TheGunBlog.ca — Pete Merrifield, vice president of the National Police Federation, the RCMP labour union, discusses urging Canada’s government to help police stop violent gangs instead of seizing guns from federally licensed owners and stores.
Merrifield made the comments today in a telephone interview with TheGunBlog.ca.
The National Police Federation represents the 20,000 front-line officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and is the country’s largest police union.
Headings were added by TheGunBlog.ca.
Merrifield has been in the RCMP since 1997. He has investigated cross-border weapons smuggling with the Ontario Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Canadian Border Services Agency as part of his role in the RCMP Border Integrity Program.
He served in the military from 1983 to 1987.
NPF’s Pete Merrifield Comments
Public Safety Vs. Politics
It’s important for us to depoliticize this. We’d like to make this first and foremost about public safety.
I’ve been the subject of gunfire and have been very fortunate to survive those instances. I’ve been shot at, attacked with a knife, attacked with a car. I don’t judge by the tool. It’s the criminal activity that we need to target.
That’s a very important piece, that criminal organizations and their illegal firearms were in support of organized criminal activity. For example, part of that organized criminal activity is the distribution of fentanyl. Canada has about 5,000 deaths in our country per year, and about three times that in hospital. That is an epidemic, and it is part of the integrated crime problem.
Addressing addictions, dependency and crime in an integrated social-program and law-enforcement capacity can dramatically impact this problem.
Focus on People, Not Tools
From the perspective of the National Police Federation, Canada doesn’t need to address a gun problem, it needs to address a crime problem. In that context, illegal firearms are a tool of crime and a means of enforcement and violence for criminals.
I can tell you, nobody wants to go investigate the death of a 12-year-old boy who went grocery shopping with his mom as an innocent victim of gang crime.
If we don’t address the people committing crime and the criminal enterprises that are the threat to public safety, then we’re not really doing the job that we need to be doing as police in delivering public safety.
I understand that it’s a very emotional debate on both sides of the issue in this country, but we need to take politics out of it and focus on the shared interest of public safety by addressing the crime problem.
It’s indicative of part of a lot of other problems in our society like mental health, poverty, substance abuse, drug and alcohol dependency and education — like the Toronto Danforth shooter or the Toronto van attack which involved mental-health issues — failures in the health system that allowed them to go untreated.
We also have a poverty issue in this country. We often find people trying to climb out of poverty getting involved in criminal or gang activity.
Integrate or Fail
This is not a firearm issue, it’s an issue with the social network and fabric of this country.
If we want to address the problem, we need to take an integrated approach in the complex relationship of different levels of government — municipal, provincial, federal — in how we address services for mental health, poverty, drugs, gangs, public safety and so on.
This is how we’re going to eradicate gun crime and unnecessary homicide and death in this country.
Bring All Parties Together
We’d like to bring all parties together.
We would like to see parties have a stake in public safety.
Gun owners, anti-gun advocates, they’re on opposite sides of philosophical issues, but they absolutely share a concern for public safety.
Working with police professionals in the field we can together formulate an effective response that respects the different opinions but addresses our shared concerns.
Legislators Should Listen
Legislators need to listen to the crown prosecutors.
There’s nothing worse for police than putting hundreds of hours into an investigation and then seeing a dangerous criminal facilitator released on bail within hours or days of their arrest.
CFOs Lack Resources
In most provinces the provincial Chief Firearms Offices are often the first point of contact to identify what could be “straw purchases” of firearms here in this country.
Most provinces don’t have proper investigative resources to support and flush out that criminal activity effectively in a time-sensitive manner.
RCMP Needs Integration
The RCMP currently does not have a dedicated national weapons-smuggling unit. They do not have a national operational weapons-investigation unit as part of their border-integrity program. A properly funded, staffed, and integrated investigative section could target the illicit weapons trade.
