Op-Ed in the Hill Times

Sept 20, 2010.

Police chiefs should be enforcing legislation, not creating it

How long will Canadians tolerate the tail wagging the dog?

In the torrid game of political chess that is poised to scrap Canada's long-gun registry, why are some so willing to trust an organization with questionable ethics?

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, and the Canadian Association of Police Boards want to maintain the long-gun registry. But, many front-line police officers have pronounced it useless and potentially dangerous to any cop who believes the data. A national survey taken by an Edmonton police officer last year shows an astounding 92 per cent of police respondents want the registry scrapped.

There was barely a ripple within the mainstream media when ethicist Dr. John Jones suddenly resigned his position on the CACP's ethics committee last year. The whole committee had been warning the CACP board of directors for some time that they should stop taking money from organizations they do business with—the ethics committee said it's a clear conflict of interest. In April 2009, media (The Globe and Mail and CBC) reports confirmed the CACP accepted about $115,000 from CGI Group, a Bell Mobility affiliate.

"I resigned on a matter of principal," Dr. Jones explained to the CSSA. "We [the CACP ethics committee] had worked with the chiefs for about six months trying to constructively change their opinion. I resigned when we received a letter from them that said, 'Thanks but no thanks, we're going to continue to do business.' What makes it unethical for me is that first step that puts you in debt to these corporations.

"It's simply the impropriety of taking gifts from people with whom the chiefs do extensive business," he adds. "That puts them in the pockets of the chiefs and I think that's an unfortunate state of affairs. There is a track record there. It's not ethical. In the moral domain, it's really dodgy behaviour."

Detective Sergeant Murray Grismer of the Saskatoon Police Service recently appeared before the House Public Safety Committee to opine on Private Member's Bill C-391 to scrap the gun registry. He claims that Canada's top cops are pulling rank by prohibiting police officers from speaking out.

"I represent the opinion of thousands of police officers across Canada who are, in my opinion, the silent majority and, for some, the silenced majority," Det. Sgt. Grismer told the Parliamentary committee. "[They are] not only police officers who have been ordered not to speak out against the long-gun registry, but also officers who fear for their careers should they voice an opinion publicly in opposition to continuation of the registry or against the position adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, their chief of police, or commanding officer."

Meanwhile, even pro-registry police admitted to the Public Safety Committee that if the registry advised there was no gun present in a residence, police would not trust that information to be accurate. Conversely, if registry data said there were a specific number of guns present, they would not trust that information either, and assume there could be more guns. So, if pro-registry police recommend ignoring both a positive and negative registry result, it seems obvious that the registry is an utter waste of time for police.

Criminologist Dr. Gary Mauser, professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University, told the committee that the registry data itself is too corrupt to be useful.

"It is difficult to understand why the chiefs of police support the long-gun registry," says Dr. Mauser. "[It] has so many errors that relying upon it puts the lives of rank-and-file police members at risk. This is a classic database problem: garbage in, gospel out. The police should know better."

The Canadian Shooting Sports Association is an extremely safety-conscious organization, and if there was even a hint of evidence that the gun registry actually saved lives or kept Canadians safer, we would support it.

Instead, creating the registry was a political knee-jerk reaction to the tragic deaths of innocent students at L'ecole Polytéchnique on Dec. 6, 1989. Rather than targeting the criminal element, the Chrétien government elected in 1993 took its wrath out on sport shooters, hunters and farmers.

There is evidence that the registry would not have prevented the L'ecole Polytéchnique massacre. That proof was revealed on Sept. 13, 2006, at Dawson College in Montreal where a gunman shot and killed one student and injured 19 others. The registry was up and running in all its glory, and it failed outright.

The long-gun registry should be dismantled and the funds reallocated to provide more police in the street, better technologies in their hands, and improved firearms laws in Canada. Police chiefs should be enforcing legislation rather than trying to create it. How long will Canadians tolerate the tail wagging the dog?

The CSSA is the voice of the sport shooters and firearms enthusiasts in Canada. Our national membership supports and promotes traditional target shooting competition, modern action shooting sports, hunting, and archery. We support and sponsor competitions and youth programs that promote these Canadian heritage activities.

Larry Whitmore is executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

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