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Saanich arrest sheds light on police use of gun registry

Some of the 159 guns seized by police from the home of a manager at Island Outfitters, who was taking the weapons from work. - Kyle Slavin
Some of the 159 guns seized by police from the home of a manager at Island Outfitters, who was taking the weapons from work.
— image credit: Kyle Slavin

Last week’s arrest of an Island Outfitters employee who embezzled $250,000 worth of hunting supplies – including 159 firearms – is shedding light on Saanich police’s use of the Canadian Firearms Registry.

“Long-gun registry checks were at the forefront of this investigation,” Sgt. Dean Jantzen said. “We support these accessible databases … when we’re investigating instances like this.”

Police say the registry helped connect the suspect with the stolen weapons, all of which he had legally registered by forging documents.

“(The registry) gives us the ability to know who should possess a certain firearm, where it should be located, and who has it,” Jantzen said, equating it to car that’s registered vs. a car that isn’t. “I know where to go to find the owner, or at least have a name.”

Jantzen said officers access the database on a “very regular” basis, as they will typically check the registry prior to going to a residence to see if there are registered firearms in the home.

The owners of Island Outfitters discovered the firearms were missing when an internal audit turned up discrepancies in the ordering and inventory. It’s believed the weapons were taken over a span of four or five years, police say.

The 40-year-old suspect, a Saanich resident, was the store’s manager in charge of inventory and ordering. Police say he was legally ordering the items on the store’s behalf, but then added them to his personal collection rather than putting them out for sale.

An RCMP spokesperson says the Mounties “continuously (review) incidents of this nature, and (apply) the lessons learned where appropriate.”

The spokesperson wrote in an email to the ***News that it would be the responsibility of B.C.’s Chief Firearm’s Officer to inspect the business documentation to verify that all registration documents necessary were valid.

The forged documents were transfer papers, shifting ownership of the guns from the store to the suspect, Jantzen said.

“That’s how the store caught on – they audited receipts for purchases, and they found a transaction that occurred that had no payment associated to it,” he said.

According to the RCMP, there are no limits on how many firearms one person can register. Registering 159 firearms would not have raised any red flags.

“Daily continuous-eligibility screening reduces the likelihood that an individual who has been identified as a potential risk to public safety will be permitted to retain possession of firearms,” the spokesperson said.

“Unusual activity that is detected by the Canadian Firearms Program is flagged,” the spokesperson added, but did not elaborate on what constitutes “unusual activity.”

It’s expected this week that the House of Commons will vote to scrap the 17-year-old long-gun registry. It will then go to the Senate.

“There was definitely mismanagement of its implementation by the Liberals, long delays and huge cost overruns,” Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison said in Parliament last week. He urged the government to amend the existing registry and fix its problems instead of scrapping the program.

Federal Green party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) also spoke in the House about keeping an amended version of the registry.

“I remember where the bill came from. We all recall the killings at École Polytechnique and the great demand by Canadians from coast to coast that we act to take greater steps to control the use of weapons in crimes of violence,” she added. “I think it (needs) fixing. It had an unnecessary number of measures that made law-abiding rural residents feel they were becoming criminalized. We could have come to a middle ground where we could all agree to keep the registry and law enforcement tools while removing the elements that unfairly stigmatized law-abiding gun owners.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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