OTTAWA — The No. 2 Mountie came out in favour of the embattled federal
gun registry Thursday — even as his political boss affirmed the
government’s desire to abolish it.


Deputy RCMP commissioner Bill Sweeney told the Commons public safety
committee the long-gun registry helps both police officers and citizens.


``I believe that there’s compelling evidence that the registry promotes
officer and public safety,’’ Sweeney said. ``That’s a personal
opinion.’’


The veteran officer said the RCMP was working with the Canadian
Association of Chiefs of Police on a position paper on the registry
that may soon be presented to a cabinet committee.


Minutes earlier, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denounced the system
for tracking long guns, ushered in by the Liberals, as a waste of money.


``We don’t believe it’s an effective use of taxpayers’ money and we are
committed to seeing the abolition of the long-gun registry,’’ he told
MPs on the committee.


A private member’s bill to dismantle the long-gun registry has passed second reading and will be studied by a Commons committee.


Since its inception in the 1990s, the registry has been the focus of
controversy — derided by some as a needless intrusion into the lives of
law-abiding gun owners and lauded by others as a worthy tool for police
who use it daily to glean valuable information.


Toews says the more than $1 billion spent on the registry would have
been better earmarked toward putting police officers on the street.


The minister recounted his years as an opposition MP, listening to the
Liberal government tell him how the registry’s costs ``were spiralling
out of control.’’


``Was that an effective use of money? No,’’ Toews said.


``RCMP officers, in my opinion, have much more important things to do
than harass my farmers and my hunters in my constituency when they have
.22 rifles and .303s and shotguns that they use almost as tools.’’


Toews said while the government doesn’t back the registry, it supports effective licensing of gun owners.


He said there’s a difference of opinion among police on the value of the gun registry — a point Sweeney acknowledged.


Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber suggested that ``in an era of finite
and sometimes scarce resources,’’ money now devoted to registering guns
could be better spent.


``Could those scarce resources not be better deployed to promote what
you said in your words, officer safety and public safety?’’ he asked.


Sweeney stuck to his position that the registry is worth the price.


``There’s always opportunities to reinvest money in other ventures, but I believe that that money is well invested.’’