Quebec has decided to set its own course on gun-control by creating a provincial firearms registry, filling the void left by the scrapping of Ottawa's national database three years ago.
The province tabled legislation on Thursday to set up a long-gun database largely from scratch. The government acted on the eve of the symbolically weighted anniversary of the rampage at École Polytechnique that killed 14 women, and as the United States again confronts gun violence after another mass shooting, this one leaving 14 dead as well.
The move by the provincial Liberal government won praise from gun-control advocates and survivors of the Polytechnique massacre – some were in the National Assembly public gallery on Thursday – while firearms owners say they will try to stop the bill from becoming law.
The Couillard government believes it can avoid the massive cost escalations associated with Ottawa's ill-fated registry, the price tag of which was pegged at $1-billion. The government estimates the made-in-Quebec model will cost $17-million to set up and $5-million annually to maintain.
"We can always do better and we can always learn from what was done elsewhere," Premier Philippe Couillard said. "We have learned lessons that will ensure us that costs will be limited."
The province's regulations fall under administrative law, so those who run afoul of it will face penalties of up to $5,000 for individuals, but no criminal sanctions, unlike the provisions of the former federal law.
Quebec is also hoping its regulations will remove some of the irritants to hunters and other owners of the province's 1.6 million non-restricted firearms. Owners will be able to register free, online.
"Without any fees, there will be no more objections from hunters," Public Security Minister Pierre Moreau said. "I think it will make the registration very efficient."
The goal of the registry, he said, is to identify who owns firearms, and where the weapons are. He said police support the database because the information helps them determine whether weapons are present when they respond to a call.
Opposition to the legislation is already forming. A Quebec-based lawyer representing Canada's National Firearms Association said the group will "do everything it can to prevent this from becoming law."
"This is a political move," said the lawyer, Guy Lavergne. "This is a monument essentially to the victims of the Polytechnique shooting, which was a very tragic event, obviously. But it's not going to achieve anything as far as making the world safer. It will just annoy hunters and sports shooters."
Still, Quebec has broad political support for gun-control measures, in part due to the Polytechnique and other school shootings. The 1989 university rampage mobilized public opinion in the province and spurred the federal Liberal government to create the national registry in 1995.
Heidi Rathjen, a long-time advocate for gun control who watched as the law was tabled at the National Assembly on Thursday, said this was the first year in almost a decade that brought good news on the eve of the Polytechnique anniversary, which falls on Sunday.
"Quebec is showing it puts public safety ahead of other considerations, including complaints from the gun lobby," Ms. Rathjen said.
Public Security Minister Pierre Moreau said he is in talks with the federal Liberal government about recovering "whatever is left" of its database after Ottawa set out to destroy the information about long-gun owners that had been collected. Ottawa was issued a court order this year to preserve registry records for Quebec, although there are questions over whether the data remain up-to-date.
"If there's something there, it will be transferred to Quebec," Mr Moreau said. But Mr. Moreau says Quebec's registry would essentially be built from the ground up.