A provincial court has ordered Ottawa to save the Quebec data in the federal long-gun registry, an early boost to premier-designate Pauline Marois’s plans to engage the Harper government in a series of political battles.
The Quebec Superior Court decision to salvage the information from Quebec gun owners has fuelled an informal alliance of provincial politicians of all stripes who, with the federal New Democratic Party, denounced the Harper government for intransigence in federal-provincial relations.
Ms. Marois has vowed to demand that Ottawa hand over control of employment insurance and full jurisdiction over culture and communications policies, and extend Quebec’s language law to federally regulated companies. The Parti Québécois Leader is also calling Ottawa’s tough-on-crime policies out of touch with Quebec’s emphasis on rehabilitation.
Mr. Justice Marc-André Blanchard said federal and provincial officials collected the gun-registry data and the federal government cannot erase it unilaterally. He gave Ottawa 30 days to transfer to Quebec records collected from the province’s gun owners, although the government could appeal.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews promised to review the decision.
“Our Conservative government will continue to fight against any measures that needlessly target law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters,” he said in a statement.
Ms. Marois, who has yet to be sworn in, did not comment on the court decision after attending the funeral of a stage worker who died during last week’s shooting at the PQ election victory celebrations in Montreal.
During the campaign, Ms. Marois called the Conservative government’s decision to abolish the gun registry another example of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s insensitive approach to Quebec.
She said such positions clash with Quebeckers’ values. The day after her party was elected with a slim minority, she listed the gun registry among several issues on which she planned to confront the Harper government.
She will not be alone in the gun-registry battle, which the outgoing Liberal regime started. Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said the province’s stand is backed by local police, “a strong consensus within Quebec society” and a unanimous vote in the National Assembly.
“I am happy that Quebec has won this battle. The long-gun registry’s data and its use with respect to Quebec have been preserved,” he said in a statement.
Gun-control advocates believe that support in Quebec for a gun registry is growing stronger.
“This ruling underlined the obvious, which is that the federal government has not acted in good faith … and that the registry is an effective crime prevention tool,” said Heidi Rathjen, head of a group called Polysesouvient that was set up to commemorate the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.
The federal government said its efforts to destroy the “wasteful” gun registry were a key part of its 2011 election platform, and that eliminating all of the data is essential to prevent it from being rebuilt if the NDP were elected.
“The NDP has consistently said that, if given the chance, they would try and use this data to target law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters,” Mr. Toews said in his statement.
The NDP responded that it would not create a gun registry from scratch, but added there is no reason to stop the Quebec government from using the data to create its own registry.
“What does it change if the Quebec government keeps the data? How does it negatively affect the federal government?” NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin asked.
Ms. Boivin said that instead of fighting to destroy an effective tool for police, Ottawa should honour its commitment to a “federalism of openness.”
“This is a good file to illustrate what we have been saying all along: The problem isn’t with Canada and federalism, the problem is with the Harper government,” she said.
Fulfilling a long-standing promise, the federal government killed the registry last April.
After Ottawa refused to hand over records for the more than 1.5 million long guns registered in Quebec, the province sought an injunction to preserve the data.
Judge Blanchard said that lawyers for the Quebec government tabled “unchallenged evidence” showing that, since the registry was set up, gun-related crime, homicides and suicides had decreased.
Judge Blanchard noted that in four provinces, including Quebec, the Chief Firearms Officer, who administers gun regulations, is a provincial civil servant.
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha