Chiefs to wage war for gun registry

Canada’s police chiefs have reaffirmed their support for the federal long-gun registry and plan to mount a last-ditch campaign to convince political opponents that what they call a valuable crime-fighting tool is worth saving.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair

EDMONTON — Canada’s police chiefs have reaffirmed their support for the federal long-gun registry and plan to mount a last-ditch campaign to convince political opponents that what they call a valuable crime-fighting tool is worth saving.

But don’t call it political lobbying.

“There are some ideological and political aspects to this,” acknowledged Bill Blair, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and head of Toronto’s police department.

“But the law enforcement community does not take a partisan position with respect to this.

“It is not a matter of ideology. It’s just a matter of public safety, it’s just a matter of officer safety.”

On Monday, the association unanimously adopted a resolution on a national firearms policy that includes a recommendation calling on police leaders and officers work to explain to politicians and people the long-gun registry’s value. It’s an attempt to head off a private member’s bill being considered this fall that would abolish it.

The bill, launched by a Conservative, fully supported by the government and backed by a dozen New Democrats and eight Liberals, passed second reading in the Commons last spring.

A committee recommendation to stop the bill in its tracks will come up for a vote in the House of Commons on Sept. 21, a day after parliamentarians return from their summer break.

Blair said police officers now consult the registry up to 11,000 times daily and use it to both investigate and prevent crime. At an annual cost of $4 million a year, he said the registry is a cost-effective way to make communities safer.

“When we provide that information to police officers and police leaders, they get it. And I think we have to do the same thing with Canadians.”

Blair tried to emphasize that the chief’s association wasn’t taking a political stand.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for the police to engage in political debate,” he said. “Our intention is to simply advocate for public safety, to help Canadians understand what we need to do our jobs and to ask for their help.”

But he did direct some of his remarks at politicians.

“We need to help them understand that this is a tool that we need, that we use every day. And if you take it away from us, you are diminishing our capacity to keep our communities safe.”

Blair said the association’s communications effort will be low-key, mostly meeting with politicians, members of the public and rank-and-file officers, as well as publishing supportive material on the association’s website.

Blair said chiefs have been asked to explain to their communities how police use the registry and why they want to keep it.

“We need to get right into the communities,” said Blair. “We need to engage in a dialogue with people.”