Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the committee, once again, I would like to thank you for having the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police present to you today during your study on Bill C-71. My name is Mario Harel, and I am appearing before you as President of the CACP.
Allow me to introduce my colleague Superintendent Gordon Sneddon, who is the supervisor of the Toronto Police Service organized crime enforcement unit. He also acts as a firearms advisor to the CACP.
I can't speak to the extremes within this debate to either increase the number and fire power of guns or prohibit all firearms. I can only speak to what I believe is the position of most Canadians, who are law-abiding and who balance their individual privileges with the broader rights of society. They understand and support regulations that, as much as possible, place a priority on public safety and the protection of the most vulnerable among us. They, in my view, represent the very premise of a just and responsible society.
We believe that the Minister of Public Safety has appropriately conveyed a very disturbing trend of gun violence that continues in Canada despite reduced crime rates. Between 2013 and 2015, there was a 30% increase in criminal incidents involving firearms. Gun homicides were up by 60%. Intimate partner and gender-based violence involving the use of a firearm was up by one-third.
Gang-related homicides, the majority of which involve guns, were up by two-thirds, as well. Break-ins for the purpose of stealing guns were up by 56%. In 2016, 31% of all gun-related homicides involved the use of non-restricted firearms. Even more troubling is the fact that about 50% of all handguns used in crime that we have been able to trace were diverted from legal Canadian firearm owners.
Without concrete action, we do not foresee any changes to this growing trend. We need protections to help mitigate the impact of the worst outcomes of gun violence, even if those protections place requirements on law-abiding firearm owners. It is important to state that we support this legislation, not because it is panacea to gun violence, but because it is part of an overall strategy to help prevent victimization by way of a firearm.
To the best of our ability, we need to minimize opportunities for criminals to continue to wreak havoc in our communities, not only in major centres like Toronto and Vancouver, but throughout Canada. There is no doubt that further action is required, and we, as police leaders, will be developing a broader position in the near future. I would like to highlight a few of the areas of the bill that we believe are very important and suggest a few amendments to further strengthen it. I do so from the lens of law enforcement agencies' core responsibilities—the safety and security of all Canadians.
This legislation changes enhanced background checks on those seeking to acquire firearms beyond five years, so the applicant's full record, as it relates to violence and criminal behaviour, can be taken into account. We are very supportive of this change and, in fact, we would support calls for physicians to be required to advise authorities if, in their expert opinion, they felt that a person should not be in possession of a firearm for the safety of themselves or the public. This is much like the concept of revoking a driver's license given health concerns.
The requirement that, when a non-restricted firearm is transferred, the buyer must produce his or her firearms license and the vendor must verify its validity is critical in our view. Currently, license verification is voluntary.
Unfortunately, non-restricted firearms are being sold to and purchased by individuals without appropriate verification taking place.
Too often, we witness these firearms getting into the hands of those who are subject to prohibition orders or bound by recognizance. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to domestic violence cases. Additionally, we have seen cases where a stolen or fraudulently obtained licence was used in online sales to purchase firearms.
As domestic firearms trafficking cases increase, this initiative will also allow police to better identify mass purchases of firearms where the purchase patterns suggest illegal resale. Therefore, the ability to trace non-restricted firearms that have been used in crime will be improved.
Regarding record-keeping by vendors, I would say that most reputable businesses are already doing this for their own purposes. Since the long gun registry was abolished, the police have been effectively blind to the number of transactions by any licenced individual relating to non-restricted firearms. The absence of such records effectively stymies the ability to trace a non-restricted firearm that has been used in crime. The tracing of a crime gun can assist in identifying the suspect of a crime and criminal sourcing of a trafficking network.
When the serial number is known, the Canadian National Firearms Tracing Centre can provide the information about the vendor where the original sale took place. A production order must still be used to obtain the information about the buyer from the vendor.
The CACP submits that the standard to obtain such a specific order should be amended from “reasonable grounds” to “reason to suspect”.
In the United States, it is interesting to note that they federally mandate each store to track and keep records of sales. The U.S. authorities also stated that one of their biggest issues is the sale of firearms through the secondary market, such as gun sales that are not recorded.
When it comes to the transportation of prohibited and restricted firearms, the CACP appreciates and supports this change as a positive step. This change to the legislation means that discretion is afforded to the chief firearms officer in determining limitations on the transporting of firearms.
It was our view that the prior change that allowed automatic authority to transport was too broad and allowed too much latitude for abuse. In practical terms, it allowed the licence holder to carry the firearm at all times, even if they were not forthcoming about their purpose and intent.
It also allowed for a false defence to be articulated at trial suggesting that the firearm was being transported to a border crossing, a gun show or a gunsmith. In short, it provided an escape route to a person who is willing to break the law.
Finally, a system in which Parliament defines the classes but entrusts experts in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to classify firearms must be restored. We support elected officials determining firearm classes. However, we must rely on the professional expertise provided by the RCMP to classify firearms and do so without political influence. Their impartiality lies in public safety, which, as I stated earlier, must be given priority over individual privileges.
I will conclude by saying that we respect the debate that has occurred and the opposition to our views by those who simply want to hunt and engage in the sport of shooting. We do not wish to punish law-abiding citizens for the illegal actions of criminals. However, we want law-abiding citizens to accept their responsibilities and adhere to a set of laws and regulations targeted towards the safety and security of all Canadians.