Evidence of meeting #19 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was firearms.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Barbara Byers  Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress
Patty Ducharme  National Executive Vice-President, Executive Office, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Labour Congress
Kevin Gaudet  Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Wendy Cukier  President, Coalition for Gun Control
Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu  Senator, CPC, Senate
Chris Bentley  Attorney General of Ontario, Government of Ontario
Duane Rutledge  Sergeant, As an Individual
Gary Mauser  Professor Emeritus, As an Individual

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

I'd like to bring this meeting to order.

This is the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, meeting 19, and we are today looking at Bill C-391, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry).

We have quite a long list of witnesses.

Have you made any decisions on who goes first, or have you discussed this amongst yourselves? Shall we just start on the right side and move across, if that's okay?

On the right side, then, to start, we have the Canadian Labour Congress. Please introduce yourselves.

Ms. Byers, are you going to present, or Ms. Ducharme?

3:30 p.m.

Barbara Byers Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

We're each going to be taking about five minutes.

And I've never been called being on the “right side” before.

3:30 p.m.


Oh, oh!

3:30 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

Barbara Byers

The correct side, maybe, but not the right.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Well, maybe that's perspective. Looking at the back, you are then on the left.

3:30 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

Barbara Byers

Okay, that's great.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

And for all the witnesses, just so know, you have approximately 10 minutes. I can give you an extra minute if I can see that you're wrapping it up, but please because we have so many today we're going to have to stick pretty close to the 10 minutes. Thank you.

Yes, Mr. MacKenzie.

3:30 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

I have a point of order, if I could, before the meeting begins.

I have four letters from attorneys general across the country, who have asked that we submit these to the committee: the Attorney General of Manitoba, the Attorney General of Saskatchewan, the Attorney General of Alberta, and the Attorney General from the Yukon.

I would just submit these to the committee.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much. The clerk will accept those. They're already in both official languages. Thank you very much.

Yes, Madame Mourani.

3:30 p.m.


Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to know whether the letters are available in both official languages.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Is that taken care of? Okay.

Ms. Byers, please.

3:30 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

Barbara Byers

Thank you very much.

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress, I want to thank you for the opportunity to present our views on Bill C-391, an act that would repeal the long-gun registry.

The CLC opposes Bill C-391. Our members have debated the issue of gun control at our conventions, and delegates have supported various forms of gun control in Canada, which led us to support the creation of the gun registry in 1995.

We know the debate about gun control and the gun registry can be difficult, but we must keep it in perspective.

The vast majority of Canadians do not own guns. There are as compelling reasons today as there were in 1995 for a national gun registry: to enforce safe storage requirements; to ensure gun owners are held accountable for all the guns they own, including non-restricted firearms like rifles and shotguns; 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 protect their health and safety and take preventive action; and to trace back stolen guns to their rightful owners.

After a decade of use, first responders and police testify to its effectiveness, and a database that is consulted thousands of times a day by police across the country can no longer be dismissed by opponents as useless.

In domestic violence situations and child endangerment situations, both police and social workers can access the registry to assess the situation they are heading into and are able to take precautions and enter dangerous situations knowing what they may expect on the other side of the door. I can say, as a past social worker, that the registry would have been very helpful for me when I was doing emergency duty.

We know that rifles and shotguns are the guns most available in people's homes. A gun in the home increases risk factors on many levels, risks that the registry helps mitigate by providing those first responders with vital information: the number of guns in the home and, more importantly, what kind of guns. It allows them to assess risk to themselves and to others, particularly in domestic violence situations.

Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in domestic violence situations. They are the guns most often used in suicides, particularly those involving youth, and they are the guns most often used to kill police officers.

We are aware that in one high-profile case, a registered gun left at the scene of the murders of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, was traced back to its owner through the registry. The owner was eventually convicted as an accessory in the killing of those officers.

The registry clearly plays an important role for our nation's police forces and first responders. We do not ignore the fact that mistakes were made when the gun registry was established. Cost overruns were documented by the Auditor General in 2002, although most of the costs were spent on the licensing aspect of the 1995 law, not on the registry itself.

