Speaking Notes for The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety

Appearance Before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) – 2nd Appearance
Guns and Gang Violence

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022
Ottawa, ON

Mr. Chair, Committee Members:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that those of us on the Hill are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory.

Thank you for inviting me here today.

Colleagues, I’ve been closely following the testimony delivered to this Committee over the last few months.

You’ve heard some compelling and eye-opening accounts, including some remarkable grassroots initiatives making a difference.

You heard about OPK, or Ojijiita Pimatiswin Kinimatwin, in Winnipeg.

You heard that Indigenous men and women were empowered to find a way out of gang life, through the program’s consultation and access to community resources and connections.

You heard about Bear Clan Patrol, also based in Winnipeg, providing security for the Indigenous community and helping keep the peace in a supportive way.

And you heard about STR8 UP, serving the at-risk Indigenous community in Saskatoon, working with ex-gang members and their families, and supporting individuals as they embark on a healthier path.

The numbers don’t lie: through programs like this alone, thousands of hours per year of personal skills development and employment training have helped empower personal change, a sense of hope, and an alternative to gang life.

At the provincial level, you heard about the work of British Columbia, whose combined forces special enforcement unit has an “end gang life” program, providing support to gang members to help them leave that lifestyle.

And you heard about initiatives in Quebec, taking robust action through projects like Opération Centaure.

In that province, the project is helping to provide more police officers, forensic scientists, and corrections officers to support intervention and information sharing.

And it’s bringing together law enforcement agencies to investigate and prevent gun violence and reduce smuggling.

Mr. Chair, I warmly welcome the attention you’ve paid to initiatives being put in place across the country.

I look forward to discussing this and much more with all partners, at the upcoming summit on firearms violence in Montreal.

Colleagues, along with positive signs of progress, you’ve also heard first-hand accounts of the shared challenges we all face in tackling gun violence.

I’ll point to the testimony of the Vancouver Police Department Staff Sergeant, Michael Rowe.

He pointed to the challenge of “ghost guns,” or firearms produced in part by 3D printing.

They’re manufactured or assembled from components without a serial number or other markings, making them difficult to detect by conventional systems, and difficult to trace.

It’s a reminder that we’re all operating in an evolving and complex environment.

It’s a reminder that through times of change, we all need to work closely together, at every level and in every community.

Mr. Chair, at my last appearance, I provided an overview of how the federal Government is playing a leadership role to do just that.

I noted that we’ve introduced the strongest measures to fight gun violence our country has ever seen.

I highlighted how we’ve focussed on controlling the use and possession of firearms.

For example, through measures now in place allowing for lifetime background checks, including criteria that must be considered in deciding whether to grant a firearms license.

I pointed out the ways we’re limiting access to firearms deemed inappropriate, for example our ban of over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms, with a buyback regime on the way.

I talked about how we’re tackling illegal firearms, for example by committing to increasing the maximum penalty for firearms trafficking, smuggling and related offences from 10 to 14 years imprisonment.

I spoke about our efforts to reduce gang membership and violence.

Those prevention efforts are essential, because the fight involves more than enforcement.

As my colleague Minister Blair has said, “you can’t arrest your way out of the problems on our city streets.”

That’s why, to date, we have delivered more than $115 million dollars in to provinces and territories to support prevention, intervention, suppression and enforcement activities under the Guns and Gang Violence Action Fund since 2018, as part of the Initiative to Take Action Against Gun and Gang Violence.

I’ll add that we will also be providing $250 million over five years directly to municipalities and Indigenous communities.

Communities demonstrating a history of gun and gang-related harm will receive funding to bolster gang prevention and intervention programming.

Mr. Chair, I also talked about how our enforcement investments to deter smuggling and trafficking are making a difference.

As members know, the CBSA seizes large quantities of firearms every year from U.S. citizens, mostly from non-compliant travellers attempting to retain their personal firearms while travelling.

Firearms tracing is also a key tool in determining the sources of and diversion routes for illegal firearms.

Approximately, 30,000 firearms are seized annually by police.

And our $125 million in support for the RCMP and CBSA to stop illegal guns at their source, and to detect and disrupt gun smuggling, is already paying dividends, with over 1,000 firearms seized at the border last year.

I also highlighted that we have invested an additional $312 million over 5 years to enhance our capacity to better identify, disrupt and prevent firearms from entering the illicit market.

That includes $15 million to increase the RCMP’s capacity to trace firearms, and over $40 million for anti-smuggling activities, which includes building a new Canadian Criminal Intelligence System that will help all law enforcement in Canada to target and disrupt criminal activity.

We’ve seen concrete evidence of the difference these investments are making, complementing the testimony you’ve heard.

Just look at the results of the CBSA’s investigation into 3D printed firearms late last year.

It showed how the work of the CBSA and RCMP, after detecting and intercepting undeclared firearms parts, in Mississauga, led to seizures, warrants and arrests, through strong action at the border and collaboration with many partners.

