NRA involved in gun registry debate

The National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group in the United States that advocates for fewer gun controls, has been actively involved in trying to abolish Canada's long-gun registry for more than a decade, CBC News has learned.

The National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group in the United States that advocates fewer gun controls, has been actively involved in trying to abolish Canada's long-gun registry for more than a decade, CBC News has learned.

Documents and correspondence obtained by the CBC show the NRA has provided logistical and tactical support to organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action (CILA), established in 1998 to lobby Ottawa to shut down the registry.

The NRA provides the Canadian gun lobby group with "tremendous amounts of logistical support," and while the NRA's constitution prevents them from providing money, "they freely give us anything else," Tony Bernardo, an Ontario gun advocate and CILA's executive director, said in Canadian Firearms Digest in July 2001.

In 2000, the NRA paid $100,000 for an infomercial about what it called "the Canadian situation" that aired on The National Network in the U.S., according to Bernardo, who appeared in the video.


Read the collection of documents the CBC gathered for this story.

It cautioned gun owners the registry was a government plot to find out how many guns there were in order to seize them and leave citizens helpless to defend themselves.

Bernardo, a frequent guest on NRA chat shows updating U.S. gun owners on the fight to kill the Canadian registry, said the NRA was instrumental in helping him set up his Canadian lobby group, CILA, the lobbying arm of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA), and a mirror group of the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's lobbying arm.

Michael Bryant, formerly Ontario's attorney general, said the NRA has been agitating in Canadian political backrooms for years.

"I got elected in 1999 and I became aware soon after of the NRA's involvement in the debate — not in a huge way, but in a significant way," he said.

Canadians need to know the role the NRA has played in the gun registry debate, Bryant said.

"For a lot of people in Canada, if they knew that the NRA was part of the effort to get rid of the gun registry, they would think more about their views," he said.

"And they would think, 'well, wait a minute, I thought this was about, you know, wasting taxpayer dollars. The NRA's involved? Really? That makes me very uncomfortable … '"

Other forays

The NRA infomercial was just the gun lobbying group's first foray into the Canadian dialogue.

The late actor Charlton Heston, who was president of the NRA in 2000, made an appearance in Canada in April of that year, condemning the long-gun registry at a BC Wildlife Federation meeting in Prince George, B.C.

"You may not be absolutely free by owning a firearm, but I guarantee that you will never be free when you can't. That is not written, that is God-given," he said, while condemning Canada's firearm registration law.

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In 2005, NRA strategist Glen Caroline came to Canada to provide logistical support in the form of "political action" training for an upcoming federal election.

"Who better to show us how to protect our rights," said the CSSA's promotional material for the event, "than the most powerful lobby group in the world, the National Rifle Association?"

In 2006, former NRA president Sandra Froman was the featured keynote speaker at the CSSA annual meeting in Toronto. Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz co-hosted the town hall meeting for the event.

Police called a 'cult'

Earlier this year, Breitkreuz also found himself in hot water when a news release from his office called the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police a "cult" and "politically motivated" for supporting the long-gun registry. He later apologized and forced the aide who sent it to resign.

That aide, Brant Scott, now works for CSSA as its communications director.

In recent months, the NRA-inspired slogans and rhetoric may have backfired on Breitkreuz and the anti-registry supporters.

Breitkreuz sent out emails to 12 NDP MPs, asking them to support the Conservatives in scrapping the long-gun registry.

Instead, many of those same MPs are now voting against scrapping the registry in protest of Breitkreuz's tactics.

Last March, NRA executive vice-president Wayne Lapierre wrote in a CSSA column, Canada's long gun registry is "huge on the world stage … and the inevitable dumping of the Canadian long-gun registry is proof that freedom will ultimately win out."

Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's bill to scrap the long-gun registry is up for debate in the House of Commons on Sept. 21. It is scheduled to be voted on the following day.

With files from Tyana Grundig, CBC