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Gun registry dodging Conservative bullets

A Senate-initiated bill to kill Canada's controversial long-gun registry seems likely to fail, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

A Senate-initiated bill to kill Canada’s controversial long-gun registry seems likely to fail, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

“It may never get out of the Senate because it’s a Liberal majority, and the Liberal Leader (Michael Ignatieff) said he’s not getting rid of the gun registry,” said Bagnell.

On Wednesday, Ignatieff announced staunch opposition to the legislation, vowing, “We won’t pass his bills.”

Despite long-standing criticism of the long-gun registry, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has failed three times to abolish it.

When the registry was launched in 1995 under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, initial estimates pegged the program cost at $2 million.

In 2002, auditor general Sheila Fraser estimated the registry to have cost as much as $1 billion, not including enforcement or compliance costs.

Gun owners have lambasted the government for inconveniencing legal gun owners while failing to tackle the root cause of gun-related crime.

“It’s imposed an inconvenience, for the most part, but it’s also imposed a heavy debt on the general taxpayers, never mind the gun owners,” said Ken Speiss, president of the Whitehorse Rifle and Pistol Club.

Former public safety minister Stockwell Day introduced two bills to eliminate the registry, both of which were defeated by Bloc, Liberal and NDP opponents.

In their federal election platform last fall, the Conservative Party once again pledged to end the “wasteful, ineffective long-gun registry.”

In early February, Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz introduced Bill C-301, a controversial private members bill to amend the Firearms Act.

Breitkreuz called for an end to the gun registry, but he also proposed softer controls on machine guns and relaxed restrictions on handguns, tactical weapons and assault rifles.

The Yukon Fish and Game Association “strongly supports” the Breitkreuz bill, according to a March 31 news release.

The Senate bill, introduced last week, shakes off the disputed Breitkreuz reforms, calling only for an end to the gun registry.

Yukon Senator Dan Lang has indicated that he will support the bill, calling the gun registry an “expensive boondoggle.”

Bagnell has long opposed the registry, often putting him at odds with party leadership.

In 2003, Bagnell boycotted a vote to provide $60 million for the registry after being told that he would be kicked out of the Liberal caucus if he voted against the provision.

Staunch Liberal support of the registry has affected the party’s standing in rural areas, said Bagnell.

Canadian law-enforcement agencies support the long-gun registry.

“All guns are potentially dangerous, all gun owners need to be licensed, all guns need to be registered and gun owners need to be accountable for their firearms,” wrote Stephen Chabot, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, in a March release.

Long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, are the firearms most often used in domestic homicides, notes the association of chiefs of police.

The long-gun registry “ensures police are safer on the job,” says the RCMP.

“Without a firearms registry, when police are called to a residence or stop a vehicle, they would have to take the word of the occupant whether firearms are present or have been surrendered,” according to the RCMP website.

In 2008, Yukon RCMP accessed the gun registry 9,116 times.

With the Senate legislation likely to be killed by the Liberal majority, and with Breitkreuz’s bill already dying on the order paper, the gun registry seems poised to survive.

At least, until the Conservatives decide to take direct aim.

“I’m just going to continue to tell people in Ottawa, as I have for eight years, that a lot of people in the North, a lot of aboriginal people, don’t see any sense in the long-gun registry,” said Bagnell.

Contact Tristin Hopper at