Canada: New victims' advocate urged to back gun registry

24 August 2010

The new federal ombudsman for victims of crime should speak out in support of the long-gun registry because it helps protect the public, says her predecessor.

"My advice to any person in the role would be: Your job is not to represent the government, it's to represent your clients and in this case, it's victims," Steve Sullivan, the former ombudsman, said Thursday, a day after his replacement was formally introduced.

"I certainly would not have had a problem with (telling) the minister, privately or in public, saying I support the registry."

At the end of his term in April, Sullivan publicly criticized the Harper government for shortchanging victims.

He said the long-gun registry "helps protect the public."

"I think it's difficult to say there's no connection between that, and victims and public safety."

On Wednesday, Sue O'Sullivan, a 30-year law-enforcement veteran and former deputy chief for the Ottawa police force, was introduced formally at a news conference by federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

There, she was asked whether she supported the long-gun registry. The issue has been at the centre of a political furor since RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak was abruptly replaced as the director of the Canadian Firearms Program this week, just a month before Parliament votes on a bill to repeal the registry.

Cheliak was an outspoken defender of the registry.

"I think right now what I want to focus on is the priorities for victims," answered O'Sullivan, who went on to say her role is to "help victims individually and collectively and is to look at discussing some of those important issues, but today just to focus on those priorities."

O'Sullivan was then asked if police officers would argue that the long-gun registry protects potential victims. "Yes, they would and, as we're well aware, that position has been put out there," she said.

"But I'm here as ombudsman to be focusing on what the rights and what the needs of those victims are, and that's where the priorities are going to be for the ombudsman's office."

Two victims' rights advocates said they were surprised O'Sullivan didn't immediately support the registry.

"If she does represent the victims, especially for our part as a representative for victims of domestic violence, it's crucial to maintain that gun registry," said Manon Monastesse, the director of the federation of lodging resources for abused women in Quebec.

Heidi Rathjen, who regularly speaks on behalf of the student and graduates of Ecole Polytechnique, where 14 women were killed with a long gun in 1989, said O'Sullivan cannot be said to represent the victims of high-profile shootings if she doesn't support the long-gun registry.

"Of course she's not going to criticize the (government). That's why she got the job," said Rathjen.

By Laura Stone, Postmedia News, 20 August 2010
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