RICHMOND, Ont. — The federal government is making good on a promise to rural Canadians and law-abiding firearms owners to scrap the long-gun registry and destroy all evidence of its existence so future governments and other jurisdictions can't easily resurrect it.
A controversial subject that has long pitted urban dwellers against their rural neighbours, the 20-page piece of legislation drew reaction from stakeholders almost immediately after Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tabled the bill Tuesday morning in the House of Commons.
New Democrats and Liberals argued the move seemed counter-intuitive for a government hell bent on law and order, while hunting enthusiasts and members of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation applauded the long-awaited bill.
Even those of a similar mind appeared divided over the issue. While some police chiefs and victims groups — including Canada's ombudsman for victims of crime —condemned the move, an Ottawa woman and victims advocate who lost her grandson to gang violence joined Toews on a 4,000-acre industrial farm west of Ottawa to tout the new legislation.
"I understand that the gun registry helps police track down stolen guns to their owners but what good does that do once someone is dead?" said Theresa McCuaig, whose grandson Sylvain Leduc was abducted and murdered in 1995.
"I find this (registry) a waste of great expense."
Accompanied by several fellow Conservatives as well as a pair of female hunters, Toews argued the registry targets hunters, sport shooters, farmers and otherwise law-abiding rural residents.
Firearms licensing, mandatory minimum sentences for armed robbery involving guns and a reverse onus process for bail for those accused of gun crimes are better examples of effective gun control, he said.
"Our government believes that the requirement to register long-guns has needlessly and unfairly targeted law-abiding Canadians, specifically law-abiding firearms owners, as criminals for simply owning a long-gun," added fellow Conservative Candice Hoeppner, who in the last Parliament introduced a similar private member's bill that was narrowly defeated.
"Furthermore, these law-abiding firearms owners have been burdened with red tape that the long-gun registry has caused."
Hoeppner said the Conservatives have "examined" all the evidence and that she can now say confidently that the nearly $2-billion registry has been "completely ineffective" and "completely wasteful."
The legislation introduced Tuesday will not have an impact on registration requirements for restricted and prohibited firearms.
Gun owners will also still be required to pass a police background check and a firearms safety course and they will have to comply with all safe storage and transportation requirements.
Toews also noted Tuesday that the end of the firearms registry means provinces like Quebec and Ontario — which have expressed a desire to erect their own long-gun registries — would have to start from scratch, as would the NDP should it ever become government and choose to reverse the legislation.
"We know what's clear. The NDP plan is to retain those records in order to recreate that registry as soon as possible," Toews said.
"We won't have those records loose and capable of creating a new long-gun registry should they ever have the opportunity to do that."
A spokeswoman for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday that the province won't try to start its own registry. Quebec Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil, however, said his province will keep negotiating with Ottawa for access to the information contained in the federal registry.
"It's difficult. The Conservative government has a majority in government and its intentions are clear, but we will continue to fight," he said, noting having to start from scratch would be costly.
A Conservative majority in both the House and Senate means the bill is likely to pass, but heated debate is almost certain.
While some feel the registry is an important tool for police to keep track of firearms, others think it's an expensive burden for otherwise law-abiding gun owners and will have no impact on crime.
The registry has also caused tension in NDP and Liberal ranks as members struggled to reconcile the wishes of their rural constituents with the wishes of their respective parties to maintain the registry, albeit with some changes.
NDP justice critic Jack Harris argued destroying the registry was particularly hypocritical for a government dedicated to crime-fighting, especially since police chiefs have asked that the database be preserved as investigators often consult it as a safety precaution before approaching a dwelling.
He said the NDP has tried to respect rural and aboriginal Canadians while maintaining safe communities and had proposed fixing certain things that are wrong with the registry.
The government, he said, would prefer to "divide Canadians" rather than "bring them together."
Meanwhile, the Liberals, who introduced the registry in the mid-1990s, slammed the Tories for ignoring "facts and evidence" that suggest it works.
"The gun registry is used by law enforcement across the country over 11,000 times a day," interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said.
"Police chiefs, front-line officers, emergency room doctors, pediatricians, nurses, women's groups and others all insist the gun registry saves lives."
Rae said the government should at least preserve the data already collected so that "provinces can salvage this important tool."
With files from Linda Nguyen and Marianne White
Read more: http://www.canada.com/Feds+table+bill+scrap+long+registry/5608632/story.html#ixzz1btiGYETE
About fukin time.
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