Canada’s “Dead” Long-Gun Registry Still Used by Police
A year after Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his sweeping ban on firearms, shocking new revelations have emerged concerning the repudiated long gun registry and the federal police agency responsible for implementing and enforcing Canada’s gun laws.
According to reports by the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA) and news media, there is good reason to believe that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has retained the long gun registry records.
The long gun registry, set up by the Liberal government in 1995, was an utter, complete and horribly expensive catastrophe. It was finally abolished by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government through the enactment of Bill C-19, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, which came into force on April 5, 2012.
Section 29 directed the Commissioner of the RCMP (as the Commissioner of Firearms) to permanently delete the records for non-restricted guns from the registry database managed by the RCMP. Specifically, the statute required “the destruction as soon as feasible of all records in the Canadian Firearms Registry related to the registration of firearms that are neither prohibited firearms nor restricted firearms and all copies of those records under the Commissioner’s control.” A similar directive was imposed on chief firearm officers in each province and territory.
In June 2015, Peter Henschel, the Deputy Commissioner responsible for the RCMP‘s Canadian Firearms Program, testifiedbefore a House of Commons Committee on compliance with the legislative mandate. “Consistent with the government-approved implementation plan,” he said, “the RCMP destroyed the records between October 26, 2012, and October 31, 2012, with the exception of the Quebec records, which were maintained pending the outcome of a Supreme Court decision.” After the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the federal law ending the registry, “the RCMP deleted the remaining Quebec records from the Canadian firearms information system between April 10 to April 12, 2015.” This destruction was also confirmed, unequivocally, in the 2013 and 2015 annual reports of the Commissioner of Firearms, and a 2015 audit released by the RCMP.
Concern over the surreptitious and illegal retention of the records persisted. In 2017, after the Liberal government introduced C-52 (a bill to authorize the Commissioner of Firearms to provide the Quebec government with copies of all records of non-restricted firearms that were in the Canadian Firearms Registry as of April 3, 2015), the obvious question was asked: Hadn’t these records ceased to exist as of 2015?
These concerns resurfaced more forcefully this month, after journalist Brian Lilley described new evidence that the long gun registry records are being used by the RCMP and are made available to other law enforcement agencies. If this is correct, not only did officials in the highest echelons of the RCMP mislead Parliament and all Canadians, but these records are being kept and used in violation of a clear federal law.
The case against the RCMP centers on documents received by criminal defense lawyer Edward Burlew in 2019. In the course of his work, he’s made routine access to information (ATIP) requests to the RCMP Registrar of Firearms on behalf of his clients. Other documentation was provided to him by the Crown prosecutor as part of the standard disclosure made by the prosecution to the defense. In three cases, the documents Burlew received from the prosecution featured details of firearms registered to the accused, prepared by the Registrar and sent to the Ontario Provincial Police, including previously registered (pre-2012) non-restricted firearms. In contrast, the documents provided by the Registrar in response to the ATIP request lacked any references or records for non-restricted firearms, even though this information had been provided by the Registrar to the Ontario police. Burlew received permission from his client and the Ontario Attorney General to share the documents with Members of Parliament, and did so.
As Ed Burlew explains in a video, “Now we have hard, black-letter proof that [the long gun registry data] is published, that it is distributed, and that it is kept secret from that licensed person.” Ordinary patrol police officers have access to the long gun registry data, he notes, and are currently using it for their investigations – if this was not useful information prior to 2012, why was it archived, and why are police using it today?
The implications of this are frightening. Trudeau’s May 2020 firearm ban reclassified many formerly “non-restricted” long guns as “prohibited” firearms. SOR/2020-96, the regulation imposing the 2020 gun ban, noted that there “are 2.2 million individual firearms license holders in Canada. It is unknown how many exactly will be affected by the prohibition; however, there are approximately 90 000 restricted firearms that would be affected; and an unknown number of non-restricted firearms.” Once the amnesty for possession of these guns expires in 2022, it is not clear what prevents the police from relying on the registry data to enforce the ban.
Moreover, by the time the amnesty expires the registry data will be at least ten years out of date. Anyone listed as the registered owner on record as of April 2012 could nonetheless face police action or potential prosecution for illegal possession, even if the gun had been lawfully sold or disposed of in the interim.
This is a textbook example of why the NRA has aggressively opposed any scheme or system of gun or gun owner registration. These do nothing to advance public safety and instead, make it easy for the government to abuse the registry and circumvent the law by confiscating firearms from honest citizens.
These apprehensions, however legitimate, dwarf the real issue – what appears to be the illegal preservation of data and the cloud of deception regarding its existence by the very agency entrusted with upholding the law.
As Ed Burlew sees it, this is not really just about guns. It is about secret government files being kept on law abiding citizens and the thwarting of the rule of law – the hallmarks of a police state.
© 2021 National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. This may be reproduced. This may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.