Quebec may be forced to completely dismantle its long-gun registry in the next few months in accordance with the controversial federal Bill C-19, an act that Montreal police officials say will be detrimental to crime prevention in the city.
Passed on April 5 by the Harper government, Bill C-19, or the Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, would lift the registration requirement for long guns and destroy all records from the Canadian Firearms Registry’s existing database.
The bill only applies to non-restricted firearms – such as rifles, shotguns, and other long guns – and will not affect registries or licensing practices for firearms classified as restricted or prohibited.
Quebec currently has an injunction against the destruction of the registry data, and can continue to add data to the registry while the injunction is in place.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the CBC, “the data registry will be destroyed as soon as feasible.” He added, “As soon as the legislation is passed, there is a requirement to destroy the data.”
The legal debate continues, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police official Julie Gagnon told the CBC on August 31 that the dismantling process is “well underway,” though no actual records have been destroyed.
The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) told The Daily that Bill C-19 means the loss of an important tool for crime prevention, investigation, and public protection.
In an email to The Daily, SPVM Commanding Officer François Bleau said in French, “In the absence of long-gun registry, it will be impossible to identify their owners. In this context, criminals could use them without the risk that the authorities can locate them.”
Long-gun crime rates are generally lower than those related to restricted firearms, with only one out of 35 homicides being long-gun related in 2011 and three out of 37 in 2010, according to Bleau.
However, the majority of firearms in the registry are non-restricted firearms. According to the CBC, there are an estimated 7.8 million firearms registered, 90 per cent of which are non-restricted firearms.
Bleau said that the SPVM uses the registry not only to trace the origin of a weapon and bring charges against offenders, but also to advise on intervention strategies prior to the search of a residence, thereby protecting police officers. It is also a useful tool in crime prevention, he said, citing as an example the removal of weapons from homes where domestic disputes occur.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier told the CBC, “In 2010, we [seized] 2,500 guns from people who owned those guns, because they were dangerous [to] themselves or other people.”
Bleau said that the destruction of the registry might see a rise in long-gun related crime.
“Impunity, the wide availability of these weapons, and the low purchase price are factors that might favour their use,” he told The Daily.
“We may see poorer criminals, such as [those in street gangs], use long guns,” he continued. “Once the barrel has been cut to length, they have a portable, cheap, and anonymous weapon in the absence of the registry.”
Anti-registry groups, however, cite the cost of the registry and its alleged ineffectiveness as a justification for its destruction.
According to the CBC, Toews has described the registry as a “billion-dollar boondoggle,” arguing that money should be spent on more effective means of cracking down on gun crime.
The Canadian Firearms Program was investigated by Auditor General Sheila Fraser in 2002, who concluded that it was over-budget and would cost taxpayers over $1 billion – 500 times more than the original $2 million estimate.
Opposition groups such as the National Firearms Association (NFA) also argue that the registry represents a violation of personal freedoms.
“As long as the Liberal Firearms Act remains law, the freedoms, rights, and property of all Canadians remains at risk,” the NFA says on its website.
“The ending of long gun registration lays good ground work and is a positive first step in much needed and long overdue firearms law reform in Canada,” states the website.
Tuesday’s shooting at Metropolis during the Parti Québécois’ election rally has renewed public concern over gun deregulation.
Footage from the rally showed a pistol and a rifle – a long gun – at the scene. The police seized a total of 22 guns from suspect Richard Bain, including a pistol, semiautomatic, rifle, revolver, and a hunting or sport rifle.
All but one were registered.