Let’s talk about guns.
Yes, this is a bit of a departure from what I usually write about.
But the prevalence of guns in Vancouver is still very much a civic issue when it comes to public safety, as I learned in reading a report that goes before the Vancouver Police Board Thursday.
Get this—the Vancouver Police Department seized 648 firearms between Jan. 1, 2016 and Sept. 6, 2018. That’s 0.6 guns per day. The majority were non-restricted rifles and shotguns, which have not been subject to a registration requirement in Canada since 2012.
“The general prevalence of long guns in Canada, together with their relative affordability and inability of law enforcement to trace them to a purchaser, makes them appealing to criminals who lack the resources to obtain illegally-sourced handguns,” the report said.
So how do the cops feel about that?
The answer is in the report, which requests the police board approve a proposed resolution to push for record-keeping requirements for retailers who sell non-restricted firearms. With board approval, the resolution would then go before the Canadian Association of Police Governance, a national organization that has the ear of the federal government.
The end goal for the VPD is to show their support for legislation known as Bill C-71 being proposed in Ottawa. The Bill not only calls for record-keeping requirements for retailers but an overhaul of the background check system and further restrictions on transporting a gun.
Interestingly, the majority of the 648 guns seized by police over that 32-month period were “known to bear Canadian import markings, indicating Canadian origin even in absence of registration records.”
Which means guns were manufactured outside the country and shipped to a Canadian store such as Canadian Tire or Cabela’s, then sold to a person with a valid possession and acquisition licence.
With retailers not required to maintain any records of the buyer of a non-restricted firearm such as a rifle or shotgun, the report said “investigators are often unable to establish the identity of the person who purchased or owned the firearm. This creates significant investigative hurdles to criminal charges being laid.”
The report added that a significant portion of firearms used in gun violence are domestically sourced, non-restricted firearms, and often these firearms are obtained as a result of a break and enter.
Other guns seized over the 32-month period included prohibited handguns, restricted long guns and prohibited weapons such as sawed-off shotguns. Some antiques were seized.
Despite the prevalence of guns in Vancouver, the 2018 year-end crime stats from the VPD show crimes that typically involve a firearm are on the decrease. The number of homicides since 2009 has not reached more than 19 per year and bank robberies dropped from 111 in 2009 to 39 last year.
The number of “shots fired” incidents saw a high of 36 in 2009 before dropping below 30 for the years leading up to 2017, when 31 incidents were recorded. Last year, 19 such incidents were reported to police.
The report doesn’t state it, but there was a time in Vancouver when guns weren’t the problem they are now in the city, as a senior officer told me in a 2008 interview. My interview with then-Insp. Dean Robinson was related to the number of guns being smuggled from the United States into Canada.
He told a story about his second year on the job and the arrest of man carrying a loaded .357 Magnum handgun. It happened outside what was then the Mr. Sport Hotel on Kingsway.
“That was such an extraordinary event that almost all the officers who were free in the south part of the city came over to view the firearm,” Robinson said. “It’s not that firearms weren’t around, they just weren’t very prevalent. And it was rare to take someone into custody with a loaded firearm.”
That was in the early 1980s.
Very much not the case anymore, as police revealed last August in displaying more than 120 guns seized from Lower Mainland gangsters targeted in Project Tariff, Project Temper, Project Triplet, Project Treachery and Project Territory.
Thursday's police board meeting begins at 1 p.m. and it will be livestreamed.
Note: This story has been updated since first published. The first draft stated VPD seized roughly two guns per day over a 32-month period. That's incorrect. It was 0.6 guns per day. Also, I've been contacted by a former Vancouver police officer who suggested the report's use of the word "seized" to describe the number of guns police collected is not accurate. The retired officer believes "seized" applies to all guns collected by VPD. That would include guns turned in during amnesty programs and others turned in from family, estate executors or owners who no longer wanted the guns. I've contacted the VPD to elaborate on what they meant by "seized" in their report. When I hear back, I'll report what they said.