VICTORIA — B.C. should crack down on illegal guns by targeting drivers and seizing their vehicles, says a new task force proposing an innovative approach to targeting organized crime.
The B.C. Task Force on Illegal Firearms report released Monday recommended the government revoke the driver’s licence and vehicle registration privileges of organized crime associates, their friends, and family who use vehicles to carry illegal firearms. The province should also enhance its civil forfeiture law to more easily allow for the roadside seizure of vehicles in which an illegal gun is found, as well as vehicles that flee police and have a connection to organized crime, read the report.
Targeting vehicles used to conduct drive-by shootings would exploit a “vulnerability point in organized crime operations,” the report states.
“There is no simple path to implement these recommendations, which are innovative and unique,” the report says. “However, the simultaneous interdiction of illegal firearms and the disruption of those using vehicles to support their violent activity would have a considerable effect in increasing public safety and reducing gun violence.”
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth endorsed the idea Monday, saying his government is already researching how to bring in the vehicle rules.
“The issues around drivers will be a significant change. We’re already working with the superintendent of motor vehicles about how we’d go about it. We want to make sure we’d get the legal issues around it addressed so that when we’re able to make changes we know we’re on solid ground. But frankly I think this is potentially a very effective way to disrupt the activity of those who think they can carry an illegal firearm in a vehicle without consequences. And it’s one I think the public would very supportive of.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, whose community has been at the centre of gang violence and shootings, said the task force did excellent work.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” she said. “I honestly think it’s some of the most constructive suggestions around how we can take an outside-the-box look at it. I’m very supportive of it.”
Hepner said the vehicle provisions, including the proposed forfeiture of vehicles and the potential penalties against not only gang members but their friends and family, “should put a chill” into organized crime.
The task force was launched in 2016 by the previous Liberal government, as part of a guns and gangs strategy designed to curb rising public shooting incidents in Metro Vancouver, and Surrey in particular. In 2015, police seized 3,000 illegal firearms while investigating 2,000 incidents that involved the criminal use of firearms (including homicides, robberies, assaults and break and enters).
The task force produced 37 recommendations, including legislation modelled on Quebec’s mass shooting and firearms violence law, as well as better coordination among police agencies and expanded public education programs in schools.
Farnworth said the government will immediately begin working on four recommendations, which will expand the existing Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit to lead a provincial illegal-firearms strategy as well as create a central firearms intelligence hub to analyze data from police agencies and partners.
B.C. will also “actively press the federal government” for its share of $327 million in federal funding to fight against guns and gangs that was announced Nov. 17, the province said in a news release.
The task force also recommended people under the age of 18 be banned from purchasing imitation guns, and that all sellers of fake firearms be required to record proof of age and identity. Some imitation firearms, including handguns and assault rifles, are so realistic as to be virtually indistinguishable from a real weapon. Criminals can easily obtain these weapons to make people think they are carrying a real firearm, read the report.
B.C. currently has no age restriction on the sale of imitation firearms, pellets or airsoft guns, read the report, and the provincial Schools Act does not specifically prohibit imitation weapons in classrooms.
“The experts that participated in the task force saw it as a gateway usage by young people,” said Wayne Rideout, the task force lead and a retired RCMP assistant commissioner. “Our sense was, and the experts believe, if they are doing that at age 12 and 13 unchecked, that as they continue down a path that may lead them to further criminal activity and anti-social behaviour they may search out a real firearm.”
Farnworth said age restrictions on imitation firearms might need to involve the federal government, but “it’s an issue that has been identified and it’s one I think we’re going to need to look at.”
The report also recommended B.C. work with Ottawa to change the criminal code to include unfinished aftermarket gun components in the definition of a firearm, in an attempt to restrict unmarked “ghost guns” that are assembled by the purchaser into virtually untraceable firearms.
In 2016, data showed criminals were more often getting their guns from Canada than the United States, with 61 per cent of crime guns domestically sourced.