Evidence of meeting #21 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 firearm.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jacques Dupuis  Minister of Public Safety, Government of Québec
Sheila Fraser  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Alain Cossette  Director General, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs
Bernard Pelletier  Volunteer Master Instructor in Gun Safety, Security Nature, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs
Tony Bernardo  Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Diana Cabrera  Member, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Katherine Austin Leonard  Member, Canadian Paediatric Society

3:50 p.m.


Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Chairman, we have people here today who have come from all over. We have a full delegation from Quebec. In my opinion, we should at least show some respect for them, whom we have a duty to hear from today. Please, let us hear from them!

Mr. Chairman, let us put an end to all of this. We could spend 10 minutes talking about this after hearing their testimony, if you like. But let us start hearing the witnesses. They did not come here for nothing. There are people from Abitibi who endured five hours on the road to be here. There is also a minister appearing today, so let us show some respect.

3:50 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Je comprends bien.

There's a motion moved...

Look, I thought this was going to be infinitely simpler than it was. Clearly it wasn't.

3:50 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

You didn't expect a filibuster.

3:50 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

No, I did not expect a filibuster.

In any event, I'm taking a vote. There's a motion on the floor.

All those in favour will please raise their hand.

3:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Could you repeat it?

3:50 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

The motion on the floor is that this item be moved to the end of the meeting.

(Motion agreed to)

I apologize to the witnesses. I thank you for you time and your patience.

We will now move to our witnesses, starting with the Government of Quebec,

the Minister of Public Safety Jacques Dupuis.

Mr. Dupuis, please proceed. Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Jacques Dupuis Minister of Public Safety, Government of Québec

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You have no reason to apologize. I was watching the show, I didn't have to participate; it's almost like a vacation for me.

3:55 p.m.


Ah, ah!

3:55 p.m.

Minister of Public Safety, Government of Québec

Jacques Dupuis

But I have to tell you that it bears a close resemblance to what happens from time to time back home. So, please do not apologize; we understand these things.

First of all, allow me to thank you for your invitation to appear. Since 206, the federal government has shown clear signs of its intention to abolish the registration of non-restricted firearms. Indeed, three bills in pursuit of that objective have been introduced by the government, and two others have been introduced by Conservative members of Parliament. Moreover, in May of 2006, the federal government declared an amnesty, which it has renewed every year since then, thereby contributing to weaker enforcement of the Firearms Act.

The Government of Quebec has made known, on a number of occasions, that it considers the maintenance of the Canadian Firearms Registry, in its entirety, to be essential. Three motions to that effect have been passed unanimously by the National Assembly of Quebec.

In addition, my presence here today before your Committee is in keeping with the commitment I made to form a common front with the Quebec police organizations and with associations and various other groups which are demanding that the Canadian Firearms Registry be maintained in its entirety.

The Government of Quebec has been particularly proactive itself over the past few years in the area of controlling firearms. After the shooting that occurred at Dawson College, in Montreal, on September 13, 2006, Quebec passed the Act to Protect Persons With Regard to Activities Involving Firearms, commonly referred to as “Anastasia's Law”, in memory of Anastasia De Sousa who died during that tragic event. The Act aims, in particular, to enhance the reporting of high-risk behaviours in connection with firearms. It also brought in a good many operational measures, including the creation, in 2008, of a joint investigation unit to combat trafficking in firearms, ammunition and explosives, whose work is coordinated by the Sûreté du Québec.

Contrary to certain claims that are being made, non-restricted firearms are not used exclusively by honest law-abiding citizens. From 2003 to 2009, these weapons were involved in nearly 2,000 violent offences in Quebec. During the same period, 45 homicides were committed in Quebec, and at least 534 people were the victims of robbery involving a rifle or shotgun. In 2009, of the 1,476 offences committed against persons, and considered to have been committed with a firearm in Quebec, 274 were perpetrated with a non-restricted firearm.

There are a number of reasons why the mandatory registration of non-restricted firearms should be maintained.

First of all, the Canadian Firearms Registry contributes to the prevention of tragedies and crimes against persons. In Quebec, between 2007 and 2009, we identified 169 spousal violence events involving shotguns or rifles, while there were 122 involving handguns.

