Federal gun program head ousted

The head of the Canadian Firearms Program, who is a strong supporter of the long-gun registry, is quietly being bounced out of the position, CBC News has learned.

The head of the Canadian Firearms Program, who is a strong supporter of the long-gun registry, is quietly being bounced out of the position, CBC News has learned.

RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak, director general of the program, is being sent off to French language training after nine months on the job on orders from RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, according to police sources.

The Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) oversees the administration of the Firearms Act and regulations. In 2006, the responsibility for the CFP was transferred to the RCMP.

Cheliak had reformed the program and lobbied forcefully, including before a parliamentary committee, for a continued long-gun registry, something the Conservative government has been determined to scrap.

But Canadian police are adamant that the registry, which requires gun owners to register each rifle or shotgun, is needed to protect the lives of police officers and citizens.

Cheliak's key contribution has been to guide the country's three main police alliances — the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Police Boards — into a common front to fight for registration.

"Marty's contribution has been enormous. First of all, Marty has made the firearms program in Ottawa work," said William Blair, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Toronto's police chief.

Blair said officers must be free to speak out on such a vital issue. 

"There's clearly a political discussion to this decision. The police are committed to staying out of politics. We'll leave the politics to the politicians," Blair said. "We're in the business of public safety. And we have a responsibility to the people we are sworn to serve and protect."

Some police officers are questioning Cheliak's removal on the eve of September's expected battle in Parliament over a Conservative private member's bill to scrap the current registry.

"I question why he's been transferred and who has made this decision to transfer him," said Charles Momy, president of the Canadian Police Association. "But it seems interesting that all of a sudden this transfer occurs when we know the vote is coming on this bill. 

"I can tell you from a Canadian Police Association perspective, this is a huge loss. To the Canadian Firearms Program perspective, this is a huge loss to the Canadian public."

CBC's Brian Stewart reported that Cheliak was set to unveil a major report before the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police at their annual general meeting in Edmonton and get a president's award for his work on the long-gun registry.

But Stewart said Cheliak was told by the RCMP he's not going to be sent there.

"And that, more than anything almost, has convinced a lot of police chiefs, normally on the side of this government, to say this is a slapdown, and this is really unnecessary, and we don’t like it," Stewart said.

The RCMP said that Cheliak did have to take the French language lessons at some point and that he's doing that now.

"Every police officer I’ve talked to thinks there’s political interference here. Can’t put their finger on it," Stewart said.

"They can’t really prove anything, but there’s a feeling here that Cheliak was too outspoken. It was the wrong time. The government wanted the RCMP particularly to cool it at this stage and Cheliak was sort of made an example."