Bill C-19: Is data a four-letter word?

Conventional Weapons, News

The battle to save the long-gun registry has turned into a fight to save the data contained in the registry. When Bill C-19 passes as expected, most rifles and shotguns will no longer have to be registered. And records on 7.1 million registered “non-restricted” weapons will be destroyed, records that were collected over a period of 14 years at a cost of $1.23-billion of taxpayers money.

Federal opposition parties and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have argued the records are a valuable tool for police and prosecutors. The Quebec government is planning to mount a legal challenge to keep the Quebec portion of the federal long-gun registry in service, a move strongly supported by Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Without the data, police will not be able to trace non-restricted guns used in crimes to their last legal owners. It will also be more difficult to enforce prohibition orders or to seize firearms in cases of domestic violence, risk of suicide, or mental health breakdown. Police and courts will not know how many guns are possessed by owners who were previously granted licenses, but were later determined unfit to own a gun.

Proponents of Bill C-19 argue that the long-gun registry is a wasteful, unnecessary bureaucracy that criminalizes hunters and other law-abiding gun owners. Underlying this is the premise that registered non-restricted guns do not pose a risk to public safety.

Let’s look at the data.

In the first six months after national statistics on firearm seizures were first compiled in November 2008, non-restricted firearms, mostly rifles and shotguns, made up 74 per cent of the 8,261 guns seized from owners who were violent, had threatened violence, or were subject to a prohibition order.

Forty-three per cent of the guns seized were entered in the Canadian Firearms Registry, making it easier for police to trace them.
In comparable data for 2010, non-restricted guns made up 54 per cent of total seizures. Although the 2010 data does not break down the number registered, one thing is clear: non-restricted firearms pose a threat to public safety.

In fact, gun crime data available only for 2009 reveals that non-restricted guns make up the single largest category of crime guns recovered, accounting for 40 per cent.

Two government watchdog agencies have also weighed in on the issue in testimonies before a parliamentary committee. The Privacy Commissioner testified that nothing in federal law prevents the federal government from sharing information with provinces. The Information Commissioner testified that destroying all the records on long guns would contravene both the spirit and the letter of the Library and Archives Canada Act.

Does it make sense to destroy this data when it contributes to the safety of both the public and police officers?

Why can’t the provinces transfer all non-restricted firearms registry records related to its residents, if they wish to do so?

Why is the government ignoring a main finding of the RCMP-commissioned 2010 evaluation of the Firearms Program, which states: “There is an ongoing need for the Canadian Firearms Program to promote public safety through the regulation of firearms.”

Does this have to be an all or nothing debate?


Table 1: Firearms Seized in Canada By Classification November  2008-April 2009 and 2010

Classification  November 2008 – April 2009         2010
Non-restricted  6,146  5,078
Prohibited  795  1,578
Restricted  1,340  1,657
Others  928
Total Seized  8,281  9,241

*The numbers represent only information reported to the Canadian Firearms Program and do not necessarily reflect ALL firearms seized in Canada.

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