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Long-gun registry scrapped by long-awaited Senate vote

Lisa Dumontier

Filling a campaign promise to abolish Canada’s long-gun registry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced last week that the federal Bill C-19, Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act, had passed its third reading in Senate, by a vote of 50-27, and that Royal Assent had been granted for the controversial gun Act. In addition to ending the registry, the Bill will also see the demolition of all data collected since the registry’s inception from registered gun owners across Canada.

“Our Government is committed to keep our streets and communities safe. With today’s achievement, we lessen the burden on law-abiding gun owners and fulfil the promise we made to Canadians to eliminate the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on April 05, 2012 in Ottawa. “The government can instead focus its efforts on more effective measures to tackle crime and protect families and communities.”

An amendment of Canada’s Firearms Act, the long-gun registry was initiated in the late 1990s when the Government of Canada opted to require all owners of hunting rifles and shotguns to obtain a license and register each firearm in their possession as a means of creating greater gun control nationwide. Information collected on the rifles and shotguns—which are classified as non-restricted firearms—was added to a central database managed by the Canadian Firearms program and made accessible for use by Canadian police services. Despite its intentions, the registry has long been criticised for being expensive, ineffective at improving public safety and preventing crime, and for targeting law-abiding gun owners rather than criminals.

With Royal Assent granted, the Government of Canada will now begin implementation of Bill C-19 which means that long-gun owners will no longer be required to register their firearms and the destruction of data contained in the registry related to non-restricted firearms is imminent. While Bill C-19 removes the stipulation that registration certificates must be attached to any non-restricted firearm, according to the federal government it does not change the requirement for individuals to hold a valid firearms licence in order to acquire and possess a firearm; to pass the required Canadian Firearms Safety Course and undergo a screening process; or to obtain a registration certificate for restricted and prohibited firearms.

“Our government will continue to uphold our commitment to effective gun control measures that keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and off our streets,” said Candice Hoeppner, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety. “We have successfully introduced legislation that fights gang crime, drug crime, violent and repeat offenders. Our reforms are concrete steps to tackle real crime and real criminals.”

While the Conservative party was celebrating last week, Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier was rounding up support for a movement to preserve the data collected by the registry over the past decade which was set to begin being destroyed immediately following Royal Assent of the Bill on April 5th. Appearing before a Montreal judge that same day, armed with 68 pages of legal arguments filed earlier in the week in anticipation of the Bill’s passing, the Quebec government called on the Superior Court to leave long-gun registry records intact for use by police or Canadian provinces/territories who may want to establish their own registries now that the federal program is scrapped and sought a court injunction to that effect.

The outcome of these legal proceedings has yet to be determined however a Quebec Superior Court judge did grant a 5-day injunction against destroying long-gun registry data as it pertains to Quebec gun owners only and will rule further on the issue after legal arguments are made on April 12th and 13th questioning the constitutionality of Bill C-19. The province is expected to challenge that, as it helped collect the data contained in the registry, it has an inherent right to utilise the information to develop its own registry which would be cost prohibitive if started from scratch.

Approximately 7.1 million non-restricted firearms were registered in the database as of September 2011.

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