Mad Prophet's Sanctuary

Civil Disobedience in Canada: It Just Happened to be Guns

by Dr. Paul Gallant and Dr. Joanne Eisen

"One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust...is in reality expressing the highest respect for law...We will not obey your evil laws..."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a representative government, and in an ideal world, those elected to public office are expected to act selflessly, and always in the best interests of their constituents. And they are trusted to do so, until the evidence of betrayal is undeniable.

Sometimes, that betrayal takes the form of an unjust law, one which is both dangerous and costly to society. That's exactly what befell Canadians in 1995 with the passage of C-68, the Act Respecting Firearms and Other Weapons (generally referred to as simply the "Firearms Act").

As of January 1, 2001, Canadians who currently own a firearm, or who wish to own one, are required to obtain a license from a Chief Firearms Officer. And although the Canadian government has required registration of handguns since 1934, as of January 1, 2003 all other firearms lawfully owned must be accounted for by a registration certificate. By that date, the Canadian Justice Department will thus possess a registry of all gun-owners and their guns, if all goes according to plan.

But the result of the Firearms Act has been massive civil disobedience. R. Bruce Hutton, formerly of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, Canada's national police force), formed the Law-Abiding Unregistered Firearms Association (LUFA) in November 1998. Since then, Hutton has been traveling throughout Canada urging non-compliance with the Firearms Act, and exhorting fellow gun-owners, "Come to jail with me."

More than twenty thousand Canadian gun-owners had taken Hutton up on his challenge as of July 15, 2000, openly declaring their intent to disobey the law by not complying with registration. When gun-owner populations are compared, that translates to the U.S. equivalent of almost 400,000 American gun-owners, conservatively stated. Hutton's anger has clearly resonated among fellow Canadians, proving that an ordinary man can make an extraordinary difference.

When January 1, 2001 rolls around, LUFA's members are prepared to stand unarmed in front of RCMP offices and submit, as felons, to their 5-year prison terms. LUFA's projected membership by that time will be enough to overwhelm an already strained Canadian criminal justice system. An equivalent action by American gun-owners would probably have the same effect.

Hundreds of thousands of other Canadian gun-owners have made known their intent to delay registration until the last possible moment. Their forms will arrive all together in the last few weeks, throwing the entire bureaucracy into disarray.

On June 15, 2000, Canada's Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Firearms Act and finally pushed some Canadians over the brink. The provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have dumped both the administration and the enforcement of all federal gun-control laws - including the 66-year-old handgun registry - right back into Ottawa's lap, throwing the Canadian government into civil war, one fought on paper for the time being. Interesting times lie ahead to the north of us.

Why are our usually obedient neighbors to the north acting out of character?

C-68: False promises and lies

Various rationales have been articulated to explain civil disobedience in response to the Firearms Act. A good deal of discussion has focused on the skyrocketing costs of administration. But none of these explanations account for why Canadian gun-owners are increasingly willing to disobey their government, and suffer hefty fines and serious jail-time.

The real answer seems to lie in the fact that, although the Firearms Act mandates firearm registration, it is not "just another" gun-control law, and the defiance it has elicited is not just about guns.

When it was enacted into law, the Firearms Act did far more than implement firearm registration. It provided for the confiscation of more than half of all registered, legally-owned handguns in Canada - without compensation - an action which Canadian gun-owners rightly interpreted as a blatant disregard for traditional property rights.

The Firearms Act also empowered the government to profoundly infringe upon rights that all Canadians cherish. According to Canadian researcher Dr. Gary Mauser, "these infringements should frighten any civil libertarian. The Firearms Act expands the grounds for warrantless searches, reduces restraints on issuing warrants, and requires people to testify against themselves."

In fact, Dr. Mauser noted, the Firearms Act "vastly extends police powers" in Canada, and that "such sweeping police powers...authorize police procedures that [would] violate the US Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches and the Fifth Amendment's protections [of] due process."

During the debate on C-68, and upon its implementation, the Canadian government made a number of promises and claims. In discussing some of these, Canadian journalist Lorne Gunter observed, "perhaps the Liberals do not have as their ultimate goal the disarming of the civilian population. But registration would make confiscation easier by telling the government where all the guns are."

Why has the Canadian government spent almost C$325 million between 1995-2000 on a law which takes no guns away from criminals, when it promised the gun registry would cost less than C$120 million during this time span? Why has the Canadian government steadfastly refused to release documents disclosing the actual price tag already billed to the taxpayers, as well as the cost of this year's expenditures?

Why all the manpower consumed, above the original estimate promised by the government, "to protect us from Cousin Harold's gopher rifle and Neighbor Al's duck gun", as Gunter noted in a May 19, 1999 column? Why is the government working so hard to hide the number of civil servants working on its gun registry?

And why all the lies, both to facilitate the passage of C-68, and to perpetuate the government's false promises?

