Self Defence Law: Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Says Bob Rae Can't Recognize Victims In Dispute Over Warning Shots
OTTAWA - Standing up for victims has clashed with the issue of public safety over the issue of warning gunfire.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson raised some eyebrows earlier this week by agreeing that firing shots over the heads of thugs and thieves may be considered reasonable under a proposed new law.
Nicholson's musing prompted an angry exchange Thursday during question period.
"What is he going to say to the family of the little girl crossing the road down the street when somebody fires a warning shot at somebody entering their property?" interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae demanded of the justice minister.
"Does he not understand the danger of promoting vigilante justice in our society?"
Nicholson fired back that Liberals can't figure out who are the real victims of crime.
"If people are coming onto other people's property to set fire to their car, breaking into their house or attacking their family, those are the bad guys," said Nicholson.
"Why can the Liberals not ever figure that out? How come they cannot figure out who the real victims are and stand up for them for a change?"
The heated to-and-fro comes as the Conservative government is proposing to simplify and expand the Criminal Code sections that cover citizen's arrest, self defence and defence of property.
During an appearance Tuesday at the House of Commons justice committee, Nicholson agreed with a question from Tory backbencher Brian Jean that firing a warning shot over the head of a repeat thief coming onto a rural property to steal an all-terrain vehicle would be "reasonable" under the circumstances.
His comments were not welcomed by groups representing the legal profession and front-line police officers.
Eric Gottardi of the Canadian Bar Association said it was "particularly unfortunate" that Nicholson chose to endorse even the concept of warning shots — especially at a time when the government is expanding the notion of citizen's arrests.
Jean, a Fort McMurray lawyer, said in an interview Thursday that brandishing a weapon was the kind of thing that happened when he was growing up in the rough northern Alberta resource city.
But people who raised guns or fired them to ward off thieves often ended up before the courts, said the Tory MP, which usually found such use of force was not reasonable.
"I think that is reasonable now, to be able to take a step beyond what you would expect others to do," said Jean.
Representatives of the CBA and the Canadian Police Association told the justice committee Thursday that increasing the latitude for citizen's arrests could endanger the public.
Jean, part of the Conservative majority on the committee, said the witnesses seemed to be saying "there was a duty so step away and allow people to steal things."
"I don't think that duty exists. I don't think it's ever existed and I think it's ludicrous."
Asked about Nicholson's comments on warning shots, Jean responded: "I actually think this legislation will clarify the law for Canadians and it'll make criminals stay away. I think criminals will take it more seriously now."
While criminals might be deterred by the increased prospect of meeting a gun-toting property owner, Jean did not agree that gun owners will be emboldened by the very same law.
"To go to the next step and take a weapon out and fire it is a big, big step for people, even in rural Alberta. People don't do that," said Jean.
"They don't brandish weapons that are loaded at anybody. And I would suggest very, very few people would fire a weapon. And a lot fewer would fire at somebody trying to run away."
Jean added that shooting over the head of a fleeing thief is out of bounds.
"Firing a weapon at somebody that's trying to escape with a quad (ATV), that's not acceptable. That is not reasonable in the circumstances. And I can't imagine any judge in any province or territory in this country agreeing that would be a reasonable use of force or a reasonable defence of property."
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.