NOTE: Versions of this story also ran in the following papers: Winnipeg Free Press, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times Colonist

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2007.02.14
BYLINE: Glen McGregor
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen


Alert system would identify 'unbalanced' gun owners


The Harper government is considering the creation of an alert system that would allow people to notify authorities if a gun owner they know becomes unstable. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says changes to Canada's gun laws could include a system to give those close to a gun owner a channel to express concerns about that person's mental health.

The system could be used if "either their friends or family or a doctor notices, or is concerned, that a person is becoming unbalanced," Mr. Day told the Citizen yesterday. He referred to the case of a Quebec psychologist who killed his wife and two daughters last fall. "Even some of the people in his own profession knew he was under increasing pressure in the months before that awful tragedy," he said. Mr. Day did not provide further details. A Day official said it was one of a variety of options the government is currently examining.

Mr. Day said the Conservative government will introduce a package of updates with an emphasis on increased policing and stopping guns being smuggled into the country. The government is also promising enhanced screening of people who buy restricted firearms -- a class made up mostly of handguns and certain types of short-barrelled rifles and shotguns. "It just won't be quite as easy," he said. "There will be a more thorough approach, especially when it comes to restricted firearms."

Mr. Day also wants to see changes that would stop judges from overturning firearms prohibition orders that prevent convicted criminals from owning guns. "These are the type of doors we want to slam shut," he said.

The Harper government has already introduced legislation that would end the requirement for owners of most rifles and shotguns to register their guns. Liberal MP Sue Barnes, the party's public safety critic, said yesterday that while she supports tougher licensing controls, she thinks registration should still be required for long guns. "It holds the gun owners accountable for the weapons they have," she said. She called on the Conservatives to bring up for debate the bill to end long gun registration. The bill received first reading last June. "I think they know right now their bill would be defeated if it was brought forward."

The alert system proposal could help blunt concerns about the Dawson College shootings last September, when a 25-year-old man used a legally registered gun to kill one student and injure 11 before killing himself. Kimveer Gill posted angry messages on a website before the Dawson shooting. Some wondered why these messages, along with the pictures of him holding a semi-automatic rifle, did not raise concerns.

Mr. Day also said the government is reviewing the current list of restricted and prohibited firearms to determine if guns new to the market need to be reclassified. The list was last updated by the Chretien government in 1995. "I think we can safely say that there have not been firearms coming into the country that are more lethal than what was available in 1995," he said. "The Liberals didn't do any updating. We are now looking at the list, just to make sure."

Among the guns to enter the market since 1995 is the restricted semi-automatic Beretta CX4 Storm carbine used by Mr. Gill. The gun is restricted because of its short barrel. Mr. Gill was able to buy it because he had a restricted-class Possession and Acquisition Licence. Some gun control advocates feel the Storm should be prohibited because it is not legal for hunting and has some features they say are characteristic of assault weapons.

But Mr. Day doesn't think the Storm is any more dangerous than some other widely used guns. "There are hunting rifles and all kinds of rifles in use on the non-restricted list that have far more firepower than the Beretta Storm," he said. If the Storm were prohibited, the government would have to consider reclassifying other semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns already in circulation, he said. "If you are to take out the Beretta, that opens it right up for another million and a half firearms," he said.

Mr. Day is himself a gun owner. He said he owns a .22-calibre rifle, shotguns and a handgun, but has little time to use them. "I haven't fired them for years. They're safely under lock and key."