Any new program has unanticipated costs, as this government has learned recently. The Globe and Mail reported last week the estimated cost to provinces for the federal government's new Truth in Sentencing Act has gone from an estimated $90 million over the next two years to $2 billion over five years, according to justice minister Vic Toews, and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimates the projected costs at $7 billion to $10 billion over five years.

Clearly only time will tell, but regardless of whether you feel the money setting up the licensing and gun registry was money was well spent or not, it is money spent. Its current annual operating costs do provide value, particularly in terms of the access to the database by police across the country thousands of times a day.

The vast majority of gun owners in this country are clearly law-abiding citizens. They continue to register their guns despite this government's attempt in recent years to undermine the registry. As one member of a CLC affiliate said recently at his union's convention debating a resolution to support the gun registry—and I quote—“I am a proud hunter, and I am proud to register my rifle.”

As many have pointed out, registering guns is not an onerous task. When compared to the rules and regulations governing car ownership, the restrictions are put into perspective. You need a licence to operate a car. You have to renew your licence every year. In many provinces, you have to bring your car for emissions testing before you can renew your licence. You're required by law to wear a seat belt in your car. You need to purchase insurance, otherwise you cannot operate your car. In some provinces, you can't talk on a cellphone while driving your car, and in some provinces you have to buy and put snow tires on your car in the winter.

In contrast, gun owners need a licence to own a gun. The licence can be revoked if you use your gun recklessly. You need to register guns when you buy them. You must store your guns safely.

In 1995, a majority of Canadians favoured even stricter gun control legislation than the Firearms Act mandated. The same can be said today. Our own polling by Vector Research in January of this year continues to show majority support by Canadians to abolish gun ownership outright. The Firearms Act of 1995 is a uniquely Canadian example of compromise, a balance between the interests of those who favour stricter controls on firearms and those who prefer less restrictions.

Bill C-391 eliminates that balance, eliminates the tool used by police to work safely, eliminates the tool that keeps our communities safe and that has helped to reduce deaths by shotguns and rifles.

Patty Ducharme will complete our time on the agenda.

3:40 p.m.

Patty Ducharme National Executive Vice-President, Executive Office, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Labour Congress

Thanks, Barb.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada represents 172,000 workers across the country, including the 238 workers who work in the federal firearms registry in New Brunswick, and we are proud to be members of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Our union supports gun control. Our union also supports a firearms registry, which we believe has proven its importance and its success. Abolishing the long-gun registry serves no useful purpose, and we urge the committee to stand against Bill C-391 and reject its proposed amendments for the following reasons.

We've provided a written brief, so I am just going to address some of our concerns in bullet form.

We believe the long-gun registration is a necessary tool in the fight against violence against women. The long-gun registration helps ensure public health and safety, and gun control helps police do their work.

I'm going to talk briefly about the experience of our members--Public Service Alliance of Canada members--who work in the gun registry. Our members working at the registry provide information on the legislation and facilitate the registration, licensing, and transfer of ownership for gun owners. They answer anywhere between 75 and 120 calls per day working in a call centre environment, and they tell us that the people they interact with in general also support the program. These workers have first-hand experience of the importance of this registry.

As Charline Vautour, who works at the exception handling unit of the program, says,

We see results every day. We know the registry is useful when we see who uses it--in police investigations, when police visit people's homes, in situations of domestic violence, in legal matters. It is also used by health care workers who are first responders who need to know if there are weapons in a house and by fire departments which need to know if there are any explosives in a house. In a house fire, a long gun might just melt, but the ammunition can be very dangerous. Eliminating the registry would be a huge step backwards. All those records would be deleted. The outcome would be negative and it would be dangerous.

We agree that most gun owners have been registered and have registered their firearms. Of course, most Canadians support gun control, with a recent Léger poll indicating that 59% of Canadians consider the gun registry a good investment.

