Yes, I will, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much and good morning to the committee.
I'm glad to be here as you begin your discussion with respect to Bill C-71, which is legislation that upholds our government's commitment to help protect Canadian communities from gun violence while ensuring fair and reasonable treatment for firearms owners and businesses.
I'm happy to be joined today by Randall Koops, who is director general of policing policy at the Department of Public Safety. Superintendent Paul Brown is the acting director general of the Canadian firearms program within the RCMP. Paula Clarke is from the Department of Justice.
We have no more important responsibility than the protection of Canadian communities, and all the elements of this bill are directly related to public safety. They will better protect Canadians from gun violence, while treating firearms owners fairly and reasonably.
While crime rates in Canada overall have been on the decline, thankfully, for decades, the rate of gun violence has been going up in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016 the number of criminal incidents involving firearms rose by 30%. Gun homicides in that period went up by two-thirds. Intimate partner and gender-based violence involving firearms was up by one-third. Gang-related homicides, most of which involve guns, were up by two-thirds. Break-ins for the purpose of the stealing of firearms were up by 56% between 2013 and 2016, and by a whopping 865% since the year 2008.
The problem is obvious. The bottom line is that we have a problem of increasing gun violence in Canada. It's not a problem we can blame on other countries, because police in British Columbia, Toronto, Calgary, Regina, Ottawa, and other places now confirm that most guns used to commit crimes in Canada are domestically sourced. It's not a problem limited to urban centres. In Atlantic Canada, for example, over half of all gun crimes occur in rural areas, and over 60% of gun crimes in my own province of Saskatchewan happen outside of the major cities.
This is a Canadian problem and it's a Canada-wide problem. We need to tackle it head-on in ways that are effective and focused on public safety outcomes while ensuring the firearms owners and businesses are treated fairly and reasonably.
Bill C-71 accomplishes those objectives.
First, it will enhance background checks for people seeking to acquire firearms. As I noted at second reading, this particular measure was proposed some 15 years ago by former Conservative cabinet minister, James Moore. It does seem to have very broad support.
Right now, when a person applies for a licence, there's a mandatory look back over the immediately preceding five years to see whether they have in that period of time been engaged in any violent behaviour or been treated for a mental illness associated with violence. Bill C-71 will remove that five-year limitation so that a person's entire record will be taken into account. That will help ensure, quite simply, that people with a history of violence do not get guns.
The legislation will also help ensure that people who acquire firearms are actually licensed to own them. Since 2012, all that has been required in this regard at the time of a sale is that the vendor have “no reason to believe” that the purchaser is not licensed. It's a double negative. Vendors often check anyway, but they are not, in fact, required to do so.
That can be a problem, for instance, in the case of a long-time customer of a small firearms shop who recently committed an act of violence and had his licence revoked. The owner of the shop wouldn't particularly know that, but if he's known that particular customer for many years, he just might assume that the licence is still valid and sell him a firearm anyway, in good faith, because he had no reason to believe the contrary.
Bill C-71 will require a quick phone call or online verification before any sale to make sure that the buyer's licence is still valid. That is just common sense. It's the licence that is being verified. There is no reference in this process to any particular firearm.
This bill will also ensure that the classification of firearms is based on public safety and not on politics. Parliament will continue to control the definitions that create the three classes of firearms. Bill C-71 repeals the authority the last government gave itself to overrule the RCMP's application of the law. As with many other laws and regulatory frameworks, the rules will be established by elected officials and then they will be applied by law enforcement.
As part of this change, the two instances where the previous government overruled police experts will be reversed, but we will allow people who have acquired these two types of firearms to be grandfathered in the interest of fairness, because they acted in good faith at the time.
Bill C-71 will also reinstate the requirement to get authorization before transporting restricted and prohibited firearms, with two key exceptions: taking a firearm home after you buy it, and taking it back and forth between your residence and a shooting range. This will help police who encounter someone transporting a prohibited or restricted firearm. It will help the police determine whether it's being transported for a legitimate purpose. Getting authorization is, again, a matter of a simple phone call or logging into an online portal. It should not be an onerous burden.
Finally, this bill will reinstate the rule that was in place from 1979 to 1995, requiring firearms businesses to keep track of their sales. This is something that has been compulsory in the United States since 1968. Most Canadian vendors do it today even though they don't have to. Standardizing this good business practice will help police trace guns used in crimes, detect straw purchasing schemes, and identify trafficking networks.
Critically, the records will be privately owned by the retailer. They will not be accessible to government, but police will be able to gain access for the purposes of a criminal investigation on reasonable grounds and with judicial authorization, as appropriate.
The fact is, the legislation is a direct and practical response to the growing problem of gun violence in Canadian communities and it treats firearms owners and businesses reasonably and fairly. That is why the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called it “sensible firearms legislation enhancing the tools available" to police “to ensure public safety”.
Mr. Chair, I'm happy to try to respond to the committee's questions.