Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak before you on this important issue.
My name is Dave Shipman. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and I currently I live in a rural setting just outside the city. I feel qualified to attend at this hearing as a result of my life experience and involvement in law enforcement from the age of 19 to the present.
I spent 25 years with the Winnipeg Police Service and nearly 19 of those years investigating violent crimes in the homicide robbery division. During 16 of those years I was also a member of the special weapons team and a team leader on the entry team.
I retired 10 years ago and immediately took up a position as investigator in charge of the organized crime/gang unit with Manitoba Public Insurance, where I remain so employed.
I've been involved with the criminal intelligence service in Manitoba during these 10 years as well. For those who are not familiar with it, each province has its own criminal intelligence service with the federal governing body, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.
The CISM includes all law enforcement and investigative bodies in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. The nature of my work, investigating organized crime and gang activity as it relates to organized insurance fraud, and my involvement with CISM, puts me in contact with serving police officers on a continual basis.
My experience in dealing with violent criminals and gang members is probably far more involved than that of the average police officer. Believe me when I tell you that I have put hundreds and hundreds of dangerous violent men in prison over the years, often for unspeakable crimes, including rape, robbery, home invasions, and murder.
It is in the arrest and interviewing of these men and their associates that I've obtained a good working knowledge of their mindset. First and foremost, let me say that a vast majority of violent attacks, attempted homicides, and homicides committed domestically involve weapons other than firearms--knives being the preferred weapon.
Of the few domestic homicides I can recall that involved long guns, committed by either sex on the spouse, they were long guns that were legally owned and there had been no previous encounters with the law. No amount of gun registry would have stopped lives from being taken.
I have watched the long-gun registry with interest, both as a serving police officer and a gun owner/hunter. First, and it has been said time and time again, criminals do not register guns. The guns they seek out and use to commit violent crimes are most profoundly smuggled or stolen handguns and, to a lesser extent, stolen and cut-down shotguns or rifles. Firearms that are capable of firing at an automatic rate are smuggled in from the U.S., and drug dealers and gangs--the two intertwined--are the favourite customers. None of these situations can be corrected by a long-gun registry.
Handguns have always enjoyed a restricted status, and ownership brought significant restrictions as to how and where the firearm could be possessed. Automatic weapons were always illegal to possess, with the exception of law enforcement and legitimate grandfathered collectors. The national gun registry has done nothing to deter illegal possession of these guns.
Again, criminals intent on procuring and possessing these guns are not about to register them. So how does the gun registry assist the police in preventing gun crime? It simply does not, and it offers nothing to protect our citizenry from being victims of gun crime perpetrated by well-armed criminals.
I'm not against licensing of gun owners. The possession and/or acquisition of firearms should be a licensed, controlled process to prevent criminals and otherwise unstable or dangerous individuals from legally obtaining and owning firearms. But the registry is really only about counting guns--guns belonging to people who have chosen to involve themselves in the system.
Civil disobedience to the registry has been rampant, with entire provinces refusing to enforce the failure to register and attorneys general announcing refusal to prosecute. Amnesties that have lasted for years have been put into place. Thousands and thousands of legal guns remain in our country outside of the registry, and many thousands of illegal guns are stolen or smuggled into the hands of criminals whose last worry is the gun registry.
I've heard from proponents of the registry that it assists police officers because they can check with the gun registry to determine if guns are registered to the person they are interested in or the residence or location they are attending. While this check can certainly be done, I've yet to talk to a serving street cop--I'm talking about the average constable attending call after call after call--who has checked the registry, even a single time, or who even knows how to use it. In checking with the supervisor officers of the major crimes unit, the homicide unit, and the organized crime unit, not one can ever recall using the registry before going to make an arrest.
I spoke to the head of the Winnipeg Police Service tactical support team, which is the new term for the old SWAT team that we were on. This is a 24/7 support unit that, from its inception to the level of coverage two years ago, has been involved in several hundred planned operations, mostly high-risk warrant service, drug warrants, Criminal Code firearm search warrants, and the like. He indicated that the gun registry is worthless in preventing gun crime. He did advise that, by protocol, members of his unit confer with the registry when planning tactical operations, but their experience was that the registry has been only sometimes accurate, only sometimes up to date, and largely ineffective—and I quote—“because we all know that criminals don't register their guns”.
By way of history, upon the inception of Bill C-68, the Winnipeg Police Association membership voted by way of referendum that they were strongly opposed to the long-gun registry. Identically, the Manitoba Police Association also opposed the long-barrel registry, after taking the issue to a vote by the membership. And so it went for the police associations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Then-WPA president, Loren Schinkel, now with Manitoba Justice as coordinator of aboriginal and municipal law enforcement, often referenced Premier Gary Doer's line about the Government of Manitoba not supporting the bill, saying that we need to get tough on gangs and restricted guns, not turn goose hunters into criminals.
If the long-gun registry was going to be such a significant crime-fighting tool, does anybody believe that entire police services would fail to embrace it wholeheartedly? Yes, fragments of police services utilize the registry by way of protocol, but with criminals not registering their stolen or smuggled handguns or cut-down stolen firearms, previously legally registered or not, it is of little use. Because of the hit-and-miss situation of any individual actually registering legal guns, because the registry does not keep up with the movement of individuals from place to place, because criminals do not register, no police officer could ever rely on a check against the registry to determine if a danger did or did not exist. A police officer must be ever vigilant, no matter the circumstance, and the fact that the registry might indicate that an individual or an address does or does not reflect legal gun registration is of little assistance, all things considered. The old possession and acquisition certificate did as much, without the arithmetic of counting guns.
The most alarming area of gun use escalation surrounds the ever-increasing street gang activity tied dramatically to the drug trade. As I deal on a daily basis with gang members in my current occupation and monitor their other criminal activities through my involvement with serving police officers in the criminal intelligence service, I can tell you first hand that gun crime is escalating and that handguns are far and away the weapon of choice of these criminals to enforce their piece of the drug trade pie. Anytime I get a gang member in my office, I turn to the subject of guns somewhere along the way, and it is not unusual for the gang banger to brag, “I've got a nine; I've got a Glock.”
Shots ringing out in certain parts of Winnipeg have become commonplace activity, and drive-by shootings of individuals and residences the same. The registry is not the answer to stopping this.
The long-gun registry was an ill-thought-out piece of legislation in answer to the tragedy at École Polytechnique in 1989. It did not stop another similar tragedy at Dawson College in 2006. It will not stop the next deranged individual from attempting a similar attack in the future.
Holding the long-gun registry out as a protector of women is simply not valid. It is a lie. We must do better to protect women and the citizenry of our country by putting meaningful consequences in place for criminal offences and concentrate on stopping the flow of illegal gun traffic over our border into the hands of criminals.
A minimum sentence for gun crimes with minimum time served would serve as a far better solution than the long-gun registry. It is said that the abolishment of the two-for-one sentencing issue will increase incarceration and associated costs an additional $2 billion, roughly what we've spent on the registry already. Having only registered six million to seven million, with an estimated 17 million total guns in Canada, if that is correct, I wonder how much more money that would cost us. I would rather put the $2 billion towards keeping those criminals in jail and making sure they could not hurt anybody else.
Thank you for offering me this time to speak to you. I sincerely hope that what I've said will assist you in making an informed decision.