Are you asking me to stop, sir?

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

No, I'm telling you that you have one minute left.

3:40 p.m.

National Executive Vice-President, Executive Office, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Labour Congress

Patty Ducharme


Two-thirds of women polled support the registry. It's worth it. The firearms registry is an effective tool for law enforcement and has effectively reduced the overall rate of homicide. The costs of implementing the gun registry have already been paid, and 90% of the guns have already been registered. At an annual cost of less than $4 million, the costs of the day-to-day operation of the registry are relatively low.

In addition, this workplace makes a significant contribution to the social and economic well-being of the workers and the community of Miramichi, New Brunswick.

This committee has a responsibility to promote public security. The work of this committee must be guided by Canada's constitutional human rights framework, and this includes the obligation to ensure that federal legislation does not infringe anyone's right to life, liberty, and security of the person as guaranteed in section 7 of the charter.

This committee should not support legislation that would weaken the existing mechanisms created to protect public safety. Instead of spending significant resources on ineffective law and order proposals, this government should maintain a long-gun registry that is an effective tool against domestic and community violence.

We urge this committee to stand against this bill and reject its proposed amendments.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

We're going to go over now to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Mr. Kevin Gaudet, go ahead, sir.

May 25th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.

Kevin Gaudet Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, and my fellow witnesses.

My name is Kevin Gaudet. I'm the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We're a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization with more than 74,000 supporters nationwide. We have offices in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Toronto, and Ottawa, and soon to be Atlantic Canada. The mandate of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is to advocate for lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable government. We've been doing this for a long time, celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. We don't take government money or issue tax receipts.

I'd like to take this opportunity now to thank the supporters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose contributions allowed me to be here today to testify. We refused the offer of the committee to cover our expenses. Instead, we relied on the support of our supporters. I'm pleased to be here today on their behalf, to speak against the wasteful long-gun registry and for its appropriate elimination, thanks to Ms. Hoeppner's Bill C-391.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the chair of the committee on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for his many years of work on this issue and to thank all the MPs on the committee who supported our attendance today.

Mr. Chairman, all the members of the committee and their parties are to be commended for the open free vote that allowed this bill to come before the committee. Free votes are a key element to a fully functioning democracy. If it wasn't for the support of MPs from the NDP and the Liberal Party, joining the Conservatives in support of this bill at second reading, we wouldn't even be here today having this reasoned discussion. All of these MPs should be applauded for their courage and conviction on this issue.

That same open and free approach, we submit, should be continued in the House when this bill comes up again for vote after third reading. This has been a long-standing privilege that MPs have enjoyed for decades. It is a practice that ought to be followed without exception, after third reading on this bill.

Given the sensitivity of this debate, many have been calling for a compromise on this issue, and I agree. I suggest that Ms. Hoeppner's bill does just that. It provides a reasonable compromise for responsible and trustworthy gun owners, and we support it. This bill is a compromise because many responsible and trustworthy gun owners would have preferred to see more changes regarding hand guns, licensing, and other restrictions. It became clear that a bill with such changes was not going to get majority support from the House, so Bill S-5 was introduced in the Senate. It was deeply flawed, with the possibility of creating a new gun registry in every province. Thankfully, it too would not gain majority support.

As a result, this bill was created. Ms. Hoeppner's bill provides a compromise, having stripped away all other changes save for this one: the elimination of the wasteful long-gun registry. The long-gun registry has been an extremely wasteful and burdensome placebo that provides false impressions of improving public safety. Most importantly, the long-gun registry has been a substantial financial boondoggle since its creation in 1995 by then Minister of Justice Allan Rock. It has cost well beyond $2 billion, and the final figure is still yet unclear.

Some would like to argue that annual operating costs associated with the registry run at only $3 million. This is false. This figure does not reflect true fully-loaded direct costing, nor does it factor in indirect costing. In fact, the registry costs taxpayers more than $106 million per year, and a final figure cannot be known. As the Auditor General has pointed out, not once but twice, for a program that does little to nothing to keep Canadians safe, this is and has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. And all of this wasted spending originates due to misleading information having been given to Parliament when Bill C-68 was passed.

