OTTAWA – The federal government is making good on its promise to appeal a Quebec court ruling that blocked the destruction of gun-registry records and ordered the data handed over to the province.
The government plans to challenge last week’s decision by Quebec Superior Court Judge Marc-Andre Blanchard, who voided two sections of the Conservative government’s legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.
Minister of State Maxime Bernier made the announcement Monday, on behalf of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, in response to questions in the House of Commons.
“I’m proud to announce, on behalf of my colleague the minister of public safety, that the government of Canada will be appealing that decision,” Bernier said in French.
Blanchard had ordered the federal government to turn over all records on Quebec-owned rifles and shotguns in the registry to the provincial government within 30 days.
The Conservatives have been adamant about scrapping the long-gun registry and destroying the existing data, saying any province that wants to establish its own registry would be welcome to start from scratch.
Toews later issued a statement expressing disappointment in the court’s decision and vowing to fight it head-on, while also trying to tar the Opposition NDP as the enemy of “law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters” in Quebec.
“The will of Parliament and Canadians has been clear,” Toews said. “We do not want any form of a wasteful and ineffective long gun registry.”
The Sept. 10 court ruling came after the province obtained a series of temporary injunctions safeguarding the Quebec data, which has resulted in long guns continuing to be registered there, unlike everywhere else in the country.
In his decision, Blanchard said that since the federal government didn’t create the registry alone, it can’t destroy it unilaterally.
The registry was created in the 1990s by a partnership that included multiple agreements over how the information would be gathered and accumulated, he said.
“There is a complex web between the federal, provincial and municipal authorities that wove the firearms registry which means that it could not have existed without the close and constant co-operation of everyone,” Blanchard wrote in his decision.
“The implementation of the firearms registry — although under the federal power to legislate criminal law — creates a partnership with Quebec, particularly with regard to the data contained in the registry.”
The bill to end the federal registry came into effect in April, fulfilling a long-standing promise by the Harper government to decriminalize non-registration of long guns.
In Quebec, a hotbed of support for gun control, the provincial government has fought back, claiming a right to the information — hoping to use it as the basis for a provincial registry system — because its taxpayers helped to gather it.
The Harper government is steadfastly opposed to relinquishing any data, which it is determined to destroy. It says Quebec can start from scratch if it wants to build its own registry.
Dean Del Mastro, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, framed the forthcoming court battle as the federal government’s effort to keep its promise.
“I think it’s important that our government keeps its word,” Del Mastro said after question period.
“We provided our word to all Canadians, including Quebecers, that we’d end the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry. That’s what we’re doing.”
Blanchard’s verdict quoted the prime minister directly as saying he wouldn’t help another level of government keep the registry alive — a sentiment the ruling suggested is an affront to the Constitution’s spirit of flexible and co-operative federalism.
“This lack of respect for the jurisdiction of Quebec obviates the principle of co-operative federalism that aims to satisfy the needs of both the country and its components,” Blanchard wrote.
Opponents of the registry called it wasteful and of no value to law enforcement in preventing gun crime or enforcing the law. Supporters — including some police organizations — disagree.
Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia said the government was trying “to snub anyone” who wants to control long guns, simply to make an ideological point.