The Canadian Labour Congress Document Advocating
AND LEGAL AFFAIRS
C-68, FIREARMS ACT
MAY 17, 1995
CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS
DU TRAVAIL DU CANADA
Robert White, President/Président
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:
average of 1 ,400 Canadians die of gunshot wounds in suicides, murders
and accidents each year. Over 1,000 are injured.
murder rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The Prairies
have the highest rate of firearms injuries in the country.
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.
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
and shotguns are the weapons most commonly used by husbands who kill
are over 5 million rifles and shotguns in Canada; their ownership is not
known to police.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
enforce safe storage requirements;
ensure that gun owners are held accountable for the guns they purchase;
compel gun owners to report missing firearms;
reduce the illegal trade in rifles and shotguns;
give police better tools for taking preventative action (eg. Enforcing
help reduce illegal gun trafficking; and,
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.