New long-gun registry bill would destroy records

The Conservative government opened a "new chapter" in its mandate Tuesday with the tabling of its bill to eliminate the long-gun registry and destroy all of its records.

Conservatives' gun bill

11 years ago
Duration 7:37
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and his Parliamentary Secretary, Candice Hoeppner, comment on the introduction of their bill to do away with the long-gun registry.

Calling it a "defining moment" for their government, Conservative MPs promoted their bill to abolish the long-gun registry and destroy all its records on Tuesday after it was introduced in the House of Commons.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the sponsor of the bill, called it a proud moment for his party and the culmination of years of work to scrap the registry, which the Tories say has been a waste of money and resources.

"That waste is finally coming to an end," he said during an event at a farm near Ottawa.

Tory MP Candice Hoeppner, whose private member's bill to eliminate the registry came close to passing in the last Parliament, was among the MPs at the event.

"Today is a defining moment for our government," she said as she laid out the case for scrapping the registry.

She said the requirement for owners of rifles, shotguns and other long guns to register their firearms has unfairly targeted law-abiding citizens instead of criminals and burdened them with red tape.

Hoeppner said the registry has cost nearly $2 billion since it was created in 1995 and that that money should have been spent cracking down on real criminals, not farmers and hunters.

"The long-gun registry is not gun control, and because of that it is an ineffective and a waste of taxpayers hard-earned dollars," she said.

The registry is not a valuable tool to reduce gun crime, the Manitoba MP said, adding the majority of homicides are not committed with long guns. Hoeppner acknowledged crimes have been committed with long guns, but said those crimes happened despite the registry.

The government says it is maintaining the strict system of controlling restricted and prohibited firearms and that police checks and safety courses are still required in order to buy a gun and ammunition, and to maintain a licence.

The Conservatives have tried several times to scrap the registry since taking power in 2006 but were never successful in a minority Parliament. They promised during the spring election to try again and now with a majority in the House of Commons and Senate they should be able to pass it with little trouble.

Divisive battle

Abolishing the registry has been a divisive issue among Canadians, and in the House of Commons, sometimes with opposition MPs breaking from their party line and siding with the government. Opponents of it say the registry unfairly targets law-abiding gun owners and has been a waste of money while supporters say it's important for public safety and has helped save lives.

The government's efforts to abolish the registry will continue to cause division and controversy, particularly because of its move to destroy the database.

The Official Opposition quickly reacted to that provision in the bill, saying that police agencies had specifically requested that they be able to continue to consult the database.

"This is extremely disturbing," NDP MP Jack Harris told reporters. He said the Conservatives claim to be interested in public safety and are forging ahead with their omnibus crime bill, yet they are rejecting an initiative that police agencies say is vital to their work and to protecting victims.

The government has also said that it will be of no assistance to provinces that want to set up their own registries and that is also prompting criticism.

Quebec is a solid supporter of the registry, which was created in 1995, and has indicated that it is considering setting up its own registry if the federal one is abolished.


Where do you stand on gun control? Take our survey 

"It's a slap in the face," NDP MP Françoise Boivin, from Quebec, told reporters.

Bloc Quebecois MP Maria Mourani said it makes no sense to get rid of the data that's already been collected and that it shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't value the opinion of Quebec.

"It's not a fair attitude," she said.

Liberals also weighed in on the new bill, calling it an "ideological attack on facts and evidence" and objecting to the government's intention to destroy the database.

"The data collected over the last 16 years must be preserved, so that provinces can salvage this important policing tool," interim leader Bob Rae said in a statement.

Toews stood firm on the decision to destroy the records in the database, leaving other jurisdictions on their own if they want their own registries.

"We've made it very clear we will not participate in the recreation of the long-gun registry and therefore the records that have been created under that long gun registry will be destroyed," he said Tuesday.

Toews said abolishing the registry will save millions of dollars per year, but couldn't put an exact figure on the savings. He said the long-gun registry and the registry for restricted weapons combined costs about $22 million per year to operate.

He added he doesn't expect any net job losses from shutting down the registry because employees will be offered other government jobs.

When the long-gun registry ceases to exist will depend on when the Conservatives can successfully get the bill through the House of Commons and the Senate and how long it spends at the committee stage.

Toews said he expects the bill to be called for a second reading "quickly," that it's a priority and "we want to see this passed."

Conservative MPs Candice Hoeppner, Pierre Poilievre, Maxime Bernier and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews talk about the government's bill to scrap the long-gun registry at a farm near Ottawa on Tuesday, October 25, 2011. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)
The government brought along a number of supporters to their news conference Tuesday afternoon who spoke in favour of scrapping the registry, including Michele Vardy, a recreational hunter from Georgian Bay, Ont.

"As a woman, the long gun registry does not make me feel any safer or secure," she said. Vardy said criminals don't register their guns and that the registry targets law-abiding citizens like her.

"The long gun registry does nothing to protect women," she said.

Vardy's opinion directly contradicts the one offered to CBC News by Pamela Harrison, provincial coordinator for Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, an organization that provides crisis services to women.

"The long-gun registry has made a significant difference in the safety of women in Canada since its inception in 1995. The rate of spousal homicide by gun has gone down 69 per cent and we attribute most of that to the impact of the gun registry," she said.

Harrison has said the registry can be helpful in determining if there are weapons in a home where spousal abuse is suspected.

Sue O'Sullivan, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, issued a statement Tuesday saying most victims groups want the registry maintained.

"Our position on this matter is clear – Canada must do all it can to prevent further tragedies from happening, including using the tools we have to help keep communities safe, like the long-gun registry," she said.

The government acknowledged the controversy around its ongoing efforts to abolish the registry but rejected the notion that it's acting based on ideology rather than facts. 

"I know that this subject has been an issue of much contention and much debate over the years but I want to assure everyone that our government has carefully examined all of the sides and the evidence and I can confidently stand in front of you today and I can say that the long-gun registry has been ineffective and it has been completely wasteful," Hoeppner said.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.