Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, committee members, good afternoon.
The Canadian Police Association welcomes the opportunity to present our submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms).
The CPA is the national voice for 54,700 police personnel serving across Canada. Through our 170 member associations, CPA membership includes police personnel serving in police services from Canada's smallest towns and villages as well as those working in our largest municipal cities, provincial police services, members of the RCMP, railway police and First Nations police associations.
The Canadian Police Association is acknowledged as a national voice for police personnel in the reform of the Canadian criminal justice system. Our goal is to work with elected officials from all parties, to bring about meaningful reforms to enhance the safety and security of all Canadians, including those sworn to protect our communities.
Urban violence has been a significant concern for our association. For over a decade, police associations have been advocating reforms to our justice system in Canada, and in particular we've called for changes to bolster the sentencing, detention, and parole of violent offenders.
At our 2004 annual general meeting, CPA delegates unanimously adopted a resolution that includes a call for federal legislation to be introduced to ensure tougher and more adequate mandatory prison sentences for individuals involved in firearm-related crime.
Repeat offenders are a serious problem. There's been considerable debate at this committee about the use of minimum sentences and the frequency of repeat offenders. Make no mistake about it: repeat offenders are a serious problem. Police understand this intuitively, as we deal with these frequent flyers on a routine basis.
Statistics released by the Toronto police homicide squad for 2005 demonstrate this point. Among the 32 people facing murder or manslaughter charges for homicide in 2006, 14 were on bail at the time of the offence, 13 were on probation, and 17 were subject to firearms prohibition orders. The revolving-door justice system is failing to prevent further criminal activity by these repeat violent offenders.
Gun violence requires a non-partisan approach. Support for tougher measures to thwart gun violence transcends party lines. During the last federal election, three major parties promised tougher sentences for crimes involving firearms. The NDP platform promised to “Increase the mandatory minimum penalty for possession, sale and importation of illegal arms such as hand guns, assault rifles and automatic weapons”, and “Add mandatory minimum sentences to other weapons offences”, including a “four-year minimum sentence on all weapon offences, such as possession of a concealed weapons'”.
Former Prime Minister Martin promised to toughen penalties “by re-introducing legislation to crack down on violent crimes and gang violence, by doubling the mandatory minimum sentences for key gun crimes”. Former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler introduced Bill C-82 in November 2005 to address gun violence. Bill C-82 would include increasing certain minimum penalties relating to smuggling, trafficking in, and possession of firearms and other weapons, and creating two new offences, breaking and entering to steal a firearm and robbery to steal a firearm.
When Bill C-10 was introduced this spring, Premier McGuinty was quoted as stating that the bill will “make a real difference when it comes to promoting safety for our families and our communities”. Last year, Conservative MP Daryl Kramp introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-215, that would require that a sentence for commission of certain serious offences be supplemented if a firearm is used in the commission of that offence.
A justice department survey conducted in March 2005 by Decima Research confirmed that an “overwhelming majority” of Canadians support mandatory minimum jail terms for gun crimes such as robbery with a firearm and criminal negligence causing death with a firearm. According to CanWest news, the poll of 2,343 Canadians revealed that “Support for mandatory jail terms for robbery with a firearm was as high as 82%, compared with 14% who opposed the prospect”.
Similarly, an Ipsos Reid CanWest Global poll conducted December 30, 2005, to January 2, 2006, of 8,336 Canadian voters found that 73% of the respondents supported changing the current laws so that being convicted of committing a gun crime would carry a mandatory 10-year prison sentence with no eligibility for parole or early release.
Clearly, there is broad political and public support for tougher measures to deal with firearm crimes. We urge Parliament to move swiftly to address the areas of consensus as quickly as possible. The CPA supports in principle the measures contained within Bill C-10 with necessary modifications.
On amendments, although the CPA supports the vast majority of proposals contained within Bill C-10, we do have one significant area of concern. It relates to the proposal dealing with the use of firearms in the commission of attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage-taking, robbery, and extortion.
Bill C-10 contemplates a tiered response. Offenders who commit these crimes, whether with a restricted or a prohibited firearm or any firearm in connection with a criminal organization, are subject to escalating penalties—five years for a first offence, seven years for a second offence, and ten years for a third or subsequent offence. Conversely, if the firearm is not used in connection with a criminal organization and the weapon is not restricted or prohibited, the mandatory minimum sentence is only four years, regardless of whether it is a second, third, or subsequent offence.
We find the different treatment for long guns to be misguided, and we are at a loss to understand the rationale for distinguishing the penalty on the basis of the class of firearm that is issued by a person in the commission of a very serious crime. Police officers routinely discover these weapons in firearms seizures, clandestine drug labs, and marijuana grow-ops. Will shotguns and rifles become the weapons of choice for repeat violent offenders? In many situations, a rifle or shotgun is a far more lethal threat in the hands of a criminal than a handgun.
For example, high-powered rifles are capable of shooting through body armour and other protective equipment. Shotguns can be extremely powerful weapons when used at short range. A tragic example is the murder of Constable Valerie Gignac of Laval last fall, who was shot through a wall with a high-powered rifle. Of the 13 police officers killed with firearms in the past decade, only three were murdered with handguns; 77% were murdered with long guns, and it's unlikely that any of the offenders in these cases would have met the threshold for participation or membership in a criminal organization.
This latter threshold of connection with a criminal organization also presents an additional hurdle for prosecutors to prove in order to obtain the higher mandatory penalty. While we applaud measures to deal proactively with criminal organizations, we contend that any person who uses any firearm in the commission of an offence should receive the full mandatory minimum penalty available, and particularly repeat offenders.
The recent tragedy at Dawson College in Montreal has reinforced the need to strengthen Canada's control over civilian firearms possession. To our knowledge, no new firearms have been added to the restricted or prohibited categories in Canada for over a decade, yet many new firearms have been designed that are being offered for sale in Canada and would arguably meet existing criteria. As a consequence, some weapons are being legally sold in Canada despite the fact that they meet existing criteria for restricted or prohibited status and present significant concerns for public safety.
Retailers understand and exploit these loopholes, as demonstrated by the website for Wolverine Supplies in Manitoba. You'll find that in our brief. We submit that further steps must be taken to close the loopholes by updating and maintaining the restricted and prohibited firearms classifications.
In conclusion, I'll say that one of the concerns of police officers across the country is to stop the violence. The solution to this begins with bringing an end to Canada's revolving door justice system. Canada's police officers have lost confidence in a system that sees violent offenders regularly return to the streets. We need to restore meaningful consequences and deterrence in our justice system, which begins with stiffer sentences, real jail time and tougher parole eligibility policies for violent offenders. We need stiffer minimum sentences for offenders who commit crimes with guns, or any type of weapon.
Bill C-10 provides a positive component in an integrated strategy to address current shortfalls, specifically pertaining to the concern with gun violence. We believe that it can provide an effective deterrent against violent gun crimes, and we fully endorse the principle of creating tougher mandatory minimum penalties for the commission of serious offences involving the use of a firearm.
We thank you for your attention and we welcome your questions.