Saturday, February 05, 2005

That Ought To Make Us Safer

Registry can't find many gun owners: Thousands fail to notify Canada Firearm Centre that they have moved

The Canada Firearms Centre lost track of at least 46,500 licensed gun owners last year, prompting renewed charges that front-line police officers cannot trust the controversial system with their lives or the public's safety.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan disclosed in response to questions from Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz that 46,409 letters to licence holders came back from Canada Post as "undelivered" mail.

The letters were among 773,218 renewal notices for gun-possession licences the firearms centre sent out as part of a firearms centre initiative to stagger renewals to avoid backlogs at a processing centre in Miramichi, N.B.

McLellan told Breitkreuz that Canada Post did not specify reasons for the returned mail, although that claim has been put into question by a postal official.

Breitkreuz said the information gap could have drastic consequences if police officers approach houses or apartments and either mistakenly believe a gun is on the premises or incorrectly assume there is no gun.

Either scenario could happen if gun owners are not notifying the firearms centre that their home addresses have changed, Breitkreuz said.

"Someone could just be reaching for a cellphone," said the Saskatchewan MP. "Or, there could be a gun and they don't know it. Either way, it could be very bad."

The firearms centre mailed the notices to holders of firearms-possession licences to inform them their permits had been renewed for periods of one to four years without charge.

Possession licences expire after five years, and the centre used a computer to randomly assign free extensions to avoid the logjam that would have been created had all the licences expired at the same time.

The possession licences were available to individuals who already owned guns when the Canada Firearms Act took effect in 1998.

Gun owners with possession and acquisition licences which, unlike possession-only licences, allow them to buy or acquire firearms, were not part of the renewal program.

Breitkreuz noted the Canada Firearms Act requires licence holders to notify the Canada Firearms Centre if they change addresses. It is a Criminal Code offence to ignore the requirement, and penalties for conviction range up to a two-year prison sentence.

"People may be criminals, and they don't even know it," said Breitkreuz.

A spokesman for the Canada Firearms Centre said the undelivered return-mail rate for the renewal notices was lower than "industry standards" for large mailouts.

"More than nine out of 10 were successfully delivered," said spokesman Jamie Deacon, adding the centre continually renews information on the gun registry's computer data base. - Vancouver Sun

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