Que­bec mulls gun registry cost

As both sides of the de­bate dig in, new bill re­veals con­cern over the price tag

Toronto Star - - CANADA - AL­LAN WOODS

MON­TREAL— Wanted: ef­fec­tive gun con­trol, min­i­mal cost. As Que­bec law­mak­ers started study­ing a bill this week to recre­ate the di­vi­sive fed­eral gun registry on a pro­vin­cial level, two things came sharply into fo­cus, right from the first gavel strike at the com­mit­tee hear­ing.

First, ar­gu­ments for and against the manda­tory reg­is­tra­tion of long guns haven’t changed a whole lot since Stephen Harper sat in the op­po­si­tion benches of the House of Com­mons, rail­ing against what his po­lit­i­cal col­leagues fa­mously tagged the “bil­lion­dol­lar boon­dog­gle.”

Pro­po­nents of the new Que­bec registry still ar­gue the pub­lic-safety ben­e­fits of tighter con­trols on gun own­er­ship, while crit­ics are still com­plain­ing that it crim­i­nal­izes hunters and farm­ers.

But most strik­ing is that even those ad­vo­cat­ing most strongly for the pro­vin­cial ini­tia­tive are sen­si­tive to the costs even be­fore a sin­gle penny has been spent.

It may not be an ac­ci­dent that Que­bec Premier Philippe Couil­lard re­cently shuf­fled Martin Coi­teux, a for­mer Bank of Canada econ­o­mist, into the role of pub­lic safety min­is­ter, tasked with bring­ing the Que­bec gun registry into be­ing.

In his pre­vi­ous cab­i­net role, Coi­teux was trea­sury board min­is­ter, the slasher-in-chief of pro­vin­cial pro­gram spend­ing so as to elim­i­nate the deficit, a goal that was achieved ear­lier this month.

“I think peo­ple per­ceive me as some­one who is pre­oc­cu­pied with con­trol­ling costs,” he told the leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee this week.

“I would like to say to them that in this do­main, as in other do­mains where I’ve been re­spon­si­ble for con­trol­ling costs . . . that I will be par­tic­u­larly vig­i­lant be­cause I know that it’s an im­por­tant el­e­ment of its so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity.”

De­spite the as­sur­ances, the Na­tion- al Firearms As­so­ci­a­tion (NFA), which rep­re­sents some 7,000 Cana­dian gun own­ers, says ex­plod­ing costs are a cer­tainty.

“To do what they claim they want to do it will be ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive,” said NFA pres­i­dent Shel­don Clare.

“I think there are a cou­ple of things that will be par­tic­u­larly oner­ous and one of them is to ver­ify if the in­for­ma­tion is ac­cu­rate. That was the cost-killer in the fed­eral pro­gram. If you put garbage in, you get garbage out.”

The NFA was the first of nearly 30 groups set to tes­tify on Bill 64, as the gun registry leg­is­la­tion is known, be­tween now and mid-April.

In a writ­ten sub­mis­sion that set out to counter the “myths” put for­ward by gun-con­trol pro­po­nents, it es­ti­mated Que­bec will in­cur a min­i­mal cost of about $350 mil­lion, if it moves ahead.

That would seem to be a pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive price tag at a time when the prov­ince has just fin­ished slash­ing ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets and started charg­ing par­ents more for day­care, putting an end to its univer­sal $7-a-day pro­gram.

The NFA’s cal­cu­la­tion is based on the fed­eral ex­pe­ri­ence, in which a registry was promised in 1995 at a cost of $119 mil­lion, but ended up cost­ing $1 bil­lion by 2002.

Que­bec’s costs could run even higher given that the prov­ince has no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in gun reg­is­tra­tion un­like the RCMP, which was al­ready deal­ing with hand­gun reg­is­tra­tion when the fed­eral firearms pro­gram was launched, the NFA said.

Pierre Veilleux, pres­i­dent of l’As­so­ci­a­tion des poli­cières et policiers provin­ci­aux du Québec, a group that rep­re­sents mem­bers of the Sûreté du Québec, said that with an ad­e­quate com­puter sys­tem that may be val­ued at sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars, “I think we can have this at a rea­son­able cost.”

But he is sup­port­ing the Que­bec registry based on a tougher-to-cal­cu­late equa­tion that deals with the safety of front-line police of­fi­cers.

“I can tell you that for the first re­spon­ders on the road like the pa­trollers who get a call at 3:30 in the morn­ing and are ca­pa­ble with one click to have a list of weapons it’s a pre­cious tool,” Veilleux said.

He could not point to any par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dents where the pres­ence of the gun registry helped head off trou­ble or where the ab­sence of the gun registry has re­sulted in in­jury or death.

But pro­po­nents of the registry have a num­ber of mass-shoot­ing in­ci­dents in Que­bec go­ing back three decades that they have used to so­lid­ify pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

They in­clude: For­mer Cana­dian sol­dier De­nis Lor­tie’s 1984 shoot­ing in Que­bec’s Na­tional Assem­bly that killed three peo­ple; Marc Lépine’s 1989 shoot­ing ram­page at Mon­treal’s École Polytech­nique that left 14 women dead; a1992 shoot­ing at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity in which a pro­fes­sor, Valery Fabrikant, gunned down four col­leagues; the 2006 Daw­son Col­lege shoot­ing in which stu­dent Kimveer Gill killed one and wounded 19 oth­ers be­fore tak­ing his own life; and the 2012 at­tack on a Mon­treal night­club at which Parti Québé­cois leader Pauline Marois was cel­e­brat­ing her elec­tion vic­tory. They may not com­pare in num­ber or dev­as­ta­tion to those that have oc­curred in the United States, but each has left its mark on the psy­che of a great num­ber of Que­be­cers.

De­spite the emo­tional toll, the NFA and other groups op­posed to reg­is­tra­tion say their po­si­tion is rooted in facts and un­likely to shift.

“You would have to . . . demon­strate that the harms that would re­sult (from the registry) are not ex­ces­sive,” the group’s lawyer, Guy Lav­erne, told the com­mit­tee hear­ing. “Presently I would say that they are.”

Rather, he said the gov­ern­ment should fo­cus all its ef­forts on im­prov­ing men­tal-health care — the one com­mon el­e­ment ty­ing to­gether each mass-shoot­ing in­ci­dent that has marked Que­bec’s con­scious­ness.

“On Dec. 6,1989, when Marc Lépine opened fire at Polytech­nique, what would it have changed if his guns had been reg­is­tered?” Lav­erne said. “That guy didn’t need a reg­is­tra­tion num­ber. He needed se­ri­ous men­tal­health care and an en­vi­ron­ment that would have taken care of him be­fore he took ac­tion.”

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