Quebec has set itself apart from the rest of Canada with the tabling of gun control legislation that will establish a provincial firearms registry similar to the one Stephen Harper’s Conservative government voted to destroy last spring.
All opposition parties in the National Assembly joined the Parti Québécois government to support the bill, backed by a widespread consensus throughout Quebec society spearheaded by the families and friends of the victims of gun violence, chiefs of police, community groups, police associations and gun control advocates.
Quebec has taken Ottawa to court to stop the destruction of the portion of the federal data that contains information on Quebec gun owners. The new bill will be the “legal framework” allowing the province to obtain the data to set up its registry should it win the legal battle against Ottawa.
“The Quebec government is stepping in to protect its citizens where the federal government is failing,” said Wendy Curkier, president of the National Coalition for Gun Control. “Eliminating the registration of firearms has put lives at risk and undermines Canada’s ability to meet its international obligations in combatting the illicit gun trade.”
For Heidi Rathjen, a gun control advocate who played a pivotal role in the creation of the federal gun registry after the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, the bill was a bittersweet victory after the Harper government dismantled the national registry.
“As much as we are Quebeckers, we are Canadians and it’s tragic for every other province that they don’t benefit from a registry,” Ms. Rathjen said. “Today is a big silver lining. We took five steps back but at least today we are taking one step forward.”
Ms. Rathjen said she hopes that the Quebec bill will give hope to those still fighting for the reinstatement of a federal registry.
This wasn’t the first time that Quebec has taken a different view from the rest of the country on a social issue.
But rarely has an issue created so much controversy in the rest of Canada, yet generated such unanimous support in Quebec.
“Why is Quebec so different? I don’t know. But the fact is that Quebec is different,” said Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron.
Part of the explanation, Montreal Police Chief Marc Parent said, may be that several mass shootings in Quebec over the past decades shaped views on gun control. Three people were killed in a 1984 shooting rampage in the Quebec National Assembly. Fourteen women died in the University of Montreal’s École Polytechnique massacre. Four people were shot dead in 1992 at Montreal’s Concordia University, which was followed in 2006 by the shooting death of a student at Dawson College.
It was estimated that the federal registry cost Quebec taxpayers $250-million, which the province said would be lost if it fails to get the federal data. Last September, the Quebec Superior Court ordered Ottawa to hand over the data. The federal government appealed the ruling.
The Minister acknowledged it would be costly to set up the provincial gun registry if the province loses the appeal.
Coalition Avenir Quebec public security critic Jacques Duchesneau said cost should never be an obstacle. “We are speaking with one voice when we say that the gun registry saves lives We will monitor the costs but I repeat that a life has no price.”
The Quebec Court of Appeal will begin hearing the case next month.