Bringing back Canada's long-gun registry could help protect victims of intimate partner violence, an inquest was told Thursday as it heard a triple murderer was prohibited from owning firearms but still managed to get his hands on one.
Basil Bortuski, a man with a known history of violence against women, killed three former partners in the span of one hour on Sept. 22, 2015.
During his rampage, he first strangled Carol Culleton before shooting Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam on their properties in the Ottawa Valley.
Matt Storey, an officer with the Chief Firearms Office of Ontario, told the inquest Borutski was prohibited from possessing any firearms because of past convictions in 2012 and 2014, but was somehow able to get his hands on the shotgun he used in the rampage.
Part of the reason police couldn't trace where Bortuski got the firearm was because Canada's long-gun registry was abolished in October 2011, Storey said.
"We might've been able to trace that and find out if he actually got it from a friend, who that gun was registered to, but since the abolishment, we don't have those files — those files don't exist," he said.
"It makes everyone's job more difficult, right? And for safety of some people, we can't control necessarily someone who's prohibited (from) getting a firearm, because there's no registry involved. So we don't know where that firearm came from in the first place."
On May 18, 2022, a new federal bill came into effect aimed at strengthening firearms laws in Canada and keeping communities safe from gun violence.
Individuals and businesses transferring or selling a non-restricted firearm need to confirm the recipient's identity and check the validity of their firearms licence with the federal firearms registrar beforehand. Businesses must also keep records of inventory and sales related to non-restricted firearms. The regulations are meant to help police trace guns used in crimes.
But Storey said that doesn't mean the return of the long-gun registry. Records created by businesses are held by businesses — not the government — and the police require judicial authorization to access them.
"If the long-gun registry was around still, that would make a big difference," he said.
"If they were actually able to track non-restricted firearms like we are with restricted and prohibited firearms, who has them, who used to have them, that kind of list of tracking purposes, that would help not only law enforcement, but ourselves and other people, and even for lost and stolen firearms, right, like not just something involved in a crime or prohibited."
It would also be beneficial to have people involved in the justice system be well informed about the national Firearms Act, Storey said.
"Courts, Crowns, justices and justices of the peace, if they were more familiar with the Firearms Act and some of the repercussions of their orders that they're making, that would be a good one," he said.
"Mandatory prohibitions aren't being issued, they're not being ordered the way they should be and things are being thrown out."
Due to the backlog of court cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Storey said firearms charges are being removed "at quite a high pace" and several intimate partner violence cases are "going to peace bonds."
"Where potentially those people who should be prohibited and not having access to firearms, the charges are going away and they're being given the firearms back. And that comes back to us," he said.
"But we have to try to make that decision now that it's gone through court and try to determine whether that person should still have firearms or not."
Another way that public safety could be enhanced is making the current spousal support line for concerns regarding people with firearms run round the clock as opposed to just within business hours, Storey suggested.
He also said that there are currently no guidance documents available to firearms officers that advise them to look at a firearms applicant's complete file as opposed to just their past convictions before deciding whether they should be allowed to possess firearms.
The inquest, which is considering ways to better protect victims of intimate partner violence, is set to resume Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press