Federal agencies are trying to step up efforts to trace the origin of firearms used in crimes, but it appears jurisdictional hurdles could prevent measures from going as far as some would like.
The federal government says the RCMP has introduced a new mandatory tracing policy, which means that in places where the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction, seized illegal firearms will automatically be sent to the National Firearms Tracing Center of the force.
The House of Commons Public Safety Committee and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have called on the government to require all firearms recovered from police investigations across the country – not just the RCMP – to be submitted for tracing.
The most recent figures indicate that only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of firearms recovered each year are traced.
In a newly released response to the Public Safety Committee’s April report on reducing gun and gang violence, the government says tracing is a key tool in determining gun sources. illicit.
The RCMP’s National Tracing Center tracks the movement of a firearm from its manufacture or import into Canada, through wholesalers and retailers, to identify the last known legitimate owner or business. The center works with partners, including the Firearms Analysis, Detection and Enforcement Program in Ontario.
Tracing can also help determine if a firearm was smuggled into Canada or came from a domestic source.
Ottawa has allocated $15 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $3.3 million ongoing, to increase the RCMP’s ability to trace firearms and identify movement patterns, as well as supporting the development of a new national tracing database.
The federal center traced more than 2,140 firearms in 2020, and the Commons committee was told the new funding could triple the tracing capacity.
The money will also be used to persuade police of the strategic benefits of tracing to criminal investigations. The federal response adds that the RCMP will “actively support” police chiefs and partner agencies to advance the committee’s recommendation that all police departments submit seized firearms for tracing.
But the government is stopping short of committing to making tracing of all firearms a requirement.
Asked about the government’s intentions, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said that while the RCMP has a new mandatory tracing policy, “the issue of firearms seized by other police departments (falls) within provincial jurisdiction”.
In its July resolution calling for full tracing, police chiefs cited the lack of solid data for regions outside of Ontario to help understand the pathways taken by firearms, adding that the effectiveness of the tracing as a police intelligence tool “depends on the quality of the information gathered” and appropriate follow-up investigations.
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Stephen White told the Commons committee “we would need to do more research on a larger scale to really get a really good picture of patterns and trends”.
Gun advocacy group PolySeSouvient said there is a general consensus that guns should be traced. “Unfortunately, there is no comparable consensus regarding the tools needed to enable effective tracing.”
While tracing smuggled guns typically begins with U.S. manufacturers, tracing ownership of guns from Canada requires sales records and universal registration, said the group, which includes students and graduates from the United States. École Polytechnique de Montréal, where 14 women were shot dead in 1989.
Canada had these measures until Stephen Harper’s Conservative government ended the federal long-gun registry and eliminated mandatory sales records, PolySeSouvient noted.
“While the Liberal government has just restored commercial sales records, both Conservatives and Liberals oppose restoring universal registration.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.