Civil Disobedience in Canada

On guns, it's not an oxymoron.

By Dave Kopel, research director, and Dr. Paul Gallant & Dr. Joanne Eisen, research associates, from the Independence Institute

8/02/00 10:10 a.m. National Review Online. En français. More by Kopel on Canadian gun control.

One doesn't expect to hear the words "civil disobedience" and "Canada" in the same sentence. It seems as unlikely as hearing "the French people" juxtaposed with "humble," or reading "the Russian government" on the same page as "honest." Nevertheless, the Liberal Party government of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has provoked what may be the largest, and longest-sustained, civil disobedience in Canadian history.

Since 1977, Canada has licensed long-gun owners, and most Canadian gun owners have complied with the licensing system. Gun registration, however, has always been different. A government effort to register long guns in 1940, under the pretext of World War II, never got more than one-third of the gun supply registered, and was abandoned in 1945.

Having failed at universal gun registration in the 1940s, the Canadian government has now returned to the enterprise. As of January 1, 2001, all firearms in a person's possession must be accounted for by a registration certificate.

So far, however, considerably fewer than a third of all Canadian rifles and shotguns have been registered, so that the final registration figures might not even match the weak showing of the 1940 law. Today, in fact, Canadian gun owners are going considerably further than the quiet decision their ancestors made to ignore the 1940 law. R. Bruce Hutton — formerly an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's national police force — has formed the Law-Abiding Unregistered Firearms Association (LUFA). Hutton has been traveling throughout Canada urging non-compliance with the new Firearms Act, and exhorting fellow gun-owners, "Come to jail with me."

More than twenty thousand Canadian gun-owners had taken Hutton up on his challenge — openly declaring their intent to disobey the law by not complying with registration. Hutton's anger has clearly resonated among fellow Canadians, proving that an ordinary man can make an extraordinary difference.

When January 1, 2001, rolls around, LUFA's members are prepared to stand unarmed in front of RCMP offices and submit, as felons, to their 5-year prison terms. LUFA's projected membership by that time will be enough to overwhelm an already strained Canadian criminal-justice system.

Hundreds of thousands of other Canadian gun-owners have made known their intent to delay registration until the last possible moment. Their forms will arrive all together in the last few weeks, throwing the entire bureaucracy into disarray.

Indeed, the registration bureaucracy is already acknowledged as a disaster by independent observers. The registry was promised to cost $120 million dollars (Canadian), but has already cost approximately $325 million. The central government has worked hard to keep taxpayers from obtaining the government documents that detail the full costs, and even to prevent taxpayers from finding out how many civil servants and police officers are working on the gun registry.

The provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have dumped both the administration and the enforcement of all federal gun-control laws (including the laws preceding the registration law) right back into Ottawa's lap, and announced that they will refuse to enforce any federal gun controls.

Why are our usually obedient neighbors to the North so feisty?

One reason is they have realized that gun registration really does lead to confiscation. Handguns have been registered in Canada since 1934, and for decades, the Canadian government only used the registration records for innocent purposes. But shortly after winning election in November 1993, the new Chrétien government imposed an administrative decree banning over half of all handguns. The current registered owners may retain the guns until they die, and then the guns must be surrendered to the government. No compensation will be paid for the confiscation.

The gun-registration law, Bill C-68, gave the government the authority to confiscate any and all rifles and shotguns, whenever it wishes — a fact which Canada's National Firearms Association has been busily publicizing. Registration this year is plainly a step towards confiscation a few years from now.

Why is the Liberal Party pushing for registration so resolutely, even as the registration law drives so many Canadians — especially on the prairie — away from the Liberal Party?

Public safety has nothing to do with it. The Justice Department worked diligently to suppress an independent research report — which had been commissioned by the Justice Department — that showed the 1977 gun-owner licensing law had been a failure.

One motive for registration is simply a crass — although perhaps mistaken — political calculation that there are more urban female votes to be gained by attacking "masculine" culture than there are rural male votes to be lost. Indeed, polling research of Canadian gun-control supporters shows them to be almost perfectly ignorant of Canada's already-strict gun-control laws; their main motive for wanting more gun control is not the expectation that people will be safer, but their desire to express their antipathy for "macho" values.

Addressing the 11th Annual Community Legal Education Associations conference in January 1996, Senator Sharon Carstairs made a telling admission when she thought no one else was listening: The new Firearms Act was intended, from the outset, to be integral to her party's plans to "socially re-engineer Canada." Guns are favored by rural males, and are associated with self-reliance, and are therefore contrary to the Liberal Party's desire for a feminized and dependent nation.

In short, Canadian gun control is a sort of slow-motion hate crime, perpetrated by the government. The real purpose is to harm a minority whom the government

dislikes. In the United States, one need only attend a few anti-gun rallies — especially rallies put on by the dishonestly named Million Mom March — to find plenty of anti-gun activists for whom hatred is obviously the guiding value.

The Canadian nation has always prided itself on tolerance. The mean-spirited intolerance that animates Canada's anti-gun-owner laws is helping many Canadians understand something that some of their British ancestors figured out back in 1215 with King John and the Magna Carta: There comes a time when a man who loves his country must tell his government, "Stop. Not one bit further."

More by Kopel on Canada.

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