Tuesday, May 30, 2000
The opposition to the government's ineffective gun registry is stronger now than it was when the Liberals rammed the legislation through in 1995. In just the 36th Parliament, MPs have introduced 2,646 pages of petitions with the signatures of 60,290 citizens who are opposed to Bill C-68, the Firearms Act. Contrary to what Justice Minister Anne McLellan declared to the media as tens of thousands of responsible gun owners rallied on Parliament Hill on September 22, 1998, this debate is far from over. Evidence of the legislation's ineffectiveness is becoming clearer every month. Unfortunately, we are learning about most of these weaknesses through Access to Information Act requests - not because of the government's honest reporting of the facts.
Promises Made - Promises Broken
- In 1995, the Justice Minister promised Parliament that he had consulted with the provinces about his proposed gun registry. In February of this year, six provinces and two territories challenged the constitutionality of the legislation in the Supreme Court.
- In 1995, the Justice Minister promised that the registration scheme wouldn't require a huge bureaucracy. Research, conducted by the Library of Parliament this spring, revealed that the registry now employs more than 1,400 paper pushers.
- On April 24, 1995, the Justice Minister promised the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice that the firearms registry would run a deficit of only $2.2 million over the first five years. In fact, the registry has produced a deficit in excess of $320 million over the first five years.
- On July 19, 1999, the Toronto Star published a letter by Justice Minister Anne McLellan that promised, 'user fees will cover the entire cost of the [gun registry] program." In February of this year, Treasury Board officials advised the Senate National Finance Committee that only $6.4 million in user fees had been collected - far short of the $327 million the Justice Department admitted the registry cost in the first five years.
- On November 30, 1994, Justice Minister Allan Rock promised Parliament, "The import inspection and registration process will be operated by Canada Customs officials who will ensure that accurate information is entered into the registration system as firearms enter or leave Canada." On April 7, 2000 the RCMP advised, "The Canadian Firearms Registry has not been advised by Canada Customs of all the newly imported firearms." On February 16, 1995, the Justice Minister said, "Last year approximately 375,000 firearms came into Canada. We do not know where they are or how they got here." According to the RCMP, they still don't!
- In his April 2000 report, the Auditor General reported: "The Canadian Firearms Registry had a difficult start because the systems and processes had not been fully tested before the Registry was implemented. In May of 1999, a consultant's study found that the Firearms Registry was unable to cope with the backlogs even though the number of applications was much lower than forecast."
- As of May 5th, 2000, only 164,948 firearms licences had been issued by the government in the first year and a half of operation. Another 110,035 licences were "in processing" and 30,817 more were backlogged. The government will have to increase production by 30 times to licence at least 2.5 million more gun owners before the government's self-imposed deadline at the end of this year.
- As of March 31st, 2000, the RCMP had registered only 377,814 firearms. They have at least 10 million more to go. The RCMP are only registering 1,135 guns per day but must increase production to at least 11,832 per day to meet the government's arbitrary deadline of Jan 1, 2003.
- The program successes claimed by the Minister in the form of blocked gun sales, refused and revoked licences, are the result of better background checks and could have been accomplished with better administration of the old Firearm Acquisition Certificate program. The government didn't need a $400 million dollar gun registry to make these improvements.
- A Briefing Note prepared by RCMP Superintendent Mike Buisson, Registrar for the Canadian Firearms Registry, dated September 10, 1999 states: "The lower than planned application intake levels for both licences and registrations, as well as the unacceptably higher than anticipated error rates in applications is raising concern about the success of the firearms program." Another RCMP document dated November 1-2, 1999 describes the registry's dilemma: "First, the rate of errors made in the completion of these forms has been much higher than predicted; fewer than 1% of Registration Applications and 10% of Licence Applications arriving at the Central Processing Site are without error. The intake of Licence Applications has been about 10% of the forecast level, and is dropping; the intake of Registration Applications has dropped to less than 30% of the forecast level, and is continuing to drop. Unfortunately, since Program Commencement, all the resources at our processing sites have been fully utilized in processing these very low intake levels due to the high error rate and, to a lesser extent, the relatively-poor application performance, many inefficient processes, and staff inexperience."
- On June 1, 1999, Justice Minister Anne McLellan's hand-picked User Group on Firearms wrote to her saying, "The current transfer and registration process is permitting an unchecked growth in the most unwanted elements of the firearms trade, specifically, the black market. The control based service delivery model has been shown incapable of addressing the volume of firearms to be registered in Canada. Every firearm illegally transferred compromises the safety of all Canadians and encourages the rampant increase in the black-market. We believe the fabric forming the 'culture of safety' is unraveling." The Justice Minister ignored her own User Group's recommendations.
- In his 1999-2000 Annual Report, the Privacy Commissioner reported about problems the RCMP is having with the FIP database - FIP stands for "Firearms Interest to Police." The FIP system is treating people who are "in full compliance with the strict registry procedures" as criminals. The Commissioner reported that these law-abiding people are leaving licenced gun shops "empty-handed and embarrassed, and feeling suspected of being a criminal." On August 12, 1999, the Parliamentary Research Branch exposed the problem: "Another consequence of the different procedures used by police agencies across Canada is that, in some cases, individuals who are not a safety concern will be linked to the F.I.P. data base. For example, in some agencies all of the names in a file are linked to the ORI code. Therefore, a person who is a witness to an offence or even the victim of an offence may have their name in the F.I.P data base because their name was linked to one of the codes which fell under the selection criteria pursuant to section 5 of the Firearms Act." The RCMP reported, "on December 11, 1999 there were 3,578,751 FIP records."
- As of the end of this fiscal year the government will have wasted in excess of $400 million in an ill-fated attempt to control 99.99% of gun owners who are law abiding instead of targeting the criminals who use firearms. Police are becoming more and more frustrated that this $400 million has not been available to help them investigate real crime and combat real criminals.
Responsible firearm owners across the country say that fighting crime is not about making criminals out of law-abiding gun owners simply because they fail to do all the paperwork the government demands. They also say that fighting crime is not about tying up thousands of firearms dealers with so much red tape that it drives many of them out of business - leaving room for a black-market to flourish. They tell me that fighting crime is not about forcing police officers to chase duck-hunters to see if their shotguns are registered. They say fighting crime is about putting scarce tax dollars where they'll do the most good. Too bad the Liberals seldom heed good advice. Too bad the Liberals seldom keep their promises.