Federal gun advisers testified on gun registry bill

Information released this week about the federal government's advisory panel on guns has some opposition MPs thinking twice about testimony they heard on a bill to scrap the gun registry.

Information released this week by the federal government has some opposition MPs thinking twice about testimony they heard a few months ago.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tabled a list of the experts serving on his firearms advisory committee Monday, in response to a written question from a Liberal MP.

The advisory committee includes several people who appeared before a parliamentary committee last fall to support government legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.

When Murray Grismer testified before the public safety committee last fall, the Saskatoon police officer made it clear he was appearing as an individual who supported the bill to abolish the long-gun registry.

"My comments here today are mine and mine alone," Grismer told MPs on the committee.

But according to the documents, Grismer and three others who appeared before the committee are members of the panel that provides advice and expertise to Toews, the minister responsible for the bill to scrap the registry.

Grismer and the others did not disclose their membership on the advisory panel to the MPs on the committee.

Grismer told CBC News Tuesday he didn't see a problem in appearing before the committee to express his personal point of view.

"I went there as an individual. I was asked to appear. I got a call from the clerk and had no direction from any member or the minister's office."

Simon Fraser University Prof. Gary Mauser is another member of the firearms advisory committee who testified in November. "I appeared as an individual. I was not sponsored by anyone. I did not represent any organization or my university or the government. I represented myself."

Opposition members on the public safety committee saw things differently.

"When you see a witness supposedly as an individual, with some individual point of view, who is actually an appointee of the government itself, there to bolster the government's position — and that's what they did — then I think that's wrong," the NDP's Jack Harris said Tuesday.

Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia said it was a matter of transparency, adding that committee members might have approached the witnesses in a more skeptical manner or asked different questions had their affiliation with the advisory panel been disclosed.

"That advisory council was stacked with individuals who are bent on eliminating the registry and other forms of gun control in Canada."

Scarpaleggia added that committee hearings are intended to bring in the public to offer a variety of opinions and technical expertise, "not ... as a tool for organizing one's supporters."

The government has on several occasions refused to provide an updated list of its firearms advisory committee, but the list tabled this week shows it remains much the same as it did back in 2006, one of the last times it was made public. Several of the members on the list make their affiliation known on their own websites.

Candace Hoeppner, parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister, said it's up to opposition members on the committee to do their research. "All they had to do was ask a few questions or be prepared, which it seems that they weren't."

Hoeppner said witnesses appear before Commons committees in various capacities.

"It's not at all uncommon for individuals who in their capacity advise ministers or the prime minister, they do so openly. And then they go and testify in their capacity — and I'll give you an example, the governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney," she said.

Advisory panel members John Gayder and Linda Thom also appeared before the committee as individuals. Members Tony Bernardo, of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, and Greg Farrant, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, also appeared as representatives of those organizations.

The other members of the federal advisory panel are Linda Baggaley, Steve Torino, Alain Cossette, Louis D'Amour, Gerry Gamble and Kerry Higgins.

Committee members are not paid, but the government covers their expenses. Information also tabled Monday shows that since January 2008, the committee has incurred travel costs of $19,863 and hospitality expenses of $4,238.