Owners of registered long guns are being encouraged to swap their firearms with each other to show that the data in the federal long-gun registry is "useless."
The Canadian Shooting Sports Association says its campaign, the Great Canadian Gun Registry Shuffle, is meant to counter anti-gun advocates who are "spitting in the face of Canada's legal system by deliberately ignoring the will of Parliament in an attempt to preserve registry data for future use."
"In order to support federal Bill C-19 that specifies the data must be deleted, responsible gun owners are swapping their firearms to illustrate that the data was – and will always be – useless. The Great Canadian Gun Registry Shuffle removes any wrong-headed notion that the data could help build subsequent registries," the sports shooting association said in a news release Thursday.
"The CSSA is mobilizing trustworthy Canadian gun owners to immediately buy, sell, trade or lend previously registered firearms to protest the data preservation injunctions."
Bill C-19 was passed in April and it put an end to the requirement for gun owners to register their non-restricted firearms, and it stipulated that the data in the existing registry be destroyed. Quebec immediately launched a legal challenge in an attempt to keep the records so it could build its own provincial registry. The province was not alone in calling for the data to be maintained, but the government has refused to comply with the requests from supporters of the registry.
The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto is also challenging Bill C-19 in court and in the meantime is seeking an injunction to stop the destruction of the data, similar to the one that was granted in Quebec. The clinic's case, which is being supported by the city of Toronto, will be heard in Ontario Superior Court on Sept.13.
"The firearms owners of Canada are a little bit sick of all this injunction stuff," Tony Bernardo, spokesman for the group, said in an interview. "The House of Commons has spoken, the law of the land says there is no long-gun registry and because of that we think that the people that are opposing the destruction of the data should be obeying the law just like we had to."
"The registry data was never any good to begin with and what we want to do is make sure that if there's any shred of doubt out there at all, that that shred of doubt is removed," he said.
Bernardo said the data in the registry identifies a gun with a particular person. Now that the registration requirement doesn't exist that connection is broken. Bernardo said the idea of the shuffle is to ensure that "any data that is left inside the registry is completely garbage."
"Not that any of it was very good before, it was terribly rife with errors, there were just problems everywhere but now we're going to make sure it is well and truly dead," said Bernardo.
The abolition of the long-gun registry has been a controversial issue on Parliament Hill for years. Attempts to scrap it were opposed by some law enforcement agencies and gun control groups who said it was an important tool for safety and police investigations and that it promoted accountability among gun owners.
Those calling for the registration requirement to be lifted argued the rule was an unnecessary burden on law-abiding gun owners and that it did nothing to save lives or keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
'Nobody's business' who has the guns
"The governments and advocacy groups have forced our hand by suggesting the registry data is somehow useful," Bernardo said. "Shuffling previously registered firearms is totally legal, responsible and appropriate."
Bernardo said that when people partake in the gun swap, "no one will know which owners have which firearms."
"And that's perfect, because it's nobody's business."
The CSSA plans to post updates on the gun swap on its website every week.
Bernardo said that within hours of telling members about the gun swap via email Thursday morning he received "hundreds" of responses. He said those who are planning to participate are going to exchange about 10 guns each.
A lawyer for the Toronto clinic that is mounting the legal challenge said the CSSA's gun swap idea is "a publicity stunt."
"It adds fodder to why it's important for the court to step in and preserve the information while this is properly dealt with," said Shaun O'Brien, a lawyer at Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish.
O'Brien disagreed with the CSSA's position that the registry was useless. "We think the registry is very valuable," she said. "The people using the registry think it's helpful, they didn't want it taken away."
The NDP's public safety critic, Randall Garrison, said the gun shuffle campaign is "odd."
"I don't really understand their logic but again it's an issue that they've used for many years to mobilize and fundraise and I suspect that this is their last kick at that before the issue disappears completely," he said.
Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, an advocate for stricter gun control, described the CSSA's efforts as "irresponsible." She said police forces support the registry and that dismantling it is disregarding public safety.
"To have this group behave in such a way is disgusting," she said. Wong-Tam acknowledged that there were problems with the registry but said it was still a valued tool for law enforcement.
She also rejected Bernardo's claim that advocates like her are ignoring the new law of the land since Bill C-19 was passed. Wong-Tam said the injunction process is entirely within the parameters of the judicial system.
The requirement to register long guns was imposed in 1995. Bill C-19 only applied to long guns. Restricted and prohibited firearms still need to be registered in the RCMP-managed database and licences are still required for all firearms.