CBC NEWS ONLINE (2006)
CBC News Online | Updated June 19, 2006
When Canada’s auditor general tabled her December 2002 report, she set her sights on Ottawa’s controversial gun-registry program. Sheila Fraser blasted the federal government for exceeding its estimated budget, saying that, by the time the smoke cleared and all gun owners and their guns were registered, the program would have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. Opposition critics were quick to point out that figure is 500 times more than the original $2-million estimate. A look at internal audits conducted by the Canadian Firearms Program suggests the cost of the program has been an issue from the beginning.
The cost over time
Bill C-68, the strictest gun control legislation in Canadian history, receives Senate approval. It calls for harsher penalties for crimes involving the use of guns, creates the Firearms Act and also requires gun owners to be licensed and registered. At the time, the government says the registry would cost about $119 million, but the revenue generated by registration fees would mean taxpayers would only be on the hook for $2 million.
In a report released early in 2000, the Canadian Firearms Program notes that implementation costs are rising, and cites the following as contributing factors:
- Major backlogs in registration, largely as a result of firearm owners waiting until the last minute to apply.
- General increase of costs.
- Fee waivers for early applications.
- High error rates in applications submitted by firearm owners.
The cost had risen to an estimated $527 million. The CFP says a major factor behind the ballooning costs was the difficulty it had keeping track of licence fees collected. This was blamed, in part, on the computer system used to process applications. And, according to the audit, that problem could not be resolved without “massive change,” including “significant investment” in the computer system.
|“Program funding has been an ongoing management concern since the outset. By the end of Fiscal Year 2000/2001, the project will have cost $527 million, representing six years’ expenditures.”
– Canadian Firearms Program internal audit, December 2001.
The tab for implementing the registry rises to $629 million. Here is a breakdown of the costs:
- $2 million to help police enforce legislation.
- At least $60 million for public-relations programs, including television commercials ($18 million of which went to ad agency GroupAction, which received millions in sponsorship scandal contracts).
- $227 million in computer costs. Complicated application forms are slowing processing times and driving costs higher than anticipated.
- $332 million for other programming costs, including money to pay staff to process the forms.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group overseeing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, files a lawsuit against the federal government. The group argues the gun registry goes against an understanding that Inuit would be able to hunt, trap and fish without licensing or fees.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser reveals that the gun-registry program is far more over budget than previously thought and that Parliament was ignorant of some of those escalating costs. Fraser reports that the bill for gun registration would reach $1 billion by 2005, with registration fees offsetting that by only about $140 million.
Jan. 1, 2003, was the deadline for gun owners to register their non-restricted firearms. According to the federal government, 75 per cent of all gun owners met the deadline, registering 5.8 million of the estimated eight million unrestricted firearms in Canada. But that didn’t stop gun owners and politicians from expressing opposition.
Days after the deadline passed, Ontario’s then-public safety and security minister called on Ottawa to put the program on hold. Bob Runciman criticized the program as an “unconscionable waste of taxpayers’ money,” and called on the government to cease further spending until an audit could be conducted. His demands were later echoed by provincial justice ministers in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.
Others who doubted the efficiency of the gun registry include then-Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, who said the program would neither prevent crimes nor help solve them.
But Ottawa’s chief, Vince Bevan, countered this in a speech on behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
“It is very difficult, of course, to prove that, as of this point, the new law has saved lives. But certainly we have seen ample evidence of the gaps in the old law that this legislation has addressed,” he said. “If this legislation saves even one life, it will have proven its worth.”
Meanwhile, workers at an Edmonton postal outlet are quarantined for anthrax testing after receiving a letter destined for the Canadian Firearms Centre. The letter contained a white, powdery substance. It would be the third anthrax scare related to the gun registry. In each case, tests showed there was no anthrax.
Soon after the registration deadline passed, several gun owners challenge law enforcement authorities to arrest them for possessing unregistered firearms. Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association leader Jim Turnbull and another man are arrested for having firearms at a rally in Ottawa. Anti-registry protesters note the fact that Turnbull isn’t charged under the Firearms Act for his unregistered gun is both a moral victory and proof the new law is ineffective.
Regardless, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon reiterates that Ottawa has no plans to stop the registry and urged the thousands who are still unregistered to comply with the law.
Despite widespread condemnation of the rising costs, the Liberals vote to bolster the gun registry with an additional $59 million in funding.
On March 24, the bill is approved on two separate votes – 173-75 and 173-76.
Some Liberal backbenchers threaten to vote with the opposition against the funding, but sit out the vote after then prime minister Jean Chrétien threatened to expel them from caucus.
July 9, 2003
Judge Robert Kilpatrick grants a temporary injunction protecting Inuit from the federal firearms registry until a lawsuit filed by NTI, Nunavut’s Land Claims organization, goes to court the following year. The judge says that requiring Inuit to register their guns could interfere with their traditional way of life.
Jan. 7, 2004
Prime Minister Paul Martin says the gun registry is under review. “We are committed to gun control and we are committed to the registration of weapons, but at the same time, common sense dictates that there have been a number of problems,” says Martin. “They will be looked at and dealt with.”
Feb. 13, 2004
Documents obtained by Zone Libre of CBC’s French news service suggest that the gun registry has cost $2 billion so far.
May 20, 2004
The Liberal government, just days before an expected election call, eliminates fees for registering and transferring firearms. Ottawa will also limit its spending on the gun registry to $25 million a year, spending which has averaged $33 million a year and reached as high as $48 million. Licensing of gun owners and firearms will continue.
In the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of Firearms on the administration of the Firearms Act, the Canada Firearms Centre estimates that the cost of running the registry for the year ending Dec. 31, 2004 was less than $100 million. The report says costs are continuing their downward trend and should fall to approximately $85 million beginning in fiscal 2005-2006.
May 16, 2006
Auditor General Sheila Fraser reports that the former Liberal government twice misinformed Parliament about tens of millions of dollars of overspending at the Canada Firearms Centre. Fraser finds that the planned computerized gun registry system is three years overdue and so far has cost $90 million, three times more than expected.
May 17, 2006
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says the government will introduce legislation to eliminate the long-gun registry. Day announces a number of measures that would effectively gut the registry while it is still in effect:
- A one-year amnesty for those who have not yet registered their non-restricted firearms.
- 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.
- 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.
June 19, 2006
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduces legislation to abolish the long-gun registry. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Code and Firearms Act so that owners of non-restricted rifles and shotguns will not have to register their weapons. But the handgun registry will remain in place, as will bans on automatic and assault weapons. MPs are expected to vote on the bill when they return from their summer break in the fall.
Time to punt this albatross and it’s supporters. Our tax money is being flushed down the commode courtesy of the Liberals and the Coalition for Gun Control.