HOW THE FIREARMS ACT (BILL C-68) VIOLATES
THE CHARTER OF RIGHT AND FREEDOM
Study directed by:
Dr. F.L.(Ted) Morton
University of Calgary
Research Costs funded by:
The Responsible Firearm Owners Coalition of British Columbia
The Responsible Firearm Owners of Alberta
The Recreational Firearms Community of Saskatchewan
First Presented in Saskatoon, SK
October 5, 2002
Section 7: Right to Liberty 2
Section 7: Right to Security of the Person 3
Section 7: Right to Procedural Fairness 5
Section 8: Right against unreasonable search or seizure 9
Section 8: Right to privacy 12
Section 11: Right to presumption of innocence 14
Section 9: Right against arbitrary detention 16
Section 10(b): Right to counsel 16
Section 2(b): Right to freedom of expression 16
Section 26: Right to bear arms 19
Section 26: Right to property 21
Section 15: Equality rights 25
Section 27: Multicultural rights 27
Section 1: Reasonable limits 28
File: Charter Challenge 2.0
In 1999 when the Supreme Court rejected Alberta’s (and seven other government’s) constitutional challenge that Bill C-68 was outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction, the Supreme Court began by declaring that:
“The issue before this Court is not whether gun control is good or bad, whether the law is fair or unfair to gun owners, or whether it will be effective or ineffective in reducing the harm caused by the misuse of firearms.”
That was true for the law of federalism. It is not true under the Charter of Rights. If a law is found to violate a Charter right, the Supreme Court has ruled that the burden of proof shifts to the government to prove that the law is “rationally connected” to its purpose; that it impairs the right involved “as little as possible”; and that there is a proportionality between the harm done and the good achieved. No impartial judge could find that Bill C-68’s licensing and registration requirements satisfy these criteria.
The purpose of Bill C-68—to reduce the use of firearms in violent crime--is laudable and shared by all law-abiding Canadians. However, its licensing and registration requirements do nothing to achieve this end. There is no credible evidence that the new licensing or registration requirements will have any effect on the criminal use of firearms or the incidence of firearms in domestic disputes or accidents. Former Justice Minister Allan Rock has conceded the obvious: criminals will never register their guns. (Indeed, there is credible evidence from the US and now the UK that civilian firearm ownership deters the criminal use of firearms.) Registered firearms are just as dangerous as unregistered ones.
As summarized below, Bill C-68 contains as many as 28 distinct Charter violations. If the Supreme Court applies the same Charter rules to law-abiding firearm owners as it has to drunk-drivers, drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, single parent welfare recipients, abortion providers, murderers, refugee claimants and owners of child pornography, that is—if it applies the law of the land with an even hand—then it will be forced by its own precedents to declare Bill-68 unconstitutional and thus of no force or effect.
Rather than force hundreds of law-abiding firearm owners to defend themselves against this unfair law, the same provincial and territorial governments that challenged Bill C-68 on division of powers grounds in 1997 should use their power of reference to initiate a second constitutional challenge—this one based on the Charter of Rights. This would be more fair and efficient. Instead of thousands of different cases winding their way through different provincial courts over the next several years, at great public expense, the issue of C-68’s Charter violations should be referred to a provincial Court of Appeal as soon as possible.
A Charter challenge by a provincial government—Alberta or Saskatchewan, for example—would prevent thousands of law-abiding firearm owners from facing criminal charges and potentially ruinous legal costs. It would also give an expedited answer to the question of the act’s constitutional validity—saving time and money for both governments and firearm owners.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Section 7 of the Charter protects the essential rights of life, liberty and personal security, rights that are fundamental to all democratic societies. While these rights are subject to reasonable limitations under s. 1, section 7 confers additional protection by ensuring that these rights cannot be taken away except “in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. This latter phrase has been interpreted to allow both procedural and substantive scrutiny of legislation.[i] This means that for a law to meet the requirements of section 7, it must respect the principles of procedural fairness—both in the way that it is written and in the manner in which it is administered—while also being a fair law. Bill C-68 fails to meet either of these tests.
Section 7: Substantive
Supreme Court of Canada has interpreted the section 7 right to liberty broadly.
As Wilson J. stated in R. v. Morgentaler  1 S.C.R. 30:
“the right to liberty contained in s. 7 guarantees to every individual a
degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting their
private lives.” Similarly, in the case of Godbout v. Longueuil (City),
 3 S.C.R. 844, La Forest J. stated: “the right to liberty enshrined in
s. 7 of the Charter protects within its ambit the right to an irreducible sphere
of personal autonomy wherein individuals may make inherently private choices
free from state interference.”
violates this protected sphere of personal privacy. It forces Canadian Firearm owners to become licenced and to
register their Firearms simply in order to own them. The state has legitimate reasons to regulate who purchases
Firearms (covered by the previous “Firearms Acquisition Certificate) and who
legally uses firearms (covered by mandatory provincial firearm safety courses).
But C-68 goes far beyond these legitimate objects of state regulation and
strikes at the mere act of possessing a Firearm inside one’s own home. This is
done in the absence of any evidence of harm to others or threat of such
harm—the primary justifications in a liberal democracy for the state to
interfere with the personal liberty of its citizens. C-68 imposes an intrusive
and stigmatising regulatory regime on the lawful activity of merely possessing a
firearm in the privacy of one’s own home. As noted by Justice Conrad of the
Alberta Court of Appeal in the first constitutuional challenge to C-68:
evidence was presented to this Court to show that the mere possession of an
ordinary firearm without a licence or registration certificate is a significant
social problem, let alone one leading to an increase in firearm-related crime,
suicide or accidents.”[ii]
thus violates the personal autonomy protected by s. 7 and the Supreme Court’s
jurisprudence on liberty.
respect to the section 7 right to personal autonomy, C-68 is analogous to other
sections of the criminal code that create “victimless crimes”—gambling,
drugs, physician-assisted suicide, child pornography and prostitution
(solicitation). As these analogous crimes suggest, the state may exercise the
police power to limit personal freedom in the name of public safety, public
health and public morality. But litigation arising from these analogous
exercises of the police power demonstrate that such attempts constitute prima
facie violations of Charter-protected freedoms (primarily section 7) and can
only be sustained if they meet the requirements of being a “reasonable
limitation” as prescribed by section 1 of the Charter. As Justice McLachlin
noted in her dissent in the doctor-assisted suicide case: “s. 7 was enacted
for the purpose of ensuring human dignity and individual control, so long as it
harms no one else.”[iii]
C-68 undermines the dignity and individual control of thousands of
law-abiding hunters and farmers who have not harmed anyone, and is thus in
violation of section 7 of the Charter.
Firearms Act also limits the s. 7 right to security of the person. In the
English-speaking common law jurisdictions of the world, it has long been
recognised that the primary purpose of the state is to protect the life, liberty
and property of its citizens against both foreign and domestic threats.
As John Locke declared in his justly famous justification of the Glorious
Revolution of 1688, “‘tis not without reason that [Man] seeks out and is
willing to join in society with others…for the mutual preservation of their
lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name, property.”
These sentiments were echoed by Sir William Blackstone who said “[t]he
third absolute right, inherent in every Englishman, is that of property.”[iv]
the normal course of events, it is the function of the criminal law and the
police to protect the lives and properties of the citizenry against the domestic
criminal elements of society. But the police have never been given a monopoly in
this effort. The common law has always recognised that citizens themselves enjoy
a right of self-defence against attacks on either their persons or and
possessions. This includes the right to own and to bear arms for purposes of
defending one’s home and family.[v]
Billl C-68 deprives Canadians of this right of self-defence against
home-invaders, by making them wholly dependent upon police response for
protection. In an era of rising property crimes and decreased police-presence,
we know that police response is almost always too late to protect the victims of
home invasions. Ironically, this situation has been aggravated by the hundreds
of million dollars that have been diverted from increasing police presence to
building the bureaucracy required to administer Bill C-68. For the millions of
Canadians who live in rural areas, police response is even slower—often hours
after a 911 emergency call is made. For these Canadians, the criminalisation of
mere possession of a firearm inside your own home is a prima facie violation of
their section 7 right to security of the person.
Supreme Court has interpreted section 7 to protect more than just physical
security. The Court has extended this right to include a right to be free from
government-induced emotional and psychological stress.
As Dickson C.J. stated in Morgentaler: “[t]he case law leads me
to the conclusion that…state-imposed psychological stress, at least in the
criminal law context, constitute a breach of security of the person.”
Similarly, Sopinka J. in the case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia
(Attorney General)  3
S.C.R. 519 declared: “[s]ecurity of the person in s. 7 encompasses notions of
personal autonomy…control over one's physical and psychological integrity
which is free from state interference, and basic human dignity.”
Justice Dickson, in R. v. Oakes , accurately captured the
consequences of being charged with a criminal offense:
individual charged with a criminal offence faces grave social and personal
consequences, including potential loss of physical liberty, subjection to social
stigma and ostracism from the community, as well as other social, psychological
and economic harms.”[vi]
Firearms Act violates this broader concept of security of the person
because it imposes significant psychological stress on Firearm owners.
By imposing criminal sanctions for violations of the Act and its
regulations, the Firearms Act has potential to bring thousands of
otherwise law-abiding farmers, hunters, target-shooters and collectors into
contact with the criminal law, where the penalty for violations include jail
sentences. The stress is even worse for Canadians whose only firearms consist of
one or two family heirlooms, because they typically are ignorant of the detailed
information—calibre, action, barrel length--required to register firearms
under C-68. These effects of Bill C-68 are contrary to the right to security of
the person protected by section 7 of the Charter.
105 of the Firearms Act also violates section 7 (and 8) of the Charter.[vii]
Section 105 requires a person to bring in a firearm for inspection when
requested to do so by a government official. Section 113 makes it a criminal
offence (punishable on summary conviction) to refuse to comply with a request
made under section 105. This violates the “principles of fundamental
justice,” which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean that a person cannot
be coerced into providing police with self-incriminating evidence. There are
several Charter precedents that stand for the rule that the police cannot force
a suspect to assist them or other government officials in the investigation of
that person for possible criminal activity. If a person is being investigated
for having committed a criminal offence, the Supreme Court has ruled that he has
a right to silence[viii]
and a right not to be asked questions until his lawyer is present.[ix]
course, if police have reasonable and probable grounds to suspect that a person
has an unregistered or otherwise illegal firearm, they can apply to a judge for
a search warrant, and a suspect cannot legally resist a properly executed search
warrant. Indeed, section 8 of the Charter requires the police to first obtain a
search warrant. However, as Wicklum has pointed out, section 105 is an attempt
to circumvent the search warrant requirement. When drafting Bill C-68, the
government anticipated that it would be wildly impractical, inefficient and
costly to have to apply for a search warrant for every suspected unregistered
firearm. Section 105 provides a much more efficient and less expensive way to
achieve the same end: just tell the suspect to bring the evidence to the station
“for inspection,” and make it a crime not to comply. Wicklum notes that
“inspection” demands similar to section 105 are an acceptable, standard
practice in non-criminal regulatory schemes, since they enhance efficiency.