The statistics also reveal that, of the suicides committed using a firearm, 9 out of 10 involved a non-restricted firearm. In fact, coroners have recommended that the Canadian Firearms Registry be maintained, following suicides committed with non-restricted firearms in Quebec.

When police officers respond in these situations, consulting the Canadian Firearms Registry enables them to quickly find out if the persons involved own one or more firearms, and if so, to remove them for preventive purposes.

The Registry also makes it possible to ensure compliance and monitoring of prohibition orders. Under the Criminal Code, orders prohibiting the possession of firearms may be imposed when a person is convicted of a violent crime or, for preventive purposes, when the person's mental state poses a risk to that person or to others. In the past three years, 1,042 prohibition orders have been imposed upon owners of non-restricted firearms in Quebec.

In the event that the long gun registry were abolished, the police would have to carry out more in-depth investigations in order to determine whether persons covered by an order own a non-restricted firearm, which would involve additional costs for law enforcement.

The Registry also contributes to protecting persons who are mentally disturbed, and those close to them. Indeed, in Quebec, universal registration enables the Chief Firearms Officer to verify whether firearms are possessed by persons under an application for an order to confine them to an institution, or calling for a psychiatric assessment.

Under Anastasia's Law, the Chief Firearms Officer is systematically informed of these applications. Between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2010, 13,383 applications for orders were reported to him, and consultation of the Registry made it possible to conduct 1,193 interventions to ensure the safety of persons.

The Canadian Firearms Registry also constitutes an essential tool for police investigations and interventions. Consultation of the Registry assists in making informed decisions during police operations, in particular by making it possible to find out how many and what type of firearms belong to the individuals targeted by their interventions, and to act accordingly.

In fact, between 2006 and 2008, the Surety du Québec's Tactical Response Unit intervened in 125 operations where a suspect was in possession of a firearm, 81 of these involving suspects armed with a non-restricted firearm—in other words, in two out of every three interventions. According to the latest statistics for 2010, the Registry is queried more than 600 times per day by police officers in Quebec.

The registration of non-restricted firearms is also an important tool for police investigations. Indeed, a query of the Registry may serve as the starting point of an investigation when a firearm is recovered at a crime scene, and also contribute to establishing the chain of possession.

Thus far, 1,507,874 non-restricted firearms have been registered by individuals in Quebec, accounting for 95% of all firearms registered in Quebec. Abolishing the registration of non-restricted firearms would cause us to lose track of these weapons.

Moreover, the importance of the traceability of firearms is recognized, under international law, by two treaties initiated by the United Nations and the Organization of American States, both of which have been signed by Canada. The purpose of these treaties is to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of, and trafficking in, firearms, particularly through “marking”, which facilitates the traceability and identification of each firearm.

Whereas at the international level, Canada has made a commitment to ensure the traceability of firearms that are subject to transnational transactions, it is paradoxical to note that, at the domestic level, Canada is pursuing a policy aiming to abolish a tool that facilitates that very traceability of firearms within the country.

The Registry is also a useful tool for decision-making by criminal prosecutors—for example, in setting the conditions for the release of an accused, so as to enhance the protection of victims and of the public at large.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, I think it is appropriate to recall the circumstances that led to the creation of the current firearms control system in Canada: the École polytechnique tragedy, and many similar events in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Abolishing the Registry would affect the international reputation of Canada, a country that is a leader in the area of firearms control.

I would also like to remind you that the Government of Quebec's position is supported by the police organizations in Quebec, by a number of organizations working in the area of public safety and security, and by the families of the victims of tragedies that have occurred in Quebec. Ms. Suzanne Laplante-Edward and Ms. Louise De Sousa, the mothers of Anne-Marie and Anastasia respectively, are, in fact, with us today.

I also wish to underscore that although the Government of Quebec is against abolishing the mandatory registration of non-restricted firearms, it in no way questions the legitimacy of activities such as hunting, when practised in compliance with the law. The registration of a firearm may take only a few minutes, and is free of charge. The amount of effort required of farmers or hunters is far outweighed by the resulting benefits for society as a whole in terms of public safety.

I have laid out before you the many reasons, with supporting statistics, which have convinced me that the cause defended by Quebec today is important and just.

Yet as a backdrop to this sometimes theoretical argument stands the suffering and dismay of those affected by tragedies caused by firearms—those who are still grieving over the loss of loved ones, or who daily relive tragedies that they will never be able to forget.

