Category Archives: Non classé

The Myth of Arming for Self-Protection

The gun lobby, in the U.S. and in Canada, has argued that an armed nation would result in less crime. Good citizens with guns would be equipped to prevent armed robberies and mass shootings. Women with guns in their possession can better protect themselves from an assault. Widespread gun ownership would force people into behaving decently, as an armed society is a “polite” society. Some even argue that depriving citizens of the ability to defend themselves using firearms infringes our right to security of the person (section 7 of the Charter).

In Canada, citizens are rarely permitted to carry concealed weapons on their person. So what if all law-abiding citizens carried guns? Would we be safer? Would we even feel safer?

Consider the United States as an example of this theory in action. In the year 2011, the rate of death in the United States was 10.3 per 100,000 people, as compared to 1.97 in Canada that same year. Looking specifically at homicides involving firearms, the United States saw 3.00 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012, which was six times the rate seen in Canada that year (0.49 per 100,000). Among incidents involving concealable handguns, the homicide rate in the U.S. totalled 2.16 per 100,000 – nearly 7 times that of the rate in Canada (0.31 per 100,000). To put things in perspective, the U.S. homicide rate for incidents not involving firearms (1.33 per 100,000) was only slightly higher than the Canadian rate of 1.07 per 100,000.

Any potential benefit of keeping a gun for self-protection is offset by the many risks associated with doing so. It is true that “criminals” can obtain guns illegally, but all Canadians are capable of using firearms irresponsibly. The potential for impulsive, irresponsible behaviour motivated by such factors as rage or alcohol would increase significantly with the widespread availability of firearms made available for self-protection. The potential for guns to fall into the wrong hands multiplies exponentially with the widespread availability of firearms.

The assumption that all citizens are armed can actually endanger victims, as potential assailants would be more likely to fatally wound a victim knowing that they are armed. A rational criminal would shoot before the victim has the opportunity to reach for a gun. One study found that an assault victim carrying a firearm is 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an altercation, with their odds of being killed being 4.2 times greater.

Citizens are also not trained law enforcement officials with the ability to make proper judgment calls and fire accurately. Many lives would fall to impulsive individuals who incorrectly assessed a situation or targeted the wrong victim.

In real life, there is no clear distinction between good and evil. It is too simplistic view of society to suggest that we would be better off if good people possessed the ability to kill with the pull of a trigger. If the situation in the United States is any indication, an armed society would lead to anything but a safer society.



Disarming the Impulsive and Suicidal

Over the 2014/15 holiday season, a mass-murder in Edmonton and a gang-related shooting at an Ottawa shopping outlet once again dominated headlines. Shortly thereafter, the Charlie Hebdo incident occurred in France. These are the stories that we most often read about, and often drive the gun-control discussion.

But with most of the attention given to mass shootings and street crimes in the debate over public safety, it is easy to overlook the incidence of gun-related suicides. In reality, suicides account for over 70% of gun-related deaths in Canada.

It is true that guns are not the only means of committing suicide, nor are they the most common method in most countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) released its first ever report on suicides in 2014, in which it stated that hanging accounts for 50% of suicides in high-income countries, compared to 18% of cases involving firearms.

However, when focusing on the Americas alone, firearms account for 46% of suicides.

The report identifies a number of relevant interventions for health system and societal risk factors, including the restriction of access to means of suicide. There is a correlation between proportions of households owning firearms and proportions of gun-related suicide. Furthermore, restrictions on gun ownership in several countries have led to a reduction in gun-related suicides in those countries.

Firearms provide a reliable, quick and painless means of committing suicide for impulsive individuals with little chance of recovery and re-evaluation. Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association for Emergency Physicians had this to say in his support of keeping the long-gun registry:

“Suicide, contrary to public opinion, is often an impulsive gesture. Keeping guns away from depressed people is essential. In the assaults and murders I have seen that have involved guns, the perpetrators acted on impulse and the unsafely stored long gun was readily available.”

Unsuccessful suicide attempts using firearms, while rare, often leaves the individual with serious and irrecoverable injuries such as permanent brain injury, blindness and paralysis.

Common-sense arguments aside, the empirical evidence suggests that gun laws work in reducing the number of suicides. The Institut national de santé publique du Québec submitted that since the Firearms Act came into force, the number of suicides in Canada has dropped by an average of 250 per year. Michael Bryant, a former attorney-general of Ontario, has also made it known that he believes a gun registry lowers the rate of suicide in Canada:

“Suicides dropped dramatically in Canada thanks to the federal gun registry. Not only do statistics prove as much, it stands to reason that with improved gun safety comes decreased gun fatalities; with fewer tools-of-choice for suicides available, fewer suicides occur.”

Mr. Bryant also raised a legal issue in response to the then-proposed abolition of the long-gun registry: would the courts uphold a law that eliminates proven safety measures?

The relationship between gun laws and suicide is apparent, and should not be overlooked in the debate for tougher gun restrictions.