Mr. Chair, there is much more we can do together.

For example, I want to reinforce the Government’s commitment to collaborating with provinces who want to ban handguns – an issue I discussed with my provincial and territorial colleagues at last week’s ministerial meeting.

And while this Committee studies the issue gun control, illegal arms trafficking and the increase in gun crimes committed by members of street gangs, I look forward to your consideration and debate of new firearms legislation, which I hope to table soon.

Mr. Chair, I hope I've made it clear that our efforts go beyond enforcement, to gang prevention and exit, addressing the social determinants of crime, as well as marketing and awareness campaigns and beyond.

I’m confident that our collective actions and continued investments in our communities will improve public safety, prevent tragedies and save lives.

And I want to reiterate my full support for this important study.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions today.

Mr. Chair, Honourable Committee Members,

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today about the steps we have taken to address a unique and extraordinary situation.

I truly appreciate your contributions to the thoughtful and passionate exchange we’ve had in this House, on the invocation of the Emergencies Act, which has now been revoked.

Colleagues, the unprecedented events of the past few weeks necessitated commensurate federal action.

Over the past few weeks, we saw illegal blockades at borders and vital trade corridors, that impacted our economy, industry, and the jobs and livelihoods of many hardworking Canadians.

This was also clearly a public order emergency.

We saw illegal protests taking place in our cities, shutting down streets and businesses, with people feeling their sense of safety has been shattered.

We worked closely with provinces and territories to help get the situation under control, but as time passed it became clear that authorities needed more tools to uphold and enforce the law and protect Canadians.

It was an absolute necessity that we enacted the emergency measures needed to keep Canadians safe, albeit reluctantly, in a way that allowed immediate and time-limited action for as short a time as possible.

And that is what we did, to ensure we did not abandon Canadians – or our law enforcement – in a time of great need.

As you know, earlier this week, after careful consideration, we confirmed that the situation was no longer an emergency, and we ended the use of the Emergencies Act.

We remain confident that existing laws and by-laws are now sufficient to protect the public, and we will continue to be there to support authorities if and when needed.

As the Prime Minister said, revoking the use of the Act was the responsible and necessary thing to do.

With the passing of the Emergencies Act, provincial and municipal law enforcement had the additional tools they needed to manage the large-scale and rapidly evolving event we have seen.

And its invocation helped, in many ways.

Think of the unique challenges we saw:

…The difficulties of removing blockades of hundreds of trucks…

…The unexpected and international use of crowd funding platforms…

…And despite our best efforts to pass new laws and regulations, how gaps are being exploited in new and unexpected ways for criminal gain.

These challenges were relieved in part by the declaration of an emergency under the Act.

It was indeed a measure of last resort.

But its benefits were evident.

To remind my colleagues what the Act allowed, I’ll explain briefly.

It allowed for new exceptional and temporary measures to prohibit public assembly leading to a breach of the peace, and protect and secure certain designated protected places, in order to ensure the safety of people, freedom of movement of people and goods, and prevent interference with trade or critical infrastructure.

Those exceptional and temporary measures for local law enforcement helped them to act swiftly to end these illegal  assemblies.

It allowed the RCMP to be integrated quickly into operations led by local police of jurisdiction.

Those measures were also supported by exceptional and temporary measures that prohibited people from supporting these illegal assemblies, including those who would provide tools like equipment and fuel to those participating.

It helped to clearly designate protected areas around our critical infrastructure, like international crossings, airports, power generation and hospitals.

And it prohibited bringing children near an illegal blockade.

And sadly, we saw the images of children in the middle of illegal blockades and during police action.

As we saw in Ottawa, the new tools available to law enforcement as a result of the Emergencies Act were used to great effect, allowing police to reclaim occupied areas of the downtown core, remove trucks and other Convoy infrastructure, and move protesters out.

The invocation of the Emergencies Act sent a clear message to those who decided to participate in, or support, these illegal protests:

…That interfering with critical infrastructure, or impacting the  safety of the public, will bring about consequences, including potential fines and imprisonment.

A few caveats:

First, I want to assure you that the tools it allowed were exceptional, time-limited, and protected by the safeguards enshrined in our Charter.

Second, I want to underscore that invoking the Emergencies Act did not give the federal government the authority to direct the police services of any jurisdiction.

And finally, I want to be clear that these additional tools for law enforcement were there to supplement existing tools, only to be used if and when there was an operational need as determined by police.

I’ll remind colleagues that a joint Committee of Parliamentarians will now be struck, to review the declaration of emergency.

That will be followed by an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the Act being invoked, how we got there and why it was required.

I want to close by expressing my deepest thanks to police  agencies across Canada for their dedication and action, to deal with illegal protests and blockades, and restore law and order and public safety.

We will not yield in our responsibilities to Canadians– we must inspire their confidence that their safety is protected.

With order restored, we will continue to do so under existing laws.

I want to thank you for your ongoing consideration of the measures we have taken.

And I look forward to your questions and continued debate.

Thank you.

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