However, the Government has barred itself from using such instruments to enforce
the Firearms Act, since they have already argued—successfully before
the Supreme Court of Canada—that the Act is exclusively a matter of
criminal law.[x] The Government cannot have
it both ways. By its decision to characterize the Firearms Act as
exclusively criminal law, it subjects police investigations to the requirements
of sections 7 and 8 of the Charter. Section 105 is a prima violates both these
sections, and can only be salvaged if it can pass the section 1 Oakes
Section 7: Procedural fairness
The manner in which Bill C-68 is being administered and enforced violates
the rules of procedural fairness mandated by the s. 7 guarantee of the
principles of fundamental justice. Effective January 1, 2003, the firearm
registration requirements take effect, and anyone with unregistered firearms
will be liable for prosecution. At the current rate of registration, however, on
January 1 there will be a huge back log of registration applications that have
been received but not yet processed. As a result, thousands of applicants will
be liable to criminal prosecution because of administrative inefficiency. The
will be subject to criminal prosecution, not because they have done anything
wrong, but because the government has failed to process their applications in a
timely manner. This administrative back-log will violate the principles of
procedural fairness that the Supreme Court has established.
the first two years of registering firearms, the Canadian Firearms Centre (CFC)
has registered 4.2 million guns. If one accepts the government’s estimate of
the total number of guns in Canada (and there is strong evidence that this
number is much too low), then the CFC will have to register another 3.5 million
between September, 2002 and the end of this year. At the current average of
40,000 registrations processed per week, there will still be a backlog of almost
3 million firearms on January 1. This assumes that the system will not crash
again as it did in July, 2002, when registrations slowed to 10,000 per week.[xi]
the 1986 B.C. Motor Vehicle Reference, [xii]
Justice Lamer wrote that, "A law that has the potential to convict a person
who has not really done anything wrong offends the principles of fundamental
justice and, if imprisonment is available as a penalty, such a law then violates
a person's right to liberty under section 7 of the Charter."
In the 1988 Morgentaler
abortion case, [xiii] Justice Dickson ruled that
"One of the basic tenets of our system of criminal justice is that
when Parliament creates a defense to a criminal charge, the defense should not
be illusory or so difficult to obtain as to be practically illusory."
"[The system] contains so many potential barriers to its own
operation that the defence it creates will in many circumstances be practically
unavailable [to those] who would prima facie qualify for the defence . .
"Even if the purpose of legislation is unobjectionable, the administrative procedures to bring that purpose into operation may produce unconstitutional effects, and the legislation should then be struck down."
These Charter precedents mean that section 7 of the Charter does not allow the government to provide an administrative defence to a criminal charge (i.e., a registration certificate for a firearm), but then not have that defence available in practice. As of January 1, 2003, this will be precisely what will occur under the Firearms Act. Accordingly, the first legal step in challenging C-68 should be to launch an injunction against enforcement effective January 1, 2003.
Since the Federal government extended the deadline for registration from Dec.
31, 2002 to June 30, 2003, the effective date for this issue now becomes July 1,
related procedural violation arises from the uneven application of the Firearms
Act in different provinces. The licensing and registering provisions of C-68 are
being applied differently in different parts of Canada—much like the old
abortion provisions (section 251) of the Criminal Code.
This pattern of administration violates the rule laid down by Dickson C.J.
in Morgentaler that the criminal law must be uniformly applied in each province
across Canada. The Chief Justice stipulated that defences to (and by
extension, charges under) the Criminal Code must be equal across the country, or
they will be deemed to violate the principles of fundamental justice.
Firearms Act, which is a criminal law, is not applied evenly throughout
the country. Only six provinces
agreed to administer the Act in their own jurisdictions. Seven other provinces
and territories have refused to enforce what their governments consider an
unconstitutional law, thus forcing the federal government to administer the act.[xiv]
This “checker-board” approach to enforcement means that Firearms owners are
subject to different administrative procedures and practices depending on where
they live in Canada.
Act as enforced—or rather, not enforced—violates the principles of
fundamental justice in a second way. Since the licensing provisions of the Act
came into effect January 1, 2001, they have been enforced in a highly irregular
and discriminatory manner. There have been no charges laid except as an
additional charge in cases where firearms have been used in the commission of a
separate criminal act. This double-standard also violates the uniform
application of the law principle mandated by the Morgentaler precedent.
A criminal law that is enacted by Parliament and forms part of Canada’s
criminal law but which is not applied even-handedly violates the principles of
well it has a discriminatory effect. The law has been applied in different ways
for different classes of people. While
Firearms owners who have not broken any other laws and are thus not charged tend
to be older, more educated and middle class, the criminals who commit other
offences and are then charged with licensing violations tend to be younger, less
educated individuals who are often from the lower socio-economic backgrounds,
and are in many cases members of ethnic or racial minorities.
This unequal application of the law violates the oldest and still most
basic meaning of the guarantee of “equality before the law.” In 1690, John
Locke stated it thus:
they are to govern, by promulgated established Laws, not to be varied in
particular Cases, but to have one Rule for the Rich and Poor, for the Favourite
at Court and the Countryman at Plough.”[xv]
200 years later, Dicey restated it as a core meaning of the rule of law:
means again equality before the law or the equal subjection of all classes to
the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary courts; the ‘rule of
law’ in this sense excluded the idea of any exemption of officials or others
from the duty of obedience to the law which governs other citizens or from the
jurisdiction of the ordinary courts.”
the Canadian context, F.R. Scott has articulated the same rule: “It is always
a triumph for the law to show that it is applied equally to all without fear or
favour. This is what we mean when we say that all are equal before the law.”
However the rule is articulated, the systematic, selective enforcement of C-68
has violated the section 7 of right of those charged under it.
widespread non- enforcement of a law creates confusion in the community.
Understandably, some Firearm owners have interpreted non-enforcement as
signalling that they need not apply for a license. If any of these persons are prosecuted in the future for not
having a license, this too would violate the principles of fundamental justice.
The rule of law does not permit the state to force citizens into the
precarious condition of guessing whether or when a criminal law is going to be
excessive discretion exercised by the Chief Firearms Officer in each province
also violates the norms of procedural fairness. As Justice Conrad of the Alberta
Court of Appeal oberved: “The entire licensing scheme is at the discretion of
the Chief Firearms Officer. It is a discretion without minimum standards, or any
absolute standards for that matter.”[xvi]
This unfettered discretion violates the norms of the rule of law that date back
to the Magna Carta (1215). Dicey’s articulated this principle still stands:
“We mean, in the first place, that no man is punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or in goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the land. In this sense the rule of law is contrasted with every system of government based on the exercise by persons in authority of wide, arbitrary, or discretionary powers of constraint.”
rule of law principle was enforced in Canadian courts prior to the Charter in
the famous case of Roncarelli v. Duplessis (1959), and is strengthened by
section 7 of the Charter.
further violation of section 7 occurs because of the government’s attempt to
pay for the firearms registry by imposing registration fees on firearm owners.
Charging fees is a standard and acceptable practice in government regulation of
individual private property, but “property and civil rights” is an exclusive
provincial jurisdiction. The Federal government has successfully argued (before
the Supreme Court of Canada) that the Firearms Act is not a regulatory regime
for property but rather a valid exercise of its criminal law jurisdiction. This
position resolves the Federal government’s jurisdictional problem but creates
a new Charter problem. Because criminal law is by definition in the “public
interest,” the government cannot impose registration fees on individual
property owners to pay for restrictions that are in the “public interest.”
If such restrictions are required for reasons of “public safety” (or morals
or health), then the public must pay for this public benefit.
relevant precedent again is the 1969 abortion law. Former Section 251 of the
Criminal Code made abortions illegal, but then provided a legal defense—an
approval certificate issued by a therapeutic abortion committee (TAC) certifying
that continuation of the pregnancy constituted “a threat to the health” of
the woman. The TACs were staffed by doctors and thus expensive to run. However,
there was never any question of trying to recover the TAC’s administrative
costs by charging a fee to the pregnant women and doctors who came before the
TAC to request the approval certificate. The purpose of the TAC was public
health and public morals—balancing the life of the unborn child against the
health of her mother—and so the public paid the administrative costs. In the
case of the Firearm Registry, the government’s attempt to transfer public
enforcement costs to affected private citizens is unprecedented in Canadian
criminal law. It also violates the principles of fundamental justice required by
section 7 of the Charter.
the right to property is not explicitly enumerated in section 7, it is implied
in the rights to “liberty” and “security of the person,” which are
explicitly protected. As explained in detail below, in the evolution of
the British constitution, the concepts of “liberty” and
“property” are often used
interchangeably. For John Locke, William Blackstone and the Canadian Founders,
it would have been impossible to conceive of one without the other.[xvii]
In keeping with this tradition, section 1(a) of the 1960 Canadian Bill of
Rights, after which section 7 of the Charter is modeled, provides:
is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall
continue to exist…the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,
(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and
enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due
process of law.”
1986, the Supreme Court’s Singh[xviii]
precedent established that courts can incorporate more specific rights
protections from the Canadian Bill of Rights into the more broadly worded
language of the Charter. In Singh,
the Court used the Bill of Rights to incorporate a right to a fair hearing into
section 7 of the Charter. In a similar manner, the Court can and should expand
the scope of the freedoms protected by section 7 to include the right to the
enjoyment of property. Once property is deemed to be protected by section 7,
C-68 violates that right. As Justice Conrad of the Alberta Court of Appeal has
noted: “It[C-68] places conditions on the use, ownership and possession of
property that go far beyond any dangerous use or misuse of guns.”[xix]
addition, to the rights to “life, liberty and security of the person”,
Section 7 also creates an additional, free-standing right not to be deprived of
any of these substantive rights “except according to the principles of
fundamental justice.”In her Rodriguez dissent McLachlin J. indicated
that: “[a law] may violate the principles of fundamental justice under s. 7 of
the Charter if the limit [upon the s. 7 right] is arbitrary. A particular limit
will be arbitrary if it bears no relation to, or is inconsistent with, the
objective that lies behind the legislation.”
The Firearms Act constitutes
precisely such an arbitrary limit, because it bears little relation to the
objective of reducing violent crime. The majority of violent crimes involving
firearms are committed by unlicensed owners using unregistered handguns, and
thus would not be affected by the Firearms Registry.[xx]
Similarly, the vast majority of Firearms-related deaths in Canada—three out of
every four-- are from suicides, which cannot be stopped by the registration of
Firearms. As Justice Conrad noted
in her Alberta Court of Appeal opinion:
statistics also confirm that firearm ownership is not dangerous, per se, and
that many Canadians possess firearms for legitimate reasons and use them in a
safe and responsible manner . . . . the impact of this legislation will be borne
substantially by those who use firearms safely for legitimate purposes.[xxi]
she concludes, “It is not valid to make a law-abiding citizens a criminal for
mere failure to possess a registration certificate. In the latter case, the
connection to misuse or serous risk of harm is not there.”[xxii]
conclude, there are as many as 13 distinct violations of the rights to liberty
and security of the person, and the principles of fundamental justice, under
section right 7. As the Firearms
Act was not enacted under the section 33 notwithstanding clause, the only
way that these limitations can be constitutionally upheld is if they are
determined to be reasonable under the Oakes test in a section 1 analysis.
(This is the subject of the last section of this study.)
8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
Section 8 of the Charter prohibits unreasonable searches or seizures by the police. The courts have interpreted this to require the police to procure a search warrant from a judge before conducting a search, except in narrowly defined circumstances ( e.g., “hot pursuit” or probable loss of evidence). The importance of the warrant requirement is heightened when the premises being searched are a home.
The requirements for obtaining a search warrant under the Firearms Act do not meet the strict criteria laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Hunter. In Hunter, the Supreme Court mandated that for a warrant to be issued, a judge must be led on “reasonable and probable grounds, established upon oath, to believe that an offence has been committed and that there is evidence to be found at the place of the search.” The Court also said: “[t]he state's interest in detecting and preventing crime begins to prevail over the individual's interest in being left alone at the point where credibly-based probability replaces suspicion.” The Firearms Act demands only that the inspector believes on reasonable grounds that firearms or records of firearms exist in the dwelling or business. This falls short of the Hunter requirement.
the case of R. v. Hurrell, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently struck
down s. 117.04(1) of the Criminal Code for violating a similar standard.[xxiii]
A unanimous three judge panel ruled that the lower burden of proof for obtaining
a search warrant “allows for wholesale fishing expeditions in which the police
are permitted to invade an individual’s privacy in circumstances where they
may have no reason to even suspect, let alone believe, that the person of
concern has any weapons or other dangerous items in his or her possession.”
