Norlock needs to hear all voices on gun registry

First published: September 23, 2006

As a group of women, children and supporters gathered in Victoria Park in Cobourg this past weekend to dedicate the spot for a new memorial for abused women in Northumberland County, the ceremony was more poignant and urgent in the shadow of the events at Dawson College.

Members of parliament, including Northumberland’s Rick Norlock, return to the House of Commons this week, with plans to scrap the gun registry as a top priority for the fall session; yet, the events at Dawson College last week should be a good reason to pause before any action is taken. Before any debate begins, everyone should take a long, hard look at the photographs of Anastasia DeSousa, the 18-year old woman who was killed.

This bright young woman was a business student. She loved bright colour, especially pink. One friend, during a prayer vigil, said she as a party girl. No doubt, we will all learn more about her during the funeral service this week.

It is far too convenient for politicians and lobbyists to dehumanize this debate. And, while there are those running for office who will espouse the importance of victim’s rights, they will quickly drop into the shadows in parliament once the gun registry debate begins.

The Conservatives cannot scrap the gun registry. But, they will do it because their constituency in western Canada and rural Ontario demand this must happen. To fail on this plank in the platform would be a betrayal beyond fixing by the best spin-doctors in Ottawa. And, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is running on political campaign based on the model of “he-does-what-he-promises”. So really, there is no choice.

Even Norlock is corralling support in the county. He was scheduled to meet with the Lower Trent Valley Fish and Game Club with Garry Breitkreuz, MP, chair of the outdoor caucus and gun registry advisor, as well as representatives from the sponsoring organizations: the Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA), the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, the National Firearms Association, Frankford Trappers Council, Northumberland Pistol and Revolver Club in tow.

But, there really is a need to reconsider. We must stop the rhetoric. Instead of scraping the gun registry, we must do more.

Evidence shows Canadians, particularly those in Montreal, feel much safer since 1989 shooting in Quebec where Marc Lepine killed 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. Since then, measures have been put in place to increase gun control, including the Progressive Conservative government’s tougher gun control laws in 1991 and the Liberal’s gun registry in 1995.

Dawson College shows our vulnerability. Few laws on earth would stop what took place. You cannot legislate away the all the factors driving a madman to commit such a horrific crime. It is impossible to expect laws to prevent all tragedies. There are those who argue the events in Montreal “proves” the gun registry does not work because Kimveer Gill used three legally registered firearms, as we know of the situation at the writing of this column. Nothing is proven at all.

And, there will be a flood of arguments against the registry ranging from its costly creation and maintenance to the infringements of basic rights of Canadians. Sadly, there are even those who advocate for looser regulation to allow individuals to carry unregistered guns as protection, similar to some states in America.

This is absolutely false logic. One merely need to look at homicide figures in the United States to know it is not so.

Loosing the gun registry removes valuable tools that ensure owners are carefully screened and held accountable. Any suggestion that rifles and shotguns are in a different class than handguns is false. All can be used as means to commit murder. And, while handguns are the weapons of choice by criminals in urban centres, shotguns seem to be the tool used in a majority of police killings, according to the evidence gathered by respected academics like Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson University and president of the Coalition for Gun Control, among others.

The registry used by police forces across Canada an average of 5,000 times per day and endorsed by the Association of Chiefs of Police of Canada.

The strongest argument the Tories will have is the massive spending it took to create the registry. Liberals promised it would cost taxpayers about $2 million in 1995. The set up would be about $119 million. The auditor general reported the cost in 2004 was just over $1 billion and only $99 million collected in fees. The federal government never reported $60 million in cost overruns.

Yes, this is unacceptable by any standard. But, it is not unusual. Governments at all levels waste taxpayers’ money. And, as frustrating as it is, to shut the registry down would make it even more of a waste. It is in place. As the saying goes: let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has already taken steps to dismantle the system. The one-year amnesty for those who have not yet registered their non-restricted firearms is now in place. Long-gun owners will no longer have to pay to register their weapons and the government will provide refunds to those who have already registered their long guns He is proposing responsibility for the registry will be transferred from the Canada Firearms Centre to the RCMP.
The annual operating budget for the program will be cut by $10 million.

As the debate begins, Norlock and others need to speak with the people who gathered at the dedication ceremony in Victoria Park. These are his constituents, too. He, and other MPs, should undertake the broadest possible consultation. Then, they should look into the eyes of DeSousa’s family and others, like those of RCMP Constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages of Spiritwood, Sask.; Const. Jose Agostinho of Wetaskiwin, Alta.; and Const. Dennis Fraser of Port Alberni, B.C., who have recently died in the line of duty.

Then, let’s have the debate where we use every tool to control guns and those who abuse them and not only concentrate those that will win votes.

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