Work on the destruction of records in the federal long-gun registry is "well underway," but an Ontario lawyer trying to get an injunction to stop it has been told no data will be erased until early October.
An injunction has already been granted in Quebec and records in the registry pertaining to residents from that province have been separated from the rest of the RCMP-managed database.
The RCMP told CBC News that it is a lengthy and complicated process to dismantle the database and that work on destroying the records began not long after Parliament passed Bill C-19 in April. The controversial bill ended the requirement to register non-restricted firearms (rifles, shotguns and other long guns that fall under the classification).
It also ordered that the information in the existing database be erased. Restricted and prohibited firearms still need to be registered and a licence is still required to own a firearm.
The RCMP manages the Canadian Firearms Registry and starting on May 20, the registration records were no longer available through its online database. That means police can no longer check the registry.
Police agencies that argued in favour of keeping the registry said it was accessed thousands of times a day and that it was an important investigative tool that helped trace guns to their owners.
Shutting down the registry is a multi-step process, according to the RCMP.
"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," a spokeswoman for the Canadian Firearms Registry said in an email.
The Quebec government launched a legal challenge almost immediately after Bill C-19 was passed and it successfully won an injunction to protect the data before it was destroyed. As a result of the Quebec Superior Court ruling, Quebec residents still have to register their non-restricted firearms with the RCMP.
Existing records for Quebec gun owners have been separated out from the rest of the database and are safe from destruction for now. They are also still accessible through the online database.
Record destruction expected in October
"The court order is currently in effect until further notice," Julie Gagnon said in the email. As for the rest of the registry, she said: "The process leading to the destruction of non-restricted firearms registration records is well underway."
The process is underway, but according to lawyer Shaun O'Brien, no actual records have yet been destoyed.
O'Brien is acting on behalf of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto, a place that helps women who are victims of domestic violence. The clinic, supported in its case by the City of Toronto, has made the application for an injunction to protect the gun registry data. The case is scheduled for a hearing Sept.13 in Toronto.
"On cross-examination and under oath, the government's representative advised us that the records would not be deleted until starting the first weekend of October," O'Brien told CBC News on Friday.
She said that while police can no longer look at the database, chief firearms officers can still access it. Provincial and territorial firearms officers are responsible for licencing and other administrative duties.
The records are still in the database and the IT infrastructure to support it remains intact, according to O'Brien.
"The judge hearing the injunction is well aware of the date in October when destruction of data would commence and all parties have ensured that our injunction is being heard before then," said O'Brien, adding that a quick decision is also expected from the judge.
On Thursday, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association kicked off a campaign that it says is in response to the legal challenges. The group is encouraging owners of non-restricted firearms to swap and sell their guns to thwart the injunction efforts and ensure that any information left in the database is "garbage."
The anti-registry group said the registry was never useful and that it was an added burden for law-abiding gun owners.
There are an estimated 7.8 million firearms registered and of those, about 90 per cent are non-restricted firearms.
Also on HuffPost:
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.