Couchon not using advisory group's expertise

When the Firearms Act was introduced in 1995, a government-appointed advisory group on the gun registry program, the User Group on Firearms, came into being. It's mandate is to advise on the registration of firearms. It is to provide the government with a non-governmental perspective to ensure the program is effective, efficient and convenient to use for all firearm users.

The group is comprised of 14 people with varying firearm-related expertise. They include a Vancouver police officer, a chief firearms officer from one of the provinces (could also be federal), a representative of the Canadian Police Association, firearms safety instructors, firearms dealers, gun collectors, recreational hunters, outfitters, gun clubs and a wildlife association.

It's chair, Steve Torino, notes that as justice minister, Allan Rock attended every meeting of the User Group, as did the next justice minister, Anne McLellan. On the other hand, since his arrival on the scene in January 2002, Justice Minister Martin Couchon has not attended one meeting of the advisory group, Torino said. In fact, he has failed to meet with the experts on the board, despite requests to do so because of the growing problems with the firearms registry and licensing program.

The User Group made a recommendation to suspend the December 31 deadline for firearm registration following the critical report of Auditor General Sheila Fraser in December. The justice minister ignored this recommendation, however.

Instead of using his own appointed experts, Couchon has spent $152,000 on outside firms in an attempt to control the overspending and management fiasco at the Canadian Firearms Centre. A management trouble-shooting firm, HLB Decision Economics Inc. received a $92,000 contract and KPMG Accounts will earn $60,000 for their services.

To reward themselves for the fine work they are doing, more than 35 senior officials in the Dept. of Justice received bonuses averaging $7,400 in 2000. In 2001, the number receiving similar bonuses rose to 40.

Some of these facts were drawn from an article by Tim Naumetz in the Jan. 10 issue of the Ottawa Citizen.