Evidence of meeting #20 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 violence.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pierre Maurice  Chief, Scientific Unit, Safety and Injury Prevention, Institut national de santé publique du Québec
William Blair  President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Priscilla de Villiers  Victim Advocate and Founder, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination
Greg Farrant  Manager, Government Relations and Communications, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Sergeant Murray Grismer  Detective Sergeant, Saskatoon Police Service, As an Individual
Etienne Blais  Assistant Professor, School of Criminology, University of Montreal, Institut national de santé publique du Québec

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

I call this meeting to order.

This is the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. We're continuing today with our study of Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry).

We have representatives from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. We have an individual from Saskatoon, Mr. Murray Grismer, a sergeant in the police force. From Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, we have Priscilla de Villiers, a victim's advocate. From the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, we have Monsieur Pierre Maurice, chief of the scientific unit; and Étienne Blais, an assistant professor at the school of criminology, University of Montreal. From the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, we have Mr. William Blair, the president.

We would like to welcome all of you to our meeting. We look forward to your testimony. You each have 10 minutes for your presentation, and then we will go to questions and comments from the various political parties.

Monsieur Maurice, go ahead.

May 26th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.

Dr. Pierre Maurice Chief, Scientific Unit, Safety and Injury Prevention, Institut national de santé publique du Québec

Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished committee members, allow us first to introduce ourselves.

I am Dr. Pierre Maurice, and I am an injury prevention expert at the Scientific Unit, Safety and Injury Prevention, of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. I'm accompanied by Mr. Étienne Blais, who is a criminologist on my team and assistant professor at the School of Criminology of the University of Montreal. Mr. Blais has, in recent years, developed a research program on firearm-related injuries.

We thank you for this opportunity to present our analysis on Bill C-391. We decided we wanted to be heard by this committee after seeing that the debate on the Canadian Firearms Registry was focused solely on crime-related issues. The issue surrounding Bill C-391 goes way beyond crime, and that is why we think it essential today to view the debate from a public health perspective as well. This perspective leads us to consider the potential consequences of this bill for all firearm-related deaths and injuries, not just those related to crime.

We should note from the outset that suicides are by far the leading cause of firearm-related deaths in Canada and represent more than 75% of the total number of deaths related to that type of weapon. Most of those deaths involve non-restricted firearms. In overall terms, the data show that the problem of firearm-related deaths mainly concerns people dealing with personal, marital or mental health problems, rather than the criminal milieu. The figures also show that the home is the main place where those deaths occur, which makes it a significant focus for education in a prevention perspective.

Numerous studies have shown that access to firearms is the main risk factor for suicide, homicide and accidental death. That is why Quebec's national public health program includes a specific measure to support the development and implementation of legislative and regulatory measures to make firearms less accessible to individuals who may misuse them.

In the past 30 years, the Parliament of Canada has implemented a number of measures to control the problems associated with firearms. Most of those measures focused on the control of non-restricted firearms such as rifles and shotguns. Since 1998, following the adoption of Bill C-68, all owners of non-restricted firearms have been required to hold a licence to possess firearms and to register each firearm that they own.

From a public health perspective, we must ask ourselves the following question: have the measures introduced following implementation of Bill C-68 helped reduce the number of firearm-related deaths? A study was recently conducted to assess this effect taking into account the downward trend observed since 1974 in homicide and suicide rates and the concomitant impact of other factors associated with firearm-related deaths.

The observed results show that the coming into force of Bill C-68 is associated, on average, with a reduction of 50 firearm-related homicides and 250 firearm-related suicides per year in Canada. The results of this study also show that no substitution effect has been observed since Bill C-68 was implemented. In other words, the decline in the number of firearm-related suicides and homicides has not been offset by an increase in the number of suicides and homicides committed by other means.

Based on available data on the direct and indirect costs associated with firearm-related deaths, we estimate the costs saved in respect of the reduction of 300 deaths associated with the coming into force of Bill C-68 at over $400 million a year. It should be noted that the two main measures implemented following the adoption of Bill C-68 are the obligation for all owners of non-restricted firearms to hold a licence to possess firearms and the obligation to register each of the firearms that they own. The effectiveness of the act stems from the interaction of these two measures. More specifically, the licence and registration make it possible to link every weapon to its owner, which has the effect of encouraging the owners of non-restricted firearms to comply with the regulations in effect concerning the storing, selling, lending and donation of firearms.

This possibility of linking each weapon to its owner also helps to support the police in the performance of their duties, for example in the execution of a prohibition order concerning the possession of a firearm. These effects on owners and the police result in a smaller number of non-restricted firearms being improperly stored, lost or stolen and thus make this type of weapon less readily accessible to individuals likely to misuse them. This is important, knowing that access to a firearm has long been acknowledged in the scientific literature as a major risk factor for firearm-related suicide and homicide, a weapon being a factor that facilitates acting out by those inclined to commit suicide or homicide.

The effectiveness of these two measures, the licence and registration, also stems from the fact that they concern all owners of non-restricted firearms, which makes it possible to take action on all weapons falling into this category.