Addressing the 11th Annual Community Legal Education Associations conference in January 1996, Senator Sharon Carstairs made a telling admission when she thought no one else was listening: the Firearms Act was intended, from the outset, to be integral to her party's plans to "socially re-engineer Canada", something the Liberal party of Canada has set about doing for the past 30 years. Disarming the citizenry and creating a utopian pacifist society is integral to this "social re-engineering".

Lorne Gunter further noted, in a March 14, 1996 column: "...the Liberals knew that when they promised C-68 would reduce crime, Canadians would naturally assume the government meant rounding up criminals and throwing them in jail, preventing murders and holdups...when all along, what the Liberals really meant was that they believed C-68 would re-engineer Canada (and especially male gun owners) making its citizens more docile...[But] when lawmakers trample centuries-old liberties without offering an overwhelming social good in return...then respect for the law dies and the rule of law along with it."

Something is rotten in Ottawa

Garry Breitkreuz is a Member of Parliament from the province of Saskatchewan. He was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1993, and re-elected in 1997. Columnist Peter Worthington of the Sun chain of newspapers referred to Breitkreuz as "the one-man wrecking crew when it comes to federal gun registration".

Recounting his earlier experience with the Justice Department concerning a secret research project designed to evaluate the effects of a restrictive gun law enacted in 1977, Breitkreuz commented:

"This statistical analysis was supposed to evaluate the effectiveness of [previous] firearms legislation. After a 13-month investigation, the Information Commissioner has confirmed that the government knowingly and without any authority whatsoever withheld information from Members of Parliament. The information concerned public safety and was vital to the debate of the federal gun control legislation (Bill C-68) and yet the Justice Minister and his officials effectively hid it from the public and Parliament...If a Member of Parliament can't get information from the government what hope does the average citizen have?"

Why would the Canadian government keep this information secret? Could it be that the 1977 law did not work, as advertised, to reduce violent crime in Canada? And could it be that this information might jeopardize its agenda now?

Who stands to gain when a government deliberately withholds information from its own citizens?

In an attempt to understand the practical implementation of C-68, we went to its actual text. Despite our own familiarity with a wealth of U.S. gun laws, we found C-68 to be an almost undecipherable maze of words.

One of the documents we received from Breitkreuz' office shed light on our difficulty. Prepared by the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament, and dated April 18, 1997, it stated the following:

"...the sheer volume of regulatory authority can make it extremely difficult for Parliamentary bodies to envisage the final scope of the Act, or for members of the public to understand how the legislation may impact on them [emphasis ours]. Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, might well be described as an example of such legislation...The combined effect [of its provisions] is to invest the Chief Firearms Officer with an extremely large, if not unprecedented, degree of discretion."

In fact, according to Dave Tomlinson, President of Canada's National Firearms Association, C-68 allows the government to "legally confiscate all guns at any time."

Now we also know the answer to the question of why Canadians are acting out of character: They aren't! They are beginning to read the "fine print" of the Firearms Act, and are expressing - according to Martin Luther King, Jr. - the "highest respect for the law", in their own way.

NICS: A better mousetrap?

Contrast the Firearms Act with NICS, our own National Instant Check System. While Canadians refer to the Firearms Act as outright registration, American proponents of NICS have painstakingly avoided any reference to the term, or characterization of NICS as a system of gun or gun-owner registration.

Yet NICS may more effectively accomplish what the Firearms Act has openly set out to do - register law-abiding gun-owners and their guns. The machinery for registration was set in place by the very design of NICS: Americans, and the guns they buy, are automatically - and illegally - entered into a Department of Justice database, as an immediate consequence of the instant check provision required for purchases from licensed dealers.

Unlike Canada's Firearms Act, however, registration via NICS is essentially passive on the part of gun-owners. Its architects have cleverly removed registration as an option from American gun purchasers.

Except for one small detail, that is. The Brady Law's provisions apply only to sales from licensed dealers, and private gun sales are therefore currently exempt from "instant-check"-style registration. But private gun sales account for approximately a third of all gun acquisitions in this country, which leaves a huge chunk of firearm transfers unaccounted for by a government paper trail.

The reason then becomes perfectly clear the Clinton administration has relentlessly pushed for a background check on all private gun transfers, even at gun shows. Witness the so-called "gun-show loophole" mantra, which drones on incessantly from a biased, firearm-hostile mainstream media.

Now we know exactly what Bill Clinton had in mind when he announced during his weekly Saturday radio address on February 3, 1999, "No background check, no gun. No exceptions."

While registration in the U.S. will take longer with NICS than the published timetable for Canada's Firearm Act, if the "gun-show loophole" is closed, a more complete listing of gun-owners and their guns will likely result.

The Canadian experience amounts to a crash-course on registration and confiscation. And it should serve as a wake-up call for gun-owners here in the States.

About the Authors:

Dr. Paul Gallant practices optometry in Wesley Hills, NY.

Dr. Joanne Eisen practices dentistry in Old Bethpage, NY.

Reprinted from the Idaho Observer, August 2000.

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