Reality Check: Are the Liberals bringing back the gun registry with reform bill?
The Liberal gun reform legislation currently before the House of Commons does a lot of different things.
It allows for expanded background checks on people applying for a gun licence, it re-allocates to the RCMP the power to classify firearms, it allows the province of Quebec to request and receive the data held by the federal government from when the old long run registry was dismantled.
Among its provisions is also a requirement for businesses to keep records of gun sales and makes it mandatory for vendors to verify the person they are selling to holds a valid firearms permit.
Those last two aspects of it were the major point of discussion among members when Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale appeared before the House of Commons public safety committee on Tuesday.
Again and again, Conservative MPs tried to establish that the bill has the effect of creating a gun registry.
And again and again, Liberal MPs asked Goodale to explain why the bill does not create a gun registry.
So which is it? Why does it matter?
Let’s break down the facts.
What does the bill actually say?
The wording of C-71, An Act to Amend Certain Acts and Regulations in Relation to Firearms, makes two key changes to the responsibilities placed on gun vendors in Canada.
Under the new rules, businesses — but not private sellers — will have to keep records of all firearms sales for at least 20 years, including the firearms licence number of the person who obtained the gun from them.
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It’s up to the business owners how they want to keep those records and they do not need to be kept in ledger form.
The records also remain the legal property of the business.
Police would need to have a warrant to obtain a specific piece of information held by the business and none of the information could be requested or accessed even by the chief firearms officer without judicial authorization.
As well, anyone — both businesses and private sellers — will have to verify the licence of the person they are providing a gun to through the Canada Firearms Program.
Right now, licence checks are commonplace but legally voluntary.
The arguments raised by Conservative members of the committee were that requiring the private keeping of records is effectively the same thing as maintaining a registry of gun sales.
How is this different from the long gun registry?
The former long gun registry was abolished by the federal Conservatives in February 2012 after a failed attempt to do so in 2006.
The long gun registry itself was a database overseen by the RCMP that contained information of which registered gun owner owned which registered firearm from all three classes: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited.
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All guns were required to be registered and police did not need a warrant to check the system.
In 2011, RCMP said police accessed the database more than 17,000 times a day in activities like evaluating whether someone they pulled over at a traffic stop might pose an additional threat to consider.
READ MORE: What data is in the gun registry?
Abolishing the long gun registry did not change the licensing requirements that stated Canadians looking to obtain a gun had to possess a valid firearms permit.
However, it did abolish the requirement for businesses to keep records of their gun sales — although, as the government has noted since introducing the bill, many still do.
The former long gun registry contained the names and addresses of registered gun owners as well as the make, model, manufacturer, type, action, class, calibre, shots and barrel of the firearm being registered, along with the registration date.
In comparison, C-71 requires businesses to keep a record of the make, model, type and serial number of the firearm being sold as well as the reference number, the date the reference number was issued, and the licence number of the person buying the gun.
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The reference number refers to the unique number that will be issued through the online portal and/or phone number that would be set up through the bill.
That number would be provided once a vendor submits the licence number of the person they are selling to for verification.
Keeping a record of that request will not be allowed under the terms of the legislation.
Private records kept by the businesses could not be accessed without a warrant.
Bill C-71 also allows for the destruction of those records at whatever time the business might cease to exist.
So will this be a new registry or won’t it?
The term registry implies registration with some kind of an official authority in a position to grant something in exchange, whether it be access, status or a licence.
The term record, on the other hand, is defined as “a piece of evidence about the past.”
Nothing in the new legislation would allow the government to access the records maintained by businesses on gun sales unless a judge can be convinced to issue a warrant.
Nothing in the new legislation allows the government to keep a record of its interactions with businesses seeking to verify the licence of someone who wants to purchase a gun, or bans the destruction of the data held by businesses.
Nothing in the new legislation creates a centralized collection of data about the personal information of law-abiding gun owners: all of the information required to be kept by vendors will be kept by only those vendors.
The question of whether requiring a business to keep a record amounts to the same thing as an official registry likely boils down largely to ideological point of view.
Meanwhile, the question of whether those same requirements are reasonable or effective is another matter entirely – and one that is sure to continue being explored as examination of the legislation continues.
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