In conclusion, bearing in mind that: the vast majority of firearm-related deaths are suicides and do not involve the criminal milieu; that the coming into force of Bill C-68 is associated, on average, with a reduction of 300 firearm-related deaths in Canada each year, including 250 suicides; that the compulsory registration of non-restricted firearms is one of the key measures implemented following the adoption of Bill C-68; that the Canadian non-restricted firearms registration system is solidly established and operational; that most of the non-restricted firearms now in circulation in Canada have already been registered; that the current operating cost of the registration system is relatively low—we're talking about $9 million in—relation to the 300 lives saved and the avoided costs, approximately $400 million every year since Bill C-68 came into force; that the registration of a non-restricted firearm does not prevent its owner from using it legitimately for hunting or shooting, but is intended instead to make non-restricted firearms less accessible to individuals likely to misuse them; the Institut national de santé publique du Québec recommends: that the firearms control measures implemented following the adoption of Bill C-68, including the obligation for all non-restricted firearms owners to register each of the weapons that they possess, be integrally maintained.

To sum up, from a public health standpoint, this is as though Canadian society had a drug that could make it possible to prevent 300 deaths a year. Two important ingredients go into the make-up of that drug. In this case, they are the licence and registration. We think it is dangerous to change the composition of that drug by removing one of its important ingredients, particularly since the secondary effects associated with firearm registration are minimal.

Thank you for your attention.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you.

We will now move to Mr. William Blair.

Go ahead, sir.

3:40 p.m.

Chief William Blair President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Thank you. Good afternoon.

My name is William Blair, and I'm the chief of the Toronto Police Service.

Like my fellow chiefs across Canada, I have served for decades in front-line policing. I've been a member of the Toronto Police Service since November 1, 1976, and over the past 33 years I have served in nearly every policing function. I have worked in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in Canada's largest city. I spent years working undercover on the drug squad. I worked on our holdup squad, and I set up organized drug crime units and our gun and gang task force.

For three years I served as the commander of all the detective units in Toronto, including the homicide squad, the sex crimes unit, the Toronto drug squad, and our intelligence services. In 2005 I was appointed as the chief of the Toronto Police Service. With that appointment I accepted a statutory responsibility for the safety of Toronto's 2.7 million citizens and the safety of my 5,600 police officers. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.

Part of that responsibility is to provide our officers with all the tools, training, and resources they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. The national firearms registry is one such tool.

Since my appointment, the Toronto Police Service has established one of the first and the largest integrated guns and gangs units in North America. We work in an integrated investigative environment with partners, including the RCMP national weapons enforcement support teams, the Ontario Provincial Police provincial weapons enforcement unit, and all the regional police services in the greater Toronto area. They are one of the most effective investigative units dealing with gun violence in Canada. They have conducted some of the largest and most successful gang investigations in North America. They are recognized internationally for their expertise. They use the firearms registry every day.

They tell me they need that information to do their job. They need it to solve crimes and to prosecute offenders. They use it to control the supply of legal firearms and to trace the origin of all crime guns.

Domestic violence investigators regularly check the registry to determine the number and types of weapons registered to a person involved in a potentially violent dispute so they might obtain a public safety warrant to remove those firearms. They know such efforts have saved lives and prevented tragedies. The evidence of reduced domestic gun violence confirms their knowledge.

Criminal investigators regularly check the registry to determine the origin and ownership of seized firearms. They use it to obtain evidence for criminal prosecutions. They use it to identify a firearm that is stolen and to return such firearms to the rightful owners. They use it to solve serious crimes. They use it every day.

The rank-and-file officers in my service tell me they need the information from the registry to do their jobs. Communications dispatchers regularly check addresses to provide first responders with information that keeps them safe. Front-line cops ask for registry checks when approaching a potentially dangerous situation. Tactical officers check the registry to determine the number and type of weapons likely to be encountered when entering a residence of a barricaded person or when executing a search warrant.

These checks are not done, as has been suggested, as part of some automatic computer program. They are requested by police officers who value accurate and reliable information when they are doing their job. They know the firearms registry is a tool that helps them to do their jobs effectively and safely.

They have asked me to advocate to you on their behalf to retain access to the information contained in the registry. The Toronto police union, representing their interests, has also expressed strong support for the retention of the registry. They know the information obtained from that registry helps keep their members safe. We all know its value, and we want you to know that as well.

We also know the limitations of every information system that supports police work. Information must be verified. Criminal intelligence is only as good as its source, and it must always be considered in its context. The firearms registry database is one such tool. It does not prevent every crime or solve every crime. It cannot guarantee the safety of every police officer. None of us expects it to. What we do expect is access to the best and most accurate information available. We require access to the information contained in the firearms registry.

Like all the tools we use, the firearms registry is not a perfect, universally effective tool. Not every criminal will register their weapons. Not everyone will obey the law. It will not deter every criminal, nor will it solve every crime. The police have never claimed that it would. What we do claim, with the authority that comes from actually using the information contained in the firearms registry every day, is that it is a tool that helps us to do our job. Criminals may not register their weapons, but because the gun registry exists, we can determine the origin of a criminal's weapons. We can hold them accountable and the persons responsible for providing them with these guns.

The registry provides us with intelligence. It provides us with evidence. It creates an accountability for gun owners and it encourages responsible gun ownership. It is valuable, but it is not perfect. It is certainly not the only tool we need, and no one claims it is the answer to every challenge. But it is an important tool, nonetheless.

Similarly, no legislation, no matter how comprehensive or well written, will prevent every crime. No minimum sentence, no matter how certain and severe, will deter every criminal bent on violence. No investment in gathering criminal intelligence will guarantee our safety. Not even the absolute certainty of getting caught and going to jail would deter every criminal. Again, no sensible person would suggest that it could.

In 2009 I was elected as the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Our membership includes chiefs of police and senior members of police services of every size and from every region in Canada. It includes the commissioner in command of the RCMP, the OPP, and the Sûreté du Québec. It includes chiefs of the major cities, as well as small towns.

