Stephen Harper has begun the process of shuttering Canada’s long-gun registry, tabling a bill to scrap a database on firearms owners that for rank-and-file Conservatives stood as a powerful symbol of everything that’s wrong with big government.
Determined to drive a stake through the heart of the registry, which cost more than $2-billion to establish, the Tories are going so far as to destroy the data.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews even accused the Official Opposition NDP of wanting to “retain those records in order to recreate the registry as soon as possible,” even though the New Democrats have never vowed to restore it.
Eliminating the registry, however, has one downside for the Conservatives. It will deprive the party of an incentive it has used over the years to solicit donations from supporters.
“If Michael Ignatieff succeeds,” one April, 2010, letter to donors from Conservative fundraisers said, “the failed long-gun registry will continue to threaten law-abiding farmers, hunters and sport-shooting competitors – while doing nothing to reduce gun crime in our major cities.”
For years, the Conservatives and predecessor parties invoked the registry as one of the litany of wrongs they’d right once they had a majority.
“Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have built a rock-solid base of support in rural Canada, and I think that was an important symbol for them to connect with rural Canadians,” said Bob Plamondon, author of Blue Thunder, a history of conservative prime ministers.
He said while he didn’t want to overstate the registry’s meaning to Tories, it did help fundraising.
Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary political scientist and a one-time Harper adviser, played down the importance of the gun registry to Conservative fundraising, but said for Tory ranks, it represented big government gone wrong.
“They see it as an example of government gone crazy, of legislating a program that doesn’t do anything but runs up excessive costs.”
Replacement Registry: Quebeckers may still find themselves required to register their long guns. The Quebec government is considering establishing a replacement long-gun registry.
No other province appears to be mulling a registry, though. A Globe and Mail survey of governments from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia found zero interest.
Provinces are focused on other strategies for gun control, particularly because criminals rarely register their weapons.
“We continue to make illegal guns a key focus of our guns and gangs strategy, which includes anti-gang legislation focusing on body armour, armoured vehicles and hidden compartments in vehicles, gunshot wound reporting requirements and additional prosecutors,” B.C. Solicitor-General Shirley Bond said in a statement.
Headed for the Trash Heap: The federal gun registry had amassed more than 6.6-million records on non-restricted firearms by March 31, 2009. These data will be destroyed, the Conservatives said, rather than leave the door open for a new registry. “We will not assist provinces to set up a back-door registry,” a government spokesman said.
Other Options: Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said authorities have other databases to keep track of firearm threats. The National Information Centre holds criminal records, for instance. Police also have access to data on firearms licences. Provincial databases such as PRIME (Police Records Information Management Environment) in British Columbia, collect information from previous incidents, including where police noted firearms at people’s homes.