Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the committee, good day.
Allow me first to introduce myself. I am Étienne Blais, a criminologist and associate professor in the School of Criminology at the Université de Montréal. I was hired for my expertise in research and crime prevention methods.
Since I was hired, in 2006, I have developed a research program on the prevention of crime and injuries linked to firearms. From the start of my career, I have had the opportunity to publish numerous articles with peer committees and give many lectures on the issue of gun control in Canada.
Before presenting my position on Bill C-19, I would like to recall that the issue of those injured by firearms goes far beyond that of criminality, or violence associated with criminal groups. Of the 800 or so annual deaths associated with firearms, 75% are suicides. Furthermore, about 85% of suicides by firearm involve long guns. In many cases, suicides involve people who are suffering from mental disturbances or who find themselves in a momentary crisis.
Suicides are very often committed in the victim's home. Many studies demonstrate that access to a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide in general. This is also so for spousal homicides. The presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of spousal homicide. In these homicides and suicides, firearms are the perfect facilitator enabling those with suicidal or homicidal thoughts to act on them. Moreover, it is with a view to preventing such suicides and homicides that certain provisions were made in Bill C-68, respecting firearms and certain other weapons, and its regulations, including a provision to advise current spouses or spouses of the past two years of their spouses' or former spouses' intention to purchase a firearm and of the registration of all firearms.
In my research, I have focused on the effect of these laws on homicide and suicide rates. The results of my studies have been published in reviews, with peer committees, or presented at scientific conferences, also with peer committees. In one such study, my colleagues and I evaluated the effect of Bills C-51, C-17 and C-68 on homicide and suicide rates in Canada between 1974 and 2004.
First of all, our results show that the passing of Bill C-68 was associated with a significant decline in homicides committed with a firearm, and more specifically homicides involving long guns. This decline varies between 5% and 10%, depending on the province. This corresponds to the prevention of some 50 homicides a year in Canada.
The preventive effect of the law is all the more probable in that the decline in the number of homicides by long arm is not offset by an increase in homicides committed by other methods. Furthermore, this decline may be observed solely in homicides committed by long arm. Homicides committed with other weapons, such as knives and blunt instruments, have not budged. This means that the decline that may be attributed to Bill C-68 is indeed attributable and that it is not attributable to other factors or prevention measures put in place to prevent homicides.
Second, Bill C-68 was associated with a significant decline in suicides by firearm. Once again, there is no increase or decrease in the number of suicides committed by other methods. This suggests that the decline in suicides by firearm is not offset by a rise in suicides committed by other methods, and the decline is not attributable to other suicide prevention measures. We estimate at about 250 the number of suicides prevented annually in Canada since the introduction of the Firearms Act in 1998.
Recently, we conducted other evaluations, which consolidate our conclusions that Bill C-68 helped to reduce homicides and suicides. These recent results even suggest that Bill C-68 helped to prevent spousal homicides. The effects of Bill C-68 began to appear gradually from 1998, as the provisions of this legislation were implemented.
Many studies have now been conducted on the effect of Canadian legislation pertaining to firearms control. Why look at our results? How are our results more credible than those of other studies?
First, we take into account other factors, such as the proportion of young men, beer consumption, the number of police per inhabitant, incarceration rates and unemployment rates, to name but a few of other concomitant factors.
Second, we employ statistical methods enabling us to obtain valid estimates.
Third, we distinguish homicides according to the weapon used and the relationship between the parties. However, the chief advantage of our studies resides, in my opinion, in the use of the province as an analysis unit, which many studies do not do.
For example, in our latest study, we take account of the various homicide rates in the six Canadian provinces and the Atlantic region for the period from 1974 to 2006. That enables us to have a sample of 231 observations. This is a large enough sample to detect the effects of the laws. A simple sample of 30 or 35 observations would be completely inadequate, for lack of statistical strength.
In addition, this enables us to take into account provincial jurisdiction respecting law enforcement. Laws come into effect at the same time throughout Canada, but it is the provinces that are responsible for enforcing them. So any evaluation of the laws respecting firearms control in Canada must take this into account.
Finally, using the provinces as an analysis unit enables us to take into account crime rate variations among them. Canada in itself is not representative of the problems experienced in the provinces.
In conclusion, the results of our studies demonstrate that Bill C-68 has helped to prevent 300 deaths a year. On the basis of data on the direct and indirect costs of deaths by firearm, we estimate that over $400 million a year is saved in costs from the prevention of those 300 deaths. This amount compares favourably with the $63 million dedicated annually to the operation of the Canadian Firearms Program and the $9.1 million dedicated to registration activities, according to the RCMP report.
On the basis of our results, we think that eliminating the firearms registry may compromise the health and safety of Canadians. The requirements to obtain a firearms licence and to register firearms are two necessary and complementary measures. These measures allow us to link each firearm to its owner...