Evidence of meeting #11 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was owners.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Minister, for coming and highlighting some parts of Bill C-19. This committee looks forward to continuing this study and reporting back to the House.

Noon

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

To the committee, we do want to ratify the steering committee report that is before you right now. Your steering committee met the week before break week. We came up with the report that you see before you today. I'll quickly go through it.

The report recommends that the committee allocate five meetings to the consideration of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, including its clause-by-clause consideration.

Also, the minister was to appear that day, November 3. If the committee remembers, we had votes that day, so the minister was unable to appear. He was here today because of it. That's taken up in the next part of the report.

The report also recommends that the committee adduce the evidence from the consideration of Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry), heard in the third session of the 40th Parliament. In the last Parliament, a short Parliament, we did a lot of this work, so the report recommends that this be referenced as well.

Mr. Garrison.

Noon

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

With regard to the five sessions, the NDP believes these are inadequate to deal with this bill. I know the other side says that this bill has been dealt with many times, but it's not the same bill. There are things in this bill, such as the destruction of data, that were not in the previous bill. There are serious omissions in the bill. There is no provision for restoring business tracking and licence verification.

As well, a very large number of witnesses would very much like to appear before this committee. And as I always remind the committee, nearly a third of the members of this House are new and have not had a chance to have the full benefit of these kinds of things.

We still do believe that five sessions will be inadequate and will not do justice to this bill, so we will be voting against this.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

All right.

Ms. Hoeppner.

Noon

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Chair, I move that we accept this report.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

The question has been called.

All in favour of the steering committee report, please signify that.

(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])

It is carried.

In our second hour today, we will continue our consideration of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

Appearing before us on this panel, from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, is Greg Farrant, manager of government affairs and policy.

From the Canadian Labour Congress, we have Barbara Byers, executive vice-president; and Vicky Smallman, national director of the CLC women's and human rights department.

We have two people appearing as individuals: Sergeant Murray Grismer of the Saskatoon Police Service is master instructor for the Canadian firearms safety courses; and Ontario criminal defence lawyer Solomon Friedman created and maintains the firearmslaw.ca blog, a legal resource site devoted to Canadian firearms law and policy.

I invite each one of you to make a brief opening statement. We're going to try to hold these statements to about seven or eight minutes, if possible. Likewise, we'll try to get in as many questions as possible.

Welcome to the public safety and national security committee. We look forward to your input into this important work that we're conducting.

Perhaps I'll begin with Ms. Byers.

Noon

Barbara Byers Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

Thank you very much. On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress, we want to thank you for this opportunity to be here.

As you know from our previous appearances, we represent Canada's national and international unions and provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils. Our members work in virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy in all occupations in all parts of Canada.

The CLC opposes Bill C-19 and urges the standing committee to ensure that the long-gun registry is maintained. We support the long-gun registry as an effective tool for workplace and community safety. Eliminating it will put workers and Canadians at risk. Our brief to you outlines some of the legislative and political context, but in the interests of time, I'm not going to repeat all of that. I think you're certainly aware of some of the background.

As we stated 15 years ago to the parliamentary committee of that day, there are compelling arguments in favour of a gun registry: to ensure safe storage requirements, to ensure that gun owners are held accountable for the guns they purchase, to compel gun owners to report missing or stolen firearms, to reduce the illegal trade in rifles and shotguns, to give the police and first responders modern tools to take preventive action, and to trace stolen guns to their rightful owners.

After a decade of use, we've seen crimes solved and criminal prosecutions because of the registry. For example, two people were convicted as accessories in the 2005 killings of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, in part because a registered rifle left at the scene was traced back to its owner through the registry. That's a real example of law and order results. That's going after the bad guys.

The CLC has a long history of support for campaigns to end violence against women. Women's equality is a fundamental component of trade union policy in Canada. For more than 20 years, we have joined with women's organizations to commemorate December 6 and to propose actions to reduce violence against women. Our support of the gun registry has always included an understanding of its importance as a tool to help reduce violence against women. It was the massacre of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989, that prompted the creation of a federal gun registry.

Gun violence is one very dangerous component of the issue of violence against women. More women are killed by their intimate partners than by strangers. Sixty-five percent of women are murdered by intimate partners compared to 15% of men. Most are killed in their homes. In 1991, before the first restrictions were introduced, one-third of the women who were murdered were killed with guns, and 88% of the guns used were long guns. A study conducted between 2005 and 2007 of rural domestic violence in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick showed that 66% of the women interviewed felt that having a firearm in their home made them fearful for their safety.

