Long-gun registry dismantling is 'well underway'

Work on the destruction of records in the federal long-gun registry is "well underway" but records for Quebec residents have been set aside pending the legal challenge in that province.

The RCMP told CBC News that it is a lengthy and complicated process to dismantle the database and that work on destroying the records began not long after Parliament passed Bill C-19 in April. The controversial bill put an end to the requirement to register non-restricted firearms (rifles, shotguns and other long guns that fall under the classification).

It also ordered that the information in the existing database be erased. Restricted and prohibited firearms still need to be registered and a licence is still required to own a firearm.

The RCMP manages the Canadian Firearms Registry and starting on May 20, the registration records were no longer available through its online database.

Police agencies that argued in favour of keeping the registry said it was accessed thousands of times a day and that it was an important investigative tool that helped trace guns to their owners.

Shutting down the registry is a multi-step process, according to the RCMP.

"It is a complex IT project involving the destruction of a large amount of data that is part of an integrated database, and will take some time to complete," a spokeswoman for the Canadian Firearms Registry said in an email.

The Quebec government launched a legal challenge almost immediately after Bill C-19 was passed and it successfully won an injunction to protect the data before it was destroyed. As a result of the Quebec Superior Court ruling, Quebec residents still have to register their non-restricted firearms with the RCMP.

Existing records for Quebec gun owners have been separated out from the rest of the database and are safe from destruction for now. They are also still accessible through the online database.

"The court order is currently in effect until further notice," Julie Gagnon said in the email. As for the rest of the registry, she said: "The process leading to the destruction of non-restricted firearms registration records is well underway."

That could mean that another injunction being sought in Ontario could come too late, if it is even granted. The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto, a place that helps women who are the victims of domestic violence, has made the application for an injunction to protect the gun registry data. The case is scheduled for a hearing Sept.13 in Toronto.

On Thursday, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association kicked off a campaign that it says is in response to the legal challenges. The group is encouraging owners of non-restricted firearms to swap and sell their guns to thwart the injunction efforts and ensure that any information left in the database is "garbage."

The anti-registry group said the registry was never useful and that it was an added burden for law-abiding gun owners.

There are an estimated 7.8 million firearms registered and of those, about 90 per cent are non-restricted firearms.