United Nations Conference to Review Progress
Made in the Implementation of the
Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in
Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects
30 June 2006
"The Canadian Lesson"
By Tony Bernardo
Canadian Institute for Legislative Action
Mr. President, I am Tony Bernardo, Executive Director of the Canadian Institute
for Legislative Action. I want to thank you and the Conference for making it
possible for NGOs to speak today.
Five years ago in this very venue, at the 2001 Small Arms Conference, NGOs were
also allowed to make presentations. I was privileged enough to be one of the
presenters on that occasion. Mr. President, throughout this Conference's
proceeding others have comments on what has and has not occurred, what has and
has not changed.
Mr. President, a great deal has changed in Canada. With the possible exception
of Brazil, I do not think any state represented here today has undergone a
change in attitude or policy such as Canada has. Now it should be obvious that I
speak as a representative of a Canadian NGO and not the government of Canada.
Notwithstanding that fact, I am here today to make ensure that due attention is
paid to what has occurred.
Mr. President, there have been two watershed events in Canada since the 2001
Conference, and they are directly related. First, Mr. President, Canada had the
on-the-ground experience of attempting to institute an extensive but impractical
gun registration system. Many are familiar with the details and I will not cite
chapter and verse or inundate you with budgetary horror stories. I'll only say
that what was supposed to cost millions of dollars cost billions of dollars -
what was supposed to fight crime only made criminals out of law-abiding citizens
and what was supposed to be a model for the world turned out to be a painful
lesson of how not to do it.
The second watershed event was that the very firearms registration scheme I have
just described went on to become a significant political issue in several
federal elections. The government that produced the programme is, shall we say,
no longer with us. Elections have consequences and policies change. The
registration scheme itself is now in the process of being reformed by the
Mr. President, there is an important lesson to be learned here. Regulatory
schemes, whether they are national or international, are doomed to failure if
their primary impact is upon the law-abiding; hunters, sport shooters and
firearms owners. Mr. President, perhaps others will disagree with this
assessment, but we believe the Canadian experience cannot be ignored. The UN
must focus on illegal international trafficking and not be seduced into
impractical new schemes.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, the draft report does contain one such scheme. An
international effort on marking and tracing of ammunition is beyond the pale of
what is either practical or realistic. Indeed, the implementation of importation
marks applied to firearms has already been significantly delayed in Canada due
to the horrendous costs and technical problems associated with it, costs that
shall be born by legitimate industry and ultimately, Canadian sportspersons.
Yet, the technical difficulties in applying markings to previously manufactured
firearms are mere "child's play" compared to the impact that the marking and
tracing of ammunition would have on legitimate industry.
On behalf of Canada's recreational firearms community, we implore the United
Nations to consider these factors when striving for focus on these critical
issues. With that comment, Mr. President, thank you for your indulgence and