As I mentioned, some of those people are here with me today. You are no doubt aware that Quebec has been particularly hard hit by tragic events that have forevermore left their mark on our collective memory.

I will close on this; I promise.

From that perspective, if the registration of non-restricted firearms were to save just one life, from a moral standpoint, its maintenance would be justified. And if you have any doubts about the relevance of that assertion, I invite you to speak to Suzanne Edward and Louise De Sousa.

Thank you very much.

4:05 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Thank you.

Thank you very much. We will now hear from the Auditor General of Canada, Ms. Sheila Fraser, for 10 minutes, please.

4:05 p.m.

Sheila Fraser Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting us to discuss our previous audit work of the Canadian firearms program, notably chapter 10 of our December 2000 report and chapter 4 of our May 2006 status report.

Accompanying me today is Wendy Loschiuk, Assistant Auditor General, responsible for our audits of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

At the outset, I would like to note that we have not conducted detailed audit work on the program since 2006. We therefore are not in a position to discuss events or issues that have arisen since that time. Nor have we audited the effectiveness of the program or the social implications of the firearms policy. We therefore do not have a view on the proposed legislation.

Our 2002 report examined the changing costs and scope of the Canadian Firearms Program, from its creation in 1996. One of our major concerns was the lack of information that was provided to Parliament on the costs of the program and on the escalation of these costs.

At the time of our audit, the Department of Justice Canada estimated that it had spent about $688 million, and told us that it expected this to reach $1 billion by the end of the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

However, we found problems with the recording of the costs of the program, in that the full costs were not estimated and reported. In addition, during the preceding years, the Department had changed its costing methodology along with its financial systems and could not provide us with consistent cost information.

In our 2006 audit of the Firearms Program, we examined whether the government had made progress in recording and reporting on the full costs of delivering the Firearms Program since our 2002 audit. We also examined the management of the Canada Firearms Centre.

We found that the government had made satisfactory progress in recording and reporting the full costs of the program. At that time, we noted that the annual expenditures for the centre had decreased from $117.3 million in the 2002-03 fiscal year to $71 million in 2004-05. We also noted improvements in the handling of the large volumes of applications, as well as in reporting to Parliament.

In May 2006 the responsibility for the Canadian firearms program was transferred to the RCMP. As I mentioned previously, we have not conducted any detailed work on the firearms program since that time.

Mr. Chair, I thank the committee for their attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee members may have.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Thank you very much.

We will now go to the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, to Monsieur Alain Cossette.

4:05 p.m.

Alain Cossette Director General, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs

Thank you very much for your invitation. I want to thank everyone for being here today. Since Ms. Fraser took a little less time than expected, we will be very pleased to use the remaining time.

Our organization represents hunters and fishers in Quebec, and I am Executive Director of the Federation. It also represents volunteers in the field. I am accompanied today by Mr. Bernard Pelletier. Mr. Pelletier is from the Abitibi region. He is an instructor who trains trainers in Quebec to teach the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and an introductory course on gun hunting. He has held that responsibility for some 30 years in our organization.

The Federation has a presence in every region of Quebec and represents more than 200 associations. Presidents in each of the 14 regions are appointed by their local associations, which ensures that there is appropriate feedback. There is also a board of directors composed of 21 members, the chair of the board being elected at the annual general meeting.

Our mission is to ensure that hunting and fishing will continue to be practised as traditional and heritage activities for generations to come. I am thinking, in particular, of my daughters; I hope they will be able to engage in these activities the same way I did, and generate the attractive economic spinoffs that they represent.

In terms of our engagement in the area of firearms, in 1968, the provincial government agreed to introduce a pilot training program for a three-year period that would force hunters to take safety courses. We did that throughout the three years of the pilot program; the results were excellent and, since 1972, this has been mandatory in Quebec.

But our commitment goes even further. When Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, was passed--

In fact, I would just like to point out here that we have always been in favour of firearms licensing. That is the key, in our opinion. People confuse firearms licences and firearms certificates.

There are 500 volunteer instructors in the field, including 80 Aboriginals, and 16,000 new hunters are trained every year in Quebec. The number of hunters in Quebec is on the rise. Women represent 25% of those taking the courses.

