The Conservative government has quietly shelved rules on serial numbers for guns that would have helped keep Canada in compliance with its international conventions on arms smuggling.
The decision came through an order-in-council — a cabinet decree — that was not formally announced by the Harper government but has been posted among dozens of other orders on the Privy Council Office website.
A single paragraph on the website states the long-delayed regulations, which were scheduled to come into force on Dec. 1, "are being deferred."
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews confirmed, following an inquiry by The Canadian Press, that the regulations have been pushed off to December 2013.
However Toews' spokeswoman, Julie Carmichael, would not comment on why the gun lobby was apparently told of the move more than a month ago — even though the order-in-council decision was approved only last week — and why no news release accompanied the policy change.
Earlier this fall the government posted the rule changes in the Canada Gazette, signalling it was finally going to make good on gun-marking regulations that were first announced in 2004.
Some gun enthusiasts objected to the regulations because they said they would increase costs for manufacturers, who would pass the increase on to gun buyers.
The government noted in October that the repeal of the long-gun registry has created a gap in Canada's international obligations with regard to two protocols on arms smuggling.
The Gazette notice said ensuring most firearms in Canada had unique serial numbers would "meet some of the specifications" of those international protocols.
'Public safety' cited for regulations
Regulating unique serial numbers on weapons — which most reputable gun makers already do routinely — helps national governments track the smuggling of black market arms.
But the Canadian government's stated reasons for marking weapons went further.
A backgrounder in the Canada Gazette said the "rationale" for the new rules was to aid police investigations.
"The proposal would establish basic marking requirements to facilitate the identification of firearms and to contribute to public safety, by facilitating law enforcement investigations when the markings can be linked to information on the last legal owner of the firearm," said the Public Safety document.
The same document said the new marking rules would "ensure that all firearms continue to be marked to facilitate firearms identification, including crime gun tracing by law enforcement."
The Public Safety backgrounder also noted, however, that last June's repeal of the long-gun registry decreases the utility of such gun markings, making them "only of limited use in the tracing of non-restricted firearms used in crimes."
The Conservatives have also introduced legislation to make sure gun dealers are not required to keep records identifying buyers of non-restricted weapons.
Toews' spokeswoman said in an email Wednesday that the Conservative government "is focused on effective solutions to tackle crime, not billion dollar boondoggles."
"Our government intends to defer the UN marking regulations for one year to consult on the best solution for law-abiding Canadian gun owners," Carmichael wrote.
A posting on the web site of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, dated Nov. 2, says that Toews "in a statement" informed the lobby group of the same ruling. Canada's National Firearms Association, another pro-gun group, posted a similar message on its site the next day.
Gun lobbyists were also privately informed last month that all the gun registry data, apart from court-protected data in Quebec, had been fully destroyed.
It was a landmark moment in the almost two-decade debate over the long gun registry but it was not accompanied by a public news release from the Conservative government.