Evidence of meeting #12 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st 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

Robert Dutil  Minister of Public Security, Government of Quebec
Mario Harel  Vice-President, Chief of Police, Gatineau Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Matthew Torigian  Chief of Police, Waterloo Regional Police Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Hélène Larente  Volunteer, Coordinator, Women's Hunting Program, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs
Diana Cabrera  Administration Manager, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Tony Bernardo  Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Wendy Cukier  President, Coalition for Gun Control
Barbara Kane  Psychiatrist, Coalition for Gun Control
Audrey Deveault  Chairperson, Dawson Student Union
Mathieu Murphy-Perron  Executive Director, Dawson Student Union
Randall Kuntz  As an Individual
Donald Weltz  As an Individual

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

I would like to call this meeting back to order.

Again, in our panel this afternoon we have witnesses appearing as individuals. We would welcome all our witnesses to take their places at the table.

We have with us Randall Kuntz, a constable with the Edmonton police force.

Also appearing as an individual is Donald Weltz. Mr. Weltz retired in 2007 with 32 years of service as an Ontario conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He was named officer of the year for 2007.

Congratulations and welcome.

From the Coalition for Gun Control, we have Wendy Cukier, president, and Barbara J. Kane, psychiatrist.

Again, welcome.

From the Dawson Student Union, we have with us Audrey Deveault, chairperson, and Mathieu Murphy-Perron, executive director.

Our committee wants to thank each of you for attending today. I understand that a number of you have brief opening statements before we proceed to questions from members of our committee. Our committee asks that you try to limit your statements to seven to eight minutes. I'll try to give you a 30-second warning. We look forward to your comments.

Let's start with Ms. Cukier, please.

Noon

Professor Wendy Cukier President, Coalition for Gun Control

Thanks very much.

I'll try to be brief because I want to save some time for my colleague, Dr. Barbara Kane, to speak.

The Coalition for Gun Control is a non-profit organization. It was founded more than 20 years ago. Its position on firearms regulation has been supported by more than 300 public safety and community organizations across the country. We maintain that Canada's Firearms Act as it is written is an important piece of our national strategy to prevent gun crime and injury and to support law enforcement, and considerable research has shown that effective regulation of firearms is linked to reductions in firearm homicide, suicide, accidents, and crime.

In our opinion, the amendments contained in Bill C-19 will put Canadian lives at risk. Like previous legislation aimed at ending the requirement that individuals register their non-restricted firearms--guns that include the powerful semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14, which was used in the Montreal massacre, as well as sniper rifles, including some .50 calibre variants--this bill will allow a licensed individual to acquire an unlimited number of guns without even checking if their licence is valid, which was an important improvement in the 1995 legislation. There will also be no means of knowing who owns these guns, who sold them, and how many are owned.

There will be no way to trace a gun recovered at the scene of a crime back to its original owner. We are losing not only an important public safety tool, but an important investigative tool.

Briefly, registering all non-restricted firearms to their legal owners is key to the effectiveness of our gun control policy, because these guns are used in homicides, suicides, and unintentional injury. They account for a substantial proportion of firearms recovered in crimes and for the majority of guns used in the murder of women, in suicides, and in the murder of police officers. It isn't just an urban issue, as you will hear from Dr. Kane, and it's important to emphasize that the registration provisions in the legislation reinforce the licensing provisions by reducing the chances that legal gun owners will divert their firearms to unlicensed owners.

The link between the licensing of firearm owners and the registration of firearms was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in its unanimous decision on the Firearms Act in the year 2000. The firearm registry has demonstrably helped remove firearms from dangerous individuals. It was also significant in aiding police investigations, including the prosecution of two men as accessories to the murder of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta.

In Canada, the rates of firearm death and injury have fallen dramatically with successively stronger firearm regulation, and the costs of maintaining the registration of rifles and shotguns are dwarfed by the cost of gun death and injury.

However, Bill C-19 goes far beyond simply repealing elements of Bill C-68, the 1995 legislation. It removes critical measures that have been in place since 1977, including the following measures.

It eliminates the requirement that businesses keep a record of sales. In 1977, the government introduced the requirement that all gun transactions be recorded in firearm business records. Your legislation makes no requirement to reinstitute this.

It also eliminates the requirement that a firearms licence be verified when guns are purchased, increasing the chances that someone who is prohibited from owning firearms and represents a risk to public safety will be able to access guns.

Of particular concern is the fact that this legislation requires the erasing of the data on 7.1 million rifles and shotguns currently registered, in spite of the fact that the data is essential as an investigative tool for police officers. Several international treaties require that countries maintain these records.

