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Dennis Young In His Own Words: Q&A From 2018

TheGunBlog.ca — Following is our Q&A from 2018 with Dennis Young, who died of cancer on 15 January 2021 after a quarter century advocating for the rights of Canadian gun owners.

Dennis was one of the fiercest and clearest critics of how the law violates the rights of honest citizens, and of the systemic bias against us by the government and police.

He was also a major source of information, expertise and support for me at TheGunBlog.ca. Although we met in person only once, in 2017 at a cafe near his home in Airdrie, Alberta, we were in regular contact by e-mail.

The entire shooting community has benefited from Dennis’s work promoting transparency and accountability. He obtained and published tens of thousands of pages of internal memos, reports, e-mails and other documents that the government and police wanted to keep secret.

But few people know Dennis’s personal views or the story of what he called his “voyage into firearms-rights advocacy.”

This Q&A was born in the summer of 2018 during the fight to stop Bill C-71. I sent Dennis some questions about himself, his career, and how the fight compared to actions a generation earlier against Bill C-68, the Firearms Act.

The following text is his e-mailed response of 26 November 2018, with his links. The next day, he suggested adding a quote about the law’s failures and how police could abuse it, from a speech he gave in 1998. We are publishing it as his answer to Question 8.

After more than two years, I returned the draft to Dennis for review just before Christmas 2020.

He asked for a couple of days to get through it. His next e-mail, in early January, said he was going into hospice care. That was the last time I heard from him.

I miss you, Dennis.

Nicolas Johnson

Get This Q&A as a PDF

Q&A With Dennis Young From 2018

Q1. How did you get into gun rights/shooters’ rights?

A1. My Dad showed me how to shoot his 12-gauge Cooey when I was 13 and took me on my first deer hunt in November that same year. I bought my first gun from the sports store on the corner near our home when I was 15 and hunted deer and partridge all my life in Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Manitoba.

I needed to pass a hunter-safety training course and buy a licence to hunt in those provinces, but never thought I would ever need a licence to simply own my guns until I got involved in politics.

Stephen Harper invited me to speak about the plight of single-industry towns at the Reform Party’s first policy-development conference in Calgary in 1988. Stephen was Reform’s Director of Policy at the time. I met Preston Manning, joined the Reform Party and helped organize my local constituency association in Saskatoon where I chaired the Policy Development Committee.

In the spring of 1991, I helped with the policy-development seminars at Reform’s Policy Convention in Saskatoon, where firearms-rights advocates (such as future Reform MP Lee Morrison from East End, Saskatchewan) were putting forward resolutions for debate.

In June of 1991, I was appointed as the Reform Party’s Regional Coordinator for Saskatchewan and Manitoba helping to build membership, fundraising capacity and find candidates in each of the 28 constituency associations.

In 1992, Reform held another Policy Convention in Winnipeg where Lee Morrison’s firearms-rights resolution was tabled. In the summer of 1993 a meeting of all Reform Party Candidates was held in Ottawa.

During that meeting a Draft Criminal Justice Policy was debated and the draft firearms policy that was part of that paper was rejected by the Reform Candidates.

Listening to these policy debates, speaking at and attending dozens of meetings across Saskatchewan and Manitoba between 1991 and 1993 gave me a pretty good understanding of the anger law-abiding gun owners were feeling.

Remember this was the time when Conservative Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s Bill C-17 was being debated and passed in Parliament.

Firearms-owners’ rights didn’t become a real passion for me personally until I started researching the issue working for MP Garry Breitkreuz in his Parliament Hill office in 1994.

A more complete biography is on my website.

Q2. What work did you do with the RCMP?

A2. I joined the RCMP in October 1967 and spent five years working on general detachment duties in seven detachments in the Province of Saskatchewan: Smeaton, Buffalo Narrows, La Loche, Ile a la Crosse, Nipawin, Creighton, and Rosthern.

Duties included investigating traffic accidents, break-ins, thefts, assaults, suicides, and helping more senior officers with murder investigations; night patrols, road blocks, enforcing provincial statutes including traffic and liquor violations; and responding to domestic disputes including those with firearms present.

