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Hill Dispatches

karl nerenberg's picture
Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

Hill Dispatches: Toews wants provinces to stop enforcing the still-legal Firearms Act

| May 10, 2012

When the bill to abolish the long gun registry (C-19) was being debated in the House and in Committee a number of months ago supporters kept reassuring Canadians that ending the "wasteful and ineffective" registry would not mean ending all controls on firearms.

Here is what Public Security Minister Vic Toews told the House Committee considering C-19 last November:

"Firearm owners will still require a valid licence to purchase or possess firearms and to purchase ammunition. They will still be required to undergo background checks . . . Moreover, owners of restricted and prohibited firearms will still be required to register their firearms with the RCMP."

A number of C-19 supporters talked about the so-called "green books" in which gun shop owners have, for many years, had to maintain information on purchases of firearms.

The implicit message of this was that any Canadians who were on the fence on this issue should be reassured by the fact that information on gun owners was still gathered somewhere – in those "green books," sometimes called "ledgers."

C-19 supporters used to be all for 'green books'

During Senate Committee hearings on C-19 there was the following exchange between Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, a C-19 supporter, and Liberal Senator Joan Fraser:

Mr. Hanson: In the case of the handgun, there must still be the registration certificates and the permit, but there should be a paper trail from the time that order crosses the border. Furthermore, I do not see why you could not do it as well for long guns and re-implement what they used to have years ago, which my learned friend Senator White called the . . . green book. There was a book that was a registration —

Senator Fraser: I have seen reference to the green book.

Mr. Hanson: It was a point of sale registration to the owner of the long gun. No one had problems with that, and it makes good sense. . .

Senator Fraser: . . . I want to be clear that, in the end, what this would do in terms of long guns is remove the onus for recordkeeping, so to speak, from the ultimate gun owner back to the vendor.

Mr. Hanson: Even with long guns, there should be a point of sale record to indicate what happened to that gun.

During the House Committee hearings on C-31 the head of the Canadian Sport Shooting Association, Tony Bernardo, made the same point:

"Section 60 of the Firearms Act says that any firearm coming into Canada must be recorded with the chief registrar . . ." Bernardo told the Committee last year, "That firearm then goes to a dealer's inventory; they are obligated to keep an inventory book. It's colloquially known as ‘the green book.’ Every single merchant in firearms has to have that green book, and every firearm coming in or going out has to be recorded in that green book. . .That green book has been the status quo for at least 30 years."

The 'will of the people' or the law?

Now that the long gun registry has been abolished it seems Bernardo and Toews have changed their minds about "green books."

They’ve decided, it seems, they don’t want any records, of any kind, kept on the millions of long guns in Canada.

When Ontario Provincial Police Supt. Chris Wyatt recently sent a letter to gun vendors reminding them of their obligation to keep records under the long-established "green book" system, Bernardo shot back that Ontario officials "don't seem to share our respect for the law and have chosen to make their own rules in spite of Bill C-19. They have invoked . . .the Firearms Act to do basically what they want and ignore the House of Commons and the people of Canada."

That is the same Firearms Act that Bernardo himself invoked last November to calm the fears of people who worried about the effect of abolishing the registry.

Vic Toews jumped in as well. In the eight provinces where the federal government "rents" the services of the RCMP as provincial police forces the Public Security Minister has instructed the RCMP to, in effect, spy on provincial officials and report back on any efforts to enforce the Firearms Act.

Like his friend the gun lobbyist Bernardo, Toews bases his position not on the law, but on the "will of the people" and the fact that his party "won a majority with the mandate to abolish the long gun registry."

The only thing neither Toews nor Bernardo dispute is the legality of the Firearms Act, the existence of which they once enthusiastically cited to reassure Canadians that abolishing the registry would not end all control on long guns.

The two gun lovers must be fans of the American moralist and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously coined the phrase: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

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