Since 1905, police leaders from across Canada have joined together in the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to advocate for public safety. Our input and support have been sought and valued by successive governments for over a century.

The legitimacy of the CACP as a national and trusted voice in police leadership in Canada has not previously been questioned. The integrity of our members and our commitment to the safety of their communities and their officers are accepted and trusted in towns and cities across Canada.

As the president of the CACP, it is my responsibility to advance positions that have been determined collectively by our membership. Since 1974, the CACP has advocated for the tools that will enable us to deal effectively with gun violence.

In 1994 the CACP adopted a resolution calling upon the Government of Canada to enact legislation requiring registration of all firearms, including long guns. This is a position from which the CACP has never wavered. This is not to suggest that we support wasteful spending. We do not. The CACP acknowledges that the implementation of the Firearms Act was not done efficiently.

Prior to 2005 our members also expressed frustration with the cost and apparent inefficiencies in the firearms program. As an example, Commissioner Fantino expressed his frustration with the system in January of 2003. That was more than seven years ago. Today, the OPP, which he leads, uses the registry over 1,500 times a day. They use it very effectively. They use it to make Ontario safer for all Ontarians.

The operation of the long-gun registry has improved significantly since responsibility was given to the RCMP in 2006. The first thing they did was to create a more efficient and cost-effective system. The long-gun registry now costs $4.1 million a year. They streamlined the process for Canadians to register their weapons. They improved the accessibility and reliability of information available from the registry. They improved the training available to investigators and front-line officers on using the registry's information. They developed reporting tools that police services use to encourage responsible gun ownership. They have made it possible to enforce prohibition orders and licence revocations by providing accurate and reliable information about the number, type, calibre, and serial numbers of weapons in the possession of persons who have been determined to be dangerous. Without that information from the registry, police would have no means to determine what guns a person prohibited from possessing firearms actually has registered to them. The law allows us to seize such firearms, but we would have no way to determine their existence without the registry.

It is no coincidence that a handful of police critics relied upon by the gun lobby come from people who have retired at least five years ago or from those with no current experience in using the firearms registry database. They do not know how it works. They have never used it, but they know they hate it. No one should delude themselves that they speak for the silent majority of serving police officers in Canada.

Police officers are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. We do so individually, and many of us do, notwithstanding blatantly dishonest assertions that chiefs have muzzled all dissenting opinions. Anyone suggesting that police unions would be complicit in the suppression of legitimate concerns of police officers doesn't know--or hopes that you don't know--very much about police officers.

More often, we elect representatives who speak on our behalf. Police chiefs have formed associations to represent their national or regional interests. Police officers join associations or unions to speak on their behalf. This is most effective when the overwhelming majority holds a common view on an issue of significant importance to public and police officer safety.

Retention of the firearms registry for long guns is one such issue. It is an issue that has brought together, perhaps like no other issue, a coalition of the full spectrum of police leadership in Canada. It is an issue that has united the leaders of police services, police associations, and police boards across Canada. We all believe that the registration of all firearms, including long guns, is important to the safety of Canadians and police officers.

We believe that Bill C-391 is ill conceived and based on a dated misunderstanding of the current system. We believe that the destruction of the firearms registry will make our communities less safe. It will make our officers less effective in dealing with violent crime. It will make the already difficult and dangerous job of a police officer more difficult and less safe.

I have brought with me today resolutions and letters concerning the firearms registry from provincial chiefs associations of every province in Canada. I implore you to read those resolutions. They are remarkably consistent. From British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, the chiefs and leaders of police services across the country are telling this Parliament that they support the retention of the registry.

Some have gone even further, acknowledging the value of the current registry, but calling on the government to do more. They want the registry improved and enhanced. They want it made even more efficient and effective. They want to address the legitimate concerns of law-abiding firearm owners by removing the threat of criminal sanction and providing for a ticketing mechanism to encourage compliance; the CACP supports this measure. They want new tools of search and seizure, stricter sentencing of violent firearms offenders, and better control of the guns coming across their borders. They do not support taking valuable information away from police officers.

In addition to the resolutions of every provincial association of chiefs of police, I have provided a number of letters written by chiefs of police in smaller, rural, and northern communities. They have expressed their support for the retention of the long-gun registry. They have communicated their support to their local member of Parliament. Like chiefs across Canada, they will, in the coming weeks, explain to the citizens they are sworn to protect their support for the retention of the long-gun registry and their opposition to Bill C-391.

I believe that when Canadians hear from their police leaders the importance of the registry to public safety, they will support the retention of that registry.

I am also aware that the RCMP has completed an internal audit of the firearms program and an evaluation of the firearms program's effectiveness. I understand that both reports strongly indicate that the firearms program is providing good value and is being managed efficiently. When Canadians have access to that report, I believe it will resolve many of their outstanding questions.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you.

We'll now go to Ms. Priscilla de Villiers for her presentation.

3:50 p.m.

Priscilla de Villiers Victim Advocate and Founder, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination

Thank you. Good afternoon.

Could I ask the clerk to hand out this last page of my submission in English and French? It is missing from my submission.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Certainly. We'll distribute it.

Go ahead.

3:50 p.m.

Victim Advocate and Founder, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination

Priscilla de Villiers

Thank you.

Thank you very much for inviting me to be here today. My name is Priscilla de Villiers and for the last almost 19 years I have been working with victims of crime. The title of my discussion today is “The Costs of Gun Violence and The Impact on Victims”.