In 1968 I participated in the annual firearms-proficiency shoot with my service revolver a S&W .38 Special and a bolt-action .308 rifle (I don’t remember the make) and earned my crossed-revolvers and crossed-rifles insignia to wear on the sleeves of my uniform.

I was one of the first breathalyzer operators in Saskatchewan even before the .08 laws came into effect.

In my last assignment, I was in charge of a two-man highway-patrol unit.

I left the Force in October 1972 after fulfilling my five-year contract.

Q3. What did you do working for Garry Breitkreuz, and why is he so significant to the gun-rights movement?

A3. In March of 1994, Garry attended an Anti-Bill C-17 firearms-rights rally along with 1,200 other gun owners in Preeceville, Saskatchewan.

When he came back to Ottawa he asked the following question of Justice Minister Allan Rock in the House of Commons:

“There are two types of gun owners in Canada, law-abiding citizens and criminals. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics less than one-tenth of one percent of registered handgun owners commit a crime with their guns. Could the Minister explain how putting more controls on responsible gun owners better protects law-abiding citizens?”

Garry never received a satisfactory answer then or since; however, he never gave up demanding answers to these important questions in Parliament, in the party caucus meetings and party policy-development conventions.

Over the years, Garry encouraged, supported and approved my research into firearms issues (more than 600 Access to Information Act requests filed and more than 250 news releases issued between 1994 and 2007). 

Garry’s daily postings of firearms news stories and statistics on the Canadian Firearms Digest also gave gun owners the ammunition they needed for their grassroots letter-writing campaign opposing Bill C-68.

Without seeking any glory or recognition for his tireless efforts, Garry became the gun owners’ champion in Parliament, in political back rooms, in the media — and for that I thank him every day, as should the 2 or 3 million gun owners in Canada.

Garry’s 10 filing cabinets of research and website is thankfully preserved and made available to all by the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

Q4. What do you do now?

A4. I retired from my work in MP Garry Breitkreuz’s office on June 30, 2007, and moved to Airdrie, Alberta, to win my first battle with cancer and care for my wife, who has been losing her battle with primary progressive multiple sclerosis since showing the first symptoms in 1984.

I continue to file Access to Information Act requests (220+ since retiring) to update some of the firearms statistics and information obtained during my time on Parliament Hill.

In 2013, I was elected as the Alberta/NWT Director for the National Firearms Association.

In June of that year, I initiated my ongoing investigation of the High River RCMP rights violations during their forced entry into hundreds of homes, unwarranted searches of those homes and seizures of firearms and other property following the 2013 flood.

In 2015, I started my own website (www.dennisryoung.ca) to make it easier for anyone to access the information I uncover from authorities.

Q5. Why are Access To Information requests so important?

A5. The government seldom voluntarily reports the information we need to hold them truly accountable to Parliament or the people — especially any information that would make the government and their programs look bad.

Access to Information Act requests make it possible for the average citizen to ask for records that the government and the bureaucrats would rather not make available to the public.

For example, despite the promises by [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau and [Minister of Public Safety] Ralph Goodale to implement “evidence-based” gun-control policies and programs, the fact is there has never been any serious evaluation of either the total costs, benefits or effectiveness (AKA “evidence”) of any of Canada’s gun-control laws since their inception.

And this includes Bill C-68 that was rammed through Parliament using closure and without approving of even one of the Reform Party’s 137 amendments in 1995.

Q6. What was it like working in the House of Commons in the 1990s during the development, opposition and eventual passage of Bill C-68, the Firearms Act?

A6. It was both frustrating and exciting for political novices.

Liberal Justice Minister Allan Rock mobilized the firearms community in Canada when he claimed: “I came to Ottawa with the firm belief that the only people in this country who should have guns are police officers and soldiers.”

And “Protection of life is NOT a legitimate use for a firearm in this country, sir! Not! That is expressly ruled out!”

In the spring of 1994, Garry Breitkreuz led the gun-control discussions among an interested group of 29 Reform MPs.

