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Canada's billion-dollar gun registry

Pepper spray, tainted tuna and miracle cucumbers have all played their part in Canada’s long tradition of political misconduct. Be it lack of judgement or for personal gain, politicians misbehave. They get caught. The public is outraged. Then all is pretty much forgotten. And the cycle starts again. From John A. Macdonald and the Pacific railway fiasco to the sponsorship affair, CBC Archives looks back at some of the biggest scandals, boondoggles and white elephants in Canadian politics.

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The Liberal government is under attack. The opposition's ammunition: the skyrocketing cost of the federal gun registry. Auditor General Sheila Fraser has revealed that computer problems and other overruns could propel the project's cost to taxpayers from an original estimate of $2 million to more than $1 billion. Gun-control opponents are saying "I told you so." And even some Liberal MPs are alleging ministerial incompetence and calling for heads to roll.
• The impetus for the gun registry was Marc Lepine's massacre of 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989. Pressure from students and families of the victims spurred politicians to pass Bill C-68, which included the registry, in 1995.

• The registry is intended to be a list of all gun owners in Canada and the firearms they possess. Police officers can search an online database to see what guns a suspect owns, while the RCMP uses the information to trace the ownership of weapons used in crimes.

• "The issue here is not gun control. And it's not even astronomical cost overruns, although those are serious. What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark. I question why the [Justice] department continued to watch the costs escalate without informing Parliament and without considering alternatives." -- Auditor General Sheila Fraser in her December 2002 report

• The $2 million cost estimated for the program in 1994 was the difference between the overall projected cost of $119 million, and expected revenue from fees of $117 million.
• By April 2005 the registry's total net costs are expected to reach $951 million and climb to over $1 billion by April 2006.

• A day after this clip aired, an Ipsos-Reid survey showed public support for the registry plummeting, with more than half of respondents saying it should be scrapped because of cost overruns. The poll sampled 1,000 Canadians and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent.

• Outrage erupted anew in 2003 with news that Gary Webster, in charge of the registry from July 2001 until February 2003, had claimed expenses of $205,000 for travel between his Edmonton home and Ottawa office.
• A planned relocation of the headquarters of the Canadian Firearms Centre from Ottawa to Edmonton had been scrapped because of rising program costs.

• As seen in this clip, Fraser's report confirmed what many opponents of the gun registry had long claimed: the public was sold on the project with an unrealistically low estimate of its total cost.
• After the report, the leader of a group opposed to the registry admitted his members had a small hand in driving up costs by swamping the government office with last-minute applications and bombarding it with bogus questions.

• As of May 2005, roughly two million Canadians had firearms licences. They had registered a total of about seven million guns, according to the federal government's Canada Firearms Centre.
• The centre estimates there are another one million unregistered guns in Canada.

• The gun registry wasn't the only big boondoggle under the watch of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. In 2000, Human Resources Development Minister Jane Stewart was in the hot seat for months over allegations of irregularities in employment program grants worth $1 billion. Stewart hung on to her job but did not seek re-election in 2004. 
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 4, 2002
Guest(s): Martin Cauchon, Joe Commuzi, Stephen Harper, Lynn Myers, Allan Rock, Al Rose, Benoît Serré
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Hunter, Eric Sorensen
Duration: 6:25

Last updated: July 28, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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