The proper approach to this is a highly integrated program involving RCMP, CBSA, different law-enforcement across the country that focus on guns and gangs, and our U.S. partners.
As law enforcement, we need to have the tools on behalf of the law-abiding public to achieve their expectation of a safe community.
Q&A With Pete Merrifield
Q: What is your criticism of the May 1 confiscation Order in Council?
Our concern representing 20,000 police officers is that it is not a public-safety action that correctly targets crime or criminals.
Second, it diverts valuable resources that could go into funding of a vibrant enforcement program to stop criminals and smuggling and help with issues like mental health and poverty.
[Regarding the so-called firearm “buyback”:] We would have preferred those funds be directed specifically at public safety activities.
We are trying to stay out of the politics. From our perspective, this is not a gun issue, it’s a crime issue.
It’s very clear that the current system of licensing, screening and training is working, because there is no factual correlation between the growth of legal gun ownership and crime. Canada ranks 7th in the world for the proliferation of legally owned firearms, but all the way down at 129th in firearm-related homicide. This should be an enormous indication for proper analysis of directing resources towards criminal use of illegal firearms.
The problem is very much gang-related crime activity and gang-related homicide.
Q: This looks like RCMP managers on one side and the front-line officers in charge of enforcing the confiscations on the other.
I can’t speak to any “confiscation” issue as that has yet to be tabled in any legislative framework for details. We represent the interests of the membership, the front-line membership who have to deal with this crime issue day in, and day out. They don’t have the luxury of sitting in lofty offices and pontificating.
When we draft a position, it’s fact based, it’s well researched, and its in the interest of public and police safety. There’s no politics at play.
This is not a partisan issue for us. It’s a safety issue for us only and always.
We’re not pointing fingers. We’re saying that in our opinion as police officers, this is a misdirected effort when it comes to public safety.
Let’s make sure that when we spend what the public contributes in government finances, that the public get back the best possible service and results in public safety for their tax dollar. I think the expectation of most Canadians of their government and police is a crime-reduced society, if not a crime-free society.
Q: How big an issue is this for your membership?
We’ve got a lot of issues currently on the table.
We’re dealing with a massive human-resources issue with short-staffing, heavy workloads and limited resources.
We are presently managing a tremendous number of external and internal issues for our members. Our members have for too long been stretched too thin to be completely effective in meeting the needs of public safety.
The RCMP membership suffers some of the highest rates in policing for operational stress injuries and PTSD. The need to properly resource policing and public safety priorities is taking a toll on the women and men in uniform in this country.
The NPF represents good people doing dangerous work for Canadians, and they need to be supported by their government, the organization, and the Canadian public.
I want them to be supported so that they can serve Canadians effectively.
Q: What led to this topic as your first position statement?
The recent death of an innocent 12-year-old boy. That’s enough, that was it.
It does not matter what city it is, whether it’s Surrey, Calgary, Montreal or Winnipeg. The level of crime and violence is unacceptable, and we have the ability to alter it, so let’s get the job done.
Events like this recent tragedy and this summer’s earlier incident in downtown Toronto, where dozens of bullets were fired in a brazen daylight shooting on a public street between gang members narrowly missing a young child on the sidewalk and dozens of innocent bystanders. That should infuriate every single citizen in this country.
We cannot accept that anyone thinks they can do that on our streets, where our spouses and children are.
The NPF has been working on more than a dozen position statements since the spring on a variety of issues that impact or are relevant to our membership.
Today we shared our position statement on firearms crime and public safety with everybody, including members of parliament and the media.
We want to create a conversation in this country with the input of the membership of the largest police force in the country.
This is not a partisan issue for us. The minute someone tries to put a politician or a political party to it, I get upset. This is about public safety, not political stripe.
We want to shift this “debate” to a fact-based narrative to put clear perspective on how to make this country a safer place for everyone who is prepared to respect the law and each other. For those that choose to disobey the law and put others at risk, we have 20,000+ members waiting for you.