Gun Registry Decision Not Taken Lightly

The last few weeks the gun registry has become something of a media frenzy making it necessary for me to write another column on the subject. This issue has been framed as a rural/urban divide, but it is clear that there are people on both sides of the debate in all parts of the country, including the constituency of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing: from Hearst to Smooth Rock Falls, from Manitouwadge to Wawa, from Chapleau to Nairn Centre and from Espanola to Manitoulin Island I have heard from people on both sides of the debate.

When Bill C-391 was introduced I supported moving it to committee as it was such an important issue for the riding. I felt it was time to have a review of the current legislation to determine whether it needed to be scrapped or amended. During my deliberation on the registry I gathered opinions from constituents by email, letters, telephone calls, direct contact, as well as by a mailing in which I invited constituents to send me their thoughts on the subject. I also received a presentation from an impartial researcher for the House of Commons’ Library, reviewed committee hearing testimony, spoke to lobbyists on both sides of the issue, read reports and discussed the issue at length in caucus. Compelling arguments have been made as to why we should scrap it and why we should keep it.

There is no doubt that when the Liberals established the registry, in the aftermath of the Montreal Massacre, we wound up with a tool that cost more than it should have and was less than perfect, due to the reluctance of the Liberal government to listen to the concerns of people. However, in 2006 inquiries were made by the Auditor General which led to the registry being transferred from the Department of Justice to the RCMP. The cost to maintain the registry was dramatically reduced and now is fixed at approximately $4.1 million a year. While that is a considerable amount of money, it is not out of line with the cost expected for such a large project and amounts to about 10 cents per Canadian a year.

I have been very disturbed by the tactics being employed by Conservative on the issue. Over the years they have used this as a wedge and padded their coffers by using it as a tool to collect donations. Lately, Conservative MPs have been running ads in rural constituencies urging people to lobby their MPs on the subject and are attacking major police associations in Canada labeling them as ‘special interest’ groups. To date, they have succeeded in turning off potential allies and have used crack-pot interpretations of the constitution to shoot down political compromises. This is not the way to build bridges; which is exactly what needs to happen on this issue. In fact, the Conservatives have made it difficult to stand anywhere near them on this issue.

If only the Conservatives were as passionate about the crisis in our forestry sector or improving our pensions as they are in keeping the gun registry debate alive, we would probably have resolved some of these issues by now and would be living and working in the better tomorrow we all envision.

New Democrats are not willing to sit by and allow this issue to further divide Canadians. It is the duty of elected representatives to work towards solutions that bridge the divide between Canadians. Based on the feedback that rural NDP MPs received in their ridings we were able to show our urban colleagues what some of the problems with the registry are and have been able to work toward a solution.

We are proposing commons sense measures to improve the current gun laws:
1. Make the penalty for first-time failure to register a long-gun a non-criminal fine
2. Protect Aboriginal treaty right and respect traditional ways of life
3. Better protect gun-owners’ private information
4. Ensure that there is never a charge for long-gun registration
5. Empower municipalities to ban handguns, if their citizens so chose
6. Improve the sharing of important mental health information between law-enforcement and military agencies to identify and address public safety threats.

These measures will be tabled immediately upon Parliament’s return.