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How one country implemented gun control and shot itself in the foot.

Updated on September 23, 2009

The attempt to register firearms -- at a cost of $2 -- 4 billion dollars. (No one seems to know for sure.)

In 1995, Bill C-68, the strictest gun control legislation in Canadian history, passed three readings in parliament, was approved by the senate and enacted as the law of the land. Part of this legislation called for the implementation of the Firearms Registry, where all firearms, not just handguns (already controlled, and requiring a permit) but the long weapons, shotguns and rifles, must now be licensed and registered. For the purpose of this article, the term firearm will refer to long weapons.

What followed can only be considered one of the most expensive comedies ever to play on the world’s stage.

Gun ownership isn't a constituitionally enshrined right for Canadians, but they do love their firearms.

One thing about growing up in rural Alberta, you grew up with guns. Ours was the only household I knew that didn’t contain one, but then my dad was an immigrant from England, a veteran of WWII and never wanted to see one again in his life. He should have picked somewhere else in his search for a new home, because guns were a fact of life in our locale back then.

Every second pick-up truck you saw, had a gun rack in the back window.

We lived near my aunt and uncle, and there in their dining room, in a beautiful rubbed-walnut, glass-doored cabinet, proudly on display for all to admire, lived the collection of rifles and shotguns my uncle used for hunting, protecting the livestock and on more than one occasion, to chase off intruders from the secluded farm site.

Growing up with guns, handling them, actually using one once to shoot a wild dog that threatened my pet, I never gave them much thought. I don’t own any myself. I’m neither for nor against gun control, possessed of a completely ambivalent attitude to the issue. I’m sure fewer guns would mean fewer shootings, but not so sure it would mean fewer murders. There’s always bludgeoning, stabbing, strangling, smothering, poisoning – 50 ways to kill your lover.

I am against wasting public money, and that’s what this is about.

Fourteen years ago, this somewhat non-existent issue hit the political arena. It was 1995, enter bill C-68.

The government said it was an important step to decrease violence in our society, which I found somewhat surprising. Statistics Canada sent me some interesting information about that year:

1995 population of Canada – 30,000,000 give or take a few.

Number of homicides – 586

Homicides by shooting – 61

I’m sure the 61victims and their families  might disagree, but it seemed an acceptable ratio, considering those of other places. Certainly brings into question the need to set up yet another bureaucracy – perhaps the one thing we do best. More people die by drowning – why not fence off all the lakes?

And how would it work, and what would it cost, we wondered.

At the time, the government said the registry would cost about $120 million, but revenues generated by the registration fees would offset most of that, and the taxpayers would only have to fork over a measly $2 million.

And it became law.

But the people resented the law, and initial registration trickled in with approximately 576,000 firearms registered in 1998. Now, you have to understand, Canadians love their firearms and nobody knows how many there are in the country. The government estimate of around 8 million is very conservative. Unofficial estimates say between 15-17 million firearms or approximately one firearm for every two Canadians.

By 2000, the newly formed agency, the Canadian Firearms Program (hereinafter known as the CFP), reported implementation costs rising. Were we surprised? Certainly not – we are a pragmatic people, long cognitive of the expanding nature of government programs. But this was only the beginning.

In December of 2001, we learned the costs had risen to $527 million. Why? Well, apparently the CFP had trouble keeping track of the license fees collected. Why? The computer system used to process the applications wasn’t working very well and those problems could not be resolved without “massive change” and “significant investment.”

Then in 2002, Sheila Fraser, Auditor General for Canada, tabled her yearend report. Number one on her list, before the usual horror stories of waste, toadyism and abuse, the first to be blasted by her sharp tongue was the CFP whose costs are now $629 million. Here’s a sampling of some of the expenditures:

$2 million to help police enforce legislation. Yes folks, if you don’t have a piece of paper for your old Cooey 22, you can face up to ten years in jail – not that anyone has -- yet.

$60 million for public relations programs. That’s right, all those millions for those boring commercials that interrupted Hockey Night in Canada, to tell us how we’ll all be safer once every gun in the country is on a list compiled by a computer that isn’t working right.

$227 million for computer costs. Did I mention it wasn’t working?

$332 million for other programming costs (to fix it?) and to pay staff (now 1, 800 persons) to process the forms (because the computer wasn’t working?)

And – oh!oh! – those offsetting license fees for the past four years -- $140 million, more or less – we don’t know -- the computer still can’t track them properly.

