Shut down gun registry, provinces say
Federal program has become 'a black hole,' Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta agree
Tom Blackwell and Charlie Gillis, National Post
January 04, 2003
At least three provinces are urging the federal Liberal government to shut down its controversial gun registry, ratcheting up opposition to what one provincial minister calls a "black hole" of wasted tax dollars.
Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta all said yesterday that the registry should be closed at least temporarily while auditors do an analysis of its benefits to the public versus its spiralling costs.
Although he is officially asking for only a suspension of the service now, Bob Runciman, Ontario's Public Safety and Security Minister, said in an interview he hopes the government will eventually decide to kill it entirely.
"We're saying let's not pour good money after bad. It appears to be nothing but a black hole," Mr. Runciman said.
"We think you should step back and take a deep breath ... That may mean laying off people on an internal basis; that may mean reassigning people."
A statement issued by Mr. Runciman yesterday calls for the registry to be suspended until the federal Auditor-General completes her audit of the operation and a cost-benefit analysis of the service is conducted.
An Auditor-General's report last month revealed the registry is likely to cost taxpayers more than $1-billion, despite original cost projections of around $2-million.
Ontario says the registry has had no real impact on public safety and is sucking up scarce government resources that could be used for more effective anti-crime programs.
Bart Johnson, a spokesman for the Alberta Justice Department, said yesterday his province "agrees completely with Ontario's call for suspension of the firearms registration program."
"It's long been our position the registration program is deeply flawed and a waste of money -- money better spent fighting real crime," Mr. Johnson said.
Chris Axworthy, Saskatchewan's Justice Minister, is also in favour of shelving the registry until a proper evaluation of its costs and benefits is carried out, said Debi McEwen, a spokeswoman for the Minister.
Mr. Axworthy first made the recommendation at a federal-provincial justice ministers conference in November, she said.
"The province really wants to see an evaluation that answers the question of whether or not this contributes to community safety," Ms. McEwen said.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Martin Cauchon, the federal Justice Minister, defended the program and said the government has no intention of closing it even temporarily.
Mr. Cauchon has accepted all the recommendations made by the Auditor-General to clean up the registry's finances and the department is implementing them, he said.
Meanwhile, there is evidence the registry is achieving a lot, Mr. Murphy said.
"Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater," he said. "The policy is working, the policy means greater safety for Canadians."
He said police are using the registry an average of 1,500 times a day and have revoked 5,000 gun licences as part of the process, while the number of stolen, missing and lost firearms is declining.
He noted that Ontario continues to co-operate with the operation of the registry, despite Mr. Runciman's objections.
Ontario is one of five provinces whose Chief Firearms Office has opted into the Canadian Firearms Program. The rest of the provinces have opted out, some to voice opposition to the registry.
The Association of Chiefs of Police of Canada has also called for the registry to be preserved, arguing that registration discourages casual gun ownership, reduces the illegal trade in firearms and provides valuable information to police.
But one of those chiefs, Julian Fantino of Toronto, was quoted in the statement issued by Mr. Runciman's office, saying that gun-related killings have nearly doubled in his city in the last four years.
"The gun-related murders reflect the real face of our gun crisis."
The Minister said yesterday there are many measures that could better combat gun crime than the registry. He said he has long requested the establishment of a national police force, similar to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in the United States, to combat the flood of smuggled guns that come across the border from the States.
Mr. Johnson said Alberta will continue to oppose the law and the registration, but expects residents of the province to comply with it while it is in effect.
In the meantime, the province is calling on Ottawa to prosecute offences that fall under the new Firearms Act, saying that provincial Crown lawyers should deal only with weapons offences that fall under the Criminal Code.
"We're saying the federal Justice Department should prosecute those cases, just as they do income tax offences, drug offences and customs offences," Mr. Johnson said.
© Copyright 2003 National Post
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