Gun registry foe takes aim at Bagnell

Candice Hoeppner is taking her fight against the federal long-gun registry to Whitehorse. The Manitoba Conservative MP speaks tonight at a meeting organized by the Yukon Fish and Game Association. It's at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre at 7 p.m.

Candice Hoeppner is taking her fight against the federal long-gun registry to Whitehorse.

The Manitoba Conservative MP speaks tonight at a meeting organized by the Yukon Fish and Game Association. It’s at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre at 7 p.m.

Hoeppner’s visit is part of the Conservative’s strategy to torment those Liberal and NDP MPs who oppose the registry, but are being urged by their political leaders to keep it alive.

Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell is one of them.

He’s long been opposed to the registry as an undue hassle for many rural Yukoners who own a long-gun to hunt. But he’s also made it clear he won’t quit the Liberal party over a whipped vote to preserve it.

And he suspects the Conservative ploy to stir up public resentment over the registry may backfire.

“With the hyped-up Conservative campaign on this trip, a lot more Yukoners have approached me who are in favour of the registry,” he said. “I’ve never had that before.

“It’s still a divisive issue in rural ridings. But I think more people are supportive of it than in the past.”

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is forcing his members to toe the party line when they vote on Hoeppner’s bill to kill the registry in several weeks.

MPs are traditionally allowed to vote their minds on private members bills. But Ignatieff says he needs to whip his members because the Conservatives routinely apply party discipline to its members.

Bagnell’s lately put a cheerful spin on the Liberals’ planned reforms of the registry.

They propose making the registry less of a nuisance by making first-time failures to register a noncriminal offence, streamlining paperwork and eliminating fees for new licences, renewals and upgrades.

But that likely won’t do much to calm the registry’s fierce critics. Among them is Gord Zealand, president of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, who invited Hoeppner to town.

“Obviously, in the Yukon, we know the wishes of the majority of the population. In the end of the day, is (Bagnell) going to go with that? Or is he going to go with the Outside politics?”

His organization, which represents about 1,000 hunters and fishers in the territory, has opposed the registry “since day one,” said Zealand.

“We want to bring as much pressure as we can put into this to persuade (Bagnell) that there are a lot of people in the Yukon who are very concerned about this issue. And if you decide to go with your leader, there will be repercussions come next election.”

If Bagnell and other Liberals banded together to kill the registry, it’s unlikely that Ignatieff would turf them all from the party, said Zealand. He wants his MP to show more backbone.

“If they all said, ‘We have to stand up for what our constituents want,’ is (Ignatieff) going to get rid of them all? I doubt it.”

But some Yukoners support the registry.

“If it’s too unwieldy, I’m sure there are provisions that can be made to improve it. But scrapping it, I don’t think is in the interest of women and children, and the public in general,” said Charlotte Hrenchuk, director of Yukon Status of Women Council.

Hrenchuk is no stranger to criticism of the RCMP. But on the matter of the gun registry, she trusts police.

“If the RCMP and chiefs of police think it’s helpful to them, then yes, it’s accomplishing some of the things it’s set out to do,” she said.

Police chiefs maintain the registry is a useful law-enforcement tool. Some frontline officers dispute this, noting that most criminals fail to register their weapons and that urban gangs prefer illegal handguns over hunting rifles.

A recent RCMP report calls the registry an effective crime-fighting tool. But critics have noted the report offers little evidence to support these claims.

Ignatieff notes that all types of gun deaths have declined since the registry was brought into force. He neglects to say gun deaths began to fall in 1979, well before the Liberals’ introduction of gun registry in 1995.

What it has done is infuriate the many rural Canadians who have refused to register their firearms.

The registry’s ballooning cost in early years served as another affront: it was supposed to cost several million to establish, and ended up costing more than $2 billion.

The vote will be a close one. According to the latest tally conducted by Aaron Wherry at Maclean’s magazine on Tuesday, there are 149 votes against C-391, 148 votes in favour.

Seven NDP votes remain undecided. NDP Leader Jack Layton says he won’t whip his members.

Gun control in Canada would continue even if Hoeppner succeeded and the registry disappeared. Canadians would still need a licence to own a gun, and safety and background checks would still be required.

Bagnell won’t be in town for the meeting. He’s presently in Yellowknife to join Ignatieff’s “Liberal Express” tour across Canada.

“I’m not sure why (Hoeppner) has chosen to come to the Yukon when I’m not there,” he said. “This was planned long ago. She planned her trip recently.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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