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Canada’s much-maligned registry is under the gun

November 2011

For the third time since 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attempting to abolish the gun registry despite a chorus of voices from victims and survivors of gun violence, police, doctors, health workers, and women’s groups.

The Conservatives plan to destroy all records despite the fact that police chiefs have requested the database be preserved for safety reasons.

“We won’t have those records loose and capable of creating a new long-gun registry,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews the day the bill was tabled.

According to an article posted on the Canadian Firearms Institute website, rural Canadians took the legislation as an insult. They felt government did not trust them and made them out to be “potential criminals.”

Heidi Rathjen, founding member of the Coalition for Gun Control and spokesperson for Polysesouvient, a group created by École Polytechnique students and graduates in memory of the victims of the 1989 shootings, says the gun control debate is propelled by ideology.

“It’s not rational. The public supports gun control. But the gun lobby out West is a very strong community and will vote according to gun control. Conservative ties to the gun lobby go back to the Reform Party, with many founding members being part of the gun lobby. With the registry intact, they can still hunt in peace, but it’s a matter of ideology: the right to own a gun, to defend yourself, the freedom of owning a weapon.”

In a press release, Liberal justice and human rights critic Irwin Cotler called the bill to scrap the long-gun registry “ideologically inspired, with a willful and reckless disregard for the evidence. All the facts, quotes and statistics are nothing more than ‘an inconvenient truth’ for the government, but they remain a compelling truth nonetheless.”

NDP justice critic Jack Harris has called the move hypocritical in light of the government’s “get tough on crime” stance and seeming concern for public safety.

A worrisome aspect of the proposed bill is that long guns will no longer be traceable at the point of sale, Rathjen said. Gun sellers were required to keep records even before the registry, which is how the Polytechnique shooter was identified.

“What the Conservatives are getting rid of is the requirement that every gun is connected to its owner. They will break that link and these guns will become invisible. Nothing prevents a gun owner selling on the streets, because you can’t trace it back.”

Barbara Byers of the Canadian Labour Congress said: “Canada’s unions stand behind the registry as an important tool to keep workplaces and communities safe. Rifles and shotguns are the firearms that have figured prominently in workplace violence involving guns.”

“The government has consistently portrayed the Firearms Act as a victimization of rural long-gun owners, conveniently ignoring the clear scientific evidence that rural suicides with long guns are the principal issue in the tragic toll of Canadian firearms deaths,” said Alan Drummond, a spokesperson for Canadian Association of Emergency physicians and an assistant coroner in Perth, Ontario.

The bill puts women and children in danger, said Paulette Senior, CEO of YWCA Canada. “Every year 100,000 women and children leave their homes, fleeing violence and abuse. Long guns and rifles are used to intimidate women and the threat of a rifle is often a significant reason that women don’t risk leaving to seek help.”

According to Statistics Canada, there is a correlation between the introduction of gun control and a reduction in gun-related suicide rates.

Rathjen says the gun registry is more in danger than ever.

“It’s really important for people who don’t want our society to move toward what we see south of the border—where gun ownership is prioritized above and beyond public safety to call on Jean Charest to challenge this bill on whatever grounds necessary to block its implementation.”

Rathjen is hopeful. She cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that safe injection sites could not be shut down: “The court ruled the government can’t shut down something that saves lives.”



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