In recent years, in the many debates linked to the gun registry, we've heard little acknowledgement that incalculable human suffering has resulted from the use of firearms, whether criminal, accidental, or self-inflicted. Fatalities and traumatic injuries are listed as statistics with little attempt to assess the enormous loss to our society, our communities, and to our families. It is time that we shift the focus of the debate from the rights of gun owners to the rights of the public to safety. In particular, the role of legally owned firearms in domestic violence against women and children must be acknowledged.

Victims have been at the forefront of the battle to strengthen Canada's gun control legislation since the beginning, and we applauded the passage of the Firearms Act in 1995. The measures passed were aimed at preventing tragedies and considering the rights of Canadians to safety. In 1993 we presented the de Villiers petition to the government, signed by 2.5 million Canadians. It noted that the crimes of violence against the person were abhorrent and that there were especially vulnerable people: children, women, the disabled.

While many changes have been made and deficiencies are still being addressed, there is still more to be done to protect Canadians. We've appeared at a number of committees. We have spoken in the media. We have written to elected officials. We fought all the way to the Supreme Court to defend our gun laws and we will not stop now.

While we agree with the proposal to improve certain aspects of the system, let me remind you that it should not be done at the expense of lives. Gun violence is a complex social problem that needs a comprehensive set of solutions. Strong controls on firearms are one part of that solution. Regardless of victim support, victims' services, or kind words, it's our conviction that no life should be forfeit, no injury tolerated, and no vulnerable people held hostage in Canada when it's largely preventable.

Those of us who have suffered want to prevent others from experiencing what we have experienced. Canada's gun control legislation in its current form is the result of at least six public inquests that have emphasized the importance of licensing and registration as a means of preventing future tragedies. The measures included in the Firearms Act are important to prevent violence.

I'll address some of the myths and facts about gun control in Canada. Number one, duck guns are not dangerous. The fact is my daughter was killed with a duck gun. So were too many other victims. A sample is here for you to read.

In 1991 my daughter, Nina de Villiers, and Karen Marquis were shot and killed by a sexual predator with his own rifle, which he had recently used to terrorize and threaten his victim in a violent sexual assault. He then turned that same gun on himself. The inquest into his death and five others called for a gun registry. The one clear message that continues to emerge from the terrible tragedies--whether criminal, accidental, or self-inflicted--is that of the coroner: “What we learn from one may save the lives of many.”

Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in domestic violence, suicide, accident, and in the murder of police officers. There are three mechanisms by which the availability of firearms increases violence: guns instigate violence; they facilitate violence; they intensify violence.

The fact that firearms may be used for sporting, collecting, or other pursuits cannot deny their inherent dangerousness. Firearms in the household continue to be the leading cause of suicide in young men, a lethal weapon in family violence, a cause of intimidation and terror in children, accidental injury, and death. Most of this is never publicly reported.

While there are more guns in rural areas in the west and more opposition to gun control, there is also a higher rate of injury and death by gun, often involving rifles and shotguns, which are powerful weapons that can cause serious injury or in fact death.

We see, as an example, the killing of 14 young women and the injuring of 27 others in 22 minutes at the Montreal Polytechnique. The Ruger Mini-14 was used. This gun is still sold as an unrestricted hunting rifle.

Myth two is that registration does not work; licensing the gun owner is sufficient. The fact is that public inquests have repeatedly recommended licensing and registration. Six separate inquests called for this and made many recommendations for strengthening screening processes and reducing the renewal period. They're listed here.

Victims fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to defend the law that was forged in death and misery. In June 2000, in its unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada stated:

The registration provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the Act. ... 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.

The UN special rapporteur on violence against women and the special rapporteur on human rights and small arms emphasized that states that do not adequately regulate firearms are failing to meet their obligations under international law.

In Canada the court has repeatedly ruled that it is a privilege and not a right to own a firearm. Our loved ones have the right to safety and security of person, which is guaranteed under the charter in section 7. Gun owners have a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility and accountability.

There cannot be effective gun control without information about who owns what guns. The registering of firearms brings about accountability and reduces the chances that legally owned guns will be diverted to unlicensed owners. It also reduces the risk that dangerous people will have access to weapons.

We've heard about all the advantages to police. Without registration it's not possible for police, as we know, to ensure that all firearms have been removed from a gun owner.

Myth three is that the registry is an expensive bureaucratic nightmare that has never saved a single life. What are the costs of human life? Gun violence costs Canadians $6.6 billion. It's the victim, according to the justice department, who bears 47% of the costs. Victims of violence are not covered by any insurance policy. They bear not only the financial costs but the ongoing effects on their mental health, disabilities, relationships, and employment. The Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2004 estimated that the average cost for a patient to spend one night in hospital for treatment is $7,000. That did not include emergency care, day surgery, long-term care, hospital clinics, or fee-for-service payments to physicians.

The indirect costs of gun violence and gun intimidation and harassment should also be taken into account. The effect on the victim can be profoundly debilitating.

It's all very well to look at what is in the past. I also believe that we should always look forward to what is in the future. We are recommending, on the strength of our full submission, that the committee vote to terminate Bill C-391. Long-gun registration is an essential part of Canada's gun control law. We are willing to support some compromises, provided they do not affect public safety. The proposal to waive fees associated with gun registration permanently while removing financial resources from the program is a reasonable compromise; so is the introduction of a non-criminal supplementary offence for the failure to register one firearm once.

