[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Thursday, May 11, 1995
The Chair: I would like to call the meeting to order. We are continuing our examination of Bill C-68, An Act respecting firearms and other weapons.
Our witnesses this afternoon are from the Coalition for Gun Control, represented by Wendy Cukier, president; Heidi Rathjen, executive director; David Cassels, deputy chief, assistant director, Edmonton Police Service; and Louise Viau, professeur de Droit, Université de Montréal, conseiller juridique. That is the delegation, although I understand there are others from the coalition in the audience. You are all welcome.
Your voluminous and complete brief has been distributed to all members of the committee. As you know, we ask witnesses before the committee to restrict themselves, if possible, to 15 minutes in order to leave us enough time to discuss the issues. You may read part of your brief or all of it, if it's short enough, or if there's a special part you had intended to read, or you may speak to the major points - whatever you wish. I turn the floor over to you, Ms Cukier.
Ms Wendy Cukier (President, Coalition for Gun Control): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. We are very pleased to be here today.
I am a professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, as well as president of the Coalition for Gun Control. With me is our executive director Heidi Rathjen, a graduate of École Polytechnique; Deputy Chief Cassels from the Edmonton Police Service; and Louise Viau, who is not only a professor of law at the University of Montreal but was also a member of the last government's firearms advisory committee.
Because we know you have spent the last few weeks in committee hearing a great deal about gun control, we're going to try to focus our comments on some of the issues we view as most important and highlight some aspects of the bill that we think are critically important to the safety of all Canadians. We will also talk very briefly about some specific concerns we have about the legislation and possible amendments.
I want to begin by introducing the coalition. We were founded in 1990 and we're a non-profit organization aimed at reducing firearms death and injury. Since 1990 the Coalition for Gun Control has advocated possession permits and registration of all firearms, controls on the sale of ammunition, further restrictions on handguns, a ban on military weapons and large-capacity magazines, stiffer penalties for firearms misuse and measures to counter illegal importation. Based on that position, over 300 organizations from across the country have endorsed the position of the Coalition for Gun Control.
Appendix 1 of our brief includes the most recent list of our endorsers. As you know, groups like the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, as well as groups like the Canadian Jewish Congress, CAVEAT and others have all endorsed the position of the Coalition for Gun Control.
However, I also want to draw your attention to some of the supporters we have from individual provinces and communities. For example, you will note that the Manitoba Police Association, the Brandon Police Service, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Calgary Police Service, the Edmonton Police Service, as well as police services throughout Ontario and other provinces are members of the coalition. We also have support from health care organizations across the country, not only national groups, but groups like the Alberta Injury Prevention Association, Calgary Injury Prevention Association, Calgary Health Services and so on.
The reason I point this out to you is that I know you've been hearing a lot about opposition to gun control, particularly from western and rural Canada, and I want to make sure that at some point you do look at the diverse range of organizations that have endorsed the position of the coalition. You will note they come from east and west. They come from small communities as well as large communities.
Our brief is far more detailed than we have time to go into today, so I'm going to try to hit on some basic issues.
First of all, I want to say that we believe that complex problems have complex solutions; that gun-related death, injury and crime are a result of a wide range of factors and access to firearms is only one of them. While it's not a panacea, however, we believe that both common sense and considerable research suggest that further gun control will reduce gun-related death and injury.
While many people are focusing on the issue of gun control specifically from a crime prevention perspective, I know you've heard from witnesses in the health care community who have talked about it specifically from the point of view of injury prevention. I know next week you will also hear from women's groups who will look at it from the perspective of domestic violence. Again, I want to draw your attention to the fact that groups from across the country and with diverse perspectives on the issue of gun control have come to agree this legislation is needed.
I don't want to regurgitate the research and the arguments that have been made in favour of stronger gun control; I just want to emphasize a few key points.
First of all, from the point of view of the costs of doing nothing, the costs of gun deaths, injury and crime in this country, clearly gun control is warranted. I think it's important to keep in perspective the kinds of economic costs, the social costs, and the policing costs associated with firearms in Canada when you're trying to evaluate whether or not we should be investing in this legislation.
I want to also say that I believe there is sufficient evidence to support the measures contained in the legislation. I'm an academic. Louise is an academic. We would be happy to debate the nuances of the statistics and the research, if you like. However, our conclusion is there is sufficient evidence to support the legislation.
Our third point, which I think really must be made, is the legislation is not only designed to address problems that exist today, but it is also an investment in our future. If we look at the sources of firearms that are misused in Canada - and by misused we're referring not just to crime, but also to death and injury - we know that one of the sources of guns are guns that are stolen from legal owners. We know there are at least 3,000 guns reported stolen every year. There are many more that are stolen and not reported.
We also know there are cases where guns are misused by their legal owners. This is particularly the case when we're looking at things such as domestic homicide, suicides and accidental shootings.
Thirdly, we know that there are cases where guns are purchased or imported legally and then sold illegally.
We have ample evidence to support this from a number of studies that the police have done in cases that have been prosecuted successfully in the courts.
The fourth source of guns that are misused in Canada is guns that are smuggled into the country and sold illegally.
I must say I was delighted to hear the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police present empirical evidence from 10 forces across the country, which I think should, once and for all, put to bed the argument that the principal problem is smuggled guns. You will recall the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police presented preliminary evidence that showed that when you're looking at firearms that have been seized in crime, almost 50% of them are rifles and shotguns. About 20% of them are handguns and other restricted weapons, and of those, 40% were at one time registered.
So the notion that members of this committee who were sitting here the last time gun control legislation was presented to the government and heard the argument that the only problem in Canada is smuggled guns...I hope they are relieved to see that there is now empirical evidence to show those claims are not well founded. One of the components of that study, which has not yet been released because I understand they're still massaging the data, was the site studies for individual communities that went into the overall conclusions presented by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
With me today is Deputy Chief David Cassels from the Edmonton Police Service. The Edmonton Police Service published the results of a six-month study of the guns used in crime. He is going to describe the results of that study and talk about how it relates to our discussions today.
Deputy Chief David Cassels (Assistant Director, Edmonton Police Service): Thank you. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, let me first of all thank you for the opportunity to discuss this very important legislative proposal with you.
I appear before you as a representative of the Edmonton Police Service, and I am safe in saying that my brief presentation reflects the views of the majority of the police community in western Canada. I come before this committee from a province that has one of the largest concentrations of gun owners in the country and where the debate for and against this bill has probably been the liveliest. However, having listened to these debates, I remain firmly convinced that the bill indeed can accomplish what it is drafted to do.
The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police share this view. Consequently, allow me to emphasize several tangible reasons why registration of firearms ought to become mandatory. I propose to do this firstly by reviewing the reasons for mandatory registration and, secondly, by reviewing a study that speaks in support of these reasons.
Because there is no registration in existence and because the majority of firearms that are owned by Canadians fall into the unrestricted category, there is often no way of knowing who owns what, nor whether a particular firearm was acquired legally. This can be particularly troublesome if, for example, a court prohibits a person from owning firearms. This lack of knowledge may also carry deadly consequences in instances where police respond to emergency calls, such as family fights.
More fundamentally, lack of information with respect to the ownership of firearms at least occasionally contributes to the careless storage of firearms and underreporting of loss through theft. Consequently, I am drawn to agree with the drafters of the bill that the proposed registration system will assist in meeting the following objectives. It will help the police in solving crimes by tracking firearms that were used in homicides, robberies and other violent criminal acts. It will, at least in part, assist the police in determining what types and numbers of firearms they might encounter when responding to an emergency call.
Registration will assist in enforcing court-ordered prohibitions that preclude possession of firearms. Unlawful acquisition and smuggling of firearms will be curtailed. Registration will promote and encourage greater adherence to the already existing regulations on storage and handling of firearms, and I believe people will be far more responsible for the guns they own. Registration will assist in tracking missing and stolen firearms.
As already mentioned, the Edmonton Police Service recently carried out a study into firearms occurrences in the City of Edmonton.
This study is a snapshot of any typical Canadian municipality during any six-month period. In its conclusion the study supports the principles of the proposed legislation.
At this time, Mr. Chairman, I would like to table the study for review and I'd like to talk about some of the conclusions. I have provided copies to the clerk for the rest of the members of the committee.
The study focuses on the last six months of 1993. In this period of time, 684 firearms were involved in 449 occurrences. Of these, 64% were Criminal Code offences. The majority, or 50% of the firearms-related occurrences, involved non-restricted firearms, such as rifles and shotguns. Restricted firearms were involved in 40% and prohibited weapons were involved in 6%.
It is interesting to note that non-restricted firearms were stolen more often in 56% of the cases, as compared with 40% of restricted firearms and 4% of prohibited weapons. In 70% of the cases, these firearms were taken from private dwellings.
During the study firearms were seized in 59% of all firearms-related occurrences. Of these, 10% were prohibited weapons, 54% were restricted weapons and 36% were non-restricted weapons. Remarkably, only 5% of the non-restricted firearms could be traced back to their owners, and this was possible only because of a prior report of theft to our department. This study furthermore concluded that about 40% of the stolen firearms had not been stored properly.
As you can see, shotguns and rifles are a part of the problem and figure prominently in various crimes and various occurrences. This study allows us to draw several conclusions.