Related, of course, is that Canadians don't even know if the $2 billion is a complete figure. In 2002 we in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation presented Auditor General Sheila Fraser with a petition of over 14,000 signatures, requesting that her office audit the program. She did so and found astonishing waste.

In the second audit of the program, in 2006, Ms. Fraser found that whenever costs ballooned beyond what Parliament had authorized, or above what the government had publicly promised, the true amounts were hidden from legislators and the public. The Auditor General concludes that hiding these costs broke the law and violated the government's own accounting practices. It also meant that Parliament's constitutional power to decide how taxpayers' dollars are spent was usurped by bureaucrats. This is where the committee ought to be focusing its time more appropriately.

In 2006 my predecessor delivered to then public safety minister Day another petition, this time with over 28,000 petitions, calling for the elimination of the wasteful long-gun registry.

To quote from the Auditor General's report from December 2002, “From the start insufficient financial information was provided to Parliament”. The Auditor General says that Parliament was misled in 1995 to believe that the program would cost a net of only $2 million. Canadians may never know the full and true cost of this program.

We know, thanks to the Auditor General and the CBC, that it has cost over $2 billion. The program has been disastrously managed. According to the Auditor General, 70% of all money approved by Parliament for the creation and management of this program came from supplementary estimates. As you parliamentarians are aware, this is a clear indication of just how out of control the program has been, as this spending had not been budgeted.

The Auditor General's report is scathing. It outlines waste and mismanagement of immense scale. An important excerpt from the audit reads:

In our view, the financial information provided for audit by the Department does not fairly present the cost of the Program to the government. Our initial review found significant shortcomings in the information the Department provided. Consequently we stopped our audit of this information....

The Auditor General notes that costs exceeded $1 billion, according to the department. And she noted that the cost was importantly incomplete.

The auditor also highlights that the program's focus had changed from high-risk firearms owners to excessive regulation and enforcement of controls over all owners and their firearms. The department concluded that, as a result, the program had become overly complex and very costly to deliver, and that it had become difficult for owners to comply with the program. Importantly, the Auditor General notes, “The Department also did not report to Parliament the wider costs of the Program as required by the government's regulatory policy.”

As a result, the CBC submitted a freedom of information request to attempt to gain better information on full costing. They ran a story in February 2004 reporting the full wasteful program costs at more than $2 billion. Canadians likely will never know how much the wasteful program costs to date. Equally, we don't know fully how much it costs annually in direct and associated costs.

The RCMP reports it spends $8.4 million a year on registration. Leave aside for a moment the credibility of this number. Simply add it to the $98 million annual operating costs for other related programs, as outlined in the detailed research report from the Library of Parliament in 2003, and the total operating costs for the impact of this wasteful registry exceed $106 million a year. Of course, we don't even know the real cost to the RCMP, as the ongoing registry's operating costs have been routinely, purposely misrepresented.

In her 2006 audit, the Auditor General points out repeated examples of improper accounting where spending was hidden from Parliament. One example is for $17 million and another example is for $22 million. She notes in 2006 that the managers intended to continue with this accounting practice of hiding costs.

Nor do we know the true feeling of the rank and file members of the force. On May 5 of this year, Deputy Commissioner Killam issued an outrageous memo to all commanding officers regarding Ms. Hoeppner's bill, ordering the commanders and all their employees to keep their opinions to themselves and their mouths shut. With this kind of culture of chill in the RCMP, the true costs of managing the wasteful registry may never truly be known, nor may the true attitudes of the front line officers.

The only way to save taxpayers from this ongoing debacle is for this committee and Parliament to put an end to the wasteful long-gun registry.

Thank you for your time.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

We will now proceed to the Coalition for Gun Control, Ms. Wendy Cukier, please.

3:50 p.m.

