11/24/2011 02:38 EST | Updated 01/24/2012 05:12 EST

Gun Registry: Montreal Massacre Survivor Slams Federal Plan To Scrap Records

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is ignoring evidence and common sense in dismantling the long-gun registry, says a survivor of the 1989 Montreal massacre.

Nathalie Provost, an engineer who was shot at the Ecole Polytechnique, told the Commons public safety committee Thursday she's watching with a "heavy heart" as the Tories move to scrap the registry.

"Long guns are dangerous. And this I know," Provost told MPs studying a government bill.

The legislation introduced last month would end registration of common rifles and shotguns and permanently delete more than seven million files on gun ownership.

The Tories argue the registration of long guns is wasteful and unnecessary. However, they support the licensing of gun owners and registration of prohibited and restricted weapons such as handguns.

Provost said all guns can be used to do harm.

"In 11 days, it will be the 22nd anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre, in which I was injured and escaped death," she said at the hearing.

"So it is with a heavy heart that I am witnessing the legislative process that is leading to the dismantling of one of the few positive outcomes of this tragedy: the law that helps save hundreds and hundreds of lives."

The government argues the long-gun registry merely penalizes law-abiding gun owners and has not saved a single life since being ushered in by the Liberals in 1995.

Officials should be trying to keep guns away from people who shouldn't own them, Sgt. Duane Rutledge of the New Glasgow, N.S., police service told the committee.

"I think we've targeted the wrong people."

The bill before Parliament will not only spell the registry's demise, but "critically weaken" the firearms licensing system that determines who can own a gun, said Heidi Rathjen — like Provost a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and one of the gun-control advocates who supported creation of the registry in the 1990s.

The legislation would eliminate the need for a fresh registration certificate to be issued when a non-restricted gun is transferred to a new party, thereby scratching a requirement to tell the federal registrar of firearms.

The person selling or transferring the gun would simply have to believe that the new owner has a valid firearms licence.

"Technically they don't even have to ask to see a licence," Rathjen told the committee.

"It could be a revoked licence, a counterfeit licence or even a shabby but slightly official-looking plasticized card that could be produced in any copy shop," she said.

"It's a huge loophole that you could drive a freight train through."

In just over two years, 4,612 long guns were seized in relation to licences revoked for public safety reasons, Rathjen and Provost said in their brief to the committee.

In the Commons, New Democrat MP Francoise Boivin said the Conservatives are letting victims down by killing the registry.

"Will the government not realize this error before it is too late?"

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said selling a gun to an unlicensed person is a crime. "If you do so you will be held accountable to the full extent of the law."

Rathjen argues, however, that it will be almost impossible for police to prove a seller is lying when they say they believed the buyer had a valid firearms licence.

The legislation would override provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act and the Privacy Act to allow for destruction of the long-gun records.

Quebec wants to use the data to create its own registry, but the federal government refuses to share the records.

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