The Canadian Labour Congress Document Advocating
The Passage Of The Firearms Act

The document below should be of particular interest to firearms owners who are also union members. 

The following is a duplicate of the Canadian Labour Congress's submission in support of the creation of the Firearms Act.  I have highlighted areas that I believe will be of particular interest to firearms owning union members.

When I get an opportunity I will be preparing a rebuttal that shows the flaws, assumptions, and false information this submission was based on.  As it stand now my union, the I.W.A., does not support the Firearms Act and I will be asking the National to take that clear message to the CLC.

In the meantime, union members should be asking their fellow union members and local executives if they and their union are supporting the CLC, the Coalition For Gun Control, and the Firearms Act.  If your union is not opposing the Firearms Act and the CLC's support for the Act, then it is time for you to do something about it.


SUBMISSION

BY THE

CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS

TO THE

STANDING COMMITTEE

ON

JUSTICE AND LEGAL AFFAIRS

ON

BILL C-68, FIREARMS ACT

MAY 17, 1995

 

CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS

CONGRS DU TRAVAIL DU CANADA

Robert White, President/Prsident

 

Mr. Chair, members of the Committee, the Canadian Labour Congress is pleased that the Committee's extended hearing schedule has allowed our appearance tonight. The CLC, by far Canada's largest central labour body, represents some 2.4 million unionized women and men. Our membership, which is spread from coast-to-coast-to-coast, constitutes, together with their families, a significant reflection of the Canadian population.

Amongst this membership, there are hunters. There are farmers. There are target shooters. There are gun collectors. And, of course, there are those who require firearms as part of their jobs (e.g. security guards, prison guards and police officers). In other words, the major groups that own guns and use them for quite legitimate purposes include many of our members.

The CLC welcomes this opportunity to add its voice to the widespread support for Bill C-68. Issues related generally to the quality of life enjoyed by our members, both as workers and as citizens, have always assumed the highest priority. That is why we chose to speak to this Bill. And, it was in this context that the CLC, through a letter from its President, Robert White, was quick off the mark to applaud the Honourable Allan Rock following his announcement of the federal government's firearms control program on November 30, 1994. Since then, nothing has happened during the gun control debate to dissuade the CLC from its position.

In preparing this submission, we were struck by information that was not only highly relevant to this debate but also helped to reinforce our position. This included:

     An average of 1 ,400 Canadians die of gunshot wounds in suicides, murders and accidents each year. Over 1,000 are injured. 

     Gun murder rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The Prairies have the highest rate of firearms injuries in the country. 

     Approximately 3,000 guns are reported lost or stolen each year. The actual numbers of missing firearms may be significantly higher since the law does not require reporting of lost or stolen unrestricted firearms. 

     A home with a gun is five times more likely to be the scene of a suicide than a home without a gun and three times more likely to be the scene of a homicide.

     Rifles and shotguns are the weapons most commonly used by husbands who kill their wives. 

     There are over 5 million rifles and shotguns in Canada; their ownership is not known to police.  

     There are an estimated 13,000 prohibition orders issued annually which are intended to remove guns from the hands of individuals considered to be a risk to society. 

     A comparison of 18 western countries showed that those with high gun ownership rates tend to have higher homicide rates and much higher gun-related homicide rates. 

The reasons for our support for Bill C-68 are essentially three-fold. 

First, we have relied upon the tenor of resolutions adopted by the CLC's Executive Council and Convention in recent years. The first of these, in the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy in Montreal, called for a ban on the sale and possession of semi-automatic weapons in Canada. The second, passed overwhelmingly by delegates to our 1994 Convention, called for a ban on the ownership or possession of handguns except for law enforcement and military personnel. It was clear during that debate that our members support reasonable regulation of gun ownership and a moderate balance between the public's interest in a safe, peaceful and caring society and unfettered gun ownership.

Second, when the common sense rationale underlying Bill C-68 is weighed against the arguments which have been advanced in opposition to it, we find the latter quite unconvincing. Indeed, they often appear to be rooted in exaggeration and fear-mongering, which reflects a narrow, self-interest amongst some gun owners, weapons manufacturers and gun shop merchants.  

Finally, but not least, we feel strongly that Bill C-68 and the support for it, keeps the faith with the 14 women so brutally murdered in Montreal and other victims of violence, especially violence involving firearms. In this regard, we wish to acknowledge here, the persistence and determination of the Coalition for Gun Control which, with limited resources, has managed to keep gun control high on the public policy agenda.

Bill C-68 contains a number of measures aimed, as Minister Rock stated during his appearance before the Committee on April 24, 1995, at three principal objectives: to deter abusive use of firearms; to better control the possession of firearms; and, to reduce the entry of illegal firearms into Canada. Specific measures include a licensing system for gun owners, a registration system for firearms, a prohibition against the sale of certain weapons, restrictions on the sale of ammunition, controls on the import, export and transport of firearms, and, stiffer penalties for smuggling, trafficking and using a firearm in the commission of offences. It is our impression that most of these measures have caused little or no negative reaction. The single obvious exception is the proposed registration of firearms. We feel it is incumbent upon us, particularly at this stage of the Committee's deliberations, to focus our remaining comments on this issue.

It is perhaps useful to begin by examining the main reasons that have been put forward against firearms registration.

First, is the claim that registration would diminish gun owners' rights. This betrays an indulgence in cross-border shopping for legal justification for unrestricted gun ownership.  The United States long ago constitutionalized the right to bear arms. This helps to explain two related and telling statistics - that in the United States the number of gun dealers now exceeds that of gas stations and grocery stores and that the number of private security guards is now greater than the publicly-financed police forces.

