Saskatoon·Go Public

'Somebody died because of that': Canada's mentally ill allowed to own, buy guns

The country's gun control system is specifically designed to keep Canadians safe, yet it's allowing mentally ill people to get their hands on guns — and they are being used in suicides

Canadians 'smug' about gun control not seeing big picture, says family of man who killed himself

The families of Adrian Clavier, left, and Corey Lewis believe both would still be alive if they were not granted gun licences. (Submitted by Reva Clavier and Naydene Lewis)

Family members whose loved ones have used legally obtained guns to end their lives are warning Canadians not to be "smug" about gun control, saying their stories show more could be done to ensure the law keeps guns away from people who pose a risk to themselves or others.

According to RCMP statistics, 80 per cent of firearm deaths in Canada are by suicide, yet a medical opinion is not required before someone with mental illness is allowed to own a gun.

Instead, it's optional in most provinces — left to the discretion of the chief firearms officer, the person approving the gun license application.

"We're very smug about being Canadian and the gun control we have," says Reva Clavier, whose brother Adrian used his own legally obtained gun to end his life in November 2015.

"But it's still completely ignorant of the fact that there are some people who just shouldn't have handguns." 

Reva Clavier's brother Adrian killed himself in 2015 using his own, legally registered handgun. She is sharing her family's story with the public as a warning to others. (Cliff Shim/CBC News)

Adrian Clavier was 50 years old when he killed himself. He'd been under psychiatric care for 35 years and was on heavy medication that could have contributed to suicidal thoughts.

He disclosed all of that information on his gun licence application, yet the Saskatchewan official who approved the application never spoke to his psychiatrist or got a medical opinion to see if Clavier should have a gun.

Family shut out

During Clavier's life, members of his family say they tried to warn his psychiatrist and the RCMP about his obsession with guns and his access to them. They asked police to confiscate the weapons.

Members of the RCMP told them nothing could be done. The man's rifle and handgun were registered and properly stored, no complaints had been received, and he had not committed a crime.

The psychiatrist didn't return the family's calls, they say. They never heard directly why, but psychiatrists are bound by confidentiality rules.

Adrian Clavier, pictured in this 1985 family photo, had what his family considered an unhealthy obsession with guns. They reported their concerns to police. (Submitted by Reva Clavier)

In the two years since Clavier's suicide, the family has repeatedly tried to get answers to how someone with a long, well-documented history of mental illness and an obsession with guns could continue to have legal and ready access to them.

RCMP told the family it would review the case but then didn't respond when the Claviers asked about the results, prompting the family to issue its warning to Canadians.

"I guess it was frankly because we'd been ignored and somebody died because of that. And it shouldn't have happened," Reva Clavier said.

Glenn Clavier, Adrian's brother, echoed the family's frustration.

"Nothing we did yielded any actions from the institutions that could have made a difference," he said.

Adrian Clavier, pictured here in 1974, was a happy child, according to his family, but he struggled with mental health issues his whole adult life. (Submitted by Reva Clavier)

The RCMP didn't answer questions from CBC News about the results of the review it promised the family, citing confidentiality issues.

"The CFP (Canadian Firearms Program) conducts ongoing reviews of its internal processes and continually seeks to enhance awareness around mental health issues to ensure the delivery of the highest quality services," Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer of the RCMP's national communications department told Go Public in an email.

Obsessed with guns and hated police

More than seven years after Corey Lewis's death, his widow Naydene is still asking similar questions about how her husband was able to get so many guns.

Corey Lewis eventually obtained five licensed long guns, despite his history of depression and domestic incidents. (Naydene Lewis)

Lewis was 39 years old when he died in July 2010 after being shot by police following a standoff at his residence in Okotoks, Alta.

The standoff started after officers responded to a call about a domestic dispute and found Lewis in the master bedroom, agitated and holding a rifle. RCMP surrounded the house.

Lewis was shot by police when he unexpectedly rushed out of his residence in the dark, carrying an object police believed to be one of his rifles.

The object was later determined to be a dark-coloured umbrella taped to his hands. Investigators found a note saying Lewis's intent was suicide by cop.

According to the fatality inquiry that followed Lewis' death, he also had a long history of depression, was obsessed with guns, loved crime shows and hated police.

Investigators interview neighbours after the fatal police shooting of Corey Lewis in Okotoks, south of Calgary. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

He was the subject of an investigation regarding an allegation of assault involving his stepson. 

