TIMELINE | The gun registry debate
Implementing the Firearms Act
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews opened a new chapter in the long saga of Canada's gun registry on Oct. 25, 2011, by introducing a bill to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. If passed, the new act will eliminate the requirement to obtain a registration certificate for firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted and order the destruction of all records held in the long-gun registry.
The Harper government tried to kill the registry while a minority government. But now, with a majority, its goal appears within reach.
Here's a look at the key moments in the gun registry debate, and the rising costs over time.
Bill C-68, the strictest gun-control legislation in Canadian history, receives Senate approval. It calls for harsher penalties for crimes involving the use of guns, creates the Firearms Act and requires that gun owners be licensed and registered. The government says the registry will cost about $119 million, but the revenue generated by registration fees would mean taxpayers would only be on the hook for $2 million.
In a report released early in 2000, the Canadian Firearms Program notes that implementation costs are rising, and cites the following as contributing factors:
- Major backlogs in registration, largely as a result of firearm owners waiting until the last minute to apply.
- General increase in costs.
- Fee waivers for early applications.
- High error rates in applications submitted by firearm owners.
The cost has risen to an estimated $527 million. The Canadian Firearms Program says a major factor behind the ballooning costs was the difficulty it had keeping track of licence fees collected. This was blamed, in part, on the computer system used to process applications. And, according to the audit, that problem could not be resolved without "massive change," including "significant investment" in the computer system.
The tab for implementing the registry rises to $629 million, according to an audit of the registry. Here is a breakdown of the bulk of the spending:
- $2 million to help police enforce legislation.
- At least $60 million for public-relations programs, including television commercials ($18 million of which went to ad agency GroupAction, which received millions in sponsorship scandal contracts).
- $227 million in computer costs. Complicated application forms are slowing processing times and driving costs higher than anticipated.
- $332 million for other programming costs, including money to pay staff to process the forms.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group overseeing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, files a lawsuit against the federal government. The group argues the gun registry goes against an understanding that Inuit would be able to hunt, trap and fish without licensing or fees.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser reveals that the gun-registry program is more over budget than previously thought and that Parliament was ignorant of some of those escalating costs. Fraser reports that the bill for gun registration would reach $1 billion by 2005, with registration fees offsetting that by only about $140 million.
Fraser blasted the federal government, run by the LIberals at the time, for exceeding its estimated budget, saying that by the time the smoke cleared and all gun owners and their guns were registered, the program would have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. Opposition critics were quick to point out that figure is 500 times more than the original $2-million estimate.
A look at internal audits conducted by the Canadian Firearms Program suggested the cost of the program had been an issue from the beginning.
Seventy-five per cent of all gun owners meet the Jan. 1, 2003, deadline for registering their non-restricted firearms, signing up 5.8 million firearms. But that doesn't stop gun owners and politicians from expressing opposition.
Days after the deadline passes, Ontario Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman calls on the federal government to put the program on hold, calling it an "unconscionable waste of taxpayers' money." His demands are echoed by justice ministers in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Others who doubt the efficiency of the gun registry include Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino, who says the program would neither prevent crimes nor help solve them.
But Ottawa police Chief Vince Bevan pledges his support on behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, saying: "We have seen ample evidence of the gaps in the old law that this legislation has addressed. If this legislation saves even one life, it will have proven its worth."
Soon after the registration deadline passes, several gun owners challenge law enforcement authorities to arrest them for possessing unregistered firearms. Jim Turnbull, leader of the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association, and another man are arrested for having firearms at a rally in Ottawa, and anti-registry protesters call the fact that Turnbull isn't charged under the Firearms Act for his unregistered gun both a moral victory and proof the new law is ineffective.
At the same time, workers at an Edmonton postal outlet are quarantined for anthrax testing after receiving a letter destined for the Canadian Firearms Centre. The letter, which contains a white, powdery substance, would be the third anthrax scare related to the gun registry. In each case, tests show no anthrax was involved.
- Police arrest two in Parliament Hill gun protest
- Three provinces join Ontario's call to suspend gun registry
- Gun registration deadline looms
Despite widespread condemnation of the rising costs, the Liberals vote to bolster the gun registry with an additional $59 million in funding.
On March 24, the bill is approved on two separate votes — 173-75 and 173-76.
Some Liberal backbenchers threaten to vote with the opposition against the funding, but sit out the vote after Prime Minister Jean Chrétien threatens to expel them from caucus.
July 9, 2003
Judge Robert Kilpatrick grants a temporary injunction protecting Inuit from the federal firearms registry until a lawsuit filed by Nunavut's Land Claims organization goes to court the following year. Requiring Inuit to register their guns could interfere with their traditional way of life, the judge says.
