POLITICS

Tories Were Duplicitous With Gun Registry Data, Court Filing Alleges

06/15/2015 02:05 EDT | Updated 06/15/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - The Conservative government was pushing for the speedy — and illegal — destruction of long-gun registry records even as it was promising the information commissioner that it would preserve the data, a new court affidavit alleges.

The duplicity alleged in the Federal Court filing by investigator Neil O'Brien goes right up to the Prime Minister's Office, and helps sets the stage for a constitutional challenge.

Federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault is seeking a court order to preserve any remaining records from the now-defunct long gun registry, part of a wider court challenge contesting the RCMP's handling of records under the Access to Information Act.

The dispute goes back to April 2012 when the Conservative government had just passed a law ending the registry, leaving in Legault's hands an unresolved complaint about access to registry records.

On April 13, 2012, Legault informed then-public safety minister Vic Toews and the RCMP that she was investigating, and that all documents had to be preserved pending the outcome.

Toews agreed, in writing, on May 2, 2012, that the government and RCMP would respect the legally enforceable Access to Information Act rules.

The very next day, according to O'Brien's affidavit, emails between two senior officials at the Canadian Firearms Program, housed within the RCMP, discuss "pressure from senior RCMP to move up delete date."

"Between you and me, someone will owe us lots of drinks at PMO if they want this to happen by end of August," responded Jacques Laporte, a program manager.

By May 29, Pierre Perron, the assistant commissioner of the Canadian Firearms Program, was emailing director Robert MacKinnon: "Just for the record, the minister's office is putting a lot of pressure on me to destroy the records sooner."

The Mounties did destroy the records in late October 2012 — following further pressure from the Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy that supports the prime minister and cabinet.

After a lengthy investigation, Legault ended up recommending this spring that charges be laid against members of the RCMP for the data destruction.

The Conservatives responded by rewriting the law, backdating the changes to the day legislation proposing to end the gun registry was first tabled in Parliament in 2011, and burying the unannounced changes in a 167-page budget bill that's expected to pass Parliament this week.

The bill also nullifies any "request, complaint, investigation, application, judicial review, appeal or other proceeding under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act" — effectively sending the entire dispute into what Legault calls a history-erasing "black hole."

In the meantime, the Ontario Provincial Police are now investigating the RCMP's actions.

The latest court filing sparked angry words Monday in the House of Commons.

Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale said the affidavit shows government pressure on the Mounties "to break the law and cover it up."

"Who in the minister's office counselled that illegal behaviour?" Goodale demanded.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney responded that the retroactive law simply fixes a "loophole."

"We reject any claim that the RCMP did anything wrong by following the express will of Parliament to destroy the data from the long-gun registry," said Blaney.

Legault has argued that the right to access government information is protected under the charter.

In his affidavit, O'Brien says Legault has affirmed she will challenge the constitutionality of the retroactive law in Ontario Superior Court as soon as Bill C-59, the omnibus budget bill, enters into force. That should happen within the next two weeks.

Blaney, like Toews before him, has promised to respect the ongoing court applications and preserve the remaining Quebec registry data until the matter is resolved.

But trust in the government's word appears low, which is why Legault is seeking an emergency court order.

"Based on the speed at which the RCMP has destroyed the long-gun registry records, it is my belief that the record in issue in this application will be destroyed within minutes of sections 230-231 of Bill C-59 coming into force," O'Brien states in his affidavit.

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