Thursday 23 September 2010

Worth More Alive than Dead: Why the PM may have engineered Bill C-391 to fail

(The Meaning Of Children now available on Kindle!)

Everyone knows Bill C-391, the second so-called Conservative private member’s bill (PMB) to propose destroying the registry is really a government bill—after all, if it walks like a duck hunter and squawks like a duck hunter, chances are it’s a duck hunter. Never in Parliamentary history has the governing party hired billboards, set up websites, sent out flyers etc., in support of a private member’s bill. So why the subterfuge? Because clothing a government bill in PMB clothing means Mr. Harper could exhibit pretend outrage at the opposition’s whipping the vote, all while imposing party discipline in his own ranks (why else would all 10 Quebec Conservative MPs have voted with the government?).

But division among the opposition is not the reason Mr. Harper may be satisfied with the 153-151 outcome on Bill C-391: money is. 

While researching links between the Canadian gun lobby and the U.S. National Rifle Association (NRA), a vociferous and financial supporter of its Canadian branch, the imperative made famous by informant “Deep Throat” during the Watergate scandal popped into my head: “follow the money.” The NRA, America’s most influential lobby group, wields a shockingly large annual budget--$307 million USD. To give you a taste of what that buys in Washington, in addition to lobbying against virtually any and all gun restrictions, the NRA recently lobbied: against an appointment to the supreme court; to be exempted from a proposal requiring lobby groups to disclose donor lists, and; to graft a ban on insurance companies charging higher premiums for people with guns in their homes onto a health care bill. Also, for the NRA, gun control anywhere threatens gun owners everywhere; they’ve meddled in Brazil and at the UN, so why not Canada? This is the bull the Conservative Party welcomed into our Parliamentary china shop.

The long gun registry may be the best cash cow the Conservative Party’s ever had: why would they kill it? What if the failure of C-391 is what the government set its sights on all along, a milestone in their strategy to achieve a majority? With Bill C-391 defeated, Mr. Harper can shrug and tell supporters he gave it the old college try, but that the effort to squash the registry failed because of the “socialist coalition’s dastardly tactics,” like whipping a so-called PMB. This leaves the Conservatives free to exploit, once again, the registry as a key weapon in its fundraising arsenal, a war chest ostensibly necessary to gain a majority and so destroy the registry another day. 

The government denies the relationship between the NRA and their drive to destroy the long gun registry, despite the fact that the Public Security Minister’s Firearm Advisory Committee (FAC) includes Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian version of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (CILA) and CILA’s sister organization, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. The CSSA/CILA Facebook page brags it has 4 senior organization members on the Public Security Minister’s 12-member FAC, and that most of the rest are CSSA members; that CSSA/CILA is “fully endorsed by the NRA and NSSF [U.S. National Shooting Sports Foundation],” that “CILA’s work has been personally endorsed by NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre and former Presidents Charlton Heston, Kayne Robinson and Sandy Froman,” that “as a direct result of our lobby efforts, including CILA-coordinated conference calls between Ministers and major firearms manufacturers, we proved to the Canadian Government that they were being mislead by their bureaucrats,” that they “conducted an election poster campaign which was approved by the PMO - posters sent to all dealers, retailers, clubs and businesses; conducted a ‘train-the-trainer’ session for grass roots lobbying – facilitated by the NRA Director of the Grass Roots Division, Glen Caroline and we are now offering grass roots political action training to clubs and members…”

The NSSF, the other American organization CILA proudly associates with, has a board of governors representing a who’s who of major gun manufacturers: Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Winchester, Glock, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt’s Manufacturing, and Remington Arms. 

The $100,000 anti-registry video the NRA produced in 2000, “Gun Control in Canada,” features Tony Bernardo and John Perrochio, a “former gun shop owner” who laments that the Canada’s gun industry has dropped from 6,000 dealers to 875 and was “a $6 billion industry that has been annihilated by ignorant politicians and absolutely pathetic firearms legislation.” Follow the money indeed.

If C-391 had passed, Mr. Harper’s grateful gun lobby supporters may have decided that donating to the Conservative Party was no longer so important. So despite all the heat generated by Bill C-391, the Prime Minister had the strongest of motives not to destroy the long gun registry, because its continued existence will fill his party’s election coffers more assuredly than the converse: the gun registry is worth more to him alive than dead.

