As the Conservative government prepared to abolish the long-gun registry, the RCMP privately expressed concerns about the negative impact that would have on its ability to trace long guns used in crimes, according to government documents.
The RCMP, in a memorandum marked “updated for (newly appointed) Commissioner Paulson — November 2011” and “under consideration for Cabinet Confidence,” outlined “strategic considerations” related to ending the long-gun registry.
Most of those considerations are redacted, or whited out, in the documents released under access legislation, but not the fact that savings from ending the long-gun registry would be minimal nor the fact that there were public safety factors to weigh.
The RCMP said the database of nearly seven million registered nonrestricted firearms is “mature and, in any given year, 95 per cent of the records are static, requiring minimal human resources.
“There will be a relatively small impact on the (Canadian Firearms Program’s) overall activity level and budget.”
The memo said the program works directly with front-line police officers and “plays a key role in tracing the illegal movement and criminal use of firearms both in Canada and abroad.”
“The loss of up-to-date information on nonrestricted firearms may degrade the CFP’s ability to efficiently trace nonrestricted firearms involved in crimes,” it said.
The RCMP said the firearms centre will continue to manage the gun-owner licensing program as well as thousands of court-ordered prohibitions and licence revocations.
That’s already a big job. From 2007 to 2011, more than 2,500 firearms licence applications were refused and more than 10,000 licences were revoked for all kinds of reasons: court-ordered prohibitions, drug offences or domestic violence, questions of mental fitness, and concerns that a person has been judged a risk to himself or others.
But the RCMP indicated licence management would be an even tougher task without the long-gun records. “Law enforcement’s ability to guarantee that all nonrestricted firearms have been seized from an individual as a result of court-ordered firearms revocations and prohibitions may be impacted,” said the memo.
It suggested the RCMP may need to allocate more resources to “meet the level of service expected” by police forces here and abroad.
Another undated RCMP memo, similarly marked “under consideration for cabinet confidence,” said any cost savings from eliminating the long-gun registry would go to “enhanced security features” on licence cards “to minimize counterfeiting capabilities and mitigate fraudulent use during the transfer of a nonrestricted firearm.”
It said extra resources would also go to help police investigations associated with “the illegal movement/possession of nonrestricted firearms” and “on firearms tracing since NO records for nonrestricted firearms will be retained in Canada.”
Finally, it said more resources would be provided for chief firearms offices across Canada to help with business inspections, “since no records will be maintained by the business community for nonrestricted firearms.”
The documents show that at one point, in August 2011, RCMP and Public Safety officials discussed questions about hiving off data about long guns — rifles and shotguns — for law enforcement purposes.
“The idea of ‘suppressing’ is to firewall or seal the nonrestricted firearms information so that no one, except possibly the RCMP Firearms Tracing Centre, has the ability to access it. This way police could still access the legacy data with a warrant,” wrote Christina Syme, a Public Safety official, in a query to the RCMP.
The Conservative government, however, advised the Commons last fall it had successfully deleted all data except that related to Quebec long-gun owners — data at the heart of a legal challenge by the Quebec government, which seeks to preserve the records for a provincial gun registry.
The Coalition for Gun Control, which obtained the documents, has raised red flags about the loss of controls over long guns, saying the elimination of gun transfer provisions that would tie long guns to their buyers is alarming.
However, the Conservative government dismissed the concerns in a reply to the Star. “As to the public safety concern, it is a crime punishable by five years in prison to sell a firearm to someone who does not have a licence,” said Toews’ spokeswoman Julie Carmichael in an email Thursday.
A call to RCMP media relations was not returned Monday.
The Star reported last week that ending the long-gun registry was pegged at saving the government only about $2 million a year — far below the “billion dollar” price tag the Conservatives long put on the registry, but within the previously estimated $1.9 million-$4 million figure previously provided by the RCMP to the government.