Finally, we are also calling for a national information campaign to educate Canadians on all the salient issues mentioned above, as part of a national public health strategy and a violence prevention strategy. No registration program can function successfully without current, informed, and accurate information consistently delivered.

Our lives and our safety deserve that.

Thank you.

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you, Ma'am. I let you go a little longer, and I realize you probably had some things you didn't include, but maybe during some of the questions and comments you can finish your report.

4 p.m.

Victim Advocate and Founder, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination

Priscilla de Villiers

Certainly. Thank you very much.

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you.

We will now go to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Mr. Greg Farrant. Go ahead, sir.

4 p.m.

Greg Farrant Manager, Government Relations and Communications, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, fellow panellists.

On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, with 100,000 members and 670 member clubs across Ontario, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to comment on Ms. Hoeppner's bill, Bill C-391.

Going back a few years, Bill C-68 was born out of tragedy and was directly attributable to public concerns in the aftermath of the horrific shooting of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. No right-thinking person should ever underestimate the impact an event of that magnitude must have had on the families of the victims, nor can anyone state with confidence, unless they have walked in their shoes, the emotional costs to family members of other shooting victims, including our fellow panellists today, and what impact that has made on their lives.

OFAH supports effective firearms control, much like the former FAC system, that does not unfairly or unnecessarily target legal, law-abiding firearms owners. I must say that the establishment of public policy based strictly upon emotion, not fact, is flawed. In the aftermath of the Lépine shooting, the Coalition for Gun Control convinced the government that more gun control would make us safer. Unfortunately, over the years other instances, like the shootings at Dawson College, Mayerthorpe, and others, have demonstrated the folly of the original belief that the registry of long guns would prevent crime and enhance public safety.

Bill C-68 included a licensing component and a provision for mandatory sentences for the criminal use of a firearm, something that has been ignored, bargained away, traded, and generally abused during sentencing deals for offenders, including consideration of time served and two-for-one deals. It also established a new process for the licensing of firearms owners that uses a series of checks and balances, like a mandatory waiting period, criminal and mental health background checks, and spousal consultation, which, if done correctly, affords the public with a fair degree of certainty that the applicant is safe to own and use firearms. Unfortunately, these checks and balances are not always done.

From the start, many experts both inside and outside of government advised that the long-gun registry would be prohibitively expensive and turn out to be nothing more than hollow political symbolism. In fact, according to Dr. John Dixon, who at the time was senior advisor to the deputy minister of justice, the short answer arrived at by every study of the idea to create a universal registration of firearms by the Department of Justice was that it would be ruinously expensive and could actually yield a negative public security result. At that time, the president of the Coalition for Gun Control told the CBC that the argument for gun control had never been based on individual cases; it was always based on the general principle that if you have adequate control of all guns, you reduce the chances that dangerous people would gain access to them. You don't eliminate them. At best, that statement is disingenuous.

The entire debate over gun control in this country and the creation of a long-gun registry under Bill C-68 was a direct result of the misguided actions of one lone individual. Prior to that, gun control was not a major public policy issue, and the creation of a regime to regulate legal firearms--in this particular case, long guns--as a means of protecting the public from individuals with a grudge was flawed. Equally wrong are current suggestions that by simply tweaking the registry to make it work better, it will make us safer and justify its creation. Even a well-run registry won't prevent random violent crime. Believing this ignores the glaring fact that criminals don't register firearms and, worse still, that Bill C-68 did not include a provision under the Firearms Act for the tracking of prohibited offenders, those most likely to commit gun crime.

Over the years much has been made of the cost of the long-gun registry and the suggestion that the system has cost taxpayers over $1 billion. In fact, the Auditor General has commented extensively on this aspect of the system, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that today. However, alarming as these cost overruns have been, perhaps most damning in the Auditor General's reports of both 2002 and 2006 were her comments that the Canada Firearms Centre was unable or unwilling to provide her department with information to substantiate the need for the long-gun registry as a public safety tool. I quote:

The Centre does not show how these activities help minimize risks to public safety with evidence-based outcomes such as reduced deaths, injuries, and threats from firearms.

During recent debates and public statements on Bill C-391, defenders of the long-gun registry have suggested that while the costs over the years have been exorbitant, they are now in the area of $4 million to $8 million per year and this is “a tolerable amount”. As a taxpayer as well as a long-gun owner, I find that assumption is breathtaking in its arrogance. We can think of past examples where government misspending of lesser amounts has resulted in the calling of public inquiries. Yet in the case of the long-gun registry, which has experienced a budgetary excess on a monumental scale, some proponents of the system have ignored the financial mismanagement from the start by suggesting that the spending is now under control.

This myopic view also ignores the fundamental precept that if a system does not work, no amount of money spent on it is acceptable. It also ignores the fact that on two occasions a cost-benefit analysis of the registry was completed by the former government, one by former MP Shaughnessy Cohen and the other by current MP and then-minister Albina Guarnieri. Neither review has seen the light of day. Because of this, we are left to conclude that if those reviews had demonstrated the system was providing good return on investment, they would have been trotted out to great acclaim instead of being hidden behind a veil of cabinet confidentiality. In the case of Ms. Guarnieri's report, which was commissioned by former Prime Minister Martin after he admitted the system was flawed and placed the entire program under review, the recommendations in her report were rejected outright by her cabinet colleagues.

A fundamental flaw with the registry is that the number of firearms and firearms owners in Canada is in dispute, and no accurate assessment of how many guns are actually out there exists. Without knowing that a significant majority of firearms are registered, when so many may remain unaccounted for, how can anyone claim that it works? Since program spending estimates are determined based upon the potential number of firearms in the country, if the numbers are off, costs will fluctuate accordingly.

