OTTAWA - As it prepares to destroy millions of long-gun records, the RCMP says the Conservative government's decision to scrap the registry will make it tougher to trace firearms used to commit crimes.
The process that will lead to deletion of rifle and shotgun records in the registry is under way — with the exception of Quebec files at the centre of a court action, said Cpl. Laurence Trottier, an RCMP spokeswoman.
"It is a complex IT project involving the destruction of a large amount of data that is part of an integrated database, and will take some time to complete."
The national police force also says repeal of the long-run registry means tracing rifles and shotguns linked to criminal investigations "will be more challenging and will require more in-depth police investigation."
Recently passed legislation ended registration of most long guns and directed the RCMP to permanently destroy more than seven million files on firearm ownership. This includes deletion of computer files as well as any relevant paper records.
Quebec wants to use some of the data to create its own registry, but the federal government refuses to share the records, prompting the province to go to court.
Trottier said a Quebec court order forbidding destruction of registry data from the province — at least for now — "has had an impact, but the process continues in such a way that the records associated to non-Quebec residents will be destroyed in accordance with (the legislation), and the Quebec records will be treated as required by the courts."
She was unable to say when actual destruction of the records might begin. Federal lawyers involved in the court case say no data will disappear before August.
The cost of destroying the records "will be absorbed by existing budgets," the RCMP says.
The Tories argue the registration of long guns is wasteful and unnecessary. However, they support the continued licensing of gun owners and registration of restricted weapons — mainly handguns — and prohibited firearms — mainly smaller handguns and fully automatic weapons.
Trottier declined to elaborate on how the long-gun registry's demise will make it more difficult for the RCMP to track rifles and shotguns associated with crimes.
However, a newly released RCMP briefing note says eliminating the registry may delay criminal investigations, increase reliance on other countries for information, and hamper Canada's ability to comply with international treaties.
The Canadian Firearms Program, administered by the RCMP, works with police on investigations and plays a role in tracing the illegal movement and criminal use of firearms both in Canada and abroad, according to the note obtained under the Access to Information Act.
The program also supports international firearms investigations and provides tracing services for illicit guns through the Canadian National Firearms Tracing Centre, added the note, prepared for incoming Commissioner Bob Paulson.
"The loss of information on non-restricted firearms may result in a disproportionate reliance on foreign countries, such as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to trace firearms to their point of entry into Canada."
The firearms program also manages thousands of court-ordered gun revocations and prohibitions, and the end of the registry could compromise the ability of police to guarantee that all rifles and shotguns have been seized from an individual, the note says.
It also underscores the fact the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wrote Public Safety Minister Vic Toews last June, saying that repeal of the registry would reduce the ability of police to effectively trace long guns.
"Canada's capacity to combat the illicit trafficking of these firearms and its ability to meet related international agreements may be significantly diminished," says the briefing note to Paulson.
Canada is signatory to two international conventions against the illicit manufacture and trafficking of firearms. It has also signed a politically binding international accord to enable states to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons.
These international agreements, among other things, demand that Canada co-operate on firearms tracing and maintain adequate records, according to an internal Public Safety Department memo.
Public Safety Department spokeswoman Jessica Slack refused to answer questions about how the end of the gun registry might affect the firearms program's ability to trace guns, saying only that Canada is committed to meeting its international treaty obligations.
Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman Aliya Mawani referred questions to Public Safety.