By Jeff Davis
OTTAWA — The Conservative government says its MPs will celebrate after a historic vote to end the long-gun registry Wednesday evening, despite vehement opposition to the move in Quebec and much of urban Canada.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters Wednesday, hours before the vote, that the government’s actions are long overdue.
“It does nothing to help put an end to gun crimes, nor has it saved one Canadian life,” he said.
“It criminalizes hard-working and law-abiding citizens such as farmers and sport shooters, and it has been a billion-dollar boondoggle left to us by the previous Liberal government.”
Meanwhile, opposition MPs and supporters of the registry are expected to say the government’s actions are a step backwards, because the registry has been useful in keeping the country’s streets safe.
Bill C-19, the Ending the Long Gun Registry Act, is guaranteed to pass through the House of Commons, thanks to the Conservative government’s majority, but more political wrangling is expected to follow.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews speaks in the Commons on Wednesday. He later went to a cocktail party on Parliament Hill celebrating the gun-registry vote.
Liberals in the Senate say they have no intention of “rubber stamping” the bill, which they say needs time for sober second thought.
Meanwhile, the government of Quebec, meanwhile, has plans to take legal action against the Harper government for withholding Quebec-specific data, which is essential to its plans to launch a provincial registry.
The federal law will end the requirement for lawful gun owners to register their long guns, and it relaxes rules around selling or transferring guns. Gun licences for individuals will still be required, and the registry for restricted and prohibited firearms such as handguns will be maintained.
Gun control has been ferociously debated in Canada for decades, particularly since the Montreal massacre of 1989, when a gunman shot and killed 14 women with a rifle. This event prompted the Liberal government of Jean Chretien to tighten gun controls and create Canada’s first mandatory long-gun registry in 1995.
Hunters and sport shooters reviled the registry, and dismantling it became a central plank of Reform, and later, Conservative party policy.
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan said while the Liberals in the Red Chamber have no intention of filibustering Bill C-19, they’ll make sure it gets the serious consideration it needs.
Cowan said the Tories have taken five months to move Bill C-19 through the House, taking their time with an issue that pleases their base and is a good fundraising tool.
“We’re not going to rubber stamp anything,” he said. “But certainly it won’t be in Senate longer than in House.”
Cowan said he expects Bill C-19 to arrive at the committee on legal and constitutional affairs sometime in March, at which time the committee will hear testimony, which could continue for weeks.
“We want to make sure all sides are heard,” he said. “We are determined to use the powers we have to make sure the committee has a full hearing.”
The Harper Conservatives now have a commanding majority in the Senate, so while Liberal senators may succeed in slowing down the passage of C-19, it will ultimately pass.
According to Bill C-19, all data pertaining to non-restricted firearms will be deleted.
Michael Patton, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said the gun registry’s central database is located in an RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. Since only data for non-restricted guns will be removed, the officials are still deciding how to carefully sift out what to delete and what to keep. He said he could not predict exactly how long the deletion of all long-gun data would take.
Patton said officials with the Canadian Firearms Program have not requested any additional money or outside assistance for this task.
Once the bill is finally passed into law, Quebec will immediately seek an injunction from the courts to halt the destruction of the registry data.
Mathieu St-Pierre, a spokesman for Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil, said Quebec has the full intention of taking legal action against the federal government if it does not cough up the data it wants.
Appearing at a parliamentary committee in November, Dutil made clear his province’s desire to maintain the national gun registry. If it is scrapped, he said, Quebec should be given the data it paid for.
St-Pierre said Quebec can’t take legal action against the federal government until the bill passes. The only thing that will stop them now, he said, is if the government voluntarily transfers the Quebec-specific data from the long-gun registry.
“We will go before the courts if Bill C-19 passes, and if the (Quebec) government does not receive the data, our government lawyers already have their strategy in mind,” he said.
Jeff Larivee, whose wife was killed in the 1989 Montreal massacre, is a spokesman for the Coalition for Gun Control. He said he and many other Quebecers feel outrage at the Harper government’s determination to dismantle laws that, for many, serve as a memorial.
“I feel frustrated and I feel sad for my wife,” he said. “We are continually facing a government with an ideological belief that guns should not be controlled.”
While some lawyers doubt the constitutionality of provincial firearms registries, Toews has said that provincial registries are indeed legal.
“It’s certainly possible for a province to create a gun registry under property and civil rights,” he told Postmedia News in January. “I don’t see a constitutional issue there.”
Nevertheless, Toews said he is “certainly not advocating” provincial registries be set up.
Tony Bernardo is Canada’s leading advocate for gun owners, as executive director of the Canadian Sports Shooting Association and a lobby group called the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action.
“I’ve been working for 15 years to make this happen,” he said. “It’s a big deal for me.”
Bernardo says scrapping the long-gun registry is already a “defining moment” in Canadian people power.
“What you’re seeing here, this is democracy in action at its finest,” he said. “Millions of people spoke up and said we don’t want this, and the government responded and now it’s gone.”
- Conservatives and enthusiasts cheer the end of the long-gun registry (news.nationalpost.com)
- Tories, gun enthusiasts set to celebrate registry’s demise (vancouversun.com)
- Tory bill to kill gun registry passes in House of Commons (news.nationalpost.com)
- Bill to kill gun registry sails through House of Commons (canada.com)
- 2 NDP MPs back final Commons vote to kill gun registry (cbc.ca)