Since the Firearms Act was introduced, the rate of women murdered with firearms by their intimate partner has decreased by 69%. That's not just making women feel safe, it's helping them be safe. There's no question that the gun registry has helped save women's lives. This government has said that one of its priorities is to reduce violence against women, yet this legislation will have the opposite effect by putting women's lives at risk.

Rifles and shotguns are the guns most available in people's homes. They are the guns most often used to kill police officers. Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in suicides, particularly those involving youth. In communities where there is high gun ownership rates, you see higher youth suicide rates. However, since the gun registry and its related requirements for safe storage of guns were introduced, youth suicide rates by firearms have declined in relation to suicide rates by other means.

Also because rifles and shotguns are the firearms that are most readily available, they also figure prominently in workplace violence involving guns. In 1999, a devastating incident of workplace violence occurred right here in Ottawa at the OC Transpo bus yard on St. Laurent Boulevard. Those murders were committed by a gunman with a high-powered hunting rifle.

Increasingly, as we learn more about the challenges of maintaining healthy and safe workplaces, we are paying more attention to the importance of understanding the risk factors associated with both suicide and interpersonal violence. The risk factors for suicide and violence are closely linked. Access to a firearm coupled with a personal or a job crisis is a lethal combination. We need to promote more awareness of the real risks associated with any firearm in the hands of a depressed or stressed individual. We need to ensure that police, who are the first responders to these situations, know as much about the situation as possible, including what kind of gun is involved.

Everyone on this committee knows how useful the registry is to our nation's police forces and first responders. The registry provides police with vital knowledge of the number of guns and, more importantly, the types of guns owned. That vital knowledge allows them to assess risk to themselves and to others and to remove guns from homes in situations that are a risk to the home and the public. It lets firefighters know when guns and ammunition are likely to be stored on a property, which is a lifesaving piece of information when you're about to enter a burning building.

For law enforcement, firefighters, emergency personnel, and social workers--like I was--information about potential risks is crucial in ensuring their safety on the job. Like any worker, they have a right to a safe workplace. By denying them access to information about the possibility of guns in a home, this legislation puts their safety at risk.

Destroying the data is the real boondoggle. Most of the costs associated with setting up the registry were incurred a long time ago and will never be recovered. The taxpayers of Canada will never get their money back. The annual costs of maintaining the registry today are cost-effective for the job that it does—and the registry is even more efficient now that it no longer receives a revenue stream from licence renewals. Most of the costs of the registry frequently cited by its opponents are in fact costs related to licensing, including background criminal checks of applicants.

Over 7.4 million guns are registered to date, with long gun—

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

We're coming to the end. We're actually over our time, so if you wouldn't mind, just draw everything very quickly to a close.

12:10 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

Barbara Byers

Okay, I'll just point out a couple of things.

First off, the database is consulted over 17,000 times a day by police across the country. We know that, and it can't be dismissed.

The proposal to throw out the data will absolutely put the lives of people at risk, not just in their communities but also in their workplaces—and for many people, these workplaces are other people's homes.

Our taxes have been spent on the registry. We believe that we need to keep the registry and to make sure that people's lives and communities and workplaces are safe.

Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

We'll maybe just move down the line here.

Mr. Farrant, welcome, and we look forward to your comments.

November 15th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.

Greg Farrant Manager, Government Affairs and Policy, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, members of the committee, and my fellow panellists. On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, one of the oldest and largest non-profit conservation-based organizations in Canada, we appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to comment on Bill C-19.

Although we've provided the clerk with a longer written presentation, it will not meet the seven-minute test, so I'll use my time to home in on a few specific issues referred to in that document.

As I noted during my appearance before this committee last year in support of Ms. Hoeppner's private member's legislation, Bill C-68, as has been noted by Ms. Byers, was born partly out of tragedy attributable to public concerns in the aftermath of the horrific 1989 shooting at École Polytechnique. There's no doubt that the impact of that event on the families of the victims and the survivors cannot be underestimated or understood by those of us who have not experienced such loss. However, that loss cannot be used to justify a system that has been an abysmal failure, and we strongly support the fact that the Harper government has moved quickly to introduce a bill to address this issue.

When Bill C-68 was created, the Coalition for Gun Control attempted to explain the need for this registry and other components in the bill, and I quote:

The argument for gun control has never been based on individual cases.... [It] has always been based on the general principle that if you have adequate control of all guns you reduce the chances that dangerous people will gain access to them.

At best the coalition was being disingenuous. The entire debate over gun control and the creation of a long-gun registry under Bill C-68 was in fact a direct result of the misguided actions of a lone individual. Prior to that, gun control in Canada was not a major public policy issue, and the creation of a regime to regulate legal firearms, particularly non-restricted long guns, as a means of protecting the public from individuals with a grudge was flawed from the start.

