[The following article appeared in the Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012 issue of The Landowner]
The Chiefs of Police cry wolf, again
Solomon Friedman
As the debate around the scrapping of the long gun registry heats up, politicians, experts and lobby groups have begun weighing in on both sides of the issue. In the coming days and weeks, Canadians are likely to be confronted by a deluge of public policy soothsayers, each predicting doom should the gun registry be abolished.
It is helpful to view such prognostications through the lens of these groups’ past positions and predictions.
Much has been made of the opposition of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) to the abolition of the registry. However, Canadians should be reminded that their interests do not always align with those of Canada’s chiefs of police.
In their letter of January 27, 1981, the CACP wrote to the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada to express their outrage at the legal rights which were to be enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The CACP argued in strident opposition to such crucial freedoms as the right to counsel, the right to silence, the right to be free from arbitrary detention and the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
The CACP wrote that upon examining these proposed rights – which now form the backbone of Canadian constitutional protections – they were “distressed and totally confused”. Enshrining these rights in the constitution would, in the CACP’s opinion, “effectively emasculate law enforcement”.
They claimed that as a result of these rights, Canadians would be “the eventual losers”.
History has proven them wrong. These rights and freedoms have been entrenched in the Canadian constitution for nearly thirty years.
The CACP’s histrionics, as it turns out, were for naught. Law enforcement was not emasculated and Canadians, despite the dire predictions of the CACP, have only won out, protected by the substantive and procedural guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The CACP is a lobby organization which aims to advance its own interests. Sometimes, those objectives are laudable and should be supported. However, with regard to the long gun registry, much like the Charter of Rights, the CACP is simply out of step with the needs of ordinary Canadians and front-line police officers.
Moreover, it is the mandate of the police to enforce existing legislation, not to lobby politicians for expanded powers. To do so would permit the law enforcement tail to wag the Parliamentary dog.
Of course, 1981 was a long time ago. But the fact remains that an organization which could not see past its own short-sighted interests when it came to fundamental freedoms should not be given free rein in matters of national policy.
Accordingly, the informed public must scrutinize the CACP’s position critically, particularly in light of their previous shrill and unfounded anti-rights positions.
Canadians should remember that the chiefs of police have cried wolf before and, concerning the long gun registry, are doing so again.
Solomon Friedman is a criminal defence lawyer practising throughout Eastern Ontario. He writes and comments widely on issues related to criminal and firearms law. He created and maintained the website Firearms Law Canada (firearmslaw.ca). Follow him on Twitter @FirearmsLaw.