We may not be able to prove exactly how many lives the registry has saved. We know for certain, however, that the firearms registry never killed anyone, and this legislation may in fact put Canadian lives at risk.

I would like to give my remaining time to Dr. Kane.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Dr. Kane, you have about a minute and a half.

12:10 p.m.

Dr. Barbara Kane Psychiatrist, Coalition for Gun Control

I'm a psychiatrist working out of Prince George, B.C., which is an area with a high rate of firearm suicides. I've been there for 22 years, so that's before and after the registry. The rates of suicide and domestic violence are higher than they are in urban centres. Most of those are with non-restricted firearms.... I wouldn't want to minimize the impact of any type of suicide on a family, but suicide attempts with firearms seldom fail. Families are often left traumatized forever after finding someone with their head blown off or a part of their face shot off. These are some of the reasons that health care professionals are so vocal about the need to maintain gun control and the registry.

I regularly get calls from people asking me if I can comment on the level of risk a person poses given their behaviour. Usually, one of the things I want to know about is if they have a gun, because obviously an unstable person with a gun is a far higher risk than one without. Prior to the Firearms Act, without a direct threat, there would be little that could be done to determine someone's risk. Similarly, when I called the police to see about getting guns taken away from someone who was suicidal, they were very hesitant, as no crime had been committed and they weren't sure whether someone had a gun or how many they had.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have 30 seconds.

12:10 p.m.

Psychiatrist, Coalition for Gun Control

Dr. Barbara Kane

Now, since the registry, the police have much less hesitation in going into those situations. That has happened several times and those tragedies have been prevented. Unfortunately, when prevention occurs that doesn't make the newspapers, so people don't know how useful it is. Psychiatrists use it on a regular basis.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. Kane.

We'll now move to Monsieur Murphy-Perron and Madame Deveault.

12:10 p.m.

Audrey Deveault Chairperson, Dawson Student Union

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

My name is Audrey Deveault, and I chair the student union of Dawson College, in Westmount, Quebec. The union represents 10,500 students.

As students, we are encouraged to show curiosity, criticism, respect and involvement in terms of the world around us. We are taught that this is the foundation of a functional society.

On September 13, the fifth anniversary of the shooting at our school, we tried to get an audience with the Prime Minister in order to discuss his government's plan regarding the long-gun registry.

We had hoped that, as the Prime Minister, he would show a willingness to meet with us, his electors. Our invitation, phone calls and e-mails were ignored. We were not refused an audience; we were completely ignored. The way the government is rushing the passing of Bill C-19 and all the other bills is very worrisome.

At school, we are taught to be mindful and understanding. Yet, our elected representatives are exhibiting a closed and narrow-minded vision. We feel that society benefits more from a government that consultants individuals and groups.

A country cannot be governed for four years based on the platform of a three-week election campaign. We are worried by our government's refusal to hear from just over 300 groups that have data to share about the effectiveness of the long-gun registry.

We are worried by our government's blatant disregard for reports from doctors, nurses, psychologists and law enforcement officers.

We are worried by the fact that our government prefers to orchestrate a war that sows discord among Canadians, rather than to help us find common ground.

We are worried by the fact that, not only is our government refusing to talk to Canadians, but it is also using procedure to try to silence the opposition parties and its elected colleagues.

In light of the way the government is dealing with bills C-10 and C-19—coupled with the suppression of Statistics Canada and the elimination of the long-form census—we, as students, have a hard time holding back our skepticism when our elected representatives chose to govern blindly.

Statistics, research and science should be the pillars upon which policies are built. Students are urging all elected representatives to distance themselves from political games whose goal is to silence all those who do not agree with the ideologies of a controlling and power-hungry individual.

Do the right thing. Don't agree to pass Bill C-19 quickly so that it becomes law. Give yourselves and your voters the opportunity to thoroughly study Bill C-19 and its repercussions on public health. You were elected to listen, debate and be open to discussion.

Please, keep in mind that the country's students and youth are watching you and looking up to you for guidance on how society should work. Keep that in mind that over the coming days, months and years.

12:15 p.m.

Mathieu Murphy-Perron Executive Director, Dawson Student Union

Some people may say that the required debate took place, since previous incarnations of the bill have been before Parliament. However, those incarnations did not contain measures that would eliminate the mandatory licence verification for individuals who buy weapons and the mandatory keeping of firearm sales records by vendors. Those two measures date back to 1977.

They are healthy and rational measures. Doing away with them quickly, in the wake of the debate on the long-arm registry, is very worrisome, especially considering the limited debate the government held on this bill.

