Article by Mike Kelly
In the 1700’s Edmond Burk wrote of the notion that evil prevails when good men do nothing
The Metro Rifle & Pistol Club was founded in 1976. But this story begins in the late 1980’s. The Metro Rifle & Pistol Club in Industrial Cape Breton was in full swing practicing and competing on a regular basis. We had access to the local DNR Range for outdoor activities and an indoor range which was a former underground Navy Range. The range consisted of a long narrow concrete foundation the top of which was a concrete cap resting on the foundation walls. The top cap was at ground level. The concrete was old and cracks and fissures in the concrete, especially the cap, were becoming a serious issue. The indoor range was not aging gracefully and in desperate need of repair. During heavy rain there could be upwards of 3” of water on the range floor which would take hours to drain. To rectify this situation an ad-hock committee came up with the idea of building a sloped roof over the concrete cap. The municipal government at the time was opposed to this idea fearing it would look hideous and would not grant a construction permit to make these repairs. At this time a club meeting was called and discussions took place regarding rectifying the water problem. The consequence was another series of meetings and committees which resulted in the idea of building a new facility on top of the existing foundation. This would prevent the rain water from entering the basement range and also provide another brand new shooting range to accommodate our growing membership. The municipal government guaranteed the club non-profit status so we would not be required to pay property taxes on the new building thereby allowing our available revenue to go towards mortgage and construction payments.
A new indoor shooting range for Cape Breton Island
Construction commenced in 1990 and was completed within the year. One of the premier indoor-shooting facilities in Eastern Canada was constructed. It was new, had modern washrooms, a classroom and meeting room, office space, kitchenette, a backstop rated to 44 magnum, a target retrieval system, 8 shooting lanes and many other features. The club was growing, we had individuals involved in small bore rifle, IPSC, PPC, and ISSF (ISU) events. The future of the shooting sports in Industrial Cape Breton looked well supported and was for many years; then things started to change.
In the early to mid 1990’s starting with bill C-68, new legislative requirements seemed to be pushing individuals away from the shooting sports. Our membership started to noticeably decline. In addition any of our older retired members that were instrumental in guiding the club were passing. By early 2000 our membership dwindled to a relic population of older ‘die-hard’ shooters with little influx of new members. Within this time frame there was also an amalgamation of the surrounding townships into a large municipality; The Cape Breton Regional Municipality. With a direct focus on increasing revenue to pay for the amalgamation the tax system of the new municipality was fashioned. One of the results of this focus to increase revenue changed the tax exempt status of clubs to taxable status. Now all clubs with properties within the municipality, even those previously tax exempt, were required to pay taxes on those properties.
Taxes and politics
Our indoor club was located on now prime industrial property. As a result the tax bill on the new indoor facility went from nothing to almost $7000 per year. We had not budgeted for this and could not afford at that time to pay the mortgage, insurances, heating bills and a new large tax bill. The club kept up all bill payments as usual and contested our tax bill. We had an official document granting us a property tax exemption by the previous municipality and felt this should be honored. The tax exemption was the primary reason the club decided it could afford construction of a new facility. However, this document was not recognized by the new municipality.
The executive of the club met with councillors to have our taxes reduced and anyone else that would supply an audience. The executive even managed to get the municipality to vote on reinstating our previously held tax exempt status at a monthly session. At this session most councillors were in favor and the initial vote for status was granted. However later, at the same meeting, one councillor voiced a fear that by giving us tax exempt status this would set a dangerous precedent for other clubs to follow. A re-vote was taken revoking the tax exempt status we had regained only moments before.
The Metro Rifle & Pistol Club left that council meeting with a cumulative tax bill in excess of $20,000 that we were not able to pay. Our finances were now stretched thin allowing us to pay only our mortgage and bills; periodically members were paying some of the clubs expenses out of their own pocket. After some negotiation, in early 2000 Sport Nova Scotia presented us with a onetime grant paying most of the tax bill; we were given a break. Many meeting followed; with the membership, local law enforcement, anyone that was thought might be able to help. Some ideas were raised as to how we could pay our ever increasing tax bill but there was no consensus. There were apparently discussions with government officials that if we were providing a public service it would be viewed favorably at discussions on our taxation issue. Our indoor range facility started allowing local law enforcement to train free hoping the municipality would see this step as a positive function and reduce our tax bill to residential status. This never happened. Promises were ongoing, made by politicians, members of government, police officials that our tax bill would be rescinded or at least reduced to a manageable payment; this never happened. Meanwhile our tax bill kept increasing with interest.
Take the bull by the horns
What the Metro Rifle & Pistol Club needed at that juncture was for members to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and find a solution. The older retired members that had previously ‘took the bull by the horns’ when issues arose were now all dead or in ill health. The remaining few Non retired members were just too busy with family and work obligations. No one was able or willing to do what was needed. It appeared everyone was waiting for someone else to solve this dilemma. At the last few annual general meetings before the indoor range was lost the vote for Executive would come up and went uncontested. No one was willing, myself included, to run for executive positions with the tax issue looming overhead. The President of the club remained the President unopposed for years. The tax bill kept increasing, no real solution was tabulated; the gyre spun wider and wider, the cycle repeated. The Metro Rifle & Pistol Club adopted the ostrich strategy of defense and buried our proverbial ‘heads in the sand’ hoping that local politicians and law enforcement would jump in and save us.
The Taxation Department at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality had given the Club years to find a solution to their tax dilemma; we could not. Our taxes had been in arrears for such a long time it allowed the taxation Dept. to sell the indoor range in an ‘all sales final’ quick sale manner. Finally, with an outstanding balance in excess of $50,000 and no solution for paying this debt, the Taxation Department listed the Metro Rifle & Pistol Club Range in a spring tax sale. The club sold to a private individual for $59,000 on May 21st, 2009. The former Metro Rifle & Pistol Club Range overnight became AAA Plumbing and Heating. The office space upstairs is used for business and the ranges are now just storage.
I am both saddened and ashamed when I reflect upon the loss of the Metro Rifle and Pistol Club Indoor Range. The Island of Cape Breton lost not only a premier shooting facility but also a place where like minded individuals would meet to discuss general interest issues, fishing, hunting, and sports. Many evenings I went to the club and ended up not firing a shot, just listened to stories of senior members and other ‘story tellers’ over a hot cup of tea. The indoor range was an area of respite and historical lore for many in the shooting community. It was a place where youth listened to elders; a long forgotten cultural benefit it seems. I am saddened my son, nieces, nephews and the children of other members will never be exposed to this positive culture. This loss of comradery has had a detrimental impact on the local shooting community.
Become involved in and support your local shooting club
Ageing is the process where youth is, we hope, bartered for knowledge. My youth is long past and the experiences and knowledge I have gained immense. My greatest illustration of the experiences I have gained relates to the loss of the Metro Rifle & Pistol Club Indoor range. Quite simply the lesson I learned is what Burk wrote of in the 1700's, that evil prevails when good men do nothing. The local community lost the indoor range because the membership, me included, did nothing to rectify the taxation issue. After several years of dealing with the issue everyone just assumed if the range wasn’t listed in a tax sales that the local government officials were, “Looking out for us” as promised. That didn’t happen. If individuals don't look after and take command of things that are important in their life somebody else most certainly will. Whether or not the person that does take command or leadership has your best interests at heart is a role of the die at best. I implore those reading this article to become involved in and support your local shooting club. Volunteer some time for the betterment of your club. Work towards changing issues you can see arising that will not reflect your club or the shooting sports in a positive light. Also, encourage and support youth training programs; these programs will ensure the future of the shooting sports in Canada. In short do something or as Burk noted, evil will prevail!