A paper trail of trained, legal, licensed firearm owners does not address the real problem. Even a well-run registry, which this is not, will not prevent random violent crime. Believing in that ignores the glaring reality that the vast majority of criminals don't register firearms; and in the rare case when they do, a piece of paper and the creation of a system where possibly 50% of the firearms in Canada are not included does nothing to anticipate the actions of an individual, nor do anything to prevent such actions in the first place.

It also ignores the fact that police in this country have noted repeatedly that anywhere from 70% to 90% of illegal guns in Canada are smuggled in from south of the border. Despite this, we hear little from gun control advocates about the need to address this serious problem, which is indeed directly linked to dangerous people gaining access to these guns.

The OFAH represents a large number of hunters and recreational sport shooters in Ontario, responsible firearms owners who believe in effective gun control. In the early 1960s, we called upon the provincial government of the day to create a formal structure for the delivery of hunter education. For more than 26 years, we have delivered some form of hunter education on behalf of the provincial government, and since 1998 we have done so under formal agreement.

The success of that program is readily apparent: 310 hunter education instructors, most of whom are also firearm safety instructors, have trained over 170,000 first-time hunters. The program has an admirable safety record, as do the majority of responsible firearms owners in this country who understand how to use them safely, how to store them safely, and how to transport them safely and use them precisely for what they are intended for—recreational shooting and hunting.

As a conservation-based organization, the OFAH is involved in a vast number of conservation programs based on the best available science. Science relies on fact. Scientific theory is tested, and if the facts are found wanting, a theory is rejected and the search continues for a rational explanation. In the case of the long-gun registry, there's a glaring absence of fact-based evidence to support its existence. Suggestions that gun crime in Canada has declined since the introduction of the long-gun registry under Bill C-68 ignores the fact that gun crime, particularly gun crime using long guns, has been on the decline in this country since the 1970s, two decades before this registry ever came into being. Crimes committed with long guns have fallen steadily since 1981. Bill C-68 was not introduced until 1985 and wasn't mandatory until 2005.

Noted academics like Rosemary Gartner of the University of Toronto have recently commented that experts have had difficulties in accounting for the decrease, and Dr. Ron Melchers, professor of criminology right here at the University of Ottawa, recently stated that the decline cannot be attributed to Canada's gun registry.

Believing that something works without evidentiary material to support that belief is nothing more than supposition and conjecture.

The present system focuses all of its efforts on law-abiding firearms owners and includes no provisions for tracking prohibited offenders, who are most likely to commit gun crimes. Witness the recent arrest of an individual in Newfoundland for gun crimes, an individual who has been under a prohibition order for 10 years.

This should be about who should not have guns rather than about who does. We strongly support the creation of a prohibited persons registry to focus on real, not perceived, threats to public safety.

Another prominent argument we've already heard here today is how many times per day the system is used by police. Some say 9,000 times. Some say 5,000. We've recently heard 14,000 and 17,000. Liberal leader Bob Rae has suggested 11,000. The vast majority of so-called hits on the registry have little or nothing to do with gun crime. The majority of these are cases of an officer maybe stopping a vehicle for a plate identification or an address identification, which automatically touches all databases, including the long-gun registry, despite the fact that the check has nothing to do with firearms in the first place.

The Canadian Labour Congress, with all due respect to my colleagues here on the panel today, suggests that social workers, paramedics, firefighters, and other first responders use the information to keep themselves safe on the job. These groups and individuals do not have access to the database. So unless the CLC is suggesting that each and every time a social worker, firefighter, or paramedic responds to a call, they first contact police and have the database queried specifically to determine if firearms may be present, it's difficult to understand how this happens. In fact, for police to share the information on the database may well be a breach of privacy.

Over the last few years, public support for the registry has eroded. While this confidence has waned, the level of rhetoric from supporters of the registry has increased exponentially. This has resulted in an increase in unfounded generalizations, devoid of factual evidence. For instance, on second reading of Bill C-19, members of the official opposition who voted with the government were punished. The irony of this is not lost on us, nor is the discrediting of these two members—which is interesting given that when Bill C-68 was created, eight of nine NDP members at the time voted against the bill that they so vigorously defend today.

Recently some media sources, members of the official opposition, members of the third party, and registry apologists have suggested that the introduction of Bill C-19 will do various things. For example, they say that scrapping the registry will involve delisting various guns and sniper rifles; that lawlessness will rule the day; that solving gun crimes will end, because police will have no more tools at their disposal; and that this is a Conservative plot to undermine a Liberal-created program.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Farrant, your time is pretty well over.

12:20 p.m.

Manager, Government Affairs and Policy, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Greg Farrant

I'll be as quick as I can, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Yes, just conclude, please.