We at the Dawson Student Union are used to hearing the tired old argument that the registry did not stop the shooting from taking place at our school. We tell cynics that it's precisely because we were victims of violence caused by firearms that we are deeply interested in working with all levels of government on improving the current system and reducing the risk of future shootings.

Consider the following. In the months preceding the shooting at our school, Kimveer Gill tried to join the Canadian Forces. He was rejected because of mental instability. If licence security control had included the information exchanged between our military forces and the registry, Mr. Gill's file would have been flagged and the events of September 13, 2006, might have never happened.

When our laws let us down, we mustn't just shrug and accept defeat. Our collective responsibility is to find the holes in the system and fill them. Students know that. Students also know that it is better to fix and improve than to forget and set aside. Elected representatives should know that as well. They mustn't let themselves be guided by ideology alone. They have a moral responsibility to strengthen the programs society has paid for.

All Canadians have paid for the registry. Quebec has paid for it. Quebec sees the registry as an integral part of its pacifist values. On three occasions, Quebec's National Assembly voted unanimously to keep the registry data in order to facilitate the creation of its own provincial system. Every elected representative of the Quebec nation voted to keep the long-gun registry.

Why does the federal government seem to think that it has the power to refuse a national assembly the information paid for by its constituents?

Even the handful of Quebec's Conservative MPs have at times spoken out in support of Quebec's right to keep the registry. The federal government has no reason to deny Quebec its portion of the data it has paid for. The cost of maintaining the current registry is less than $4 million dollars a year, or 15¢ per Canadian.

At Dawson College, a survey was conducted 18 months after the September 13 shooting. Almost 1,000 individuals took part in that survey. Fifty percent of the respondents said they had heard gunshots, 54% hid during the shooting, 35% witnessed an injury or murder, 13% saw the shooter and, finally, 24 people helped an injured person.

Eighteen per cent of those asked showed signs of developing psychological problems after the shooting. Those problems ranged from post-traumatic stress disorder to social phobia, from alcohol dependence to suicidal tendencies.

A number of participants also said they had attempted suicide in the 18 months following the shooting. Those people are students, professors, administrators, and cafeteria and maintenance staff. They are all real people who were left with very deep, sometimes permanent, scars after the September 13 events.

We are talking about thousands of adolescents who will forever live with the memory of bullets whistling through their school's hallways. We are talking about hundreds of students with the image of the shooter running through their school etched into their memory. We are talking about dozens of people who helped get their blood-covered schoolmates out on the morning of September 13.

The lives that were lost and scarred by that event need not have been in vain. If the registry can help save one more life or help one less person be affected, is it not worth keeping?

With such a low operating cost, why do anything but try to improve the system?

We have had productive discussions with the members of the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party. They all have very interesting ideas on how to improve this registry to better serve all Canadians.

We understand that some Canadians have doubts about the program's usefulness. We understand that some of them see registering their firearms as a difficult and complicated task. We extend our hand to you with an open mind, so that we can find common ground.

We were there when the vote was taken to refer Bill C-19 to this committee.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Perron, your time is up.

Very quickly, please. I will give you a few more--

12:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Dawson Student Union

Mathieu Murphy-Perron

I have 10 seconds more.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Dawson Student Union

Mathieu Murphy-Perron

When the votes were read, we were deeply saddened to see that the Conservative Party's elected representatives had laughed in the faces of mothers who had lost their children because of gun-related violence.

We know that Canadians don't like this type of governance. We hope that this committee will agree to undertake a careful and lengthy study to better analyze the potential consequences of Bill C-19 before referring it for a third and final reading without any amendments.

We thank you for your time and would be more than happy to answer any questions from the committee members.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Merci.

We'll now move to Mr. Kuntz from Edmonton, and then to Mr. Weltz, for seven minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Constable Randall Kuntz As an Individual

Thank you for your invitation. I am proud to be here.

Prior to the implementation of the long-gun registry, I had a meeting with then Liberal justice minister Allan Rock at the Edmonton Police Service Southeast Division station. There were approximately 20 police officers there. I managed to ask Minister Allan Rock at the time if the gun registry would save any lives. That was my primary concern. He would not commit to saying this registry would save one life. Sixteen years later, I see why.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has said that police officers support the registry. I am one who does not. I conducted a self-funded survey of 2,631 heroes of law enforcement across this country. They were all identified by their police-issued e-mail. They were all serving police officers. Of the 2,631 who responded to me between March 2009 and June 2010, 2,410 were in favour of scrapping the long-gun registry. In April 2011, the Edmonton Police Association surveyed its members: 81% voted to scrap the long-gun registry.

