At a grinding pace

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CSSA: Court case against CFO moves at glacial speed

CSSA/CILAThe Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA) is building its case against the Ontario Chief Firearms Office, but the process is bogging down while the legal system decides whether the CFO is fish or fowl.

CSSA Acting Executive Director Tony Bernardo and senior firearms lawyer Edward Burlew LL.B. made their second appearance in court in Oshawa with the CFO on May 28. For the second consecutive time, the courtroom echoed with jurisdictional wrangling to determine which court should hear the case.

It comes as no surprise that the venue for this hearing is unclear – it reflects the enduring lack of clarity about where CFOs fit into Canada’s pecking order of authority. But one thing is clear – the federal government seems reluctant to rein in the CFOs when they step out of line. If the feds that appoint CFOs aren’t their boss, then who is? When folks like Ontario CFO Chris Wyatt invent their own rules, it appears that special interest groups like the CSSA have to step up.

The CFO was represented by a lawyer on special assignment from the Guns and Gangs Unit of the Attorney General of Ontario. She told the court that the case should be heard in Divisional Court because firearms laws are federal. You can see where this is going. It’s the same hot potato that firearms owners have been complaining about since the Firearms Act made CFOs the new bullies in town nearly two decades ago.

The CSSA stepped in when Ontario CFO Chris Wyatt arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the Authorization to Transport (ATT) firearms conditions that have been around for years. The ATT allowed transporting firearms between the owners’ home and any approved shooting range in Ontario. At the end of January, however, Wyatt suddenly decided on his own to toss the previous rights conferred under the Criminal Code in the dumpster.

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Wyatt decreed that sport shooters are limited to transporting their guns to shooting clubs where the permit holder is a member, or to a shooting range that has issued that shooter a written invitation. Furthermore, Wyatt decided they must surrender that written invitation to a police officer upon demand, and non-compliance could result in three years in jail. There is no requirement that the invitation has to be produced only on the day you go to the range. You can be asked to produce the invitation at any time after you have attended to prove you were invited.

Here’s the messy part – if you move your restricted firearms from your home to go to a friend’s club without written permission, you will be in breach of your authorization and have broken the Criminal Code section 95. The Crown Prosecutor’s manual requires the Crown Prosecutor to proceed so that the court must give a three-year mandatory minimum Penitentiary Jail sentence. This sentence is the result of changes to mandatory minimums by the Harper government in 2010. These changes have equipped the CFO with legislative-like power to imprison you for three years for not having a piece of paper. Has the Harper government abandoned the licensed owner of registered guns to the whims of the CFO and the Ontario Attorney General? We need to find out.

Bernardo vs. Wyatt has been remanded until September 18 for the argument on jurisdiction, and we can only hope the case is heard during the course of the participants’ natural lives. This is a landmark hearing that could affect every responsible gun owner in Canada long into the future. If Wyatt wins, CFOs across the country will follow – and sport shooters will have to comply with more frivolous rules that have no practical application or public safety value. And there’s the slippery slope. Governments appear to support frustrating sport shooters until they lay down their firearms and quit.

Want to get involved?

Edward Burlew LL.B. is currently gathering evidence for the upcoming hearing. If you have experienced any difficulties with complying with new invitation requirements of the ATTs, he wants to hear of any and all occurrences (eg. announcements of competitions, difficulty issuing invitations, etc.). You can help build this case by providing your own hard evidence – please write it down, sign it and send it to: Edward Burlew LL.B. , Barrister & Solicitor, 16 John Street, Thornhill ON L3T 1X8.

Donations to help Tony Bernardo stand up for all gun owners in court are essential to success and gratefully received. To help defray the mounting legal costs, please contact the CSSA at: “ATT Challenge” 116 Galaxy Blvd, Etobicoke ON M9W 4Y6. Call the CSSA at 416-679-9959, fax 416-679-9910, or toll free 1-888-873-4339. On the web, visit us at www.cdnshootingsports.org

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