I am Carol Allison-Burra. I am a director on the board of the Canadian Association of Police Boards as well as chair of the Kingston Police Services Board.
On behalf of the CAPB and our members, I'd like to thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to appear before you on the important issue of Canada's firearms registration system, which Bill C-391 would eliminate for all firearms that are not restricted or prohibited.
We are especially pleased to appear before you at the outset of the committee's hearings, and we have prepared a brief that we hope will be of assistance to you as you proceed in your important work.
The CAPB is the national association for police boards and commissions from across the country. Our members provide governance and oversight of more than 75% of municipal police in Canada. These boards and commissions are made up of ordinary residents as well as elected members of local municipal councils, and often provincial appointees as well. As such, they give voice and respond to the concerns and expectations of their specific communities.
One concern that has been expressed by communities throughout Canada pertains to violent incidents involving firearms. These include both handguns and long guns. Firearms are used in a wide spectrum of violent incidents, such as domestic disputes, bystander shootings, robberies, homicides, as well as drug- and gang-related activities. While different kinds of guns are more or less frequently involved in different kinds of crimes, the communities we represent understand that crimes involving guns of whatever kind or classification are especially serious and require special attention.
I'm sure that committee members know all too well that these kinds of firearms crimes have cost many innocent lives, including those of young people, women, and police officers. It's important to appreciate that not all the perpetrators of these violent criminal acts were people with criminal records or self-professed risks in their community. Many were ordinary people who for any number of reasons committed or were involved in the act of using their firearms illegally. Equally, in many of these instances the firearms that were used were legally owned or had once been legally owned.
By having a national firearms registry that records the existence and identified locations of all firearms, we have created an important preventative and investigative tool, as well as one that enhances police officer and public safety. Our brief to your committee identifies the specific preventative investigative and public safety benefits the registry currently provides. We believe you will receive tangible examples of identified benefits of the current registry from the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
We urge the committee to explore, in the course of these hearings, whether these benefits are real or illusory. We are confident, frankly, that such an objective analysis will lead you to the same conclusion we have been led to, which is that the current registry performs cost-effectively and provides important public and police officer safety benefits.
Although we can discuss this in greater detail during questioning, let me take a moment to identify what we have determined to be irrefutable preventative officer safety and investigative benefits of the current registration system. I know that the advocates of Bill C-391 dispute many of these suggestions, but I hope that from this day forward the committee will receive accurate information, ask pertinent questions, and discern for themselves fact from fiction.
From our association's perspective, the current system's benefits include: increased officer safety through more detailed awareness of the existence, quantity, and type of firearms at specified locations; preventative awareness of potential access to firearms involving persons with mental health issues; dramatically improved ability to enforce court-ordered prohibitions to firearms possession made through bail, sentencing, firearm prohibitions, licence revocations, or preventative orders. The alternative seems to be to ask the offender or any other intimidated third party what guns they have.
Other benefits include the enhanced ability to detect and return stolen firearms; the enhanced ability to investigate and prosecute crimes involving stolen firearms, which saves resources; the identification of an accumulation of firearms that could potentially harm public safety; the enhanced ability to investigate crimes through links established by the registry; the reduced ability to traffic stolen firearms and reduced illicit export or import of firearms; the reinforcement of the inherent public safety interest; and the responsibility inherent in firearm acquisition and possession.
Let me add that the reported annual cost of the registry today is $4.1 million.
In the weeks ahead, you will be hearing from law enforcement officials directly, and we encourage you to seek specific details.
I hope our submissions before you will assist you in ascertaining from proponents of Bill C-391 the reasons they discount these benefits. I sincerely hope that you have more success than we have had in trying to get a straight answer.
In light of the clear benefits of the firearms registry, it is important to understand the articulated rationale for its elimination as proposed by Bill C-391. In order to do this fairly, the CAPB has reviewed the public statements in Hansard made by the bill's sponsor, which are, to say the least, noteworthy. If the assertions made to justify the bill are unfounded, then clearly the bill itself is unnecessary and ill-advised. This reality was recognized by no less than the bill's sponsor herself, when she noted on September 28, 2009, in the introduction of the bill, “if I believed that the long gun registry would help reduce crime or make our streets even a little bit safer, I would be the first one to stand up and support it.”
Should the committee reach the conclusions noted above, then even the bill's sponsor has indicated that Bill C-391 should not be supported.
We invite the committee to closely examine the objections to the current system put forward. In doing so, it's important to be clear that this necessarily means assessing the value and the cost-effectiveness of the firearms registry as it is today, not as it was previously.
Thanks to the fact-based inquiries of the Auditor General and the informed actions of this government since 2006, the firearms registry is a vastly improved, cost-effective, public safety tool over what it was when it was under the operational control of the Department of Justice. Bill C-391 would, however, eliminate today's firearms registry and not the one that it appears to target.
It is like a vein. The actual benefits of a firearms registry need to be candidly and objectively determined. False expectations of the past do not justify ignoring tangible results today. While asking the wrong question may be a successful political strategy, it is not an advisable basis for informed and effective police policy-making.
Regrettably, due to the issues that predate the current registry, the debate surrounding the firearms registry has become politicized to an extent rarely seen in Canadian public policy development. We have witnessed that already this afternoon. The sponsor of Bill C-391 has made the accusation that groups that support the registry sit “behind a desk trying to score political points or gain favour”. This would be insulting were it not so patently ridiculous. The leadership of the CAPB are representative of the communities we come from and have a statutory responsibility to provide effective and efficient policing. We are accountable for public safety in our communities, and we are concerned for the welfare of our employees, the sworn officers on the street. Therefore, we are concerned about the development of a public policy that would jeopardize safety in our communities and the safety of the officers serving our communities.
We are here to contribute to a factual and respectful debate so that members of Parliament can make an informed decision on an initiative that seeks to significantly change an incredibly important public policy. The consequences of eliminating the registry are enormous. The current registry has value that this bill will eliminate.
No doubt there are improvements that can be made to the registry, and we will be the first to support the government in justifiable, fact-based, positive changes.