I will turn it over now to Mr. Pelletier, because we are running out of time.

May 27th, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.

Bernard Pelletier Volunteer Master Instructor in Gun Safety, Security Nature, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to appear today.

I would like to quickly review the Federation's position on this issue. We are resolutely in favour of abolishing the long gun registry. In our opinion, it is of no use. It is just about as useful as changing a flat tire when you run out of gas on the highway.

On the other hand, we are in favour of maintaining the firearms licence, because everyone wanting to obtain a firearms licence is subject to an investigation, and I know that people do a thorough job in that regard. We think that is very important.

I will not talk about training, since Mr. Cossette already addressed that, but we see it as absolutely fundamental when it comes to prevention. As far as we are concerned, the Registry ultimately does not target the right people—if you will allow me to make a comparison, it targets honest citizens, whereas criminals do not normally register their firearms.

Someone needs to explain to me, because I still do not understand—despite the sorrow people may feel with respect to the tragedies that have occurred, and believe me, I am personally very alive to that—how a firearms registry would have prevented the events that occurred at Polytechnique and Dawson. I would just remind you that the guns used at Dawson College were all registered. What prevented the incident at Dawson from being even more serious was the fact that there were well trained police officers on site, who responded quickly, based on what we are told. So, the solution lies elsewhere. The Registry will in no way improve public safety. If it is used systematically, it will, in some cases, criminalize honest citizens who will end up with a criminal record. If we are talking about a system that is bureaucratic, heavy handed, and inefficient, particularly in these times of budget cuts, one can only wonder why there would be a desire to maintain it.

I would like to give you just one example; I have no intention of inundating you with numbers or comparing research. One very interesting study was done by Ms. Samara McPhedran, Ms. Jeanine Baker and Ms. Pooja Singh, who compared Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That study found that New Zealand is the country which is achieving the best results when it comes to public safety. And, of the three countries, New Zealand is also the one with the fewest laws and with the least stringent gun control regulations. By the way, it does not have a gun registry, and a firearms licence is valid for 10 years, not for 5 years, as is the case in Canada.

In terms of suicides and homicides, it is difficult, looking at the overall numbers, to actually measure the impact of the Registry.

If you do not mind, I would like to read a quote. Do I have time, Mr. Chairman?

4:15 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Yes, you have four minutes left.

4:15 p.m.

Volunteer Master Instructor in Gun Safety, Security Nature, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs

Bernard Pelletier

This quote is from a book entitled Guns and Violence written by Joyce Lee Malcolm. On page 125, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service says this:

Besides what would be gained by making such a register? The Burglar or thief who arms himself with a revolver...would certainly not take out a licence, and Public security against thieves would not be increased by any such modification of Licencing Act.

He said that in 1888. Back then, there may still have been some people with a little common sense.

I would like to move directly now to the Federation's recommendations.

The first is obviously that the Registry be abolished. The available funds could be recovered and used to fund social programming, particularly to help victims of criminal acts and support underprivileged youth. It is a well known fact that, if adequate steps are taken, it is possible to reduce crime rates in disadvantaged areas, and not only gun crime. There is also a need to provide more financial support to organizations that help people with suicidal tendencies. We also have in mind the development of public education and awareness programs regarding the use of firearms. With respect to promoting safe storage, a study carried out by Professor Jean Caron says that what led to a decline in the suicide rate in my area, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, was the introduction of rules on the safe storage of firearms. We also want to mention the need to combat organized crime, etc.

I would just like to close by mentioning the Small Arms Survey done in 2007. The director in charge of that committee clearly stated in his report that there is no clearly established link between increased numbers of guns and increased violence. As we see it, the firearms licence does what needs to be done. Let us not confuse licensing and registering the actual tool. As we see it, it is simply a matter of common sense.

Thank you very much.

4:15 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Now we'll turn to the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, to Mr. Tony Bernardo.

4:15 p.m.

Tony Bernardo Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Ms. Cabrera is going to lead, please.

4:15 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland


Please go ahead.

4:15 p.m.

Diana Cabrera Member, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of this committee, for having invited my colleague and me to present our members' point of view on Bill C-391 and to answer any questions you may have in this regard.

