Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Irwin Cotler

GET UPDATES FROM Irwin Cotler
 

Cheap Shots Ruined Gun Registry Debate

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 3:53 pm

The gun registry debate has been one of the more disappointing spectacles in the current Parliament, highlighted by MP Larry Miller's woefully inappropriate references to Hitler in House debate Tuesday.

Throughout the debate -- unduly abbreviated by Conservatives invoking "time allocation" yet again -- the government has boasted of its "mandate" to abolish the registry given "consultation" with Canadians during the last federal election. While the elimination of the registry was somewhat discussed during the election -- and hardly at all in Quebec -- never once were Canadians (let alone Quebeckers) -- told of the impending plan to destroy all of the data and information the registry contained.

Moreover, as polls demonstrate, Quebeckers publically oppose and reject any notion that the government has a mandate to abolish the registry, let alone that they have a right to delete the records contained therein. When asked on this point, the government asserted that the two go hand-in-hand, with Public Safety Minister Toews going as far as to say, "there is no distinction between the registry and the data."

Clearly, there is a distinction to be made between the two. The apparatus of collection could be dismantled without the records being erased. The Government could, quite easily, transfer its records to Quebec or any other province that requested them. Simply put, whether to continue the registry and what to do with its records are two distinct questions. They should have been treated as such, and informed debate could then have proceeded on both fronts.

Indeed, opposition on this point was ignored and those who suggested anything contrary to the government's position were painted as somehow uninformed, as reflected in Minister Towes' comment: "I have a lot of respect for the public safety minister in Quebec. He is certainly a dedicated public servant. However, I find it hard to believe that when the government said it would destroy the registry he did not realize that meant the data." Surely, if the two issues were so intertwined, Quebec would not be -- as it is -- planning to sue the government for access to the records.

Beyond the conflation of these two issues, the debate demeaned itself with its vilifying rhetoric. As was widely reported, Conservative MP Larry Miller said in debate: "I would like to share with the House a quote from former Liberal justice minister Allan Rock: 'I came to Ottawa last year, with a firm belief that the only people in Canada who should have firearms are police officers and the military.' Does that sound familiar? Adolf Hitler, 1939."

He shortly thereafter read a quote from Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs and again related it to Hitler.

While he apologized after Question Period, his exact words were, "It was inappropriate to use his name in the House and I apologize to anybody it may have offended." As my colleagues pointed out -- apologizing for using his name is a far cry from apologizing for the meaning of the comments and all that they implied.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, Mr. Miller has qualified his apology, stating "Just in order to take the buzz off and what have you, I partially retracted the statement in the House," and adding that he stood by the veracity his remarks. I rose in the House late Thursday to address Mr. Miller's subsequent statement and said: "It is clear that such references to Hitler -- thereby trivializing and demeaning the Holocaust and attributing or ascribing what has become a metaphor for radical evil to those who comment on or conduct matters that have no relation or comparison to Hitler's crimes of mass atrocity -- are as odious as they are ignorant and have no place in this House. ... Let there be no mistake about it .... Hitler did not take away guns from Jews, Mr. Speaker. Hitler murdered Jews, who had no guns." Further remarks can be read here.

Frankly, it is surprising that the Conservatives did not react more strongly to this given their stance when an NDP member made a Mussolini reference several years ago. At the time, the Chief Government Whip railed in protest saying, "Let us just imagine if this is allowed to stand. What will be next? There will be people in this place compared to Adolf Hitler."

Indeed, it is very surprising that even these heinous remarks were referenced at all given that Miller was reading from prepared remarks, making the matter even more inexcusable.

Regrettably, this incident was part and parcel of similar government attacks on the opposition -- such as repeated baseless assertions impugning the integrity of proponents of the registry, that they are motivated by a desire to see "hunters, sports shooters and farmers ... penalized through the criminal process."

Yet, for all the rhetoric, the government has yet to address the support for the registry by law enforcement and police groups across the country; the government has yet to respond to the concerns of women's groups such as the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ), the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale and the Fédération de Ressources d'Hébergement pour Femmes Violentées, all of which support the registry; and it is yet to counter the expert testimony that the gun registry saves lives, prevents suicides, and protects law enforcement officers.

Perhaps most troublingly, the government has yet to explain why it won't provide Quebec the registry records it seeks, even though it is in its power to do so.

Simply put, the House here had an opportunity for civilized and informed debate, yet missed the mark entirely. Parliamentary debate could have -- and should have -- provided an opportunity to address the merits of the registry and, in particular, Quebec's concerns. Ultimately, Quebecers and Canadians for or against the registry deserved better.