First, it indicates that criminals do use non-restricted firearms with great regularity. This may be explained at least in part because of their availability, either through theft or legitimate means.
Second, non-restricted and currently non-registered firearms are stolen, and the greatest from where they're most easily obtained: private dwellings.
Third, only a very minor portion of non-restricted firearms can be traced back to their owners. A significant number of firearms are not stored properly.
I suggest this study graphically illustrates the benefit of an across-the-board firearms registration system. It allows the court to impose meaningful firearms prohibition orders that can be properly enforced. It will allow the police to deal with dangerous situations such as family fights in a more informed and therefore safe fashion. It will allow the police to take preventative measures or problem-solving measures in many situations.
Mr. Chairman, I believe this is the most promising aspect of the bill. We will be able to take preventative measures because of the information available to us. It will enhance accountability of the firearms owners and therefore encourage better firearms storage practices. It will encourage owners of firearms to report thefts or loss of firearms to the police. These benefits surely, Mr. Chairman, must be in the public's best interest.
Before concluding, I feel bound to comment on two practical issues that have been raised in the public debates as well as before this committee. As I understand it, a suggestion has been made that the bill ought to provide an exemption from criminal liability for those who inadvertently fail to register their firearms.
In light of what has already been stated, this suggestion is contrary to the bill and its stated objectives. For that reason alone, I don't believe it should be considered and I don't believe it's valid.
Some groups have also advocated that the bill ought to be met with civil disobedience. I suggest that such threats provide the exact reason why the bill is in the public interest and public safety and why it should be passed into law.
For the reasons already mentioned, I urge the committee to approve the bill in its entirety. This bill undeniably goes a long way towards making Canada what we would consider a safer place to live.
Allow me to conclude by saying that one only needs to spend a couple of nights with police officers on the beat or in cars to understand why gun control legislation is so important and why Bill C-68 is so important. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chair: Ms Cukier.
Ms Cukier: The second perspective on gun control that I think is critical to at least reference, although you've heard quite a lot about it both today and previously, is the relationship between access to firearms and murders, suicides and accident rates. Certainly you've heard from a number of public health specialists, from emergency specialists, from suicide prevention experts, who argue very clearly that there is a strong relationship between access to firearms and the death and injury rate.
I want to reference a couple of studies that reinforce this. One is the work of Martin Killias, appended in our brief, showing very clearly correlations between accessibility to firearms and suicide and death rates.
In appendix 3 is a very brief analysis of the current status of gun control in some of those countries Professor Killias looked at having substantially lower murder and suicide rates. When you have a chance to wade through the paper, of note is that in virtually every European country - Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, and so on - registration of long guns is part of the gun control regime. This strengthens the notion of a direct link between the strictness of the gun control regime in a particular jurisdiction, access to firearms, and consequently the suicide, murder and accident rates.
From our perspective, it is rather ironic that the provinces with the highest death and injury rate from firearms are the ones most opposed to this legislation; ironic also that the Minister of Justice for Manitoba, who testified last night, was unaware of the rates of death and injury in her province.
Appendix 2 pulls together from publicly available information a comparison of the provincial rates of accident and injury. The gun lobby continually says, particularly in the west, that this is somehow a conspiracy of Toronto and Montreal. However, Ontario has one of the lowest rates of firearms death and injury in the country, and provinces like Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are substantially higher than both Ontario and the national average. That's important.
Within Ontario there is ample evidence that the notion of gun control being more relevant in the cities than rural areas is simply not supported by the facts. In Ontario it is very clear that gun death rates in the north are almost twice the provincial average, again underscoring this relationship between access to firearms, gun death and injury.
Clearly there's a relationship between access to firearms and the voraciousness of the gun lobby in opposing gun control. That does not mean it is not a problem in those provinces or our rural communities. We've provided some evidence to support that.
In passing - and we really don't have to document this because you've certainly heard testimony from a number of the gun-owning groups - it's obvious part of their agenda is not simply the sporting use of firearms, but there are certain elements within the gun lobby with the belief that Canadians would be safer if we armed for self-protection. Speaking for all of us at the table and the groups endorsing the Coalition for Gun Control, there is very clear evidence internationally that the proliferation of firearms increases death, injury and crime rates. We have to ensure that Canada does not follow the failed example of the United States in suggesting civilians need to arm for self-protection.
Lastly, on the question of attitudes and the need to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of law-abiding gun owners and the concerns for public safety, the point has to be made repeatedly that gun control is not gun abolition.
There have been very deliberate efforts, and we've documented some of them, for the gun lobby to represent gun control as a step down the road to gun abolition. They distribute pamphlets saying the Minister of Justice wants to take your guns away and registration is the first step to confiscation. I think we have to be really clear that there is a problem with the veracity of the information being circulated about the legislation.
There are some who would argue that Canadians support gun control in the polls because they are misinformed and that if they had more information there would be less support for gun control. I would argue the contrary. I would argue that if many of the law-abiding gun owners in Canada had clear information about what the agenda was, about what the costs of gun control were going to be, much of the opposition to gun control would in fact subside.
At the same time I want to echo the concerns raised by Deputy Chief Cassels. We're very sympathetic to the risks associated with inadvertent non-compliance, and we think the current Criminal Code accommodates that. At the same time we are very concerned about the efforts to fuel civil disobedience.
We have documented very comprehensively discussions on the Internet in which people talk about strategies to bury guns, strategies to undermine the system, and talk about it being a fight to the death in some of the more inflammatory rhetoric.
I think we have to be very concerned about what this suggests about Canadian values, and I would suggest to the committee that much of this represents seepage over the border of what I consider to be quite undesirable American attitudes.
In terms of the key elements of the legislation, I don't want to go through them in detail. I think you can see from the position of the Coalition for Gun Control and from the components of the legislation before you that we are very pleased with the principle aspects of it, and we would certainly be happy to argue in support of them during the questions.
I want to turn it over now to my colleague Heidi Rathjen, who will talk in more specific terms about the legislation itself.
Ms Heidi Rathjen (Executive Director, Coalition for Gun Control): Thank you very much.
Possession permits and the registration of firearms are the core to the gun control legislation. Without information about who owns what guns there cannot be effective gun control. A system of possession permits and registration will identify gun owners, attach each gun to its lawful owner, and track the movements of all gun shipments, as well as those from individual shipments across the border.
Currently the bill criminalizes unlawful possession of a firearm; in other words, possession of a firearm without proper licence and registration. It proposes a penalty resulting from summary conviction for an indictable offence for the possession of a firearm without proper licence and registration and a penalty for an indictable offence for knowingly possessing a firearm without proper licence and registration. Added to that is a minimum penalty of one year for a second offence.
We need to ensure that any amendment does not weaken the bill, however minor it may appear at first glance. For example, it has been suggested that failure to register be decriminalized in order to protect the otherwise law-abiding citizen from criminal sanctions for minor or inadvertent non-compliance.
As you know, the Canadian Police Association, which represents rank-and-file police officers, suggested decriminalizing first-time offences of failure to register; however, with penalties including fines and confiscation of the offender's firearms.
However, other groups, such as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Association of Police Boards, have indicated that while they also have concerns about criminal sanctions for minor offences related to the failure to register, they maintain there are other approaches by which one can address the issue. For example, as with many other criminal or regulatory offences, police and the Crown have discretion over whether or not to lay charges. In addition, the court may decide to issue conditional or unconditional discharges. The same discretion could apply to the enforcement of registration, thereby avoiding criminalizing genuine inadvertent non-compliance.
The chiefs of police have expressed concerns about deliberate efforts to undermine the legislation. There is widespread talk of civil disobedience by opponents of the legislation, including some politicians. Some gun owners have publicly stated that they will not comply. Some groups have suggested ways to disrupt the implementation of registration. For example, they suggest registering their guns to people who don't exist, filling out thousands of registration cards for non-existent guns, transferring their guns to non-existent people, listing the residence as ``no fixed address'', giving the wrong social insurance number and even burying their guns. Any modification to the bill must not cater to those intent on disobeying or undermining the law.
While we share police concerns about criminalizing honest citizens who, for example, may forget to register their firearm by a particular deadline, we are also concerned that the legislation not be weakened and send the message that registration requirements do not have to be taken seriously or, worse, that they are optional.
The Coalition for Gun Control strongly opposes decriminalizing offences under the requirement that all gun owners must be licensed. We also oppose any changes that would undermine the ability to effectively implement registration and ensure compliance. After having consulted with legal experts and police, our position is to support the provisions of Bill C-17 as they are written, while allowing for police and judicial discretion.
In other words, after consulting legal experts and police, our position is that we support the bill as it now stands, while agreeing that some discretion should be left to the police and the judicial, as is the case in the present system.
In addition, in order to ensure consistent implementation across the country and prevent the nullification of certain provisions of Bill C-68 by any province, the coalition requires a clause preventing the use of alternative sentencing programs for the Firearms Act, such as those in clause 6, proposed section 717 of Bill C-41. We also would like to see a clause-vesting prosecutorial authority in the Attorney General of Canada, to allow federal crown attorneys to prosecute in cases where their provincial counterparts are prevented from doing so by instruction from the provincial attorney general.
I will repeat this paragraph in French.
