The MPPs present were: Frank Sheehan, Chair, Tom Froese and Bart Maves. Absent: Tim Hudak.
Sporting Clubs of Niagara members present were Jim Finley, John Gayder, Gerry Gamble, and John Orth.
The members of the caucus were first thanked for the provincial government's decision to join the Charter Challenge.
Most people would say the easiest way to avoid getting arrested is to not break any laws. In many cases this is probably true, but if laws are so convoluted no one can understand them, everyone is vulnerable to arrest at any time. Hanna Arendt, a recognized world authority on totalitarianism, suggested this approach is used as a tool by totalitarian governments.
Anyone who owns guns, particularly someone who owns a number of different types of guns, will probably be in violation of one or another of the gun control regulations, regardless of how diligently he tries to obey. Even if he is not breaking any law, the police may well arrest him anyway, since they do not understand gun control laws either.
A perfect example of the sheer impossibility of compliance occurred several years ago, in a case that eventually went to the Supreme Court of Canada. I would like to mention as an aside that gun control law at the time was set by C-17, Kim Campbell's legislation, which was significantly less onerous than the present statute. The situation has deteriorated noticeably since then.
Bernhard Hasselwander was the owner of a semi-automatic firearm which was not prohibited under the legislation at the time (1989). He was nonetheless, arrested and charged with possession of a prohibited weapon. Now you may be wondering how he could possibly be charged, when the law explicitly stated that the gun was legal.
The police used a section of the criminal code, which stated that a firearm was prohibited if it was "capable of" fully automatic fire. Now, Mr. Hasselwander's gun was semi-automatic, not fully automatic. So the police gave it to their armourer, who modified the internal mechanism. After these modifications were made, the gun could be fired as a full auto. "There" they said. "The gun is capable of fully automatic fire." So when the case went to court the crux of the matter was this: does "capable of" mean capable as it was found, or does it mean capable after modifications were made by a police armourer?
I am sorry if I am bogging down in complex technical details. Please bear with me. I could see no other way to effectively make my point: gun laws have become so complex they are effectively impossible to obey completely.
When the case got to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the judges ruled, in a 2 to 1 decision, that "capable of" meant capable as found. Mr. Hasselwander was acquitted. The Crown appealed, and the case went to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling. In a 3 to 2 decision they stated that "capable of" meant capable after modifications were made by the police gunsmith. Mr. Hasselwander was convicted of possession of a prohibited weapon.
This was an individual who did his absolute best to obey every statute to the letter of the law. Yet he was still charged and he was still convicted. He still lost his gun. He still lost the tens of thousands of dollars he spent on court challenges. He still faced a possible sentence of up to ten years in prison.
Mr. Hasselwander would not have had his gun returned even if he had won. In an act of almost unbelievable arrogance, the police destroyed it even before the case came to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Judges there commented they thought it proper that he receive payment for this destroyed property, but they had no authority to make such an order.
Three judges in the Ontario Court of Appeal and five Supreme Court Justices heard this case. Four decided one thing, and four decided the opposite. Eight of the top jurists in the land could not reach an agreement on what this legislation meant. Yet ordinary Canadians are required to understand all of it perfectly, and do so under threat of Criminal Code sanctions.
This is impossible. The firearms act is 124 pages of legal mumbo jumbo, of which only 6 deal with the criminal misuse of firearms. 118 pages deal with various aspects of licensing, storage, transporting, selling and buying of guns. In addition, C-68 is incomplete. It was intentionally written as "enabling legislation", with most of the important details left out, to be filled in later by Orders in Council. These regulations themselves are another 73 pages of incomprehensible legalese, which may be arbitrarily changed at any time by cabinet.
One might hope that police forces would have enough common sense to realize that public safety will not be enhanced if they spend their time running around arresting gun collectors, hunters, and target shooters for violations of some trivial and incomprehensible aspect of storage or licensing requirements.
However, many cases have come to light recently, which tend to indicate some police forces are engaging in witch hunts, with gun owners playing the part of the witch.