There is no similar right in Canada. In fact, Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees "life, liberty and security of the person" provides constitutional support for the regulation of weapons which are a potential threat to the life and security of others. Gun ownership in Canada is a privilege, not a right. This is a critical distinction. Bill C-68 merely attaches some modest conditions to that privilege.

The United States was created in the wake of armed revolt against an imperial power. Canada, in contrast, evolved from a peaceful understanding with that same power. Part of the legacy of these quite different beginnings is the degree to which our respective national identities revolve around firearms. Canada's relatively lesser emphasis on guns is, in our view, well worth preserving. It also provides a broadly-shared basis for instruments, such as Bill C-68, which can help ensure that Canadian values and priorities are passed to future generations.

Second, is the complaint that registration would be costly and inconvenient. There will be a price - in terms of money and time - associated with the privilege of gun ownership but it would appear to be no more onerous than that associated with other kinds of licensing (eg. drivers) and registration (eg. vehicles). A former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said that "taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society." Gun registration fees should be regarded in a like manner.

Moreover, the information collected via registration will be the very underpinning of a system designed, as mentioned immediately above, to reinforce Canadian values. Any costs must, therefore, be weighed against the benefits of that overriding goal. Third, it is feared that registration would be the first step towards confiscation. At one level, the notion that registration will lead ultimately to widespread seizure of firearms appears to be an exaggeration of police powers under Bill C-68. The Bill, at the very least, implicitly recognizes that there are proper uses for guns; it aims to curtail their misuse.

However, we are also aware of the concerns expressed by the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association with respect to individual privacy and civil rights. In keeping with our history of commitment to civil liberties, the CLC would also want to be assured that the search and inspection provisions in the Bill sufficiently protect these liberties. Similarly, it may also be reasonable to modify the penalties for failing (especially inadvertently) to register a firearm. We are encouraged that the Justice Minister seems amenable to amending the Bill in these areas.

Fourth, is the view that registration would not cut crime and that there is no proven link between registration and public safety. No one seriously claims that Bill C-68 will be a panacea. It will not end crime involving guns. But, if registration encourages increased gun owner responsibility and accountability; if it assists police in taking preventative action and enforcing the law; and, if it reduces the illegal gun trade, we do not believe it is a great leap of faith to assume it will have some positive impact. If registration makes murdering one's spouse or neighbour more difficult; if it prevents one criminal from getting a gun; if it saves one life, then it will have been worth it. Registration deserves that chance.

Fifth, it is held that registration would unfairly target law-abiding citizens, may lead to defiance of the law amongst some and would not be respected by smugglers and other criminals. While it is true that criminals probably will not register their guns, gaining access to them will hopefully be made more difficult by Bill C-68. Law-abiding citizens, by definition, obey a myriad of rules and regulations that govern our everyday behaviour. There is absolutely no reason for law-abiding gun owners to feel any more "victimized" by registration requirements than car and dog owners, amongst others. The degree of non-compliance with gun registration, we believe, will prove to be minimal.

Last, is the belief that registration would divert attention and resources away from the underlying causes of violence in society. The CLC has some sympathy for this view. There can be no question that we have a difficult challenge in combatting some very real socio-economic problems: stubbornly high unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, sexism, racism, inadequate treatment for the mentally ill, etc. These are problems which alone and in combination create severe strains within families and communities strains that too frequently explode into violence. The CLC, in other ways and other forums, has criticized government policies that, we believe, will worsen the well-being and security of Canadians. We have offered alternatives. And, we will continue to do so.

However, it would be irresponsible for us to say in effect, "fix these other things first and forget Bill C-68 for now." This is not an either/or situation. If Bill C-68 can alleviate some of the problems that accompany guns in society -and we believe it can - then let it proceed. At the same time, we can hardly afford to be complacent, with or without Bill C-68, so long as the problems identified above persist.

In contrast to the relatively weak case against firearms registration, we believe there are several compelling arguments in its favour. When traded-off against the minimal cost and inconvenience imposed on gun owners, these arguments are all the more convincing.

They include:

     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 firearms;

     to reduce the illegal trade in rifles and shotguns;

     to give police better tools for taking preventative action (eg. Enforcing prohibition orders);

     to help reduce illegal gun trafficking; and,

     to help identify legal gun owners and prosecute illegal gun owners.

Earlier in this submission, reference was made to a resolution passed at the 1994 CLC Convention. One of the speakers during the debate on this resolution was Michael Miller, President of the Yukon Federation of Labour. The burden he carries was heavy in his voice and etched on his face. It was palpably evident to the 2,400 delegates in that hall. While words on paper cannot adequately re-create the feelings he conveyed, we offer them here on behalf of all the Michael Millers.

"This is an issue that is very close to my heart and very close to my family. I have a young teenage son who a little over a year ago committed one of the major crimes ever in the history of the Yukon Territory. He described, during his sentencing hearing, that the feel of a handgun gave him a sense of power. It completely changed his whole attitude about what society was about. This is a young man who is a recipient of the Governor General's award as a top scholar in the Yukon Territory. He was a top soccer player in the Yukon Territory, and his young life was ruined because of the use of handguns. He is now serving a major sentence at a federal penitentiary. I cannot help but feel in my heart that had not handguns been so readily available that the life of my son and my entire family would not have changed so drastically. I strongly encourage this delegation, this group of people, to support this resolution from the heart."

Shortly after, the resolution (to ban handguns) was carried in large numbers. We hope Michael Miller's words will have a similar persuasive effect on this Committee with respect to Bill C-68.

  This document is respectfully submitted on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress:

 

Robert White,
President
Dick Martin,
Secretary-Treasurer
 

Nancy Riche,
Executive Vice-President

 

Jean-Claude Parrot,
Executive Vice-President