In addition, in order to ensure consistent implementation across the country and prevent the nullification of certain provisions of Bill C-68 by any province, the Coalition requires a clause preventing the use of alternative sentencing programs for the Firearms Act, such as those in clause 6, proposed section 717 of Bill C-41.
We also would like to see a clause vesting prosecutorial authority in the Attorney General of Canada, to allow federal crown attorneys to prosecute in cases where their provincial counterparts are prevented from doing so by instruction from the provincial attorney general.
We also expect the gun lobby to try everything to block or postpone the enactment of the bill, especially its registration provisions. The bill allows the establishment of regulations to postpone the implementation of the permit and registration system.
In other words, it would be possible without passing new legislation to postpone legislation of firearms. The fact that it might be possible to postpone the date of implementation would give the gun lobby an opportunity to weaken or block the legislation after passage of Bill C-68. It could continue to lobby the next government to have the registration system implementation put back indefinitely. This loophole must be eliminated.
In other words, the possibility to delay the final date of implementation provides an opportunity for the gun lobby to undermine the legislation after the passage of Bill C-68. In fact they can continue to lobby the next government to delay the implementation of registration indefinitely. This loophole must be removed.
Let's talk about prohibition orders. Over 13,000 prohibition orders are issued each year against individuals who represent a risk for public safety to forbid them to have a gun in their possession.
These apply to people in very different kinds of situations: parole offenders, people charged with a violent crime who have been released on bail, people convicted of certain offences, people faced with very high risk situations, such as family violence, and individuals suffering from depression or other kinds of mental illness.
Prohibition orders are capital, preventative measures which must be taken seriously by those concerned. Disobeying a prohibition order is an offence punishable on summary conviction under the act and is therefore a criminal offence.
In our first case, the penalty provided might be a simple fine. We are aware of cases where offenders were fined 50$ for disobeying a prohibition order. Since these orders apply to individuals who are considered to be a risk for society, having a gun in their possession in their case becomes a deliberate violation of the law, which implies a criminal intention.
We recommend therefore that the offences reflect the seriousness of such action and always be a criminal act. When a prohibition order has been given following a violent or criminal action, there must be mandatory imprisonment. Thank you very much.
Professor Louise Viau (Law professor, Université de Montréal, legal counsel): Just a few more words on the legal aspects of this bill.
I have three points to make about this bill, especially about its constitutional validity and some of the aspects that have been raised by some people who appeared before your committee.
I will first address the issue of the provincial opting-out provision that would be required by some of the people who appeared before you. I'm asking myself ``Are these people aware of Canadian history, particularly of the discussion that preceded the adoption of the BNA Act?''
This is the 1867 Constitutional Act which provided for the sharing of jurisdictions between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures.
In Canada, as opposed to the United States, it was decided in 1867 that the kernel of power should be attributed to the federal Parliament rather than to the provincial legislature because it was thought it would be a way to provide unity in this country to have just one criminal law that would speak about the values that link all the people of this country.
I'm really surprised to hear there are some people who would like to have an opting out of the criminalization of some conduct. I'm not sure it would be a good idea for the federal government to accept such a suggestion.
I'm not aware that in the last twenty years there has been a discussion about the division of power between the Parliament and the provinces to have criminal law not apply to the provinces. It would be very surprising; I won't say more than that.
Finally, beyond this one issue, if Quebec were to go forward with its separation project, it would obviously have a different Criminal Code than the other provinces.
But until then, I do not think it would be a good idea. I believe that saying that criminal law would not be the same throughout the country would set a dangerous precedent.
However, I shall not go into a debate which I find in any case futile on the validity of such a decision in view of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
My colleague Tim Quigley of the Law Faculty of the University of Saskatchewan has dealt with this issue in a letter to Mr. Dupuis, the Clerk of your committee. I believe that you have already seen this document.
The second point I would like to make is about the decriminalization of first-time offenders. It is not really clear to me how we would deal with a person who did not register his firearm and was caught with an unregistered firearm for the first time. Would it be by amending the Criminal Code and saying, ``Well, for the first offence it's not an offence; it will become an offence just for a second offence''? Would it by mentioning clearly that it would not be a criminal offence but just a regulatory offence? I've seen and heard the analogy with the registration of cars. As you know, the registration of cars is of provincial jurisdiction, not of federal jurisdiction.
The way the bill is currently written the registration scheme is clearly constitutional. It's clearly valid as an accessory to the colonial power of Parliament. I don't know on what basis it would be possible to mention clearly that it would be a regulatory offence. Maybe it would be possible on the peace, order and good government clause, the general clause of section 91 of the BNA Act.
There would be a risk of going ahead with this idea and of stating clearly that certain offences related to the non-registration of firearms would be a regulatory offence and not a criminal offence as such. There would be a risk of a court action based on the distribution of constitutional jurisdictions. I believe that this issue should be seriously considered before this option is chosen.
I have also heard many things about the validity of the inspection powers provided under the bill. I have carefully re-read these provisions and, in view of the recent rulings of the Supreme Court, and especially those related to section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
which guarantee the right against unreasonable search and seizure.
I'm absolutely confident that those provisions are valid the way they are drafted right now. I wouldn't change a word. My colleague Mr. Quigley in that respect would just add a word in the English version. I would guess that, for this part of the bill, it is the French drafter who had deleted it. In the English version it seems that in section 99 it just says, ``on reasonable grounds'' and it would be better to have ``reasonable and probable grounds''. In French,
this section simply talks about reasonable grounds, which is quite valid and means the same. There is no constitutional problem here. There might have been an omission in the drafting, but certainly not serious enough to justify questionning the whole procedure which clearly makes the distinction between inspections in locations that could be described as semi public, locations other than the residence of an individual.
In the case of dwellings, the inspections could not take place without the authorization of the dweller or, again, after the securing of a mandate, which could be obtained by following all the customary rules contained in the Criminal Code, which is why this measure seems perfectly adequate to me.
I would add one last point. I will be expressing here my own point of view rather than the coalition's because we did not have time to discuss this together and to poll all the organizations supporting the coalition.
With regards to this decriminalization, I fully support the position taken by the coalition for the reasons which it invoked, and particularly with regards to the civil disobedience question which is being waved as a threat, with people saying: Don't do this because there will be civil disobedience.
I think that if we maintain criminalization with all the consequences that that can have, that will encourage people to abide by the legislation and that it will not provoke instances of civil disobedience.
Also, it is important to remind people who suggest civil disobedience that once the legislation will be passed, and I hope from the bottom of my heart that it will be passed, that if they persist on that path, that will constitute a criminal offence as such. If they do so, that will constitute an incitement. That's why I'm not very worried that they will go very far with this idea of civil disobedience. I strongly doubt that this idea will gain many supporters.
However, we included in our amendments two suggestions that would counter any hint of civil disobedience which would be expressed with the support of a province, if that is ever to occur, which I doubt personally. I do not think that the provincial attorney generals, should this legislation be passed, would go so far to say: We will not implement this legislation.
Should they ever go forward on that front, we suggest that provisions be provided to the current bill to prevent any province from creating an alternative measures program which would impede the implementation of some provisions of the legislation, and also, a concurrent jurisdiction for the federal and provincial crown attorneys, which would step in precisely in cases where a province would refuse to implement the legislation.
Moreover, Heidi said clearly that we are not opposed to the exercise of discretion by crown attorneys and law enforcement people case by case. For this case-by-case business, we could perhaps also add another provision to the bill - and I'm expressing here a personal point of view.
We may add a new provision for interim proceedings for the forfeiture of the firearm without any prosecution against the person. The person would not be at risk for any criminal charge, but at least the firearm would be forfeited in case of non-compliance.
You could have an ``in rem'' procedure, which would apply to non-registered firearms and which could lead to their seizure and forfeiture, as we have it already in other areas of the Criminal Code. I'm thinking here in particular of the seizure and forfeiture of obscene material. Thank you.
Ms Cukier: Thank you. I apologize, Mr. Chairman, for taking so long.
I should also mention that Keith Carter, our Saskatchewan coordinator, is sitting at the end of the table.
The Chair: Thank you. Have you completed your presentation?
Ms Cukier: Yes, we have.
The Chair: We will now proceed to the rounds of questions.
In the first round we have rounds of ten minutes for each of the three political parties. Following the ten-minute rounds, we will then have five-minute rounds in which we exchange between government members and opposition members.
I will begin with Mrs. Venne.
Mrs. Venne (Saint-Hubert): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon! This is actually not surprising, and looking at you I see that for the first time, if I'm not mistaken, since the beginning of our sittings, there is a majority of women among witnesses. This proves something about the present state of the public opinion, if I'm not mistaken. It seems obvious to me.
First, I would like to address my question to Ms Viau, who teaches law, I think. First of all, you spoke about a link created by a trans-Canadian Criminal Code. I'm not that sure that this would be a good way to create a link between provinces in Canada, but this is what you stated.
You also stated that in a sovereign Quebec the Criminal Code would be different from the rest of the provinces. You seem to assume that it would be different. In my view this is only speculation, and it was many times publicly stated that a separated Quebec would first and in a transitory fashion adopt the present Canadian laws. So it remains to be seen whether our Criminal Code would, at that time, be so different from yours.