The Contentious Relationship between Public Safety and Civil Liberties

Civil liberties, the fundamental freedoms which are protected from government intrusion, are integral to the functioning of a free and democratic society. Such freedoms are protected in Canada by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, subject to reasonable and justifiable limitations (section 1). They include, for example, the right to free expression (section 2b), to equality (section 15), and to life, liberty and security of the person (section 7). Civil liberties matter to all of us, but they have been raised in the context of debates on firearms legislation from both sides of the issue.

It is important to consider that civil liberties are not absolute or consistent across jurisdictions. In Canada, not only is the right to bear arms excluded from constitutional protection, but so are property rights in general. Property rights are only referenced indirectly by certain provisions of the Charter, such as the unreasonable search and seizure of property (section 8) and the existence of pre-Charter common law and other rights (section 26).

The right to bear arms is not guaranteed in Canada’s constitution, as some argue it is in the United States. As such, firearms regulations are not technically a matter of civil liberties in Canada. As the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2005, the “possession and use of firearms is not a right or freedom guaranteed under the Charter, but a privilege.

Some opponents of Canada’s current gun control measures argue that the regulation of firearms is an undue restriction on our civil liberties. For example, the president of the National Firearms Association contends that there is no public safety concern in firearms, and that gun laws are merely restrictions on property rights and personal freedoms without merit:

“Frequently we are told that if some law or new regulation would improve public safety, then we shouldn’t have a problem with it. I haven’t run into a firearms law yet that actually does what it claims in terms of providing more security other than a false sense of it. I have seen many firearms laws that reduce freedoms and personal rights all in the name of public safety and like many firearms owners I have a significant problem with that situation.”

Conversely, the Courts and proponents of gun control alike have agreed that the regulation of firearms is in relation to public safety. In Reference Re Firearms Act, the Supreme Court ruled that:

“…the effects of the law suggest that its essence is the promotion of public safety through the reduction of the misuse of firearms, and negate the proposition that Parliament was in fact attempting to achieve a different goal such as the total regulation of firearms production, trade, and ownership.”

In recent years, challenges have been filed questioning the legality of some laws restricting the use of firearms. For example, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently found that a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for possession of a loaded restricted or prohibited weapon constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited under section 12 of the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has approved leave to hear an appeal.

Some opponents of Canada’s gun laws argue that they infringe our right to security of the person (section 7) by disarming citizens from a method of self-defence. Such arguments suggest that good citizens with guns would be equipped to stop armed robberies and mass shootings, and that women with guns in their possession can better protect themselves from an assault. However, these arguments, echoing those of the American National Rifles Association, are not based on research. In fact, studies have found the opposite, namely that a reduction in the number of available firearms reduces the likelihood of gun-related deaths, thereby reinforces the security of the person. Groups such as the Canadian Federation of University Women have argued that weakening gun restrictions disregards the rights of women to life, liberty and security of the person. Subjecting gun owners to strong licensing and registration requirements does not deprive law-abiding citizens of their ability to possess firearms for self-defence or any reason.

Public safety interests need not be regarded as being in contention with civil liberties. Some civil liberties organizations, such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, recognize a mutually reinforcing relationship between public safety and civil liberties:

“Our work recognizes the important role that governments play in protecting public safety and advocates for the striking of an appropriate balance between public safety and civil liberties in this context. We believe that governments should treat the promotion of public safety and the protection of civil liberties as mutually reinforcing objectives…”

Civil liberties are integral to the functioning of a free and democratic society, whether or not one is a gun owner. It is important to recognize, as Canadian citizens, exactly what our civil liberties are. General restrictions on firearms, in themselves, do not erode the civil liberties we have in this country.


A Somber Reminder of our Eroding Gun Laws

Last week’s events in Ottawa and Marysville-Pilchuck High School have once again pushed gun laws to the forefront of political debate in North America. At the time of this writing, details are yet unclear as to the legality of the firearms used in these tragedies (a non-restricted lever-action rifle in Ottawa and .40 caliber handgun in Washington).

Proponents of both sides of the gun debate will surely use these incidents to support their respective positions. But in the meantime, we ought to reserve judgment on whether certain policies could or would have prevented these isolated incidents or assist in ongoing investigations. It is easy for all parties to use tragedies like this to forward an agenda, and out of respect to the victims, it is best not to fall into this trap.

We must also not allow these types of high-profile incidents to dictate policies affecting our civil liberties and public safety one way or the other. In light of the Ottawa shooting, Parliament has elected to suspend debate on the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act introduced earlier this month.

What these incidents do, however, is serve as a sobering reminder that gun violence remains a live issue – even in Canada, a country which has long been regarded as an international example of sensible gun laws. But as the rest of the world moves towards strengthening their restrictions on firearms, Canada appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

In addition to introducing the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act earlier this month, Parliament also passed Bill C-19, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, in 2012. While most of the public attention was on the bill’s repeal of the long-gun registry, C-19 also contained other provisions that have quietly weakened the restrictions on obtaining firearms.