In June of 1994, the Reform Party Caucus approved their Gun Control Talking Points and in November 1994, the Reform Party Policy Convention passed their gun-control resolution (tabled since 1992) with 98% support.

This same month Justice Minister Allan Rock tabled his gun-control plan in Parliament.

Along with that plan Rock provided MPs with a list of more than 553,000 firearms that he planned to ban with his new legislation.

In February 1995, Bill C-68 was tabled in Parliament and the real work began.

MPs offices were busy researching, writing speeches, drafting questions for Question Period and for witnesses appearing before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The Reform Party dedicated one question every day in Question Period to a question faxed in from citizens across the country.

At that time, Garry worked with Reform Justice Critic Jack Ramsey to review Bill C-68 clause by clause and, with the help of two lawyers from the Parliamentary Legislative Counsel branch, drafted 137 amendments for introduction during Report Stage debates.

It was an insanely busy time.

The highlight for me was on June 13, 1995, when Reform Leader Preston Manning made the final speech opposing Bill C-68 when he stated:

“I therefore submit in conclusion that Bill C-68, if passed into law, will not be a good law. It will be a bad law, a blight on the legislative record of the government, a law that fails the three great tests of constitutionality, of effectiveness and of the democratic consent of the governed. What should be the fate of a bad law? It should be repealed, which is precisely what a Reform government will do when it eventually replaces this government.”

Q7. Tell me about the Fed-Up Rally I and II on Parliament Hill, and the snipers on the roof.

A7. I was so impressed September 22, 1994, when I stood on Wellington Street and watched 22,000 gun owners march up to Parliament Hill shouting “FED-UP, FED-UP, FED-UP.”

And then again on September 22, 1998, when 30,000 gun owners came to Parliament Hill to protest Bill C-68 that had been passed into law three years earlier.

It was obvious to anyone with eyes that the RCMP had sniper rifles on the rooftops of the Parliament buildings.

The reporters present mocked us for being paranoid and the Ottawa Citizen printed an article to that effect the next day.

After filing Access to Information Act requests, the RCMP finally released documents in April of 1999 verifying that RCMP officers signed out the following firearms for security on Parliament Hill for the Fed-Up II Rally:

  • Four (4) .308 rifles and
  • Seventeen (17) — MP5, H&K sub-machine guns.

In addition to these firearms, ten (10) Emergency Response Team (ERT) members had their special SIG 9 mm handguns and all regular RCMP officers had their standard-issue sidearms.

The Ottawa Citizen never corrected their false story.

Q8. What’s wrong with the Firearms Act?

[Editor’s Note: Dennis suggested adding the following response from his speech to the Fed-Up II Rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 22 September 1998.]

A8. As a former member of the RCMP I know that once Bill C-68 becomes law some police officers will think of us — not as co-operative allies to help them in their fight against crime, but as easy targets for a firearms offence — just because we own a gun.

When you see the police officer coming up the driveway, you’ll be wondering, “Is he after a real criminal or is he after me and my guns?”

The Minister of Justice has said we have nothing to fear as long as we comply with all the gun-control laws. But how can we comply with laws that are so badly drafted even judges can’t understand them, and laws that are continually misinterpreted by government bureaucrats and the police on a daily basis?

Even if we do comply, we have heard of Crown prosecutors who think that every time a firearm is stolen from the home of a law-abiding gun owner that the police should also lay an improper storage charge against the homeowner.

We are easy targets for the police — burglars are not.

Take it from me, some police officers will use the new powers the government has given them in Bill C-68 to make a career for themselves, by charging as many gun owners as possible for technical mistakes under Bill C-68 and Bill C-17.

These are “made in Ottawa crimes” — not real crimes. But for the police bureaucrat looking for a promotion, they’re all criminal offences.

Of course, real criminals support Bill C-68 because they think it’s better to have the government wasting police time and our tax dollars chasing honest gun owners and not them!

For 35 years I have been a hunter, now I’m a “suspect” — and so are each of you.

