Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why we created the Long-Gun Registry

Clive Doucet, TheMarkNews.com:

In the wake of the 1989 Ecole polytechnique massacre, Kim Campbell tightened Canada's gun controls. We should recall her reasons before we decide to scrap the registry.

The recent public statement by Toronto’s chief of police in support of the gun registry triggered a lot of memories for me.

I was working at the Federal Department of Justice in December 1989, when the 14 girls were murdered at the Ecole polytechnique. One of my files was gun control. The new minister of justice was Kim Campbell, who was considering introducing gun-registry legislation. The decision hadn’t been made, but the debate was already laden with emotion, with the gun lobby opponents strong and proponents also determined to see some action.

The Ecole polytechnique where the engineering students were murdered rises from the top of Mount Royal above the university like a great art deco painting come to life. I attended the university’s faculty of social sciences, a modest building on Jean Brillant at the bottom of the mountain, in the 1970-71 academic year.

When I first heard of the murders, I went numb. Physically, I was sitting at my desk, but in my mind’s eye I could see the old building as clear as day, imagine the halls, the classrooms, the dying students. My own daughter was a rebellious teenager at the time, and I could easily imagine her being one of the victims. Gradually, the feeling of numbness faded, to be replaced with the more useful: what can I do?

Politicians are driven by the press and by public opinion. Having become one, I now know this even better than ever. If the editorials in the newspapers are against you, it’s tough to stand up with a countervailing opinion. Instinctively, rather than as the result of careful consideration, I began to do a media analysis of the gun control issue and discovered that media columnists and editorialists alike from the St. John’s Evening Telegraph to the Victoria Times Colonist including all the urban prairie papers, were universally pro-gun control.

I had never seen such unanimity on an issue, and I brought the discovery to the attention of my boss. She was also impressed, and we sent the little analysis up to the minister’s office. I did this media analysis for several weeks, and national opinion never wavered, but we received no feedback from the minister’s office. It began to look like I was wasting my time. My boss asked me to stop.

I asked, if I did it on my own time would she be OK with it? She hesitated but said it was OK as long as it was also on my own dime.

I kept on cranking them out, but there was no response from above, favourable or unfavourable. The media analyses just disappeared into the higher offices. One Friday night, I carried up my analysis sheets to the minister’s office, and to my surprise everyone was gone. I stood in the anteroom where six or seven people normally worked, holding the little report and unsure of what to do with it.

Suddenly from the other end of the office, Minister Campbell appeared. She looked as surprised to see me as I was to see her.

We stood there for a few seconds, both unsure of what to say or do. She had a right to be surprised, as we had never met and I had no special authority to be on the minister’s floor after normal working hours. I said rather dumbly, “I have your gun control media analysis, Madame. Where would you like me to put it?” She indicated an in-box on a desk. I set it down, did my best to smile, and left as discretely as possible.

A week or so later, Minister Campbell announced that she would be introducing gun-control legislation in the house. I have no idea if my reports had any influence on the decision. Nonetheless, when I look back on my federal career, I regard this small act of bureaucratic insurrection as one of my more important accomplishments as a public servant.

In a month, the present government will consider a private member’s bill to abolish the long-gun registry in spite of the fact that crime with guns has declined in Canada and every police force from St. John’s to Victoria has endorsed its retention.

I no longer have the position, the time, or the energy to go once more to the barricades for my old school. I have, as the kids say, moved on. I’ve been a local politician for more than a decade now and am embroiled in the tensions of the current election. Nonetheless, I wish to plead with our federal politicians: don’t abandon the gun registry. It was good and useful thing that Minister Campbell did. It made Canada a safer, better place.

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