George Orwell once wrote that, in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
Perhaps Orwell was partially envisioning Stephen Harper’s Canada where truth and facts are often dismissed, suppressed, denied or ignored. And the people who oppose this government and its ideology are often — like the facts — buried or dismissed.
The long-form Census questionnaire and the government’s decision to axe it is but one of many examples.
Canada’s gun registry is another. The gun registry is more than a wedge issue being capitalized on by the Conservatives, as NDP Leader Jack Layton has described it.
It is, for Mr. Layton, shaping up to be a test of leadership.
Twelve of his New Democrat MPs have voted with the Conservatives to dismantle the registry. Despite his personal support of the gun registry, the leader of Canada’s progressive party has refused to whip his caucus on this issue as the Liberal leader has done.
The bottom line is the fate of the registry rests with Mr. Layton and his MPs. The Conservatives may have fashioned this political box for the NDP leader, but as is often the case in politics and life, we do not always get to pick our battles.
In four weeks, the future of the gun registry will again be the subject of Parliamentary debate. On Sept. 22, MPs are expected to vote on a motion — based on a report from the Committee on Public Safety and National Security — to toss Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner’s private member’s bill that calls for the dismantling of the registry. That bill has already passed second reading.
Last week, Canada’s police chiefs stepped up their efforts to save the registry with a campaign designed to get the facts out from their perspective.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, head of the Canadian Police Chief Association, has said that the registry is a tool used by the police every day. “If you take it away from us, you are diminishing our capacity to keep our communities safe.” Chief Blair says this is not about ideology, but public and police safety.
Tell it to the Harper Conservatives. Incredulously, they would like Canadians to believe that the former head of Canada’s firearms program, a vocal and passionate supporter of the gun registry, was removed from his duties just weeks before the vote in Parliament because he needed French training.
RCMP Superintendent Martin Cheliak, who is credited with reducing the costs associated with the registry and increasing its effectiveness, told a House of Commons Committee that the registry is “vital to the prevention and investigation of crime.” He also said that it promotes safe storage and discourages illegal sales.
Perhaps most importantly the registry saves lives. According to the Coalition for Gun Control, firearm use in spousal homicide has decreased by 36 per cent since the 1995 implementation of the Firearms Act and suicides have dropped by 35 per cent. The National Public Health Institute of Quebec says that annually there are 250 fewer suicides and 50 fewer gun-related deaths.
Supporters of the registry like Mary Scott, president of the National Council of Women of Canada, say it is indeed strange that a “law and order government” like the Harper Conservatives are ignoring and suppressing information from Canada’s national police force. She was referring to a report by Superintendent Cheliak that is said to outline improvements and benefits of the long-gun registry. To date, the government has refused to release the report.
The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights says women have the most to lose if Ms. Hoeppner’s Bill C 391 is passed.
A woman is 12 times more likely to be murdered if a gun is involved in domestic violence and the guns most commonly used in domestic violence are long guns, not hand guns. If Ms. Hoeppner has her way seven million long-gun firearm records will be destroyed.
None of this seems to matter. Little matters these days in Ottawa, but strident partisanship and ideology. Not facts, not truth, not integrity.
During his 1983 speech honouring the 50th anniversary of the NDP in Canada, Tommy Douglas said: “The growth and development of the New Democratic Party must never allow us to forget our roots. Don’t sacrifice conviction for success. Don’t ever give up quality for quantity. In a movement like ours, as socialist movements around the world have demonstrated, we’re not just interested in getting votes. We are seeking to get people who are willing to dedicate their lives to build a different kind of society, a society founded on the principles of concern for human well-being and human welfare.”
You have to wonder how someone like Tommy Douglas would have not just handled the gun registry debate, but the Ottawa of today. I expect it would have been with grace and skill.
I expect he would have risen to the courage of his convictions.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column returns Sept. 11.