideologically motivated violent extremism. [Technical difficulty—Editor
] might come into Canada to support ideologically motivated violent extremism, and the United States would be extremely concerned about money leaving the United States or funding such extremist actions.
Our partners in FinCEN are quite alive to this. We share a lot of intelligence back and forth with respect to IMVEs, with respect to travelling, people who want to leave the country to participate in terrorist activities, for example. We work with Egmont and our Five Eyes partners very closely with respect to that. Any funding that would be linked to IMVE is of extreme concern and importance to us, and we would disclose that intelligence to our law enforcement and national security partners.
For any action that's taken by those actors or by sanctioned groups—for example, a listed terrorist organization or people who are known to be members of those organizations—both our financial institutions and those in the United States, I'm sure, know who these people are. They do monitor their transactions, and they do report [Technical difficulty—Editor] or completed with respect to them.
Thank you for the question.
As I was saying earlier, the situation we are currently experiencing is truly unique. We do not consider crowdfunding platforms to be tools that could be used to launder money or finance terrorist activities. There is always a risk that someone can use these platforms for that purpose, but that's not necessarily the tool they would choose. There are in fact many other ways that are probably easier to use to launder money or collect funds to finance terrorist activities . That's why it's a unique situation.
We're going to learn from this event and we will definitely continue to hold discussions with our international partners.
Current Internet platforms are accessible to everyone around the world. They can be used to donate funds to a cause, whether the one we are talking about today or some other cause.
I presume that platforms like GoFundMe may have been used to help people who wanted to get out of Afghanistan, for example. People from anywhere can support a cause like that by making donations. I couldn't give you a percentage, but I believe that crowdfunding platforms have been very useful in collecting funds to help people in need around the world.
The important thing is to strive for a balance between the burden that might result and the intelligence we might obtain.
Thank you so much, Chair.
In April of last year, there was a data breach from the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. That data breach revealed that there were millions of dollars that had been raised by groups banned from raising funds on other platforms. They had been banned because of episodes of hate speech and violence that had been used on the platforms. Some of the biggest beneficiaries of that had been groups like the Proud Boys, which are a designated terrorist entity.
We only learned of this because of a data breach. I'm just wondering, we as policy-makers have to anticipate the new landscape that's before us. Does FINTRAC have what it needs to capture this, maybe not from a site like GoFundMe but for other platforms that are competing for this space and those dollars?
Are there gaps that we need to plug as policy-makers so that these things can be caught before they end up being just a data breach?
I think it's always good to ask the question and to do an in-depth study, once you're out of a crisis, to determine whether or not there are policy gaps that could be looked at and what is the best way to address those.
From my perspective right now, in the situation that you mentioned—and I've read about the data breach as well—the intersection between the crowdfunding platforms and our financial institutions is a must in order to disburse the money. If the money were going through a Canadian bank, for example, and directed to the Proud Boys, they're a listed terrorist organization. That money would be stopped by the bank and we would also get the STR. They cannot, if there is a listed terrorist organization, facilitate the transfer of that money. It is really the intersection with our banks.
Our banks are well aware of those organizations and the individuals associated with those organizations. They know who they are. They have their sanctions list. They do their monitoring. They do their reporting and they do it well. From my perspective, we have that intersection. Raising [Technical difficulty—Editor] is likely not helpful to those organizations, but we would get the reporting and the funding would be stopped by the banks when it comes to those types of organizations trying to receive money.
On behalf of the committee, I want to thank the witnesses for their very important and thoughtful testimony this morning. It will be very important as we make our way through the complexities of these important and dynamic issues.
Colleagues, we're right on time. Thank you very much for everybody's co-operation.
Does the committee agree that the meeting should be adjourned?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Then the meeting is adjourned. Have a good weekend, everybody. We'll see you on Tuesday. Take care.