By Lloyd Mack
Kenora Daily Miner and News
Lloyd Mack is managing editor of the Daily Miner and News.
The Kenora Courthouse is not the OK Corral, but the Supreme Court of Canada will be if the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association is able to use charges of unauthorized possession of a firearm, unauthorized possession of explosives and careless storage of explosives against Dryden’s William Bruce Montague to carry it there.
It’s a fight that has been brewing for a decade -- even prior to the Liberal government passing Bill C-68, which requires people to apply for a licence before purchasing a gun and to register their guns. Montague was one of 300 demonstrators who were disappointed -- yes, disappointed -- not to be arrested when they demonstrated on Parliament Hill on Jan. 1, 2003, the day the federal government’s gun registry penalties under The Firearms Act took effect.
Montague was arrested, Sept. 11 at the Dryden Gun Show and his case came to Kenora Monday. Now the Unregistered Firearms Owners’ day in the Supreme Court is on the horizon.
The issue for the association is, according to information contained on the web, that the Firearms Act violates a Charter right. There is no argument that the purpose of Bill C-68 to reduce the use of firearms in violent crime is laudable and even supported by law-abiding Canadians. The problems arise from the licensing and registration requirements, including: the argument these will not curtail the criminal use of firearms; the cost of the same, which was originally estimated at $2 million and has risen to over $1 billion with no upper limit in sight; and the fear licensing and registration would result in charges against otherwise law-abiding citizens and lead to a loss of liberty.
According to a 2002 study prepared by Ted Morton of the University of Calgary, Bill C-68 contains as many as 28 distinct Charter violations.
Regulation gone awry
I maintain my certainty that gun registration will not lead to confiscation, dictatorship and a police state. I also have long agreed with gun owners that law-abiding citizens are the ones who will pay for the registration.
Gun control as implemented is an example of regulation gone awry.
There was a supposed increase in violent crime, so our government of the day put a law into effect to require the registration of all firearms. No one bothered to look in their crystal ball and realize criminals are criminals and violent crime would not be curtailed by gun control.
Former Justice Minister Allan Rock has since conceded the obvious: criminals will never register their guns. (There have been studies and statistics quoted from the U.S. and the United Kingdom that civilian firearm ownership actually deters the criminal use of firearms.)
Contrary to what many believe due to government influences at work, violent crimes were not on the rise prior to the initiation of discussions on greater gun control by the Jean Chretien Liberals after 1992. Studies showed most people believed violent crimes made up for 30 per cent of all crime, when the figure was actually 10 per cent.
Numbers from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics show there were 730 Canadian murders reported in 1992. That works out to 2.7 murders per 100,000 people, twice the rate of 1.3 for 1961.
In 31 years the murder rate doubled, but statistics also show there were 3.09 murders per 100,000 people in 1975. Was there a trend? I never thought so and continue to think the facts and figures meant little to those determined gun control should become law.
The financial fiasco of the firearms registration is well documented. Licensing is responsible for the bulk of the costs and critics continue to claim the government is wrong in attempting to justify the cost differences from the old Firearms Acquisition Certificate which registered gun users but not individual weapons.
According to a letter on the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association website, the government “has attempted to mislead the public into the belief that safety training, safe storage and the necessity of background checks did not exist without the new act, when, in fact, they did. Current licensing requires a background check and safety training that includes what constitutes safe storage under the law. These requirements were in effect before the licensing requirement rendering licensing redundant for these three purposes.”
Responsible gun ownership
Like most against gun control, I want guns used by only people trained in their safe, proper handling. I’m not a redneck and I’m not one to think I have the right to bear arms to protect myself or family. But I will proudly admit to being a responsible and ethical hunter -- albeit one who has been on sabbatical for 10 years.
Gun control legislation doesn’t hit its target of reducing the use of firearms in crime. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the banning of assault rifles and genuinely responsible firearm owners don’t mind waiting periods for Firearm Acquisition Certificates. But we all know criminals won’t be particular about what weapons they use and they’re not fussy about how they get them.
There is a chance though that ordinary Canadians -- the boys down on the farm doing some goose hunting -- could make a difference with respect to accidental deaths by firearms through responsible gun ownership and use. Fact is they have been making inroads on those issues for the more than 20 years.
In areas like the Prairies and bush lands of Canada where gun ownership and usage in hunting, trapping and markmanship have been traditional over many decades, the provinces have developed regulations and licence requirements which enforce safety training and conservation practices and do a lot more good than Bill C-68 ever will.
I know I took my firearms safety course in the early ’70s and was well aware that firearms should be treated carefully and with respect long before then. Such courses have long since become requirements throughout Canada and, since 1977, a citizen has been required to obtain a firearm acquisition certificate -- if he or she acquired a rifle or shotgun. The same 1977 enactment classified handguns as restricted and they have been registered since -- or at least those not in the hands of criminals.
In review, my arguments all tend to be focused on the wrong aspect of the grounds for criticism because in 1999, the Supreme Court rejected Alberta’s constitutional challenge that Bill C-68 was outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court declared: “The issue before this court is not whether gun control is good or bad, whether the law is fair or unfair to gun owners, or whether it will be effective or ineffective in reducing the harm caused by the misuse of firearms.”
The court then ruled the issue of federal jurisdiction stood up to scrutiny.
The issue, according to the Unregistered Firearms Owners Association is that ruling only verified the law’s legality on the basis of federalism.
Thus the importance of setting up the Charter of Rights challenge which they’ve been itching to do for five years and now have their chance.
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