Mr. Chairman, honourable committee members, and fellow witnesses, it's an honour and a privilege to appear before you today to assist you in your deliberations regarding Bill C-19.
I'm a sergeant with the Saskatoon Police Service, with almost 25 years of service protecting the citizens of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. I supervise a team of 10 constables, front-line men and women responsible for policing the second-largest geographic area in the city of Saskatoon. The courts of Saskatchewan have qualified me as an expert witness, enabling me to give opinion evidence on firearms. In that capacity, I've provided assistance in over 50 cases to both federal and provincial prosecutions. I'm a master instructor for both Canadian firearms safety courses and an approved verifier certified by the registrar of the Canadian firearms program.
I want to make it clear from the onset that my comments here today are mine, and mine alone. They do not reflect the opinion or opinions of my employer, the chief of police or police service. That said, I am the appointed spokesperson for the Saskatoon Police Association on the Firearms Act and the firearms registry. Further, until the fall of 2002, I was a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers on the issues of the Firearms Act and the firearms registry.
I understand that this august committee will have opportunity to hear from other police officers who share my belief that the registry for non-restricted rifles and shotguns, commonly referred to as long guns, should be abolished. Thousands of police officers across Canada, who are in my opinion the silent or silenced majority, also share this position.
To say that the police community is divided on support of the registry is an understatement. When the Canadian Police Association initially endorsed the registry, they adopted their position without ever formally having 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 police association that polled its entire membership on the issue of the registration of firearms. When polled, the Saskatoon Police Association was 99.46% against the registry, while our compatriots in many of the other Saskatchewan police forces were 100% in opposition to the registry.
There are some who would arrogantly or foolishly consider those opposed to the registry as uninformed or uneducated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we recognize that the true cornerstone of public safety is training, screening, and the licensing of owners, not the registration of non-restricted rifles and shotguns.
Although the mantra of the former government, the CACP, and the CPA was “gun control is crime control”, the registry misses the target of the criminal use of firearms. Instead, it targets millions of lawful, legitimate firearms owners in the name of crime control. The fact is, the registry can do nothing to prevent criminals from obtaining or using firearms. École Polytechnique, Mayerthorpe, Spiritwood and Dawson College are synonymous with tragic events involving firearms. However, the firearms registry for long guns would not, could not, and did not stop these tragic events. The retention of the firearms registry or records will do nothing to prevent any further such occurrences. Training, enhanced screening and licensing of firearms owners, as we see today, may have prevented those individuals from being able to obtain a firearm in the first instance. However, even Canada's strict licensing regime and firearms registry cannot prevent random acts of violence. The best example of this failure is the shooting rampage at Dawson College by Kimveer Gill.
The CACP contends that Canadians continue to support a registry that costs over $2 billion and which cannot be shown in over a decade to have prevented even one death. Unfortunately, public opinion polls do not support their position. The CACP and others will attempt to convince you that retention of the registry is an officer safety issue. Further, they will advocate for the retention of the records accessible on a database to police investigators if the registry is abolished. To the layperson having little or no knowledge of firearms or the registry, this may appear reasonable. However, once one knows and understands the failing of the registry, the issue of officer safety takes on a far more sinister meaning. For the officers using the registry, trusting in the inaccurate, unverified information contained therein, tragedy looms at the next door.
The argument to retain the registry for investigative purposes is disingenuous or specious at best. Once the registry is abolished, the information contained therein is immediately stale-dated. The limited evidentiary value of such erroneous information deteriorates by the minute as firearms across Canada are acquired, sold, altered, or destroyed.
Knowing what I do about the registry, I cannot use any of the information contained in it to square with 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 any faith in the results of a query to the Canadian Firearms Registry.
Projections from within the Canadian Firearms Centre privately state that it will take 70 years of attrition to eliminate all of the errors in the registry and to have all of the 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 the courts demand better. If the National DNA Data Bank or the automated fingerprint identification system had the same potential error, the public and the courts would be outraged, and with just cause. Every entry in these latter databases is empirical--a level of accuracy that the registry has not attained.
As a team leader for the Olympics security force, I had the opportunity to speak with officers from across Canada. The vast majority of those I spoke to do not support the registry. They do not trust the information it contains, and see it as a waste of time and money.
Again I take you back to the issue of officer safety. Police across Canada cannot and must not place their trust in, or risk their lives on the basis of, the inaccurate, unverified information contained in the registry. From my perspective, if doing away with the registry saves one of Canada's front-line police officers, it's elimination is worth it. Retaining the registry at the risk of one police officer's life is too great a price to pay.
In closing, I wish to thank you for your attention and will leave you with these thoughts. Polls indicate that the majority of Canadians want the registry for non-restricted rifles and shotguns abolished. This position is supported by a majority of front-line police officers in Canada. Further, this government ran on a platform of ending the long-gun registry. The last election represented a referendum on that platform, and a majority of Canadians voted to support it.
Bill C-19 is worthy of your consideration and support, for it brings to an end a registry that represents the largest and most contentious single waste of taxpayer dollars. It is full of errors and inaccurate data. It is a registry that front-line police officers do not trust, use, or support. More importantly, it risks the safety of front-line police officers across Canada.