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Quebec seeks injunction against destruction of gun-registry data

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier takes questions after meeting his federal counterpart in Ottawa on Nov. 22, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government is seeking an injunction to prevent Ottawa from destroying data it has collected over the years from the federal long-gun registry when legislation abolishing the controversial agency receives royal assent later this week.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said Tuesday that Quebec will challenge the federal government's jurisdiction over the gun-registry data, arguing that the provinces helped set it up and should be given the right to use its information as they see fit.

"It is a common registry," Mr. Fournier said. "The abolition of the gun registry illustrates once again the lack of co-operation (from Ottawa). This is quite stunning since the registry was the result of co-operation . . . It is one thing to abolish the registry but it is another to destroy the data. They have chosen to do so in a law immediately after it is adopted. That leaves us no choice but to go before the courts and have our fundamental rights respected."

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The Senate is expected to adopt Bill C-19 calling for the immediate dismantling of the long-gun registry either Wednesday or Thursday. Mr. Fournier argued Tuesday that time is of the essence. As soon as the bill is adopted, a Quebec Superior Court judge will be asked to stop the federal government from destroying the data so that the province can pursue its legal action.

The long-gun registry contains information about gun owners and the number of firearms they have in their households.

"We contend that the federal government overstepped its constitutional jurisdiction . . . by ordering the almost immediate destruction of the data contained in the common registry. Quebec participated in collecting the data to create a common registry," Mr. Fournier argued. "Quebec also helped finance the creation of the registry."

Ottawa has always refused to comply with the Quebec government's demands, insisting that the province should not be given any special treatment that would result in maintaining the gun registry in Quebec.

But Mr. Fournier insisted that the federal government has a constitutional obligation to co-operate with the provinces on issues of common interest. Quebec alone could not set up a new registry without the data, Mr. Fournier said. He added that the destruction of the data would cause irreparable damage to the province's efforts at containing domestic violence, preventing suicides and helping police investigations.

"Without the court's intervention, the information will be wiped out and lost forever," Mr. Fournier said.

"It is action taken to obstruct co-operation with the provinces. It challenges our jurisdiction," the Justice Minister said, before arguing that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has failed dismally in practising co-operative federalism.

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"It is a violation of the spirit of federalism," Mr. Fournier said.

According to Public Security Minister Robert Dutil, statistics showed that unrestricted firearms are used extensively to commit crimes. He noted that 2,561 unrestricted firearms were seized in 2010 alone from gun owners believed to be dangerous to society.

Quebec was at the forefront of initiating the creation of the long-gun registry following the massacre at the University of Montreal Polytechnique School in 1989. Several groups from Quebec have expressed their opposition to the destruction of the gun registry, including police associations and the families of victims killed during tragic events.

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