January 1 of 2003 was the deadline for gun owners to register “non-restricted” weapons. (Who, what kind of idiot, would register restricted ones if they owned them?) The CFP reports 5.8 million firearms are registered which the government claims is 75% of the estimated total of 8 million firearms and isn’t this just such a great success? Never mind that according to their own import and export records, it is apparent there must be at least 16.5 million firearms in the country at this time.

Two daring Canadians challenge the government to arrest them for holding unregistered weapons. One is arrested, but he is not charged under the Firearms Act, that piece of legislation now costing the Canadian taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 million. No, he was charged with public mischief and received a resounding slap on the wrist.

In March 2003, the federal government votes to bolster the CFP with a further $59 million and we find out the costs to date somehow now approach $800 million.

In early 2004, two interesting developments follow closely, one just behind the other.

Then Prime Minister, Paul Martin says, “We are committed to gun control and we are committed to the registration of weapons, but at the same time, common sense dictates that there have been a number of problems. They will be looked at and dealt with.”

Thirty days later, the CBC news service leaks documentation that suggest the costs of the Canadian Firearms Program have been under-reported by 50%, and the actual costs to date are $2 billion – so far. Keep in mind there are only 31 million Canadians with an estimated 8 – 16 million firearms.

Shortly after this journalistic bomb hits a stunned nation, still sitting with 8.5 million unregistered firearms, the government announces, days before an election call, the fees for registering and transferring firearms will be eliminated (what about that offsetting income you promised?) and Ottawa will limit its spending on the gun registry to $25 million a year. Whew, there’s a relief! – Chicken feed. And – are you ready for it – all previously paid registration fees will be refunded, as soon as the computer is working and we know who paid what.

But, the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of Firearms, estimates that the cost of running the registry for the year ending December 31, 2004 at just less than $100 million, and -- take heart -- should drop to $85 million in fiscal 2005. Excuse me – the boss just said $25 million a year. Didn’t you hear?

May 16, 2006, the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, who is shocked, reports that the former Liberal government twice misinformed Parliament about tens of millions of dollars --only tens? -- in overspending at the Canada Firearms Centre. The planned computerized gun registry is now three years overdue. Well, didn’t they tell you; it’s still not working?

But, we are so much safer now that maybe less than half the firearms in Canada are duly registered with the CFP, aren’t we?

Let’s check with Statistics Canada:

2006 Population of Canada: 31,613,000

Number of homicides: 605

Number of homicides committed with a firearm: 190

But, it’s a success, according to the Liberal party.

“Important client services and public safety results have been achieved.” Well first, no one is a client of the CFP. They have been forced to get a piece of paper for their firearm with the threat of severe criminal charges. It’s not a service, guys.

“A national survey shows the substantial majority of Canadians (74%) support the current gun control legislation.” An independent poll conducted in April 2004 by JMCK Polling states: a substantial majority of Canadians (76.7%) believe the federal gun registry should be scrapped. And they’re getting a mite pissed off about it, too.

“Statistics show significant decline in the use of firearms in homicides. These trends coincide ….with the introduction of the Firearms Act in 1995.” Not according to Statistics Canada, the government keeper of all things numerical. They show that homicides by firearm have tripled since 1995.

“About 6,000 firearms have been traced in gun-crime and firearm trafficking cases within Canada and internationally.” You note they don’t say they’ve been traced by the CFP. If criminals don’t register their guns-- and most crime guns are smuggled into the country -- what good can a registry of legally owned guns do? And let’s face it, what kind of brain-damaged crook will use a weapon he has registered?

“The Government has re-affirmed its commitment to the Program as an important element of its approach to public safety.” On November 24, 2004, the Commissioner of Firearms, Bill Baker, admitted before the Standing Committee on Justice that 176,000 prohibited gun owners, and 37,000 persons with restraining orders against them have registered weapons.

March 10, 2004 – Toronto Police Chief told the Toronto Star, the system has not helped Toronto police solve a single homicide.

June 2, 2004, Calgary Police Chief, Jack Beaton, told the Calgary Herald, “Our investigators run into numerous situations where registration information isn’t accurate.”

January 22, 2004, CBC Radio in Saskatchewan reported, “Police in Regina say they haven’t yet had a lot of use for the gun registry.” Sgt. Rick Bourassa says, officers do not use the database.

December 4 2003, Officials from the Police Association of Ontario said that they fail to get the information requested from the registration system 95% of the time.

And then, the finale, the punch line, the kick in the ass came along.

June 19, 2006 “Stephan Harper’s Conservative government introduces legislation to abolish the long-gun registry. Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act so that owners of non-restricted rifles and shotguns will not have to register their weapons.” Well he’d better; he got elected on that promise.