1. Marstar is an army surplus company that operates a mail order business in a small town outside of Ottawa. On March 13, 1995 a combined OPP, RCMP, Canada Customs task force of 35 to 40 men raided the business. They employed a full SWAT team with a helicopter backup. The RCMP actually wanted to use an armoured personnel carrier to bash the front door down. They herded employees about at the point of loaded, cocked, sub-machine guns. They emptied filing cabinets and desks onto the floor. They seized most of Marstar's records, making it almost impossible for them to continue operating.
Months later someone mysteriously broke into the office of the lawyer representing Marstar and removed the hard drive from his computer. A few months after that, someone stole the entire computer of a second lawyer they had hired. Canada Customs, using seized telephone records, contacted Marstar's overseas customers and suppliers and informed them they ought not do business with Marstar because the owners were going to jail.
On July 18, 1996, sixteen months after the raid, the Crown withdrew all existing charges and brought two new ones. After these charges were dealt with, the owners, John and Cynthia St. Amour, walked out of the court without a conviction.
2. Anthony Sacco was a life long resident of Niagara Falls. He was a member of many local service and sporting clubs. In 1976 he was inducted into the Niagara Falls Hall of Fame for his achievements in trap shooting. Almost everyone in Niagara Falls knew, or knew of, Tony Sacco.
On Nov. 29, 1994 thieves broke into Tony's shop and stole nine handguns and three shotguns from two locked metal cabinets. Apparently the guns were too heavy, so they left two of the shotguns in a nearby yard, where they were found by a neighbour. He called the police, who found the door to Tony's shop smashed open. Searching the shop, the police found a pellet rifle which was not locked up, and a .22 calibre rifle which was locked in a caged area of the shop. Mr. Sacco was charged with careless storage of a firearm. He was taken to the police station, fingerprinted, photographed, and left in a cell for several hours.
This arrest upset Tony very much. If he were convicted he would have a criminal record which would prevent him from going to trap shoots in the U.S.A. His remaining guns would be seized. He would not be able to legally own a gun in Canada. He worried about finding the money to pay a large fine.
On April 25, 1995 Tony suffered a stroke. Eight days later he died. He was 79 years old. The charges were withdrawn by the Crown. The seized and recovered property was released to Tony's estate.
3. On February 17, 1996 an OPP tactical unit, acting on an anonymous tip, stormed into the home of Richard and Susan Motyka looking for suspected murderer Adrian Kinkead. Ironically, at the same time the OPP were invading the Motyka residence, Toronto police were in Florida preparing to arrest Kinkead. Metro police would have readily shared this information with the OPP, had they taken the time to ask. The Motykas were dragged from their bed and bound face down on the floor by officers wearing night vision goggles and carrying rifles. Family members were told not to move or they would be shot. Richard Motyka clearly remembers the point when he looked over to see his horrified eight year old daughter watching as the muzzle of a shotgun was placed against his head. After they realized they had made a colossal and embarrassing blunder, police did not apologize. Instead they seized a single shot, .22 calibre rifle they found that "wasn't properly stored." Three days later, Richard and Susan Motyka were charged with careless storage of a firearm and wanton disregard for human life. One week later, after being roasted in the press for their inept handling of the incident, the OPP dropped all charges.
4. Stanley Bachynski was a Second World War veteran. He was present at the Normandy invasion, and was wounded while crossing the border from Belgium into Holland. After leaving the army, he and his wife purchased a home in the Sprucedale subdivision area of Chatham. They lived in the same house for the next 40 years, while raising a family of two children.
Stanley and Theresa were active in many community organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Festival of Nations, and the Centre for Older Adults. Stanley was also a gun collector.
On April 1, 1996 Stanley and Theresa left their home and proceeded to the Older Adults Centre for some volunteer work. Immediately upon arriving at the centre they were approached by a policewoman from the Chatham police who informed them the burglar alarm in their house had been activated. When they arrived back at their home they discovered the source of the triggered alarm: the OPP Firearms Task Force. The OPP searched the Bachynski's house and seized an estimated $100,000 worth of guns which they said would be destroyed. This gun collection represented the bulk of Stanley and Theresa's life savings. As a result of the shock of the raid and rude treatment and threats by the OPP, Stanley suffered a heart attack and spent the next week in the intensive care unit.
A few weeks later Stanley and Theresa were charged with a total of 260 weapons offenses, primarily related to "careless storage." I am left wondering if the guns were so carelessly stored, why the OPP could not get to them without triggering a burglar alarm.
