Firearms News and Alerts – Nov. 2011

Personal Background

Mr. Chair, Vice Chairs, Honourable Members – good afternoon.

My name is Solomon Friedman. I am a criminal defence lawyer in private practice with the Ottawa firm of Edelson Clifford D’Angelo LLP.

Although I maintain a comprehensive criminal law practice, I also specialize in defending individuals charged with firearms related offences.

Introduction

My clients, and I as their counsel, experience, on a regular basis, the onerous and deleterious effects of the long gun registry.

You will no doubt hear, in the coming days and weeks, from various interest groups, about how the long-gun registry is a minor inconvenience … merely a matter of paperwork.

We register our dogs, our cats and our cars – they say. Why not register our shotguns and rifles as well?

Criminal law vs. regulatory law

As you know, the registration scheme for non-restricted long-guns (and for prohibited and restricted firearms as well) is enacted as federal legislation, under the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

The Supreme Court of Canada – in the Firearms Act Reference – held that the Firearms Act is valid federal legislation – because it is enacted pursuant to Parliament’s criminal law power.

Indeed, this very aspect of the Firearms Act which makes it valid federal legislation, ensures that those who fail to comply – out of inadvertence or otherwise – are punished harshly and, in many cases, unjustly.

With the criminal law power comes criminal law procedure … and most importantly, for the nearly 2 million law-abiding, licensed gun owners in Canada – criminal law penalties.

Unlike a failure to register a pet or a motor vehicle, any violation of the firearms registration scheme, even the mislaying of paperwork, carries with it the most severe consequences – a criminal charge, a potential criminal record, detention and sometimes, incarceration.

Hardly comparable to the ticket under the Provincial Offences Act or the Highway Traffic Act that goes along with the failure to register your vehicle.

The registry as a pretext to further intrusions

In addition, registry violations are often grounds for colourable attempts, on the part of police, the Crown and the Chief Firearms Officer, to confiscate firearms and revoke lawfully obtained gun licences.

As defence counsel, I have seen, time and time again, alleged long-gun registry violations used as a pretext to detain individuals, search their belongings and their homes and secure evidence to lay additional charges.

It is absurd to think that, through the requirement to register long-guns and possess and carry registration certificates, it is the law-abiding citizen who is subject to greater police scrutiny than the unlicensed individual, who is truly in unlawful possession of a firearm.

Another layer of bureaucracy and complexity

Next, the long-gun registry is simply one more layer of paperwork and complexity in a system of firearms regulation that is already overwrought with process and procedure.

I have two law degrees, I clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada and I practice criminal law for a living – and even I, at times, find the provisions of the Firearms Act and the gun control portions of the Criminal Code, convoluted, complex and confusing.

The long gun registry is simply one more trap for the unwary – a stumbling block for the blind.

Parliament ought not to be in the business of transforming licensed, law-abiding, responsible citizens into criminals. Especially not for paper crimes. Should a piece of paper really determine the difference between lawful possession of a rifle or shotgun AND an illegal act, punishable by criminal sanction?

Symbolism

I am certain that you will hear about the symbolism of the long-gun registry. Enacted as a knee-jerk reaction in the aftermath of tragedy, the gun registry, like much of the current gun control scheme, was seen as a tribute to individuals who lost their lives at the hands of gun-wielding madmen.

Honourable Members, I can tell you firsthand, from my vantage point in courtrooms across Eastern Ontario – laws make terrible memorials. They fail to honour the dead and instead punish only the living – in this case, the law-abiding and responsible.

In fact, I hope that Bill C-19 – The Repealing of the Long-Gun Registry – will itself be a symbol. It will be symbolic to millions of licensed gun owners – and stand for the proposition that the government will no longer punish the law-abiding for the acts of the lawless.

I hope, and I know many of my clients share this hope, that Bill C-19 will serve as a memorial of sorts – a tombstone marking the final resting place of wrongheaded policy making. There are millions of Canadian gun owners, who will be glad to know that, in the halls of Parliament Hill – hysteria and hyperbole no longer trump reason, facts and empirical evidence.

Conclusion

The long-gun registry has been used as a means to target licensed gun owners for too long. I urge you to pass Bill C-19 and end it.

Honourable Members, long guns are tools – used lawfully and peaceably by Canadians countless times a day without incident. Responsible citizens do not cease to act responsibly merely due to the presence of tools, no matter how dangerous. Similarly, the registration of firearms, aside from having no discernable impact on crime or public safety, has merely alienated law-abiding firearms owners and driven a deep wedge between gun owners and law enforcement.

Gun owners have long been the whipping boy of Canadian politics.  I hope that this Bill symbolizes a change in attitude by our parliamentarians.