My name is Diana Cabrera, former Canadian national shooting team member and currently on the Uruguay national shooting team. I am also a recipient of the 2009 athlete of the year award for Uruguay.

I would like to say that Canadian Shooting Sports Association fully supports the proposed changes in this bill. At this point, I would like to focus on the effect of the long-gun registration on sports competitors and users.

There is no question that the long-gun registry has deterred individuals from entering the shooting sports. The inclusion of specialized air, target, and muzzle-loading firearms in the registry seems predetermined to achieve those goals. These firearms are virtually never used in crime just by the nature of their physical makeup and cost, yet they are treated to the same legislative zeal as more common firearms. In Canada, unlike Britain and the United States, exemptions have been made in law for these types of firearms, as many are not even considered to be firearms. This situation often leads to an adult or a coach having to acquire a junior's competition firearm, being responsible for its possession and for the regulatory care of these firearms while in use.

The main issue for competitive participants is the fear of imminent criminality. We may easily find ourselves afoul of uninformed law enforcement or CBSA officers. Any paperwork error may lead to temporary detention, missed flights, missed matches, and confiscation of our property. There is a primal cringe every time I am asked for my papers, knowing what could be next and fearing what could happen as officers apply personal interpretations to our confusing laws.

Law enforcement and media coverage of firearm issues have made the situation worse. We are treated to spectacular press coverage of very ordinary firearms described as an arsenal, and taking guns off the street when in fact these belong to ordinary firearm owners who had simply failed to renew some paperwork.

How do you think these things make legal firearms owners feel? Am I next? Did I somehow forget some nuance of my paperwork that will bring police to my door? Will my face wind up on the six o'clock news, vilifying me to my friends, my family, and co-workers? Will I be targeted at a traffic checkpoint by a CPIC verification?

Firearm owners live with these fears every single day--all this to justify a failed system that never prevented a crime.

I thank you. I will now pass this presentation to my colleague, Tony Bernardo.

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Tony Bernardo

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, and members of the standing committee.

I would like to focus on the current and future costs of the long-gun registry.

First, it's important to establish a few basic facts. In 1998 the Canada Firearms Centre polling figures showed that there were 3.3 million firearms owners in Canada. When program results indicated poor compliance with the new laws, the CFC manufactured their consent for the new legislation with their fall 2000 survey. They indicated that gun ownership in Canada had declined since 1998 to only 2.3 million gun owners.

Over 1 million Canadians became instant criminals on January 1, 2001. This was done by asking the poll question, “Does anyone in your household own a functioning firearm?”, the nuance--“functioning”--not being understood.

To accept this reduced number, one must also accept, without any evidence at all, that 1 million firearms owners and 2.87 million firearms vanished in two years. This would surely have been noticed either by used firearms sales or by police turn-ins. Coincidentally, that is a sufficient volume of firearms to bury every police station in Canada to a depth of 32 feet.

In 1976 Liberal justice minister Ron Basford tabled a 19-page document in Parliament, showing 11.2 million firearms in Canada, based on import-export, manufacturing, and RCMP data.

Using the same methodology, we can make a reasonable estimate of the number of firearms presently in the country, while allowing for lost, destroyed, and misreported firearms. This calculation results in the net figure of about 13.8 million firearms in Canada in the hands of some 3.4 million persons.

Why is this important? Because the Canada firearms program currently reports a total of 7,493,033 firearms registered in the hands of 1,835,319 owners--or approximately half of that estimate.

The above numbers of 13.8 million firearms possessed by some 3.4 million are now close to the 3.3 million firearms owners reported in the Canada Firearm Centre's initial 1998 study, each now known to possess four firearms each, for some 13.2 million firearms.

The long-gun registry is by no means complete. It's been stated often that the registry is virtually useless unless all or most of the firearms in it are properly registered. But there's a major discrepancy here between what is and what should be. It seems that numerous Canadians have withdrawn their consent to be governed through a mistrust of the motives of government and authority.

The firearms registry has exceeded the $2-billion mark, and now supporters of the registry vow it will cost a mere $4.1 million per year to maintain it and track down and bring the other 6 million firearms and their owners into the system.

If the total cost is not accounted for, what are we maintaining? A registry of half the guns in Canada, many improperly registered, so a police officer can be assured of maybe a 50-50 chance that the registry's right.