When the case eventually came to court, the charges against Theresa were dropped. Stanley pleaded guilty to one count of careless storage and one count of possession of an unregistered restricted weapon dating back to his wartime service. He was given a suspended sentence, provided he disposed of most of his guns. In a move that may reflect the court's insight into the nonsense of the legislation, it allowed this "menace to society" to keep three guns for hunting. The cause for the raid in the first place, was again an anonymous tip.
5. The last case, or cases, involves a series of raids that were reported in most major newspapers on Dec. 12, 1996. According to the Toronto Star 1500 to 2000 guns were seized. About a dozen people were charged. Although there has been nothing official reported since then, we have received information from reliable sources that indicates many of these charges are also the result of overzealous police and trumped up nonsense.
We understand that one of the people charged is the sales manager of a Ford dealership, and has been employed there for 20 years. He is also a grandfathered converted full auto collector. He legally sold a converted auto firearm to a second person, who was also a grandfathered collector. This second person then legally sold the gun again, to a third person, who foolishly converted the gun back to full auto. Understandably, this person was charged. Amazingly, the police also charged the two previous owners. Apparently they stormed into the car dealership, handcuffed this person, and dragged him out of the shop in front of the customers and his fellow employees.
Another person is reported to have been charged with possession of an unregistered restricted weapon. The "restricted weapon" in question was a .44 calibre rimfire revolver, manufactured prior to 1898. It is classified under the Criminal Code as an "antique firearm" and is not required to be registered.
Public safety will not be enhanced if police forces spend their valuable time looking for trifling violations of some obscure bit of minutia buried 100 pages deep in the gun control regulations. They are needed on the streets.
It is impossible to know how many of these home invasions are occurring as they are usually only reported locally, but it is clear from the number showing up in the mainstream media that they are not isolated incidents.
The provinces are charged with the responsibility of protecting the civil rights and property rights of their citizens. (Three provinces blocked the entrenchment of property rights in the Constitution on this basis). The OPP and municipal police are under the direction of elected provincial officials. It is the responsibility of the elected officials to control this frenzy of police activity directed at trustworthy citizens.
Recently the Hamilton Spectator reported that a police officer's application for a search warrant was turned down. He went ahead with the search anyway with apparent impunity.
These violations of civil rights and property rights are not limited to the gun control issue. Bill C-17 (not to be confused with Kim Campbell's legislation) and Bill C-55, recently introduced by Allan Rock, and David Dingwall's Tobacco Products Control Act, allow warrantless searches and seizures of private property. They abrogate the right to remain silent, and require suspects to give evidence against themselves. They provide for electronic monitoring of people neither charged nor convicted of a crime.
How beneficial has the gun control legislation of the last twenty years been for the Canadian people? According to Statistics Canada, in the 1970's, when the Liberal government started its present regime of gun control, handguns were used in one homicide in ten. Today, after spending millions of dollars and abrogating the rights of millions of trustworthy Canadians, they are involved in one homicide in six. This should not be a surprise. It is what happens when laws are directed at honest citizens rather than criminals. As the Auditor General of Canada indicated in his 1993 report, the regime of gun legislation dating back to 1977 has made gun smuggling financially attractive to criminals.
At a time of financial restraint we need all the police officers we have to concentrate on catching real criminals.
COMMENTS ON THE MEETING
It came as a surprise to the directors of the Sporting Clubs of Niagara that the MPPs seemed under the impression people could still buy fully automatic firearms in Canada, and this was what the prohibition of para-military firearms was about. They seemed unaware that fully automatic firearms had been prohibited in 1977 and the current legislation is directed at firearms cosmetically similar to military firearms, but which function the same as semi-automatic hunting rifles.
The MPPs also seemed unaware that 58 percent of the legally owned handguns have been declared prohibited, and in do course will be confiscated without compensation by the government.
It was pointed out that these handguns, described by Allan Rock as cheap inaccurate, Saturday night specials, include most of the revolvers used by police for the past 90 years.
While our presentation was generally well received, it was apparent that the MPP's were not well informed about gun control issues. We recommend our members continue to contact their MPP whenever they have some firearms related concern.