Canada's Conservative government to ease gun laws

October 25, 2011 - 3:20 PM

TORONTO (AP) — Canada's Conservative government introduced legislation Tuesday to scrap a controversial law that requires the registration of rifles and shotguns.

Canada has long required registration of hand guns, but the long-run registry law passed in 1995 faced bitter opposition from rural Canada, the Conservative party's base, which considered it an overreaction to the problem of urban crime.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said they don't want laws targeting law-abiding citizens such as hunters.

Police and victims groups are voicing opposition, but the Conservatives have a new majority in Parliament after national elections in May, and can now scrap the law.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper previously tried to kill it, but his bill was narrowly defeated in the last Parliament.

The former Liberal government passed the tougher gun control law after Marc Lepine shot to death 14 students with a semiautomatic rifle at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.

Families of the victims began holding news conferences and lobbying politicians. By March 1991, they had collected 550,000 names on a petition urging federal action.

After the bill won final passage in 1995, former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's first comment was that many Americans would be envious. Chretien noted that the U.S. went the other way and said and it would give Canada "a personality different from the people of the south of us and I'm very proud."

But Harper's Conservative government vowed to abolish the law when they took power in 2006 and the Conservatives celebrated the announcement Tuesday.

"The Harper government has stood on the side of law-abiding firearms owners, farmers, hunters, and rural Canadians in every region of this country," said Conservative lawmaker Candice Hoeppner, who joined Conservative colleagues in announcing the new bill at a farm outside of Ottawa.

Hoeppner said the registry has been a waste of taxpayers' dollars, close to $2 billion. She called it a "defining moment" for the Conservative government.

But an internal evaluation from Canada's national police force found the federal gun registry was a useful tool for police. An umbrella group for Quebec police forces also said rifles and shotguns are most used to kill police officers in domestic violence cases, suicides and incidents involving youth.

The Coalition for Gun Control urged Canadians to tell their lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter, Nina, was abducted and killed with a legally owned rifle, defended the long-gun registry.

"No law can prevent all tragedies. But a gun-control law, which includes registration and is rigorously implemented, makes it harder — not easier — for dangerous people to get firearms," she said.

The new bill will repeal the requirement to register long guns, and calls for the destruction of all records pertaining to the registration of long guns currently contained in the Canadian Firearms Registry.