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Women gather to protest against violence towards women in front of the Montreal courthouse on the 23rd anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre, where a lone gunman killed 14 women students at University of Montreal technical school, Thursday, December 6, 2012. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Women gather to protest against violence towards women in front of the Montreal courthouse on the 23rd anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre, where a lone gunman killed 14 women students at University of Montreal technical school, Thursday, December 6, 2012. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Quebec going it alone with gun registry Add to ...

Quebec is pressing ahead with plans for its own gun registry, announcing its resolve to go it alone on the symbolically freighted anniversary of the 1989 mass shooting at the École Polytechnique.

On a day when flags fly at half-mast and mourners gather for commemoration services in the province, the Marois government vowed to introduce a bill to set up a made-in-Quebec firearms registry.

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The Parti Québécois initiative netted rare all-party support in the National Assembly and underscores the province’s broad backing for gun control. Quebec advocates for stricter firearms control, still angered by the Harper government’s scrapping of the long-gun registry this year, termed the province’s announcement a welcome move.

“This is a consolation,” said Nathalie Provost, who was shot and wounded in a face-to-face encounter with gunman Marc Lépine at the Montreal engineering school. She characterized Ottawa’s destruction of the registry as “inexplicable” and “incomprehensible.”

“When something doesn’t work, you don’t destroy it, you improve it,” she said. “With this, the Quebec government is posing an action not only in its name, but in the name of all society. On a sad day for me and for Quebec, I’m very pleased we’re going forward.”

Quebec Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron said the fight waged by the families of the victims of the Montreal massacre to uphold the registry will not be in vain.

“I am confirming that our government has the firm intention of tabling a bill for an unrestricted gun registry in Quebec,” Mr. Bergeron said. “This bill will be the legal foundation on which we will build a Quebec gun registry which will be set up as soon as the Quebec government receives from the federal government the data from the Canadian gun registry.”

Gun-control measures enjoy a wider consensus in Quebec than elsewhere, in part due to the Polytechnique and other school shootings. The 1989 rampage galvanized public opinion in Quebec, pushing the federal Liberal government of the day to a gun registry that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives abolished with the adoption of Bill C-19 last April.

The Quebec government has challenged before a provincial court a key provision in the federal law calling for the gun registry data to be destroyed. Quebec has argued that it helped fund the creation of the registry and that all information involving Quebec gun owners should be handed over to the province.

In September, Quebec won the initial legal battle. The Quebec Superior Court ordered Ottawa to salvage the data, giving added impetus to the eight previous unanimous motions adopted in the National Assembly demanding that the gun registry remain intact. Ottawa has appealed the ruling, which will likely be heard in the Quebec Court of Appeal in March.

Mr. Bergeron expressed confidence that Quebec will win the legal fight to preserve the data. He noted that more than 1.6 million firearms in Quebec – 94.6 per cent of all firearms in the province – have been registered to date.

Heidi Rathjen, spokeswoman for Polysesouvient, a group commemorating the victims of the 1989 shootings, says Quebec’s move highlights the province’s distinctive approach when it comes to gun control.

“It’s polar opposites” with Ottawa’s position, Ms. Rathjen said. “The federal government has extremely close ties with the gun lobby and for them it’s an ideology. Quebeckers don’t have the same kind of gun culture. We’ve been witness to terrible tragedies caused by guns.”

The Marois government’s move met with unanimous support from the National Assembly. The Liberals, who led the fight to preserve the gun registry when they were in power, supported the Parti Québécois government motion and urged Ottawa to release the data and abandon the legal battle to destroy it.

“The registry can save lives,” said Liberal public security critic Robert Poëti, a former police officer. “We agree in principle with the creation of a Quebec gun registry to protect the innocent citizens of Quebec.”

Jacques Duchesneau, a former Montreal cop who in 1989 headed the investigation into the École Polytechnique shootings and now sits as a Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA, said the tragic event that took place 23 years ago should never be forgotten. He said Quebec had a duty to the families of the victims to maintain a gun registry in the province.

“Quebec society was changed on Dec. 6, 1989. Many lost their lives, many lost their dreams,” Mr. Duchesneau said. “Never should political decisions be taken against those who may find themselves at the receiving end of a gun barrel.”

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