This being said, I would like to ask the coalition what kind of compromise it would eventually be ready to accept, as we are getting closer to the final stage. I'm looking at your amendments, quite a few of those I would be ready to endorse and submit to the Committee. I'm thinking of for instance limiting for a period of five years any trading of prohibited military weapons, I'm thinking of authorizing only permit holders to buy ammunitions... There is a host of proposals as those that the Bloc Québécois would certainly agree with, and could easily be submitted to the Committee.
On the other hand, when negotiating, both sides make concessions. Concerning Bill C-68, I would like to know what kind of concessions you would be ready to make? Would it pertain to the powers of inspection? Would it be decriminalizing the failure of registering firearms, as Ms Viau was mentioning, as a personal suggestion? How far are you ready to go, or do I have to assume that you're adamant and not ready to budge?
Ms Cukier: I think a couple of points need to be made.
First of all, in our view, there have been some compromises made already to get the legislation to this point. As you will recall, the trading provisions were introduced in order to accommodate grandfather donors of banned guns. We thought that was reasonable.
In terms of the decriminalization issue, which is certainly one of the hot topics, quite honestly we have consulted very widely on this. In particular we have to defer to the judgment of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and their legal counsel, who is here with us, as well as Professor Viau, insofar as we do believe that decriminalizing the registration provisions basically makes registration seem optional. So any changes to those provisions have to be very clear.
We would prefer that the committee direct its attention to some of the issues around the inspection powers, because clearly if you look at the rhetoric that's circulating these days and some of the concerns that have been brought forward, there's a lot of attention being focused on the inspection powers.
Our legal advisers have told us they really don't view those concerns as valid. At the same time, if you were to look at places to make concessions, we would direct your attention there.
In terms of the registration and licensing, if you want people to take it seriously, as my colleague Vince Westwick said, I think you have to have teeth in the bill. We think there is ample discretion within the current Criminal Code.
Right now, for example, if they catch Grandma with an unregistered handgun, they do not charge her, they do not put her in jail. They basically say, Grandma, you should either turn that gun in or you should get it registered. Quite frankly, given that more people in this country are killed with rifles and shotguns than with handguns...the evidence we've seen is that rifles and shotguns are more of a problem in criminal offences than handguns. I don't understand why we would have possession of an unregistered handgun as a criminal offence and say the first time with an unregistered rifle or shotgun we're going to look the other way.
That's our position.
Mrs. Venne: My second comment is as follows. My one reproach to the Minister of Justice is that he hasn't marketed the bill properly. If he ever gets involved in a leadership campaign as some journalists have mentioned, I think it will be beneficial to him to change his marketing agency.
The Chair: For which party?
Mrs. Venne: For which party?
The Chair: We already have a leader.
Mrs. Venne: According to what we read in the newspapers the Minister would like that.
I think he should change his marketing agency because the one he has now has misinformed the population as far as this bill is concerned.
This is unbelievable... The disinformation has been such that open lines are flourishing. That is a way to understand more about this whole question as competent people are invited as hosts on these open lines.
So according to me the Minister of Justice has not chosen a good marketing agency. I would like you to tell me what you think about that. Do you think that the population has been well informed?
Ms Cukier: I wouldn't necessarily blame the Minister of Justice. I think anybody engaging in this debate who thinks it's a matter of common sense...the fact that the experts say this is going to reduce crime, that if you look at it on the face of it, it's not an undue burden on legitimate gun owners...I think most reasonable people would look at the provisions of the law and think most law-abiding gun owners should accept them, and there wouldn't be a big problem.
I think perhaps the Minister of Justice underestimated the scope, the resources, and the energy that were going to be put into deliberate misinformation. We've bought copies of all sorts of things distributed by the groups that have appeared before this committee, saying the Minister of Justice wants to ban all guns, registration is the first step to confiscation.
I was in a debate with a member of the government, Chris Axworthy, who said on national television that it was going to cost $100 per gun to register them. So when you have politicians joining in with the gun lobby -
The Chair: He's a member of Parliament, not a member of the government.
Ms Cukier: I'm sorry, a member of Parliament. When you have members of Parliament, and some of them are sitting at this table, deliberately distributing the same misinformation as that which is being put forward by the gun lobby, one can understand why the Minister of Justice, as well as many of you, has problems back in his constituency.
I absolutely agree with you that there has to be accurate information about the intention and the content of this law, and I would encourage all of you to be part of that process.
Mr. Ramsay (Crowfoot): I would like to welcome the coalition.
I appreciate the sincerity with which you have presented your proposals.
I would like to begin by carrying on from the last comment that Ms Cukier made about misinformation.
The justice minister stated some time ago that in his opinion only the police and military should have firearms. Would you consider that misinformation?
Ms Cukier: I would consider that his personal opinion, not a statement of government policy. He was reflecting, I believe, on his personal experience.
Mr. Ramsay: He indicated that he thought there should be gun-free zones, particularly the cities, where any gun owner or firearm owner would have to store their firearms in a central location. Would you consider that misinformation?
Ms Cukier: Again, I would have to see the specific reference. But my understanding is that the comments of the Minister of Justice were ``Frankly, this is what I think; here are some things that we're looking at''. I do not recall any case where he said we are going to introduce gun-free zones. Perhaps you have an example of that.
Mr. Ramsay: Well, of course, this is being stated by the justice minister of Canada, who was also indicating there would be forthcoming gun control legislation in accordance with the red book, or the policy, or the instructions he received from the Prime Minister. So is it not realistic to assume people would draw conclusions from statements made by the justice minister of Canada?
Ms Cukier: In the early stages it may be reasonable, but we have copies of brochures that were very clear that have been distributed in the last two or three months after the proposals were actually tabled. I can understand that last summer people were perhaps wondering what was going to be in the law, but we have things that have been distributed by the Responsible Firearms Owners Coalition of B.C. saying that the federal Minister of Justice wants to ban all guns, that the anti-gun lobby is determined to use every means at its disposal to ban all guns, that the NDP government in B.C. plans to ban hunting. Those things are not based on anything that was included in the proposals.
When you look at some of the advertisements that are being run about warrantless search and seizure - you know there's a big difference between warrantless search and seizure and the inspection powers contained within the bill. While some people may have concerns about the inspection powers contained in the bill, it's a lot different from people telling you that someone's going to come to your home at 2 a.m. and walk in, or we're moving towards a police state.
I believe there are some people who genuinely do not understand what's in the legislation, but I must tell you, Mr. Ramsay, I also believe there are people very deliberately misrepresenting what's in the bill, misrepresenting the process and the intention of the government.
Mr. Ramsay: Once the bill is out, there may be errors in interpretation, but certainly there should be no deliberate intent by anyone to claim there's something in the bill that is not there, and anyone who is doing that of course - I think that's wrong. I think what the people of this country want is the knowledge, the truth about what the bill means to them, whether they're gun owners or not, and I think any attempt by anyone to mislead anyone with regard to what is in the bill is wrong.
You mentioned 300 organizations that support the bill. During your travels and your efforts, have you met with the Attorney General of Manitoba?
Ms Cukier: I have not, but a number of our supporting organizations have, such as the Manitoba Police Association and the Chief of Police in Manitoba. They've also written to them.
Mr. Ramsay: Are they members of your association?
Ms Cukier: Yes, they are.
Mr. Ramsay: Have you met with the Attorney General of Alberta?
Ms Cukier: I have not, but, again, I believe the police in both Edmonton and Calgary have had discussions with the Attorney General in Alberta on this issue.
Mr. Ramsay: What about the Attorney General of Saskatchewan and the two territories?
Ms Cukier: Keith Carter has had meetings with the Attorney General of Saskatchewan.
Mr. Ramsay: What about the justice minister of the Northwest Territories?
Ms Cukier: We have not had any meetings with the justice minister in the Northwest Territories or the Yukon.
Mr. Ramsay: What about the justice minister of the Yukon?
Ms Cukier: No, we haven't had any meetings with them. We have, however, had meetings with the attorneys general in B.C., in Ontario and in Quebec and we have had correspondence with the eastern attorneys general as well.
Mr. Ramsay: Do you support the provisions of Bill C-17?
Ms Cukier: Bill C-17?
Mr. Ramsay: Yes, Kim Campbell's Bill C-17. That's now part of the Criminal Code. Do you support it?
Ms Cukier: For the most part, we supported it and said it did not go far enough.
Mr. Ramsay: So you support all aspects of it?
Ms Cukier: As far as I recall, but there may be something that you will draw to my attention that I will want to say that I don't support, so perhaps you could be more specific.
Mr. Ramsay: You see, we always look at the practicality of the law and particularly those who attempt to influence the creation of the law.
We have had witnesses here from the Northwest Territories who have testified to us of the impracticality of the existing law. To give you an example of that, I think everyone is interested in the storage requirements and yet the bill requires a firearm to be stored in one room, locked up securely, and the ammunition in another room. How does that occur in a one-room cabin in the Northwest Territories, or any other part of Canada?
Ms Cukier: In fact, Mr. Ramsay, I believe if you are talking about rifles or shotguns, you can keep the ammunition in a secure case. You can trigger-lock. You can have a case in which the rifle is stored. I think it is also important to emphasize that the current law does accommodate some variance, and in communities where there is the need to have ready access to firearms because of threats of predators or pests, the regulations clearly state that those people are exempt from the safe storage requirements.