The registry is just a list of people based solely on their private property. Some may see it as a list of potential offenders based on the possession of their personal private property that's in the database. This would be no different from registering every male in Canada, along with a DNA sample, as a potential sex offender. It would be no different from registering every woman who ever suffered from postpartum depression as a potential child killer or from tagging as a potential pedophile any member of the clergy, or any soccer, hockey, or football coach, or any Scout leader or teacher--and you could class all members of the military as potential homicidal serial sex offenders.

Now that I've offended about 99% of Canada by suggesting such a registry, think about the firearms registry. It was implemented and enforced against the same type of people, based solely on their private property.

A firearm is a firearm. It only becomes a weapon when it is used against another person. This watch in my hands, at a certain time, could be a weapon. I guarantee that. Ask 100 people what this is and they will tell me that's it's a wristwatch. A firearm is no different.

People kill people. It's a fact. The ways and means are limited only by their imagination.

I have two dogs in this hunt: I'm also a victim. In my personal life, I have 15 friends, teammates, classmates, and co-workers who have committed suicide with a firearm. I also have three friends who were murdered with a firearm.

If anyone is keeping score, that's more people than Dawson College and École Polytechnique combined. I am still sitting here in front of this committee telling you that I do not support a firearms registry. I tell you that it does not save lives. That is the premise behind the chiefs of police...they say it's for public safety; I am telling you it is not.

We spent $2 billion and millions and millions more every year on the registry. We got nothing. But what I've never heard is that there was also over $2 billion collected. If it was spent, somebody collected it, and I suggest that those are the only people in this country who are going to miss the long-gun registry.

I realize that I have a lot of time left. I do not need it.

Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Kuntz.

We will now move to Mr. Weltz.

12:25 p.m.

Donald Weltz As an Individual

I would like to thank the chair and the members of the committee for allowing me to appear before you today.

My name is Donald Weltz. I come before you in support of Bill C-19, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

I will attempt to briefly outline my introduction to firearms and my enforcement background so that you have a more informed understanding of my experience with long guns.

As was stated earlier, I retired in 2007 with 32 years of service as an Ontario conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and was named officer of the year in 2007.

I have owned long guns since I was 12 years of age. I was instructed in the safe use and handling of those guns by a police sergeant with the Kitchener Police Department, as it was known then, and by a World War II vet who was a lifelong friend and father figure for me over the past 46 years until his passing in February 2009. I also hunt, although as I get older I find that I spend less time hunting.

My primary duty throughout my 32-year career as an Ontario conservation officer was fish and wildlife law enforcement. I was issued with and I carried a side arm as part of my uniform and was required to qualify yearly in its use. I was trained in the powers of search, seizure, arrest, and the use of force, similar to the Ontario Provincial Police. In 1975 I attended the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ontario, for my basic enforcement training.

Throughout my career as a conservation officer I have personally checked thousands of long guns being used by hunters in the field, and I have been required to search under warrant numerous homes and other buildings to secure evidence of crimes. These searches included buildings located in isolated bush areas in remote parts of the province, and dwellings, outbuildings, and commercial buildings in rural and urban areas.

I can tell you that the registration of long guns did not make my job as a conservation officer safer. It doesn’t matter whether as an officer you search one house in your career or 2,000; the legal requirements are the same, and the possibility of violence and resistance from the occupier of the building you are about to search is always present. To go into a search with a semi-complacent attitude, believing that there are no guns present--and thereby being left with a perceived diminished risk to your safety and that of your fellow officers because a check of the firearms database has indicated there are no guns registered to the individual at that location--can be a deadly mistake.

As an officer, I was trained to expect the unexpected. I preferred to enter situations relying on my training, my fellow officers, and my heightened awareness of what might be waiting for me. An officer who enters a building in a search situation and who lets his or her guard down as a result of relying on information relayed to the officer that there are no firearms registered at that location is placing himself or herself and others in a dangerous situation.

Although as a conservation officer I had the ability to run checks through the firearms data centre, I can only remember doing so once or twice, and those were on occasions when I was trying to determine whether the hunter I had stopped for a routine check legally owned a specific firearm in the hunter's possession.

Similarly, the registering of long guns does nothing to increase the safety of the public. The fact that a long gun has been registered does not prohibit that firearm from being used by an individual with criminal intent. It is not the long gun that commits the criminal act, but the individual in control of that long gun who has spontaneously, or through deliberate and premeditated intent, taken it upon himself or herself to carry out a criminal act.