The Ontario Court of Appeal declared that section 8 of the Charter requires the
higher standard of proof—evidence that provides reasonable and probable
grounds—for police to obtain a valid search warrant. In February, 2003, the
Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to hear the Hurrell appeal.
In addition to prescribing procedures to obtain a search warrant, sections 102-105 of the Firearms Act authorize warrantless searches in two instances: if the inspector has the consent of the occupant or has given the occupant “reasonable notice.” Since these two exceptions allow the police to conduct searches and seizures—in private homes--without prior judicial approval, they are prima facie violations of section 8 of the Charter. Neither of these criteria meet the requirements spelled out by the Court for warrantless searches.
Sections 102-105 appear to assume, wrongly, that by “giving consent,” a target of a Firearms Act search effectively waives his section 8 rights. Receiving the consent of the occupant of the premises to be searched is not sufficient to conduct a warrantless search, at least not in a private home. Because of the principle of “psychological coercion” established by the Supreme Court in Therens, a section 8 right cannot be waived in a cursory manner. As Justice LeDain declared in Therens, it is not sufficient that a suspect simply complies with a police request.
my opinion, it is not realistic, as a general rule, to regard compliance with a
demand or direction by a police officer as truly voluntary, in the sense that
the citizen feels that he or she has the choice to obey or not, even where there
is…an absence of criminal liability for failure to comply with it. Most
citizens are not aware of the precise legal limits of police authority. Rather
than risk the application of physical force or prosecution for wilful
obstruction, the reasonable person is likely to err on the side of caution,
assume lawful authority and comply with the demand. The element of psychological
compulsion, in the form of a reasonable perception of suspension of freedom of
choice, is enough to make the restraint of liberty involuntary. Detention may be
effected without the application or threat of application of physical restraint
if the person concerned submits or acquiesces in the deprivation of liberty and
reasonably believes that the choice to do otherwise does not exist.
By failing to account for the element
of psychological compulsion, sections 102-105 of the Firearms
Act violate the constitutional standard
established in Therens.
8 of the Charter protects the ancient common law right of citizens to not be
subjected to unnecessarily intrusive state searches and seizures.
While at first this right was designed to protect private property from
the state, it has evolved to be primarily a protection of privacy. As former Chief Justice Brian Dickson stated in the landmark
case of Hunter v. Southam Inc.  2. S.C.R. 145, the purpose of s. 8
is: “to protect individuals from unjustified state intrusions upon their
privacy.” Likewise in the same
case, La Forest J. stated:
“[t]he ultimate justification for a
constitutional guarantee of the right to privacy is our belief, consistent with
so many of our legal and political traditions, that it is for the individual to
determine the manner in which he or she will order his or her private life.”
privacy is not explicitly protected in the Charter, it has been recognised as
existing in the Charter through s. 8 since some of the earliest Charter cases.
According to Hunter (1984), section 8 can be seen: “negatively
as freedom from ''unreasonable'' search and seizure, or positively as an
entitlement to a ''reasonable''
expectation of privacy”. Similarly,
in Plant, Sopinka J. said “[t]he purpose of s. 8 is to protect against
intrusion of the state on an individual's privacy.”
Lastly, and perhaps most persuasively in refuting the argument that
privacy is not in the Charter, in R. v. Sharpe  1 S.C.R. 45,
McLachlin C.J. stated: “[p]rivacy, while not expressly protected by the
Charter, is an important value underlying the s. 8 guarantees against
unreasonable search and seizure.” These
cases demonstrate that privacy is fully protected by s. 8 of the Charter.
While Canadians have a right to protection only against ‘unreasonable’ intrusions upon their privacy, the provisions of Bill C-68 go beyond the bounds of reasonableness. The search and seizure powers granted by C-68 are unconstitutionally broad. They authorize police to enter into private homes “at any reasonable time” and to search “any place where the inspector believes . . . there is a gun collection or a record [of a gun collection]” and “may open any container . . . examine any other thing that the inspector finds and take samples of it”; and “require any person to produce for examination or copying any records books of account or other documents.” Such sweeping search powers violate the prohibition against police “fishing expeditions” imposed by the courts’ interpretation of the section 8.[xxiv]
intrusions into the privacy of individuals are counter to a number of important
Supreme Court precedents. In R.
v. Dyment  2 S.C.R. 417, La Forest J. commented on the essential
importance of privacy:
“[P]rivacy is at the heart of liberty
in a modern state…. Grounded in
man's physical and moral autonomy, privacy is essential for the well-being of
the individual…. The restraints
imposed on government to pry into the lives of the citizen go to the essence of
a democratic state.”
on the importance of privacy in criminal investigations in the Thompson
La Forest J. wrote:
For reasons that go to the very core of
our legal tradition, it is generally accepted that the citizen has a very high
expectation of privacy in respect of [criminal] investigations.
The suspicion cast on persons who are made the subject of a criminal
investigation can seriously, and perhaps permanently, lower their standing in
the community. This alone would entitle the citizen to expect that his or her
privacy would be invaded only when the state has shown that it has serious
grounds to suspect guilt. This expectation is strengthened by virtue of the
central position of the presumption of innocence in our criminal law. The stigma
inherent in a criminal investigation requires that those who are innocent of
wrongdoing be protected against overzealous or reckless use of the powers of
search and seizure by those responsible for the enforcement of the criminal law.
A further violation of a firearms owner’s privacy rights is inflicted by the form that applicants must fill out in order to obtain a firearms licence (POL or PAL). This form asks questions about such things as the applicant’s mental and emotional history, personal bankruptcy, job loss, and relationship breakdowns.[xxvi]
The demand for the disclosure of such highly personal information is inconsistent with Charter jurisprudence. In Dyment, La Forest J., speaking on the privacy of information stated:
“[t]his too is based on the notion of the dignity and integrity of the individual. As the Task Force[xxvii] put it (p. 13): "This notion of privacy derives from the assumption that all information about a person is in a fundamental way his own, for him to communicate or retain for himself as he sees fit." In modern society, especially, retention of information about oneself is extremely important.”
Sopinka J., in R. v. Plant  3 S.C.R. 281 went further:
“Section 8 of the Charter should seek to protect a biographical core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the state. This would include information which tends to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual.”
In accordance with this precedent, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently struck down part of Ontario’s “spouse in the house” provision for social assistance recipients. The Court cited the intrusive nature of the application: “the administration of the definition is highly intrusive of the privacy of single persons on social assistance. They are subjected to heightened scrutiny of their personal relationships. They are required to complete a detailed questionnaire on their personal living arrangements…. [The] questions on the questionnaire touch on highly personal matters….. Requiring social assistance recipients to complete this questionnaire further suggests that the definition undermines human dignity.”[xxviii]
The personal information required by the Firearms Act is even more intrusive than that struck down by the Ontario Court of Appeal. There is also greater justification for the impugned "spouse in the house" rules than for the personal information required for a firearms license. A welfare applicant is trying to avail herself of state financial assistance. No one questions the state’s right to target such benefits to a specified class, and this targeting necessitates requesting information from would-be recipients to determine if they qualify for the benefits. In the case of C-68, the affected citizen is not applying for a government benefit. Rather, the state is pursuing and burdening the citizen with a regulatory regime and user-tax. Unlike the welfare applicant, the firearm owner would prefer just to be left alone. In this context, there is a higher burden of justification on the state for asking intrusive questions of a personal nature.
chief civil servant responsible for Canada’s Privacy Act has voiced a
number of concerns about Bill C-68 and the Firearms registry.
In his review of the Act[xxix],
the Commissioner expressed reservations about the ability of Canadians to access
and correct information about them in the registry: “Canadians are finding it
difficult and time-consuming to exercise their access and correction rights
because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Program.”[xxx]
He was also concerned with the ability of Firearms inspectors to access
police information that is not necessarily relevant to their inspections:
“Firearms Officers have very broad powers and discretion to investigate and
gather personal information about applicants. Access to police information
should be tightened. Firearms Officers should only have access to information
that is relevant to their duties.”[xxxi]
Perhaps most importantly under s. 8 of the Charter, the Commissioner was
disturbed by the questions on the licence application form:
of the information collected in the application process—about mental health,
job losses, bankruptcies, substance abuse, etc.—is highly intrusive. We have
concerns about the breadth of the information captured as well as its usefulness
in the decision-making process. In our view, the Program has not provided a
"demonstrable need" for some of the personal information being
collected on the firearms licence application form.[xxxii]
Commissioner went on to recommend that two of the three personal history
questions be deleted from the application form, and that the other should be
That Canada’s top privacy watchdog had significant concerns with the
privacy ramifications of Bill C-68 is also indicative that the law is legally
are even higher legal barriers against the PAL/POL applications in Quebec.
Sections 5 and 9 of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms mandate,
respectively, that “Every person has a right to respect for his private
life”; and “Every person has a right to non-disclosure of confidential
information.” Even if Firearms Act were to be upheld in the rest of
Canada, it could still be declared invalid in Quebec.
To conclude, the Supreme Court has interpreted section 8 to impose a “reasonable expectation of privacy” from government, and applied this principle to protect impaired drivers, marijuana growers, and single parent welfare recipients. An applicant for a firearms license (POL or PAL) under C-68 is forced to answer personal questions about his or her mental health history, personal finance, bankruptcy, drug use, job loss, and relationship breakdowns. The use of similar—indeed, LESS intrusive—questions about welfare applicants’ personal lives has been declared unconstitutional by an Ontario court. The use of these highly intrusive questions in C-68 has already been condemned by the federal Privacy Commissioner. Bill C-68 thus violates section 8 of the Charter in as many as five distinct ways.
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right
d) to be presumed
innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an
independent and impartial tribunal;
11(d) of the Charter protects (among other things) the ancient right to be
presumed innocent until proven guilty. This
right is one of the oldest and most fundamental tenets of the criminal law in
common law jurisdictions. It is also guaranteed in the United Nations
Declaration of Human Rights.[xxxiv]
The Firearms Act limits the right to be presumed innocent through its use
of reverse onus provisions.
Firearms Act contains two provisions that place the onus of proving
innocence on the accused in criminal matters, both prima facie violations of s.
Section 112.4 of the Act places the onus on the defendant to prove that
he has a firearms licence, rather than placing the onus upon the Crown to prove
that the defendant does not have such a licence.
Likewise, s. 107 of the Act places upon the defendant the burden to prove
that he or she did not tamper with or deface a licence or certificate, rather
than placing the onus upon the Crown to prove that they did.
Supreme Court of Canada has been unequivocal in its Charater rulings on reverse
onus provisions. The Court has consistently ruled that reverse onus clauses
violate s. 11(d) and have then subjected these clauses to s. 1 scrutiny.
The most significant of these cases was R. v. Oakes  1 S.C.R.
103. In this case (better known for
the Court’s establishment of criteria for deciding s. 1 violations), Chief
Justice Dickson explained the reasons behind the presumption against the use of
reverse onus provisions:
The presumption of innocence protects the
fundamental liberty and human dignity of any and every person accused by the
State of criminal conduct. An individual charged with a criminal offence faces
grave social and personal consequences, including potential loss of physical
liberty, subjection to social stigma and ostracism from the community, as well
as other social, psychological and economic harms. In light of the gravity of
these consequences, the presumption of innocence is crucial. It ensures that
until the State proves an accused's guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, he or she
is innocent. This is essential in a society committed to fairness and social
justice. The presumption of innocence confirms our faith in humankind; it
reflects our belief that individuals are decent and law-abiding members of the
community until proven otherwise.