You have to remember there are several options for safe storage. Trigger locks are clearly one of them. Having the ammunition locked in a tackle box with a lock would clearly address the safe storage requirements.
Mr. Ramsay: Thank you. Then anyone suggesting that, if you're living in a one-room cabin or a one-room apartment and own a firearm -
Ms Cukier: That you have to build an extension? No, you don't.
Mr. Ramsay: So that would be misinformation, would it?
Ms Cukier: I believe it would be.
Mr. Ramsay: Do you oppose the possession of firearms for self-protection?
Ms Cukier: If you're talking about an alternative to relying primarily on the police, I believe our current law does not support the notion of individuals arming with handguns for self-protection except in very circumscribed cases.
Mr. Ramsay: I asked you about your feelings. How do you feel about firearms for self-protection?
Ms Cukier: I believe that the evidence shows very clearly that the proliferation of firearms for self-protection results in more people being killed. I think the example of the United States is absolutely clear. One of the most important things about this legislation is it sends out a clear message that the solution to making Canadian streets safer is not for us all to be packing pistols.
Mr. Ramsay: Then would you recommend the removal of subclause 19(a) from Bill C-68, which allows a person to carry a firearm to protect the life of that individual or of other individuals? Would you recommend we strike that from Bill C-68?
Ms Cukier: Currently, there are provisions in the law for an individual who requires a firearm for self-protection and can demonstrate that the police cannot provide adequate protection, which allows them to carry a firearm for self-protection, and we think those are reasonable tests.
Our argument is that the average civilian does not need to be carrying a handgun for self-protection. We have, again, documented evidence. We're very concerned about the extreme elements in the gun lobby making the case that more guns will make Canadians safer.
We've seen very clear evidence of campaigns targeted at women suggesting if more women have guns, they'll protect themselves from rapists. It's a great way to sell more guns; it's a great way to kill more women. We absolutely object to those notions.
Ms Torsney (Burlington): Welcome to all the witnesses. I know you've done a lot of hard work on this issue and that you're very dedicated and have been working on this issue for a number of years.
I too had the pleasure of going to a gun meeting organized by the Reform Party in Kamloops, where there were 450 people and most of them were gunowners. Only 2 or 3 or maybe 7 had had their storage checked.
It got very interesting, of course, when people starting talking about UZIs and 150 people put up their hands as being interested in possessing an UZI.
So as for your comments about whether or not we're headed toward an American-style philosophy in Canada, such that you should have lots more guns and everybody should be armed for self-protection, we are definitely on the edge, one way or the other.
I wanted you to elaborate a little bit on the issue of criminalization and also whether smuggled guns are really the problem or whether it's in fact guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens that are either improperly stored or stolen.
The other thing I wanted more comments from you on - I don't think you did this in your presentation - was your suggested amendments on prohibition orders. Clearly, we've had some mistakes in the past.
Jonathon Yeo is an example of somebody who murdered two people, presumably. One was in Burlington and another was in New Brunswick. He was up on charges but nobody bothered to put in a prohibition order.
When he was stopped and had a gun, he didn't have any restrictions over him. He was certainly entitled to have the gun in his possession. Perhaps two young women in Canada might still be alive if that had not been the case.
I'd like you to expand on the two amendments you suggested and elaborate a little bit on the issue of whether it's just smuggled guns or also law-abiding citizens.
Ms Cukier: You will recall that with the testimony before the committee the last time around there was a lot of debate. People would stand up and say that the problem was smuggled guns. Then people would stand up and say that it was legal guns.
I believe that some of the comments out of the Auditor General's report really reflected a lack of empirical information.
We now have empirical information that supports what the chiefs of police have been saying all along, along with public health people, which is that this nice, clean division between the guns that belong to law-abiding gun owners and the criminal element simply does not exist.
Almost half the guns used in criminal occurrences across this country are rifles and shotguns. We have no evidence whatsoever that people are smuggling rifles and shotguns into this country. That's partly because they are difficult to conceal compared to handguns. That's one point.
We also know that of the handguns used in crime, 40% in Canada, overall, were at one time legally registered or owned. In Edmonton, it's a higher percentage; in Toronto, it's slightly less.
Consider the arguments that guns in the hands of legal owners are not in some way contributing to this problem through gun theft or misuse by owners. There's also the big gap that currently exists in which you have an FAC and you can buy as many guns as you want. The only way the police can trace those back to you is by doing store-by-store searches.
I think those facts have now been substantiated. They lend much more support to the legislation. They certainly support our position more than that which we had the benefit of back in 1990, when we started.
In terms of the amendments, I think Heidi and Louise can comment.
Ms Rathjen: We had asked earlier on for Bill C-17 to increase the circumstances in which prohibition orders could be issued. The bill does increase the different types of offences that would justify either a mandatory or a discretionary prohibition. In addition, if the judge decides not to issue a prohibition order, he or she has to justify it, which is absolutely what we support.
I think the only thing that was perhaps omitted in the bill is in the case of a violation of a prohibition order. There's still a possibility that you would only have a fine. Because these prohibition orders are very serious and any violation is deliberate, we think it should be a criminal offence at all times.
In cases in which the prohibition order was issued under sections 109 and 110, which is criminal offences involving violence, we've asked that those individuals, as opposed to perhaps somebody who's suicidal - that's somebody who has committed a criminal offence - be subject to a mandatory minimum jail sentence.
Ms Torsney: Do you think, Ms Cukier, that the empirical information you have should be enough for the Manitoba Justice minister to appreciate the value of a registration system?
Ms Cukier: Quite frankly, I found her testimony quite astonishing in terms of the fact that she wasn't aware of the death and injury rates.
I have to also say that I found the brief from the Alberta justice minister astonishing because it didn't make any reference to death or injury by guns or the sources of firearms. When it listed the groups that supported his position, you would have thought he was the minister of hunting and target shooting because there was absolutely no reference to crime prevention or injury prevention.
I think we perhaps have to take some responsibility in terms of our efforts because we've focused very much on the federal government and federal politicians.
Look at many of the gun organizations. You heard from a range of the provincial responsible firearms owners on Monday. They realized they weren't going to get very far with the federal government so they shifted their focus to the provincial governments. Quite frankly, some of those briefs could have been written by the responsible firearms owners in those provinces.
I think part of the problem was a lack of consultation, perhaps, with health and safety specialists. Once someone commits to a certain position, it's very hard to say that they didn't have all the information and to back down.
Quite frankly, in the western provinces, there is a problem with legal guns. Very good arguments for the registration of firearms were put forward. I think that perhaps those messages simply have not been communicated to those individuals as aggressively as that of the arguments on the other side.
Ms Torsney: I noticed that in your list of supporters you have an impressive number of health care organizations that have people who deal on the front line with gunshot wounds and suicides. We certainly heard impressive testimony from them today. You've also got a good list of community and women's organizations.
Last week, I guess, we heard from somebody who suggested that the reason women's organizations supported this legislation was that they were misinformed and didn't appreciate the issues. I believe that was Ms Ross's presentation.
Can you tell me what kind of consultations you've had with women's organizations? Are they informed on these issues? Is their support justified?
Ms Cukier: Two things. First of all, I think the polls show that there is a gender split in terms of support for gun control. However, it is not as big as the regional splits.
If you contrast, say, Quebec with Alberta, you'll find maybe a 15-point spread. If you look at the average for men and women, you'll find maybe a 12-point spread.
I think the differences in attitudes to guns are there between men and women. I think the women's organizations that support gun control are very often coming at it from the perspective of domestic violence.
I believe that the representatives of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan, as well as the provincial Council of Women, tabled a brief on death and injury in Saskatchewan. This made the point very succinctly that from the point of view of a woman who's being abused in her home, the notion of the criminal element is quite irrelevant. As we know, the risk to women is not strangers jumping out of the bushes with illegal handguns, just as the risk to children is not strangers abducting them. There's a lot of attention focused on random violence, but the people on the front line in the transition houses know that a lot of the problems are the so-called ``law-abiding'' gun owners and their lawful weapons.
When I said there wasn't empirical evidence about the misuse of illegal guns until the chiefs of police presented their study's initial results, that's not entirely true. The best study that looked at the use of firearms in crime focused specifically on domestic violence.
It was a study that was done a couple of years ago. It showed that 78% of the firearms used to kill women in domestic violence situations had, at one time, been legally owned. About 35% to 45% of women killed by their spouses were shot.
The evidence that legal guns were part of the problem was on the table a couple of years ago, but it was in in the context of domestic violence. So the police chiefs have added more information about the misuse of legal guns in a broader range of crimes. I think that's the reason front-line women's organizations were strongly in support of this.
The Chair: Mrs. Venne, you have five minutes.
Mrs. Venne: Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I'm looking at the witnesses' amendment on ammunition control. You did not mention that transitional provisions would be required until the act is fully in force. Nevertheless, I do think you favour transitional provisions and until the act is completely in force, individuals will have to show a driver's license in order to purchase ammunition, until everyone has their firearms possession license.
