Privacy Watchdog Jennifer Stoddart Shoots Hole In Conservatives' Rationale For Destroying Gun Registry Records

Jennifer Stoddart

First Posted: 11/01/11 04:17 PM ET Updated: 11/01/11 07:27 PM ET

OTTAWA — Canada's privacy watchdog has shot a big hole in one of the Conservative government's main arguments for destroying the records compiled by the long-gun registry.

Jennifer Stoddart said Tuesday there's nothing in the Privacy Act that prevents the federal government from sharing the data with provincial governments. The act actually permits disclosure of personal information, provided it's done through a federal-provincial agreement for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.
Quebec wants to use the data to create its own gun registry, but the Conservative government, which has introduced legislation to scrap the controversial national registry, has flatly refused to share the records.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews last week maintained that transferring the data to Quebec would violate the Privacy Act.

When the registry was created, Toews said, gun owners were compelled to provide personal information "for a specific purpose with respect to a specific piece of legislation."

"The government cannot say now that it will ignore the Privacy Act or the commitments it has made in Parliament and transfer that information with the intent to use it in a non-authorized manner," he told the Commons.

However, in a response to a query from New Democrat MP Dennis Bevington, Stoddart said the Privacy Act "permits the disclosure of personal information" through federal-provincial agreements."

"Therefore, in appropriate circumstances, an information sharing agreement or arrangement put in place for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law (including provincial law) could assist to ensure any transfer of personal information was in conformity with the Privacy Act."

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  • What does this new bill on the gun registry do?

    We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • What exactly is the registry?

    It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.

  • Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?

    No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.

  • What are long guns?

    There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.

  • How many guns are we talking about?

    As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.

  • Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?

    The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.

  • Who wants to keep it?

    Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.

  • When will the registry cease to exist?

    The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.

  • Why does the government want to destroy the records?

    The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.

  • How much does the registry cost?

    The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.

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Filed by Michael Bolen  |