I think the most interesting comment comes from the former commissioner, Bill Baker, who told the House of Commons justice committee on October 23, 2003, “I don't think anybody in the country knows exactly how many guns are out there.”

For years, the long-gun registry has been a source of concern in terms of the protection of privacy. The former privacy commissioner expressed concerns over the lack of information security and protections in the system. Both the Auditor General and the RCMP have admitted that the speed of compilation and accuracy of the registry are questionable. The Coalition for Gun Control scoffed at the suggestion that the system is unsafe and suggested it's as safe as CPIC, the main law enforcement database used by police across this country. However, according to information provided by the RCMP in response to an access to information request in 2003, there had been at that time 1,495 breaches of the CPIC system, of which 427 were confirmed. Given this, assurances about the efficacy of the system run cold.

Over the last few years, public support for the registry has slipped. Canadians have grown increasingly agitated by the excessive cost of the system and skeptical about the ability of the system to prevent crime and protect the public safety.

In the interest of time and brevity today, I'll try to shorten my remarks, Mr. Chair. I'll speak to a couple of the recommendations we make in our report. We make eight in total, but I'm going to speak to only two of them today. I hope you'll take the opportunity to read the full submission.

The first recommendation is that we need to eliminate the registry for all non-restricted firearms, first and foremost. The passage of an unamended Bill C-391 and the subsequent repeal of the long-gun registry would reduce the burdens on the system. Passage of Bill C-391 will not affect the registration of restricted and prohibited firearms, which will continue. Licensing will continue, as will mandatory background checks. Safe storage, safe transportation, and mandatory firearms training will all continue. The passage of Bill C-391 will impact only on the long-gun registry, nothing more, nothing less.

The second recommendation is the creation of a prohibited offenders registry to track prohibited offenders previously convicted of gun crimes. We should not have a registry in this country of individuals who are allowed to own firearms. We should have a registry of those too dangerous to own firearms. This would be similar to the systems used by police in New York, Baltimore, and Virginia, which have proven to be extremely effective and have resulted in a reduction in the number of firearms-related crimes. Previous offenders are required to register with the government, much like a sex offender registry. As David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York put it, it's common sense to focus on a smaller number of dangerous people instead of chasing around after people for “low level nonsense”.

With that, I'll conclude my remarks and thank you again on behalf of the OFAH for the opportunity to appear before you today.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to Sergeant Murray Grismer.

4:10 p.m.

Detective Sergeant Murray Grismer Detective Sergeant, Saskatoon Police Service, As an Individual

Mr. Chairman, honourable committee members, and fellow witnesses, it is an honour and a privilege for me to appear before you today to assist you in your deliberations on Bill C-391.

As you already know, my name is Murray Grismer. What some of you may or may not know is that I am a serving member of the Saskatoon Police Service with over 23 years of service protecting the citizens of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. At present, I hold the rank of detective sergeant, assigned to the major crime-serious crimes unit.

The courts in Saskatchewan have qualified me as an expert witness, able to give opinion and evidence on firearms. I have provided assistance to both federal and provincial prosecutions in the area of firearms-related crime. I'm a master instructor for the Canadian firearms safety courses and an approved verifier certified by the registrar of the Canadian firearms registry.

I want to make it clear from the outset that my comments here today before this committee are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the opinion of my employer, chief, or the police service.

That said, I am the elected spokesperson of the Saskatoon Police Association on firearms issues, specifically the Firearms Act and the firearms registry. I was also the spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers on the issues of the Firearms Act and the firearms registry until the fall of 2002. During that time, I sat on the advisory panel to the Honourable John Nilson, justice minister and Attorney General for the Province of Saskatchewan, which brought forward Saskatchewan's position to opt out of the administration and enforcement of the Firearms Act.

I understand this august committee has had the opportunity to hear from a number of retired police officers who share my belief that the registry for non-restricted rifles and shotguns, commonly referred to as long guns, should be brought to an end. It's also my understanding I will be the only serving police officer called to appear as a witness who holds this position.

Therefore, ipso facto, I also represent the opinion of thousands of police officers across Canada who are, in my opinion, the silent majority and, for some, the silenced majority: not only police officers who have been ordered not to speak out against the long-gun registry but also officers who fear for their careers should they voice an opinion publicly in opposition to continuation of the registry or against the position adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, their chief of police, or commanding officer.

To say the police community is divided on support for the long-gun registry is an understatement. The committee has heard from Mr. Charles Momy, president of the Canadian Police Association, who claimed that he represents the opinion of 41,000 police officers in Canada. The CPA endorses the continuation of the registry, yet in truth, they adopt this position without ever having formally polled their membership.

The CPA's position is not that of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers, nor that of the Saskatoon Police Association. The Saskatchewan Federation is the only provincial federation or association that has polled its entire membership on the issue of the registration of firearms. When polled, the Saskatoon Police Association was 99.46% against a long-gun registry, while many of our compatriots in Saskatchewan were 100% in opposition to the registry.

There are some who may choose arrogantly or foolishly to consider the opinions of those who oppose the registry as uninformed or uneducated. Nothing could be further from the truth; we are neither. Instead, we recognize the cornerstone of public safety is the training, screening, and licensing of owners, not the registration of non-restricted rifles and shotguns.