Wendy Cukier President, Coalition for Gun Control

Thanks very much for allowing me to appear. I'll try to address points that have not already been raised and keep to my time allotted.

The Coalition for Gun Control is a non-profit organization that was founded in the wake of the Montreal massacre. Its position on firearms regulation, including support for the licensing of all firearms owners and the registration of all firearms, has been supported by over 300 organizations across the country, including all major public safety organizations, as well as the Canadian Public Health Association, major injury prevention groups, victims' organizations, labour, and the like. So I appreciate having the opportunity to speak on behalf of the members who represent the coalition.

I want to make a few key points. I hope we'll have time to address in the Q and A some of the problematic claims that have already been made.

Fundamentally, all firearms are potentially lethal. There has been an effort to differentiate rifles and shotguns from handguns. While this is appropriate to a certain extent, because restricted weapons—particularly handguns—are more concealable than rifles and shotguns, there have been many claims suggesting that rifles and shotguns don't kill. That is simply not the case.

In fact, if we look at the data, rifles and shotguns are the firearms most often used in suicides, in domestic violence, and to kill police officers in this country. While references to “duck guns” seem to suggest that these firearms are somehow toys, let us not forget that if this bill passes, the Ruger Mini-14--the powerful semi-automatic used in the Montreal massacre--will no longer be registered; nor will a number of sniper rifles that have the power to shoot with accuracy at two kilometres and pierce Kevlar vests.

The other thing that is important to understand is that the firearms legislation was established not just as a crime-fighting tool, not just for police, although that was clearly one of its functions. The firearms legislation was also passed because of advocacy by public health organizations and injury prevention organizations across the country who were, like the Prime Minister of Canada, concerned with suicide prevention. You have in the brief a complete list of some of those organizations who have insisted that stronger controls on rifles and shotguns--the firearms most often used in suicides--because they are the firearms most readily accessible need to be registered in order to reinforce the licensing provisions.

The risk factors for suicide and for homicide are very similar. That's part of the reason why 50% of domestic violence incidents involving firearms end in suicide. That's part of the reason why many of the public shootings that have attracted considerable attention also end in suicide.

The screening provisions in the licensing portion of the legislation are critical for addressing this. As the Supreme Court clearly stated, the registration of all firearms is essential to reinforce the licensing provisions:

The registration provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the Act. The licensing provisions require everyone who possesses a gun to be licensed; the registration provisions require all guns to be registered. These portions of the Firearms Act are both tightly linked to Parliament’s goal of promoting safety by reducing the misuse of any and all firearms. Both portions are integral and necessary to the operation of the scheme.

Part of the reason the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association, representing rank and file police officers, advocated for both licensing and registration back in 1991, culminating in the legislation that was passed in 1995, was because of the gaps in the existing legislation.

Many people around this table have argued that the firearms acquisition certificate was sufficient, that licensing was not required. Only one-third of firearm owners had valid firearms acquisition certificates. One of the big problems with the old firearms acquisition certificate system was that while records were supposed to be kept of firearm sales and transactions, there was in fact no record of how many guns an individual purchased unless police went store to store and examined their records. That meant legal gun owners could acquire as many rifles and shotguns as they wanted. If those rifles and shotguns were given, sold, or stolen, and ended up in the wrong hands, there were no mechanisms for tracing them back to their original owners. Hence, registration is absolutely essential for reinforcing the licensing provisions of the legislation. So people around this table who claim they support licensing must also logically support registration, which is key to reinforcing the licensing provisions.

It's also important to underscore the fact that the registry has been used by police to remove firearms from individuals who are potentially at risk to themselves or others. I know you have heard from the Canadian Police Association and you will be hearing from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, so I won't detail that any further, other than to say that we know for a fact that almost immediately after the shooting at Dawson College, a copycat made threats on the Internet, and the registry was part of what allowed the police to identify that individual and remove the firearms. Other cases have already been identified where the firearms registry has been instrumental in leading to convictions of individuals who have committed serious offences.

