Destroy the data


Debate over Bill C-19, which would finally end the contentious long-gun registry, continues to grow heated in both Parliament and in the press.  The Coalition for Gun Control and their supporters have their backs to the wall and are throwing everything they can at this issue.

For those who wish to read the bill for themselves, it can be found here.  For those who prefer the Coles Notes version, the 20 page document can be whittled down to these two points:

1)      Legal gun owners will no longer be required to register their non-restricted firearms, and

2)      The existing registration data will be destroyed

Don’t let the shrill fear-mongering of the Gun Control Lobby fool you into thinking otherwise.  The two points above are the only changes made by Bill C-19.  There are no reclassifications (that favour either the Gun Control Lobby or gun owners), there will be no “delisting” (whatever that means) of sniper rifles, there is no anti-women rhetoric, there will not be blood in the streets.  These claims are simply the death throes of a vocal minority who no longer has the ear of the government.

The Gun Control Lobby knows they cannot stop the passage of this bill.  They know that point #1 is a done deal.  Their goal now is to try to prevent the destruction of the existing information.  Why?

The only coherent arguments that have come out so far in support of keeping the data, is the old “the money has already been spent” line, and Quebec’s interest in maintaining a provincial registry.  They say it would be too costly to start a new database from scratch, so they want the Federal government to hand over the existing information.

I’ll skip over the enormous Constitutional issues involved in the provinces setting up their own firearms registry (quite simply, it falls within federal jurisdiction) and focus on the simpler and more important facet of this debate.  Privacy.

This email from 2000 nicely illustrates the stance of the Privacy Commissioner:

FROM: Privacy Commissioner of Canada
TO: The Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records
DATE: February 9, 2000

“At the heart of any conception of privacy, and any code of privacy protection, lies the notion that people have a basic right to control their personal information. What this means, in concrete terms, is that when the government comes to collect information from people, they have the right to know why the information is being collected, how it will be used, how long it will be kept, and who will have access to it. The government has an obligation to tell them, and then proceed accordingly. This means that the government may use the information only for the purposes for which it was collected. And if personal information is going to be given to third parties, people need to be told that at the time it is collected. If they were not told that, release of the information to third parties should be subject to their consent. … Although I recognize the potential value of this information, I also recognize that the use of this knowledge may lead to serious breaches of privacy. … The information was collected for a specific purpose. That purpose has been fulfilled. In accordance with the principles of fair information practices, the information should not be retained. To retain it beyond its stated use is to invite pressure for other uses. No consent was given to other uses of the information.”

The above email was written in reference to Census Records, but it is just as relevant to the registry data.  Gun owners gave their information to the federal government for a specific purpose as outlined in the Firearms Act.  Gun owners did not consent at the time the data was collected for that information to be passed on to any third party.  Nobody knows what the provinces would use that information for and there was no consent from gun owners for the provinces to have it.

The Toronto Police Service nicely illustrated what they would use the out-dated registry information for: the harassment of legal gun owners.  Using the old Restricted Weapons Registry System (which predates the current firearms registry), the TPS went door knocking throughout Toronto (Project Safe City) seizing firearms from citizens who simply fell behind in their paperwork.  They went line by line through millions of records to track down these law-abiding citizens – for administrative errors.  What an incredible waste of police resources!! 

If there is no legal requirement to collect the registry data, there can be no legal reason to possess it.  The data needs to be destroyed and it needs to be made a crime to be found in possession of it.

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