Solomon Friedman to SECU: Bill C-21 Erodes Public Safety and Trust
Below is his introductory statement to the committee reviewing the bill.
- Speaker: Solomon Friedman
- Audience: House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)
- Source: Friedman e-mailed his comments to TheGunBlog.ca in response to our request.
- TheGunBlog.ca capitalized and added quotation marks around “Non-Restricted” and “Restricted.”
- Watch Intro: Via Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights on YouTube
- Watch Full Session: Via House of Commons (Friedman starts at 12:21:30)
Solomon Friedman’s Introductory Statement to SECU
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, Vice-Chairs, Members.
Thank you for inviting me to address you today. It is always a pleasure to appear before this Committee.
In fact, since 2011, I have testified over a dozen times before this Committee and others on proposed firearms legislation and regulations.
In that same time, reflective of Parliament’s consistently inconsistent push and pull approach to firearms legislation, the Annotated Firearms Act, the firearms law reference text which I co-author, has appeared in no less than four editions. Instead of applying an evidence-based, principled focus to law making, governments have taken a piecemeal and haphazard approach – which has favoured symbolism over substance and rhetoric over rational decision making.
While this might be good news for legal authors, publishers and booksellers, it is decidedly bad news for law-abiding gun owners and Canadians generally.
Bill C-21 is the latest extension of this trend. Given the time constraints which have placed upon this Committee’s work, I will focus my attention on Bill C-21’s proposed prohibition on the transfer of “Restricted” firearms – that is handguns – to licensed private individuals. Or more accurately, the deferred confiscation of nearly a million lawfully owned “Restricted” firearms – which were purchased legally, used and stored safely and have never posed a risk to public safety.
In my view, there are three fundamental problems with this provision.
First, support for this measure comes from fundamentally bad data.
Instead of addressing the core causes of handgun offences – namely the factors that drive individuals into gang activity – like poverty, addiction and marginalization, or even focusing on the true source of the vast majority of handguns used in criminal offences – handguns smuggled into Canada from the United States, this Bill targets the law-abiding, without making even the smallest dent in handgun crime.
In February, I appeared before this Committee to give testimony for your study on Gun Control, Illegal Arms Trafficking and Street Gangs. As I said then, good decision making requires good data. I cited an example of bad data which has been used to justify bad policy. And that is, the oft-heard assertion that “70% of traceable crime guns have a domestic origin.”
This statistic is a good example of a number that is true, false and misleading all at the same time. To start, this counts only those firearms that are traceable. It is therefore, by definition, a number which will skew towards domestic firearms – as those are much easier to trace. It doesn’t count firearms with obliterated serial numbers, or foreign firearms that cannot be traced.
Next, the definition of “crime gun” further self-selects and obscures our focus. “Crime guns” generally refer to firearms – including by the way, pellet guns and replica firearms – seized by police in the course of their duties. This includes both offence and public safety-related seizures. That definition does not differentiate between a handgun used in a gang shooting and 100 “Non-Restricted,” safely stored firearms which are seized from an elderly gun collector who is the subject of a police wellness check because his daughter has not heard from him in days. You can see now why that 70% number may be true on its face, but is really irrelevant to assessing what measures are necessary to address violent gun offences. In fact, in your Report, this Committee agreed with the accuracy of this critique.
Skewed and manipulated data can never be the basis for evidence-based policy. Canadians are entitled to legislation drafted on the basis of empirical data, not misinformation.
The second fundamental problem with this legislation is that it is a distraction and a gross misdirection of policing and other justice sector resources – resources which are in short supply and are desperately needed to address the core causes of crime.
While criminal legislation looks free on its face – it does not require an up-front expenditure – criminal-defence lawyers know all too well the costs of increased criminalization and the ever-expanding Criminal Code. We, as a group, are not surprised as the justice system sags under the weight of well-intentioned amendments and justice is delayed, denied and charges are ultimately stayed by the Courts.
Finally, this legislation suffers from the fundamental flaw that is endemic to much of this government’s criminal-law reform. It is a solution in search of a problem.
Like the hasty elimination of centuries-old procedural protections like peremptory challenges for juries or the preliminary inquiry, or case-specific responses to unpopular acquittals which limit the rights of the accused to tender admissible evidence, these justice amendments bear the hallmarks of a government which legislates based on tweets and soundbites, without taking into account the real consequences – unintended or otherwise – of their criminal-law policy.
And this is certainly true of the deferred confiscation provisions of Bill C-21. Legally obtained handguns in the possession of law-abiding citizens are not and have never been a public-safety problem. In 2019, Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer, head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police explicitly rejected the public-safety benefits of any such handgun ban, calling it “naive to the realities of … organized crime and smuggling.”
When defence counsel agrees with the policy position advanced by Canada’s police chiefs, it is just one more indication that these provisions are not based in evidence or data, but are political in nature. And once again, as has been the case for each subsequent amendment to our firearms law, law-abiding Canadians – citizens who have complied with the law time and again – will pay the price. And worse yet, public confidence in our legislatures inevitably erodes even further, as it becomes crystal clear for all to see – substance once again takes a backseat to symbolism.
Thank you very much for your time.
Solomon Friedman, LL.B., C.S.*
*Certified as a Specialist in Criminal Law by the Law Society of Ontario
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