The federal government had the power to create a gun registry and the power to destroy it over the objections of Quebec, the province's Court of Appeal has ruled in a decision sure to face an attempted challenge at the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a unanimous and brief judgment, the appeal court found Quebec has no say in what Ottawa does with data in the federal long-gun registry that is now defunct in every province and territory except Quebec.
Operating on an all-party consensus, Quebec is forging ahead with plans to create its own gun registry and wants the federal data to save a costly step in establishing its own database. Moments after the judgment was released, provincial Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud said Quebec would seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court – a move certain to drag out the case for many more months.
The appeal court rejected Quebec's argument, accepted last year by a lower court, that "co-operative federalism" demands that Ottawa share the data to assist the province in setting up its own gun-control system.
"Quebec has no rights over the data," Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler wrote on behalf of a five-judge appeal panel. "The data does not belong to the province, the provinces exercise no control over the data, it is the sole responsibility of the director of the registry – a federal civil servant – from the moment the data is collected until their destruction."
Quebec introduced legislation this year to create its own registry after Ottawa killed the federal version in 2012. The province says creating a registry without the federal data will be costly.
The registry, created in the emotional aftermath of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, remains operational in Quebec after a series of injunctions that kept Ottawa from destroying it while the courts heard arguments.
Heidi Rathjen, a gun-control advocate and Polytechnique survivor who was hiding in a classroom during the shooting rampage, said the enduring system in Quebec remains a model for gun control, even if the Conservative government has done everything possible to undermine its legitimacy.
Over the short term, she said the presence of the gun registry in Quebec is bound to show "differences in gun-related crime." She pointed to a recent statement by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair that illegal gun seizures are down 40 per cent in his city with the end of the registry.
Over the long term "our hope is that one day we will have another government," Ms. Rathjen said. "Most polls show a majority of Canadians support registration, in all provinces except Alberta. The problem is a vocal minority in the gun lobby is extremely influential and has the hearts and ears of the Conservative party."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews applauded the judgment, saying in a statement that the Conservative government is "committed to stand up for the rights of law-abiding hunters, farmers, and sport shooters in all regions of the country, including Quebec."