References (3min43secs into the video for John Perrochio’s quote)

Sunday 19 September 2010

Support the gun registry or you don’t know jack

These are just a few recent stories in the country-soon-to-be-naked-of-the-long-gun-registry:

July 2009: Joan Hanson, daughter, and granddaughter shot dead by Ms. Hanson’s estranged hunter husband with his legally owned rifle, which he later turns on himself. January 2010: Stephanie Hoddinott shot dead by a former boyfriend, using a legally acquired handgun he then uses to kill himself. March 2010: three women shot near Belleville by a male acquaintance of one of them; two die. Within days, Const. Vu Pham is shot and killed by hunter Fred Preston, apparently despondent about the break up of his marriage. Weeks later, disgruntled Edmonton car dealership employee Dave Burns walks into work firing a sawed-off shotgun. Manager Garth Radons dies and Burns turns the gun on himself; he’d apparently been suspended for uttering racial slurs and posting sexually explicit photos mocking another employee. Radons’ wife, a police officer, is among the first on the scene.

How does the long gun registry help prevent this litany of death, including suicide, and crime, including murder? Knowing who has which guns allows police to remove them as a preventative measure, should it become necessary. In thePreston case, if his estranged wife had reported any threats he made to police, they could have removed Mr. Preston’s guns. ALL his guns, which isn’t possible if they aren’t all listed somewhere handy, like, say, a long gun registry.

Since its creation, some 22,000 firearms licences have been denied and over 8,000 guns surrendered and confiscated because of safety concerns like those posed by Mr. Preston. Of the revoked guns, 74 per cent were nonrestricted shotguns and rifles. The boundary between “law-abiding duck hunter” and “criminal” only takes a fraction of a second to breach: how long does it take to pull a trigger? In light of these statistics, how can opponents of the registry continue to deny it saves lives?

In fact, many lives have been lost at the hands of "legal" gun owners. Having a gun in the home, rather than making you safer, dramatically increases the chance of death. Those suspicious of statistics and their collection may prefer to believe in unreported crime and--coming soon to a parliament near you, perhaps--imaginary crime. (With the crime rate plummeting, we’ll need to fill all those new penitentiaries somehow.)

Dr. Ted Miller's 1995 look at gunshot wounds in Canada, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, estimated that 1991 gunshot wounds cost Canada $6.6 billion (1993 dollars), representing nearly $9 billion today. About $63 million was associated with medical and mental health and $10 million with public services; productivity losses exceeded $1.5 billion. The remaining dollars were attributed to "pain, suffering and lost quality of life." Miller didn’t take into account costs associated with the justice and incarceration systems, but it’s clear that the enormous costs of gun violence—including “legal gun” violence--dwarf the cost of the registry. Even preventing the loss of one or two lives—or one or two shootings--pays for the registry, if you’re callous enough to consider only dollars and cents. At $3-4 million a year, the long gun registry is an incredible bargain.

Jack Layton is supposedly a supporter of women’s rights and equality. He is also, supposedly, a supporter of the long gun registry. Well, the gun registry is a women’s issue, too: the vast majority of those long gun owning “duck hunters” are men. The vast majority of individuals threatened, shot and killed in domestic disputes are women.

The RCMP and the associations of chiefs of police, the women’s organizations, suicide prevention, emergency and other medical associations have unequivocally come out in favour of the gun registry, proven a critical tool in the prevention of suicide and domestic violence, especially in rural settings.

Gutting the registry when all these groups are in favour of it and the “duck hunters” are against it is really letting the tail wag the dog. If this same “duck hunter” brain trust decided that our murder laws don’t prevent murder, would you strike those laws down, too, Mr. Harper?

So there you have it, Messrs. Harper and Layton: either you ensure the registry survives, or you betray your sacred responsibility to Canadians, including women and rural people. Either you support the registry or you don’t know jack.

