Ministry Responds to Concerns of Bias, Repeats in Gun-Ban Survey

7 Nov 2018

4 min read

TheGunBlog.ca — The Canadian government said its survey on banning guns is an “open, anonymous and barrier-free tool” as it responded to concern of biased questions and unreliable answers. One person said he filled in the survey more than 25,000 times.

TheGunBlog.ca contacted the Ministry of Public Safety last month about the concerns, and checked back this week. The responses are below.

Background

Gun owners across the country criticized the relevance and methodology of the online questionnaire after it went live on Oct. 11. See comments at Canadian Gun Nutz and Gun Owners of Canada.

Read: Trudeau Ramps Up Campaign to Ban Guns From Licensed Owners

They said it was wrongheaded to develop policy affecting civil liberties, privacy rights, property rights and criminal law based on the opinions of random strangers around the world.

The survey questions presuppose bans. Respondents discovered early on that a single person anywhere in the world could submit multiple responses, perhaps without limit.

Some people suspicious of the governing Liberal Party speculated the government would ignore survey answers by respondents who oppose gun bans and identify as firearm owners. Others suggested submitting fake answers and identities to muddy the results.

25,000 Submissions

Update 10:35 Toronto time: This video of 1 min 17 sec aims to show the survey lacks protection to prevent manipulation, making it relatively easy for non-programmers to input repeated entries. The demo used Selenium. The silent screen capture was filmed this morning in response to this article.

Update 17:05 Toronto time: François Bellemare, a software engineer in Quebec, said he used Macro Recorder by JitBit to submit the survey more than 25,000 times. He said it takes an average of 15 seconds, or potentially 5,760 records per day. “Whenever I don’t use my computer, I vote,” Bellemare said.

People also questioned the transparency and value of private consultations organized by Minister Bill Blair. The editor of TheGunBlog.ca participated in one of the eight sessions across Canada.

The survey’s full name is: “Online engagement on Reducing violent crime: A dialogue on handguns and assault weapons.

The government had collected about 75,000 responses as of Oct. 26.

The questionnaire is open until Nov. 10. In addition to responding, you can send comments to the government.

To: Dialogue.RVC-RCV@canada.ca
Optional bcc: letters@TheGunBlog.ca

Summary of Concerns

  • The questions are biased. They presuppose new bans will be imposed. e.g. “Where should we focus efforts to limit handguns?”
  • Respondents can fill in the survey multiple times. Some people said an unlimited number of times.
  • Respondents are able to fill out the survey from outside Canada.
  • It might be possible to hire a company to submit thousands or millions of bogus survey responses.
  • Respondents are concerned the results will be unreliable and unusable as a policy tool.

Responses by Tim Warmington, Spokesman, Public Safety Canada

First Response, Oct. 19

The online questionnaire is just one of the engagement tools that the Government of Canada is using to contribute to an examination of a ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada. It is designed to be an open, anonymous and barrier-free tool that will provide meaningful feedback to the Government of Canada, including from Canadians living and working abroad. It is important to note that there are measures built into the online tool and our server infrastructure that help deter cyber-attacks and ensure that responses have been submitted by a human, instead of computer scripts, commonly used by hackers. It is also important to note that this is an engagement tool and not a survey or polling tool.

Minister Blair, with the support of Parliamentary Secretary Peter Schiefke, will be holding in-person roundtable sessions and discussions with a range of experts and stakeholders from across the country. They will also be soliciting feedback from provinces, territories, municipalities, as well as Indigenous communities. Written submissions from stakeholders will also help identify gaps, challenges, and ideas to help inform future measures aimed at reducing violent crimes in Canada. It will be an opportunity to examine all options and hear all perspectives on this issue.

The online questionnaire is open until November 10, 2018. A summary report of all of the engagement efforts will be made public in early 2019.

Second response to follow-up questions by TheGunBlog.ca, Oct. 23

Q1. Would it be accurate to say that your server infrastructure blocks multiple responses from the same computer, IP address, or other (vs. only computer scripts)?

A1. We do not block multiple responses from the same computer or IP address. This enables, for example, multiple members of the same family to use the same family computer to participate in the survey. Similarly, we do not include geographic restrictions on responding, to ensure Canadians living and working abroad can participate in the survey.

There are measures built into the online tool and our server infrastructure that help deter cyber-attacks and ensure that responses have been submitted by a human, and not generated by a computer script, commonly used by hackers.

Q2. Will the list of invitees to the in-person sessions be made public before the final report?

A2. A public report on the engagement process will be published in early 2019. This will include the list of participants at the roundtable sessions.


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