“Security is the mother of danger and the grandmother of destruction.” — Thomas Fuller
The Canadian Firearms Program, a component of the Canadian Firearms Act (a stupid law, drafted by the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and enacted in 1995) burdens peaceful and law abiding hunters, sport shooters and gun collectors with oppressive regulations and enables belligerent and defiant bureaucrats in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to arbitrarily order the prohibition and confiscation of legally acquired and owned firearms.
The decision to proceed with this policy was rooted in the moral panic that arose following the mass murder of fourteen women at an engineering school in Montreal in 1989. Moral panic is defined as “… an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.” (Jones, M, and E. Jones as cited in Wikipedia) Following this tragedy, Canadian gun owners were singled out as a menace to the social order. This was not the first time in Canadian history that a federal government responded to a moral panic in pushing forward with stupid legislation, against the counsel of advisors from within its own ranks, that resulted in the oppressive regulation and confiscation of property from a segment of the population in Canadian society who were unjustly deemed to threaten the social order.
Before the onset of World War II, the Empire of Japan, Italy and Germany had formed a military alliance known as the Axis. In 1941, Canada was at war with Germany and Italy, having entered into World War II on September 10, 1939. On December 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Consequently, the United States entered the war and Canada also entered the war in the Pacific. The entire west coast of North America was viewed as under the threat of Japanese aggression. At the time in Canada, there was a population of approximately 29,000 people of Japanese origin, most of whom had Canadian citizenship residing in British Columbia. Japanese immigrants had long been the target of discrimination and resentment by groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League and the White Canada Association. In the moral panic that followed, suspicion immediately fell upon Canadians of Japanese ancestry, insinuating that their loyalty was to the Japanese government. The Liberal government led by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King responded by imposing the War Measures Act and declaring Canadians of Japanese ancestry enemy aliens.
On the 14th of January 1942, for reasons of national security, the Canadian government implemented the following policy: Canadians of Japanese ancestry living in British Columbia, although citizens, were to be prohibited from fishing for the duration of the war. Their vessels were to be sold to non-Japanese. Shortwave radios were denied to all Japanese aliens, and sales of gasoline and dynamite to any Japanese Canadian were to be strictly controlled. In addition, all male enemy aliens of military age were to be removed from the coastal defence zone before April 1st 1942 under an Order-in-Council that gave the Minister of Justice complete power over enemy aliens in Canada and the right to detain any resident of Canada without trial on the grounds of national security. On February 24, 1942, the Canadian government passed an order-in-council under the Defence of Canada Regulations of the War Measures Act which gave the federal government the power to intern all persons of Japanese racial origin. Along with internment of Canadians of Japanese origin in camps inland, it was decided they would be relieved of their property (they were told it was to be “held in trust”) until they were resettled. However, in 1943, the Custodian of Aliens liquidated all property belonging to the enemy aliens. Items, ranging from farm land, homes and clothing, were sold at auction. Japanese Canadians lost their fishing boats, bank deposits, stocks and bonds; basically everything that provided them with financial security.
There was substantial opposition to the action taken against Canadians of Japanese origin in the ranks of the Canadian government who found there was no evidence to back the claim that Canadians of Japanese origin were disloyal or a threat to Canada’s war effort. As Ann Gomer Sunahara notes “supporting Japanese Canadians in Ottawa were Norman Robertson, undersecretary for external affairs; Dr. Hugh Keenleyside, head of the American and Far Eastern Divisions at External Affairs; H.F. Angus and Escott Reid, Keenleyside’s special assistants; Col. S.T. Wood, commissioner of the RCMP, and Asst. Comnr. F.J. Mead; Lt. Gen. Maurice A. Pope, vice chief of general staff; Commodore H.E. Reid, deputy chief of naval staff; and representatives of the Departments of Labour and Fisheries, and the Office of the Press Censor.” (Politics of Racism)
In spite of this opposition, the Liberal government led by Mackenzie King pressed on. It was not until after the conclusion of World War II that the wartime restrictions were lifted from Canadians of Japanese origin in 1949. In 1950 some $1.3 million in claims to 1,434 Canadians of Japanese origin was paid out for their loss of property. There was no admission of liability from the Canadian government until 1988 when the Progressive Conservative government led by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney issued a public apology and offered a compensation package (a payment of $21,000) to survivors of the internment camps.
Back to the present and the plight Canadian gun owners find themselves in, having been saddled with the Canadian Firearms Program. While I am not intimating that Canadian gun owners are under threat of internment, as were Canadians of Japanese origin during World War II, the two scenarios are not unalike. In both cases, while Canadian society was in a state of moral panic, the federal government of the day imposed stupid legislation and regulations on a segment of the Canadian population who were deemed a threat to the social order. Just as Canadians of Japanese origin were no threat to the social order or Canada’s war effort in 1941, as Ted Morton noted, “in 1995 when C-68 [the Canadian Firearms Act and Canadian Firearms Program] was enacted, there was no demonstrable need for new restrictions on firearms 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. The data shows 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. (This second figure excludes hospitalizations due to intentional use of firearms which are included in the first figure. (How the Firearms Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
The reason the Canadian Firearms Act and Canadian Firearms Program was enacted was not in response to a genuine threat to public order; it was intended to placate the bigotry of a particular constituency in Canadian society, just as had been the case of Canadians of Japanese origin during World War II. Similarly, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the Minister of Justice Allan Rock, who imposed the Canadian Firearms Act, proceeded against the counsel of advisors within the ranks of the federal government of the day. As John Dixon, a lawyer and former President of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association who, from 1991-1992, served as advisor to Deputy Minister of Justice John Tait in the Mulroney government, noted “… Justice Department officials warned the Liberals that universal registration would be ineffective, wildly expensive and incited strong opposition from firearm users. They did not care… because effective policy was secondary to their primary political purpose. The fact that it was bad policy was crucial to the specific political effect it was supposed to deliver. Nothing would better convince the Liberals’ urban constituency that Jean Chretien and Allan Rock were taking a tough line on guns that the spectacle of angry old men spouting fury on Parliament Hill. And so Bill C-68 was conceived and passed into law.” (as cited in How the Firearms Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
The moral panic surrounding gun ownership in Canadian society has long since subsided, but Canadian gun owners still live with the legislative and regulatory burden imposed by the Canadian Firearms Act and the Canadian Firearms Program. It is a stupid law passed by the Liberal government, led by Jean Chretien, and now the current Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is left holding the bag. Thus far, the Harper government has shown itself to be sympathetic to Canadian gun owners. The hated long gun registry was repealed in 2012 with the passage of Bill C-19 and Steven Blaney, the Minister of Public Safety, has enacted an amnesty to protect owners of newly prohibited (under the auspices of the Canadian Firearms Program) Swiss Arms and CZ858 rifles.
Canadian gun owners are better organized in the present and are mounting a stiff resistance to the legislative and regulatory burden they bear. There is hope the Conservative government will take meaningful action to ease this burden in reining in the belligerent and defiant bureaucrats in the RCMP who imposed these recent prohibitions. While I am hopeful, I also expect this is going to be a long and arduous fight, just as it was for the Canadians of Japanese origin who survived the internment camps during World War II, but in the end I am confident Canadian gun owners will prevail.
Originally posted at Geoffrey & Mika: musings of a gay couple living in the Great White North, 22 March 2014.