Thank you for this award. The way things are headed, I will cherish it long after my last gun has been confiscated. Unless, unless we Repeal Bill C-68!

Q9. How does opposition to Bill C-71 compare to opposition to the Firearms Act? Are we more or less numerous, more or less loud, more or less effective, more or less organized?

A9. I would say all the firearms organizations (i.e., CSSA, NFA and CCFR) are much better organized, better at analyzing the legislation, better at communicating and better at lobbying.

Unfortunately, grassroots firearms owners themselves are not as well mobilized.

The anti-C-71 e-Petition received 86,000 online supporters whereas paper petitions tabled in Parliament opposing Bill C-68 garnered 360,000 actual signatures.

As anyone can see, those most-active in the fight for our rights and freedoms are a small percentage of the millions of law-abiding gun owners and [that] does not go unnoticed by the government in power, whether Liberal or Conservative.

Q10. How has the gun-rights movement changed?

A10. After more than 20 years of living under the yoke of Bill C-68, the firearms community has become more complacent with having their fundamental rights and Charter rights violated.

They seem more willing than ever to accept being treated worse than the 422,000 convicted criminals who have been prohibited from owning firearms by the courts.

As evidence I offer the following just last week [November 2018] from Rod Giltaca, CEO of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR), who bragged to the Toronto Star about being different from other gun lobbyists in Canada because they don’t oppose gun licensing entirely.

This complacency even took place within the Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative Parties over the years. Reform started out advocating the complete repeal of Bill C-68.

In 2002, Stephen Harper won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party appealing to the firearms community by repeating Preston Manning’s promise.

However, during the 2006 federal election campaign the Harper Conservatives morphed his 2002 “Repeal C-68” promise into a “Repeal the Long-Gun Registry” promise.

I knew then that my days on Parliament Hill were numbered.

During the Conservative Party’s [2017] Leadership Campaign MP Brad Trost was the only candidate advocating “Repeal of Bill C-68.”

The eventual winner of the leadership, Andrew Scheer, is an avid supporter of forcing lawful gun owners, under threat of criminal prosecution, to buy a firearms licence so they can simply keep their own property.

Q11. What did the Firearms Act change for you as a gun owner?

A11. For the first time in history it made me (and 3 million other gun owners in Canada) a criminal simply for owning a piece of property. A piece of property I had owned and used safely for 35 years.

It forced me to get a piece of paper to avoid being charged with a Criminal Code offence.

Once I had the piece of paper to avoid being charged with a Made-in-Ottawa paper crime, I was then forced to report my change of address to police or be charged with another crime with a penalty of up to two years in jail.

This is a requirement under the Firearms Act that only licensed gun owners are forced to do, but NOT the 422,000 convicted criminals who have been prohibited from owning firearms by the courts.

Finally, the Firearms Act requires me to jump through hoops that convicted criminals are not required to jump through.

Consequently, the Firearms Act makes police look at me and 2 million other licensed gun owners as “suspects” — persons who are not to be treated the same as an average lawful citizen — when in fact we are more law-abiding than the average citizen.

My name and address are listed on CPIC [Canadian Police Information Centre] just like a convicted criminal or suspected criminal, even though I have never done anything to deserve such scrutiny or treatment by authorities.

The RCMP Firearms Interest Police (FIP) database has been found deficient by both the Privacy Commissioner and the Auditor General, and those deficiencies have still not been corrected.

Licensed gun owners added to this database are still not able to access this information, rebut, or correct the information police have entered in the FIP database about them.

Q12. What do you think of Bill C-71? What are your biggest concerns?

A12. It continues to treat lawful citizens as the bad guys — tracking and harassing 2 million law-abiding citizens instead of tracking and harassing the 422,887 bad guys (convicted criminals who have been prohibited from owning firearms by the courts between 2012 and 2016).

Which addresses would front-line police officers need to have most:

  • The ones who have actually committed real crimes and most likely to acquire firearms illegally, or
  • Those of us who have never done anything wrong; that statistics show are three times less likely to commit a homicide than the general population in Canada?

