Posted: Tuesday, 15 November 2011
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), we want to thank you for affording us the opportunity to present our views. The CLC brings together Canada’s national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils whose members work in virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy, in all occupations, in all parts of Canada.
The CLC opposes Bill C-19 and urges the Standing Committee to ensure the long-gun registry is maintained.
We support the long-gun registry as an effective tool for workplace and community safety. Eliminating it will put workers and Canadians at risk.
The Legislative and Political Context
Although handguns have been regulated since the 1930s, regulation of rifles and shotguns began in 1977 with the introduction of the Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) and new requirements to record sales and transfers of those firearms. At the time Tommy Douglas, leader of the New Democratic Party, lamented the fact that the law did not go further, stating “Half a loaf is better than none,” and predicting “I believe that someday we will have the techniques to register all guns.1
The laws were further strengthened in 1991, two years after the massacre at Montreal’s École Polytechnique which saw fourteen women murdered in their classrooms and in the case of one of the victims, her workplace. Mandatory training courses for gun owners and a 28-day waiting period were some of the key pieces of the legislative change in 1991 along with stronger screening to acquire firearms, safe storage and a ban on some military weapons.
In 1995, additional gun control measures were introduced with Bill C-68. The CLC submitted a brief in support of the legislation, the current Firearms Act. We did so because of support from our members, in resolutions passed by delegates at our conventions, for different forms of gun control in Canada. We reinforced our support last year when we argued against Bill C-391. And we continue to support the provisions of the Firearms Act.
We agreed with the law’s requirement for gun owners to obtain a licence to own a gun – which under the law was renewable every five years – and to register the firearms in their possession. This aspect of the law supplies the details on the firearms licenced gun owners had in their possession.
The long-gun registry itself tracks guns to a particular owner. Each firearm is registered back to its owner and the household address. The registry does not impose limits on use or access. One needs a firearms licence – renewable every five years – but the registration of each firearm is one-time only. Once a firearm is registered it need not be re-registered unless it is sold or traded. To date over 2 million gun owners have licences and over 7 million firearms are registered. Once a person has a firearm licence they can purchase as many guns as they want and are simply required to register those firearms and to store them safely.
The system is really no different than the vehicle registration system in Canada. Canadians generally must obtain a licence from their province in order to drive, but they can own as many vehicles as they want – they simply have to register those vehicles, and pay a registration fee for each vehicle.
In fact, the gun registry is less onerous for Canadians than registering their vehicles. Today, gun owners do not have to pay to register their guns, they need only store their guns safely. Yet car owners continue to be required to pay a registration fee for each of the vehicles they own, are required to pay for insurance and face a number of use restrictions reflecting Canadian standards for safe driving.
As we stated fifteen years ago to the parliamentary committee of the day, there are compelling arguments in favour of the gun registry:
- to enforce safe storage requirements
- to ensure that gun owners are held accountable for the guns they purchase
- to compel gun owners to report missing or stolen firearms
- to reduce the illegal trade in rifles and shotguns
- to give the police and first responders modern tools to take preventative action
- to trace back stolen guns to their rightful owners.
After a decade of use, we have seen crimes solved and criminal prosecutions because of the registry. For example, two people were convicted as accessories in the 2005 killings of four RCMP officers in Meyerthorpe, Alberta, in part, because a registered rifle, left at the scene, was traced back to its owner through the registry.
Action on Violence Against Women
The CLC also has a long history of support for campaigns to end violence against women. Women’s equality is a fundamental component of trade union policy in Canada, and for more than twenty years, we have joined with women’s organizations to commemorate December 6th and to propose actions to reduce violence against women. Our support of the gun registry has always included an understanding of its importance as one tool to help reduce violence against women.
It was the massacre of 14 young women at the École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989 that prompted the creation of a federal gun registry. Gun violence is one very dangerous component of the issue of violence against women.
More women are killed by intimate partners than by strangers; 65% of women are murdered by intimate partners compared to 15% of men. Most are killed in their homes. In 1991, before the first restrictions were introduced, one-third of women who were murdered, were killed with guns and of the guns used, 88% were long guns.
