Federal government backs away from mandatory firearms tracing

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Federal agencies are trying to step up efforts to trace the origin of firearms used in crimes, but it appears jurisdictional hurdles could prevent action from going as far as some would like.

The federal government says the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has adopted a new mandatory tracing policy, which means that in places where the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction, seized illegal firearms will automatically be sent to the national centre. police firearms tracing system.

The House of Commons National and Public Safety Committee and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have called on the government to require all firearms recovered in police investigations across the country – not just those of the RCMP – be submitted for tracing.

The most recent figures indicate that only a small portion of the tens of thousands of firearms recovered each year are traced.

In a response recently sent to the committee, the government says tracing is a key tool in determining the sources of illicit firearms.

The RCMP’s National Tracing Center tracks the movement of a firearm from its manufacture or import into Canada, through wholesalers and retailers, to identify the last known legitimate owner or business.

Tracing can also help determine if a firearm was smuggled into Canada or came from a domestic source.

Ottawa has set aside $15 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $3.3 million ongoing, to increase the RCMP’s ability to trace firearms and identify movement patterns, as well as support the development of a new national tracing database.

The federal center traced more than 2,140 firearms in 2020, and the Commons committee was told the new funding could triple the tracing capacity.

The money will also be used to convince the police of the strategic advantages of tracing to criminal investigations. The federal response adds that the RCMP will “actively support” police chiefs and partner agencies to advance the committee’s recommendation that all police departments should submit seized firearms for tracing.

But the government is giving up on making the tracing of all firearms a requirement.

Asked about the government’s intentions, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said that while the RCMP has a new mandatory tracing policy, “the issue of firearms seized by other police services [relève] of provincial jurisdiction”.

In their July resolution calling for full tracing, police chiefs cited the lack of solid data for regions outside of Ontario to help understand the pathways taken by firearms, adding that the effectiveness of the tracing as a police intelligence tool “depends on the quality of the information gathered” and appropriate follow-up investigations.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Stephen White told the House of Commons committee, “We would need to do more research on a larger scale to really get a really good picture of patterns and trends.”

Gun control activist group PolySeSouvient believes there is a consensus that guns should be traced. “Unfortunately, there is no comparable consensus regarding the tools needed to enable effective tracing.”

While tracing smuggled guns typically starts with U.S. manufacturers, tracing ownership of guns from Canada requires sales records and universal registration, points out the group, which includes students and graduates of Polytechnique Montreal. , where 14 women were shot in 1989.

Canada had these measures until Stephen Harper’s Conservative government ended the federal long-gun registry and eliminated mandatory sales records, PolySeSouvient noted.

“While the Liberal government has just restored commercial sales records, both Conservatives and Liberals oppose restoring universal registration,” the group said.


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