A Winnipeg-area gun instructor is certifying people to buy weapons after less than three hours of instruction, and helping students with answers to their mandatory exam questions, CBC News has learned.

Before anyone can buy a gun in Canada, they have to pass a Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) from an instructor licensed by the RCMP. The police won’t say exactly how long the instruction should be, but a cross-Canada CBC survey of courses found most range from eight hours to as many as 20.

Canadian firearm classifications

  
Non-restricted:
133227182

Many rifles and shotguns, though not all.

Restricted:

89573104

Handguns with barrels longer than 105 mm.
Long guns with barrel lengths less than 470 mm.
Long guns capable of firing with a total length of less than 660 mm.

Prohibited
76098748



Handguns with barrel lengths less than 105 mm.
Any firearm capable of automatic fire, regardless of whether it has been modified for semi-automatic fire.
Long guns with a barrel length of less than 457 mm.

In January, CBC Manitoba sent an undercover producer to take a course from Dale Scott of Winnipeg. The producer claimed to be a novice when it came to firearms, and took the course with two inexperienced students.

After less than 2½ hours the producer was given documents that would have let him obtain a licence to acquire rifles, shotguns and handguns, along with a Manitoba Hunter Education Course (MHEC) certificate. The Manitoba Wildlife Federation website says the hunter education course alone should take about eight hours to complete.

There was only a basic level of training offered by the instructor for the non-restricted and restricted CFSC courses, and no instruction offered for the MHEC. All exams were given orally, and the instructor corrected students when they made mistakes. Furthermore, there was no practical firearm exam — a requirement of the CFSC.

Producer tried to answer incorrectly

Our producer, even though he deliberately tried to answer questions incorrectly and was helped with several questions, was given a score between 98 and 100 per cent on all his exams. He was given 98 per cent on a practical test, even though no practical test was ever administered.

Richard Joseph Brault, a retired RCMP officer, has been a certified CFSC instructor for almost 22 years. He said the non-restricted course he teaches takes a minimum of eight hours. He added that the restricted course can take less time if taught immediately after the non-restricted course — four hours for example — as the two cover much of the same material.

When asked what he thought of a 2½​-hour course, Brault said, “To do [that] you’re barely touching the material that has to be presented to the students.” In terms of the exam, Brault said students are allowed to ask the instructor to clarify a question, but giving a student answers is “completely abnormal [and] not acceptable.

“Providing the answers [goes] against the system of knowledge and proper handling of the firearm. You’re cheating and you’re getting some individual that’s going to be dangerous with firearms.”  

Brault was also concerned about the lack of a practical exam. He said “that’s how you confirm that the individual is able to handle the firearm safely and securely.”

Instructor stands by teaching

In a brief telephone exchange, the Winnipeg instructor Scott claimed the CBC producer and the other students at the course requested to “challenge” the exam, a valid process whereby experienced gun users can skip instruction and go directly to the test.

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He said he was offering basic instruction before the challenge. But the CBC producer never asked to challenge the exam, and had stated he was a novice when it came to guns.

Scott declined a formal interview, although he said he stands by his teaching. 

Brault said instructors are not supposed to allow students to challenge the exam unless the student “specifically asked for it,” and it is up to the instructor to determine if the individual has the required knowledge to challenge the written and practical exams. If not, they should take the eight-hour courses.

CBC News asked Brault if he would like to see changes when it comes to how the RCMP evaluate instructors, and make sure they’re teaching the course properly.

“Probably yes … I’d venture to say [there] is a better way to evaluate instructors to [make sure they] are covering the documents and elements that are demanded to be given to the students.”

Brault said his greatest fear is that one of his students will cause an accident with a firearm, and that motivates him to do a good job while instructing his course. He said that someone with a firearms licence who “doesn't have the skill, doesn’t have the knowledge, could be a dangerous person down the road.”

CBC contacted the RCMP, who oversee the CFSC. While they refused to do an interview, they said licensed instructors are required to have extensive experience and maintain a high standard of professional conduct.

“Instructors are subject to random audits and students are randomly contacted by the Chief Firearms Officer office for comment on the training they received. Any complaints received about instructors are immediately investigated during which time the designation is subject to suspension,” RCMP said in a statement.

Other jurisdictions

CBC News surveyed how the Canadian Firearms Safety Course is delivered in each province and found generally the course comprised about eight hours of instruction or more and in some cases as much as 20 hours.

In some cases, it was offered in combination with a hunter education program, in which case, the time commitment covered two full days on a weekend for both courses. 

In at least one province – New Brunswick – participants were offered an option of home study with online courses and exercises, followed by exams at a government office.

Service providers varied from individual instructors working from home, to private companies, community colleges, and a provincial government department.

Fees ranged from $50 to about $200 for the in-person courses and $40 for the home-study option.