The Chief Justice concluded: “[i]n general one must, I think, conclude that a provision which requires an accused to disprove…the existence of a presumed fact [a reverse onus provision], which is an important element of the offence in question, violates the presumption of innocence in s. 11(d). If an accused bears [this] burden…, it would be possible for a conviction to occur despite the existence of a reasonable doubt.”[xxxvi]
The Supreme Court has also found similar reverse onus clauses that do not relate to essential elements of the offence (as was the case in Oakes) to violate s. 11(d). In the case of R. v. Whyte  2 S.C.R. 3, the Supreme Court held that a reverse onus provision which related to “a fact collateral to the substantive offence” violated s. 11(d) (in this case, the issue was whether a drunk accused who was asleep at the wheel of his car had “care and control” of the vehicle). In R. v. Downey  2 S.C.R. 10, the Court held that an evidentiary presumptions that forces an accused to point to evidence to disprove his guilt is unconstitutional. The section of the Criminal Code challenged in Downey forced the accused to point to evidence to prove that he did not live off the avails of prostitution. In a related case, the Court held that a reverse onus clause that relates to defences or excuses is unconstitutional. In R. v. Chaulk  3 S.C.R. 1303, the Court forced the Crown to prove that a defence does not exist. Even for the defence of insanity, the Crown must now prove that the accused was sufficiently sane to commit the crime.[xxxvii] In Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, the Court afforded the same treatment to an absolute liability offences (an offense in which an accused is liable despite acting under reasonable mistake of fact, with no intention to commit a crime).[xxxviii]
As these examples attest, the Supreme Court has been strict in protecting the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise throughout its Charter jurisprudence. The demands made in sections 107 and 112(4), that the defendant assume the burden of proof that he has a firearms licence, or did not tamper with a licence, violate the principle of innocent until guilt is proven. As such, these sections must face further Charter scrutiny in which the crown bears the burden of proof that the limitation is reasonable.
Given these precedents, the Crown would likely concede that the reverse onus provisions of the Firearms Act violate section 11(d), and rest their defence on section 1 “reasonable limitations” grounds. While this strategy has worked with certain other reverse onus clauses of the Criminal Code,[xxxix] it is not likely to pass judicial muster in this case, given the weak means/ends linkage of the Firearms Act. These section 1 issues are dealt with in the final section of this study.
Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
Section 9 of the Charter protects the right against arbitrary detention. The courts have interpreted detention to include being detained by police investigators to be asked questions. (Therens, 1985) Sections 102-105 of the Firearms Act authorize police to demand of any person in a house being searched to provide them with assistance. The Act’s use of phrases such as “cause to be used,” “cause to be reproduced,” “shall,” and “require” indicate the coercive nature of the “request” for assistance and therefore constitute a detention as defined in earlier cases. These detentions must be deemed arbitrary when they occur in the context of the two kinds of warrantless searches authorized by the Act. (See “Right against unreasonable search and seizure,” above.) The detention is also arbitrary in the context of a warrantless search because it is “at the absolute discretion of the police officer.” (Hufsky, 1988).
10. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention
a) to be informed promptly for the reasons therefore;
b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right; and
c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
Section 10(b) of the Charter protects the right to counsel “upon arrest or detention.” The courts have interpreted this to mean that police cannot elicit evidence from suspects until or unless the suspect’ lawyer is present or the suspect has knowingly waived that right. Those sections of the Firearms Act (ss.102-105) that allow an inspector to demand ANY person in the house to provide assistance are prima facie violations of section 10(b) of the Charter, and their reasonableness will have to be determined under the section 1 Oakes test.
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression. Grouped under ‘Fundamental Freedoms,’ this right is among the most important in a free society. As MacIntyre J. stated in Dolphin Delivery: “[t]he principle of freedom of speech and expression has been firmly accepted as a necessary feature of modern democracy.” [xl] Indeed, a generation before the adoption of the Charter, Rand J. eloquently declared that free speech was “little less vital to man's mind and spirit than breathing is to his physical existence.”[xli] Notwithstanding the pre-eminence of freedom of expression in all democratic societies, the Firearms Act limits this right in two ways, neither of which pass the s. 1 “reasonable limitations” clause.
first of these violations is technical and falls in the area of enforcement.
Section 103 of the Act coerces suspects to provide information against their will.
Section 103 states:
owner or person in charge of a place that is inspected by an inspector under
section 102 and every person found in the place shall: (a) give the inspector
all reasonable assistance to enable him or her to carry out the inspection and
exercise any power conferred by section 102; and (b) provide the inspector with
any information relevant to the enforcement of this Act or the regulations that
he or she may reasonably require.”
the case of Slaight Communications Inc. v. Davidson,  1 S.C.R.
1038, Lamer J. indicated that: “freedom of expression necessarily entails the
right to say nothing or the right not to say certain things.” The Court upheld
this provision later in RJR-MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General)
 3 S.C.R. 199. In the case of Lavigne v. Ontario Public Service Employees
Union  2 S.C.R. 211, Wilson J., commenting on forced expression,
stated: “[i]f the government's purpose was to put a particular message into
the mouth of the plaintiff…the action giving effect to that purpose will run
afoul of s. 2(b).” Forcing
firearm owners and those found inside their house or business to assist
inspectors violates the right to say nothing which the Supreme Court has upheld
as an aspect of the freedom of expression.[xlii]
light of these precedents, the coercive elements of section 102 of the Firearms
Act must be found to
violate section 2(b) of the Charter, unless such coercion can be
justified as a “reasonable limitation” under section 1 of the Charter.
The Firearm Act’s second violation of the right to freedom of expression is broader. While conventional expression usually takes the form of written or spoken word, engaging in an activity has also been deemed expressive For example, the activity of marching in a political rally is a form of expression. As the Supreme Court stated in Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Québec (Attorney General)  1 S.C.R. 927: “[a]ctivity is expressive if it attempts to convey meaning. That meaning is its content. Freedom of expression was entrenched in our Constitution…so as to ensure that everyone can manifest their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, indeed all expressions of the heart and mind, however unpopular, distasteful or contrary to the mainstream.” In the same case, the Court also linked expression with “individual self-fulfillment.”[xliii] In the more recent child pornography case, R. v. Sharpe, the courts re-affirmed the link between a person’s possessions and their ability freely to express themselves. In R. v. Sharpe  B.C.J. No. 54, a B.C. Supreme Court judge wrote that “[t]he personal belongings of an individual are an expression of that person's essential self. His or her…personal things are intertwined with that person's beliefs, opinions, thoughts and conscience.”
these precedents, the ownership of firearms qualifies as a form of expression
protected by section 2(b) of the Charter. Certainly if the ownership of child
pornography is protected by the Charter, then so too is the ownership of
firearms. This is especially true for the many collectors of antique and rare
firearms, and for those families that keep firearms as family heirlooms. In both
cases, the keeping and displaying of firearms (privately at family gatherings or
publicly at gun shows) is a form of self-fulfillment. The keeping and displaying
of such firearms may signify the owner’s interest or pride in the past
military achievements of an
ancestor or of our nation. For others it may signify pride or interest in
Canada’s pioneer history or the deeply rooted traditions of hunting, trapping,
farming or ranching. All of these firearm-related activities are part of
Canada’s multicultural mosaic (itself a constitutionally protected principle)
and their expressive content enjoys the full protection of section 2(b) of the
fact that most gun collections are private and not normally displayed in public
does not diminish their entitlement to Charter protection. The Supreme Court has
recognized an important connection between freedom of expression and the
constitutional right to privacy. Private
activity which is expressive but not intended for public consumption, explains
Dickson C.J. in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor  3 S.C.R.
892:, is protected by s. 2(b) to an even greater degree than public expression.
…in determining in Keegstra that the
criminal prohibition of hate propaganda in s. 319(2) of the Criminal Code is not
constitutionally overbroad, I relied to an extent upon the fact that private
communications were not affected. The connection between s. 2(b) and privacy
is thus not to be rashly dismissed, and I am open to the view that justifications
for abrogating the freedom of expression are less easily envisioned where
expressive activity is not intended to be public, in large part because the
harms which might arise from the dissemination of meaning are usually minimized
when communication takes place in private, but perhaps also because the freedoms
of conscience, thought and belief are particularly engaged in a private setting.
this standard, the possession or collection of firearms is clearly a protected
form of private expression.
but not least, the Supreme Court has given freedom of expression a broad
definition encompassing a wide variety of activity, some of which is offensive
to the values and beliefs of a majority of Canadians.
The Supreme Court has found the dissemination of racial hate propaganda
as well as child pornography to both fall within the ambit of protected
expression, despite the fact that the vast majority of Canadians find both
activities to be offensive. If the
Charter protects child pornography and racist propaganda, surely it protects the
lawful possession Firearms. In
light of the Keegstra[xliv]
and Sharpe precedents, section 2(b) of the Charter protects the private
possession of Firearms.[xlv]
By making mere possession of these firearms illegal unless the owner is licensed
and each individual gun is registered, the Firearms Act clearly restricts
freedom of expression and can only be saved if it can pass the “reasonable
limitations” test set out in Section 1 of the Charter.
26. The guarantee in this Charter of
certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of
any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada.
26 of the Charter confirms the continuing enjoyment of common law and statutory
rights not enumerated in the Charter, but recognised in Anglo-Canadian law and
jurisprudence. Two such rights are
the right to bear arms and the right to own property. The Firearms Act
sharply restricts both of these ancient rights.
The Right to Bear Arms
The common law right to bear arms has existed for at least 300 years in Anglo-Canadian law. Although it may have had its origins even earlier,[xlvi] the first explicit recognition of this right appears in the English Bill of Rights (1689), designed by Parliament to constrain the power of the new King after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Article VII of this document states:
“That the subjects which are protestant may have arms for their defence, suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.”
VII thus indicates that Protestants in Great Britain enjoyed the right to bear
arms, subject to certain restrictions placed upon the right by Parliament,
restrictions that were usually related to class. The right to bear arms was so
fundamental to the British constitutional system that in the next century Sir
William Blackstone, the celebrated author of the Commentaries on the Laws of
England, included this right among the five most fundamental auxiliary
rights of British subjects, including such fundamental tenets as Parliamentary
supremacy and the right of subjects to seek redress for grievances in courts of
law (see Appendix).[xlvii]
Although this right has been regulated in various ways since its promulgation, it remains part of one of the most important legal instruments in British constitutional history. This right was passed down to Canada through the preamble of the British North America Act (1867) which grants Canada “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom,” a phrase which transfers to and entrenches the British common law legacy in Canada.
counter argument has been made to the claim that there is a right to own
firearms in Canada by Lois G. Schwoerer. Schwoerer argues that Article VII in
the 1688 English Bill of Rights did nothing more than grant Britons a communal
right to self-defence; the right of the British to have an armed militia for the
common defence of their territory.[xlviii]
Article VII did not grant individuals a right to own firearms for
self-protection, according to Schwoerer, and there is no common law foundation
for such a right.