The mantra of the former government of the day and the CACP was that “gun control is crime control”. The registry misses the target of the criminal use of firearms. Instead, it targets millions of legitimate firearms owners in the name of crime control. The fact is, the registry can do nothing to prevent the criminal use or criminals from obtaining firearms any more than the registration of vehicles can prevent them from being stolen or used by impaired drivers.

Ms. de Villiers of CAVEAT advocates on behalf of Canadians Against Violence. This is a laudable cause and one that I believe every Canadian supports, for violence makes victims of us all. To Ms. de Villiers, I offer my profoundest sympathy on the loss of your daughter, Nina de Villiers. However, a registry for long guns would not have stopped such a tragic event or addressed the failings of the justice system, and the retention of the registry will do nothing to prevent any such further event. Training, enhanced screening, and licensing of firearm owners, as we see today, might have prevented Jonathan Yeo, in the first instance, from being able to obtain a firearm. However, not even Canada's strict licensing regime or firearms registry can prevent random acts of violence. The best example of this failure is the shooting rampage at Dawson College by Kimveer Gill.

Chief Blair and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police contend that Canadians continue to support the registry that costs taxpayers over $2 billion and that in over a decade cannot be shown to have prevented even one death. Furthermore, what he is not telling you is that the CACP is not unanimous in their support and never has been. The fact is, the CACP publicly supported Allan Rock in the establishment of the registry in the beginning and continued to support it for the next 15 years, denying the mountainous cost overruns despite the ever-mounting evidence of the true cost to Canadians. This was projected in the beginning by firearms groups across Canada.

The complicity between the CACP and successive Liberal governments to establish and maintain the registry is nothing short of duplicitous. Now the CACP suggests to you that Canadians everywhere should turn a blind eye to the $2 billion oversight, claiming the money is spent. They say get over it, the registry now only costs $4 million a year to run. Moreover, this figure tends to change depending on which chief or senior member of the RCMP happens to be speaking.

At first blush, it may appear to be a miracle in business management rather than an exercise in creative accounting due to the amalgamation with the RCMP. Past yearly budgets of the Canadian Firearms Centre were in excess of $92.8 million.

Chief Blair will attempt to convince you that the retention of the registry is an officer safety issue. To the layperson, having no personal knowledge of firearms or the registry, this may appear reasonable. However, once one knows and understands the failings of the registry, the issue of officer safety takes on a far more sinister meaning. For officers using the registry, trusting in the inaccurate and unverified information contained therein, tragedy looms around the next door.

Knowing what I do about the registry, I cannot use the information contained in the registry to swear out a search warrant. To do so would be a criminal act. Thus I cannot in good conscience tell any officer, junior or senior, to place his faith in the results of a query of the Canadian firearms registry online.

To illustrate, it's acknowledged by persons within policing, the firearms centre, and the recreational firearms community that there are, at minimum, in excess of one million firearms in Canada that have not been registered. The registry does not indicate where firearms are stored or who may have control of the firearm, nor does it denote ownership. Tens of thousands of firearms are registered inaccurately using patent numbers and catalogue numbers in place of serial numbers or model numbers. Many firearms in the registry have multiple registrations for the same firearm.

This is but the tip of the iceberg for problems with the registry. Projections from within the Canadian Firearms Centre privately state it will take 70-plus years of attrition to come close to eliminating all the errors and to have all firearms currently in Canada registered.

This level of inaccuracy is unacceptable for any industry, let alone law enforcement. Police officers deserve better; the public and courts demand better. If there were to be the same potential for error within the national DNA data bank or the automated fingerprint identification system, the public and the courts would be outraged, and with just cause. Every entry in these databases is empirical--a level of accuracy the registry has not and cannot attain.

As a team leader for the Olympic security force, I had the opportunity to speak with police officers from across Canada. The vast majority of officers I spoke with did not support the continuation of the registry. They do not trust the information it contains and see it as a waste of time and money. Some I spoke with who did support the registry were shocked to learn of the vast inaccuracies and the potential officer safety risks associated with the registry.

Again I take you back to the issue of police safety. Police across Canada cannot and must not place their trust and risk their lives on the inaccurate, unverified information contained in the registry. From my perspective, if doing away with the long-gun registry saves even one life of one of Canada's front-line police officers, it is worth it. Retaining the registry at the risk of one police officer is too great a price to pay.

Mr. Ignatieff has proposed first-time failures to register long guns be treated as simple, non-criminal ticketing offences, instead of criminal offences, as they are currently. This epiphany has received the endorsement of many members of the CACP. However, it is disingenuous at best, nothing more than mere smoke and mirrors in an attempt to appease the concerns of the public and firearms owners across Canada.

The truth of the matter is that the CPA demanded such a condition of Allan Rock and the Liberal government of the day in order to receive their support for Bill C-68, the Firearms Act. Thus section 112 was placed into the Firearms Act, which makes it a summary offence for the firearms owner to possess an unregistered firearm in the first instance. The only difference is that Mr. Ignatieff's proposal makes it a ticketable offence like a traffic ticket. His problem is there is no federal mechanism, such as the Summary Offences Procedure Act, which allows for this. Firearms owners would still be forced, by appearance notice or summons, to attend court and be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both.

In closing, I wish to thank you for your attention and leave you with these thoughts.

Polls indicate that the majority of Canadians want to see the registry for non-restricted rifles and shotguns ended. I contend this position is supported by the majority of police officers in Canada.

Bill C-391 is worthy of your consideration and support, for it brings an end to a registry that represents the largest and most contentious single waste of taxpayers' dollars, a registry consumed with errors and inaccurate data, and, more importantly, a registry that risks the safety of front-line police officers across Canada.

