OTTAWA - The federal information watchdog says a government move to destroy gun-registry records sets a bad precedent.
Suzanne Legault told a Commons committee Tuesday that a federal bill to scrap the long-gun registry — and delete millions of records — violates the letter and spirit of the Library and Archives of Canada Act.
"It does raise major concerns in terms of transparency and accountability in general," Legault said.
"As information commissioner, I have serious concerns about the impact this bill will have on government information management."
Legault is an ombudsman for users of the Access to Information Act, the law that allows requesters to seek copies of federal government files. Many of those records are held by Library and Archives Canada, responsible for preserving federal documents for future generations.
The national archivist is best placed to oversee the maintenance of federal records, she said.
The federal bill introduced last month would halt registration of long guns and permanently delete more than seven million files on gun ownership. It would override provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act and the Privacy Act to allow for destruction of the records.
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.
The Association of Canadian Archivists recently wrote to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, arguing that destroying records for "political expediency" and ignoring existing legislation "sets a very dangerous precedent for future legislation and record-keeping practices."
Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz said Tuesday it would be irresponsible to turn the gun-registry data over the archives due to numerous inaccuracies in the files.
"Archivists want accurate information," he said during the committee hearing. "They wouldn't want to collect a lot of garbage."
Quebec wants to use the long-gun data to create its own registry. But the Conservative government is refusing to share the records.
Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has said there is nothing in federal privacy legislation that would prevent the government from sharing the long-gun data with the provinces.
At committee Tuesday, Stoddart urged caution in destroying the data, pointing to regulations that require institutions to keep records for at least two years. The rules ensure information is available for use in court proceedings, to cite one example, she said.
Kenneth Epps of Project Ploughshares testified that elimination of the long-gun registry "will create a significant hole" in Canada's record-keeping, preventing it from meeting commitments under international agreements aimed at curbing illicit firearms sales.
The Conservative government says there is no evidence the registry has saved a single life.
Lyda Fuller of YWCA Yellowknife insisted the long-gun data has been of great value to police responding to domestic disputes, as it tells them what guns might be inside a home.
"The RCMP use this for every single domestic call they get," she said. "They need those records."
Critics say gang members and other outlaws don't register their guns — meaning their firearms won't be listed in the registry anyway.
Other witnesses appearing Tuesday, including shooter Linda Thom, an Olympic gold medallist, said the gun registry effectively treats responsible firearms owners as criminals.