Q13. What are your biggest lessons or recommendations for political action? What works, what doesn’t?

A13. WHAT WORKS? Persistence. Never compromise on your rights and freedoms! Never give up! Never let the bastards get you down!

WHAT DOESN’T WORK? Complacency. Giving up and giving in to any government legislation that undermines your rights and freedoms!

Q14. What is the most-effective thing gun owners can do to defend and advance our rights?

A14. Get involved in a political party of your choice at the constituency level to:

  1. Participate in the policy-development process to advance resolutions supporting the rights of law-abiding Canadians to own and use firearms responsibly and push your resolutions forward throughout the process to get them debated at the National Policy Conventions;
  2. Recruit like-minded persons to join the party and get involved like you are;
  3. Help to nominate candidates that promise to (i) fight for and vote for the rights of law-abiding Canadians to own and use firearms responsibly, and (ii) represent his/her constituents’ wishes in Ottawa — not the Leader’s or the Party’s wishes to his/her constituents; and
  4. Monitor all the public statements made by your MP to make sure they are keeping the promises they made in item (c) and send messages to when they stray.
  5. Write letters to your MP and Senator and to editors in defence of your rights and freedoms.

Q15. What’s wrong with the licensing system under the Firearms Act, or with the principle of a licence?

A15. Licenses are for using things — NOT owning things!

You can own a car, but you only have to put a licence on it to drive it on a public road.

You can own a plane, but you only have to have to register it if you want to fly it in public air space.

For the first time in Canadian history the Firearms Act made it a Criminal Code offence to own a piece of property.

The government has required the registration of handguns since 1934 and was able to track the owners of “Restricted” and “Prohibited” firearms using this one piece of paper.

Forcing lawful gun owners, under threat of criminal prosecution, to also get another piece of paper to own their private property is bureaucratic overkill.

After the licensing scheme was introduced with the implementation of Bill C-68, I did a comparison of the previous Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) program with the new firearms-licensing regime and found the FAC program was more effective.

The government would be wise to commission a similar study now to see if Bill C-68 was worth the $2 billion it cost taxpayers to implement.

Finally, the Bill C-68 licensing scheme encouraged non-compliance because of gun owners legitimate fear of having the government confiscate their guns.

There were at least 3 million law-abiding gun owners in Canada in possession of 21 million guns before 1995, but only 2 million gun owners bought a firearms licence and registered just 7 million guns.

That is not evidence of a successful gun-control program.

This is evidence of what Preston Manning told the House of Commons in June of 1995 that Bill C-68 was a “bad law” because it failed “the democratic consent of the governed.”

Q16. What’s wrong with the gun-classification system under the Firearms Act?

A16. First, that there is a classification system at all.

Neither the RCMP nor Public Safety Canada can produce any evidence that the classification scheme has improved safety for the public or police.

A lawful person who passes all the police background checks is the best criteria for acquiring and owning any firearm — not some arbitrary system invented to allow bureaucrats to concoct reasons why they think one firearm is more dangerous than another when in the hands of a law-abiding citizen.

As evidence I offer the government’s own firearms laws that “grandfather” existing gun owners to keep their newly reclassified “Prohibited” firearms.

Even the government doesn’t consider “Prohibited” firearms to be a danger to public or police safety when they are owned by lawful gun owners.

Legal use of a firearm (i.e., hunting, sport shooting, etc.) is best regulated by the Provinces, not by the federal government who use the Criminal Code to force compliance for their Made-in-Ottawa paper crimes.

And second, once Parliament decided to have a classification system, that these decisions are made by RCMP bureaucrats without any Parliamentary or public oversight.

Also, that their subjective decisions are made without having to show their evidence or justification for their decisions to anyone and without effective avenues of appeal.

Even when we ask for the evidence they don’t have it or won’t give it to us.

Consequently, Parliament and the public never know if they had any evidence at all, and trust in the police and the government is undermined.

26 November 2018
Airdrie, Alberta

Dennis R. Young
Honourary Life Member of the CSSA and the NFA
Member of the Calgary RCMP Veterans Association