Canadian Gunowners Protest Registry Law
by Joseph P. Tartaro
In the continuing controversy surrounding Canadas gun registry law, an Ontario provincial official said on Jan. 3 that the federal government should halt its gun control program due to spiraling costs.
The federal firearms program is a billion-dollar black hole, Bob Runciman, the Ontario Minister of Justice, said in reference to a December auditor generals report that revealed a huge cost overrun in the 1995 program that took full effect on Jan. 1.
Runciman said the estimated C$1 billion (US$650 million) cost of the program that registers gunowners and their long guns should be spent on combatting cross-border gun smuggling and bolstering local police forces.
This is an unconscionable waste of taxpayers money on an initiative that focuses primarily on law-abiding citizens, he said.
Under the law, Canadians were required to register their firearms or declare their intent to do so by midnight Dec. 31, 2002.
Previously, gunowners had to get a separate license by the start of 2001, but that was delayed as the deadline was set back several times. Some 1.9 million out of a government estimate of 2.3 million total gunowners complied, according to the Canadian Firearms Centre that runs the program.
Hunters and rural residents, most vocally in Alberta and other Western provinces, have opposed the program from the beginning as an unnecessary government intrusion on their personal freedom to possess firearms. Native Canadians have also opposed the registry law that targets shotguns and rifles.
Runcimans call came the same day as powder in letters addressed to the firearms program triggered an anthrax scare that shut down a post office in Edmonton, Alberta. The powder turned out to be harmless.
Over 250 people protested on Jan. 1 outside Parliament in Ottawa, and elsewhere. The demonstrators at the capitalwho hope the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien will be forced to scrap the law if gunowners refuse to register their firearmsfirst attached a Declaration of Noncompliance on the doors of Parliament. Then about a dozen protesters burned their gun licenses.
Mounties arrested Jim Turnbull, a protest leader, for having a firearm in a public place or gathering, after he brandished part of a firearm. Demonstrators said the fact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police didnt charge Turnbull under the Firearms Act for not registering his gun was a moral victory and proved the registry is ineffective.
I have a fear of jail but its time to stand up for what I believe is right, Turnbull, the head of the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association, said, according to Reuters news service.
The registry was unveiled seven years ago as law C-68 and the federal government of the Liberal Party came under fresh fire in December when it was revealed the incredible cost overruns for a program the government had claimed would only cost $2 million.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser blew the roof off the program in her annual report, showing that the government had spent nearly 400 times more than planned on the registry created seven years ago. When created in 1995, the government said it would cost no more than $2 million to implement, but Fraser projected the cost will hit $1 billion Canadian by 2004-05. She said, however, that the overruns were not the most troubling finding of her audit, but rather the fact that Parliament was in the dark.
In her audit, she found countless examples of mismanagement on the file, administered by Justice Department officials who failed to keep track of expenses and consistently made unrealistic revenue projections to Parliament. However, some MPs said last week that because every cent of the program was approved by Parliament, year after year, signs of trouble should have been uncovered long ago.
Government officials insist the registry will not be scrapped and say most Canadians back the idea of tighter gun controls. Seven provinces had filed a federal challenge to the law two years ago, but the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutional.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein also has criticized the gun law, and Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino said that a recent spate of murders in his city involved unregistered handgunsnot rifles and shotguns. He said most of the handguns are smuggled into Canada from the US.
We have an ongoing gun crisis, including firearms-related homicides lately in Toronto, and a law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped us solve any of them, Fantino said.
A 1989 shooting rampage by a licensed gunowner that killed 14 women at a Montreal engineering school was the catalyst for the lobbying campaign that led to adoption of the program. Gun control advocates say more time is needed to determine if the system works.
Opponents of the program say it targets law-abiding hunters and other gunowners while failing to reduce the availability of guns for criminals. Gun control advocates say more time is needed to determine if the system works.
The national gun registry, which went into effect at midnight on Jan. 1, 2003, put thousands of otherwise law-abiding Canadians on the wrong side of the law, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Some of them had been waiting for the day, so they can challenge the Firearms Act. Others might have tried to sign up at the last minute, but were shut out by a system that couldnt handle the sudden increase in demand.
In the last week before the deadline, the Canadian Justice Department decided that a letter of intent to register or similar fax or emailwould buy a gunowner a grace period of six months beyond the Jan. 1 deadline.
Failure to register is supposed to lead to a fine or imprisonment, but whether it will be generally enforced is quetionable. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy, for one, has said the province wont use its prosecutors or conservation officers to enforce the registry.
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