Saturday, May 20, 2006

Liberal Gun Registry Like Another Adscam


Good journalism cuts through the crap. Bad journalism just piles it higher.

Days before the release of Auditor General Sheila Fraser's latest report on the federal gun registry, certain news outlets (they know who they are) were reporting on an Ipsos-Reid poll which allegedly suggested most Canadians opposed the Conservatives' plan to scrap the registry.

"In Alberta, 51% of the people surveyed indicated the government should keep a registry system in place," read one press report.

Actually, that report was spinning the original poll so hard, it hovered. The poll actually found 54% of Canadians wanted the registry scrapped, and 56% blamed the previous government for blowing nearly a billion bucks on the project.

What was being spun was the fact that 67% of respondents supported the idea of having "some type of gun registry." One that actually keeps track of weapons. One that doesn't cost too much. An imaginary one.

I've been writing about the gun registry for six years now, and I've gotten pretty shy about predicting its pending demise (I've done it twice). The registry is harder to kill than a kitchen full of cockroaches.

The main political obstacle to killing the registry has always been that peculiar strain of sunny utopianism that is so, so Canadian. From an editorial in the Toronto Star, the last friend the registry has in the media: "Police use the registry to investigate gun crimes and determine if they might encounter firearms when responding to emergency calls."

Time to gut this particular red herring. Gun registry supporters love to talk about how it's receiving 6,500 police hits a day. But they won't break the numbers down by type of search or region.

In fact, according to the feds, any time anyone in the Toronto or Vancouver municipal police forces, or the RCMP in B.C., consults the CPIC database - to, say, run a plate number - the search automatically links to the firearms database.

Each of those CPIC searches is recorded as a separate search of the firearms database. The Toronto Police Service alone employs about 7,000 people.

Unless the registry has information it's not sharing with the rest of us, that 6,500-hit figure is completely meaningless.

"Now that Canadians have spent the money to put the gun registry in place, the real waste would be if Harper dismantles a program that is generally working well," the Star lamented.

"Working well"? Where did that come from? That bogus 6,500-hits-per-day estimate? They didn't get it from Fraser, who clearly stated in her report she did not "examine the effectiveness of the program or its social implications."

In fact, Fraser states that while the Canadian Firearms Centre claimed 90% compliance with licensing regulations in its 2003-04 report, it wouldn't offer a compliance figure for the following year because the information was "becoming outdated." It didn't know, in other words. That's telling.

"The centre does not show how (licensing and registration) help minimize risks to public safety," Fraser wrote.

More than a decade after its establishment, the registry still doesn't check its information against other federal and provincial databases. Half of the restricted and prohibited firearms listed in a pre-1995 database still haven't been reregistered with the CFC.

It gets worse. Much of the money wasted on the registry went into computer systems that either didn't work or couldn't keep up with constantly mutating federal regulations. The first system, CFIS I, was supposed to cost $85 million to develop. Actual price tag: $190 million.

The contract for CFIS II was inked before the contractor even had project specifications. No surprise, the system is two years overdue and set to cost about $90 million.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Fraser found that registry contracts funnelled through a branch of Public Works Canada were being directed to incumbent contractors - no competition. Frequently, she wrote, the CFC paid Public Works, which paid a consulting firm, which paid a subcontractor, which paid the contractor.

That's two extra commissions paid by taxpayers in exchange for nothing in particular. If that sounds familiar, it's because the same practice was used by the feds in the sponsorship program to pay out commissions in exchange for no services. This arrangement, Fraser wrote, drove up contract costs by an average of 25%.

"It has the look and feel of another Adscam," said John Williamson, head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Final point: the government estimates a yearly saving from killing the registry of roughly $75 million. That'll buy you 700 Mounties to chase the people bringing smuggled guns, crystal meth and child pornography to your neighbourhood.

Sounds like a bargain.


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