The head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says members at the annual meeting have endorsed a national firearms strategy that includes a recommendation for a public relations campaign to explain the value of the long-gun registry — a program the Conservative government is trying to scrap.
"A resolution for its adoption as the official policy of the CACP was put before the members and that resolution was passed without a single dissenting voice," Toronto police chief and CACP president Bill Blair told CBC's Power and Politics with Evan Solomon.
"I think it's a very strong statement of the commitment of our members to safe communities and for retaining the tools for our police officers that help them do their jobs."
The strategy was originally to have been presented by RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak. Cheliak was transferred from his post as the head of the Canadian Firearms Program last week and ordered to take French-language lessons.
Blair acknowledged "legitimate concerns" about the $1 billion initially spent on setting up the registry, which some police officers also want scrapped. But he said the registry now costs only about $4 million a year to operate and that officers use the registry up to 11,000 times a day, both to investigate and prevent crime.
"It's a little frustrating quite frankly, because there's a lot of ideology mixed up in this," Blair told CBC News.
"I think a lot of resentment around the gun registry comes from historical concerns [from] when the registry was set up."
Last week, both RCMP Commissioner William Elliott and Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied Cheliak was removed because of his vocal support of the long-gun registry.
Before his removal, Cheliak was to receive a president's award for his work on the long-gun registry. He is currently on leave and has not commented publicly on his transfer.
MPs to vote on registry's fate
The prime minister has said Cheliak's removal was an internal RCMP personnel matter, while opposition MPs claim his ouster fits the Conservative government's "pattern" of dealing with dissent.
The Conservatives have denounced the long-gun registry, which was brought in by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien in 2002, as wasteful and ineffective.
Police chiefs and police organizations across Canada have voiced their support for the registry, saying it is a valuable tool in assisting officers in doing their job.
But some police officers have expressed support for eliminating the registry, saying it doesn't give frontline officers any comfort when they are entering a home or pulling someone over.
"It doesn't make policemen any safer. The reason is what the registry contains is the information on legally licensed firearms owners. It has nothing to do with the criminals or any of the guns on the street," said Edmonton police Const. Randy Kuntz.
Kuntz organized a straw poll of officers earlier this year through a police member's forum called Blue Line. He said 92 per cent of the 2,631 respondents to his "simple survey" voted in favour of scrapping the registry.
"It’s no more than a registry than it is a registry pertaining to your car," Kuntz told CBC News on Monday in an interview from Edmonton.
"You can’t tell from this registry if someone is going to do anything criminal with a firearm anymore than you could tell if you looked at the registry to see if someone is going to drink and drive."
Conservative MP Shelly Glover, who was a police officer for 19 years and who said she's talked to thousands of officers who want the registry scrapped, told Politics, "This tool doesn't work."
Monday's resolution by CACP is an attempt to head off a private member's bill being considered this fall that would scrap the registry.
Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's bill, which passed second reading in the House last spring, is slated to face a vote in the House of Commons next month.
Blair said the association's communications effort will be low-key, mostly meeting with politicians, members of the public and rank-and-file officers, as well as publishing supportive material on the association's website.
Chiefs have been asked to explain to their communities how police use the registry and why they want to keep it, he said.
"We need to get right into the communities," he said. "We need to engage in a dialogue with people."