A study conducted between 2005 and 2007 on rural domestic violence in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick showed 66% of women interviewed felt having a firearm in their home made them fearful for their safety.2
Since the Firearms Act was introduced, the rate of women murdered with firearms by their intimate partner has decreased by 69 per cent.
There is no question that the gun registry has helped save women’s lives. This government has said that one of its priorities is to reduce violence against women – yet this legislation will have the opposite effect, putting women’s lives at risk.
The Role in Public and Workplace Safety
Rifles and shotguns are the guns most available in people’s homes.
They are the guns most often used to kill police officers.
Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in suicides, particularly those involving youth. In communities where there are high gun ownership rates, you see higher youth suicide rates. However, since the gun registry and its related requirements for safe storage of guns were introduced, youth suicide rates by firearms have declined in relation to suicide rates by other means.
Also, because rifles and shotguns are the firearms that are most readily available, they also figure prominently in workplace violence involving guns. In 1999, a devastating incident of workplace violence occurred right here in Ottawa at the OC Transpo bus yard on St. Laurent Boulevard. Those murders were committed by a gunman with a high-powered hunting rifle.
Increasingly as we learn more about the challenges of maintaining healthy and safe workplaces, we are paying more attention to the importance of understanding the risk factors associated with both suicide and inter-personal violence. The risk factors for suicide and violence are closely linked – access to a firearm coupled with a personal crisis or job loss is a lethal combination. We need to promote more awareness of the real risks associated with any firearm in the hands of a depressed or stressed individual. And we need to ensure police, who are the first responders to these types of situations know as much about the situation as possible – including what kind of gun is involved.
Everyone on this Committee knows how useful the registry is to our nation’s police forces and first responders. The registry provides police with vital knowledge of the number of guns and, more importantly the type of guns owned. That vital knowledge allows them to assess risk to themselves and to others, and remove guns from homes in situations where they and the public are at risk. It lets firefighters know when guns and ammunition are likely to be stored on a property – a lifesaving piece of information when you’re about to enter a burning building.
For law enforcement, firefighters, emergency personnel, social workers, information about potential risks is crucial in ensuring their safety on the job. Like any worker, they have a right to a safe workplace. By denying them access to information about the possibility of guns in a home, this legislation puts their safety at risk.
Destroying the Data: The Real Boondoggle
Most of the costs associated with setting up the registry were spent long ago and will never be recovered. The taxpayers of Canada will never get their money back.
The annual cost to maintain the registry today is cost effective for the job it does, and even more efficient given it no longer receives a revenue stream from licence renewals. Most of the costs frequently associated with the registry by its opponents are in fact costs relating to licensing – including background criminal checks of applicants.
Over 7.4 million guns are registered to date with long guns and rifles representing 91% of registered firearms. A database that is consulted over 17,000 thousands of times a day by police across the country can no longer be dismissed by opponents as useless.
Yet this legislation proposes to throw out the data that has been collected so far – data that could still play an important role in protecting public safety and in keeping first responders safe on the job. At least one province has requested a transfer of the data if the national registry is abolished and the Privacy Commissioner has indicated there is no impediment to doing so.
Our taxes have already been spent on establishing the registry and collecting the data. The real waste of taxpayers money would be to destroy something that could continue to be used (at minimal cost) to protect our communities and our first responders.
In 1995, as is the case today, a majority of Canadians favoured even stricter gun control legislation than the Firearms Act mandated.
In fact, our own polling by Vector Research continues to show majority support by Canadians to abolish gun ownership outright. 54% of Canadians, in January 2010, favoured a ban on guns except for law enforcement.3
So in the uniquely Canadian spirit of compromise, the Firearms Act of 1995 struck a balance between the interests of those who favoured (and still favour) stricter controls and even abolition of gun ownership, and those who preferred less restrictions, and even an unrestricted environment around gun ownership.
Bill C-19 guts that balance. It would abolish the registry and even destroy the records currently held by the registry. It is a vital tool used by police and first responders to work safely and to keep our communities safe. It is a gun control measure that has helped reduce deaths by shotguns and rifles. It has helped reduce murders of women by shotguns and rifles.
Repealing the registry will eliminate the crucial data that keeps first responders safe, women safe, and the public safe. We urge the Committee to ensure the registry is maintained and its data retained.
This document is respectfully submitted on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress:
Kenneth V. Georgetti