Published in the Western Standard, November 22, 2004, p. 18.
by Pierre Lemieux
Two years ago, Dr. Ted Morton of the University of Calgary published a
study arguing that the Firearms Act and the related Criminal Code
penalties violate many sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms. In a critique of the Morton study, the Parliamentary
Information and Research Service of the Library of Parliament reaches
opposite conclusions: the gun owner controls would survive virtually any
charter challenge. Although I hope that Dr. Morton is right, I fear that
it is the Library of
Parliament researchers who are correct. The reason is simple: this
charter is not a real bill of rights. Whatever real rights it was meant
to protect can be easily ignored by statist judges invoking their own
interpretation of the “principles of fundamental justice” or the Section
1 “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified
in a free and democratic society.
The Library of Parliament report illustrates beautifully how the rule
of law, whose function it was to protect the individual against the
state, has become a sophisticated tool for the dignified state to use
against individuals. One is constantly reminded of Alexis de
Tocqueville's observations about lawyers and judges: “[I]f they prize
freedom much, they generally value legality still more: they are less
afraid of tyranny than of arbitrary power; and, provided the legislature
undertakes of itself to deprive men of their independence, they are not dissatisfied.”
According to the Library of Parliament report, “there is limited
coercion to the extent that a person has the choice of whether or not to
possess a firearm and therefore be subject to the Firearms Act.” Thus,
there could be a Religion Act and a Breeding Act that would control
worshippers and parents as tightly as gun owners. Nice country!
One point has monumental implications: Barring evidence that
significant numbers of individuals were being convicted and sentenced to
jail for possession of a firearm without a registration certificate,”
the report argues, it is likely that a court would reject arguments
that the availability of imprisonment as a punishment is contrary to the
principles of fundamental justice.” In other words, only when many
resisters are jailed will the guardians of the charter take notice of an injustice.
To suggest there is no right to counsel when a firearms inspector
searches somebody's dwelling, the Library of Parliament researchers
invoke a case where a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada concluded
that a pat or a frisk search conducted by a customs official did not
constitute a detention giving rise to the right to counsel because a
person going through customs generally expects to be searched.” In other
words, individuals may be legitimately oppressed when they generally
expect to be. Oppression creates its own justification.
We should have known. When we don't make use of our rights and don't
resist when Leviathan questions them, we signal that we have none. We
should have resisted handgun registration in 1934, Bill C-150 in 1969,
C-51 in 1977, and C-17 in 1991. Then we got C-68 in 1995. What’s next?
The economic theory of collective action explains why resistance
against the state is difficult. A single individual’s interest is to
keep quiet and let his neighbour take the risk and bear the cost of
resistance. Since everybody makes the same reasoning, very few resist,
and the steamroller of the state advances.
We are fortunate to have heroes who take the risk, like the unlicensed
gun owners of the Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association.
Between late August and October 31, they have held four skeet shoots in
different provinces with unregistered shotguns. Each time, they invited
the RCMP to attend, but the cops did not show up.
Small, less costly acts of resistance can also help. In 2003, Kingsley
Beattie, an Ottawa resident and former CSIS employee, who had owned guns
for five decades, refused to answer one of the intrusive questions on
his application form. He was denied a firearms licence, and is now suing
the government. If only a small proportion of the 200,000 to 400,000
persons who renew their firearm licences every year refused to answer
the obscene questions, the system would crumble.
If we don't resist, the judges will conclude that we all expect and
love to be oppressed.
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