OTTAWA - Records of the shotguns and rifles owned by Canadians would be destroyed under legislation introduced Tuesday to scrap the long-gun registry — preventing provincial or future federal governments from making use of the information.
The majority Conservative government unfurled a long-promised bill Tuesday to scrap the registration of long guns and permanently delete more than seven million files on gun ownership.
Police, health and victims' groups immediately voiced their opposition, while anglers and hunters welcomed plans for the registry's demise.
The Tories argue the registration of long guns is wasteful and unnecessary, although they support the licensing of gun owners and the registration of prohibited and restricted weapons like handguns.
"We don't want laws that target law-abiding citizens, hunters and sports shooters. We want laws that focus on the criminal and those who use firearms illegally," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who joined Conservative colleagues in announcing the bill at a farm near Ottawa.
Toews has said that the more than $1 billion spent on the registry would have been better spent putting police officers on the street.
There are hints that some provinces — namely Quebec and Ontario — might begin registering long guns if the federal legislation succeeds. But they would have to start from scratch.
Toews said the Conservatives won't leave "these records loose" for use in a resurrected registry of any sort. "We will not participate in the recreation of the long-gun registry, and therefore the records that have been created under that long-gun registry will be destroyed."
Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil acknowledged that the Tories' plan to wipe existing records from the registry would increase the cost of setting up a separate one. But he hasn't given up hope the federal registry will be saved.
''As Yogi Berra said, 'It ain't over till it's over.'''
An internal RCMP evaluation found the federal gun registry was a useful tool for police, and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police maintains it contributes to community and officer safety.
Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti accused the Tories of ignoring common sense.
"Now the government wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and destroy the invaluable data collected, and oh so helpful to police."
NDP justice critic Jack Harris said destroying the registry — and the records already compiled — is inconsistent with the Harper government's oft-declared campaign against crime.
"We've got a government who's supposedly interested in helping victims and having safe communities and they're doing something that the chiefs of police are saying is going to cost lives."
He scoffed at the Tories' claim the move will save $4 million a year. "This is not about austerity. In fact, they're talking about destroying records that probably cost many millions of dollars to collect."
The Coalition for Gun Control accused the government of "an archaic rollback of the clock" and urged Canadians to tell their MPs to oppose the legislation.
Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and an assistant coroner in Perth, Ont., called the bill an "unwelcome social experiment" by the Conservative government.
Sue O'Sullivan, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, urged the government to maintain the registry.
"Our position on this matter is clear — Canada must do all it can to prevent further tragedies from happening, including using the tools we have to help keep communities safe, like the long-gun registry."
No law can prevent all tragedies, said activist Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter Nina was abducted and killed with a legally owned rifle. "But a gun-control law, which includes registration and is rigorously implemented, makes it harder — not easier — for dangerous people to get firearms."
The bill garnered applause from Mike Reader, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
"Supporters of the system have repeatedly stated that it works, but have consistently failed to provide anything more than empty rhetoric to support that contention."
Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan also praised the move, but called for other measures to prevent firearm-related crime.
"We think there's more to be done to keep illegal guns out of Canada, to stop smuggling at the border," he said. "And we're going to continue working with the federal government to make sure that gun crimes are treated with the seriousness that they deserve."