|By Sue Potvin|
When the province that has the most to lose by scrapping the gun registry says it should be done, the federal government should listen.
Brad Green, Justice Minister for New Brunswick, is right up front with eight of Canada's provincial premiers (PEI and Quebec are the exceptions) in asking that the firearms registration process be suspended until there is a complete and thorough audit of the system. This despite the fact that such action would mean the loss of several hundred jobs in an economically depressed New Brunswick region.
The gun registry, based at Miramichi, N.B., slated to have a price tag of nearly $1 billion, is intended to make life safer for Canadians, according to the federal government. But it gets mixed reviews from the law enforcers across the country, who might be considered to be the more knowledgeable on this subject.
The Canadian Police Association represents about 28,000 members of Canada's police forces, and its positions is that the system is working and is being used daily.
However, the man who heads law enforcement in Toronto, Julian Fantino, has changed his position "in favour of more meaningful sentencing" and "more resources dedicated to law enforcement." Rather than reducing crime, he says guns and violence have increased tremendously in Canada's largest city and that they've come across no situation in which the gun registry would have prevented a crime or help solve it.
Another Toronto detective has admitted that "most of us in our office certainly feel that the gun registry has been a colossal waste of time and money" and that the money would have been better spent "fighting gun smuggling."
And although the Ontario Provincial Police Association has been supportive of the registry in the past, a plan to review its position is now in the works.
The president of the police union in another major Canadian city, Tom Stamatakis of Vancouver, agrees that police should get "more bang" for the money "by investing in staffing, equipment, ways of dealing with horrendous drug issues and marijuana grow ops and availability of court time" and "lots of other areas that could use the resources being committed to this firearms registry."
Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan has another view. He says the new system screens owners when they apply for their licence, alerting the firearms officer if a licensed firearm owner is involved in an incident that suggests they might be a threat to public safety. He says this allows preventive action to be taken before a tragedy occurs.
Then there's the president of the Winnipeg Police Association, Loren Schinkel, who says his 1,500-member group opposed the firearms registry from day one. He told the Vancouver Sun that he is frustrated by the registry's "black hole" into which so much money is being poured while there are cutbacks in RCMP labs, at the Canadian Police College, and in police staffing.
"Let's get a grip here and get the right priorities back into the system," Schinkel says.
Far from "getting a grip" on anything, federal justice minister Martin Cauchon is going after a Band-Aid solution -- throwing good money after bad, some say. He wants to put yet another $92,000 into the "black hole" that is the firearms registry in the expectation that retired civil servant Ray Hess will be able to study the whole mess and make everything right.
And it is a mess. Auditor General Sheila Fraser was not impressed.
Ottawa Sun columnist Michael Harris writes of a 1998 study by John Lott, economics professer at the University of Chicago, in which he investigated the relationship between gun control and crime -- from an empiric rather than an agenda-driven approach. The result? More guns, less crime (also the name of the book he wrote on the subject). He notes that violent crimes, including those that involve guns, are widely reported in the media. On the other hand, the astonishing number of times that defensive or deterring handguns have saved lives during assaults, robberies and home burglaries are rarely even mentioned.
In Canada and Britain, where gun control legislation is tougher, almost half of all burglaries are "hot" (people are at home at the time of the invasion), Lott says. But in the U.S., where such legislation is less restrictive, the "hot" burglary rate is only 13 per cent.
The registration of handguns has actually been mandatory in Canada since the 1930s. It is the registration of shotguns and rifles that is on the table today.
And who are the 2.3 million Canadians being targetted as gun owners who must register their eight million firearms? Aside from the police forces, security guards and the military, we're looking at farmers who protect their livestock from predators; hunters of ducks, deer, bear and other wild game; trappers; target shooters; and antique collectors.
These law-abiding people are also not impressed. As columnist Barbara Yaffe put it, "It's bad news when governments so alienate the governed that honest individuals are moved to defy laws out of spite and anger."
Criminals, for the most part, smuggle guns across the border from the U.S. They are the ones from whom we need protection.
But we haven't yet figured out how to get them to register their guns.