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The real costs of Canada's firearms registry

By Steven Martinovich

The Professor (December 9, 2002) - If there is a bright spot for Canadians having an allegedly lame duck prime minister it is that his own MPs are beginning to show a little backbone and oppose the more egregious errors of the federal government. Thanks in part to their blasting the massive $1 billion price tag already rung up, the government withdrew its request for another $72 million for the firearms registry program on December 5.

That said the amazement of some MPs that the costs had escalated beyond the $2 million promised by then justice minister Allan Rock in 1995 is more than a little dishonest. In September 2001, it was reported by various media outlets that the cost of the program had already reached $535 million and Dr. Gary Mauser of Simon Fraser University had predicted, accurately it turns out, that it would hit $1 billion this year. The facts were long in plain view for anyone who wanted to know the truth.

While it's useful to attack the firearms registry based on its enormous cost, it ignores more salient arguments. It's a given that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't address the issue of private property -- doubtless something the Trudeau government intended to ensure an activist federal government -- which firearms are, but the registry infringes upon the lives of Canadians in other several important ways.

One concern is the issue of privacy, highlighted in a report last year by the federal Privacy Commissioner. While George Radwanski stated that he couldn't find any "egregious" violations of the Privacy Act, he still felt compelled to issue 34 recommendations aimed at reducing the intrusiveness of the Canadian Firearms Program. Radwanski pointed out that application contained "highly intrusive" questions in the personal history section of the application and the program "did not provide a sufficient or 'demonstrable need' for this kind of personal information." He also called on the government to make sure that personal information was protected and that individuals have the right to request the information collected about themselves and correct it if necessary.

Radwanski also asked the federal government restrict the information that Firearms Officers, who are given "very broad powers and discretion to investigate and gather excessive amounts of information about applicants," have access to.

Firearms owners may also remember past promises by the federal government when it comes to firearms control. As Mauser stated in a report, the history of firearms control in Canada is a study of the slippery slope principle in action. Despite the fact that successive measures by the government have had no measurable impact on violent crime, the federal government has introduced six major pieces of legislation – not including Bill C-68 – since 1934. Bill C-68 itself was introduced by Rock, noted the Auditor General a few years ago, without any evaluation of the efficacy of Bill C-17, passed in 1991 in the wake of the 1989 shootings at the University of Montreal.

Firearms owners also doubtless remember the promises made in 1977 when the Canadian Firearms Legislation was passed under the Trudeau government. Owners accepted the centralized registration of restricted weapons -– such as handguns -– after it was promised that universal registration would never become a reality. It doesn't take an imaginative person to realize -– especially another former justice minister, Anne McLellan, famously announced a few years ago that only the police and the military should be in possession of firearms -– that universal confiscation will one day happen.

Whatever the firearms registry ends up costing Canadians, and given that several million more need to be registered no one knows the final price tag, it's clear that it's not much of a deal on any level. Rather than continuing to throw more good money after bad Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon should act on behalf of the millions of law abiding firearms owners and put the registry to rest.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

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