"An Albatross and an embarrassment."
On Saturday, that's how Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner labelled the gun registry during her address at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Annual General Meeting.
Bill C-391, Hoeppners private member's bill to abolish the long gun registry, was spared the axe of prorogation and is currently sitting in committee. However, just as debate is set to resume, front line law enforcement professionals are coming forward and voicing unwavering support for the program.
The positive reviews put forward echo those contained in the RCMP's 2008 Firearms Commissioner's Report; The very report which then-public safety minister Peter Van Loan purposely suppressed for seven weeks last fall, releasing it only after the initial vote on Bill C-391 had allowed it to pass to second reading.
The actions of the Conservative government in their effort to kill the long gun registry, reveal an unsettling pattern; The belief, by the Conservatives, that their ideology is superior to the knowledge from front line officers who's lives are dedicated to protecting the safety and well being of the public.
This 'holier than thou' scenario played out on CTV's Power Play Friday March 19, when Tom Clark interviewed Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Toews began with the requisite PMO talking point, that "the RCMP and other police forces have better things to do than to harass hunters and trappers and farmers for not registering their long guns." For good measure, he added that it's a "waste of taxpayers money."
Minister Toews was informed by Clark of the increasing number of law enforcement members supporting the registry, "most recently the second in command of the RCMP this week said that he thought that the regestry should stay, and its a very good idea, and it's a very useful tool for front line police officers."
Toews brushed aside that notion, stating that the RCMP's second in command was "expressing a personal opinion, a personal opinion that's not shared by front line police officers. The actual police officers that I meet who go into the doors of houses where suspected criminals are don't rely on the gun registry to determine whether or not a criminal has a fire arm, in fact that would be foolish on their part."
Toews was shown data regarding the long gun registry, which Clark received from 'senior government officials':
From 1998 - 2008, 14 of the 16 police shootings were committed with long guns;
In 2008 alone, 1 in 5 gun homicides was committed with long guns, half of all gun homicides in rural areas were committed with long guns, and
of the 23,000 firearms seized by police, more than 18,000 were long gun seizures.
Perhaps the most telling piece of information was that police said they used the registry 10,000 times every day.
Still, Toews refused to budge. "That's not what I hear from police officers. In fact the automatic use of the registry, isn't something the police are going out, doing deliberately, checking the registry. It's something that pops up automatically on their screen. But the point is that police officers don't rely on the registry when they're walking up to a car to see whether or not a person possibly has a firearm, that would be negligent on their part."
Clark, somewhat taken aback at Toews insistence, reminded him that it's the "law and order crowd (who) are saying pretty clearly that they want this registry to remain."
Toews responded by paraphrasing his earlier talking points, which prompted the following awkward exchange:
Clark: "Well it's an interesting struggle isn't it? For who speaks more for the law and order community? Whether it's you, or whether it's a lot of the police officers. The Canadian chiefs of police are in support of it."
Toews: "They're not the ones going into the doors of houses."
Clark: "Wow. Ok, well they ARE the chiefs of police in this country."
Immediately following the interview, Clark spoke with Greg Getty, superintendent of the Toronto police guns and gangs task force.
When asked if he was in support of the long gun registry, Getty was unequivocal in his answer. "I personally support it without question, as does the Toronto police service, as do all of the canadian chiefs through the CACP, as well as the Canadian police association, and Toronto police association, who DO represent the officers who DO go through those doors the minister (Toews) is speaking of."
Getty continued to counter the claims Toews had made earlier, telling Clark that "in circumstances where were attending address where there's domestic conflicts, persons inside that residence that we may be going to, it's not only a matter of the officers' safety to have that information prior to attending, but also a matter of community safety...for not only the other residents within that dwelling, but within that immediate area as well."
Getty also noted that 23% of all domestic homicides in Canada committed with long guns, and a majority of police killed in Canada are killed at the hands of a long gun.
Clark then addressed assertions made by Toews regarding front line officers' desire to abolish the registry, asking Getty if "from a front line police perspective, can you understand why some police officers would be in favour of getting rid of it?"
"None whatsoever," stated Getty. "A lot of the rhetoric around the abolition of the long gun registry is the cost, that 'law enforcement has better things to do than make criminals out of farmers and legal gun owners'. I believe in responsible and legal gun ownership. In fact, in Toronto we've just recovered, with Project Safe City in regards to improperly registered, improperly licensed firearms, we've recovered 1600 firearms since March of last year, and we've laid no criminal charges in regards to those. We have not made criminals out of any of those people." Getty added that "there's much confusion in regards to the long gun registry because of the amnesty that keeps getting cycled through government."
Fast forward to Sunday, when Toews returned to CTV to answer further questions regarding the registry. On Question Period, Craig Oliver began by reiterating how senior law enforcement were coming forward in support of the registry as "an important tool in the interests of law enforcement and the safety of policemen." Oliver went on to say that the "Police Chiefs of Canada want this registry and their officers are telling us they are using it hundreds of times a day especially before they go into any domestic situation, and it only takes a few seconds to know whether there might be a firearm in that home."
Toews disagreed, arguing he'd "never heard a police officer say they rely on the long gun firearms registry or any registry before they go into a house to determine...and are assured that there is not firearm in the house that would be careless of a police officer, I've never heard a police officer say that they would check the registry, if there's no gun on the registry, they approach the house as if there was no firearm there. That would be careless. You approach every house as if there were a firearm. The registry does nothing to add to that."
The issue of the long gun registry, and the opposing view of the Conservative government versus the leading members of law enforcement, is more than a difference of opinion; It's about the safety of those who put their lives on the line, and security of the general public.
Police officers, the RCMP, EMS, firefighters, and other front line workers aren't interested in the politics of the issue; they're concerned about the possibility of losing a key resource which they rely on to effectively do their job. The Conservatives may claim to be the party of 'law and order', but the authority on the matter clearly lies with the actual law and order professionals.
It's obvious the Tories have no interest in what front line officers have to say; that they are intent on killing the long gun registry at all costs. So it's now up to the members of the opposition to pay attention to the RCMP and the Chiefs of Police, listen to their views on the effectiveness of the long gun registry, and pay them the respect they have earned.
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