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Public Safety Vic Toews looks on as newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson takes question from reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Nov. 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Public Safety Vic Toews looks on as newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson takes question from reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Nov. 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ontario ignores RCMP order to halt 'backdoor' gun-registry efforts Add to ...

The head of the Mounties is warning chief firearms officers in the provinces and territories not to create their own lists of long-gun owners now that the federal government has scrapped its registry.

But the edict created confusion Friday, with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty saying he intends to ignore it until the federal government makes it clear whether the provinces can continue collecting their own information on firearms. The province’s chief firearms officer. however, said he has no intention of creating a made-in-Ontario long-gun registry.

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RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson reminded the firearms officer in a letter this week that the passage of the Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act leaves no doubt about Parliament’s intention to stop that type of compilation of information about gun owners.

“I instruct all chief firearms officers to ensure that the licensing conditions you impose on business records pursuant to the Firearms Act do not facilitate the creation of long-gun registries in your jurisdictions,” Mr. Paulson wrote.

But Mr. McGuinty said Friday his province will ignore the RCMP demand. It is not at all clear, he said, whether the federal government’s legislation banning the long-gun registry also applies to provincial versions.

“I instruct all chief firearms officers to ensure that the licensing conditions you impose on business records pursuant to the Firearms Act do not facilitate the creation of long-gun registries in your jurisdictions,” Mr. Paulson wrote.

But Mr. McGuinty said Friday it is not at all clear whether the federal government’s legislation banning the long-gun registry also applies to firearms records collected by the provinces.

Until the Harper government makes its intentions clear, Mr. McGuinty told reporters in Ottawa, Ontario plans to continue collecting information from firearms dealers through a ledger set up by all the provinces in 1978, a practice that predates the long-gun registry.

Ontario’s chief firearms officer, a member of the Ontario Provincial Police, is of the view that the province’s firearms act gives him the authority to continue using the register, Mr. McGuinty said. There is a difference of opinion in interpreting the law with federal officials, he said.

There has never been a public debate about the ledger itself, let alone eliminating it, the Premier added.

“Perhaps we’re going to enter into a new debate now. If we’re going to do that, let’s have it on Parliament Hill. Let’s not have an exchange between the RCMP experts in this area and provincial experts in this area,” he said.

“Let’s turn it back to the feds, and say, ‘if your intention was to eliminate not only the long-gun registry but a pre-existing practice I think you need to make that clear.’ Right now, there’s obviously some uncertainty.”

OPP Superintendent and Chief Firearms Officer Chris Wyatt said in an interview the RCMP is not telling the provinces to abolish their ledgers. Rather, he said, the RCMP does not want the provinces to convert their ledgers into a gun registry, which police had the authority to search. Police can only get information on firearms owners contained in the ledger through a court order.

“We’re not using it to create a long-gun registry,” Supt. Wyatt said.

The letter from Mr. Paulson to the chief firearms officers, some of whom are RCMP employees and some of whom are not, followed a missive he received this week from federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Scrapping the registry was a top priority for the federal Conservative government which deemed it to be “wasteful and ineffective” and an unnecessary imposition on law-abiding gun owners. The passage of the law to shut it down was marked by much celebration by Tory MPs.

So Mr. Toews was not happy when he learned that some provincial firearms officers were obtaining data from firearms dealers to indicate who had purchased guns. He characterized the practice as a “backdoor” attempt to recreate the gun registry, and warned the collection of point-of-sale data was no longer authorized under the Firearms Act.

Ontario is not the only province to indicate an interest in keeping data about gun owners in the absence of the federal registry.

When the bill to end the gun registry became law, all registration records were ordered destroyed but Quebec sought and won a court injunction halting the destruction of those records.

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