Gun registry backfires after system exceeds capacity

An overwhelming number of registrants and anti-gun registration lobby sabotage shut down the nation’s online gun registry days before the New Year’s Eve deadline, the Canadian Firearm Centre said Thursday.

Both the CFC’s main Web site

and the secure site that received actual registrations were “”down or up sporadically the three or four days before the deadline,”” said spokesman David Austin.

Austin said that Canadians attempting to register their guns may have been affected, but couldn’t specify how many. “”It’s hard to determine, because the only way that something would be lost is if someone had been online at the time and in the midst of entering data and the system had gone down,”” he said. “”They would not have received confirmation.””

A six-month grace period for the deadline has been added in recent weeks, he added. Gun owners that filed their registration request or sent a letter of intent to register to the CFC before Dec. 31, 2002 have until the end of the month to complete the process.

There are 1.9 million licensed gun owners in Canada, said Austin, and 1.4 million of them have registered their guns. The CFC has received 70,000 letters of intent.

Austin admitted that gun owners may have tried to register before Dec. 31 in good faith, but had been unable to due to the CFC’s IT problems. “”The expectation was that . . . people would apply rather than waiting till the last couple of weeks,”” said Austin.

Those who didn’t meet the deadline could be liable for prosecution.

“”They’re only going to be on line for prosecution if they encounter a police officer and they have a gun and they can’t produce paperwork. It’s a possible scenario, but the police generally use their discretion and they take everything into account,”” said Austin.

The Solicitor General of Canada Portfolio, the federal body that took over Canada’s gun control program from the Department of Justice Canada on April 14, did not return calls for comment at press time.

A possible reason for the CFC’s capacity issues is the amount of interference the Web site may have received at the hands of anti-gun registration lobby groups. “”Some of the opposition groups were encouraging people in other parts of the world to try to tap into the Web site. . . . We know that it was there but we can’t tell the impact,”” said Austin.

He added that the lobby has also overloaded the CFC’s call centre, and have written requesting copies of the firearm act “”even though they didn’t need it, but just to tie up the system.””

The CFC’s IT woes really aren’t that different from any other government department’s, said Wendy Cukier, president of the Toronto-based Coalition for Gun Control. She noted that government projects are frequently plagued by problems like budget and capacity issues, but the amount of vocal opposition to the gun registry made the CFC a flashpoint for controversy.

“”The system was built on the assumption that it would have something like a 10 per cent error rate and instead the error rate was 90 per cent. Some of that was because of the compexity of forms and some of that was deliberate”” said Cukier, who’s also a professor of information technology management at Ryerson University. “”You’d be hard-pressed to find another program that faced such extensive efforts to undermine it.””

The CFC’s registration service was set up by EDS Canada following a contract signed in 1996. There have been several system upgrades at the CFC since then, according to EDS Canada spokesman Stephen Heckbert. The CFC is currently using an IBM product to host its Web presence. Heckbert said that EDS is in regular contact with the CFC and is aware of the capacity issues. At no point did the servers actually crash, he said, adding that the database that contains the registry information itself never stopped working.

Montreal-based CGI Inc. is the next provider in line to handle the CFC’s technology requirements. The two parties actually announced a contract back in July 2002 for $36 million. CGI has all but completed work on a new registration engine and other IT administration services for the CFC, but still needs to pass another hurdle. Bill C-10A (amendments to the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to streamline the Canadian Firearms Program) received Royal Assent in May, but still needs to be presented before Parliament. CGI’s technology package for the CFC will have to be measured against Bill C-10A before it can be implemented. “”That’s the status,”” said CGI spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. “”It’s really in standby mode.””

The Dec. 31 deadline may have passed, but the CFC is still accepting gun registration requests, said Austin.


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