On Oct. 25 Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government introduced Bill C-19 to the House of Commons. This bill, known as the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, seeks to abolish the current long-gun registry. If passed, gun owners will no longer be required by law to register rifles and shotguns. Furthermore, Bill C-19 would ensure the destruction of all existing records of these weapons in the Canadian Firearms Registry.
The Conservative government’s motivation to end the long-gun registry lies in their conviction that the registry is both wasteful and ineffective. They say that it does not reduce crime rates in Canada because it targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals who don’t register their guns.
As Jonathan McDaniel, President of the McGill Conservative Association, explained in an email to the Tribune, “It treats rural farmers and hunters who rely on the use of their long guns for a living as criminals. We often forget that long guns are not just sporting goods for many rural Canadians, but necessary tools for living. Government resources should be used to target real criminals and serious gun crime, not law-abiding Canadians.”
In addition, because its focus is on law-abiding citizens, the Conservatives say there is no reason why the records should be available for use. The proposition to destroy all past records would ensure that no future government would be able to reinstate the registry.
Long guns, as opposed to handguns, are a firearm which is braced against the shoulder when firing, and have a longer barrel than a handgun. Long guns are classified as a non-restricted type of gun. According to multiple sources, they are the guns most often used for killing police officers, for suicides, and to kill and terrorize women. Furthermore, the Quebec Municipal Police Federation and the Montreal Police Fraternity assert that the registry is a valuable resource for the police, who consult the registry more than 11,000 times a day.
However, as McDaniel asserted, “As far as the registry goes, the truth is that it has not been effective in preventing gun crime.”
If this bill passes, only the names of gun owners would need to be recorded, and not the type of guns they own. As Heidi Rathjen, spokesperson for the Students and Graduates of Polytechnique for Gun Control, explained, “There’d be no information on what guns are circulating. [But] that’s only a piece of a comprehensive gun control law. You also have to know what guns they own, otherwise somebody could legally buy 50 weapons and then sell them on the streets and there’s no way to link it back to them.”
A national gun control movement began in response to the shooting at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989. After six years of lobbying, the movement convinced the government to create a gun registry. The gun used in the Polytechnique massacre was a long gun; the Ruger brand mini-14. It helped Marc Lépine kill 14 women in 22 minutes. The same type of gun was used in the Utoya, Norway shootings on July 22, 2011.
“That very same gun would be deregistered with this legislation from the Conservatives. So it would become invisible,” Rathjen said.
According to Rathjen, scrapping the long-gun registry would make it easier for people to obtain guns. While all guns start out legal, “If you don’t have a way of tracking them, then they’re going to fall into the wrong hands and appear on the black market a lot more easily,” Rathjen explained.
However, “Ending the long-gun registry is not ending gun control in Canada,” McDaniel said. “Strict laws are still in place governing the possession and use of prohibited weapons such as handguns and automatic rifles. Likewise, long gun owners will still be required to hold a firearms license, undergo a background check, and pass all necessary firearms training courses in order to possess firearms.”
Gun crime has decreased significantly since the government enacted the registry. Overall, the number of those hurt or killed by guns in Canada dropped from 1125 in 1995 to 723 in 2007. The number of women killed by guns was reduced by 70 per cent, from 85 deaths in 1991 to 26 in 2007.
“We register our cars, our dogs, our cats, why can’t we register something that’s more dangerous than all of [these]?” Hayder Kadhim, a survivor of the Dawson shooting, asked. On Sept. 16, 2006, Kadhim was shot and put into a coma by a long gun; a Beretta TX4 Storm. Anastasia de Sousa, Kadhim’s friend, was killed that day by the same long gun. In a song entitled “Survive Today,” which begins dramatically with the sound of gun shots and ambulances, Kadhim raps about his experience that day. He asks in his song, “How will this corrupt government explain it to the people?”