For the registry to achieve its creators' goals, the remaining 6 million firearms and their owners must be brought into the system. But is that possible? When the registry was created, we warned of unintended consequences. Many experts warned how enforcement of repressive legislation would lead to a breakdown of trust between government, law enforcement, and the firearms community. And now, in economic hard times, untold millions of dollars are contemplated being spent on an error-ridden registry, on registering an unknown number of firearms, into the hands of an unknown number of Canadians.

Two weeks ago, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association conducted an anonymous survey of 2,018 random legal gun owners from across Canada, with the results only being published in this presentation and not before. The survey is accurate to 2.2%, 19 times out of 20. The survey dealt with the respondents' opinions of the relationship between law enforcement and firearms owners, and asked the following questions and recorded the following answers.

Question one: as a legal firearms owner, who are you more afraid of, police or criminals? The answer: police, 63.93%.

Two: since the implementation of the Firearms Act, do you still trust Canada's police? The answer: no, 74.28%.

Three: do you believe police associations represent their members' views regarding firearms issues? The answer: no, 94.49%.

Four: do you believe police associations are misrepresenting the facts regarding Canada's long-gun registry? The answer: yes, 96.73%.

Five: do you believe police associations should be involved in the creation of law? The answer: no, 87.87%.

Six: do you believe police target firearms owners? The answer: yes, 83.26%.

And seven: do you personally know someone unjustly charged with a firearms offence? The answer: yes, 46.29%.

These numbers are shocking. How did people, the most supportive people of the law enforcement community, return these results? How did this serious unintended consequence come about?

Well, after hearing Chief Blair yesterday on his preference for the registry over additional personnel, the survey results may take on more meaning.

The spectre of confiscation has never disappeared, and truthfully, why should it? When the Canada Firearms Act was enacted, 585,000 registered firearms were instantly put on the prohibited list. Recently the RCMP moved two types of registered firearms to the prohibited list, with no explanations to their owners, demanding their surrender or else.

In short, the firearms community has much to fear regarding confiscations. When firearms owners come into your constituency offices and complain about aggressive law enforcement, apparently they're telling the truth: 46% say they personally know someone charged.

How will the remaining millions of unregistered firearms and their owners ever get brought into the system? It's clearly going to require huge commitments of financial and human resources. When one begins with the premise that guns are bad, that legal gun owners are potential criminals, that firearms ownership is, of itself, a questionable activity, the system is doomed to fail. Experts have warned you about this repeatedly.

The long-gun registry is a hugely divisive issue, a decade-long tear in the social fabric of the Dominion. The passage of Bill C-391 is a demonstration of faith in lawful, trustworthy Canadian firearms owners, and would go a long way towards healing this gaping wound in our society.

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

Thank you.

I will now turn to the Canadian Paediatric Society, to Dr. Leonard for 10 minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Dr. Katherine Austin Leonard Member, Canadian Paediatric Society

I'm Dr. Katherine Austin Leonard. I'm a pediatrician. With me is Ms. Marie Adèle Davis, executive director of the Canadian Paediatric Society. Thanks very much for asking us to testify today.

I am representing the Canadian Association for Adolescent Health as well as the Canadian Paediatric Society. These two organizations appeared in favour of the legislation that created the long-gun registry, and we're here to encourage you to maintain the long-gun registry, as it is important for the safety and well-being of Canadian children and adolescents.

It's been several years since we discussed these matters, so I want to review for you the problem of firearm injuries in Canadian youth.

Developmental qualities of childhood and adolescence make kids more vulnerable to the risks of having a firearm in the home. Impulsivity, difficulty comprehending the consequences of their actions, lack of experience, sensitivity to peer pressure, experimentation with substances—all of these problems make kids less safe around guns. We recommend to parents that guns not be kept in homes with children and teenagers. If they must be kept, they should be stored in strict concordance with the safe storage provisions of the federal regulations.

We divide firearm deaths into three categories: suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths. We call the accidental deaths “unintentional injuries”. Males are disproportionately affected. In 2005, 87% of the Canadian youth firearm victims were males, and adolescent males were especially hard hit. More 15- to 19-year-old boys died from firearm injuries in 2005 than from cancer. More died from firearm injuries than from falls, drowning, fires, and unintentional poisoning combined. Of the firearm deaths in youth in Canada, suicides are the leading category, followed by homicides, and then unintentional deaths.

