A large portion of Quebec gun owners are either procrastinating or boycotting the province’s new registry for tracking unrestricted rifles and shotguns.
Quebec gun owners registered just 342,359 unrestricted long guns by the end of Sunday out of an estimated 1.6 million weapons, with just days to go before a Jan. 29 deadline. Owners have had nearly a year to fill out an online form to register their guns. They did so at a rate of about 3,500 weapons a day over the past week.
Supporters of gun ownership rights and gun-control advocates alike say many gun owners have discreetly decided to boycott the new registry and many others are waiting to the last minute to express opposition.
“It’s human nature to wait until the last minute to complete this kind of duty but there’s a very active campaign going on to encourage gun owners to boycott,” said Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of Poly Remembers, a gun-control advocacy group created in remembrance of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. “It’s a pressure tactic to push the government to back down.”
Guy Morin, a gun owner who speaks for a group fighting the registry, says he is advocating for members to delay as long as possible but not encouraging them to break the law. Many gun owners will boycott, he said, and the goal is clear: “We’re not done yet but we’re on our way to finishing it off,” he said. “It’s going better than we expected. People do not want to do it, and we run into people daily who say they won’t.”
The Jan. 29 registration deadline falls on the second anniversary of the mosque attack in Quebec City that killed six worshippers. Boufeldja Benabdallah, president of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, wrote a letter on Monday morning to Premier François Legault urging him to stay strong in face of opposition and to further tighten background and mental-health checks on gun owners.
No current official count exists of unrestricted long guns in Quebec but there were at least 1.6 million of the weapons in 2012 when the Conservative government under Stephen Harper ended the federal long-gun registry. “We currently don’t have more a precise number, and that is one of the reasons the registration system was put in place,” said Louise Quintin, a spokeswoman for the provincial Ministry of Public Security.
The former Liberal government in Quebec decided to create its own system for tracking rifles and shotguns, even going to court to preserve data from the defunct federal registry. Ottawa is expected to pass that data to the province once a bill before Parliament authorizing the transfer becomes law, likely later this year.
Quebec passed a law 99-8 in June of 2016 with all-party support to start fresh with its own registry. A Coalition Avenir Québec government replaced the provincial Liberals last fall. The CAQ caucus was split on the law in 2016 – seven of the CAQ’s 21 members of the National Assembly voted against – but, now in office, Mr. Legault has vowed to carry on with the law.
“The National Assembly voted for the law, hunters have had a year to conform to the law, they have days left to register, and the law will apply Jan. 29,” said Jean-François Del Torchio, spokesman for Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault.
How adamantly the government will enforce it is an open question, according to Ms. Rathjen, noting Ms. Guilbault has said she prefers prevention to repression.
“I don’t know how we can be more clear than to say the law will be in effect Jan. 29, 2019. It’s pretty straightforward,” Mr. Del Torchio said.
Failure to register a weapon is punishable by fines ranging from $500 to $5,000, but Mr. Morin said police will have to catch non-compliant owners first. “People are not that afraid of getting a fine. Some are looking forward to getting one so they can challenge it in court,” he said.
Quebec’s gun-control debate has echoed the pan-Canadian one that went on more than 20 years. Many gun owners argue the registry will do nothing to prevent crime, is costly and unfairly targets law-abiding owners. Gun-control advocates counter that the registry is a simple method to force owners to be more responsible for their guns and to warn police officers dealing with domestic disputes if guns are present.
Polls going back many years show a large majority of Quebeckers support registration. Mr. Morin said the gun registry is reinforcing a rift between urban and rural Quebec. “Mr. Legault was elected with 74 members from the regions and one from Montreal. We don’t understand why he’s persisting with this,” Mr. Morin said.
The Quebec government has budgeted $21-million to launch the registry and projects it will cost $5-million a year to maintain. The federal registry went hundreds of millions of dollars over budget repeatedly over its implementation and lifespan, undermining it politically. Quebec’s next budget – the first for the CAQ – is expected in March.