Connect to share and comment

Tough on crime, but not on rifles

Canada's Conservative government pays tribute to the Montreal Massacre, but ponders loosening gun regulations.

He granted new owners of rifles and shotguns an “amnesty” — they didn’t have to register them. It also waived fees for people renewing gun licenses.

The message gun owners came away with is that they need not bother with either the gun registry or licenses. In October, Canada’s national police, the RCMP, said 138,000 Canadians had let their gun licenses expire. Of those, half had moved without notifying registry authorities of their new address. In other words, every year police lose track of tens of thousands of guns.

Last month, the Harper government went further. It let a Conservative member of Parliament propose a law that would abolish the long-gun registry once and for all. It would also destroy the files of 7 million previously registered rifles and shotguns.

The bill would not affect handguns, which would continue to be registered. And illegal weapons, such as assault rifles and sawed-off shotguns, would still be banned.

The bill was a cunning move. Laws proposed by the government are subject to party discipline, which means MPs must vote the party line. With the three opposition parties officially in favor of keeping the long-gun registry, any bill sponsored by Harper’s minority government would have been defeated.

But bills proposed by individual MPs — such as the one to abolish the gun registry — are traditionally allowed a “free vote.” Politicians can break from party policy and vote as they like. That put the pressure on several opposition MPs that represent rural ridings. The Conservative party increased the pressure with radio attack ads targeting the most vulnerable MPs.

Several Liberal and New Democratic party MPs caved in and supported the bill to abolish the registry, allowing it to pass an important vote that leaves it just two more votes away from becoming law.

Heidi Rathjen, one of the survivors of the Montreal massacre, described the proposed law as a “slap in the face” to all victims of gun crimes.

The vote on the bill highlighted the rural-urban divide in Canada politics, one that has shut out the Conservative party from almost all urban ridings. It also revealed what some describe as the Harper government’s blatant hypocrisy.

At every turn, Harper vaunts his government’s law-and-order agenda. Inspired by American methods of fighting crime that have proved ineffective, he has passed laws that set the minimum amount of prison time judges can impose for a series of crimes, and is considering spending billions of dollars on the building of massive prison compounds.

But tough on crime apparently doesn’t mean vigilance about rifles and shotguns.

All week long in the foyer of the House of Commons, the government paid tribute to the victims of the Montreal massacre with a vase of 14 white roses, one for each woman killed. But with the government’s efforts to abolish the long-gun registry, many couldn’t help but see it as an empty gesture.