I would like to hear what you think about the example we were given of a farmer who has to deal with a coyote and asks his wife to purchase some ammunition. She has no firearms possession license. So they're in a panic. What is your reaction to that argument? I must confess that such cases are quite rare. I'm told that for people who live in the city, the situation is rare, but it is not rare for people who live on farms.
Ms Rathjen: People who live in rural areas and have firearms to deal with dangerous predators should have a supply of ammunition in the home. If the husband knows that his wife cannot go and purchase ammunition in a specific situation, he will ensure that he has a supply of ammunition on hand. The situation is similar to that of people who expect to have to drive - they have their driver's license with them. I don't think it's asking too much for people to have a supply of ammunition purchased by the person who holds the license on hand to deal with emergencies.
Mrs. Venne: So you wouldn't make an exemption for such people.
Ms Rathjen: No.
Mrs. Venne: Ms Viau, I did not follow your explanation very well earlier when you were discussing the fact that provisions regarding fines could not be put in a regulatory act rather than the Criminal Code. I'm referring here to the decriminalization of failure to register a firearms. I would like you to repeat your explanation, please, because we do have federal regulatory statutes. Earlier, you made a comparison to the legislation on driver's licenses, which I believe is a provincial statute, but there are federal regulatory statutes, such as the Excise Act, which provides for fines. So I'm wondering whether I followed your explanation correctly.
Prof. Viau: There is a specific provision regarding excise. I could not quote you the exact subsection of section 91 of the 1867 Constitution Act, but I know there is one that gives the federal Parliament exclusive power in the area of excise. So there is no trouble for the federal Parliament to legislate outside its responsibility for criminal law in this area.
The same is true of the Bank Act. There's also aeronautics, and protection of migratory birds, for example, which are areas of federal jurisdiction which do not come under the criminal law as such, as mentioned in section 91(27). Of course, to ensure compliance with this legislation, the federal Parliament can provide for criminal punishments in this legislation, that is create offences.
There is no other subsection in section 91 that applies specifically to firearms. Thus, it becomes difficult to pass legislation outside the context of 91(27). This would have to be done under the residual power regarding peace, order and good government, if it were to be done at all.
I am not an expert on the interpretation of this clause. I know that the federal Parliament has used it in the past, particularly with its Anti-inflation Act, but using this clause always leads to constitutional debates about whether the matter comes under federal jurisdiction or whether the federal government is intruding in an area of provincial authority.
The other problem is that there is a difference for the person charged with the offence according to whether the offence comes under the Criminal Code or another piece of legislation.
If we say that the offence was against the regulations, given the way the Supreme Court interpreted offences against regulations, first in the Sault Ste. Marie decision and more recently in the Wholesale Travel Group Inc. case, it has the effect of reversing the burden of proof on the person subject to be tried. The Supreme Court stated it was quite constitutional to act in such a matter.
Lastly, it could be said that it makes a difference on the criminal record, but if I read the Criminal Records Act correctly, I notice that any offence to a federal act or any one of its regulations is entered into the criminal record. Once again, I fail to see the difference.
The Chair: Mr. Gallaway, five minutes.
Mr. Gallaway (Sarnia - Lambton): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
You used two words in your presentation that we've heard a lot about here. It's called ``empirical evidence''. For example, this morning we heard one of the doctors refute something that was said by another doctor, which was that if the studies in The New England Journal of Medicine dealt with gun control, the editor was biased - that sort of thing.
We've had a number of witnesses appear before us who flashed something called the Fraser forum and who flashed the name Gary Mauser. In one of the briefs of this week there was a reference to the fact - and I don't want to overstate the number, and I don't have the brief here - that 23,000 Canadians every year use a gun for protection, for self-defence. I'm not talking about protection from animals and protection from the perils of the wild, but protection from other people. I find that an incredible number. Quite frankly, it boggles my mind. I wonder if you could comment on that particular statistic, which is, in some corners, accepted as something akin to the gospel.
Ms Cukier: There are two things. First of all, I think it's important to distinguish between empirical evidence and your analysis of the evidence. I was making the point that we had not previously had information, data, about the sources of guns. What you then conclude about what that data means, of course, is subject to interpretation.
Gary Mauser, I find, is an interesting example, because people think he's a criminologist. He's not; he's a business professor, the same as me, at Simon Fraser University. The other thing that's often not mentioned in his bio is that he is the spokesperson for the British Columbia Wildlife Federation and that his 1988 research was funded by the National Rifle Association. He's also a former American.
Under those circumstances, his objectivity, it seems to me, is questionable to start with. When you look at the study I have done, which you're referring to, where he claims that Canadians use guns 32,000 times per year to protect themselves, what you have to do is go back and look at what that's based on.
What it's based on is a telephone survey of 393 people who were asked: ``Aside from military service and police work, have you used a firearm? Have you yourself or a member of your family used a firearm for self-protection or property protection at home, at work or elsewhere, even if it wasn't fired, and was it in the last five years? If yes, was it an animal, a person or both?''
You have to look at the question. What that means is, if somebody heard something go bump in the night, grabbed their shotgun and ran outside, they could conceivably say, yes, they had used their.... It doesn`t distinguigh between perception and reality. How many cases have the police actually documented where someone has used their firearm? So that's one point.
The other point is that of his sample, 12 people said they used their firearms for protection; 6 of them said they had used it to protect themselves from other people. It's purely perception. He extrapolated, based on 6 people on the telephone saying, yes, they had used their firearm in the last five years, to the number of 32,000. I have to tell you that not only has the sample size been criticized, but if you asked the same number of people if they thought Elvis still lived, you might get the same response.
The research is simply not supportable.
The fact that it and the research of Suter, the anti-self-protection physician - and most of it has not been peer-reviewed - are cited to counter the voluminous research that has been presented to support the efficacy of gun control, as an academic I think is quite hilarious, frankly.
Mr. Gallaway: The other point is the whole question of our existing registration system with respect to handguns. We've heard it's existed since 1936 and it's not working.
I have to acknowledge that systems change. This may not be a correct analogy, but I would never go to a doctor who advertised that he only used technology invented in 1936 or before.
I'm wondering how you view this proposed system as compared to the existing system.
Ms Cukier: First of all, I think you have to ask yourself the question ``What if we had no registration of firearms?'' I don't think you would have to look very far to see what would have happened if we had had no registration of handguns. We have that great laboratory south of the border.
As to arguments that the registration of handguns has not had an effect, I think it's a question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. Certainly there are still problems with handguns, but I think it's very clear that our strict controls on handguns have contributed to improve safety.
The second thing is, as you point out, the technology on which that or the New Zealand system was based is archaic by modern standards. I have, for the sake of the debate, included in our appendix a list of the countries in Europe that have registration as well as possession permits for long guns. That is the norm in western civilized countries. The United States example is the aberration, frankly.
Mr. Hill (Prince George - Peace River): Thank you, and welcome to the committee.
I want to start off with a question, and I would ask if you could please keep your response as short as possible. That way we can try to get to as many questions as possible, not only for me but also for other members of the committee, in the time that's remaining.
In your document and in your presentation you referred to 3,000 guns stolen. You went on to say registration would help prevent this. I was just wondering how you feel it would prevent that.
Ms Cukier: The police have said quite clearly that while we have safe storage requirements on the books, the fact that gun owners are not being held accountable for their firearms contributes to the problem Deputy Chief Cassels mentioned, which is that a lot of people are not storing their guns securely.
The notion is that registration increases accountability and people will store their guns more safely.
Mr. Hill: So what you're suggesting, then, is that having it in a locked cabinet prevents the theft, and yet there are obviously lots of instances already on record where people come in, rip the cabinet right off the wall and steal the guns. They know where they are.
Ms Cukier: Sure, just like locking your car doesn't guarantee that it won't be stolen, but it reduces the probability. What we're talking about is reducing probabilities.
Mr. Hill: I see.
Perhaps you could help clear up some misinformation. A lot of people have made the claim - myself one - that if the criminal element were to gain access to this list -
Let's just surmise for a moment that everyone was to comply with the law and register their firearms and we had that in a central data bank somewhere in a computer. We know computers aren't safe. We know they can be broken into by hackers all the time.
Some people are suggesting that the accumulation of this list would actually promote this theft of firearms, because then when the thieves get the list, they would know which homes the firearms are in.
Ms Cukier: Well, we haven't seen that happen with the handgun registration system.
What we heard is that in Winnipeg, the way they find out where the guns are is to grab a kid and basically force him to tell them where someone in their family has guns. They target those places for break-and-enters. A very easy way to find out who has guns is to hang out in gun clubs and follow people home.
It seems to me that, again, the arguments about the security or lack of security of the registration system - and I do teach information systems - are analogous to arguments that because the banks now have on-line banking, someone's going to tap in and find out who has the most money in the country and then target their homes for break-and-enters.
It's really a spurious argument. There are easier ways to get access to information about gun owners than through hacking.
The security provisions governing the system will be comparable to what's already involved with CPIC and other police services.
You're right, it's a potential risk. People have broken into military computers. But there are easier ways of finding where the guns are than accessing the database.
Mr. Hill: There might be easier ways; however, there wouldn't be such an all-inclusive list of everybody in one town, what firearms they have, and where.