(Appeared in The Hill Times, Sept. 13, 2010; p.17)

Monday 13 September 2010

The solution is simple: Canada needs MORE gun controls

The late Anastasia De Sousa, who died at Dawson College, September 13, 2006

Today being the fourth anniversary of the tragic murder of another "beautiful young Canadian with everything to live for," Anastasia De Sousa, during the Dawson College Shooting , I've decided to post the opinion article I wrote following the Sept. 13, 2006 rampage by the deranged Kimveer Gill. Versions of this piece appeared at the time in The Montreal Gazette and The National Post. The memorial notice for Ms. De Sousa is here; you may leave a message of condolence here.


I am the mother of a Dawson College student, was friendly with a beloved husband and father killed at Concordia University 14 years ago, and worked in a non-traditional occupation - molecular genetics research - when the Ecole Polytechnique massacre took place. My husband is a provincial politician who spends much of the year at the National Assembly in Quebec City, where three were killed and 13 wounded by a deranged Canadian soldier in 1984. And so I feel myself uniquely placed to respond to the events of Sept. 13.

My response is not to launch a fruitless inquiry into the "root causes" of this catastrophic occurrence. I couldn't care a whit whether the perpetrator of last Wednesday's atrocities was refused academic admission to Dawson College, whether he was bullied as a child, either in school or at home. I think it's irrelevant if he grew up with a chip on his shoulder because of some imagined slight, or even if he or his family suffered in the past from some form of persecution, be it real or imagined, in Canada or elsewhere.

To me, there can be no mitigating factors for murder, whether the locus of attack is a college campus in downtown Montreal, a nightclub in Tel Aviv, a skyscraper in New York City, or some parched crossroads among the rubble of Afghanistan. Murder is murder is murder. Each one should fall under the rubric of "hate crime."

When 14 young Montrealers, full of hope, ambition and promise, had their lives snuffed out because they had earned the privilege of studying engineering while another could not, many people I knew, especially women, insisted the "root cause" of this crime was our society's oppression of women, an opinion at which I scoffed.

When gun control was trumpeted as the panacea to these horrible killings, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that gun control penalized the law-abiding, rather than the criminals. I was sensitive to the position that people living rural lifestyles needed firearms as part of their daily lives, a situation unimaginable to me, given my urban existence.

Well, I am skeptical and sensitive no more. Last Wednesday was the drop that made the glass overflow, as we say in Quebec. The balance has shifted. I realize more clearly now that my choice must be to care more for the potential victims than the potential perpetrators.

So that's my response to the Dawson killings: No more guns. It's as simple as that. Because no one can accurately predict who among us will become unhinged enough to explode in bloody slaughter, I believe that guns should be unavailable to the public.

I don't trust psychiatrists - much less gun-registry officials - to ferret out what lies deep in the hearts of men. After all, Concordia administrators, some of whom had equipped their own offices with locks and panic buttons because of Valery Fabrikant's continued harassment, consulted a psychiatrist about the demented professor before his murderous rampage. I saw the same psychiatrist on television last week, hovering in the background following the Dawson shootings.

According to journalist Morris Wolfe, the psychiatrist had deemed it "unlikely" that Fabrikant, a professor repeatedly denied tenure, would become violent.

So if a trained psychiatrist with an abiding interest in severe and chronic psychotic illness, confronted with a man he himself has diagnosed as having "a personality disorder" cannot foresee the coming explosion of rage, all the administrative screening in the world won't be able to keep legal guns out of the hands of loonies. The solution that's clearest to me is to make guns - both legal and illegal - impossible to get.

And so, as a mother, a woman, and a sentient human being, I'm telling Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the entire government of Canada to wake up and smell the coffee: If you persist in your intended dismantling of the gun registry instead of making it harder for people to own guns, there will be hundreds of thousands of us marching in the streets of Montreal. I guarantee it.


I continue to believe that guns, especially long guns, are too readily available in our society. The government of Canada--under the guise of a private member's bill--is attempting to destroy the long gun registry, part of a web of regulations that seeks to make Canada's gun owners more accountable for their weapons and has been shown effective and even cost-effective.

The psychiatrist, Warren Steiner, contacted me after my piece(s) appeared to say Mr. Wolfe had it all wrong and that he--Dr. Steiner--regretted not having demanded retraction of the statements ascribed to him. Four years later, the comments are still available here. Dr. Steiner has since made the recovery--or lack thereof--of the Dawson community a particular research interest. And it looks to be a lucrative, longterm one.