Ending a $2 billion joke on taxpayers
By Kevin Gaudet
Many jokes get played on April Fool's Day. This year, however, April 1st brings a chance to end one long, painful and expensive joke that has been played on taxpayers and law-abiding gun owners. On that day, the Parliament of Canada will debate ways to improve gun registry in Canada and to save tax dollars; in part by ending the long-gun registry. This will be accomplished while maintaining public safety.
Thankfully, the debate won't just be rhetorical. It will involve voting on a Private Members Bill moved by Garry Breitkreuz, the veteran MP for Yorkton-Melville. Members of Parliament will have a genuine opportunity to end this outrageously wasteful program.
Back in 1995, then Justice Minister, Allan Rock, sold Canadians a false bill of goods with Bill C-68, the Canadian Firearms Registry. The idea was to create a national registry to license long-gun owners and their guns, much like provinces do with cars and drivers.
Minister Rock declared the grand scheme would cost only $119-million to build and run, and that gun owners would cover $117-million of that through registration fees, leaving taxpayers on the hook for only $2-million. Supporters of the registry applauded its low costs, their opponents were dismissed as gun nuts and Canadians quietly accepted the registry. How wrong they were! Costs soared and no improvement to public safety resulted.
In response, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a petition that garnered over 14,000 signatures demanding the program be audited by the Auditor General. It was, and the findings revealed astounding waste. For over 14 years taxpayers have been soaked for no less that $2-billion.
A large part of the $2-billion was for a computer system to track registered guns. Officials initially estimated it would cost about $1-million. In 2004, documents obtained through Access to Information revealed the cost was up to $750-million. By 2006, Canada's Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, released a report revealing costs were easily over $1-billion and that only covered a few elements of the program. These costs did not include enforcement costs, compliance costs, economic costs, and all government department costs. Other errors and unforeseen expenses included $8-million in refunds and millions more in legal fees that mounted during court challenges.
Despite this waste and mismanagement, no government has succeeded in scrapping wasteful elements of the program.
Mr. Breitkreuz's bill before Parliament accomplishes a number of notable innovations to lower the excessive costs and unnecessary complexities of the Firearms Act without having any negative effect on public safety.
It would eliminate the useless long-gun registry for non-restricted firearms; authorize the Auditor General to perform a cost-benefit analysis every five years; streamline the process for 'authorizations to transport' for licensed individuals; combine the possession-only licenses and possession and acquisition licenses; change the license renewal period to ten years; and change the grandfathering dates for now-prohibited handguns.
The 2002 Auditor's report makes the case that the registry's focus had shifted the regulation and enforcement of high-risk gun owners to duck-hunters and farmers. The department itself concluded that, as a result, the program had become overly complex and very costly to deliver and that it had become difficult for owners to comply with the rules.
The long-gun registry has been a wasteful fiasco from inception through execution. Taxpayers may finally get satisfaction on it with the passage of Mr. Breitkreuz,'s Bill C-301. MPs should be allowed to vote freely on the bill, without following party lines. If they do, then overdue change may finally be at hand.
(c) 2009 Kevin Gaudet
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!