Malcolm effectively rebutts Schwoerer’s evidence. Malcolm points out that many
of the drafters of the English Bill of Rights were lawyers who knew the
importance of draftsmanship and statutory interpretation.[xlix]
Such people would undoubtedly have included a reference to a common
or communal right to bear arms if
they had intended it not to apply strictly to individuals. As well, framers of the American Bill of Rights, basing their
document on its British ancestor, included a right for individuals to bear arms
in their document, so sure were they that their citizens had enjoyed a right to
bear arms under British rule.[l]
buttresses her position with several British precedents. In R. v. Gardner
93 E.R. 1056, it was ruled that the keeping of a gun for self-defence was a
legal and permissible act in England, provided that it was not used for unlawful
purposes (in this case, for hunting, an activity prohibited to members of the
lower class such as the accused). In
Wingfield v. Stratford and Osman 96 E.R. 787, a similar ruling was made
confirming the right of individuals to bear arms for their self-defence.
The right to bear arms is not absolute, and has been subject to regulation by law since at least the time of the Glorious Revolution. Regulation, however, does not extinguish this right. In its landmark 1990 Sparrow decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that regulation of an aboriginal right does not automatically extinguish the right. Mutatis mutandi, the same logic applies to section 26 rights such as the right to bear arms. Indeed, the historical right of the descendants of European settlers to bear arms can be no less than the right of aboriginal Canadians to bear arms, since the latter only acquired firearms with the arrival of the former. It can hardly be maintained that there is an Aboriginal right to bear arms but not a similar right for non-Aboriginals, when it was European settlers who first brought firearms to North American and its Aboriginal inhabitants. The right to bear arms is thus a historical right of all Canadians, and this right is affirmed and extended by section 26 of the Charter.
A right that has been entrenched in constitutional and quasi-constitutional documents for three centuries, recognised in judicial interpretation, and accorded constitutional pre-eminence by one of the most renowned commentators on British law, is protected in Canada through section 26 of the Charter. Since Bill C-68 prohibits the mere possession of a firearm—even for purposes of self-defense in one’s own home—it restricts this right. Given the intimate connection between the right of self-defense and to rights to life, liberty and security of the person protected by section 7 of the Charter, the state must justify its restriction of this right according to the strict tests mandated by the Oakes precedent.
The Right to Own Property
have inherited the right to own property from England.
The right of British subjects to own and do as they wish with property is
a cornerstone of British democracy, and property protections exist in such key
constitutional documents as the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of
Rights (1689). Property rights
were further entrenched in the British constitution through such instruments as
parliamentary representation and enfranchisement for voting.[li]
This right enjoys constitutional protection in Canada by virtue of our
inheritance of British law through the preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867,
Canada, the Fathers of Confederation also sought to protect property rights when
they drafted the British North America Act, 1868.
One of the prime objectives of the Canadian founders was to promote the
economic development of British North America. For them, the primary means to
this end was to ensure the protection of property rights in the new Dominion.[lii]
They did this through several different provisions.
section 92(13) declared ‘Property
and Civil Rights’ an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction (a political
necessity given Quebec’s distinctive system of civil law), the Founders were
not content to leave the protection of property rights at the whim of provincial
majorities. Key provisions in the enumeration of “exclusive” federal
powers—banking, credit, currency, and bankruptcy were intended to pre-empt any
provincial abuse of property rights.[liii]
Additional security was added in section 94 of the Act, which allowed the
federal Parliament to provide for the uniformity of the Property and Civil
Rights Laws in the (then) three English speaking provinces.[liv]
safeguards for property rights were backed up by the federal powers of
reservation and disallowance. One of the four grounds Sir John A. MacDonald gave
for using disallowance to strike down provincial legislation was when it was
“unconstitutional,” by which he meant that it violated “the traditional
rights of British subjects. In the context of the times, this meant the kind of
‘unsound’ or ‘unreasonable’ legislation which affected the rights of
In his classic study of federal disallowance, Mallory reports that, “The
disallowances between 1876 and 1890 were in most cases attempts to safeguard a
conception of property and contract which the federal government considered
vital to the success of its national policies.”[lvi]
Mallory summarized his findings as follows:
“The rigid exclusion of the provinces from this field [banking, credit, currency, and bankruptcy] and the use of the power of disallowance to protect the sanctity of contract in the years before 1890 show how important this step was. Its effect was to exclude the provinces from interfering with the direction, control and operation of the economy.”[lvii]
the federal level, the Canadian founders built in additional protection for
property rights in the form of the Senate. The design of the Canadian
appointment rather than election, and tenure for life—was intended to emulate
the British House of Lords, not the more democratic model offered by the U.S.
Senate. According to John A. Macdonald, the Senate reflected the unanimous
consensus of the Founders that “classes and property should be represented as
well as numbers.”[lix] As Alvaro accurately
summarizes, “Appointment and the property minimum were meant to ensure that
those who had the veto power over Commons legislation held a vested interest in
property rather than a loyalty to constituent voters.”[lx]
The right to property was enshrined in Canada’s first stand-alone rights document, John Diefenbaker’s 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights. This precursor to the constitutionally entrenched Charter of Rights was described by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bora Laskin as a “quasi-constitutional instrument.”[lxi] Section 1 of the Bill of Rights stipulates:
“It is hereby recognised and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist…the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely, (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property.”
This right was not extinguished by the adoption of the Charter of Rights in 1982. As Wilson J stated in Singh “[t]here can be no doubt that [the Canadian Bill of Rights] continues in full force and effect and that the rights conferred in it are expressly preserved by s. 26 of the Charter.”
strongest argument against judicial recognition of a right to property under
section 26 is that property rights were intentionally omitted from the Charter
during the framing process. While
the right to property can be found in the 1960 Bill of Rights, and was included
in early drafts of the Charter, the provision was deleted by the federal Liberal
government due to provincial opposition and in an effort to court the support of
the federal NDP and the Saskatchewan government.[lxii]
It can be argued that if the framers intended not to provide a right to
property in the Charter, then judicial recognition of such a right under s. 26
would be wrong.
second argument against recognizing a right to property under the Charter is the
precedent of R. v. Bryan 170 D.L.R. (4th) 487. In this case, the Manitoba
Court of Appeal ruled that “[s]ince the Bill of Rights is not a true
constitutional document, there is no mandate to set aside the will of Parliament
through judicial review. Section 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, which
protects property rights through a "due process" clause, was not
replicated in the Charter, and the right to "enjoyment of property" is
not a constitutionally protected, fundamental part of Canadian society.”
of these arguments is conclusive. The Manitoba Court of Appeal erred in ruling
that the Bill of Rights provides no mandate for the courts to strike down
legislation. The Bill of Rights was
a statute deemed to have supremacy over regular legislation, and while it did
not explicitly grant the power of judicial review (as the Constitution Act,
1982 does), it still gave courts the power to strike down legislation.
While it did not exercise this power frequently, the Supreme Court had
the power to strike down legislation found to run afoul of the Bill of Rights,
as it did in the case of R. v. Drybones,  S.C.R. 282.
Furthermore, a plain reading of the Bill
of Rights reveals that the section does not
grant or create rights, but rather recognises and affirms rights.
This recognition suggests that whether it is written in a statute or
constitutional document, the right exists in Canada, and cannot be overridden
except by special provision. Put another way, the distinction between the statutory
basis and the constitutional basis of rights affects only the judicial authority
in interpreting these rights (end even then in only a limited capacity, as is
explained above), not the scope of the rights themselves.
That the right to property is not found in the Charter affects only the
status of the courts’ interpretation of these rights, not the existence or
scope of the right. Moreover, the Bryan precedent is not binding on the Supreme Court of
With respect to the “framers’
intent” argument, the Supreme Court declared in Re:
B.C. Motor Vehicle Act that framers’ intent should be given only
“minimal weight” in interpreting the Charter.[lxiii]
The Court has not hesitated to disregard the intentions of the framers in
a number of cases in the past when protecting citizens’ rights. In Re:
B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, the Court ruled that section 7 of the Charter allowed
judicial consideration of the substantive fairness of challenged legislation,
despite clear evidence of a contrary framers’ intent. Likewise in Vriend
v. Alberta  1 S.C.R. 493, the Supreme
Court read sexual orientation into section. 15 of the Charter, notwithstanding
that the framers intentionally excluded it.
Following the Vriend
and B.C. Motor Vehicle precedents, the Court can and should
recognise the right to own property under s. 26 as a matter of constitutional
The argument for updating the meaning
of the Charter to include property rights is reinforced by the “living tree”
approach to constitutional interpretation. First articulated by the Privy
Council in the celebrated Persons Case
(1928), the contemporary Supreme Court has endorsed giving a “large and
liberal” interpretation to the Charter in order to keep the meaning of
constitutional rights in tune with the times. As disclosed by Alvaro’s
research referred to above, the deletion of property rights from the final draft
of the Charter was an last-minute concession, based on short-term political
considerations rather than long-term, constitutional principles. Subsequently,
two provinces—Ontario and British Columbia—have passed resolutions endorsing
the addition of property rights to the Charter.
A contributing factor to the omission
of property rights were the now discredited Keynsian economic theories.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Keynesian economic models of that era
have now been discredited in the academy and abandoned by Canadian governments.
With globalization and free trade, the emphasis on lower taxes and
smaller government, the demand for balanced budgets and reduced public debt, a
new economic model has gained acceptance in Canada. The Supreme Court would be well within the boundaries of its
own jurisprudence to apply the “living tree” approach to update the Charter
to include property rights. Indeed, it would only be restoring one of
Canadians’ oldest and most important rights to the constitutional status it
has historically enjoyed.
There is a third supplementary
argument for judicial incorporation of property rights into the constitution:
judicial recognition of “foundational principles” of the Canadian
constitution. This approach could be used in conjunction with section 26 or
independently. In Reference re
Remuneration of Provincial Judges (1997), the Supreme Court declared that judicial independence qualified
as such a “foundational principle.” A year later in Reference re Secession
of Québec  2 S.C.R. 217, the Supreme Court recognised four additional
“foundational principles”—federalism, democracy, rule of law and minority
rights—but stated that this list
was not exhaustive and that additional principles may also exist.[lxiv]
For the reasons outlined above, no
principle is more fundamental to the foundations of Anglo-Canadian democracy
than the right to own property. John
Locke, long considered the “official philosopher” of the Glorious Revolution
of 1688, stated that: “[t]he great and chief end …of men’s uniting into
commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of
Locke conceived of property broadly to include
people’s “lives, liberties, and estates.”[lxvi]
In the 1750s, Blackstone reiterated its pre-eminent status by declaring
that private property (along with personal liberty and security) is one of the
three great primary rights of the individual in England.[lxvii]
A century later, the Canadian Founders constructed multiple constitutional
safeguards to protect the rights of private property. For four centuries, all
the English-speaking democracies have recognized that economic freedom is a
prerequisite for political freedom, that political democracy and free enterprise
economics complement one another. The constitutional keystone to this edifice of
freedom is property rights. This surely qualifies property rights to be added to
the five other unwritten but judicially enforceable constitutional principles
recognized thus far by the Supreme Court of Canada.
To conclude, the right to property is one of the oldest and most fundamental rights in British-Canadian legal history. The protection of private property against state deprivation can be traced to the Magna Carta (1215); the 1688 Bill of Rights; Locke’s Second Treatise (1690), and Blackstone’s Commentaries. Like the right to bear arms, the right to property is imported into Canadian law by the preamble to the BNA Act, 1867. The protection of private property rights was one of the highest priorities of the Canadian founders. Canadian citizens’ right to private property was confirmed by the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights. In its 1986 Singh ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed that the rights protected by the Bill of Rights continue in force even if they are not explicitly mentioned in the Charter—which property is not. However, the Supreme Court has established that it may confer judicially enforceable constitutional protection on “unwritten constitutional principles” that are essential to Canada’s unique form of democracy. The Court should add the right to private property to the five principles to which it has already given this protection. Indeed, without respect for the right to private property, these others would gradually fade into irrelevancy as the peoples’ financial dependency on the all powerful state sapped their ability and will to challenge it.
