Quebec has escalated its feud with Ottawa over the Harper government’s controversial decision to shelve the long-gun registry, with the Charest government saying it will not bow to demands to destroy data on the province’s gun owners.
Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals backed a Parti Québécois motion in the National Assembly late Wednesday, telling the provincial chief firearms officer to ignore Ottawa’s orders and do whatever was necessary to protect the data.
In a unanimous vote, members of the National Assembly demanded “that the chief firearms officer take all the necessary measures to preserve the completeness of the data from Quebec entered in the firearms registry.”
The federal plan is to abolish the registry and destroy the data. Quebec is hoping to use that data to create its own registry.
If, as expected, the Harper Tories vote to get rid of the registry, it could place Quebec’s chief firearms officer, who is a Sûreté du Québec officer on secondment to the federal government, in a difficult quandary: Does he obey the federal law and destroy the data or comply with the MNAs’ demand and protect it?
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, however, suggested on Thursday that the motion was part of a political power play aimed at forcing the federal government to back down on its refusal to allow Quebec to keep the data.
“We have to do everything we can to prove our point,” Mr. Fournier said. “You have here [in the National Assembly]people with very different views on a number of issues. But on this one we have unanimity. It truly represents what Quebeckers think.”
Other avenues are also being explored. Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said one possibility includes seeking a court injunction to stop Ottawa from destroying the data once the bill is adopted. The Charest government was considering challenging the federal legislation before the courts, arguing that gun control was a shared federal-provincial jurisdiction and saying Quebec also had the authority to keep the data.
“We can’t seek an injunction right now because the law is not yet adopted,” Mr. Dutil said. “We are looking at every possibility. ... Right now Ottawa wants to destroy the files... the situation is difficult.”
Mr. Charest said it makes no sense for the federal government to destroy the data when it could be used by Quebec to set up its own gun registry. Mr. Charest has insisted that since Quebeckers paid part of the cost to set up the registry, the province should be allowed to keep the information collected on Quebec gun owners.
But Ottawa has so far refused to agree, insisting that the province should not be given any special treatment that would result in maintaining the gun registry only in Quebec.
The Quebec government recognizes the Criminal Code, which is a federal jurisdiction, would not apply to a provincial gun registry. Non-compliance would result in a fine but no criminal record. That may take some of the sting out the province’s ability to enforce gun registrations.
It isn’t an ideal situation, Mr. Dutil said, but it is better than having no long-gun registry at all.