[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2000-03Fr -- Gun Control in Canada
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Gun Control in Canada.

September 8, 2000.

As I mentioned last Friday, you are along with us for the ride. Since our CSIS series is just that, a series, we are alternating the parts of the CSIS series with other features. This week we turn our attention to recent Canadian gun control legislation.


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Gun Control in Canada
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.com)


Canada's gun control laws; what are they and will they have drastic effects on average citizens? Are these new requirements an unnecessary and expensive attempt by the federal government to further erode Canadians' civil rights? Or is this a well thought out attempt taken by a clear-eyed, wise, and benevolent leadership bent on protecting its citizenry? Depending on who you ask and where they live, the answer is yes... to all of the above. There seems to be very little middle ground in this debate. It is an extremely weighted issue and has the dubious distinction of sharing a certain amount of the cachet that surrounds the abortion question. Like so many of these types of debates, the opposing camps are quickly given the lesson in media spin. Names and acronyms rapidly begin to signify positions, affiliations, and even moral tenure. People are either going to have their rights trampled by the jack-booted thugs from Ottawa or conversely have their rights to living without bullet holes in their bodies enshrined in the constitution. It's a real poser and with the amount of time and energy being spent on the subject, you'd think it was the foremost thing on John Q. Public's mind when it comes to social policy.

So, where does one go for the answers? First stop, a Government of Canada publication called "Understanding Canada's Firearms Law." The revised 1999 edition is 27.5 cm by 12 cm and contains 54 pages of information. It is an abridged guide to the actual Act and is meant only to be a "reference". It carries this disclaimer; "This Guide is not a legal text." It also offers up a Web site at this link that is chock full of information. The table of contents list has over 100 bold face entries and each has its own page number facing it. It's a difficult read and because of that fact, it's no small wonder that the issue continues to be a hot button on both sides of the political spectrum. And, because it is so poorly understood, making an informed choice on the matter is greatly reduced. This law is a federal statute and it has been imposed on all Canadians. Certain provisions apply to the indigenous peoples only. Some sections, hunters. Others apply for hobbyists. It is not well written and it is not clear. Therefore, people will not read it and will instead rely on the carefully crafted loud voices surrounding the media to get their attention. Special interest groups abound.

The National Rifle Association is about the biggest and most vocal of these. It is a well-oiled and successful lobbying machine in the USA and it views Canada as part of its hunting territory. They have no shortage of members, millions in cash, great media savvy, and a movie legend as president. Charlton Heston has come to Canada several times in the past year to bang the drum for the anti-registration faction. He is highly visible and an excellent speaker and, like his organization, has also been shown to have a slightly less than basic grasp on the facts. Like the federal government, gun lobbyists have chinks in their armour. The NRA shot itself in the foot by saying that Canadians stand to lose their right to bear arms. We have no such right in our constitutional charter.

Which is worse? A clumsily worded and difficult to read piece of legislation that arouses suspicion about big brother watching you, or high profile and ill-informed demagogues who can make a sound bite?

From what information that exists on the nature of the split, it is evident that the clearest line is drawn between rural and urban Canada. The rural group is concerned about traditional firearm uses being taken away from them. Hunting for both sustenance and sport has long been a hallmark of country life. Farmers and ranchers alike are adamant in being allowed the unfettered use of their firearms to protect their livelihoods. Those in the city prefer to follow a different line of reasoning. In the minds of city dwellers, crime is the issue and only criminals are shooting at them. Their argument is that there is a need for a gun registry and not much need for a gun in the city. If numbers mean they are right, then they are. The cold hard fact of the matter is that there is a far larger number of people in the city then there are in the country. This translates as voters. Poll after poll has clearly shown this split and political parties have tied their fortunes to the results. The Canadian Conservative Reform Party is in favour of re-writing the law and the ruling Liberals think its just fine the way it is. Between the two parties, and on either side of them, exist every imaginable argument for and against this bill. As with most things of this complexity, or simplicity if you will, the answer lies somewhat in the middle.

The intent of the law and its wording tends to support this view. Taken at face value, it is a registry for firearms and ammunition only. Yes, there are sections that deal with prohibited weapons, and these types of armaments will not be allowed in the hands of average citizens. A rocket launching assault rifle is not something the average person really needs. Fully automatic pistols and rifles are best kept in armouries, not clothes closets. Gun collectors, who are among the most vocal of the critics and have the most expenses to bear, can, provided they can show good cause, apply to obtain exemptions. If you really want to own a firearm, it becomes more difficult to obtain one. But not impossibly so. The only real question hanging over the legislation is the one that dogs all laws. The application and jurisdiction of it must be even-handed and timely. A well deserved barb that has caught the government floundering has been the cost of implementing the act. It has over-run its budget estimates by millions of dollars, and it is still not complete. It has also failed to address the slow pace of registration. This seems to be a classic case of the legislative arm of a government acting before the infrastructure is there to actually dispense with it. And that can be fixed.


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Next Friday is a special day and will see a special Friday Feature from FactsCanada, as Friday the 15th is the opening day of the Summer Olympics. The following Friday we will return to the CSIS series. I promised you an Olympic special issue this Sunday, but when we thought about it, it made more sense to publish that issue on the very same day of the opening ceremonies -- that being next Friday. So, this Sunday you will see the regular Sunday newsletter. In fact, it looks like we have articles ready to roll until November for our Friday Feature. However, if you have any suggestions for a topic on Friday's please e-mail Mike at mike@factscanada.com with your ideas. On another note, this is our first message to the revamped mailing list. The three of us want to thank you for your confidence and interest and we hope that we continue to provide you with an entertaining, informative and educational read. We'll let you know who won the contest on Tuesday of next week.


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