Like Clavier, Lewis disclosed much of that information on his gun application. But the inquiry found the licensing officer in his case didn't ask for a medical opinion on his suitability to own a gun, didn't talk to Lewis' wife and didn't check publicly available court documents that would have detailed his issues with police.

"There are some people that just shouldn't have guns, and that's all there is to it," says Naydene Lewis. "And I'm sorry if you feel that you or anybody else has a right, but my rights is to safety, my children's safety… it's better for all of us."

Naydene Lewis says her husband Corey Lewis should never have been granted a gun license. (Colin Hall/CBC)

The fatality report called for major changes, including implementing mandatory standard operating procedures that include a telephone interview with the applicant's partner and reviewing public documents in court actions. It also recommended independent verification if an applicant discloses criminal convictions, restraining or protection orders, peace bonds, or a history of depression, behavioural or emotional issues, alcohol or substance abuse or allegations of violence.

Screening process lacks 'common sense'

The judge in charge of Lewis's fatality inquiry found his possession of the long-barrelled guns was an "integral part of the event leading to his death."

"Despite the fact he didn't actually use a gun but rather a facsimile to incite the RCMP to shoot him, it was the fact he holed up in the bedroom of his residence handling and racking his guns, acting and speaking in a threatening manner to the Okotoks RCMP," provincial Judge Marlene L. Graham wrote in her report.

"They knew he possessed five guns, that led to the "armed and barricaded" characterization … which resulted in a standoff that ultimately led to the death of Mr. Lewis."

Corey Lewis was cleared by the RCMP to own long guns after the firearms officer spoke briefly on the phone with Lewis and two of his friends. The RCMP did not contact his wife Naydene Lewis, pictured above with Go Public's Rosa Marchitelli. (Colin Hall/CBC)

She also slammed the licensing system, saying it "lacked diligence and common sense" and gave her "no sense of assurance that public safety, which is the purpose of the Firearms Act, was being sufficiently emphasized throughout
the process."

Alberta made one change after his death — it is now one of the few provinces to make medical checks mandatory. There is still no comprehensive nationally co-ordinated requirement.

Those are the types of changes Naydene Lewis and the Claviers want to see.

'No political will'

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised sweeping changes to firearms rules.

Following the October 2017 gun massacre of 58 people at a Las Vegas country music festival, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said he'd make good on those promises by December, but missed that deadline.

When asked what specific changes the government is considering, and if those will address the problems families are highlighting about the vetting process, Goodale's office wrote this in an email to Go Public: "We will be sharing our proposals to improve firearms safety when we table legislation in the near future. The government will share its proposals at that point in a comprehensive way."

Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control, blames the former federal Conservative government for the problems with the gun licensing system and says the Liberals lack the political will to make it right.

Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control, says gun control in Canada has steadily declined in the last decade for multiple reasons including reduced police resources. (Chris Dunseith/CBC News)

"Under Stephen Harper there were many changes to the laws that were made that took out controls that we had in place since 1977," she said.

"We've seen an erosion of the licensing provisions … we've seen also a reduction in the resources available to the police in order to take preventive action."

Gun advocates say the system can only do so much, and more government intervention won't change that.

"At some level we're going to have to accept that because this is not a problem can be solved, you know, with more government, I think that tightening the system discriminates against everybody that's made the decision to own firearms," says Rod Giltaca, president of Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights.

Rod Giltaca, president of Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, says tighter gun licensing controls is not the way to reduce suicides. (CBC News)

"So I think in most cases we're talking about taking action against people who haven't committed any criminal offence and our answer is to use force against them, right? Either to tell them that they can no longer have firearms; if they refuse, then we have to use force against them. And these situations, there's never a great outcome."

Number of gun suicides up

According to the latest available numbers from Statistics Canada, the number of firearm-related suicides increased from 136 in 2004 to 262 in 2014.

Suicide prevention experts say limiting access to guns for those at risk of suicide is part of the solution, along with access to mental health support.

Mara Grunau, Executive Director at the Centre for Suicide Prevention, says there is a proven direct link between more stringent gun control and fewer deaths by suicide. (Colin Hall/CBC)

"When someone is in suicidal crisis, the absolute point of crisis is typically short-lived. And so if they cannot access lethal means in that short amount of time, and they come out of the crisis, either through intervention or they can take themselves out themselves, they're not going to necessarily enter the crisis again," says Mara Grunau of the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary.

"We know, from looking at different western countries, that the countries with the most stringent gun controls have the fewest deaths by suicide. It actually does bring the rate of suicide in their countries down. So we know that that is a direct link."


Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

With files from Jenn Blair