One of the other points that has been made in this debate is the notion that the support for firearms regulation, and particularly the registry, is purely an urban phenomenon. In fact, that is not the case. The groups that support the licensing and registration provisions of the legislation range from large national organizations to women's organizations in small rural communities, suicide prevention organizations, the Alberta council of injury prevention, and others. So the notion that this is just a big-city issue flies in the face of the evidence those groups have brought forward, and in fact, the data.

In my brief I've shown quite clearly that the rates of gun death and injury in Canada tend to be higher in the regions where there are more firearms available, even though in those very regions we see more opposition to the legislation.

I also want to draw your attention to the evidence we see when we look at rates of gun death and injury, when we look at rates of homicide with rifles and shotguns, when we look at rates of intimate partner violence. Rates are important. Some members around the table talk about numbers. It's important to look at the rate per hundred thousand.

What we see is that over the last 35 years, as we have strengthened controls over firearms, rates of firearm death and injury have declined. It's always very difficult to prove causal connections when we're dealing with complex phenomena such as crime or suicide, but the evidence appears to show that today we are far safer as a result of stronger firearms control than we were in the early 1970s.

I wish to draw the committee's attention to the fact that the provisions in this legislation do not simply eliminate the registration provisions that were introduced in 1995--

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

I'm sorry--

4 p.m.

President, Coalition for Gun Control

Wendy Cukier

--but in fact eliminate the requirement that we record firearms sales, in effect taking us back not just 15 years but more than 30 years.

Thank you.

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

Next we have Mr. Boisvenu, please. Go ahead when you're ready, sir.

4 p.m.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu Senator, CPC, Senate

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, parliamentary colleagues.

As an introduction, I would like to begin by telling you a bit about my origins. I come from Abitibi-Témiscamingue. For those from the Canadian west or from territories located even further away, Abitibi-Témiscamingue is located in northwestern Quebec, and it is known primarily for hunting and fishing.

You can understand that, very early in my youth, firearms and hunting were part of my family's daily activities—I come from a family of trappers. I am not prejudiced against hunters, far be it from that. That is why I want to clearly indicate to you, at the outset, my position with respect to hunting, among other things. I have never experienced, in my personal or family life, any traumatic events, with the exception of my daughter's murder, committed by a sexual predator, who strangled her to death.

Moreover, my position or the comments that I will be making this afternoon may appear somewhat contradictory, given that I am the founder of an association for persons who have been assassinated or disappeared, namely the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared. Today the association has more than 600 member families who have lost one of their own as a result of a death or murder caused, in particular, by a firearm.

What bothers me a bit in this firearm debate is that, right now, this is more a debate about opinions rather than one based on science. I noted this when, just two weeks ago, I received a group from the Coalition for Gun Control in my Senate office. I realized how difficult it was to discuss or even evaluate the program as such. Anyone who challenged certain aspects of the gun registry was automatically perceived as someone who was insensitive to violence against women, or someone who was almost in the enemy camp. It is unfortunate that, with this issue, you are either for or against, and no one has looked at the middle ground.

This is a very delicate topic of debate, particularly when we question certain aspects of it. As I said at the outset, I am not at all against the free circulation of firearms, far from that; I am in favour of some type of gun control, but not at any cost.

I am giving you opinions this afternoon. Since we are engaged in a debate about opinions, I will present mine. I am no expert, but I am someone who has already lived with firearms and has been with families who have had one of their members murdered. So I am speaking to you based on my experience in this matter.

I view the gun registry first and foremost as a work tool for police officers. This is a tool that is designed to protect them at work, and all of the police forces that have appeared before you have admitted this. This is primarily a tool that protects police officers. I believe that there is even a guideline obliging police officers to check the gun registry to determine whether or not there may be any firearms located on the premises they are to visit. When we hear that 10,000 checks are made daily, it is because the police officers have to do so to protect themselves.

I have some serious questions as to whether or not the gun registry can be viewed as an effective tool to prevent crime or murder. There is no clear scientific evidence demonstrating that the gun registry has had an impact on crime prevention.

