Politics

Suzanne Legault questions 'black hole' of retroactive gun registry law

Federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault says gun owners may never know if their registration records have been secreted away by the RCMP once the Conservative government creates what she calls a legislative "black hole."

You must ask yourselves 'why?': access to information watchdog advises senators studying bill

Earlier this spring, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recommended that charges be laid against the Mounties for their role in withholding and later destroying registry records. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault says gun owners may never know if their registration records have been secreted away by the RCMP once the Conservative government creates what she calls a legislative "black hole."

Legault filed a preservation order in Federal Court on Wednesday in an effort to keep the government from destroying more contested gun registry data.

Legault told the Senate finance committee Wednesday night that amendments buried in the latest omnibus budget bill go far beyond the original 2012 law to simply end the long-gun registry and delete the records.

The changes — backdated to the day in 2011 that the bill was first introduced rather than when it actually passed -- exempt and nullify not just gun registry data from the Access to Information Act, but all documents related to the registry's destruction.

The unprecedented rewrite of the law also nullifies any jurisdiction over the documents for Legault and even the Federal Court.

Comments worry some gun owners

"This probably means that no one will be able to request information about whether the RCMP has really deleted his or her information from the registry, or about how much the destruction of the registry cost Canadian taxpayers," Legault told the Senate finance committee.

For a hard core of gun enthusiasts, who remain convinced the RCMP used old registry records to target gun owners' homes in High River, Alta., during devastating floods in 2013, Legault's comments are incendiary.

"That's what I've been saying all along," Dennis Young, a former Reform party staffer on Parliament Hill who is an honorary life member of the country's two biggest gun organizations, said in an email.

"Nice to have the expert confirm it."

Legault, in a brief interview after her Senate appearance, said she has no evidence the RCMP continues to hold secret copies of the gun data outside Quebec.

But she continues to question why the Harper government imposed such a sweeping and unprecedented lockdown on the entire subject.

"You must ask yourselves 'why?"' she continually implored the senators.

RCMP not consulted on change

The RCMP did not shed any light on that question.

Deputy commissioner Peter Henschel, who appeared at the committee after Legault, said the Mounties didn't ask for the backdated legal help.

"We were neither consulted nor involved in this legislation," said Henschel.

Henschel insisted all non-restricted firearms data outside Quebec — including paper copies held by provincial firearms officers — has been destroyed.

The RCMP has previously said there was no cost to deleting the registry but Henschel said they spent months developing and testing an "algorithm" to root out the records from what he called "a very complex database."

The Mounties maintain they provided all the data from the registry records they were required to under the access-to-information rules — a matter of interpretation that Legault says she'd be happy to argue in court.

OPP investigation underway

"If the government's position and the RCMP's position is that everything that happened is way above board — everything they did is legal, and I am wrong — then let the police investigate the matter," said Legault.

"We're actually passing a retroactive law that will nullify any record that exists over everything that happened in this file."

The budget bill is on the fast track to be passed by Parliament within days before the rise for the summer recess and a fall election call.

Legault recommended two months ago that charges be laid against the Mounties for their role in withholding and later destroying registry records, which were subject to an active access-to-information request, before Parliament had passed the law ending the long-gun registry in April 2012.

The Ontario Provincial Police have since begun an investigation of the RCMP actions after receiving the file from the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

RCMP insists rules followed

"The RCMP did not, and I will repeat, did not destroy any registration data before the coming into force of the ending of the long gun registry act on April 5, 2012," Henschel told the Commons finance committee on Thursday morning.

Finance committee vice-chair Scott Brison asked who ordered the destruction of the documents.  Henschel reiterated the plan was developed internally in consultation with "senior government officials."

Henschel says the long gun registry records were destroyed between October 26 and October 31, 2012.  

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel told the Finance Committee that the Mounties did not destroy long gun registry data prior to the coming into force, despite the claims of the Information Commissioner to that effect. 7:00

With files from CBC News

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