Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, members of the committee, and my fellow panellists. On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, one of the oldest and largest non-profit conservation-based organizations in Canada, we appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to comment on Bill C-19.
Although we've provided the clerk with a longer written presentation, it will not meet the seven-minute test, so I'll use my time to home in on a few specific issues referred to in that document.
As I noted during my appearance before this committee last year in support of Ms. Hoeppner's private member's legislation, Bill C-68, as has been noted by Ms. Byers, was born partly out of tragedy attributable to public concerns in the aftermath of the horrific 1989 shooting at École Polytechnique. There's no doubt that the impact of that event on the families of the victims and the survivors cannot be underestimated or understood by those of us who have not experienced such loss. However, that loss cannot be used to justify a system that has been an abysmal failure, and we strongly support the fact that the Harper government has moved quickly to introduce a bill to address this issue.
When Bill C-68 was created, the Coalition for Gun Control attempted to explain the need for this registry and other components in the bill, and I quote:
The argument for gun control has never been based on individual cases.... [It] has always been based on the general principle that if you have adequate control of all guns you reduce the chances that dangerous people will gain access to them.
At best the coalition was being disingenuous. The entire debate over gun control and the creation of a long-gun registry under Bill C-68 was in fact a direct result of the misguided actions of a lone individual. Prior to that, gun control in Canada was not a major public policy issue, and the creation of a regime to regulate legal firearms, particularly non-restricted long guns, as a means of protecting the public from individuals with a grudge was flawed from the start.
A paper trail of trained, legal, licensed firearm owners does not address the real problem. Even a well-run registry, which this is not, will not prevent random violent crime. Believing in that ignores the glaring reality that the vast majority of criminals don't register firearms; and in the rare case when they do, a piece of paper and the creation of a system where possibly 50% of the firearms in Canada are not included does nothing to anticipate the actions of an individual, nor do anything to prevent such actions in the first place.
It also ignores the fact that police in this country have noted repeatedly that anywhere from 70% to 90% of illegal guns in Canada are smuggled in from south of the border. Despite this, we hear little from gun control advocates about the need to address this serious problem, which is indeed directly linked to dangerous people gaining access to these guns.
The OFAH represents a large number of hunters and recreational sport shooters in Ontario, responsible firearms owners who believe in effective gun control. In the early 1960s, we called upon the provincial government of the day to create a formal structure for the delivery of hunter education. For more than 26 years, we have delivered some form of hunter education on behalf of the provincial government, and since 1998 we have done so under formal agreement.
The success of that program is readily apparent: 310 hunter education instructors, most of whom are also firearm safety instructors, have trained over 170,000 first-time hunters. The program has an admirable safety record, as do the majority of responsible firearms owners in this country who understand how to use them safely, how to store them safely, and how to transport them safely and use them precisely for what they are intended for—recreational shooting and hunting.
As a conservation-based organization, the OFAH is involved in a vast number of conservation programs based on the best available science. Science relies on fact. Scientific theory is tested, and if the facts are found wanting, a theory is rejected and the search continues for a rational explanation. In the case of the long-gun registry, there's a glaring absence of fact-based evidence to support its existence. Suggestions that gun crime in Canada has declined since the introduction of the long-gun registry under Bill C-68 ignores the fact that gun crime, particularly gun crime using long guns, has been on the decline in this country since the 1970s, two decades before this registry ever came into being. Crimes committed with long guns have fallen steadily since 1981. Bill C-68 was not introduced until 1985 and wasn't mandatory until 2005.
Noted academics like Rosemary Gartner of the University of Toronto have recently commented that experts have had difficulties in accounting for the decrease, and Dr. Ron Melchers, professor of criminology right here at the University of Ottawa, recently stated that the decline cannot be attributed to Canada's gun registry.
Believing that something works without evidentiary material to support that belief is nothing more than supposition and conjecture.
The present system focuses all of its efforts on law-abiding firearms owners and includes no provisions for tracking prohibited offenders, who are most likely to commit gun crimes. Witness the recent arrest of an individual in Newfoundland for gun crimes, an individual who has been under a prohibition order for 10 years.
This should be about who should not have guns rather than about who does. We strongly support the creation of a prohibited persons registry to focus on real, not perceived, threats to public safety.
Another prominent argument we've already heard here today is how many times per day the system is used by police. Some say 9,000 times. Some say 5,000. We've recently heard 14,000 and 17,000. Liberal leader Bob Rae has suggested 11,000. The vast majority of so-called hits on the registry have little or nothing to do with gun crime. The majority of these are cases of an officer maybe stopping a vehicle for a plate identification or an address identification, which automatically touches all databases, including the long-gun registry, despite the fact that the check has nothing to do with firearms in the first place.
The Canadian Labour Congress, with all due respect to my colleagues here on the panel today, suggests that social workers, paramedics, firefighters, and other first responders use the information to keep themselves safe on the job. These groups and individuals do not have access to the database. So unless the CLC is suggesting that each and every time a social worker, firefighter, or paramedic responds to a call, they first contact police and have the database queried specifically to determine if firearms may be present, it's difficult to understand how this happens. In fact, for police to share the information on the database may well be a breach of privacy.
Over the last few years, public support for the registry has eroded. While this confidence has waned, the level of rhetoric from supporters of the registry has increased exponentially. This has resulted in an increase in unfounded generalizations, devoid of factual evidence. For instance, on second reading of Bill C-19, members of the official opposition who voted with the government were punished. The irony of this is not lost on us, nor is the discrediting of these two members—which is interesting given that when Bill C-68 was created, eight of nine NDP members at the time voted against the bill that they so vigorously defend today.
Recently some media sources, members of the official opposition, members of the third party, and registry apologists have suggested that the introduction of Bill C-19 will do various things. For example, they say that scrapping the registry will involve delisting various guns and sniper rifles; that lawlessness will rule the day; that solving gun crimes will end, because police will have no more tools at their disposal; and that this is a Conservative plot to undermine a Liberal-created program.