The drop in the number of homicides and suicides in Canada started occurring in 1979. If we look at the homicide and suicide curve, we can see that it has declined since 1979. The registry came into effect in 1992 and it has not in any way triggered a sharper decline. The decline has been maintained at a constant level regardless of whether there was a registry or not. Hence, before we can claim that this tool has resulted in a drop in the crime rate, we need to be very cautious.

One has only to think about the events that took place at Dawson College—reference was made to this a short while ago—or at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, or of the police officers who recently were shot and killed. All of the weapons used had been registered. With respect to the event that took place at Dawson College, the weapon used was almost viewed as a hunting gun. Would we not be better off expanding the list of banned weapons? That is the question I am asking myself. According to data from British Columbia, 80% of the firearms seized in that province are illegal. Regardless of whether or not there is a registry, the problem of illegal weapons will always be with us.

What I'm trying to do is trigger a debate or some thought on crime prevention. In Canada, the murder rate is dropping off sharply, as are gun-related homicides. However, the number of homicides committed using either a handgun or a knife increased by 35% since 2000. Missing persons cases rose by 40% over the past six years. I am wondering about the expenses incurred to maintain the Canadian Gun Registry. We are talking about millions of dollars here. Is this the most effective place to invest in order to prevent crime? Firearms represent only 2.4% of the weapons used in homicides.

Canada adopted the Firearms Act, requiring the hunter or gun owner to register the weapon. Comparing the Canadian Gun Registry to a driver's licence is perilous, dangerous and at times dishonest. In Quebec, we pay $500 per year to register a driver's licence. The government is responsible for administering the registry. The people who work at the Canadian Gun Registry are to a large extent volunteers. The hunter pays only once. In order for the Canadian Gun Registry to be effective and up to date, each gun owner would have to pay $100 per year. That is the reality. The driver's licence registry is effective because this system is financed properly.

In my opinion, this registry will always have shortcomings, if only because there will always be problems with the updating of the firearms owners' list. As is the case for most of Canada's systems and registries, there will always be cost overruns. Just think about the Quebec health insurance card. In order to computerize this system, the initial costs nearly doubled. And then there is SYGBEC, the Quebec government's system to manage government information. It too had a cost overrun. As soon as a system is computerized, we have to expect there to be a cost overrun. It is unavoidable.

Mr. Chair, I will conclude by saying that we must stop exaggerating the importance of the Canadian Gun Registry when it comes to crime prevention. When we examine the declining curve of homicides and suicides, which has remained constant since 1979, we realize that the registry has not triggered an even quicker decline in these rates.

As a senator, I am asking myself the following question: if we need to invest tens of millions of dollars in crime prevention, would we not be better off investing this money somewhere else rather than in the registry, given that we have not been able to demonstrate that it has had an impact on crime prevention?

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to the Honourable Chris Bentley, please.

Go ahead, sir.

4:10 p.m.

Chris Bentley Attorney General of Ontario, Government of Ontario

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the opportunity to join the debate, and quite a debate it's been already this afternoon.

I'm not delivering a letter, I'm here in person. I know you've heard a lot of testimony, not only during these hearings but during the long debate about the gun registry.

I suspect that what joins the overwhelming majority of people in this debate is that we all wish for pretty much the same things. We all want a safe society. We all want a crime-free society. We want to apprehend those who commit crimes, and make sure the system of justice meets its appropriate result.

The real question is what will be achieved if this bill is passed? What will be achieved in furthering the ends of crime prevention, the administration of justice, the apprehension of criminals, and the prosecution of offences?

It's my respectful submission to you that nothing will be achieved, and that in fact--in fact--we will undermine the efforts of those who are charged with preventing, with enforcing the law, with prosecuting.