You made the statement that gun control is not abolition when addressing misinformation spread by the other side of the argument, the gun lobby, as you call it. In fact, if this bill proceeds, half a million legally acquired handguns will be placed on the prohibited list.
Ms Cukier: What's going to happen to those people?
Mr. Hill: The people are going to be able to keep them, but they are restricted to selling them to people of a similar class, unless I misunderstood.
Ms Cukier: Do you think that's the same as confiscation?
Mr. Hill: Eventually it will be.
Ms Cukier: I can't sell a crib that no longer complies with safety standards. I'd have a hard time arguing that's confiscation.
Mr. Hill: When firearms are put on the prohibited list, they will eventually be banned in one form or another. They'll have to be turned over to the government.
I'd like to move on to your amendments. One of your suggested amendments is to subclause 5(2). This clause deals with previous offenses, mental illness, that type of thing, over the past five-year period, preventing ownership of firearms. Your amendment suggests deletion of the five-year term.
Do you not believe in rehabilitation? Do you believe that someone who might have had a problem at some point in their life should be prevented from owning a firearm 20 or 25 years later? This is what you're suggesting by putting forward an amendment that would take the five-year term out of the bill.
Prof. Viau: It would depend on the person's situation. For example, if it is a case of a man being violent toward his wife, five years is not long enough.
Mr. Hill: You don't believe in rehabilitation.
Prof. Viau: I don't believe in rehabilitation in cases of family violence. I have difficulty with that after looking at data on men who kill their wives, on their background and the reason for first-time divorce.
Ms Rathjen: This allows the chief arms officer to examine those cases. It doesn't mean they have to refuse.
We just don't want to limit the investigation to five years. It could go further, but they could still grant the permit if they feel the person is rehabilitated.
Mr. Bodnar (Saskatoon - Dundurn): I have twin areas. You are probably aware I support the bill, but there are parts of concern to me.
One primary concern is the inspection provision. As I have made it known on a number of occasions, I very strongly believe in individual rights. I realize there are opinions the legislation may be constitutional. That's fine. But do you not find it very intrusive for police officers to be able to come into any other premise but the dwelling house, meaning garages, farm buildings, etc., without any warrants, without belief there's an offence being committed, but simply reasonable grounds there's a firearm there?
In the province of Saskatchewan virtually all farmers have guns. So any time of the day a police officer could come in and conduct an inspection of those premises, with the exception of the dwelling.
Do you not find this very intrusive?
Ms Cukier: I have to tell you honestly I don't. I submit to spot checks on the road at Christmastime, restaurants have to submit to random health and safety inspections, and so on, so I personally don't find it intrusive.
My understanding from the legal advice we've received - and perhaps Professor Viau would like to comment - is that the provisions in the law are not inconsistent with provisions elsewhere, and they are subject to the charter. Quite frankly, the police have many other things to do. I really don't think they're going to want to spend their time harassing law-abiding citizens without due cause. In fact, I've been told that in many cases they'll go for a warrant when they think there is a reason for inspecting in the first place.
Mr. Bodnar: I'm aware of what the law is on this particular point.
Perhaps by asking this next question I'll use up the rest of my time. Again, I'm simply trying to take a practical approach to this, but as much as we can have faith in police officers, quite often this depends on the individual officers. I can see police officers using this provision when they cannot obtain the proper warrant to enter a particular place, using the inspection provision when they have the reasonable grounds to believe there are guns in there, entering the premises that way and perhaps obtaining other information so that they can then get a warrant. That's a concern I have.
I'm wondering about a change to that particular section simply requiring the police officer to give, let's say, 48 hours' notice of inspection. If you want to inspect my premises, give me 48 hours' notice. That will force people who may not be complying, to comply. In effect, the reason for the inspection provision is to see that there is compliance with the act. Do you feel this is a reasonable alternative, to do away with my concerns?
Ms Cukier: We haven't discussed this point, but I'll let the deputy chief respond.
D/Chief Cassels: Police officers are reasonable people. They know they are going to be held accountable for their actions. They know that the legislation is put in place for a specific purpose. They know there are oversight bodies. They know there are supervisors who are watching their actions, and, with the charter, if those kinds of things happen, if they begin to abuse their authority, they are going to be corrected in short order.
I don't think 48 hours' notice would be appropriate in something like this, because there will be opportunities for people to change things and to dispose of things. So we'd not be able to find out if they're complying with the regulations, which was the intent. I don't think 48 hours' notice is appropriate.
Ms Cukier: I think you get caught in the same problem we raised before. If you're dealing with the law-abiding gun owner who just didn't get around to registering his gun, that's one thing, but if you're dealing with the guy who's got them buried in the backyard, or if you're dealing with the illegal dealer, that's another.
Professor Viau mentioned the proposal that Quigley brought forward, reasonable and probable grounds, for example. I assume you've reviewed his advice.
On the inspection provisions, we are sensitive to the fact that there are concerns. The committee may come up with something that addresses the concerns but does not undermine the intent of the legislation.
Mr. Bodnar: That's what I'm trying to come up with.
The Chair: Mrs. Venne, for five minutes.
Mrs. Venne: Yes. I will probably not use up my five minutes.
I would ask the Coalition what they will do once the bill has come in force. You see, I think we have been meeting since about 1989 or 1990. We met on previous occasions to deal with Bill C-80 and C-17, and we are now dealing with Bill C-68.
Also, since those amendments that you are putting forward are meant in your opinion to improve the bill and not bring about fundamental or major changes or even changes of a philosophical nature, I wonder what you will be doing after the bill has come in force.
Prof. Viau: In answering your question, I am tempted to paraphrase Gisèle Halimi who said something similar about feminism. She said: ``The best thing that could happen to feminism would be its disappearance; mission accomplished.'' So, similarly, the best thing that could happen to the Gun Control Coalition would be its disappearance; mission accomplished.
Ms Rathjen: We are often accused of wanting - We have an agenda and our task will be completed when all firearms have been prohibited, but as you can see, our position has been consistent over these five years and it will not change.
If the bill is passed as it was tabled, without major amendment, then, as far as we are concerned, after what we've presented today, we will no longer fight for a federal legislation: I think that we will stay around a while for the regulations and the implementation of the act, but after that, we will have achieved our objective.
Mrs.Venne: Thank you.
Mrs. Barnes (London West): Welcome, witnesses.
I'd like to say today that as I look down your list, I see you have an impressive group of endorsers. I see the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Teachers' Federation, and nearly 300 others. It was pleasant for me to see my London Police Services Board and my municipal council for the City of London.
In fairness, that does make my job of sitting around this table a lot easier, but it also makes me very much aware of how different it is for a lot of people, a lot of members around this table, who are from different parts of the country and have to deal with more hostile environments to try to get to the facts and cope with making this legislation acceptable and relevant to what is happening in Canada today. A good law has to be accepted by the people to be relevant legislation. I think that's primary in understanding the legal system.
Many times in the committee we have heard comments about the charter getting in people's way. I have heard comments that the charter is bad. I would like the constitutional lawyer to talk about search and seizure and the charter and what protections there are under our charter to rights and freedoms with respect to seizure.
Prof. Viau: Well, there is a lot of protection, because the charter guarantees the right against unreasonable search and seizure. ``Unreasonable'' has been interpreted in a broader way than just illegal. It can also apply to a situation in which the police officer behaves in a bad way in an otherwise lawful search and seizure. Therefore, it is very wide.
Once an illegality has been committed by a police officer, there is judicial control. The Supreme Court has sent a very strong message that a police officer should respect the charter. Generally speaking, police officers are respecting the charter and are behaving properly with respect to the rights that are guaranteed by the charter.
Mrs. Barnes: Is there a difference between inspection and search and seizure?
Ms Viau: There is a difference in that the power to search must be linked to reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. An inspection power is more preventive - but it is linked to legislation that says one has a duty to register something - or when something is possessed. The inspection power is linked more to regulation.
Mrs. Barnes: There has been a lot of concern. A lot of people think anyone can go into their home, even though it's in the legislation you can't do that. Is it easy to get a warrant?
D/Chief Cassels: No, it's not that easy. You have to involve a third party - a judge or a justice of the peace - who is going to be inquiring and asking what your reason is, and you must have reasonable grounds.
I don't know what you mean by ``easy''. You must be sure that you have reasonable grounds. On the other hand, time is the issue. You can do it fairly quickly, but it's not a sure thing.
Mr. Ramsay: We do live in a democracy, and the will of the majority is supposed to prevail, not the will of the minority. We talk about the polls; we've all wrestled with the polls.
When the delegation from Manitoba appeared here last night, they clearly indicated that in their recent election this gun control issue, Bill C-68, was front and centre. They attended meetings, they knocked on doors all across the province. The NDP and the Conservatives apparently opposed the bill; the Liberals embraced it and supported it. The result was that the Liberals lost 50% of their seats. They took 5% of the seats in what I think is a 57-seat legislature.
It is not often that the average individual has an opportunity to vote on a bill such as Bill C-68 or on any other controversial bill, but that is happening. It happened in Manitoba, and when Saskatchewan holds its election.... The people, not interest groups - not my interest, but my neighbours, my friends, my relatives - will have the say on an issue like that. We'll see that as these things emerge.
