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Garbage in ... garbage out

By Jason Hayes
web posted March 25, 2002

Garbage in ... garbage out. To even the computer-illiterate among us, this concept is something we all understand. All of us that is, except Canadian Firearms Centre (CFC) employees straining to implement the registration component of the Firearms Act.

Apparently CFC bureaucrats skipped those classes in their database management courses. So for their benefit, "garbage" as it relates to a database, refers to inaccurate information. When garbage goes into the registry, garbage (again, inaccurate data) will be output.

In the case of the 68 year-old handgun registry and the newer C-68 registry created for the 6 to 20 million non-restricted firearms not already part of the older database, the term "garbage in" is sadly appropriate.

For example, in the spring 2002 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine, Executive Editor - Russell Thornberry recounted his experience as he passed through Canada customs at Dorval Airport in Montreal on his way to a northern Quebec caribou hunt.

As a law-abiding citizen bringing firearms into the country, Thornberry filled out the registration card for his firearms and presented it to a customs official for inspection. He informed the agent that the serial number for one of his firearms was impossible to see without partially disassembling that gun, so he reached into the case and lifted the gun so the officer could verify that the serial number and the registration card agreed.

"Don't pick up the gun!" the officer ordered.

Thornberry was taken aback; he put the gun down and reiterated that he was trying to help with verifying the serial number. Helpful or not, Thornberry was informed that verifying the serial number "doesn't matter" as customs officials had been "told not to remove guns from their cases because it makes some passengers nervous". Incredulous, Thornberry asked how they could verify the information on his registration card.

And the officer's response, as he stamped the registration card, allowing the unverified gun into Canada?

"Those are my orders."

In the debate leading to government approval of C-68, then Minister of Justice Allan Rock argued that the object of his latest firearms regulation scheme was the "preservation of the safe, civilized, and peaceful nature of Canada." A required component of the regulation he proposed was registration. The CFC web site echoes this contention, noting that public safety is their business, and registration is essential to the success of that business.

Despite the inability of either government or anti-gun activists to prove that registration has any beneficial impact on safety, if we conditionally accept their link between registration and public safety, then a refusal to verify serial numbers is amazing and frightening. If the numbers going into the registry are not accurate, Canadians are clearly being put in an unsafe position. Even the nervous natures of a few Dorval passengers are not sufficient reason to jeopardize the alleged safety needs of an entire country.

After all, "if it saves even one life, isn't it worth it" to make passengers nervous?

The claims of keeping Canada safe by registering Granddad's shotgun are tenuous at best. However, without that safety component, there is little else to justify the self-congratulatory rhetoric we see in routine CFC media releases.

Given the $689 million price tag and the inconvenience borne by several million firearms owners, most Canadians would agree that the CFC should be doing something constructive; safer streets might help balance the financial burden and nuisance associated with the registry. However, increasing reports of firearms related crime, compounded by routine bungling of licenses and registrations are compelling evidence that the outcome of the registry is proving more destructive than constructive.

Unfortunately, Thornberry's example is not limited. Reports of applicants waiting several months (even years!!) for licenses and registration certificates that should have taken several weeks abound. Worse, firearms licenses are said to arrive with the wrong pictures or with firearms wrongly identified. Others claim to have received multiple licenses, each bearing different and incorrect information for the same firearm. One holder of a minor's license has received two free registration packages, despite the fact that it is illegal for a minor to own a firearm - they can only borrow an adult's firearm. Some have even been sent registration certificates for firearms that do not exist or were sold several years prior.

The mistakes are numerous, varied, and the list is growing in direct proportion to the money poured into the registry.

Surely, reasonable people can allow for some errors in setting up this sort of system. However, when standard operating procedures produce the list of errors noted above at 810 per cent over the original cost estimate of $85 million, reasonable people must demand accountability.

Government approved the registry to make Canadian society safer. However, the garbage we are seeing produced by this registry indicates that we are not getting our money's worth. It is past time to trash Plan A and move on to Plan B.

Jason Hayes is a freelance writer and consultant based in Calgary.

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