I see at the outset that there has been discussion at various times about what a single tool in law enforcement can and cannot do. The standard is not one of perfection for any tool, whether it's a registry, whether it's a law, whether it's an approach. There's nothing. There is no one tool that is perfect. The issue really is this: does it contribute in a significant way? The evidence is pretty clear that the gun registry does contribute in a significant way. Almost 11,000 times a day, it's accessed. Almost 11,000 times a day, it's accessed by those on the front lines of law enforcement in Canada.

Now, you could say that many of those are automatic accesses. They happen when other checks occur. But it wouldn't be accessed if it wasn't useful, if it didn't have important information, information that can protect not only the officer answering the call, the officer in assessing the risk, but information that could assist in law enforcement or the investigation.

The information in the gun registry contributes to the reasonable and probable grounds officers require in search and seizure warrants, in arrest warrants. It contributes significantly to the information that investigative officers require in order to determine who committed certain offences.

But the information doesn't stop with the officer. In the province of Ontario, as the Attorney General, I'm responsible for the crowns who prosecute crime, crowns who have to make determinations and make presentations to the judiciary, justices of the peace and judges, about whether an individual is capable of being released once they're arrested, or should be held for a bail hearing, or whether their detention should continue, or they should be released on certain conditions. The information in the registry assists in that determination.

No, it's not perfect. Gosh, if you ever find the perfect tool, let me know what it is. In a system that consists primarily of men and women working their best every day and doing their best, you're not likely to find perfection in any one tool. But it does assist that determination, knowing who's registered as owning guns, what types, whether a person can be released into the custody of another who presents themselves as a surety or guarantor, and thereby might have access to guns.

These are all important pieces of information. Perfect? No, it's not perfect, but it's of significant assistance, as is the information in the hands of those who have to consider parole questions or sentencing questions, sentencing that might result in probation, or community supervision. The question of whether somebody is being released into a household where there are firearms present or not can be important information--not perfect but important information.

I suppose one of the questions is that if you get rid of it, what replaces it? Would it be the position of the proponents of the bill that the information is simply irrelevant in all cases? Or is it the position of the proponents of the bill that somehow the information could be replaced in a different way, and if so, how? Licensing is only the first step.

So the question is what replaces it, and why would you want to deny those who stake their lives on the fact that the information is important? Why would you want to deny them that information? Why would you want to deny those, who are charged with the responsibility of prosecuting, the access to that information that they maintain is important?

There is no one tool that would be perfect. In fact, the police and the crowns, every single day, access information of various degrees of completeness and credibility. They make those assessments every minute of every day in every case. Whether it's the undercover officer accessing information from an informant, whether it's the crown assessing professional or other witnesses, many of whom have contradictory stories, they're assessing information all the time. But the magic is the information, not the denial of the information, not the refusal to look at the information.

I've never met a front line professional who, when given the opportunity to look at something that they were able to look at, said “No, I don't want to look at that; I don't want to know that; I'm not interested.” I've never met that person, ever. I practised for 25 years on the other side from where I am now, but I never met that. People want to know and then they'll make their assessment using their own personal and professional judgment, which is extremely important.

In this particular case, in the case of the gun registry, it's not a question of vilifying the owners of guns in any way, shape, or form. It is minimally intrusive on the owners to register, minimally intrusive. When you have a tool that is minimally intrusive but can provide very important information, in my respectful submission we should not deny its continuance, deny its updating, deny its strengthening.

Let me conclude with this. Bad things happen to good people. Guns are stolen. Guns go into circulation. The criminal may be found with the gun, but the investigation may extend not only to that one offence but to others, and knowing where the gun started and knowing what the trail is, is enormously important in the resolution not only of the one crime but others, in assessing the degree of seriousness with which that individual at the end of the trail should be assessed because of the apprehension.

So I say simply that the Province of Ontario's perspective, the perspective of the Attorney General, is that this registry should be maintained and Bill C-391 should not be supported.

Strengthened? Absolutely. Enhanced? Absolutely. But the registry should be maintained. It contributes significantly to the protection of the people, not only in the province of Ontario but, I believe, throughout the country.

Thank you very much.