Of note is the lack of a mandatory licence check for selling firearms to individuals. C-19 removed the requirement for sellers to verify that a purchaser is licensed to obtain and possess firearms, and only requires that a seller have “no reason to believe” a buyer isn’t properly licensed. Sellers are no longer required to see the licence or ensure that it is valid, presenting a greater possibility that guns are falling into the hands of unlicensed owners.

For sellers that call the RCMP to verify if a licence is valid, C-19 also prohibits the RCMP from keeping any records of the call. This includes scenarios where an individual’s licence was revoked because they were believed to be dangerous.

Through an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Pierre Perron specifies the protocol used at the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP)’s call center:

“-If the buyer’s licence is expired the CFP tells the seller that the buyer’s licence is expired as indicated on the licence card.

-If the buyer’s licence is revoked, the CFP tells the seller to have the buyer contact their Chief Firearms Officer.

-No records are retained of the call. No personal data, other than the licence status is provided to the seller.”

The onus is thus placed on the firearms purchaser to contact their Chief Firearms Officer when attempting to purchase a firearm after having their licence revoked. This effectively amounts to telling the purchaser to report themselves for attempting to purchase firearms with their licence revoked.

Surely, a prudent criminal would not risk setting off any red flags in contacting the Chief Firearms Officer. Due to the requirement that no records be kept, the Chief Firearms Officer is effectively powerless to follow up upon learning of an attempt to purchase unauthorized firearms. Mandatory licence checks are an important “administrative burden on law-abiding gun owners”, the benefits of which greatly outweigh any inconveniences.

Until more details emerge as to how the shooter obtained his rifle, we ought to refrain from speculating about the applicability of recent policy changes to the tragic events at Parliament Hill. But one thing is clear: Canada’s once-proud firearms restrictions are eroding away year-after-year, presenting a threat to public safety and the proper administration of justice.


Long-gun Registry Data is a Matter of Property and Civil Rights

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Quebec’s appeal regarding the destruction of the Federal long-gun registry data. Legally, the case will turn on the constitutional principle of federalism, but will also have a significant impact on public safety and the efficacy of gun control efforts in Quebec. The Coalition for Gun Control intervened by written submission.

Parliament enacted the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act in 2012, which removed the requirement for Canadians to register non-restricted firearms such as hunting rifles and shotguns. At the center of last week’s hearing is section 29 of the Act, which orders the Commissioner of Firearms to destroy all records of non-restricted guns contained in the Canadian Firearms Registry. It also orders each Chief Firearms Officer to destroy all such data under their control.

The Federal Government relies on a broad interpretation of the term “abolish” to include abolishing the long-gun registry going forward, as well as destroying the history of records accumulated since its implementation. To date, all records of registered non-restricted guns have been deleted from the Canadian Firearms Registry except for the 1.6 million records from Quebec.

Quebec intends to enact its own long-gun registry following the repeal of the federal registry in 2012. In order to create a complete record of registered firearms, the province requires that the Government of Canada turn over the records.

Quebec argues that to destroy these records would be unconstitutional under the principle of federalism as it encroaches on their provincial jurisdiction over property and civil rights. It does not fall within Parliament’s jurisdiction over criminal law matters because the destruction of the records has no connection to the prevention of crime.

Even if the Federal Registrar controls the data, it also serves provincial purposes and cannot unilaterally destroy these records without consent from the province. The principle of co-operative federalism necessitates a respect for provincial characteristics.

While there is no clear reason for why Quebec was the only province that took to the court to oppose the destruction of the registry data, the Montreal Massacre of 1989 has undoubtedly contributed to Quebec’s attitudes towards gun control. Access to the registry data relates to such matters as the administration of justice and suicide prevention, which fall under provincial jurisdiction. To destroy the data would create an unnecessary obstacle for Quebec in achieving objectives under its jurisdiction and is contrary to the principle of co-operative federalism.

As to the issue of privacy, the Federal Government argues that even if section 29 were unconstitutional, to turn over the data would be an invasion of the registered gun owners’ privacy rights. But on closer inspection of section 29(3), the provision runs contrary to privacy laws by exempting certain provisions the Privacy Act and Library and Archives of Canada Act dealing with the preservation of government records.

Because the collection of the registry data itself did not violate privacy laws, the preservation of the data subsequent to the registry’s repeal does not constitute an invasion of privacy, nor would the sharing of the data between Federal and Provincial governments.

For Quebec, access to the registry records is fundamental to creating a complete database of registered long guns going forward. Without access to this data, more than 1.6 million non-restricted guns in Quebec will be untraceable. Registration of all firearms holds gun owners accountable for their weapons and reduces the possibility of the gun falling in the possession of unlicensed owners.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to follow in the coming months.