After the shooting, Kadhim wrote Prime Minister Harper a ten-page letter, and in response, got a page and half. “I didn’t feel like it was a direct response. Mr. Harper just restated what they always say, which is ‘yadda, yadda, yadda, the gun registry is very expensive, we would like to find better measures of tackling violence … Nowhere did I read anything about ‘yes, guns are dangerous and they need to be strictly controlled,'” Kadhim said.
In the past, it cost over a billion dollars to support the registry. McDaniel says it costs taxpayers millions of dollars per year. However, responding to the claim that the registry is too expensive, Kadhim asserts that it currently costs the Canadian public less than a penny per year per person. “[This] is nothing in the government’s pocket,” Kadhim said. “So what are you really saving after all? What’s the value of your bill to destroy such a registry?”
On Nov. 4, a press conference was organized by Quebec Solidaire at Dawson College to demand the Charest government launch legal action against the Conservative government. In response to the Dawson shooting, the Quebec government passed the Anastasia Act which further tightened gun control and works alongside the federal law. As Rathjen stated, “Jean Charest has promised to do everything in his power to save the registry or the information … if the government wants to be consistent with its public position, then it should launch legal action immediately.”
Activists demand legal action because it is seen as the only channel, given the circumstances and time constraints, that will be able to save the registry and the data it contains. On Nov. 1 the bill was forwarded to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for a vote on its second reading. Expedited hearings and limited testimonies are expected during the third reading and final vote, set to occur within the coming weeks.
“It is clear that the Harper government refuses to listen and also refuses to negotiate or compromise on the issue of the registry,” Rathjen said during the press conference. She went on to stat
e that the Conservative government distorts and removes facts, as translated from French; “They lie with impunity about the costs, about the nature of the crimes, and about the legal issues.”
Louise de Sousa, the mother of Anastasia, was also present at the press conference.
“I can’t stand hearing all the [mis]-information and propaganda being spewed by the Conservatives. I mean, give me a break. I’m no expert, but this is a no-brainer,” de Sousa said. Jean-François Larrivée, the husband of Maryse Laganière, who was killed at Polytechnique, exclaimed in French, “We’re counting on you, Mr. Charest.”
In September 2010, the Conservative government tried to push the bill through parliament but it was defeated by one vote.
“Last year when the bill didn’t go through, it was a big relief,” Kadhim said, “because it felt like finally our MPs stood for the voice of the Canadians.” Because events like Polytechnique and the Dawson shooting occurred in Montreal, the public support for the registry is significantly louder in Quebec compared to other provinces. However, as Rathjen pointed out during the press conference, “The fact remains that more people support the registry than oppose it in all Canadian provinces.”
“Now, this year they have their majority government and it’s flowing like water for them,” Kadhim said. “From an emotional perspective, it’s disappointing, disgusting, [and] it’s despicable,” he said. “People like me and other survivors of the shooting were directly effected. I still keep a bullet in my neck. I have scars on my body from the shooting … I feel like it’s a very insensitive move to those people [affected by gun violence].”
“Not only will it be a huge blow to public safety, but I think also to our morale,” Rathjen expressed when asked about the impact Bill C-19 would have on Montreal’s population. “Quebec society was deeply effected by the shootings at L’École Polytechnique, and following that, other school shootings, and this gun control law was the one good thing that came out of all that.”
Joshua Freedman, U2 political science student at McGill, recognizes that this bill will be viewed with distaste in Montreal. “However, I believe Marc Lépine had legally acquired the gun he used in the Polytechnique massacre,” he said in an email to the Tribune, “so I don’t see how the [long-gun registry] would have prevented that. Similarly, I think the guns Kimveer Gil used in the Dawson shootings were registered in the program, once again showing how ineffective it was.”
Multiple media outlets confirm that Lépine’s gun was bought legally and that Gil’s guns, including the Beretta TX4 Storm, were registered.
“I’m just wondering how would the Conservatives–Harper and [his] gang–feel if they had a family member, or if they were directly effected, if they were shot or if they had a [family] member lost to guns,” Kadhim asked. “Would they feel the same way about it? Or would it still be a question of money, money, money?”