FIN IN THE NEWS: Top cops want long-gun registry retained

Political foes back off as police and supporters press their arguments

By Alfie Lau, The Record; with files from Postmedia Network Inc. September 21, 2010

It looks like the long-gun registry will live for another day.

The big debate about the gun registry comes as Parliament reconvened in Ottawa on Monday, and one of the first things to deal with was Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's private member's bill to kill the gun registry.

The vote, scheduled for today (Wednesday), looks set to fail after at least six NDP MPs have flip flopped back to supporting the long-gun registry. Three local NDP MPs have strongly come out in favour of keeping the controversial program alive.

"I've always supported the long-gun registry, and it's looking more like the attempt to get rid of it is going to fail," said Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siksay. "It's been shown to be an important tool for the police officers who use it daily, and I think once you get past the great criticism of the cost of setting up the registry, people will see that the registry has many benefits."

"We're the only party offering solutions on how to fix the registry and make it better," said New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly. "I believe we have the votes necessary to save the registry."

"I have asked people in the community what they want me to do, and I think it's running 10 to one in favour of keeping the registry," said Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian. "That's why I'll be voting for the registry."

Local police chiefs also led the charge to urge the province's Members of Parliament to vote to save the registry.

Burnaby's top cop, Chief Supt. Rick Taylor, said the long-gun registry is a vital tool his officers and civilian staff use daily.

"In 2009, we accessed the registry 52,207 times and this year, in the first nine months, we've accessed it 41,267 times," said Taylor. "That's almost 100,000 times in the last two years, and it's a tool that allows our people to have the information to prepare themselves for follow-up action."

Taylor said that while he recognizes the merit of some of the arguments against the long-gun registry - that criminals don't register guns, that illegal guns are available to criminals and illegal guns are used in criminal acts - he still strongly believes in the registry.

"From a public safety point of view, I believe the registry does contribute to public safety," he said.

Taylor's thoughts are echoed by his counterparts in New Westminster.

"We support the long-gun registry, it's a safety measure that works," said New Westminster Police Service Deputy Chief Const. Dave Jones. "It's a tool we use every day and that ensures the safety of police and citizens at large."

Jones said that his officers automatically use the registry prior to going to any call.

"It's a great tool to help find out what we might be heading into," said Jones. Jones' comments come on the heels of a press conference held last week by Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu to present the united thoughts of local police chiefs.

"The registry helps us protect the public. It does help us save lives, keep people safer. It helps frontline officers do their jobs in a more safe environment. It helps us investigate crimes after they occurred," said Chu, who is also the B.C. director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

Chief Const. Peter Lepine of the West Vancouver Police Department said his officers use the registry an average of 18 times per day.

Back on the political front, the change of heart by the six NDP led to a compromise suggestion made by NDP leader Jack Layton, who called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to admit defeat in his campaign to dispose of the registry and to sign on to a compromise plan to make the database more palatable to gun owners.

Harper "no longer has the votes he needs to ram this bill through the House," Layton told a news conference. Meanwhile, the Liberals, under Michael Ignatieff, have said all their MPs will vote against the bill this week, even the dozen members who previously supported the controversial measure.

Conservative House Leader John Baird said the decision by some opposition MPs to change their votes on the issue will breed public cynicism. "I honestly share the disappointment of many of my colleagues that people who have fought for so long, so hard, so passionately against the registry are now feeling the pressure from Toronto leaders, Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton," said Baird.

"This is an issue that is almost cultural in rural Canada. And I don't like the divide that Mr. Ignatieff is putting forward on that. Members of Parliament who switch their votes will have to be accountable in their own constituencies for that."

Baird said that if the bill is killed in Wednesday's vote, the Harper government remains committed to scrapping the long-gun registry. The six NDP MPs who have changed their votes are Peter Stoffer, Carol Hughes, Malcolm Allen, Claude Gravelle, Charlie Angus and Glenn Thibeault.