I just make reference to it. In fact one of the defeated candidates in that election - this was read out last night, and I kept a copy of it - said it infuriated him to hear Justice Minister Allan Rock say after the election that gun control had nothing to do with the Manitoba Liberals' poor showing. He has his head in the sand.
I don't make anything more of that than it says.
Anyway, with the last minute or so that I have before we shut down, I'd like to address the deputy chief.
If we are going forward with a firearms registration system, it's got to be a reliable one so that it will grant the law enforcement agencies a credible, reliable tool.
We have been told, although it's not in the bill, that it's going to be a mail-in registration system, where the owners are simply going to have to pick up the documentation from wherever, fill in the identifying features of their firearms, and mail the form in.
We had forensic scientists: one from the RCMP crime protection laboratory in Regina, and the other, Mr. Nielsen, from Ontario. When I asked them whether they would feel confident in issuing a registration certificate for a firearm from information they had not verified, both of them said no.
The reasoning for that is the same reasoning the revenue people presented when they were here, and it has to do with the registration of Americans who come across the border to hunt. They said they could send them the documentation beforehand, and if they had all the documentation made out before they got to the border, it would expedite the process. I asked them what they would do when they received the documentation from the owner. They said they would check it against the firearm itself. In other words, they would inspect the firearm to verify the information.
If a person can be charged for not having his firearm registered, and if he makes just one simple, honest mistake on the serial number, for example, which will be extremely difficult to pick up, that registration can be produced but the firearm won't be registered. The firearm is not registered. And it's a pretty serious offence to not have your firearm registered.
The Chair: That was a five-minute question, but according to our rules you have the right to answer beyond the time.
D/Chief Cassels: I'll keep it short. I think if it was an honest, simple mistake, it's not likely that police officers are going to enforce it. They're going to use discretion if it's an honest, simple mistake.
Mr. Ramsay: My question has to do with the integrity of the registration system.
D/Chief Cassels: The system has yet to be developed so I can't comment on the integrity of this system. I don't know. I understand that the plan is to have a mail-in system, Mr. Ramsay, but I can't comment.
I would like to clarify one thing with Mr. Ramsay though. I think he asked a question earlier, whether I had discussed Bill C-68 with the Alberta justice minister. I have corresponded with him and I have given him our perspective, but I have not actually discussed it with him. I want that on the record.
The Chair: Mr. Lee, for five minutes.
Mr. Lee (Scarborough - Rouge River): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have two items I would like to ask you about. One of them has to do with this issue of possibly decriminalizing the so-called first offence. I put to you the possibility that one might mandate a conditional discharge in the statute on a first offence, where the facts did not give rise to any other charges, where there was no other previous criminal record.
In that way, the person would not have been a lifetime thug and would be deemed not to have committed a criminal offence. Obviously, one of the conditions would be registration of the firearm or licensing, as the case may be. I put that to you as one possibility. What do you think?
The second is, section 97 of the code revisions require the licensing of a person who would acquire a crossbow. We've been talking about firearms here today. Perhaps you have some so-called empirical evidence; maybe you don't. If you have no comment on the crossbow, that's just fine. We can just deal with criminalization.
Prof. Viau: I will deal with your first question about the use of a conditional discharge. It is already a power that is given generally to any judge for an offence that is not extremely serious, and I would consider that the offence that relates to the negligent non-compliance with the legislation would qualify for the application of 736.
I would not put this as an amendment within this specific part of the Criminal Code because it might be that is a person who is a first offender with respect to the compliance with the firearm provision but is someone who has a lengthy criminal record.
Mr. Lee: That was one of my conditions, that there be no other criminal record.
Prof. Viau: If there is no other criminal record, it is already within the discretion of the court. It might even be that the police officer won't even charge.
Mr. Lee: Especially if the position was mandated.
Prof. Viau: Yes.
Ms Cukier: It's an interesting point to consider. I think the question I have is where would the onus lie to prove inadvertent...? If it's someone who's stockpiling weapons and has no previous record, but just got caught.... I think Vince Westwick made the point of giving people a free first-time offence not necessarily being in the interests of the public. If you found a way to couch it in terms of the onus being on the individual to demonstrate that it was inadvertent, that might actually address some of the concerns. That's our biggest concern. How do you differentiate between those different individuals?
The Chair: Just to close the meeting, I have a few questions on clarification. You're considered the most comprehensive, largest pro-gun control organization. I'd like to know, as an organization or as a coalition, if you have any objection to legitimate hunting with a rifle or shotgun, either for sport or sustenance. Do you have any objection to that?
Ms Cukier: No.
The Chair: Do you have any objection to competitive shooting in the Olympics or Pan American games, with Canadians training and participating in that kind of competitive shooting?
Ms Cukier: No.
The Chair: That's fine, because I think it should be clear that as a major organization promoting gun control, you recognize that this has a legitimate place in Canada.
I want to ask you now about what some people have suggested. They haven't suggested decriminalization, but they have suggested, for example, moving the penalties for non-registration, the penalties in section 91, to the Firearms Act. As far as I'm concerned this is cosmetics, because we have penalties in the Narcotic Control Act, they're not in the Criminal Code. They're still criminal penalties.
In other words, if you move the very same sections that are in section 91, sections for the penalties, both summary offence and indictable offence, and not put them in the Criminal Code but put them in the Firearms Act and put all the penalties that dealt with infractions with respect to registration, failure to register, failure to licence and so on - don't put them in the substantial criminal offence but put them there - do you have any objection to that?
Prof. Viau: I would say that this move would be interpreted as decriminalization, and you will have to ask what the constitutional basis is for a regulatory offence in that field.
The Chair: As a lawyer, do you think that because you have the penalty in the Firearms Act and not in the Criminal Code it will fall down on constitutional grounds? We have penalties in the Young Offenders Act that are not in the Criminal Code. We have penalties in the Narcotic Control Act. We have penalties in the Competition Act, which are criminal penalties, but they are not in the Criminal Code.
Prof. Viau: I'm not sitting at the Supreme Court, so it is extremely difficult for me to determine in absence what the decision of the Supreme Court would be in that respect. The only thing I know for sure is that, generally speaking, the judges of the Supreme Court are considering the offences in the Criminal Code as being the exercise of the crminal power of Parliament. I wouldn't say that every time, but I would say that most of the time offences that are outside the Criminal Code are considered as regulatory offences, but there are some in-between situations, such as the Narcotic Control Act. I cannot answer precisely what the result would be, but it is a question that should be further analysed before making just that move. It may be apparently just cosmetics, but it can have adverse effects.
The Chair: I believe myself that the penalties would be just as much criminal-type penalties, but the people who are asking for them seem to believe they would rather, if they were convicted under the.... They would be much happier to tell their friends and grandchildren that they were convicted under the Firearms Act rather than convicted under the Criminal Code. I met these people and they were proposing this to me. They feel strongly about this because they feel it's more of a regulatory-type of offence as opposed to armed robbery with a weapon or sexual assault with a gun, etc.
Ms Cukier: Do you remember that the principal impetus for decriminalization was brought forward by the National Firearms Association, which argued that this should be regulatory and not criminal law? I think it's also important to bear in mind the source and again to emphasize that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been pretty explicit.
I think the deputy wants to make a comment.
D/Chief Cassels: I want to comment on another item, if I can, Mr. Chairman, if you'll allow me to. That's the comment I made earlier with respect to prevention. I feel very strong that this bill can do a tremendous amount for public safety for Canada in the long run. I'd like to explain to you why I say that.
We've had significant success in Edmonton with this notion of community policing, this whole notion of problem solving, and we're only able to do that because we can work closely with people to solve local neighbourhood problems.
Information, as everyone knows, is the lifeblood of policing. We can't do anything without information. When you put this in the context of family violence or firearms, and when you think that we're dealing with lethal force, police officers who are working closer with the community have access to information.
If we take the example of family violence, in Edmonton we have family violence follow-up teams that specifically go in to stop the repetitive cycle of family violence and to work with the family as soon as they recognize something is going to happen. Family violence is just one example, but if there's a firearm there, it is very easy for them to go in, to talk about counselling and do things to bring the family together, to stop this cycle of violence I talk about, and to ask the owner of the firearm, in the interim, whether it would be better if he let us take the firearm to prevent something.
We shift from this law enforcement mentality or approach to a community problem-solving approach, which is in the community's best interest. That can go much broader than family violence when it comes to firearms, because that information is in the registry and is available to us.
That kind of thinking in policing is spreading across the country, and I think that's very important for the committee to know.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I want to thank the coalition and all those who came with it today to testify. It was a very important testimony.
I want to remind members of the committee that we meet again tomorrow at 9 a.m. Tomorrow morning it will be an opportunity to take all the technical issues we've saved over the last three or four weeks and to ask questions of the technical experts or the technical people - legal, mechanical or whatever. It is not the minister and we're not dealing with policy tomorrow, but we can ask many types of questions of things we've had contradictory evidence on.
We'll also deal tomorrow with the motion that was put on the table by Mr. Ramsay. Depending on what happens to that motion, we'll organize our schedule of meetings either for another bill or this bill, and we'll also decide on whether we will continue to sit in this room. Thank you.
This meeting is adjourned until tomorrow morning.