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Gun-registry data to be destroyed despite Quebec's court challenge

Flanked by police, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil announces Quebec's decision to take the federal government to court over its plan to destroy gun-registry data at a Quebec City news conference on Dec. 13, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is refusing to delay the destruction of the long-gun registry data even as the Quebec government launches a last-ditch court challenge that could take years to decide.

Brushing off attacks from Quebec and the opposition, Mr. Harper and his ministers said they will not wait for the court ruling to fulfill a campaign promise to get rid of the registry and its unreliable data.

"The provinces have the right to carry out their own policies, but this government will not support the creation of a backdoor registry," Mr. Harper said during Question Period.

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Ottawa plans to destroy the data in the long-gun registry shortly after Bill C-19 is adopted by Parliament, likely early next year.

However, Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil is arguing that as long as the case is before the courts, the data and the accompanying software need to be protected. This would give Quebec time to mount a campaign to pressure Ottawa into finding a political solution to the province's demands.

"It would be preferable for the federal government to decide to give us the data rather than obtain a decision from a judge," Mr. Dutil said at a news conference on Tuesday backed by several police organizations, crime experts and victims groups.

The Quebec government, along with all political parties in the province and the majority of Quebeckers, have been strongly opposed to abolishing the gun registry. Quebec insisted that it needs the data to set up its own registry. Mr. Dutil said it would be too costly for the province to reconstitute the data in the registry once it was destroyed.

Mr. Dutil refused to explain the legal arguments upon which the province will base its case, preferring to keep his cards close to his chest.

"I cannot explain that because we are going to court and we will keep our legal strategy and let those in the Justice Ministry decide what arguments will be used in court," Mr. Dutil said.

In Ottawa, the NDP and the Liberal Party backed Quebec's demands, arguing that the Conservatives were ignoring the wishes of the police and the legal community, among others.

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"The Conservatives are being hard-headed and are defying all logic with their plan to destroy the gun-registry data," Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel said.

In 1996, the Alberta government challenged the gun registry law, which took four years before making its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it was upheld in a unanimous decision.

The Quebec government and its allies expect a long battle if the matter goes before the courts.

"Maybe we can block it in the Senate, because we don't know what will happen in court. The chances are so small, we have to fight on every level," said Heidi Rathjen who survived the 1989 massacre at the University of Montreal École Polytechnique. "We have to fight the Conservatives on every level, whether it's public relations, politics, legal."

Police organizations were on hand to reiterate their support of Quebec's actions, insisting that the destruction of the data will undermine their efforts to protect the public.

"The registry is essential to police operations whether they deal with family disturbances or people in distress," Montreal Police Chief Marc Parent said.

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It was estimated that each day police in Montreal refer to the gun registry over 350 times; the number is more than twice that when other police forces in the province are included.

"Since the registry was first created, police in Canada seized 115,000 firearms," said Yves Francoeur, president of the Montreal police union. "Of this total 80,000 were hunting rifles. So when we hear those who say that the gun registry has no impact on the people's safety, it's completely false."

Conservative ministers in Ottawa said that Quebec should collect its own data, because the figures in the federal database are old and often erroneous.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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