We argued in 1995 that registration of long guns would result in better compliance with the safe storage regulations due to an increased sense of personal responsibility on the part of the firearm owners. Also, we felt that the registry would likely result in a decline in home ownership of firearms. An Angus Reid study at the time had shown that half of Canadian gun owners had not used their gun in the previous year, and we postulated that many gun owners would reconsider home ownership if asked to register their firearm. We predicted that safer storage practices and reduced home ownership of firearms would result in reduced availability of firearms to teens and children, thus lowering their firearm death rates.

In 1995, that year, there were 105 deaths from firearms in Canadians under the age of 19. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 62. Youth mortality from all types of firearm injuries—suicides, homicides, and unintentional injuries—have decreased in recent years.

In a study of firearms mortality in Canada published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Dr. Pan, from the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control in the Public Health Agency of Canada, analyzed this decline in firearm deaths in young Canadians and found that it was statistically significant. The firearm suicide rate declined significantly. There was actually some increase in suicide by other methods, but it was not enough to compensate for the decline in firearm suicides. So the overall suicide rate in 15- to 19-year-olds declined.

An adolescent suicide attempt is often an impulsive act, and the availability of a firearm is a risk factor for successful completion of the attempt. If a lethal method is not available, the adolescent may either reconsider the attempt or use a less lethal method, increasing the likelihood of survival.

The significant decline in adolescent suicides in the last 15 years is consistent with the theory that reduced availability of firearms would prevent some adolescent suicides. The study I quoted earlier confirms that both the firearm suicide rate and the total suicide rate in adolescents declined, along with declines in firearm homicides and unintentional deaths.

I'd like to point out some important changes in the pattern of firearm homicides in Canada. In 1990 two-thirds of firearm homicides were committed with long guns. That was always the traditional pattern. However, since that time, long-gun homicide rates have declined and handgun homicide rates have increased. So now, two-thirds of firearm homicides are committed with handguns and one-third with long guns. This pattern of change in the types of homicides is also consistent with what we originally predicted would be the outcome of tightened control over long guns. The rifle and shotgun registry would not be expected to have an effect on handgun violence.

Pediatricians understand that violence in the home affects children even if they're not physically injured. It's very important to note that the majority of homicides in Canada are not gang or crime related. They're committed by a family member or acquaintance.

To quote from a Statistics Canada publication, Juristat, in “Homicide in Canada, 2008”, of all the solved homicides that year, “about 40% of victims were killed by an acquaintance and 33% by a family member”. The result of the violence between acquaintances and family members is devastating for children and their families. That same Juristat publication also noted an encouraging finding, that in 2008 there was the lowest number of female homicide victims ever, and spousal homicides had declined significantly.

Clearly there were problems with implementation of the registry, but especially considering that it was expensive to set up, all the more reason not to do away with it now. The online registry is being used extensively by police. The cost savings of abolishing the registry have been estimated to be only $4 million a year. A Canadian Medical Association Journal study estimating the costs of firearm injuries in 1991 in Canada concluded that because of firearm injuries, $6.6 billion that year was spent on services that included medical and mental health care, public services such as police investigations, and productivity losses, as well as funeral expenses.

I'd also like you to compare the cost of the registry to the cost of some other life-saving governmental initiatives. The cost of seasonal influenza immunization in Ontario alone is $40 million a year. In 2007 the federal government budgeted $278 million to help the provinces pay for human papillomavirus immunization programs. The Public Health Agency of Canada spent $403 million last year to purchase H1N1 vaccine.

As physicians....

I'm concluding.

4:35 p.m.


The Vice-Chair Liberal Mark Holland

I'm just letting you know that you have two minutes.

4:35 p.m.

Member, Canadian Paediatric Society

Dr. Katherine Austin Leonard

Oh, okay. Thank you.

As physicians, we recognize that preventive and public health measures are as important as and more cost-effective than medical treatments. The long-gun registry is a preventive measure. In children and teenagers, suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths have declined. Spousal homicides and homicides with women victims have declined.

The cost of the registry is extremely reasonable compared with the cost of other public health measures. We urge you to maintain this sensible public health and safety measure.

Thank you.