Canadian Unlicensed Firearms Owners Association
Association canadienne des propriétaires d’armes sans permis

A Cancer of the Soul

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End to firearms registry didn't resolve whole problem

December 7, 2012

To the Editor,

Chantal Hebert’s op-ed piece, December 05, underlines how successful the Conservatives have been in subverting discontent with the Liberals’ Firearms Act and its Criminal Code provisions into their “Long-gun registry.” The complacency and acquiescence of the national media, from columnists in the left wing Toronto Star like Hebert to the right wing columnists of the National Post, has been astounding.

Hebert contends that a majority of the provincial and territorial governments opposed the introduction of the “registry” in the mid-1990s. The reality is they opposed the totality of the two-phase Firearms Act. The first phase was the introduction of a licensing system of individuals that was followed by the registration of their firearms. The requirement to register a firearm (the long-gun registry) did not even occur until the year 2001 (sic 2003). Both portions contained provisions that, for the first time, criminalized firearms owners for the mere possession of their property. Prior to the Firearms Act, their property fell outside of criminal law under the jurisdiction of the provinces and subject to provincial regulatory law if they so wished. Regulatory law contains punishments that are monetary, not criminal in nature, as is the case with automobiles. If you do not have a driver’s licence you are potentially subjected to a fine, not prison. Under the Criminal Code provisions with the Firearms Act lack of a firearms owner licence could mean prison. The provinces rightfully objected to this treatment of their citizens. Gun owners, likewise, rejected it.

As the dissent and outright defiance dragged on and the costs mounted the Conservatives began to attribute the costs of implementation of the Firearms Act that were mainly accrued by the licensing component to the registration component, their "Long-gun registry."

The question is what did the Conservatives stand to gain by the subterfuge? By removing the registration portion from the Criminal Code the Conservatives retained a large portion of the rural vote. By continuing to criminalize gun owners with the licensing portion they retained large portions of the urban vote. All the while the Conservatives continued to amass large quantities of gun owner dollars in donations. At the same time, the Conservatives surrounded themselves with compliant gun owners who, out of fear of what the Liberals and New Democrats had in store for them, conceded to licencing and the continued criminalization. The Conservatives formed a Firearms Advisory Committee completely composed of gun owners carefully selected to avoid dissenters opposed to their continued criminalization of gun owners. With this rubber stamp the plan was completed.

While avoiding a real resolution to the problem the Conservatives managed to maintain a golden goose of gun-owning donors and voters. The Liberals and New Democrats alike continue to recognize the lure of votes in our overpopulated cities. Gun owners maintained their status as political footballs at the whim of all three parties.

This Conservative shell game occurred under the noses of the national media without a whisper. Why? Maybe the mere fact that we owned a firearm really did mean what the still remaining portions of the now Conservatives’ Firearms Act continues to set out in ink. We are second-class citizens not to be trusted and requiring constant surveillance. To the media, the political gamesmanship remained more important than the concerns of the actual individuals involved. The real story was just unimportant details that got in the way of the political drama rendering the truth dispensable.

Al Muir
Plymouth, Nova Scotia

Long-gun registry gone, but not forgotten

December 5, 2012


Some policies are born after a hard and divisive labour and yet eventually mature into matters of national consensus. Such has been the case of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, more recently, same-sex marriage.

Over a relatively short period of time both have become defining threads in the legal and social fabric of the country; today, they each enjoy the backing of a decisive majority of Canadians.

To varying degrees, the same can be said about Canada’s linguistic duality and the 1988 free trade accord with the United States.

While many initially opposed them, the changes those initiatives brought about have become the new Canadian normal. As resistance faded, so did the lines that often pit region against region at the time of their introduction. Over time, most political wounds that they caused have healed.

By contrast, the long-gun registry — for all the quasi-religious fervour it inspires in its backers — falls squarely in the open-sore category.

A wedge issue from the moment of its conception, it remained so until the time it was voted out of existence by a Conservative-dominated Parliament earlier this year.

A majority of provincial and territorial governments opposed the introduction of the registry in the mid-1990s and many of them shed crocodile tears over its demise 17 years later.

Last summer, all but one province — Quebec — stood on the sidelines as Stephen Harper’s government proceeded to destroy all registry-related data.

NDP-governed Manitoba and Nova Scotia did not go to court to try to put the registry on life support; nor did Liberal Prince Edward Island.

Ontario — the province whose metropolis was the scene of the 1994 Just Desserts shooting that was the trigger for the Liberal gun registry initiative almost two decades ago — also declined to intervene.

With one exception, no province had the slightest inclination to enter the polarized rural-urban battlefield that the federal government was vacating.

This is a debate to which both sides have brought ultimately irreconcilable perspectives. Over the course of the argument, its actual substance has come to matter little. The protagonists in the debate stopped listening to each other a long time ago.

On that basis, Justin Trudeau’s weekend assertion that the long-gun registry was a “failure” is accurate. While the mechanics of the registry were made to work — albeit at prohibitive cost — the spirit of the policy is beyond redemption.

(As an aside and from a purely practical point of view, it makes little more sense for a party such as the NDP to promise to reconstruct a registry from scratch than it did for the Conservatives to dismantle it once it was finally up and running.)

But Trudeau’s move as he has himself framed it is not a concession to practicality but rather his latest and possibly most risky attempt to date at rebranding the party he seeks to lead.

Over the life of the gun registry, the political calculations that attended to its creation have been found wanting.

Liberal strategists initially saw the registry as a promising wedge between their Conservative rivals and the large electoral markets of urban Canada.

But over the past decade, Harper has successfully turned that equation on its head, using the registry to drive the Liberals out of rural Canada even as his Conservatives were making significant inroads in the country’s gun-conscious suburbs and big cities.

By all indications, Trudeau’s belated denunciation of the registry he once supported is meant to send rural Canadians the same conciliatory signal as his earlier efforts to distance himself from his father’s energy policy toward Alberta.

But this is a different. The 1980 National Energy Program is a distant memory whose controversial record has been consigned to the history books for almost 30 years.

The gun registry, on the other hand, belongs to a more recent and, in the eyes of many Liberals, prouder past. It should not lack for champions in the leadership line-up.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer for the Toronto Star.