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Section 15 of the Charter prohibits the government from discriminating against Canadians on the basis of irrelevant personal characteristics, particularly members of minority groups that have been historically disadvantaged. While some of the prohibited grounds of discrimination are enumerated in section 15, the Court can add new groups if it deems them to be “analogous” to the enumerated groups.
Bill C-68 discriminates unfairly and unreasonably against three non-enumerated minorities in Canada: rural Canadians, non-aboriginals who depend upon firearms for their livelihood, and couples (married or unmarried) who choose to own their firearms in joint tenancy.
Rural Canadians—farmers, ranchers, trappers, hunters—regularly and lawfully employ firearms to make their living. The effect of Bill C-68 is to impose de facto “tax” and a heavy regulatory burden on the tools of their trade. Bill C-68 also forces them to disclose sensitive personal and financial information, and threatens them with fines and/or incarceration if they fail to comply. Bill C-68 also has the effect of stigmatizing rural Canadians as somehow responsible for the increase in the illegal use of firearms, when in fact illegal gun-related violence is predominately an urban trend. This is precisely the type of unfair stereotyping of a politically vulnerable minority that section 15 prohibits. As McLachlin and Bastarache JJ. stated in Corbiere v. Canada (Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs)  2. S.C.R. 203: “the general purpose of s. 15(1), [is] to prevent the violation of human dignity through the imposition of disadvantage based on stereotyping and social prejudice, and to promote a society where all persons are considered worthy of respect and consideration.”
That Parliament and the government of the day ignored or underestimated Bill C-68’s discriminatory impact on rural Canadians is not surprising. Rural Canadians are represented by less that 31% of MPs in Parliament, [lxviii] and consequently their legitimate interests are prone to systematic neglect by the majority of MPs who come from urban and suburban constituencies.[lxix]
That this is the effect, not the purpose, of the Firearms Act is irrelevant. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that discriminatory effects are just as unconstitutional as a discriminatory purpose.
C-68’s exemptions for Aboriginals discriminates against similarly situated non-aboriginals on the basis of their race. Parliament realized that many Aboriginals farm, ranch, trap, or hunt for their living and therefore provided exemptions for this sub-group of Aboriginals. While this exemption is reasonable, it is under-inclusive because it excludes non-Aboriginals who farm, ranch, trap, or hunt for their living.
Firearms Act has a number of accompanying regulations that provide the
administrative framework for its implementation.
Among these regulations are the “Aboriginal Peoples of Canada
Adaptations Regulations (Firearms),” which set out a number of special
circumstances for current and prospective Aboriginals who make use of firearms
for their livelihood or traditional cultural practices.
Among these regulations are the allowance of an Aboriginal elder to
submit a statement testifying to the importance of the use of a firearm for the
traditional hunting practices of a prospective firearm-applicant, which the
Chief Firearms Officer is obliged to consider, special allowances for younger
Aboriginals to own firearms, and some circumstances in which it is easier for
Aboriginals to be exempted from taking a firearms safety course. However, similarly-situated non-Aboriginals are not entitled
to the same exemptions under these regulations.
Aboriginal regulations are potentially both over-inclusive and under-inclusive
in terms of the people affected by them. They
can be over-inclusive by catching a number of Aboriginals who do not engage in
occupations or cultural practices involving firearms, and underinclusive by
excluding non-Aboriginal Canadians who do.
The drafters of the regulations had the foresight to anticipate the
former, and thus limited the scope of the regulations to include only those
Aboriginals whose occupation depends upon the use of firearms.
However, the drafters forgot the latter when they failed to extend
similar provisions to non-Aboriginal Canadians who depend upon firearms for
their livelihood. While it is
important that Aboriginal Canadians have such special allowances in order to
maintain their livelihoods, the Bill discriminates against similarly situated
non-Aboriginal hunters, trappers, farmers and ranchers for whom firearms are
equally important in the pursuit of their livelihood.
The Supreme Court has declared in Vriend (1998) and
Law (1999) that a statute that confers a benefit but does not
extend the benefit to a similarly-situated minority (enumerated or analogous)
violates section 15.[lxx]
are several precedents[lxxi]
and authorities[lxxii] that suggest that
preferential treatment of Aboriginals over non-Aboriginals are permitted by
section 15(2) and section 25 of the Charter. However, these deal primarily with
treaty rights and provisions of the Indian Act, not laws of general application
such as Bill C-68. Moreover, the Supreme Court has not yet laid down a
definitive ruling on this point of law.[lxxiii]
Bill C-68 violates section 15 in a third way: it irrationally discriminates against couples (married or unmarried) who chose to own their firearms in joint tenancy. Many Canadian couples choose to own shared property (including firearms) as “joint tenants” rather than as “tenants in common” so that if one dies, the survivor automatically assumes sole possession of the designated property. Many financial planners and lawyers advise couples that “joint tenancy” is the preferred way to own shared property as it avoids the costs and problems associated with the death of a partner, such as probate, taxation and legal fees, to name just the most obvious. However, the administrative guidelines developed to administer C-68 do not permit firearms to be registered as being owned in “joint tenancy.”[lxxiv] There is no compelling justification for this clear discrimination against couples who choose to own their personal property jointly. The only justification is the administrative convenience of those who enforce the Firearms Registry. However, the Supreme Court has declared that “administrative convenience” is not sufficient to justify a Charter violation.[lxxv]
conclude, there are three instances of section 15 discrimination in Bill C-68;
two against rural, non-Aboriginal firearm owners in Canada and one against
couples who choose to own their personal property jointly.
These limitations can only be justified if they pass the
“reasonableness” test under s. 1 of the Charter as prescribed by the Oakes
This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation
and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
Section 27 is an interpretive guide to judges, and cannot be used alone to create rights or strike down legislation. According to Roach v. Canada (Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Culture)  113 D.L.R. (4th) 67: “s. 27 does not protect a particular right or freedom, it being relevant only as an aid to interpretation.” Section 27 is thus relevant to section 15 arguments about the under-inclusiveness of the Bill C-68 with regards to the livelihood and culture of rural Canadians. Ironically, the government of Canada vowed to respect the importance that firearms play in Canada’s cultural mosaic. Then Justice Minister Allan Rock said in a speech to Parliament in defence of the Act:
We must acknowledge and respect the legitimate uses of firearms. We should acknowledge and respect the history and tradition of hunting, not only as a favourite pastime in many parts of Canada but as a very important economic activity contributing directly to the prosperity of a number of regions throughout Canada. We must acknowledge and respect the use of firearms for ranching or hunting purposes where firearms are a tool, an implement used by the proprietor of business to get by. We must allow for that. We must not interfere with that unduly.
May I say as well that we must acknowledge that some people enjoy collecting firearms. Some people enjoy the shooting sports. Indeed, Canada has achieved distinction internationally through the skill of those athletes who train and excel at sport. We must acknowledge and respect that interest and that skill.[lxxvi]
the Minister’s personal intentions, C-68
has failed to protect and respect the “legitimate uses of Firearms” in
Canada and has created a legislative scheme that is not consistent with the
enhancement and preservation of Canada’s multicultural heritage.
This is further evidence of Bill C-68’s limitation on Charter rights.
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes that the rights and liberties guaranteed therein are not absolute but are subject to “reasonable limits.” In one of its most important Charter precedent, R. v. Oakes, the Supreme Court set out an operational definition of what criteria must be met for a government to “demonstrably justify” that a rights limitation is “reasonable.” The “Oakes test” requires a government to demonstrate that the impugned act:
In subsequent Charter rulings, the Court has conceded that in practice the Oakes test is more an art than a science, and is subject to more and less strict applications. To clarify the issue, the Court has developed rules to guide judges in applying strict and less strict (i.e. less deferential and more deferential) versions of Oakes.[lxxvii] The Court has emphasized that the more strict application of Oakes is indicated for cases in which the state is the “singular antagonist” against an individual citizen. This is always the case in criminal law prosecutions, because it is in the criminal context that the lone citizen/accused faces the full prosecutorial power and resources of the Crown. Criminal prosecutions are thus distinguished from other federal and provincial laws that mediating disagreements between individuals or competing social or economic interests and in which the penalties are less severe and lack the social stigma of a criminal conviction. In these cases, judges may adopt a more deferential view of the section one arguments and evidence advanced by the state to defend its challenged law.
All Charter challenges to the Firearms Act (as well as those sections of the Criminal Code that deal with firearms) trigger the more strict version of the Oakes test. Despite the regulatory nature of the Firearms Act’s licensing and registration requirements, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in its 2000 Reference re Firearms Act decision that the entire Act is criminal in nature. Indeed, only as criminal law could the Act qualify as falling under federal jurisdiction. Thus, in the “sliding scale” of Oakes test applications, all provisions of the Firearms Act attract the most strict application of these four criteria.[lxxviii]
While the purpose of the Firearms Act—the reduction of illegal use of firearm violence—easily qualifies as an important public policy objective, the means used to achieve this objective utterly fail the last three rules of the Oakes test.
In 1995 when C-68 was enacted, there was no demonstrable need for new restrictions on firearm owners. According to the Canadian Firearms Centre’s own data, in 1995, the rate of homicides per 100,000 people in Canada was 0.60, a 25 year low. Likewise, the use of firearms in suicides was at a 24 year low in 1995.[lxxix] In addition, the rate of 3.0 hospitalizations due to all firearms-related causes per 100,000 people was at an eight year low, as was the rate of 1.2 firearms accident hospitalizations per 100,000 people. [lxxx] (This second figure excludes hospitalizations due to intentional use of firearms, which are included in the first figure.). This data suggests that levels of firearms-related accidents and deaths had been decreasing for a number of years prior to 1995, and thus there was no demonstrable need for a new policy of universal gun registration.[lxxxi]
While the gun-control mechanisms already in place prior 1995 were having a positive impact on homicides, they were having limited effects on other firearms-related crime, in spite of the fact that some types of firearms have been registered since 1934.[lxxxii] After the classification of “restricted weapon” was created in 1969 and accompanied by more stringent registration demands, the number of robberies increased from 74 per 100,000 people in 1974 to 99 per 100,000 people in 1995.[lxxxiii] The number of restricted weapons offences also increased during this period from 1,812 offences in 1974 to 2,290 in 1994.[lxxxiv] Similarly, while firearms-related homicides have decreased in recent years in Canada, they have increased since the registration of firearms was initially enacted. In 1919, when there was no registration of firearms in Canada, the homicide rate in this country was 0.69. In 1986, when stringent registration provisions were firmly in place, the homicide rate in Canada was 2.6.[lxxxv] Thus Canada’s homicide rate, like robbery, and all restricted weapons offences, has actually increased with increased firearms registration. These data all contradict the underlying assumption behind Bill C-68: that more stringent licensing and registration laws do not decrease firearms-related crime.
There is other empirical evidence to suggest that the registration of firearms is not the best solution to firearms-related violence. Liberal MP Allan Rock (the person responsible for shepherding Bill C-68 through Parliament in 1995) conceded in the debate over the Firearms Act: “[l]ast year , of the 1,400 people who died by firearms in Canada, 1,100 were suicides. I know there are those who say that suicide by its nature will result in death no matter what controls are in place if the person is determined to take his or her life. No doubt that point has some force.”[lxxxvi] Three-quarters of firearm-related violence (1994) was in the form of suicide, in which firearms users are hurting no one other than themselves, and using only one of several possible methods to bring about their own death. firearms registration and tighter licensing will not prevent suicides. As Professor Gary Mauser has pointed out: “there is no convincing evidence showing that stricter gun laws can help reduce suicide rates…. Despite the lower rates of firearm ownership in Canada than in the United States, Canada has a higher suicide rate than the United States.”[lxxxvii]
Thre is also data showing that the registration of firearms will have little effect on violent crime in Canada. The vast majority of firearms-related violence occurs with the use of illegal handguns. In 1996 for example, non-restricted firearms (long guns) such as rifles and shot guns were used in just 6.9% of all firearms-related violence. Indeed, firearms of all types were used in just 3.34% of violent crimes in Canada in 1996, and non-restricted shotguns and rifles were used in 0.3% of violent crimes that year.[lxxxviii] The vast majority of the remaining violent crimes were committed with knives, fists and hockey sticks.