It’s a good thing for Alberta. It’s estimated there are more unregistered firearms in Alberta than are registered in all the rest of Canada.

Does one laugh or cry? It’s impossible to get an accurate account of how much was spent on this needless and ridiculous program. In early 2004, expenditures were $2 billion, and now in 2009 we hear whispers of $4 billion, but the entire fiasco has been such an embarrassment, we’ll never know.


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    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Jackie, But it was all done with the best of intentions. (Which by itself is scary enough.) As I said earlier, for a measly one hundreth of the money, I would have gone door to door across the entire nation. ...

      Hi teacherjoe: So please explain how your question is germaine to the subject at point? Not that I am upset or anything; just wondered.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image


      5 years ago

      Good morning lmmartin.

      Very informative.

      How about how income tax is voluntary? I have had some "Discussions" with the government on this over the past almost twenty years and they have yet to prove otherwise and cannot force me to pay it. It is important to know your rights. Read the U.N Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms and the U.N Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, vist Detax Canada and get a copy of The Public Servants Questionnaire.There is one for Canada and one for the U.S Learn it and always carry a copy. Very interesting reading. It is also good for those who do not want to get the flu shots.

      God bless you.

      God bless you.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Well I loved this, funny and familiar. I think all governments use any means to shift around millions and stuff their own pockets while they are at it. They are too stupid to be trusted with money that is for sure. I don't see why their number one goal isn't going after the crooks who are right out there in the streets...well here in America anyway. They know where they are, they tell us so. So why don't we hear what they are doing about that? I was raised with guns, it never seemed a danger to me, I could shoot a bucking shot gun at 10. I think guns just scare those who are ignorant of them, like water does the non swimmer. All these government officials will be protected by guns you can be sure.

      Thanks for your unbiased hub.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yep -- That's my Alberta! Though I'm now living in Florida, a very red "gun" state, I'll be the gun ownership ratio is nowhere near Alberta's. So thanks, Nut, for dropping by and commenting. Lynda

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I live in rural Alberta, and of the people I know 100% of them own guns, virtually not a single one registered. Even people who do register their guns just do it to bypass the bullshit and stockpile unregistered guns errday.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      7 years ago

      And accomplished a heck of a lot more I would bet.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yes, stupidity is universal. You know, for a tenth of the money I'd have personally gone door to door across the country and registered the guns...

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      7 years ago

      This one made me laugh like crazy. I had no idea Canada had tried this, and am amazed at the cost. It seems like any small business owner could have put together a much better plan with greatly reduced costs. I guess when you are accustomed to always dealing with other peoples money it doesn't matter how much something costs. Great hub and I enjoyed the read. At least I know now it is not just the USA that pulls stupid and costly stunts doomed to failure.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks for sharing Australia's experience with gun control. Canada's didn't work out at all, was a complete and total waste of funds and manpower, and now all is as it ever was.

      I agree with you, as in most instances, the more attention paid to an issue, the more it grows as a problem.

      Still, it seems you can't separate a Canadian and his gun, not even by throwing a truckload of money at the problem (what problem?)

    • Tusitala Tom profile image

      Tom Ware 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      When I first arrived in Australia in 1951 Australia, then with a population of around 7.5 million, only had about a dozen murders a year. Now, with 22 million it has roughly that many a week. Guns, however, don't seem to play a very big part in it. It seems knives are the today thing. Yes, we had gun laws put in here, too, especially after the Port Arthur massacre, where one guy shot about 34 people dead (greatest number in the world I think, for this type of action)

      So what happens? The law abiding citizens surrender their now illegal weapons (the old WW2 .303 rifle was a favourite here) But then it started to become ridicuous (mainly due to the way the Media portrayed the firearm issue) A man might own, for example, a .38 pistol, a .303 rifle, half-a-dozen .22s and a couple of shotguns (typical gun enthusiast) Only the first two are illegal. The press would say the police had uncovered a cache of a dozen illegal firearms!

      Back in 1951 the cops carried a small, .25 automatic pistol which was always kept out of sight. As the press stepped up their campaign of the cops 'being outgunned' police went to .38s in open holster. Again, according to the press, they were being outgunned. The police went to Glocks. One cannot help wondering that if this keeps up they'll be like the police in Third World countries, carrying sub-machine guns. Hasn't anyone in authority realized yet, that the more emphasis you give anything, the more you promote it?

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Does it keep criminals from having one? No. Does it stop people from being shot with handguns at drunken parties? Yes. Instead they are stabbed or bludgeoned. Thanks for your comment. Lynda

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Handguns are illegal in Canada? Yikes! Has that kept the criminal from owning one? Gun control is a good solid Weaver stance, IMHO.

