RCMP Kept Half of Long-Gun Registry Data, 2015 Transcript Shows

The RCMP kept almost half the data from Canada’s so-called “Long-gun Registry” that was stopped by law in 2012, a two-year-old official transcript shows. The law ordered all registration records destroyed.

  • Gun owners are concerned about government’s plans for registry data and suspicious of RCMP statements about what was or wasn’t erased.
  • RCMP kept what it deemed was non-personal data from registry.
  • RCMP said it deleted Quebec data, then delivered the data on a hard drive.

Concern among gun owners about what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police retained was revived yesterday after the Liberal-led government proposed a new law. The bill instructs the RCMP to hand over any information on licensed gun owners and our “Non-restricted” shotguns and rifles to Quebec, without specifying that only Quebec-related data be provided.

The RCMP has said repeatedly that it deleted data outside Quebec after the previous Conservative-led government passed a law in April 2012 to ditch the registry and its contents. The police updated the Quebec data until March 2015, when the province lost a court case to obtain the information. The RCMP said they then deleted the Quebec data, but found it again later.

Data Retention

The police defined the registry as comprising 27 fields of data such as name, address, province as well as model, make, type and calibre of firearm. They erased data from 15 fields they deemed personal, and kept the contents of the remaining 12 fields, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel told parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance on 04 June 2015. Henschel was responsible for the Canadian Firearms Program.

“As defined by the Firearms Act and the associated regulations, we had identified some 27 fields within the Canadian Firearms Information System that related to the registration of firearms, which is what we consider to be the registry,” Henschel said, according to the official transcript. “Of those, 12 did not include personal information. We made sure we had those 12 before we destroyed the data.”

Public Data

The RCMP said it held onto some records to respect laws on access to information, while destroying other records to respect laws on privacy. Some of the retained data has been public for years, such as make, model, type and calibre of firearm. Canadian Firearms Blog analyzed it here and here, and Global News made the data set available for download.

The selective deletion and how the police talk about it has gun owners anxious and uncertain about what was scrapped and what wasn’t. The confusion is compounded by references to multiple databases, such as the Canadian Firearms Registry and the Canadian Firearms Information System.

“In October 2012, the RCMP deleted all (except those of Quebec) electronic records identified as being related to the registration of non‐restricted firearms in the Canadian Firearms Information System,” said the RCMP Commissioner of Firearms report for 2012, published in 2013.

Deleted or Not?

The legality of the Conservative government’s handling of the end of the registry was challenged by the Information Commissioner of Canada, and the RCMP’s actions were opposed by the Information Commissioner and investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police. Contradictory statements have further confused shooters and cast doubt on whether the RCMP erased the Quebec data after the court verdict in March 2015.

“When that decision was rendered on March 27, 2015, the RCMP deleted the remaining Quebec records from the Canadian Firearms Information System between April 10 to April 12, 2015,” Henschel told the finance committee on 04 June 2015.

Less than three weeks later, on 23 June, the RCMP delivered a hard drive with the Quebec registry data to a federal court, the Information Commissioner of Canada said in its 2014-2015 annual report.

Memories of High River

Suspicion among gun owners and civil-rights activists last peaked two years ago following an investigation of the RCMP’s response to a flood in High River, Alberta. The inquiry concluded that the RCMP acted illegally when they broke into homes after ordering the houses to be evacuated, and then confiscated firearms that were legally owned and stored.

Wrongful RCMP access to the defunct registry is the only way to explain some police actions, according to Dennis R. Young, a former RCMP officer. Mark Adler, a Conservative member of parliament on the finance committee, asked Henschel about High River.

“I can confirm that the data was deleted, and it is not available,” Henschel said in response.

Bob Zimmer, a Conservative member of parliament, suspects the RCMP still has registration details on gun owners across Canada and that the data will head to Quebec under the government’s new bill.

“That just isn’t Quebec, that’s the whole thing,” Zimmer said in a Facebook video yesterday.

More from Henschel at the finance committee in 2015:

To begin I should highlight that what was referred to as the “registry” was not a document stand-alone system, or simple electronic record, but rather a compilation of certain information contained in the Canadian firearms information system. This database is constantly being updated. On a monthly basis there are an estimated 50,000 new or amended records added to the database. A copy of the registry could not be printed, copied, or deleted with the push of a single button. The Firearms Act and associated regulations define the type of information required for the registration of a firearm, such as the make, model, manufacturer, registration date, province, and postal code. In total 27 fields in the Canadian firearms information system relate to the registration of the firearms, or the registry, of which 15 include personal information such as a person’s name and address.

Consistent with the government-approved implementation plan, the RCMP destroyed the records between October 26, 2012, and October 31, 2012, with the exception of the Quebec records, which were maintained pending the outcome of a Supreme Court decision.

It was the RCMP’s responsibility to comply with the access-to-information legislation, which we did by maintaining a copy of the information contained in fields that were relevant and responsive, as I said in my opening comments, and that didn’t contain private information. We maintained a copy of that to be able to respond to any access-to-information requests, but at the same time, we proceeded with the implementation of destroying the long-gun registry-related information in the system.

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