Similarly, violent firearm-related crimes are most often committed by younger, urban residents with criminal records, many involved in the drug trade[lxxxix], as opposed to the older, rural-dwelling citizens who tend to legally own firearms.[xc] Targeting those who legally and safely own firearms to register their possessions is not likely to effect a great deal of change in the criminal use of firearms. The Firearms Act simply targets the wrong demographic group. Bill C-68, which has mainly had the effect of punishing law-abiding Canadians, stigmatising their legitimate behaviour and activity, forcing them to pay for licencing and registration, and threatening them with criminal punishment, can be said to be arbitrary and unfair, and is not rationally connected to the objective of reducing the criminal use of firearms.
Research from other jurisdictions suggests that tighter controls on firearms might actually have the reverse effect on violent crime. This hypothesis has been supported by the respected study by John Lott, whose book, More Guns, Less Crime, was published by the prestigious University of Chicago Press. Lott’s examination of non-discretionary concealed handgun laws in the United States reveals that while levels of firearms ownership are increasing (by about 10% between 1988 and 1996[xci]), violent crime rates have been decreasing (since 1991).[xcii] Lott found that 31 American states have laws permitting citizens to carry concealed handguns for self-defence, and that states without such laws have substantially higher violent crime rates.[xciii] Indeed, violent crime rates are 81% higher in states without such laws, while the murder rate is 127% higher.
Evidence from England tells a similar story. In her recent study, Guns and Violence: The English Perspective (published by the equally prestigious Harvard University Press),[xciv] Joyce Lee Malcolm reports that after the introduction of strict firearms laws in 1953, “the use of guns increased a hundredfold” between 1957 and 1967. She adds that in 1904, there were only four armed robberies in London. In 1991, there were 1,600 cases of armed robbery, which is now among England’s most serious crime problems. After a ban was issued on all handguns in England in 1997, Firearms related crimes rose 10% in 1998. Violent crime more than doubled in England between 1996 and 2000.[xcv]
In 1983, the New Zealand government discontinued universal registration of firearms after that country’s national police deemed the programme to be completely unsuccessful. Some police agencies are calling for the same steps to be taken in the United Kingdom, where firearms registration has proven similarly fruitless.[xcvi]
Other studies from abroad demonstrate the same phenomenon. As Mauser points out: “Firearms have been banned in Jamaica, Hong Kong, New York City, and Washington, DC, without leading to decreases in homicides.”[xcvii] In Australia, stringent gun-control laws, including a ban on all military-style handguns, were introduced in 1997. Homicides involving firearms doubled between 1996 and 2001, and armed robbery increased 166% between 1996 and 1999.[xcviii] In Australia: “more than 40 percent of firearms have not been registered even after decades of requirements that they be so.”[xcix]
These examples from other countries attest that stricter gun-control laws do not equate to lower crime rates or higher public safety. Indeed, there is more evidence for the opposite conclusion. As Gary Kleck succinctly states in his analysis of gun registration in the United States: “there appears to be no violence reduction benefit to be derived from restricting gun ownership in the general population.”[c]
In 1995 when Bill C-68 was before Parliament, Allan Rock, the entire Justice Department, and the federal cabinet all relied heavily on the report of the “Firearms Control Task Group.” This group, using R.C.M.P. data, reported that in 1993, there were 623 Firearms involved in violent crime in Canada. A subsequent R.C.M.P. analysis of the data upon which this conclusion was based revealed that only 73 Firearms were involved in violent crimes that year. Also, the Commissioner of the R.C.M.P. stated in a letter to the Department of Justice Canada that “a cursory review of the remaining 909 firearm cases revealed that only a very small percentage of these would meet the definition of a firearm involved in a crime.”[ci] The Justice Department tried to downplay the significance of these discrepancies as being due to differences in methodological approach, but failed to convince critics. The statistics cited by the R.C.M.P. reflect crimes in which Firearms were used directly, while Justice Canada’s statistics involved any crime in which a Firearm was recovered, whether the gun was used in the commission of the crime or not. Justice Canada’s numbers would have the effect of including, hypothetically, a criminal investigation of a drug transaction at a house in which a duck hunting rifle which was safely stored in the basement, and not used or involved in the drug deal in any way was noticed and recovered by the police in the investigation.[cii] Most observers consider the R.C.M.P.’s methodologies to provide a much more accurate picture of firearms use in violent crime in Canada. The Commissioner of the R.C.M.P. stated that this “incorrect reporting of RCMP statistics could cause the wrong public policy or laws to be developed and cause researchers to draw erroneous conclusions.”[ciii] Parliament’s reliance on such misleading data further undermines the “rational connection” between of Bill C-68’s purpose and its means—universal firearm registration.
Another way of gauging the lack of proportionality between the costs and benefits of Bill C-68 has been its soaring costs. The programme was originally targeted to cost $85 million over five years. By 2000, costs exceeded $500 million.[civ] In December, 2002, Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a report indicating that costs would reach $1 billion dollars by 2005.During this same period, there has been no measurable reduction in firearm-related violence. This money has been spent primarily on hiring bureaucrats to run the new registry, not on law-enforcement officers. This money could be more effectively spent on longer incarceration of those convicted of using firearms to commit crimes and cracking down on gun smuggling—the primary source of firearms used in crime in Canada..[cv] A properly designed Firearms Act would target gun smugglers as opposed to recreational users as does the current Act.
There has been no systematic verification of the accuracy of the information reported on registrations. The RCMP has said that it would take another 8.8 years to verify the accuracy of registration information on all shotguns and rifles. Despite this backlog, in 2002, eight firearm officers responsible for verification have resigned.
In 2002 it was recently disclosed that one out of every six firearms registered has no serial number. This missing information will defeat one of the stated purposes of C-68: assisting police in tracing stolen firearms and firearms used in crimes.
The government’s claim that the Firearms Act would deliver more effective screening of firearm owners has been contradicted by recently disclosed CFC information. Between 1979 and 1999 under the old FAC system, the “rejection rate” for applicants was .76 percent. Since 1999, the rejection rate for license applications under the new system is .38 percent, only half of the old rate. It is twice as easy for marginal applicants to become licensed under the new law.
After reviewing these and similar data, Justice Conrad of the Alberta Court of Appeal observed:[cvi]
statistics also confirm that firearm ownership is not dangerous, per se, and
that many Canadians possess firearms for legitimate reasons and use them in a
safe and responsible manner . . . . the impact of this legislation will be borne
substantially by those who use firearms safely for legitimate purposes. . . .
places conditions on the use, ownership and possession of property that go far
beyond any dangerous use or misuse of guns. . . .
is not valid to make a law-abiding citizen a criminal for mere failure to
possess a registration certificate. In the latter case, the connection to misuse
or serous risk of harm is not there.”
While these findings were not conclusive of the jurisdictional/division of powers issue before her in that earlier case, Justice Conrad’s findings indicate why Bill C-68 will be found unconstitutional in the context of a Charter or Rights challenge. The Firearms Act violates multiple sections of the Charter of Rights and fails all three components of the section 1 Oakes test: rational connection, minimal impairment, and proportionality. Fair-minded judges will have no choice but to declare the Firearms Act unconstitutional and to dismiss any criminal charges brought against law-abiding Canadian citizens for alleged violations of the Act. No Canadian can be convicted or punished for violating a law that is itself unconstitutional.
Re: B.C. Motor Vehicle Act
 2 S.C.R. 486.
: citation and page number missing.
[iv] Sir William Blackstone. “Commentaries on the Laws of England.” in Four Books. Book I, Part II, 1803, p. 138, in St. George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries: 5 Volumes: Vol. II, New York: Angus M. Kelly Publishers, 1969.
[vi]  1 S.C.R. 103.
[vii] This Charter violation
was brought to my attention by a research paper done by Mike Wicklum,
“Is s. 105 of the Firearms Act Constitutional?” (January, 2003),
[viii] R. v. Hebert  2 S.C.R. 151.
[ix] R. v. Manninen  1 S.C.R. 1233.
“Is s. 105 of the Firearms Act Constitutional?”
[xi] Lorne Gunter, “End the billion-dollar gun registry boondoggle,” Sept. 20, 2002.
[xii]Reference re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act,  2 S.C.R. 486, J. Lamer: "A law that has the potential to convict a person who has not really done anything wrong offends the principles of fundamental justice and, if imprisonment is available as a penalty, such a law then violates a person's right to liberty under section 7 of the Charter."
[xiii] Morgentaler v. The Queen, 1988 1 S.C.R. 3, C.J. Dickson:
[xiv] These six jurisdictions are Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and all three Northern Territories.
Locke, Second Treatise on Government, edited by Peter Laslett.
(Cambridge University Press, 1960), p. ??
[xvi] Alberta Court of Appeal, p.560.
[xviii] Satnam Singh et. al. v. Minister of Employment and Immigration  1 S.C.R. 177.
[xix] J. Conrad, p.547
[xx] Between 1997 and 2001, there were 476 homicides committed with handguns. Among the cases in which the gun was recovered, 74% were not registered. Of the accused in these 476 cases, 81 percent did not possess a valid FAC or Firearms license.
[xxi] Justice Conrad, Alberta Court of Appeal, p.511.
[xxii] Justice Conrad, Alberta Court of Appeal, p.578.
[xxiii] R. v. Hurrell, July 19, 2002. unreported at time of writing.
[xxiv] See ss. 102-104 of the Firearms Act. Section 102 in particular states: “102. (1) Subject to section 104, for the purpose of ensuring compliance with this Act and the regulations, an inspector may at any reasonable time enter and inspect any place where the inspector believes on reasonable grounds a business is being carried on or there is a record of a business, any place in which the inspector believes on reasonable grounds there is a gun collection or a record in relation to a gun collection or any place in which the inspector believes on reasonable grounds there is a prohibited firearm or there are more than 10 firearms and may:
(a) open any container that the inspector believes on reasonable grounds contains a firearm or other thing in respect of which this Act or the regulations apply;
(b) examine any firearm and examine any other thing that the inspector finds and take samples of it;
(c) conduct any tests or analyses or take any measurements; and
(d) require any person to produce for examination or copying any records, books of account or other documents that the inspector believes on reasonable grounds contain information that is relevant to the enforcement of this Act or the regulations.”
Thomson Newspapers Ltd. v. Canada (Director of Investigation and
Research, Restrictive Trade Practices Commission)  1 S.C.R. 425.
[xxvi] Firearms Licence Application form, Questions 19 (d), (e), and (f).
Question 19(d): During the past five years, have you threatened or attempted suicide, or have you been diagnosed or treated by a medical practitioner for: depression; alcohol, drug or substance abuse; behavioural problems; or emotional problems?
Question 19(e): During the past five years, do you know if you have been reported to the police or social
services for violence, threatened or attempted violence, or other conflict in your home or elsewhere?
Question 19(f): During the past two years, have you experienced a divorce, separation, a breakdown of a
significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy?
[xxvii] Here, Justice La Forest is quoting the Task Force on Privacy and Computers (Communications/ Department of Justice. Privacy and Computers. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1972.L[lt]E).