Jan. 7, 2004
Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin says the gun registry is under review. "We are committed to gun control and we are committed to the registration of weapons, but at the same time, common sense dictates that there have been a number of problems," he says. "They will be looked at and dealt with."
Feb. 13, 2004
Documents obtained by Zone Libre of CBC's French news service suggest that the gun registry has cost $2 billion so far.
The story: Gun registry cost soars to $2 billion
May 20, 2004
The Liberal government, just days before an expected election call, eliminates fees for registering and transferring firearms. Ottawa says it will also limit its spending on the gun registry to $25 million a year, spending that has averaged $33 million a year and reached as high as $48 million. Licensing of gun owners and firearms will continue.
In the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of Firearms on the administration of the Firearms Act, the Canada Firearms Centre estimates that the cost of running the registry for the year ending Dec. 31, 2004, was less than $100 million. The report says costs are continuing their downward trend and should fall to approximately $85 million beginning in fiscal 2005-2006.
May 16, 2006
Auditor General Sheila Fraser reports that the former Liberal government twice misinformed Parliament about tens of millions of dollars of overspending at the Canada Firearms Centre. Fraser finds the planned computerized gun registry system is three years overdue and so far has cost $90 million, three times more than expected.
May 17, 2006
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says the Conservative government will introduce legislation to eliminate the long-gun registry. Day announces a number of measures that would effectively gut the registry while it is still in effect:
- A one-year amnesty for those who have not yet registered their non-restricted firearms.
- Long-gun owners will no longer have to pay to register their weapons, and the government will provide refunds to those who have already registered their long guns.
- Responsibility for the registry will be transferred to the RCMP from the Canada Firearms Centre.
- The annual operating budget for the program will be cut by $10 million.
The story: Tories gut Liberals' gun registry
June 19, 2006
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduces legislation to abolish the long-gun registry. Day introduces a bill to amend the Criminal Code and Firearms Act so that owners of non-restricted rifles and shotguns will not have to register their weapons. But the handgun registry will remain in place, as will bans on fully automatic firearms and assault weapons.
The story: Tories table bill to kill long-gun registry
Oct. 5, 2006
Hayder Kadhim, 18, who was shot during the Dawson College rampage on Sept 13, returns to the college to crusade for better gun control in Canada and to save the gun registry. Kadhim, who was shot three times — and still has a bullet lodged in his head and neck — challenges Harper to a debate about gun control during a media interview.
Feb. 22, 2007
Nunavut hunters circulate petitions to pressure the federal government to push ahead with its plans to drop the long-gun registry. According to the group, the registry is seen as a huge waste of money — ineffective and largely unnecessary in the North. Although Inuit are currently exempt from having to obtain a licence to own a firearm, the registry still causes problems in the region, because a licence is required to legally purchase ammunition.
Nov. 16, 2007
The federal government reintroduces a bill to eliminate the long-gun registry. This marks the Conservative government's second attempt to amend the Criminal Code and Firearms Act, after their first attempt, in June, failed because the last parliamentary session had been prorogued in September.
The bill would repeal the requirement for businesses and individuals to register non-restricted long guns, but gun retailers would have to record all sales of non-restricted guns, as they had been required to do before the registry came into effect.
April 8, 2008
A report released by the commissioner of firearms says Ottawa refunded almost $21 million to long-gun owners for licensing fees in 2006, following the Conservative government's decision to waive registration for the firearms. The report also states that police have used the gun registry more than 2.3 million times while investigating crimes and complaints in 2006, or nearly 6,500 times a day.
July 24, 2008
Day signs off on the long-delayed requirement for police forces to report all guns they seize in connection with crimes to the national firearms registry. Sections of the Public Agents Firearms Regulations that had not been implemented are set to finally come into effect Oct. 31 — 10 years after Parliament approved them as part of the 1998 Firearms Act.
March 21, 2009
Harper appeals to members of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to contact opposition MPs and pressure them to support legislation that would scrap the gun registry program.
April 1, 2009
Harper's government introduces a bill in the Senate to abolish the long-gun registry, but not relax controls on machine-guns.
The bill marks a change in strategy for the Harper government, which had been backing the controversial Bill C-301. That bill, introduced in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, proposed ending the registration of rifles and shotguns, as well as softening controls on machine-guns, by allowing people to transport fully automatic and semi-automatic assault guns to public shooting ranges.
The bill, which was ultimately killed, was strongly opposed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as majority of Canadians.
The revised bill introduced in the Senate is still being debated.
At the same time, another bill designed to repeal the long-gun registry, C-391, is still being considered by the House of Commons. It was introduced by Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner.
The story: New federal bill would end long-gun registry
May 15, 2009
Treasury Board president Vic Toews announces the government's plan to extend the long-gun amnesty for another year. The second extension, Toews says, will "encourage compliance and reduce the administrative burden" on lawful gun owners as they work to comply with the registry. He also noted the Conservatives still intend to do away with the registry.