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

The practice at this committee is to allow each party seven minutes in the first round to make comments and question witnesses. We'll begin that.

I have to tell the committee that I have to leave in about 20 minutes. Mr. Phil McColeman has agreed to replace me. Some other members have also told me they will have to leave and maybe return as well. There's been agreement for this to take place--to let those who are watching on television know what's happening,

Mr. Holland, please, for seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you very much to the witnesses for appearing today.

Chief Blair, maybe I could start with you. With regard to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, how many chiefs does that association represent?

4:25 p.m.

President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Chief William Blair

We have well in excess of 1,100 members. It is the chiefs of all the police services right across the country. But it's not just limited to police chiefs; it also includes all the senior officers and deputy chiefs from those organizations.

4:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

So it covers the entire country and every region.

4:25 p.m.

President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Chief William Blair

It is a national organization. It represents municipal, provincial, and national police services, the RCMP, coast to coast.

4:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

It's my understanding that there are three out of 428 chiefs who currently support C-391, who support dismantling the....

As somebody who used to sit on a police services board, I'm looking for your help. We've heard from a sergeant, who I'm sure does an excellent job in Saskatoon, about a divide in the policing community. The problem I'm having is that almost all the chiefs of police in the entire country, and then almost every police association in the country, which is elected by front-line members, support the registry.

So I'm having a problem. As a former board member of police services, I know that members don't keep quiet when they have concerns or when they disagree with their chief or their elected associations. Is it reasonable to believe this divide exists, or is it your belief that there's near unanimity on this point?

4:25 p.m.

President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Chief William Blair

It is my very strongly held belief that it is a great fiction that any police officer has been or could be suppressed from expressing their opinion. I think it's certainly beyond belief that the police unions would be complicit in such things. It's nonsense, if I may say.

In speaking to police leaders across the country, I've also spoken to every provincial police chiefs association. Many police chiefs don't get involved in the national organization, but the police leaders participate in a regional organization and provincial associations. Every single one of them has come out strongly in support of retention of the gun registry.

We've talked to the Canadian Police Association, but also the police union leaders right across Canada. Certainly in my service I can tell you I've spoken to Mike McCormack, the president of our police association. He's a very strong advocate on behalf of his members, and for the safety of his members, for the retention of that registry. We've received letters from individual chiefs and from police officers across the country. There has been no order given, as has been suggested, that would direct any police officer to withhold his opinion.

What we have discovered in virtually every case is that when we provide police officers, and even police associations, with accurate information, they quickly see the value of the registry. When we provide them with training, the usage of that registry increases exponentially.

Even today, a member of my service, the head of my guns and gangs unit, travelled to Estevan, Saskatchewan, and met with the Saskatchewan police association. They wrote and asked us to come to explain how the gun registry works so they might make an informed decision about it. That meeting took place in Estevan this morning.

I believe there is a great appetite, even for those who have heard the misinformation about the registry, to get the facts. Once getting the facts, they support its retention.

4:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

So the police association, which is elected by its members...the group in Saskatchewan, which is six of more than 150, is actually reconsidering their position now that they're looking at facts.

I'm just wondering, though.... And let me say before I move to my next point that I'm very sorry that the debate has degenerated to the point where certain people are attacking chiefs of police or inferring motives on them. I want to thank you for the work you're doing. I think it's a shame that this is taking place.

One of the things I don't get is that the Conservatives and others who are trying to get rid of the registry are saying we should get rid of registering long guns because registering makes no sense, and yet in the same breath they're saying that registering should remain in place for handguns. Would not the same arguments be made against handguns as long guns? Are we not dealing with the same thing?

4:25 p.m.

President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Chief William Blair

The registration of the weapons has value to policing. It has value to my investigators. Having information that someone is licensed to own a firearm is useful information. We support the licensing regime in this country.

But it's also of extremely important value to know how many guns a person possesses. For example, if you go to a domestic situation where the life of a woman has been threatened, you're trying to determine how many weapons are in the house. The registry will give you information on the make, model, calibre, and serial numbers of the weapons. No police officers are going to go in, find the nine guns that are registered, and quit. They're going to continue. If they haven't found all nine that are registered, they're going to continue the search to make sure they've done everything possible to remove the firearms from the situation and render the situation safe.

The information contained in the registry helps us identify weapons that have been stolen and weapons that have been used in crime. It helps us return those guns.

If I might cite an example, in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, one of the chiefs who expressed his public opposition was very well quoted in a newspaper article at the conclusion of an investigation in which they seized 77 firearms. When asked what they were going to do, he said the first thing they were going to do was check the firearms against the registry to find out where they belonged and return them to their rightful owners.

I checked back with him. All of the weapons were identified. The registered owners were identified and the weapons were returned to them. The person in possession of them was criminally prosecuted for stealing them.

4:25 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

We're very limited on time. I have one quick question and then one longer question.

Of course, we currently have to register our cars, we have to register our dogs, and we have to register our boats. We don't enjoy those processes, but I don't think they come under nearly the same type of scrutiny as registering a gun. Would it be fair to say that registering a gun is as easy as registering a car or registering anything else?

4:25 p.m.

President, Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Chief William Blair

Registering a firearm, particularly if it's done at point of sale, is in fact far easier than registering a motor vehicle. I've seen it done. I've seen people who are pretty good at it and they've registered in as short a period of time as 37 seconds. It normally takes a few minutes online.