[xxviii] Falkiner v. Director, Income Maintenance Branch 212 D.L.R. (4th) 633. See Appendix for some of the questions on the questionnaire discussed in this passage.
[xxix] Information Canada. Department of Justice Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Review of the Personal Information Handling Practices of the Canadian Firearms Program, Ottawa: 2001.
[xxx] Ibid., p. 5. For further discussion of this issue, see pp. 19-20.
[xxxi] Ibid., p. 5. For further discussion of this issue, see pp. 25-31.
[xxxii] Ibid., p. 5. For further discussion of this issue, see pp. 37-49.
[xxxiii] Ibid, p. 52. The Privacy Commissioner curiously failed to find the collection of personal and arguably only quasi-relevant information in the licence application form to offend s. 4 of the Act which states “4. No personal information shall be collected by a government institution unless it relates directly to an operating program or activity of the institution.”
[xxxiv] Article 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.”
[xxxv] There are also other
Firearms offence in the Criminal Code which contains reverse
(see for example s. 117.11 of the Code).
[xxxvi] The Chief Justice then went on to set out the so-called “Oakes Test” for s. 1, and found that the Reverse Onus provisions in the impugned law violated the Charter, and struck it down.
[xxxvii] For a discussion of each of these reverse onus findings, see Peter Hogg. Constitutional Law of Canada. Loose Leaf Edition vol. II. Scarborough: Carswell Thomson Professional Publishing, 1997, pp. 48-13—48-18.
[xxxviii] In this case, the Court struck down an absolute liability offence under s. 7 rather than s. 11(d).
[xxxix] See Hogg, p. 48-16.
[xl] RWDSU v. Dolphin Delivery Ltd.  2 S.C.R. 573.
[xli] Switzman v. Elbling, S.C.R. 285.
[xlii] The freedom to not be forced to provide incriminating evidence against oneself is not relevant in inspection, as it is only made applicable when someone is charged with an offence, which is not necessary for an inspection under s. 102 to occur.
[xliii] At p. 976.
[xliv] R. v. Keegstra  3 S.C.R. 697.
[xlv] Though it should be noted that in the Keegstra case, the law under which the Accused was tried was found to infringe s. 2(b), it was upheld under s. 1. The law in the Sharpe case was not.
[xlvi] As Joyce Lee Malcolm indicates, in the absence of police forces, citizens in England have had the right and indeed the responsibility to bear arms for their defence and in order to maintain a militia since the middle ages. Joyce Lee Malcolm. To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 1.
[xlvii] Blackstone, pp. 140-44.
[xlviii]Lois G. Schwoerer. “To Hold and Bear Arms: The English Perspective,” in Chicago-Kent Law Review, vol. 76. no. 1 (2000) 27-60.
[xlix] Malcolm, 1994. p. 118.
[l] The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
[li] Alexander Alvaro. “Why Property Rights Were Excluded from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” in Canadian Journal of Political Science. Vol. 24 (1991), no. 2, 309-329. pp. 311-12.
[lii] Peter J. Smith. “The Ideological Origins of Canadian Confederation,” in Janet Ajzenstat and Peter J. Smith (eds.) Canada’s Origins: Liberal, Tory, or Republican. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1995.
[liii] In this regard, Peter
Hogg points to the following subsections of section 91of the BNA Act, 1867:
2, 15,16,18, 19, 2, 22, 23, 28.
[liv] Alvaro, pp. 313-14.
J.R Mallory, Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada
(University of Toronto Press, 1954), p. 13.
Mallory, Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada, p. 14.
[lvii] Mallory, Social Credit and the Federal Power, p.25.
[lviii] “Four thousand dollars over and above his debts and liablilities.”
[lix] Confederation Debates, p.39, as cited by Alvaro, “The Exlusion of Property Right from the Charter,” p.313.
[lx] Alvaro, “The Exlusion of Property Right from the Charter,” p.313-314.
[lxi] Hogan v. The Queen  2 S.C.R. 574, p. 597.
[lxii] Alvaro, “The Exlusion of Property Right from the Charter,” p. 321.
[lxiii] at p. 509.
[lxiv] para. 32.
[lxv]John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extend and End of Civil Government), and A Letter Concerning Toleration. Edited by J.W. Gough. Oxford U.K.: Basil Blackwell & Mott Ltd., 1946. s. 124, p. 63.
[lxvi] Ibid, s. 123.
[lxvii] Blackstone, pp. 129-140.
[lxviii] According to a methodology which defines any Federal Electoral District with no municipality (Census Sub-Division) greater than or equal to 35,000 people living within it as Rural.
In the case of Rural Dignity of Canada v. Canada Post Corp. 78 D.L.R.
(4th) 211, the Federal Court, Trial Division rejected the claim that rural
Canadians are a minority analogous to those groups contemplated by s. 15.
The court reasoned that: “[counsel for Rural Dignity of Canada]
says that the residents of rural communities…constitute a discrete and
insular minority…. These
submissions by counsel for the applicants do not, in my view, accord with
the evidence…. [T]he fact of
living in a Canadian rural community is not a personal characteristic
analogous to the characteristics set out in s. 15(1).”
However, no evidence was submitted of rural Canadians’ chronic
minority status in Parliament. Moreover,
this ruling is not binding on the Supreme Court.
As Justices Cory and Iacobucci observed in Vriend v. Alberta:
“The mere fact that the challenged aspect of the Act is its
underinclusiveness should not necessarily render the Charter
inapplicable…. If this
position was accepted, the form, rather than the substance, of the
legislation would determine whether it was open to challenge. This result
would be illogical and more importantly unfair.”
In the Corbiere case, L’Heuruex-Dube J. indicated that: “the
rights included in s. 25…may include statutory rights.”
Therefore, it is possible that the Aboriginal regulations may be
saved from Charter scrutiny under s. 15 by s. 25.
L’Heuruex-Dube went on to emphasise in Corbiere: “the
contextual approach to s. 15 requires that the equality
analysis of provisions relating to Aboriginal people must always proceed
with consideration of and respect for Aboriginal heritage and
distinctiveness, recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights, and with
emphasis on the importance for Aboriginal Canadians of their values and
history.” A judge with the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench went
further stating: “[i]n my view what Parliament was saying in enacting s.
25 was that, even though aboriginal and treaty rights…might offend
against, say, s.15(1) of the Charter…, s.15(1) cannot serve to abrogate or
derogate from such rights…. In
one sense the purpose of s.25 was to supplement and extend explicitly to the
aboriginal people of Canada s.15(2) of the Charter.” (R. v. Nicholas
and Bear et al. , 91 N.B.R. (2d) 248).
[lxxii] Peter Hogg, in his Constitutional Law of Canada, argues that “a law enacted by the federal Parliament under s. 91(24) for the benefit of Indian people… [is] not affected by s. 15 of the Charter.” (52-50.1--52-50.2) He lists the Charter’s affirmative action clause (s. 15(2)), the general limitation clause (s. 1) and the ‘Aboriginal treaty or other rights’ clause (s. 25) as sections in which the Courts could find Charter protection for federal acts which have possibly discriminatory effects on non-Aboriginals (27-7)
In Corbiere, L’Heuruex-Dube J. stated: “I will not decide how the
words "shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate"
affect the analysis under other Charter provisions [ie. s. 15] when the section is triggered, or
whether s. 25 "shields" the rights it includes from the
application of the Charter.”
[lxxiv] Form “JUS 998 E Application to register firearms (for individuals)”
[lxxv] See Justice Wilson’s concurring judgment in Singh v. Minister of Immigration.
[lxxvi] House of Commons Debates, Vol. 133, No. 154 (16 February 1995) at p. 9707.
[lxxvii] See Quebec v. Irwin Tory  1 S.C.R. 927.
important legal distinction is taken from a paper by Mike Wicklum, “Is s.
105 of the Firearms Act Constitutional?” (January, 2003),
[lxxix] Kwing Hung. Firearm Statistics: Updated Tables. Canadian Firearms Centre. Tables 8 and 15 respectively.
Available at: http://www.cfc-ccaf.gc.ca/en/research/publications/stats/pdf/updated-en.pdf
[lxxx] Kwing Hung. Firearm Statistics: Supplementary Tables. Canadian Firearms Centre. Tables 7 and 8 respectively.
Available at http://www.cfc-ccaf.gc.ca/en/research/publications/stats/pdf/suppliamentary-en.pdf
[lxxxi] Gary Mauser. Misfire: Firearm Registration in Canada. Public Policy Sources. Vancouver: Fraser Institute Occasional Paper, 2001, p. 5.
[lxxxii] Mauser, 2001, 11.
[lxxxiii] Hung. Firearm Statistics: Updated Tables. Table 12. However, the evidence on this issue is mixed, as the number of firearms-related robberies was slightly lower in 1995 than in 1974.
[lxxxiv] Ibid., Table 13.
[lxxxv] Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1991, 394.
[lxxxvi] House of Commons Debates, Vol. 133, No. 154 (16 February 1995) at p. 9708-9.
[lxxxvii] Mauser, 2001. p. 5.
[lxxxviii] Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (December 1997), p. 43. As reported in Letter from Larry Whitmore, Executive Manager of Ontario Handgun Association to J.P.R. Murray, Commissioner of the R.C.M.P., pp. 3-4.
[lxxxix] David Robinson, Michale Muirhead, and Pamela Lefaive, “An Inmate Survey: A Profile of Violent and Non-Violent Offenders,” in Forum on Corrections Research. Vol. 9, no. 2. (May 1997), pp 52-56. As reported in Letter from Larry Whitmore, Executive Manager of Ontario Handgun Association to J.P.R. Murray, Commissioner of the R.C.M.P., p. 4.
[xci]John R. Lott Jr., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998, 36.
[xcii] Ibid., 43.
[xciv] That both Lott and Malcolm’s books are published by these highly respected publishers suggests that their books passed a rigorous screening process through which the accuracy and academic worth of their work was evaluated and validated.
[xcv] Joyce Lee Malcolm, Guns and Violence: The English Perspective. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002, 209-212.
[xcvi] Mauser. 1995.
[xcvii] Gary Mauser. “Gun Control is not Crime Control,” Fraser Institute: Critical Issues Bulletin. Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, 1995.
Also available at: http://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/critical_issues/1995/gun/#gun
[xcviii] Gary Mauser, “More Guns, Less Crime?: What Canada can Learn from Gun-control Around the World,” in Fraser Forum. July, 2002. 29-31. p. 31.
[c] Kleck, 430.
[ci] Letter from Acting Commissioner of the R.C.M.P. Beaulac to George Thompson, Deputy Minister of Justice Canada and Deputy Attorney General, p. 2. Presumably these remaining 909 cases were not included in Justice Canada’s initial 623 cases, because this data was from a different year than that examined by the Task Group.
[cii] Warren Ferguson. “A Justifiable Lack of Confidence: Ottawa’s Embarrassment Grows as Police Continue to Challenge its Gun-Crime Statistics.” Alberta Report, vol. 25, no. 18 (April 20, 1998), p. 28.
[ciii] Letter from Acting Commissioner of the R.C.M.P. Beaulac to George Thompson, Deputy Minister of Justice Canada and Deputy Attorney General, p. 3.
[civ] Mauser, 2001. pp. 4-5.
[cv] John C. Thompson, “Misfire: The Black Market and Gun Control (The Mackenzie Institute, May 1995), p. 26 and 39. As reported in Letter from Larry Whitmore, Executive Manager of Ontario Handgun Association to J.P.R. Murray, Commissioner of the R.C.M.P., p. 4.
Conrad, Reference re Constitutionality of Bill C-68, pp. 511, 547, 578.