How does the registration of a long gun stop someone in a fit of rage induced by drugs, alcohol, or a nervous breakdown from going to the locked gun cabinet, unlocking it, taking out that registered firearm, removing the trigger lock, loading it, and hunting down and shooting the people he believes are responsible for his problems? The act of registering long guns does not stop this type of situation.

I have heard people ask why individuals would be upset with registering their long guns. We have to register our vehicles, they say, so what's the difference? In looking at that analogy of registering your vehicles, I would ask this question: has the fact of registering our vehicles reduced the number of impaired drivers? In an impaired driving situation, is the vehicle the problem or is it the driver who decided to drive while their ability was impaired with alcohol?

To the best of my knowledge, I do not know of any criminal who has registered their firearm knowing that they intend to use that firearm during the commission of an offence. Long guns, as their name suggests, are just that: long guns. They are not the weapon of choice of criminals because they cannot be concealed easily. Long guns are typically used by hunters, target shooters, and farmers, who generally are regarded as law-abiding citizens.

As for the destruction of firearms records upon removal of the long-gun registry, I am in favour of that data being destroyed, as there will be no legitimate reason to keep it when the long-gun registry is repealed. The police already have driver's licence and vehicle registration information on file for millions of individuals in Canada.

Of all the tragedies that have occurred in Canada involving firearms, did the firearm actually commit the offence, or was it the person in possession of the firearm who caused those devastating events that changed so many lives?

In conclusion, I believe that firearms owners should be licensed and that firearms should be stored safely, which will go a long way towards reducing careless or accidental firearm incidents. I also believe that the registration of long guns in the current registration system is costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year and is doing absolutely nothing to make our police or the public safer. Therefore, I would ask this government to repeal the long-gun registry.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Weltz.

Thanks to each one of our guests who brought different perspectives to us. That's what we hoped would happen here: that we would hear different opinions and different perspectives and be able to respect those opinions as well.

We will move to the first round of questioning. I think we can still do six minutes each.

Ms. Hoeppner.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I will be splitting my time with Mr. Aspin, so I'm going to be quite brief and to the point.

I want to thank all of you very much for being here and for your testimony.

Mr. Kuntz, I wasn't familiar with your background. Can you please tell us if you an active police officer and where you are serving?

12:30 p.m.

Cst Randall Kuntz

I've been a member of the Edmonton Police Service for almost 24 years. I've served as a patrol officer and as an intelligence analyst, have worked for three years in cold-case homicide and the criminal investigation section, and currently am working in the stolen property unit, south division, of the Edmonton Police Service.

November 17th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much.

So you are an active front-line police officer: thank you so much for what you do.

Mr. Weltz, I wanted to ask you further about what you talked about: going into homes or buildings to do a search for firearms and the danger posed to anybody going in and doing that kind of a search if they're counting on the information in the long-gun registry database. This confirms testimony we heard previously from other front-line officers, including Murray Grismer from the Saskatoon Police Service. I think many of us may forget the dangers placed in front of police officers when they count on the registry. He stated very adamantly--and I won't forget it--that if only one police officer's life could be saved by abolishing the long-gun registry, “it is worth it”.

Can you please talk about the dangers the police face when they count on this registry that is so flawed? We've heard that there are about sixteen million long guns in Canada and only about seven million are registered. Can you talk about the dangers that those in law enforcement face when they count on that information?

12:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Donald Weltz

Yes, I can speak to it personally. Of the very many different places that I personally searched, even though I probably had the ability to check that registry ahead of time at least in the last 10 years of my career, I chose not to, and I did so specifically so that my mind would not have some kind of little innuendo hiding there that would lead me to take my guard down for a split second.

When you enter places that, number one, you are not familiar with—you have no idea what the inside of that building looks like or what it contains and you have no idea who's present—you need to have your complete senses about you and you have to be prepared for anything that can possibly come up. Although that's sometimes impossible to do, you have to be ready.

On the continuum scale, you need to operate in “the zone orange”, as they say. You have to be ready to take action. If you have the perception that there is nothing there that really can hurt you, you have a tendency to not be as careful as you should be.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

I'm going to give the rest of my time to Mr. Aspin.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Aspin, please. You have four minutes.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thanks to all the presenters for their insightful presentations today.

I would like to zero in on Mr. Kuntz as a police officer. I found your presentation concise. It was to the point and, with me, it had a very clear impact. I was particularly interested in your two surveys. I found them indeed very revealing. You indicated in your testimony that you've had some personal experiences with firearm-related deaths. Is this something you feel comfortable sharing with this committee?