Sept. 24, 2009
The federal government asks Canada's privacy commissioner to look into whether the RCMP should have passed on personal information from the national gun registry to a pollster. The inquiry comes after some Canadian gun owners voice their anger with the RCMP for passing their personal information from the registry to a polling company for a research study. The poll was done to gauge gun owners' satisfaction with the RCMP's firearms program.
Oct. 5, 2009
Documents obtained by CBC News under access to information show the Conservative government's decision to waive fees for people licensing their firearms will cost more than $15 million in 2009 alone. Should the fee waiver be extended for another three years, internal forecasts predict an additional $60 million in "projected lost revenue."
Nov. 4, 2009
MPs voted 164-137 on a second reading of Bill C-391, introduced earlier in the year by Hoeppner. If passed, Bill C-391 would scrap the registry and destroy existing data in the system on about seven million shotguns and rifles. The bill will now be studied by committee.
The story: MPs vote to abolish long-gun registry
Nov. 19, 2009
An EKOS poll suggests Canadians have mixed views on what to do about the long-gun registry, with slightly more preferring to abolish the program than keep it, but nearly a third having no opinion on the subject.
Poll results indicate a slim majority of Canadians favour banning gun ownership completely, although a large number of respondents said Canadians should have the legal right to bear arms.
The story: Canadians split over long-gun registry: poll
April 19, 2010
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says he will propose changes to make it easier for gun owners to register their firearms.
Ignatieff, speaking to the Canadian Police Association in Ottawa, says his proposed changes would give police the tools they need to make communities safe, while removing the "frustrating" elements of the registry to address "legitimate criticisms" from rural Canadians.
The story: Ignatieff pitches long-gun registry changes
April 21, 2010
Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell says he does not want to support the long-gun registry but he might be forced to do so by his boss, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
Ignatieff said the next parliamentary vote to scrap the long-gun registry will be a whipped vote, meaning all Liberal MPs will have to vote for the party's position or face discipline.
The story: Yukon MP torn over long-gun registry
May 6, 2010
Three national police associations — The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Police Boards — come together for the first time on Parliament Hill to defend the long-gun registry.
"This should not be about us versus them. Or rural versus urban, or even police versus politicians," said Charles Momy, who is the president of the Canadian Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers. "The firearms registry represents a valuable tool in assisting police in doing their job. It is a valuable tool, which has significant preventative and investigative value in keeping our communities safe."
The story: Police unite to defend long-gun registry
June 3, 2010
A Commons committee votes against proceeding with a private member's bill to eliminate the long-gun registry. Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois reject Tory MP Candice Hoeppner's bid to eliminate the requirement to register non-restricted firearms.
The committee's recommendation must now be put to a vote in the House of Commons.
The story: Anti-gun registry bill hits snag
June 11, 2010
Victims of three school shootings in Montreal say they will blame federal NDP Leader Jack Layton if legislation calling for the abolition of the gun registry is adopted.
The story: Gun registry advocates appeal to NDP
Aug. 17, 2010
The head of the Canadian Firearms Program, who is a strong supporter of the long-gun registry, is bounced out of the position, CBC News learns. 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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the move was not a political decision, despite opposition MPs' claims his ouster fits the Conservative government's "pattern" of dealing with dissent.
The stories: Federal gun program head ousted
Aug. 19, 2010
RCMP Chief Supt. Pierre Perron, the new director of the Canadian Firearms Program, says he believes the current program "has contributed to officer and public safety," but he will "respect and follow any future direction" provided by Parliament.
The story: Gun program head will follow MPs' direction
Aug. 25, 2010
An RCMP evaluation report of Canada's long-gun registry concludes that the program is cost effective, efficient and an important tool for law enforcement, CBC News has learned. The findings of the report, conducted with the help of outside auditors and completed six months ago, had been in the hands of the government since February. MPs receive copies of the RCMP report on Aug. 30.
The stories: Long-gun registry efficient: RCMP report
Sept. 22, 2010
The issue comes down to a close vote in the House of Commons but the gun registry survives, with 153 MPs in favour of a motion introduced by the House public safety committee to scrap Tory MP Candice Hoeppner's bill, compared with 151 voting against the motion.
After losing the vote, Harper, is undaunted by the result, saying, "After 15 years, opposition to the long-gun registry is stronger in this country than it has ever been. With the vote tonight, its abolition is closer than it has ever been."
The story: Gun registry survives Commons vote
April 4, 2011
While campaigning for re-election, Harper declared that his government "will scrap the long-gun registry."
The story: Harper reaffirms vow to scrap gun registry
Oct. 25, 2011
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduces a bill to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, which will eliminate the long-gun registry and order the destruction of all records held in the registry.