      Another great hub full of interesting information.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Well said, Dark Lucy. Kafkaesque is a wonderful term for the situation.

    • profile image

      Dark Lucy 

      8 years ago

      Government should not interfere in the lives of private citizens where no crime has been committed. And even that aside, I totally agree with you, it is unforgivable for the state to have wasted resources and money on this pointless, tail-chasing kafkaesque bureacracy, money that could have gone to education, healthcare and preventing deprivation instead of power plays and control.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Raven, Handguns are illegal in Canada, so obviously you wouldn't register one -- rifles and shotguns are legal. Yes, it would be difficult to report a weapon as stolen if it wasn't registered -- but it's unlikely to be recovered registered or not, so why worry?

      Yes, definitely a prickly issue all around. It's just as well the effort was abandoned. Better yet if it had never been attempted.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your opinion. That's the best part of hubpages.

    • LadyRavenSkye profile image


      8 years ago from Ohio

      Ahh, yes I understand now. I don't want to give them that much power then.

      Of course, if I was to own illegal weapons, I wouldn't have those registered, but something like a hand gun or a hunting rifle, I myself wouldn't mind registering.

      What if my gun is stolen or something? It would be pretty hard to report it missing if I don't have it registered.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Raven,

      I think people have simply had enough of Big Brother poking his nose into their lives. Many don't trust the government. First we make a list of all the guns and who has them -- next we move to take them away. Or for the very paranoid -- what if some power takes over the country and has a list where all the guns are -- and we can't fight back. People have concerns about government power -- they don't trust the government. In my province Alberta -- where people are the "don't mess with us" and "leave us alone" variety -- it is estimated at the end of this exercise there were more unregistered weapons in Alberta than were registered in all the rest of the country.

      It isn't a question of whether you're doing something illegal -- it is just how much power do you want to give your government? That is the issue.

    • LadyRavenSkye profile image


      8 years ago from Ohio

      This was informative. I forget sometimes that the American government isn't the only country to waste billions of dollars on crap like this.

      I really think if the system was working, gun registration wouldn't be such an issue (and lower the fees too).

      My philosophy has always been this when it has some to things where the government just WANTS to know (and also steal money).

      If you're not doing anything wrong, then why fight it? If you're not using your gun to kill people and other illegal acts, then why raise such a fuss about registering it?

      In the US, the FBI prowls facebook and other websites, and what gets me is the public outrage from it. If you're not partaking in illegal activities, the FBI doesn't even want to look at your website.

      I do agree about them wasting money. I hate that. I feel sometimes that people just get into politics to do that, such as the American Congress and their pork projects. Angers me so, I tell you.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks Joe. Yes, governments certainly do have a need to control. I've been helping a woman, a single mother with two children who had principles against accepting the monthly child support payments from the federal govt. (Cdn) and then, when she claimed the dependency credit on her income tax return found it disallowed. Why? Because unless you sign up and receive the child support monthly allotment, your children are deemed not to exist. Amazing don't you think?

    • JOE BARNETT profile image


      8 years ago

      hi is funny how governments want to register guns.they feel a need to control so they can tax. it's only to get money. it looks important but doesn't"do"anything. besides, like you said, crooks use guns that are out of registry anyway. they really lost on this one! great article!

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks for your comment Jeffrey Neal. It isn't so much the forced registration of arms that got to me; it is the ridiculous waste of money. And bookmark away.

    • Jeffrey Neal profile image

      Jeffrey Neal 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      lmmartin, great hub! I have heard a little about this, but you have arrayed a nice collection of facts. I hope the US has been paying attention and files it in its collective memory, but if registration were to somehow happen here it would be a first step to confiscation as was done in UK. Thanks! Oh, and I'm bookmarking this one.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks Mr. Happy,

      It just goes to show ya, don't get between a man and his gun. At least not out here.

      Seriously, the whole thing was an exercise in the unnecessary and sublimely ridiculous from day one. Many of the people in my part of the country objected strongly to the idea of any kind of gun registry, with comments like:

      Why should we allow anyone, least of all the government, to keep a list of all the arms in the country and where they are stored? What does that tell you about Albertans sense of trust and belief in their leaders?

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Good blog. The firearms registry program was disliked by most people from the minute it was announced. It was a gigantic failure. Some government programs work and some do not. It is not good though when so much of the tax payer's money goes down the drain ... there must be a way that the government and politicians can be held accountable for their failures for when they fail they force failure on all of us.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Alberta and Florida


    • loveofnight profile image


      9 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      just another way to stick it to the people for their gain


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