Published Tuesday March 3rd, 2009 Kings Country Record
One of the most expensive and ineffective programs ever imposed on the people of Canada has been the long-gun registry for non-restricted firearms. When the federal Liberals first introduced the long-gun registry 10 years ago, they insisted the cost would be about $2 million. Today, its cost is pegged at $2 billion and counting.
The Conservative Party of Canada has been on record for some time in opposing the registry and it was a campaign pledge in the 2006 election to eliminate it. It is common knowledge that such action has been stalled because the three opposition parties, with their majority in the House of Commons, would not allow such legislation to pass. As a result, our government has instead acted to improve licensing provisions, granting periods of amnesty to allow gun owners to bring themselves in compliance with the law and setting aside costly registration fees. And, just recently, the prime minister re-stated the government's determination to abolish the registry and concentrate resources on attacking the criminal use of firearms rather than targeting law-abiding gun owners.
Meanwhile, my colleague Garry Breitkreuz, the MP for Yorktown-Melville in Saskatchewan, has brought the issue forward with Private Members' Bill C-301. His bill not only proposes to scrap the long-gun registry, but goes much further to lower costs and reduce what he calls the unnecessary complexities of the Firearms Act. And, he contends, these moves will have no negative effect on public safety. There are numerous changes proposed in Mr. Breitkruz's bill. In addition to the elimination of the long-gun registry for non-restricted firearms, there is a requirement for the Auditor General to perform a cost/benefit analysis of the program every five years. Other clauses would combine the Possession Only licences with the Possession and Acquisition licences, change the licence-renewal period to 10 years and change the grandfathering dates for handguns to clarify and improve what is now a confusing situation for legal owners.
Mr. Breitkreuz has been a severe critic of what he describes as the "myths" of the long-gun registry. He dismisses the contention, for example, that it's a valuable tool for police who access it thousands of times a day. He notes that this police usage mostly happens automatically when police officers check the Canadian Police Information Centre for daily inquiries and get gun registry information whether they want it or not. Lists of firearms provided when police respond to emergency calls show legal guns only, which are the weapons an officer is least likely to be harmed by. In addition, police investigations are not greatly helped by the registry because the information is so inaccurate it cannot be used as evidence in court.
Registered long guns were used in homicides nine times from 1997 to 2004 and the registry of some seven million firearms did not prevent any of these deaths. Instead, 84 per cent of the firearms used in the commission of crimes are unregistered and 75 per cent of those were illegal guns smuggled into Canada. Where firearms were used in a violent crime, more than 71 per cent involved handguns and only nine per cent involved rifles or shotguns. Very few of those were even registered.
There were 306 illegal breaches of the national police database documented between 1995 and 2003 and 121 of those cases are still unsolved. Many police investigators have publicly voiced their concerns that the gun registry has been breached and become a shopping list for thieves. Mr. Breitkreuz sums up his position this way, "Many Canadians have come to realize that the long-gun registry wasn't working because it targets the wrong people. Criminals are not hampered in the least by the registry." Even the Auditor General's 2002 report says the program was excessively regulatory, overly complex and very costly to deliver and had become difficult for owners to comply.
It remains to be seen how Bill C-301 will fare in the minority Parliament. The proponent's best bet could be a free vote. There has been speculation that several opposition members could support such a measure, if Party discipline is not imposed, because their constituents have given them that message.
Greg Thompson is MP for N.B. Southwest and minister of veterans affairs.