Parliament Passes First Reading of a Bill to Amend the Firearms Act

If you know the woods, you likely also know deer hunting season is a good time to stay out of them. I was tempted to put on my bright red toque and cut some firewood anyway last week, the weather being ideal and all, but thought better of it. No matter what, I certainly wouldn’t have taken the dogs with me, especially after what I saw Thursday of that week.

Just down the road a couple of hundred yards or so from the driveway and the house in Hopeness, there’s a long line of big, mature maples alongside an old logging trail. Just the week before deer season began we were out walking that trail and enjoyed the unusual sight of a deer in the pines. We don’t very often see them on the property, possibly because there are so many coyotes. We hear packs of them yipping and howling most evenings just after the sun goes down. But I thought at the time that lone deer, sensing with some sort of strange instinct that deer season was at hand, had gone in search of a safer place and found refuge in our pines and thorny trees.

I always glance down the row of maples as I slow down for our driveway, and that Thursday of deer season on my way back from town I saw a bunch of hunters, all decked out in their red hunting regalia. I pulled the truck over, stopped and got out. One of the hunters was carrying a couple of dead rabbits, and as soon as he saw me he dropped them on the ground at his feet. To be fair, the property isn’t marked or signed, “no hunting.” I admitted that as I asked the hunters to leave nevertheless. “You should at least ask permission,” I added.

I looked down at the two large dead rabbits at the one man’s feet and said, “I thought this was deer season.”

“And rabbits,” he said.

“I doubt that,” I replied. He picked up the bloody, dead rabbits and headed for the road. I told one of the other hunters, a polite young man who was apologetic, that my partner would be very upset it she saw what was happening, “especially if she saw that,” I said, gesturing toward the trigger-happy guy with the rabbits. I should have said something too about how close they were to our house.

It was the day after Parliament had passed first reading of a bill to amend the Firearms Act, by eliminating the law that requires owners of long guns, including rifles and shotguns, to register them with the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan still hadn’t seen fit to present Firearms’ Commissioner William Elliott’s 2008 annual report to Parliament. Asked in question period why he hadn’t released the report though it had been in his possession for some time, Van Loan said, “Canadians do not need another report to know that the long-gun registry is very efficient at harassing law-abiding outdoor enthusiasts and farmers, and wasting money while being terribly inefficient at combating crime.”

That’s an outrageous thing for a government minister let alone the person responsible for public safety in Canada to say for lots of reasons. For one, surely Canadians have a right to judge that for themselves, and surely, as well, a relevant report should have been available for MPs to read before the vote. Ah, but perhaps those 164, mostly Conservative MPs who voted to kill the long-gun registry might have had second thoughts if they’d read the report. At least the 12 New Democrats, eight Liberals and one independent might have. The facts are there. Maybe that’s what Van Loan was afraid of. The long-gun registry is being put to good use by police, and quite likely has already saved lives.

Consider the following front-line examples contained in the report, under the heading, The CFP at Work:

* “The CFP’s NWEST (National Weapons Enforcement Support Team) provided support to an RCMP detachment, assisting with a Criminal Code of Canada warrant to recover firearms from a subject who had reportedly pointed a rifle at a co-worker and threatened to kill him. NWEST conducted CFRO (Canadian Firearms Registry Online ) checks, which confirmed the suspect had a valid firearms PAL (Possession and Acquisition Licence) with nine long guns registered in his name. A warrant was granted and executed, resulting in the recovery of all nine long guns, including the suspect firearm and a quantity of ammunition.

* “NWEST provided support to an RCMP detachment after a suspect was stopped with four non-restricted “long guns” in his vehicle. The suspect was evasive when questioned, leading investigators to believe the firearms had been stolen. NWEST conducted CFRO checks on the recovered firearms and determined all four were registered to a local resident and not the person who was in possession of them. The registered owner, who was working out of town, was contacted by police and said that, as far as he was aware, all of his firearms were safely stored at his residence. Police attended the owner’s residence and discovered evidence confirming that his residence had been broken into and that all 16 of his long guns had been stolen. Subsequent investigation resulted in the recovery of the remaining 12 long guns from the suspect

* “During what was anticipated to be a routine and quick review of a small northern community firearms business, CFP firearms officers discovered that this business had not been completing firearms transfers correctly. As a result, more than 60 firearms were in the hands of people with no safety training and either no licence or an expired licence.

“It was decided the best way to address this public safety issue was to visit the community, equipped with all the necessary applications, materials and information, and hand out free trigger locks to encourage people to fill out the forms.

“The community welcomed the CFP representatives, and the residents expressed gratitude for the guidance and assistance they were given. In all, the CFP helped more than 50 individuals with new firearms-licence applications or renewals. They also inspected the business and educated its employees. In four days, they managed to account for all the missing firearms and hand out numerous trigger locks to a group of very appreciative firearm owners

*A concerned citizen provided the police with information about a web page where young men were posing with numerous firearms (handguns and long guns) while drinking and socializing. From comments made on the site, the location of the residence was determined.

“Local police were able to identify one of the men on the page as well as his residence. The Canadian Firearms Registry (CFR) was then able to confirm that another man living at that residence, believed to be the father, had a collection of 20 restricted, prohibited and non-restricted firearms. A check of these firearms, provided by the Registry, confirmed they were the same type shown in the photos on the web page.

“The detailed list of registered firearms associated to that residence helped to confirm they were the same firearms in the photos. RCMP members were subsequently able to obtain and successfully execute a Public Safety Search Warrant and seize all firearms. Criminal Code charges were laid in relation to the use and storage of the firearms, and the RCMP applied to have the guns forfeited and destroyed so they would no longer pose a danger to the public.”

That’s good information, good to know. It’s also good to know those hunters I saw at the farm were carrying registered rifles, especially the guy who shoots rabbits in deer season. At least, I hope they were registered.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2009.

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